Editor’s note: This submission is from our Start Small Win Big 2013 winner Mary Juetten, whose small business Traklight was selected by SUCCESS editors as our entrepreneur contest winner. Since her selection, Juetten has gone on to win several more awards for her small business and be featured on prominent conference panels.
I recently sat on the “Startup Funding: Alternative Sources of Capital” panel at the second SXSW V2V conference in Las Vegas. The panel moderator and my good friend Delilah Panio landed me the spot after presenting together in March to Women in Los Angeles Venture Association (LAVA) on a similar topic.
Want to be a featured expert on a conference panel? Here are some pros and cons of participating on a panel and tips for getting the most out of your experience.
As a preselected conference “mentor” at the same SXSW V2V conference last year, I made some excellent contacts from people looking at our company’s program and reaching out in advance. This year participating on the panel, there were not many upfront connections other than fellow panelists, but the session itself was well attended—and it’s always a great fear of mine that no one will show up.
After the conference, we saw a small spike in our website traffic and an increased number of social media and LinkedIn interactions, but most important, SUCCESS asked me to write this blog. In my humble opinion, you cannot speak on panels simply for publicity. It’s about giving back.
At Traklight, we have worked hard to raise awareness about intellectual property (IP) and make ourselves known as a thought leader. It was an honor to be asked by my peers and SXSW organizers to sit on the panel.
Being visible is one thing, but earning credibility and trust is another. As a young company, being an expert in an area is the most valuable currency. The conference panel offered me the chance to develop that credibility without pitching my company. That is supremely important to avoid— selling from the stage during a panel.
The power of networking has been critical to our success. I met several interesting contacts after the panel. Note that it is imperative to linger and mingle; do not run off once your session is over.
As entrepreneurs, and particularly as passionate CEOs, we sometimes have low moments when we aren’t sure it will all work out. It was inspiring to be on a panel surrounded by fellow scrappy entrepreneurs and an engaged audience. The new insights and ideas that come from this collaborative event are priceless benefits.
As a speaker, it is on you to cover any travel and hotel costs, a possible drawback for startups.
However, it is not—and shouldn’t be—about the actual cost. The intrinsic value of the contacts, visibility and networking, plus the inspiration and education you will undoubtedly receive by attending the event, make speaking on a panel a positive return on investment of your time and money.
Additionally, the generous SXSW V2V organizers provided panelists with a full-access pass, so I had the opportunity to get inspired and educated by other speakers and panels.
Bonus: Tips on Startup Funding
As I said, with panel participation comes inspiration, and I thought I’d share with you the education I absorbed during my own session. Here are some of the lessons I learned from my fellow presenters on the “Startup Funding: Alternative Sources of Capital” panel:
Gavin Fish, Light Harmonic’s VP of sales and marketing, has raised almost $3 million through crowdfunding efforts. He explained that market validation and research is a side benefit of rewards-based platforms.
Jennifer Beall, Tot Squad’s founder and CEO, talked about putting yourself out there in contests—advice I, of course, agree with, being a SUCCESS contest winner, which has been the start of so many amazing relationships.
Delilah Panio, founder of Stiletto Dash Inc. and management consultant, presented the top six things every entrepreneur needs to do to get investor-ready:
1. Be the expert
2. Get your corporate house in order
3. Get your IP locked in (my favorite!)
4. Develop your materials
5. Know fundraising terms
6. Get confident—because you are the No. 1 factor in fundraising