Yesterday I returned to southern California from Small Business Marketing Unleashed, an awesome 2-day internet marketing conference in Houston, TX planned by the expert team at Search Engine Guide and Small Business Brief. The conference was held at the Northwest Forest Conference Center just outside the city, with all the technology and amenities of city-based conferences, but with the relaxed atmosphere of a retreat-like forest setting, with a genuine Texan old-west feel. The facilities included a replica of the Alamo, a Texas saloon, Spanish hacienda, a lake, acres of forest, tennis courts, a pool, and rec room to name a few.
Small Business Marketing Unleashed is a new and unique type of internet marketing conference targeted at small business owners, who have a unique set of challenges and are often faced with having to multi-task and function in many roles. One of the goals of this conference is to be smaller and more intimate than the larger conferences, in order to help attendees digest information learned and have an easier time connecting with each other.
The all-star cast of speakers included: Jennifer Laycock (Search Engine Guide), Matt Bailey (SiteLogic), Wendy Piersall (SparkPlugging), Matt McGee (Marchex), Debra Mastaler (Alliance-Link), Stoney deGeyter (Pole Position Marketing), Heather Lloyd-Martin (SuccessWorks), Mack Collier (The Viral Garden), Christine Churchill (KeyRelevance), and Sage Lewis (SageRock).
Several elements made it different from your typical conference.
Being located in a forest setting, with meetings in a replica of the Alamo and pre-event activities involving a Texas-style saloon, the relaxed atmosphere made it very easy to connect with other attendees and with speakers. Also, instead of having to download presentations at the end of the conference, the swag bags came with a flash drive preloaded with conference presentations and worksheets to help attendees apply what was learned at the conference.
A few elements in particular make it a must-attend conference for small business owners:
- The intimidation factor doesn’t exist. At this conference, attendees can sit down with world-class internet marketing experts, and have specific questions answered. Not only are the speakers expert at what they do, but they approachable, and are real people just like you and me, and will answer your questions, and help you as best they can.
- Networking with other attendees is easier than ever. I can’t tell you how many incredible people I met at this conference. Networking isn’t really even the right word, because it goes beyond that. You will build incredible personal and business friendships.
- Day 1 featured intense informational sessions, and Day 2 featured workshops to help you build on what you learned in Day 1, and develop practical and specific strategies for your business. Very few conferences actually help you apply what you learned, especially while still at the conference. In the workshops on Day 2, not only could you ask questions specific to your business, but the speakers would take time to help you develop strategies for your business to improve its internet marketing efforts. To top it off, worksheets were provided (both digitally and in print) to help continue the process once attendees had returned home.
It was the first ever Unleashed conference, but you would never know because the planning and execution were excellent. Hats off to the Search Engine Guide team for a hugely successful first conference!
The charity auction featured about a dozen items from artwork to in-demand tech toys that people were eager to bid on. One of the great things about the speed-networking event was that you got to know a good percentage of attendees and speakers before the conference was even underway. This made it easier to network and make friends throughout the next couple days. Towards the end, the event’s sponsor, PopLabs, featured Chuck, the SEO Rapper, and he did a great job of mixing SEO and rap. (Didn’t think that could be done!)
The first day started off with an introductory session “Common Sense Approach to Online Marketing” with Jennifer Laycock, Matt McGee, Wendy Piersall, and Matt Bailey. Each speaker presented insight that worked together to provide an excellent overview of some key elements people would need to know when starting to explore internet marketing. This laid a solid foundation for the rest of the conference.
The conference was blogged live so you can check out notes on what was shared in this session:
Next came the sessions on specific topics, including: Site Architecture, Social Media Marketing, Keywords and Content, Building a Community, Paid Search Advertising, Blogging for Business, Link Building, and Web Analytics.
Check Out the Live-Blogging Coverage of Day 1 Sessions and See What You Missed:
- SBM Unleashed: Building a Community
- Unleashed Session: Social Media Conversations
- Unleashed: Site Architecture by Stoney deGeyter (Live Blogging)
- Unleashed: Keywords and Content
- SBM Unleashed: Paid Search Advertising
- Unleashed: Blogging for Businesss
- Unleashed: The Joy of Analytics by Matt Bailey (Live Blogging)
- SBM Unleashed: Link Building
After conference sessions were finished for the day, everyone headed over to the Hacienda for a Fiesta, Unleashed-style! Everyone enjoyed some Mexican food and margaritas, followed by some good ole’ fashioned socializing. This was a great time of getting to know each other.
The second day featured workshops that allowed participants to put into practice what they had learned, and explore topics and questions with speakers and other attendees. Workshops included: Link Building Workshop, Local Search Workshop, Keyword and Content Workshop, Viral Marketing Workshop, Paid Search Workshop, Usability and Conversion Workshop, and General Site Clinic.
Live-Blogging Coverage of Day 2 Sessions:
- SBM Unleashed: Local Search Workshop
- SBM Unleashed: Usability and Conversion Workshop
- Unleashed: Viral Marketing Workshop
- Unleashed: Building A Community Workshop by Sage Lewis
Overall, it was an incredible conference, and absolutely should be on your list of conferences to attend next year if you are a small business owner.
Be sure to check out the Small Business Marketing Unleashed conference photos on Flickr – That should motivate you to go next time!
UPDATE – Other Coverage of the Conference:
- The Future of Search Conferences: Smaller Is Better | Small Business SEM
- Local SEO (Local Search) at Small Business Marketing Unleashed | SearchInfluence
- Focusing On People At Small Business Marketing Unleashed | SiteLogic
- I’ve Been Unleashed | E-Marketing Performance
- SBM Unleashed: Trip Report and Shout Outs | SearchRank