David & Goliath - How a Solo PR Guy Catapulted His Business
By Josh Weiss
I want to tell you a story.
This is the story of how I went from a solo PR guy - working out of my house - to hiring staff, moving into an office, and contending with the larger PR firms here in Arizona. But first, let me tell you what things looked like early on.
About a year after launching my company, I was attending two networking happy-hours a week, going to the same events month after month.
I met a guy who worked in marketing at one of these events, and every month we’d say hi but only have a short conversation since we didn’t think our client targets were the same.
Finally, he suggested we get coffee.
A few weeks later we got together in a coffee shop and had a great conversation, but it was clear there was no obvious way to work together as our target clients were different.
Now, when I first started networking I thought I should avoid people who work in marketing because I work in public relations. I quickly realized that, for me, it was the marketing people I was seeking.
I offer an expertise they don’t. Since I’m not a threat to their expertise, they are much more open to sharing leads or working together on projects.
Not that this particular marketing guy wasn’t open to sharing leads when we met for coffee, there just didn’t seem to be any leads we could share.
As it turns out, even other PR people can be great referral sources for me. Some firms despise crisis communications or multiple-city clients, while crisis communications for national clients happens to be among my firm’s strengths.
The lesson is, don’t dismiss people who work in the same field.
They might not become a client, but they could become your salesforce, helping you to gain clients from their personal network.
These days my approach to networking is like speed dating. The goal is to talk to as many people as you can within the allotted time.
You’re doing it wrong if you get pulled into a conversation that lasts more than 10 minutes.
It may feel awkward, but don’t forget that everyone is attending the event for the same reason- to meet as many people as possible.
Eight years after my first networking event, I still enter a room and remind myself that while there might be 100 people in front of me, I’m there only to meet one specific person.
The challenge is figuring out who that one person is. To do that I need to talk to as many people as possible.
You can’t be afraid to walk up to a group of people already talking to one another. Everyone is there to meet people, so you’re guaranteed that someone will stick out their hand and introduce themselves to you.
In the rare instance where you’re not welcomed into a conversation, don’t take offense. They may be in the middle of a conversation or an important point they want to finish.
It’s okay to walk away quickly and right up to a new group. No one will take offense. If they do, it’s their own fault for not welcoming you into the conversation.
More likely they’ll walk up to you later and apologize – giving you a second opportunity to meet them.
The key is to figure out what type of networking events you like best.
Some people like the breakfast meetings, others lunches. Some people like membership groups like LeTip or BNI where there’s a script to follow and a structure to meet people.
Personally, I’ve long been a fan of happy-hours because it gets me to leave the office early. Happy-hours also lend themselves to meeting as many people as possible in a crammed space, rather than sitting at a table hoping you sat next to someone interesting.
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While it may sound counter-intuitive, you’re not attending the networking event to find a client or a job. You’re going to make connections and build relationships.
Your goal should be to find 2 or 3 people that you personally liked at the networking event.
Of course, you then need to make a point of running into them again at another event. It’s okay to talk about the same topics over and over—it’ll actually make you more memorable.
One trick to remembering conversations is to write what you talked to them about on the back of their business card after the event.
If you talked about baseball and their favorite team, you can send them an email follow-up referencing the conversation to say it was nice to meet them. You can also bring up their favorite team next time you run into them at a networking event.
Over time, they’ll start to remember you and will seek YOU out at future events.
When that happens, you’ll notice that they’re really starting to pay attention to you, and they’ll start helping to make business connections for you that will pay off.
And that’s why networking is so important. This is exactly how it can change the trajectory of your business and career.
Remember the marketing guy I met for coffee?
I kept saying hi to him every month at that same event, but eventually one of us had a conflict and stopped going.
Six months after not running into him, and a year after that coffee, he called me out of the blue. He said he had given my name to a locally headquartered national company that was looking for a PR firm.
Again, I was a solo PR guy working out of my house at the time.
After meeting with the owners of this $250M company however, I beat out 2 of the larger PR firms here in Arizona to win the business!
The monthly retainer and scope of work forced me to hire my first employee and rent office space.
Fast forward to today, six years later that company is still my client. I’ve since added several more staff members to service our national client base.
My company would never have grown to what it’s become if I didn’t invest the time, consistently attending networking events.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Josh Weiss is the President of 10 to 1 Public Relations, a strategic communications firm that specializes in media relations, crisis communications, trade shows and award nominations for local, regional, national and international clients. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.10to1pr.com