Content-Enabled Networking

A CMWorld 2021 Session

If you missed Maureen Jann’s Content Marketing World 2021 talk entitled “Leveraging Content to Build Connections (and Gain New Clients)” in Cleveland this year, don’t fret! We’ve stolen her script (MWAHAHA!) and turned it into a blog post to make sure you can read about how she layered content into networking during her mission to do 500 virtual networking sessions in 150 days. Get the deck here (so watch for the “SLIDE!” notes in the copy to get the full effect!)

(SLIDE!) Once upon a time, there was an agency owner who had just lost every client she had during the spring of 2020.

(it’s me!)

Three years in and I’d been working crazy hours to keep my original tiny agency, SuperDeluxe Marketing, alive. Then unfortunate timing and unfortunate pandemics meant that I was starting over. I’d lost every single one of my clients in just 30 days. (SLIDE!)


Who Am I?

I’m Maureen Jann, and I’m the owner of NeoLuxe Marketing, a content, strategy, event, and branding agency. I’ve been an agency owner for 4 years, I’ve been in the biz for more than 20 years, and I love weird shoes. I’m also a professional dog snuggler.

Today, I’m going to tell you about how I leveraged content to help my agency thrive. (SLIDE!)

All the News

Let me set the stage. It’s May 2020. The pandemic was raging. What was supposed to be two weeks has turned into 90 days and as we all know, it just kept going… as I mentioned. I had lost all of my clients and I was the chief breadwinner in my family. Things…. Were… stressful. But I AM resourceful. As I started processing this experience, I found two things:

picture of spongebob square pants with copy that says "the good news is..."
(SLIDE!) The good news is: I had been writing content and doing speaking engagements, writing guest articles and sharing social posts for three years. So I had content to leverage.

(SLIDE!) And people were seeking connection. And I needed to draw the line between the challenges other marketers were facing to the content I knew would help them survive the pandemic.

pictures of thumbs down with copy that says "the bad news was..."
(SLIDE!) The Bad news? No one was listening. Everyone was scared and buried in their own traumatic pandemic experience.

(SLIDE!) Unfortunately…marketing agencies, and interacting with marketing agencies were at the bottom of the list of marketers and entrepreneur’s priorities. In the best of times people didn’t trust marketing agencies. (SLIDE!)

THIS was not the best of times.

The tools at my disposal were my extroverted nature, a pre-paid Calendly account, and a professional Zoom account.

(SLIDE!) So I set to work. I scheduled meeting 500 people in 150 days (aka 5 months) to help connect with people, answer marketing questions for free to build trust, and offer resources that would help make their jobs easier. And whine a little. We were in a pandemic after all. (SLIDE!)

Pictures of computer on fire and woman in a screen with copy that says "You're on mute"
The Lessons

What do you get from 500 meetings in 150 days?

  • Zoom burnout. I think I was a pioneer.
  • Expertise in keeping conversations going with strangers
  • Acumen in ensuring that your background looks nice even when the room you’re in is a hot mess
  • The ability to build trust quickly
  • Understanding on how to spot ways to weave in content to help people solve their problems
  • How to build social proof in networking spaces intentionally (SLIDE!)

The Content

So, how did help content and networking become BFFs? First, I built a foundation.

Although I started in the marketing world in 2003, starting an agency is different from working for someone else as a marketer.

(SLIDE!) From the time I started my baby agency in 2016, I knew three things were going to ensure that I survived:

Three things I needed to survive: network, to get found, and social proof
(SLIDE!) my network
(SLIDE!) my searchability
(SLIDE!) building social proof to get third party validation

(SLIDE!) Every month, I wrote rough pieces of content to build my brand and worked with my contract editors to polish them and post them on my blog. (SLIDE!) Every week I reached out into my network to find opportunities to share my expertise with my market. (SLIDE!) Every day, I showed up and spoke to people to build trust with them.

(SLIDE!) I knew this was a long game. Little did I know how long it would become.

The Networking

(SLIDE!) Networking isn’t easy. But it’s easier when you have something to anchor your conversation.

What do you say? How do you keep people engaged? Why should they care about you at all?

Here’s the trick: you just focus on them. (SLIDE!) I don’t mean you ignore them when they ask you questions, I mean that after you answer a question then ask them something else. But here’s the hardest part… you have to actually care about the person on the other side of the table or screen from you. You have to be curious about them.

If you can’t muster up the real interest in the people you’re talking to, you’ll be interpreted as fake and salesy. Marketers ESPECIALLY can’t afford to make this mistake. Much like lawyers, car salespeople, and real estate agents, the deck is stacked against us. There are a bunch of bad eggs stinking up the joint for the good ones.

Even if you care, it’s still hard. That’s why I use a framework. (SLIDE!)

This Framework is from BNI (a business networking group). If you know about BNI, YOU KNOW ABOUT IT. Regardless of your thoughts or lack thereof, this is the most useful networking framework I’ve found. As I met with people and I stepped through this framework, I found ways to layer in content that was going to be useful to them. Check it out:

  • (SLIDE!) Goals: What are the objectives that are important to you; what are the problems you want to solve? Not just financial and business goals, but also personal and educational objectives. Incorporate Content? I don’t recommend dropping your content bombs at this point in the conversation. It’s too early and you haven’t established trust. Put a mental pin in it and loop back at the end of the conversation or at another point it makes sense. I’ve found that it shows that you’re more interested in learning about them than shoving content down their throats.
  • (SLIDE!) Accomplishments: What big projects have you completed in business or as an employee? What are your accomplishments as a student or parent? Incorporate Content? If you’re an agency, this is a great time to offer a checklist on how a business or a marketer can leverage these types of highlights for themselves or their business. Follow up with a helpful piece of content showing how your services can help showcase their subject matter expertise for their professional accomplishments!
  • (SLIDE!) Interests: What are the things you really enjoy doing? The music you like to listen to, the hobbies you spend time on, the sports you like to play or watch? People are more willing to spend time with people they share interests with. Incorporate Content? Have you looped your interests into something you’ve written? This is a fun way to help bridge the gap between what you do and what you love. In my case, I had written an article that described a content strategy using a layer cake to demonstrate both my love of The Great British Baking Show and the complexity of content. It was always a fun way to highlight things.
  • (SLIDE!) Networks: Each of your contacts is a part of many networks. Do you know what these are, how big they are? Each of us has the potential to connect with hundreds or thousands of people if we cultivate these resources. Incorporate Content: It doesn’t really make sense to incorporate content here unless finding new networks is your jam. But, if connecting with people and getting the word out about your content is your goal, finding other networks you can dig into is a good strategy.
  • (SLIDE!) Skills: What do you do especially well? What are the professional areas in which you excel? Don’t be afraid to share this information with your contacts, and learn about the talents and abilities of the people in your network as well. Incorporate Content: Here’s what I would say in this situation, “I love getting nerdy about customer personas. If I can help someone figure out who their most profitable, influential, or strategic customers are, it’s a good day! In fact, I wrote an interesting ebook on it if you’re curious!”

Scaling Content-Driven Networking

Ok, it’s easy to understand how someone in a tiny organization can make this type of strategy work for them. But how does this translate to an agency where you have different roles playing different parts in the sales strategy? (SLIDE!) Essentially, how do you scale this?

Get your team involved, silly! Help them understand what types of content are available to them. Get them excited about it at your all staff meetings.(SLIDE!) DO AN INTERPRETIVE DANCE.

(SLIDE!) When I was the marketing director at my last company, and we would release new content, we would literally roll it out as if we had a new product to the whole company…because it was a new product. It was a new product that helps illustrate our usefulness to the market. Then we would put on a dog and pony show at the sales meeting to ensure people knew what this was and how to use it.

AND THEN WE WOULD DO IT AGAIN FOR THE FOLKS INTERACTING WITH CUSTOMERS.

For serious. Three times. Marketers need to cheerlead the crap out of their content so that their staffers know how to use and connect content to their networking.

Ok, I know this sounds like a lot of work. And it is. (SLIDE!) Good marketing is hard. Learning new skills is hard. Networking is awkward. But think about how much easier it will be to thrive in the hard times if you’re hustling in the good times.

As We Ride Into The Sunset

(SLIDE!) What were the results of my kamikaze mission of 500 meetings in 150 days?

Rainbow Brite riding a horse over the rainbow

  • I made 13 new friends.
  • 500 people knew my name.
  • I met and collaborated with a sales consultant who has brought up an incredible amount of business that led us to another sales consultant that brought us even more business and is leading to a much bigger strategic discussion around our service offerings.
  • We’re closing the year off by doubled our revenue.
  • We have a huge network of providers that can help us execute on our customer’s needs.

It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. (SLIDE!)

Share your questions in the comments!

snorkling gear

Wait, that's not all.

Read Chris Craft's blog that inspired his Content Marketing World 2021 session, "How To Come Up With SEO-Friendly Blog Topics".