Key Takeaways from The Small Business Expo Denver 2018

By Zofia Antonow on Jun 12th, 2018
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Last week, I attended The Small Business Expo in the Denver Convention Center on behalf of the team at Ascend.

It was a day filled with the joy of entrepreneurship in the truest sense: all around me, small business owners’ faces lit up as someone asked them, “so what do you do?” They could hardly contain their excitement when explaining their business and the problems it solves.

From niche services to new gadgets, just being around the buzz of entrepreneurship was enough to energize me throughout the day. Who needs coffee when you could be amped up on the idea of changing the world, anyway?

What is The Small Business Expo?

aerial view of the small business expo

The Small Business Expo is one of the largest B2B trade shows in the US, traveling across 15 major cities. It’s the perfect place for small business owners, marketers, and other entrepreneurial people of Denver to gather in one big event.

The purpose of the expo is to empower entrepreneurs to learn and create valuable connections through the people they meet and the workshops they attend. There were plenty of activities to encourage both results:

Small business roundtables gave small business owners the opportunity to chat with people in their industry or others by sitting at industry-specific tables in a designated area.

  • Speed networking was an efficient way to make as many connections as possible, with a bell “ding” signifying partakers to change tables every 3 minutes while giving their elevator pitch. Even if you didn’t participate, you could feel the energy and hear the bell clanging from a mile away.
  • The business card exchange table was exactly what it sounds like: plastic card holders were organized by industry, and professionals could drop off and pick up business cards to get connected with other individuals. Here, it seemed like the prettiest cards were the first to disappear!
  • The exhibitor hall, which comprised of tons of booths from all sorts of business sizes, industries, and more, was the main floor of the event. It gave the booth holders a chance to market to individuals as well as further the networking opportunities.
  • Workshops and seminars served one of two purposes depending on the format the speaker of each chose: some experts came to the expo with a formal presentation while others opened the floor up to an intimate Q&A on the topic. Either way, things were learned, connections were made, and stories were shared.
  • The recharge lounge was the final and sneakiest networking spot: comfy chairs with chargers next to them encouraged attendees to take a quick break to recharge—both literally and figuratively—before carrying on, which turned into mini-networking sessions as the chairs were strategically grouped close together and everyone was in a social mood.

Event Highlights

My favorite parts of the event included a free headshot booth as the best “swag” giveaway—maybe it’s because I’m a marketer myself, but I thought this freebie was a genius marketing tactic for a photographer who specializes in executive headshots.

I also loved the small size of the workshops: unlike at conferences with thousands of attendees and a vast stage separating the presenter and audience, the Small Business Expo workshops were in small rooms with easy walkability for the speakers. Although more people attending the expo would have increased the energy and buzz, it was nice to have a smaller group for the sake of collaboration and opportunities to participate.

Finally, even though I won’t drink any beer that’s lighter than a stout, it was nice that the daytime part of the event wrapped up on a casual note, reflective of the Denver culture it was hosted in: attendees were treated to free Coors beer during the closing happy hour. Even the most nervous or rigid of attendees loosened up and smiled more, allowing the conversations to deepen and for more business cards to be exchanged.  

I attended 3 workshops during the day, all with a different topic, culture in the room, presentation style, and of course, personality. That’s the great thing about events like the Small Business Expo—you truly get to pick your learning style for the day.

Manny Patrick: Creating Immediate Income Through Podcasting, YouTube & Video Marketing

The first workshop was presented by Manny Patrick, a speaker and business coach, who taught  us how to make a profitable business with video production and podcasting.

Business coach Manny Patrick talks about making money through video and podcasting

His top tools for creating video content:

  • Zoom - a webinar and conference recording tool
  • Libsyn - a podcast hosting and publishing service 
  • Upwork - a freelancing platform

Best quotes from the presentation:

  • “You don't have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.”
  • “If your belief is not as big as your adversity, you will die.”
  • “A life with no plan is a plan to have no life.”

His top tips for the audience:

  • Don’t start a podcast as a means to create more content; it needs to have a strategy and lead generation plan to be worthwhile.
  • The top 2 skills that are essential to small business owners are sales and closing—like the old acronym goes, "Always Be Closing" (ABC).
  • The number one killer of hopes and dreams, according to Manny, is self-doubt. So don’t let the fear of risk or failure deter you from success!

Yusef Muhammad: How to Grow Your Business Using "Video" Everywhere, On All Devices

Next up was Yusef Muhammad, SCORE advisor and CEO of American Business Television Network, who walked the audience through the basics of identifying their core audience through a buyer persona, perfecting their elevator pitch, and then taking the key ideas from both to build a marketing strategy.

My favorite part: when Yusef quickly realized I was a rare marketer in a room (or rather, sea) of business owners, he involved me in the discussion! Every time he made a key point, he would turn to me and ask for further information or to confirm his statement with my research and experience. It truly was a collaborative workshop in the sense that I was given a chance to flex my marketing expertise as perhaps the youngest audience member in the room.

CEO of American Business TV Yusef Muhammad talks about perfecting your elevator pitch

Top resources for small business owners:

  • SCORE - the largest network of volunteer business mentors and consultants in the US, available in every city
  • The Work Up - American Business TV’s educational show about marketing 

Fun marketing facts:

  • Amazon Prime recently surpassed 100 million subscribers, officially putting them above Netflix in the running. That’s a lot of monthly visitors!
  • Facebook and Google together control 70% of all advertising revenue, so if your brand is going to be buying ads, chances are it’s from one of those two huge brands.

The goal of crafting the right elevator pitch is to be able to tell your brand story quickly and effectively through video. Essentially, it’s a great starting place for condensing the important parts of your business to be able to easily communicate it through other mediums.

A great elevator pitch should...

  • Address who you are and what you do (think: proper introduction)
  • Excite you and the listener (think: enthusiasm)
  • Be at least 2 sentences long yet less than a paragraph (think: elevator rides are quick)

Matt Ford: Advanced Social Media "Hacks" & Tips to Dominate Your Industry

The third workshop I attended was all about ways to go beyond the basics of social media advertising, presented by Matt Ford, an internet marketing expert.

What I loved about this talk, besides the fact that I’ve been researching Facebook advertising and so the topic was hyper-relevant to me, was that Matt grabbed a stool, introduced himself, and then said, “hit me with your best questions,” launching into a full Q&A session for the entirety of the workshop. The value was huge as business owners started sharing their real experiences and relatable questions, broadening the discussion further than a single person could.

Internet marketing expert Matt Ford talks about advanced social media tips

Matt's top tools for social strategy:

  • Camtasia - great for creating tutorial videos for your content strategy
  • Ringless Voicemail - a way to market to people without disrupting their phone use time with an incoming call (no specific brand was recommended)

Best quotes from the presentation:

  • “If you add value to people, even if they have a huge following, they will respond.”
  • “Attention scarcity is the number 1 killer of businesses today.”
  • “As long as you’re relevant, people are excited. They don’t care if it’s filling their inbox.”

Top advertising tips:

  • Targeting a B2B audience on Facebook: get a directory and use the phone numbers to target people more specifically.
  • Make a list of the top 10 questions your clients ask and then answer them in your ads. For the most impact, create a 59 second video (60 seconds is Instagram’s limit) answering the questions, then post it on both Facebook and Instagram for more reach.
  • If you’re going to create Facebook Live videos, make sure they’re at least 5 minutes long so that your audience has time to show up and watch.
  • When creating a Facebook group, create a separate page to link to the group and then promote that page in order to invite people to join. Facebook doesn’t allow for the promotion of groups, but it does allow for the promotion of pages, so this is an easy way to get around it.
  • When advertising on Facebook, remember that likes don’t hold the value they used to; instead, focus on driving web traffic as your main objective. 
  • For Facebook ads, video content is recommended. After running your first ads, make your second campaign even stronger and more relevant by then retargeting people by video views from the first campaign.

The Bottom Line

Bryan Caplan from Google talks about how to use data to drive sales

For business owners, this expo is a must-attend. Not only do you get an opportunity to network and spread awareness of your brand amongst professional, like-minded peers, but you can connect with bigger brands in the accounting, healthcare, HR, and other B2B spaces to help you manage your business. On top of that, the workshops are a great way to learn a thing or two—or even to gather learning resources, as you can see from my synopses above. 

For all other attendees, the energy in the room and access to so many types of business owners is great for professional development in general—chances are, if you're looking to learn something about a niche industry, you'll connect with the right people at this expo.

If you were unable to partake in the entrepreneurial festivities this year, I hope you learned something valuable through my experience.

If you're attending next year's event, see you there!

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Key Takeaways from The Small Business Expo Denver 2018
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