Networking and Marketing: Lessons learned

I realised, at some point last week, that I know a lot more about networking and marketing than I thought I did, and that a lot of that information is applicable to someone launching a writing career.

Some background: I am one half of a consultancy business that services a subset of the mining, oil and gas industries.  I write every day (when I’m not tending a small-man) which is why my fiction writing takes a back seat when work-writing deadlines come up.

Part of running the consultancy is getting the word out about us and what we offer. I’ve learned quite a lot about networking over the years, and a good deal of that is very applicable to marketing your book as well.

Lesson One: Don’t talk about yourself.

Sounds pretty counter-productive when you are trying to tell people that you exist, but one of the best lessons to learn.

When you first meet someone, at a trade show or a conference or on twitter or FB, don’t start by talking about yourself.  Ask questions, talk about topics of common interest.  If they ask questions, then talk about yourself and what you do.

What you are trying to do here is appear to be  a rational person.  Charge up to someone and start blathering on about yourself and your product, and you will just chase people away.  At the introduction stage, your most useful skill is your social etiquette.  Don’t be the weirdo.  Be the person  who is easy to talk to, sensible, has interesting things to say.

Think about the people you read, on blogs or twitter or FB.  Who do you come back to?  The person who tweets constantly about their book, or the person who shares information, who responds to your comments, who asks about your day?

Lesson Two: Gossip.

That’s right, I said gossip.  Not malicious, backstabbing vitriol, but real information sharing.

Did you hear that Company X is opening a new nickel mine, I heard that Bob Jones is opening his own consultancy, I heard from Luke that Main Roads has budgeted for the northern highway upgrade this year…

The above might not mean a lot to you, but to people in my industry, these are opportunities for new business.  Share the information, and in return, you may hear about an opportunity that can help you.  Pass the time of day with someone and see what you learn.

Also information goes around.  The best thing for your exposure is for someone to say “I heard from Merrilee that…” and the follow-up question, “Who’s Merrilee?”  You’ve just made a new contact, and you weren’t even there.

And don’t give me any bull about men not gossiping.  I’ve worked in a male dominated industry for eight years now, and by god those blokes can chat.  Who’s working where, who married, who died, which businesses are struggling, which ones got new contracts… It’s about making connections.  Everyone does it to a certain degree.

When it comes to the book industry, the same applies.  Who has just got an agent, who got a publishing contract, new agencies, new publishers, new magazines, contests, opportunities, opportunities, opportunities.  They’re everywhere.  Open your ears, then open your mouth and spread the word.

Lesson Three. Know your product.

My very savvy business partner (VSBP) was at a child’s birthday party a few months ago.  During the usual “so what do you do?” chat that Mum’s have while the offspring are busy playing, my partner mentioned her job as a consultant.  One of the other Mum’s zeroed in on a key word, and revealed that her husband worked in the industry that we service.

My VSBP did not immediately flood the woman with reams of information about everything that we do.  She knows our business inside out, and gave a short, succinct pitch and handed over her business card, then continued chatting.  No hard sell, no push.

Don’t drown people in your product.  Let it stand on its own merits.  Know the hook, pitch it straight to the person, and let their interest guide them.  If you’ve done your work well, then you will have already figured out which concepts are attractive to readers (danger, excitement, love, hate, fear) and you’re ready with the hook.  DON’T BABBLE.

Lesson Four. When opportunity knocks, nail that sucker to the floor.

A week after the birthday party, I fielded a call from the husband of the woman my VSBP met.  Now is the time to follow up on your initial pitch with more depth.  He called for advice; I spent 45 minutes on the phone helping him through a problem for no reimbursement.

Wasted time?  Definitely not.  This was my chance to impress the hell out of potential client, and I’m pleased to say I did.  That 45 minute call brought us a short term contract as well as our second biggest long-term contract to date.

The very nature of opportunity means that you can’t always prepare.  You might be tired, in a hurry, distracted or just plain not ready.

The smart marketer is always ready.  Pull yourself together, recall what you know, LISTEN to what is being said to you, and respond appropriately.

Don’t blather on about something completely unrelated.  Don’t give the listener a recorded message and ask them to contact you again later.

Be there, be ready, give it all you’ve got.

Lesson 5. Previous connections are worth their weight in gold.

We spent about $4k in our first year on targeted advertising.  Now we don’t advertise at all.  Because when we sat back and reviewed where our clients were coming from, 92% were from personal referrals.   Only 8% of our clientele came to us from an advert or from us approaching the client.

People in the industry who knew us before we built the consultancy were the ones sending us clients.  Why?

Because we had a reputation before we even started.

That reputation built our business for us.  Even now, we don’t chase clients.  They come to us, most of the time by referral by a previous colleague or client.

Before you even get that first book on the shelf, get your name out there.  It takes time to build an audience.  But if people know you and like you and what you do, they will tell their friends.  Find your niche, and fill it.  Yes, it’s hard.  There are thousands of authors out there doing exactly the same thing.  You don’t have to be an expert on something, though it helps.  But if you’re not, just chat.  Make connections.  Be friendly, be fun.

The short version.

The age of the snake oil salesman has passed.  Most people now are savvy enough to recognise a scam when they see it.  Most readers have a common-sense filter for those slick advertising slogans.   Less of the slick, more of the human.  We are all about connections; make them, use them to your advantage.

  1. Don’t be the weirdo.  Be a rational person.
  2. Exchange information.  Listen. Pass it on.
  3. Know the value of your product. Know the key words that will interest people.
  4. The smart marketer is always ready.  Listen and respond appropriately.
  5. Get your name out there.  Make connections, even before you have a product to sell.

I hope you’ve found something useful in this article.  And if you have some networking or marketing advice of your own, feel free to add it in the ocmments, or link to an article you have written on networking/marketing.  Spread the information around!

8 thoughts on “Networking and Marketing: Lessons learned

  1. This is some seriously awesome advice. Thanks for taking the time to post such a concise and detailed article. I have also sent it along to my husband because his boss has a bad habit of not pitching his business ideas well. Just about every “do not” you either explicitly or implicitly stated is something he does. :) Thanks again!

  2. I used to work for a General Contractor. He wasn’t a very good GC, and was no wonder why nothing worked for him.

    This post was so chock full of valuable information, though! I read this going, “THIS MAKES SO MUCH SENSE! WHY DON’T WE JUST DO THIS NORMALLY?!”

    Maybe someone does. But I don’t. So… thank you :)

    • I think social etiquette is one of those things that has gone out of fashion, with the result that a lot of people just don’t know how to talk to others. Coupled with the need to sell, it is easy to create a monster!

  3. Succinct advice on something that always gives me the heebie-jeebies. Though why my introversion always flairs up when it comes to selling I don’t know.

  4. I shouldn’t be surprised by now that your posts are so excellent. As a recent promotee at a small, specialty construction firm, I agree with absolutely everything you say here. I knew it all, on some level, but it’s always good to be reminded, quickly and effectively. Wonderful, good lady.

    • Thanks Simon for your kind words :)

      As Anna pointed out on Twitter, this is a recipe for selling yourself. It’s easy to forget though, in the rush to get your product into the hands of buyers :)

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