When we think about promoting or selling a product, service or brand, our minds typically turn to advertising or social media. What isn’t given enough attention is the role that entrepreneurs can play in marketing their business by putting themselves in front of an audience. But whether you’re selling yourself on the soapbox or on the gogglebox, it’s important to know who it is that you’re speaking to.
Ryan O’Rorke appeared on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den to get funding for Flavourly, an online artisan food service that allows consumers to go on gourmet adventures and discover everything from bacon jam to craft beers. He had us at bacon but his story is so much more intoxicating than this. For many entrepreneurs, the Den is the golden ticket they’ve all been waiting for and, in February, O’Rorke was given five offers of investment and even a job opportunity from Kelly Hoppen. He eventually settled on a deal with Piers Linney and Peter Jones, who each took 10% in return for £75,000. So why did he then turn around a few days later and scrap the deal? After some careful consideration he had realised this just wasn’t right for his business. So was his 15 minutes of fame a total waste? Definitely not. Just a few days later, he invited the public to be the investors and on the back of his reputation as a ‘dragon slayer’, went on to raise over £500,000 on Crowdcube, breaking all equity crowdfunding records when the company overfunded within 20 hours.
The kind of overnight media success O’Rorke enjoyed overnight is rare and usually can’t be planned for. A strategy that involves getting yourself into people’s living rooms via the television is customarily much more slow and measured but don’t let that put you off. Four years ago, Gemma Johnson founded MyFamilyClub, a company that helps families find ways to save money. Very early on she was lucky enough to raise her profile through regular appearances on the news and on talk shows – both on TV and the radio and continues to do so today. By carving out a niche as a family finance spokesperson, she was able to gain a lot of brand exposure. Having seen how well this method helped raise the profile of fellow money maestro Martin Lewis, founder of Money Saving Expert, Johnson knew it could work really well for MyFamilyClub as well.
“We wanted to reach a massive audience really quickly and breakfast and daytime TV was a perfect demographic for us because we could appeal directly to our target consumers: mums who are getting the kids ready for school or have just returned from doing so,” she explains. “As soon as we were on we noticed the uptake and the spikes in traffic, email and social media.”
People are naturally curious and if you touch on something that hits home with your audience – how families can save money in winter, for example – they will seek you out. Be warned though: you can’t just go on TV and then drop the ball. “It’s much more of a long-term strategy and you have to keep working on it and finding new ways to include it,” says Johnson. This is a little easier for MyFamilyClub. Having established herself as something of an expert on all things family finance, if a story were to break tomorrow on, say, further cuts to school meals, Johnson would be drafted by the producers and we’d expect to see her face on Daybreak. And hey presto: more brand coverage.
Johnson has also been known to get up on a podium and share her two cents with a live audience from time to time but is aware this is a very different medium to TV. In this environment your audience isn’t necessarily your target consumer. “Speaking at events is much more about yourself so I wouldn’t get up there and give advice on how to afford a family holiday on a budget – that’s what the media is for,” she says. “I might, however, get up and talk about how to motivate yourself back into the job market after a career break to bring up your children.”
Also no stranger to the public speaking circuit is Will King, founder of King of Shaves, who agrees that standing in front of a live audience is no place to be selling your product or service, especially if that live audience is full of fellow entrepreneurs. “It’s not a commercial vehicle nor does it have a particularly commercial aesthetic. Instead, it’s just a nice way of putting a face to the brand,” King explains. “I’ve never gone out and bought any products based on speakers that I’ve listened to because in those circumstances it’s more about knowledge and learning.”
His first speaking gig was around eight or nine years ago at the opening of a nightclub in Norwich. It was just King, a microphone and a lot of people who were interested to hear all about his experience, some of whom have since gone on to start businesses of their own. It is much in the same vein that King has spoken at so many events since: to network, share his story and help entrepreneurs – especially those just starting off – where he can.
While King is select in the conferences he speaks at – it’s more about quality than quantity – and he doesn’t partake for any strategic reasons, over the years there have been benefits to his brand. While adding value to an event, he also put a face and some humanity to King of Shaves.
So, if you’re thinking of going down the sell yourself route, it’s important to know your audience. A hard sell in front of a live audience will only leave you looking like a cheap infomercial; it’s simply not the place for it. However, if you strike a balance and find the right audience for the right purpose, there’s no reason selling yourself shouldn’t be just as much a part of your marketing strategy as updating your Facebook and Twitter feeds.