The first ever Small Business Marketing Unleashed conference has come and gone and I've had a full week to unwind and decompress. When we first announced our conference last fall, I had more than one person drop me an email asking if I knew what I was getting us into. I didn't, but I'm glad. If I had, we never would have done it. For those who joined us in Houston, thank you! It was a true pleasure getting to know you last week. For those who didn't make it, read on for a recap of the show.
Robert, Rachel and I aren't the typical corporate types. In fact, we're not corporate at all. I'd rather speak in jeans than a suit and we've always tried to reflect our laid back attitudes on our site and in our marketing materials. That's why Northwest Forest Conference Center was the perfect spot for our first conference. From the log cabins our staff stayed in to the saloon where we held our pre-show networking events to the now famous "Alamo" classroom, the entire conference took place in a relaxed, yet fun atmosphere that really played up the opportunity to network.
And networking there was! On Sunday night, we gathered in the "Settlement House" for a night of speed networking and a silent auction to benefit the Houston Youth Development Center. Our silent auction raised nearly $1500 for the local mentoring program and even the most anti-social of our crowd was sucked into the fun of speed networking. (In case you haven't figured it out, speed networking involves everyone lining up at tables, chatting for three minutes, then moving down the row to the next person for another speedy chat.) This mixer, combined with the small size of the show made sure attendees knew a good percentage of the speakers and other attendees before the show even got started on Monday morning. The evening was sponsored by PopLabs and featured a great live performance by m0serious, A.K.A the SEO Rapper.
On Monday morning, everyone showed up bright and early to collect their conference bags and have some breakfast while we kicked things off with a group "keynote" to set the tone for the show. (Read the recap A Common Sense Approach to Small Business Marketing.) The conference bags (decorated with the ultra-cool marketing style of the good folks at Emma Email marketing) were packed full of fun and useful items from our conference sponsors and included both a workbook and a Lyris flash drive to help attendees build their marketing plans during and after the show. The workbooks were created to hold the worksheets our team had created for each session and the Flash drives held PDFs of the worksheets so attendees could print out as many extra copies as they liked once they got home.
Once we'd finished up the opening session, we split the show into two tracks. The first was focused on web sites and search marketing, the second was focused on social media and blogging. Every session on day one was live blogged, so if you'd like a recap of what you missed, here you go.
One thing I noticed during the day's sessions was how often the Q&A turned to a conversation. Mack Collier's excellent presentation gave way to a lively discussion that had Mack, speakers in the audience and attendees brainstorming together and sharing ideas on the best ways to approach various aspects of blogging. I saw the same type of thing happening in the other sessions I managed to sit in on. It even sparked a fierce debate on the Twitter back channel as attendees battled over which blogging platform reigned supreme.
By Monday night, we were all ready to unwind a little and to continue getting to know each other better. Will Scott of Search Influence sponsored our "Fiesta Unleashed" that night and drove in from New Orleans to make sure the margaritas were flowing, the fajita's were sizzling and the maracas were shaking. Someone showed up with a large handful of straw sombrero's and in a matter of moments they were all claimed. In fact, the networking this night was going so strong, I didn't realize until I was going to bed that I never actually ate any dinner. I just kept wondering from table to table having new conversations and saying "ok, I need to go get some food" as I got up to leave.
We closed off the official fiesta festivities with a game of "Giant Memory" featuring giant pieces of foam board marked with our sponsor logos and teams of three going head to head. Matt Bailey emceed a lively contest that saw one player on the ground taking directions from their team mates up in the balcony and trying to remember where the matches were in a game of Memory the size of my living room. Winning teams took home some cool Puppy embroidered neoprene laptops sleeves and bragging rights until next year's event.
Tuesday morning saw the entire team gathering once again in the Alamo for a welcome breakfast and a few words on local search from sponsors Superpages.com. That must have made for a great lead up to Matt McGee's local search workshop because the attendees packed the house in his session that morning. The day was filled with quite a few intensive workshops, many of which were live blogged by our Search Engine Guide team.
The crew packed a hearty lunch on Tuesday after a short talk about the growing small business community on Ideablob by sponsor Advanta. They followed that up with one final workshop and then returned to the Alamo for yet another snack and a final farewell before heading out to catch cabs and shuttles back to the airport. Several of our speakers and a few attendees stuck around for an extra night and we all gathered back at the staff cabins for an Italian feast and a gab fest.
Overall, we had an absolute blast. Based on the feedback, others felt the same.
Want to Hear What Others Had to Say?
You'll find coverage of the show all over the web.
Scott Allen of Hybrid6 wrote:
Overall, it was an incredible conference, and absolutely should be on your list of conferences to attend next year if you are a small business owner.
Jackie Baker of Site Logic Marketing said...
I came away from the conference with a head full of knowledge and a contact list full of friends and resources willing to share ideas and input. And a whole lot of new friends.
Jim Stowe of Strider SEO quipped...
It just doesn't get much better than SEO in the Alamo.
Amber Watson-Tardiff from Mininno Law Office emailed to say:
I tweaked some of my PPC's after taking the Paid Search Class, and surprisingly we set up two appointments this morning for large weddings next year. The class has now more than paid for itself.
And that's just a sampling. You can check out the full cadre of posts over on Google Blog Search.
WebProNews also had live coverage from the show and has been posting interviews with many of our speakers and bloggers over the past week.
Well This Was Great, Let's Do It Again Sometime!
When is the next Unleashed? That's a good question. Our tiny little team worked our tails off putting this show together for you. As a writer at heart, it feels good to be home and writing again. That said, the show was so much fun and the reaction was so positive, we're giving serious thought to fitting in another show before next spring's repeat show in Houston.
Interested in coming? Drop me an email and let me know. Interested in sponsoring? Happy to talk to you about that too. (Sorry, don't need any speaker pitches as I already know exactly who I'll be asking.)
Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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