Hello there – I am Harrybbbbb, the author of the SMB Consulting Best Practices book. I host an annual conference in October each year (SMB Nation Fall, VEGAS) and ironically, the passage from my book is abot being a speaker!
Trade groups, social organizations, and the like are always looking for speakers for their monthly lunch meetings. In the past, I’ve found myself on the Rotary luncheon speaking circuit, telling SBS stories.
BEST PRACTICE: If the cat’s got your tongue, you can always join Toastmasters International, the social organization dedicated to improving public speaking and presentation skills. Visit at www.toastmasters.org.
A seminar is a tried-and-true way for an SMB consultant to engage in a little educational marketing. In many cases, it’s paid marketing, where the attendees will pay for the privilege of your expertise. The key point with a seminar is that you need to know your audience and venue. If it’s a sales seminar about a new service or product, you probably can’t charge the audience a fee to attend. If it’s a technical seminar where you offer wisdom and insight, you can typically charge a fee, say $99 US for a half day or $149 US for a day (lunch included for the participants, paid from your fee-based revenues). You need to decide if you are going to put on a sales seminar or an educational seminar or a combination of the two. If you are you trying to close business that day (the closer approach), you are clearly delivering a sales seminar. If you are doing the old soft sale, where you deliver more meaningful content, then this is the educational approach. It’s up to you to decide what fits best for your personality style and the market you are trying to reach.
Early on in the life of Small Business Server while I was developing my reputation as a niche specialist in this area, I gave a monthly educational seminar at Microsoft’s Pacific West (PacWest) sales office in Bellevue, Washington. This was part of the monthly Solution Providers program whereby you could deliver a half-day seminar using Microsoft’s lecture hall. The price was right, as I had to reimburse Microsoft for only coffee and parking expenses. My topic, “Networking Basics,” brought in up to 60 people each month. From that crowd, I typically enjoyed several leads and landed one engagement.
BEST PRACTICE: Don’t forget to consider joining the Microsoft Certified Solution Providers program as an SMB consultant to help build your business and interact with other technology professionals in your area. More information on the Microsoft Certified Solutions Providers program can be obtained by visiting www.microsoft.com/partner.
Note that many SMB consultants start with the lower cost Action Pack program prior to joining the full-fledged solution provider program. You can find out more about Action Pack at the above URL.
You might consider the following organizations when you’re seeking out an established seminar channel through which to deliver your presentation. Be advised these environments are much more business-oriented than technical. That’s not a bad thing when you’re trying to earn more business.
- Chamber of commerce — This might be the best one. Speaking in a credible manner as an SMB consultant before a group of active business people is a great opportunity. You may need to join the Chamber of Commerce to fit into the crowd and be invited, but the $300 or so per year might be money well spent.
- Service organizations — These include Rotary, Masons, Moose, and Lions. Rotary leads the list as being the best selection, because, in my opinion, this organization is populated with business-oriented members, especially those who might be middle-managers who have purchasing authority. Other services organizations, such as the Masons and Moose, tend to be more fraternal and social and don’t emphasize business and commerce (although many business people belong to fraternal service organizations).
- Professional associations — There are two types of professional associations. First, there are the paralegals, legal secretaries, and office managers who meet each month for a formal luncheon. These groups are also seeking speakers, so you’re likely to have success here. Don’t underestimate this avenue. Remember that office managers and the like are key influencers when it comes to retaining the services you provide as an SMB consultant. The second type of professional association includes groups who are organized for
regulatory or compliance purposes. This includes accountants in the CPA Society, lawyers in the Bar Association, medical professionals, and so on. This second set of groups typical have mandatory membership (e.g. to be a CPA, you must belong to the CPA society). These groups need seminar speakers too.
- Trade associations — Industry-based trade associations represent a great seminar delivery avenue. Again, the monthly luncheon or the annual convention are both possibilities. Closely related are trade groups, which might not be tied to a specific entity or be as formal. I belong to one in my neighborhood called the West Sound Technology Professionals Association (www.wstpa.org) and it’s been my pleasure in the past to speak before them about the benefits of SBS.
- Clubs — You can even successfully give a technical seminar before a club. I once gave a technical speech on how to use the Internet before the Dutch Club of Seattle. Hey, several Microsoft employees were in attendance along with many successful Dutch-American business people.
- Regional economic development authorities — These are typically quasi-government authorities charged with expanding the business base in a particular region. Economic development authorities facilitate introductions within the business community in the form of conferences, as well as pursue economic initiatives, such as having a certain area (say, a business park) be declared a duty-free zone for goods that are manufactured for export. Some regional economic development authorities have the power to issue bonds and debentures for financing public works projects, such as building parking garages. But the way that an SMB consultant can work with a regional economic development authority is to provide SMB technology seminars at business conferences.
- Cause-based not-for-profit organizations — Perhaps you support a medical research cause. The not-for-profit organization behind the cause of your choice may have a need for a seminar or speech.
- Social organizations — You might even get roped into giving an SMB consulting speech to a social organization, such as the Junior League.
• Arts organizations — Perhaps giving a speech or seminar during the dinner hour is more your style. Many arts organizations hold awards dinners and seek out speakers. The motivating factor in speaking before an arts organization is that you will find yourself before the barons and titans of industry in their off hours away from the office.
Create your own
You can also create your own seminars from scratch. The great thing about the homegrown seminar series is you control virtually everything: dates, content, promotion, and so on. One create-your-own seminar I put on with modest success was a series of executive workshops for Microsoft technologies (in this case, it was Windows 95). My feeling was that demand existed for business executives seeking to gain information on new Microsoft technologies. More important, these decision makers would be locked in a boardroom with me for a half day, a captive audience with budget authority. These seminars may not be instant money-makers, but they do pay off in the long term with new clients.
The create-your-own seminar approach has been used for years by financial planners and stockbrokers, proving they do work. The key is to target your audience.
BEST PRACTICE: By the way, giving free educational speeches has other rewards: karma dollars. I like to think that, by giving to the business and technology community, I’ll receive something in return. Perhaps it’s the good feeling achieved from helping someone. Perhaps I’ll be a billionaire in my next life. Whatever the payoff, it’s the act of earning karma dollars and you shouldn’t underestimate the power of this process.
Another promotional avenue, used more often by established SMB consultants than those new to the profession, is speaking at conferences. Not only do you have your time in front of an audience, but also you get your name and typically a short biography printed in the conference brochure. There are three types of conferences:
- Local — Your efforts may be best directed to local conferences if that is where your clients are (in your local community). Since I tend to focus on small and medium-sized firms for my SMB consulting activities, local conferences make the most sense. In the Pacific Northwest, there is a local conference that travels from city to city called ITEC (recently rebranded as NEXT conferences). Perhaps your community has a similar local technology conference.
- Regional — These conferences tend to be larger in scope and draw people from surrounding states. The caliber of attendees may be higher as well as the quality of the selected speakers. If your SMB consulting business is regional in nature, speaking at a regional conference is a good use of time.
- National — Clearly, this is where the heavyweights play. The type of SMB consultant that can benefit from national exposure is someone who, quite frankly, has some thing to sell at the national level, such as a book. In the past, national conferences were focused on the enterprise level. But I’m pleased to announce that I’ve taken the initiative to underwrite and produce an SMB conference at the national level called “SMB Nation.” Visit www.smbnation.com, and I will look forward to seeing you there sometime.