If you are a homeschool blogger, you can wear your blogging hat to a homeschool convention to grow your blog through networking. Make your trip do double time. Look at the curriculum and listen to the speakers with your homeschool mom hat on, but also spend time making blogging connections.
Meet Readers and Blogging Buddies
Before you go to the convention, be sure to share your plans with your readers and online pals so you can be deliberate about meeting them in person. I actually keep a list of the people who say they be at the convention where I’m attending. About a week before the event, I will contact them to either set a time and place to meet or to share my twitter handle or cell phone number (depending on how well I know the person) for getting in touch at the event.
Giving your readers a hug and chatting for a while is a great way to solidify a virtual relationship and bring it into “real life.” Remember that to many of your readers, you are something of a celebrity. Whether you like it or not, they look up to you and are eager to connect face to face.
Your blogging peers may not put you up on a pedestal like non-bloggers, but they are still as excited to put a 3D, real life face to your avatar. Don’t miss the opportunity to connect and create those bonds of friendship. It’s one thing to email and hangout on on social media. It’s something totally different — more meaningful– to sit over coffee (or Cincinnati chili) and chat face to face.
If you hear a lot of people say, “You are just like I expected!” or “In real life you are exactly like you are on your blog” then you know you are blogging with your authentic voice. When people recognize you across the vendor hall, you know your avatar is an honest representation and that you’ve used a good variety of photos of yourself on social media. If no one recognizes you, it could be that you need to update your avatar or come out from behind the camera in some of your blog posts.
Meet Companies You’ve Worked With
Besides meeting readers and blogging pals, you should also make an effort to shake hands with any companies that you have worked with. Take a look at the vendor list and mark the ones you’ve placed ads for, written articles for, or done product reviews for. Be sure to visit those booths and mention that you are a homeschool blogger who has helped to promote their goods or services.
The person you worked with via email may not be manning the booth when you go by, but sometimes it happens! It’s quite rewarding for both sides to meet face to face. If you worked with that company through an organization, just mention that group instead of asking for or mentioning your contact.
Nurturing existing relationships keeps you on a company’s radar for future projects, and it also builds up the overall reputation of the blogging community. Be human and value relationships above all.
Networking is all about relationships; it’s not about making money, earning prestige, or getting traffic. If you neglect the relationship, none of those other things will happen. So even if you don’t anticipate working with that company ever again, go ahead and stop by the booth to say hi.
Connect with Companies You Want to Work With
If there are companies at the convention that you would like to work with, be sure to introduce yourself. Here are a few tips for doing that both naturally and well.
1. Be discreet and respectful about your pitches. Feel free to network with the vendors, but don’t pull them away from potential customers to do so. Plan your main networking time during the presentations of the big name speakers. The vendor hall will be mostly empty, and the vendors will have more leisure to chat.
2. Start with the products for sale. Show a genuine interest in the products; ask some questions. Then slowly lead into an introduction of yourself as a blogger.
3. Offer social media promo on the spot. Here’s a strategy that I like to use. I ask, “Are you on Twitter (or other social media)?” If they say yes, then I ask if I can take a photo with them at their booth and tag them in a tweet. Even if they are not on Twitter, I tell them that I’m a blogger and would like to give them some free promotion with a photo tweet. Either way the outcome is the same — you get a photo with the vendor, you have given them some free promotion, and you have made them smile! Plus, they now know you are a blogger and may ask more about what you do online.
3. Find out who you should talk to. Some vendor booths are manned by local volunteers. They won’t know what to do with a blogger’s pitch. Ask who does marketing for the organization so you know you are talking to the right person.
4. Observe cues. If the vendor seems uneasy about your mentioning product reviews or ad placement, drop it. Not everyone is ready for using social media to market. Don’t push yourself on anyone.
5. Offer your business card and media kit.
6. Ask for contact information and get permission to follow up with an email.
7. Use your social media powers. While you are still at the event, offer authentic promotion with positive mentions. Upload those photos you took with vendors, being sure to tag them like you promised. Don’t go overboard like a stalker, but do be deliberate about the companies you would like to work with. Behave with a no strings attached attitude. To be honest, most companies do not monitor their social media well and those who do may be too busy at the convention to stay on top of it. So you probably won’t get any feedback. Don’t expect any, and you won’t be disappointed.
8. Follow up by email or phone calls 1-2 weeks after the convention. These emails must be unique and personalized –no form letters sent out in bulk. Mention your contact by name, and offer a concise proposal with a clear call to action. Don’t drone on and on about yourself. Focus on how you can help the company because that is what will move them to respond.
If no one responds favorably, don’t be discouraged. You made friends and practiced real-life networking! It can be a bit awkward to self-promote, but you pushed yourself outside of your comfort zone and did it. That is an accomplishment in itself. And if you met with blog readers and blog buddies, your networking time was a success.
And remember that if you use your trip to a homeschool convention to build your blog, you can deduct (at least some of) the cost on your income taxes as a business expense.