Agency Framework: Networking and Conferences
Advancements in technology have shaped how we do business in a number of ways. Arguably, one of the most important changes has been in how businesses communicate within their professional communities and with clients. For example, it wasn’t that long ago that a mailbox full of catalogs signaled the beginning of the holiday shopping season, where today a surge in emails and paid advertisements on social media are the cue.
The changes in technology have affected communications in ways other than how B2C businesses are reaching out to their customers. It’s completely shifted how businesses network and acquire new insights and connections within their industry.
Networking in the Digital Age
Ask any digital agency today what their strategy is for networking with other professionals in the industry or building their brand through visibility and the answers are practically guaranteed to be mostly digitally focused. Optimizing professional platforms like LinkedIn can be door openers for networking, and the majority of agencies today use email lists to keep in touch with clients and boost conversions.
With a digitally connected global village, is putting effort into networking as important as it was a just few years ago? Do agencies today seek out networking opportunities, or do the sit back and allow our digital connectivity t naturally bring connections to their door? We asked our agency partners about their approach to networking in the digital age and what strategies have brought them the most success.
“I generally prioritize online networking, as I can “be” in more places at once. In-person events are important too, but I normally reserve this for large “effort” situations like giving presentations. That said, I think in-person events are hugely underutilized by agencies as a way to invest in person development, education, and business development. When our agency was doing more in-person events, we actually had a spreadsheet that we used to track back revenue for specific services to specific events. That enabled us to see how profitable an event was, and for what service.” -Jared Carrizales, Founder of Heroic Search
“LinkedIn is not a huge focus in terms of first introductions. It’s a great second touch. Generally, in-person events take a second seat to any pressing client’s needs. Ultimately we measure the value of any networking event by its size and relevance to our business.” – Adam Rizzieri, Chief Marketing Officer at Accunity Digital Agency
“At Bleevit Interactive, we value the benefits of in-person networking and spend time attending mixers and other events. And since we are digital marketing agency we also know that content is king, so when we meet a prospect in the real world and have a conversation, we send a nice “meeting you” email along with a link to a blog post that may be of interest based on the conversation. Works wonders!” – Rick, Hogan, CEO & Co-Founder of Bleevit Interactive
How Important Is Networking for Digital Agencies?
We discovered that the majority of our agency partners feel that networking is an important, essential part of their business operations. Networking can connect agencies to leaders in their industry, expand their professional knowledge, keep them up to date on current trends and generate referrals that lead to new client relationships.
There’s also the fact that networking puts your brand’s face out there in front of other industry professionals and serves to elevate your professional reputation. A little effort put into networking can allow a small and relatively unknown agency to establish themselves firmly in the digital marketing community. That said, here are what a few individual digital agencies had to say about their own personal experience with networking opportunities and how they’ve helped their businesses grow.
“[Networking] is very important. Businesses love to work with people they’ve met and have interacted with – especially when we’re offering free value to small business who are trying to figure out how to build an online presence.” – Tyler Viertel, Director of Operations at Tell Me Your Goal
“Networking is crucial for our agency to bring in new leads and those interested in utilizing our services. By networking, the relationships begin with trust and reliability, which is the mission our agency stands for.” – Arya Bina, CEO of Kobe Digital
“Networking has been a game changer for us. I can’t point to THAT much direct business… definitely a few deals. But mostly it just gave us credibility locally & helped us meet people. Now many of the people we’ve met have become friends, partners, referral sources, employees, clients, etc.” – Chris Mechanic, CEO of WebMechanix
According to this it would seem that networking is a no-brainer for any digital agency. But then we take a trip back into real life and discover that while there’s value in networking, there are also challenges that prohibit some agencies from taking full advantage of their opportunities.
“We don’t nearly spend enough time networking. The challenge of course is finding events and associations with the right audience that aren’t cost prohibitive.” – Peter Horton, Founder and Managing Director of Telideo Productions
“I spend at least 6 hours each week networking. I’m part of BNI, the local Chamber of Commerce and a few other small groups. I do it because it works. The only downside, it takes time. When you’re networking and get to know people, you have to build trust. Once that trust is established, referrals follow. Although I’m not a fan for many reasons, I should use LinkedIn more than I currently do. I know it is powerful. However, to me, it seems like nobody on LinkedIn is real, everyone is just there for the sale. On top of that, the more I use it, the more my inbox gets flooded with people from other countries trying to sell me their services, and it gets incredibly annoying.” – Chris Kirksey, CEO of Direction, Inc.
Finding Value in Conferences and Networking Events
The frustrations with networking that some of our agency partners communicated help to illustrate the fact that there’s one form of non-digital communication that is still of incredible value to the industry – conferences and networking events. The right event can help to eliminate many of the networking woes, while putting agencies face to face with thought leaders in their industry and the industries they serve.
As mentioned in a few of the responses, time and cost can be major factors, especially for smaller agencies who are already at capacity with their client loads. For conference and networking events to be successful ventures, digital agencies should look for the opportunities that best meet their needs.
For example, some agencies prefer to attend only a few of the most reputable industry conferences where they know they’ll have a chance to learn from some of the most influential names in the business. Others prefer smaller networking events where they have the chance to connect one on one and plant the seed for professional relationships. Then there are others that aren’t all that interested in conferences for their own industry but prefer to attend events for the industries they serve as a way of gaining new insights to better serve their clients.
To put it more simply, quality over quantity and know what your goals are before signing up.
“About once a year we attend a conference. We usually pick a more technical conference where we can learn about new technologies. So far, we have not gotten any new business from these conferences. We learn a lot and they spark new ideas, and we meet lots of new people, but it has not really led to any new work. So, ultimately, conferences help us grow because of the knowledge we gain at them, but not because of the networking.” – Chris Simental, Co-Founder of Ripe Media
“I try to limit industry conferences to two or three a year. It definitely helps grow your network, however I’ve found that often times you run into the same people and hear the same presentations over and over again. Attending two or three good conferences per year will get you in touch with the right people and keep you updated on industry changes and forecasts.” – Kevin Watts, President of Raincross
Speaking at an Event
For agencies that have concerns about whether attending an industry event is really worth the investment of resources, one sure way of gaining the most networking power is by attending as guest speaker. For many in the digital marketing industry, taking center stage and sharing your own insights is one of the most effective ways of establishing authority and building a professional network.
It’s an unfortunate truth that there are many small agencies out there feel like they’re not big enough to hold much influence as speaker, when the reality is this couldn’t be further from the truth. Agencies of all sizes and areas of expertise have something valuable to contribute to their professional industry. It’s often the smaller agencies that work in niche markets and have experience with specialized skill sets that can make them especially valuable as guest speakers.
If you’re a little timid about stepping up and speaking, start by setting your sights on something smaller. For example, host your own local networking event or connect with your local Chamber of Commerce for opportunities. Also, the more you network, the more likely speaking opportunities will come your way without actively seeking them out yourself. Here’s what a few of our agency partners had to say about their personal experiences with speaking at industry events.
“Our speaking events have helped earn valuable backlinks and earns new business. These usually came from word of mouth referrals, but we’ve also landed speaking engagements via social media, and submitting to call-for-speakers requests.” – Jared Carrizales, Founder of Heroic Search
“I’ve had the opportunity to speak at several conferences in the last 20 years of my career in digital marketing covering topics such as SEO, E-Commerce, E-Mail Marketing and Pay-Per-Click Advertising. All of my speaking engagements were beneficial to creating new friendships, sharing of information and growth of my agency.” – Kevin Watts, President of Raincross
“Members of our leadership team have spoken at conferences, specifically around digital marketing programs that are applicable for certain industries or business types. Typically, conference organizers reach out to us directly requesting participation. These experiences helped our agency grow, not only through the interaction with the group at the event, but the exposure to new businesses overall.” – Leah Nolan, Managing Director of Storm Brain
Forming the Professional Connections You Need
Networking and professional connection building are invaluable tools for your agency’s success. While we understand the value of networking, we also understand the challenges that agencies face in making it a priority. That’s why we’re focused on making the process easier. We’ve built a community of agency partners who work to make each other stronger, and we’re committed to keeping growing agencies in the loop on industry events and future growth opportunity. If you’re a digital agency looking for a community, contact UpCity today and learn how we can help.