On Tuesday we held our second mentoring session with the 2015 Entrepreneur Academe cohort. These monthly sessions are opportunities for our mentors and entrepreneurs to meet each other in person and, we hope, start conversations and relationships that will extend beyond the session. The best mentoring relationships happen organically when there’s a good skills and chemistry match!

Each our of sessions focusses on a specific theme: this one was called “SELL” and looked at sales, PR, marketing and social media.

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The panel, l-r: Nick Reynolds, Emma Parrott, Anjali Ramachandran, Roberta Lucca, Louise Beaumont

We kicked off with a Q&A with our expert panel that was able to talk to the entire “SELL” spectrum: Louise Beaumont (Head of Public Affairs & Marketing, GLI Finance), Roberta Lucca (Co-Founder & Marketer-in-Chief Bossa Studios & WoderLuk), Anjali Ramachandran (Head of Innovation, PHD UK), Emma Parrott (Associate, Fieldhouse PR) and Nick Reynolds (Product Innovation & Development Manager, BBC Monitoring). They were ably supported by some of our other mentors including public speaking expert Sophia Cannon, growth consultant Laura Mercurio and our resident commercial lawyer, Roberta Draper.

Here are a few highlights:

Simon started off by asking each of the panel what one bit of advice they would give to a resource-strapped start up. The overwhelming message was do everything you can to know your customer. Roberta added that sales and marketing should be integrated into product development from the start, Emma said that every company, whatever size or stage, needs to “nail your message” and Nick concluded that in social media you needed to understand that social is all about networks.

As it happened we then got stuck into social media as a topic in depth, kicked off by a question from Mendora Ogbogbo from Parlitraining, who specifically wanted to understand the role of social media in driving B2B sales. Platforms need to be considered carefully, not least that everyone is strapped for time. There was a general consensus that Twitter is the best platform for a B2B operation, although often as a notification conduit to other content, such as blog posts (more on that in a minute) and YouTube clips. Twitter is a particularly good medium for getting to journalists, but you have to understand individual journalists’ key interests and you should use their Twitter handle and not their publication’s.

There was a lengthy discussion about the frequency of Tweets, with no real consensus emerging. The key seemed to be regularity and consistency rather than frequency and their are several good tools to help in this regard, including Buffer, HootSuite and Tweetdeck. Nick pointed out that social media worked best for a team when it was coordinated – and preferably through one person.

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The mention of scheduling tools got us talking more generally about ways that small companies can “hack” social media. First and foremost is to listen – and this is where HootSuite and Tweetdeck come into their own, as does creating Twitter lists. Titles are important – although it’s a tricky balance between having SEO-compliant titles and ones that grab attention. And Louise suggested that you should “tap into something bigger”, hanging a Tweet or Post onto a broader conversation or news story.

Anjali made the great point that “content itself is a hack”. That is, blog posts are free to create, needn’t be that onerous to create or long and can hugely boost SEO. And make sure your blog has prominent share and repost buttons – make it easy for readers to share your content! It’s important to be authentic, and the more you can own a niche the better; what do only you do? And of course there are lots of great free analytics tools (including Twitter’s own) that can show you how what’s working. Indeed A/B test your stories by publishing two different versions and learning from which works better.

We discussed the role of PR – and again social media – in fundraising. If hiring a PR agency is beyond your budget at the moment, again there are hacks. The key thing is targeting specific journalists – and, again, with stuff that might actually interest them (Sarah mentioned a blog post by Mike Butcher from TechCrunch in which he lambasts poorly thought through pitches to him.) Finally, don’t expect PR to be the be all and end all of your fundraising campaign, but your PR and social media footprint does say something about your company’s profile in the real world.

Where PR can play a significant role is in recruitment – especially of developer talent. We have such a dearth of devs in this country that that they really can pick and choose jobs. And the first thing a prospective hire is going to know is whether you’re in TechCrunch. Roberta concluded the Q&A by talking about how to take this kind of recruitment-based publicity offline, by targeting the right conferences and holding meet-ups at your office.

We rounded off the afternoon with a fast and furious hour of speed networking, so that entrepreneurs could speak individually to the mentors. As well as the panellists, Things got so lively that the good staff of the Guildlhall City Business Library insisted we close the door to keep the noise down!

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Speed networking in action!

Next month, then, is all about technology; we’ll report back, but in the meantime keep a look out here for some upcoming entrepreneur and mentor profiles and keep your eye on both our Angel Academe twitter feed and LinkedIn EA group for news as it happens.

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