by Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, The Productivity PRO®

The lobby payphone dangled by its cord as I lay crumpled in a heap on the floor of the Holiday Inn in Mansfield, OH. Tears streamed down my face as the words echoed in my ears, “Meagan walked today!” It was 1996, and my then 14-month old daughter had taken her first precious steps, and I'd missed it. That began my quest to balance my passions for my family and my message, without sacrificing either. Now, with three children, I conduct 90%of my business within a two-hour radius of Denver.

After the September 11 attacks and ensuing travel difficulties, speakers had a renewed interest in speaking closer to home. With many organizations holding meetings within driving distance, tapping the local market can be an important component of your overall marketing strategy. Here are some of my favorite tactics and some ideas from fellow speakers:

1. Laser Beam Focus
I've made a very clear, conscious choice about working locally. I don't pursue out-of-town work, because it doesn't serve my purpose. If the business comes to me through a referral or bureau, fine, but I rarely go after it. Determine how many days a month you're willing to be gone (I accept a max of three) and set limits around that decision.

2. Diversify Your Services
My expertise is productivity, but I can only be hired for so many time management courses within one company. So I offer other communication and professional development seminars. Be willing to venture into the unknown! Stretch. Look for opportunities everywhere. Market yourself locally as a Speaker, Trainer, Consultant, Facilitator, Emcee, and Panelist. Rebecca Morgan, CSP, CMC, and NSA Director, emceed the annual United Way kick-off, in front of thousands of people. Give a little; reap a lot.

3. Showcase.
.Be willing to do gratis work for the local exposure. The calendar section in your local Business Journal lists contact information for local associations, Chambers of Commerce, the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), Meeting Professionals International (MPI), Professional Convention Managers Association (PCMA), and the American Society for Association Executives (ASAE). Exchange your services for their mailing list, a testimonial letter, and an article in their newsletter. Deb Fine, owner of The Fine Art of Small Talk in Denver, CO, favors joining civic organizations that are a target market of her topic, where she is the only speaker present. Deb also offers her workshops through local lifelong learning institutes, so she can invite prospective clients to attend as guests. Vicky Sullivan recommends you showcase with local speakers bureaus. Even though they market nationally, they are also known locally and get a lot of inquiries.

4. Get Your Name Out There
Submit pieces to local papers, speak at charity events, send out press releases, get interviewed for the paper, appear on TV spots, and host radio talk shows. Keep your name in the Business news and “People on the Move” sections of the papers. Be active and participate in your local NSA leadership. Although motivated by a desire to give back to an organization that has given so much to him, Vilis Ozols, MBA, CSP, also recognizes that being the president of NSA-Colorado has enhanced his visibility in the local meeting planning community and increased his ability to obtain local business. He also advised me to upgrade my phone service to a business listing, thus obtaining an ad in the Yellow Pages. I get a couple bookings a year from that advice!

5. Public Seminars.
Once you've developed an adequate celebrity status and built your local mailing list, try holding a public seminar. Barter with the hotel and printing company. Trade seminar seats for a room, food, and brochures. Charge a reasonable rate such as $50, and pack the house to recover your daily fee. My objective isn't making a ton of money; I've broken even on two public seminars but received great exposure.

6. Price Flexibility
I discount my fees by 50%for local business, which creates a win/win situation. The client gets a great value, and I stay home with my family. I also offer package deals, which gives me consistent income throughout the year. Larry Winget, CSP and marketing genius, suggested that I run a “Keep Laura Home for the Holidays SALE” around the holiday slump. Sounded corny, so I tried it. My artist designed a cute holiday graphic, and I sent a postcard worth $500 off programs booked from November 19, 2001 to January 11, 2002. I can attribute two bookings to that postcard! Thanks Larry!

7. Cold Call
Yes, I still do it. Much less than I used to, but it still puts dates on the calendar. I call large corporations (my main market) and ask the receptionist for the name of the HR Manager or Training Director. I offer to do a free “brown bag” seminar at lunchtime. They write a testimonial letter, and after I've done a great job, bring me back for paid work.

8. Cold Call
Get to know your clients' business REALLY well and customize everything. Develop long-term relationships and friendships with your clients. Once your clients like your work and trust you, you can ask them for referrals to other training directors or meeting planners in the area. Patti Hathaway, CSP, presented customer service training to 800 people in a bank over several months. The president of the bank was so pleased that he sent a personal letter to the 13 other affiliate/regional presidents. Nothing is more powerful than a recommendation from a peer.

9. Convention and Visitors Bureau
Lois Creamer echoed my favorite strategy. The best thing I ever did to get local speaking engagements was to join the Denver Convention and Visitors Bureau. Each month, I receive leads of booked association and corporate conferences in Denver hotels. My pitch is that I'm a national speaker, live in the same city, offer a local discount, and have no travel expenses! I consistently receive 2-4 bookings per year from these leads, making it well worth the few hundred dollars I spend on membership.

10. Drastic Measures
In 1988, Michael Aun, CSP, CPAE, recognized that 25% of his speaking engagements were in Florida. To spend more time with his family, he knew they needed to be where he was working. So he “moved Muhammed to the mountain” and moved the whole family to Florida. Today, 80% of is business is within driving distance. I'd recommend trying the other nine tips first, however.

Enjoy sleeping in your own bed!

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Copyright 2005 by Laura Stack. Reprinted with permission. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP is “The Productivity PRO.”? She is the President of NSA/Colorado and can be reached at [email protected]