8 Small Business Takeaways from SXSW Interactive 2014

I had the privilege of attending the 2014 South By Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas. SXSW is an annual conference that covers everything from interactive (technology), music, and film.

The interactive portion, which is the part of the conference I attended, saw over 30,000 attendees this year!

There were fantastic speakers with tons of knowledge and inspiration, but today I’d like to focus on what a small business owner could learn from these speakers.

Here are my eight small business takeaways from SXSW:

1. “If you want fans, you first need to be a fan.” –Austin Kleon, author of Show Your Work

Author Austin Kleon’s keynote was the first of the week, and it was the one that stuck with me the most.

My favorite point from Kleon’s keynote is that you can’t gain fans until you are a fan.

If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing and what you’re sharing, your audience won’t be either.

Look for ways to share your inspiration and show your work. This will help you connect with your audience and attract more people to your content as well.

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2. “You don’t have to know, you just have to go.” –Mark Cuban, technology entrepreneur

We’ve all heard that failure is what makes us successful, and Mark Cuban, famed billionaire entrepreneur, had a similar message. He let the world know that he has had multiple failures; his first being his initial attempt, at the ripe age of 12, at being a stamp and coin salesman.

Through his failures, Mark has found the key to any successful business venture is to solve the needs of your target audience.

Mark left us with four questions entrepreneurs should ask themselves when starting a new venture:

  • Has anybody else done this?
  • Is there something compelling about it?
  • Can I sell it?
  • Do I have the ability to execute on this idea?

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3.  “Use humor to capture existing emotions and turn the conversation into something productive.” –Baratunde Thurston, comedian and author

Communication with Humor: Perils & Best Practices was a session that took a very tactical approach to how brands and businesses can benefit from humor, even if the overall message is serious.

Humor is important, but building your business and improving customer relationships should be your number one priority. Humor is just the vehicle to help guide you along the way.

The biggest takeaway for me from this session and one that can really resonate with small businesses is: Be open to driving awareness with humor, even if it doesn’t instantly convert to sign up, buy, or share. Conversion comes once they’re convinced.

4. “Be your own content sheriff.” –Gail Marie, editor at McKinney

In a session titled, If Content is King, Who is Sheriff? a panel of marketers, journalists, and publishers looked at the good, the bad, and the ugly of online content in a digital age.

One of my biggest takeaways from this session was that as a publisher of content, you always need to be mindful of who will be seeing it and how it will be received.

Whether you’re speaking to 10,000 people or 10 people, you need to make sure you’re content is relevant and interesting to them.  You also need to make sure you’re providing the proper context for your content to be understood.

To help you stay outside of the bubble, you need to make sure you’re paying attention to audience feedback. After all, you want your content to be interesting and relevant to them.

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5. “There are four reasons to create content: to entertain, to educate, to persuade or to influence.” –Gail Marie, editor at McKinney

Gail Marie, editor at McKinney, laid out four reasons to consider when creating new content:

  1. Entertaining
  2. Informing
  3. Persuading
  4. Influencing

We tend to feel pressured to become content machines because we fear otherwise we will lose customers. The fact is that if you don’t have a true reason to be creating your own content, it will never resonate with your audience enough to be effective.

6.  “Plan your messaging. Don’t just jump in solely for the sake of jumping in.” –Richard Choi, director, advertising strategy for Chevrolet

One of the surprising things I learned at SXSW, is there are a lot of major companies who run campaigns without a clear call-to-action.

You may run a campaign and assume your audience is going to know how to take action, but without a clear direction, you may find that your campaign falls flat. This is why it’s so important to plan your messaging before jumping into any campaign.

The marketing directors from Chevrolet made this mistake but learned and adapted. From now on, they will always include a call-to-action for every one of their campaigns.

7.  “Push stuff to the limits and see what happens.” –Adam Savage, host of MythBusters

Adam Savage, one of the hosts of MythBusters, gave an inspiring keynote on the true similarities of art and science.

For me, the most inspirational part about his keynote wasn’t the correlation between art and science, but the sheer love and passion the speaker had for his work.

My key takeaway from Savage’s keynote: True passion and perseverance is the only way to truly be successful in business and in life.

You can learn from anything…

SXSW isn’t targeted at small business owners, but there is a way to find knowledge from everything you do in life.

This conference taught me a lot of things, but one of the most important things I took away is that sometimes inspiration can be even more important than education.

Hopefully, you too have taken something away from the inspiration I absorbed from this year’s SXSW conference.

I’ll leave you with this one last thought from the co-creator of Twitter and founder of the new app Jelly, Biz Stone:

8. “In order to succeed successfully, you have to be willing to fail successfully.” –Biz Stone, founder of Jelly

Who or what inspires you to keep going every day? We want to know in the comment section below.

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