$315 million. That’s how much money South by Southwest pumped into the local Austin economy in 2014. Even if you don’t own a retail or hospitality business, SXSW–which runs from March 13th through the 22nd this year– is a great time to network with other business owners, share your idea for a new startup, and increase brand awareness with prospective customers and clients. Unsure how to make the most of the festival? Check out our business prep tips below.
Sponsor an Event
Maybe you have the budget for SXSW marketing but don’t have the venue. Fear not—it’s still possible to promote your business by sponsoring an official event. Festival organizers tailor sponsorship packages based on budget, marketing goals, and target demographics, so fill out a sponsorship contact form to learn what kind of deal you can get.
Hosting an Event? Brush Up on Regulations
SXSW reduced their number of temporary event permits by 25% this year, so if you snagged a permit, that’s great—but it doesn’t mean you have free rein to, say, build a giant wall of speakers and invite bands to play until sunrise. Outdoor venues that are more than 600 feet from residential properties have an amplified sound curfew of 10:30pm Sunday-Wednesday, 11pm Thursday, and midnight on Friday and Saturday. Any outdoor venues less than 600 feet from residential properties need to unplug by 8pm Sunday-Thursday and 10pm on Friday and Saturday.
If you’re hosting an event at an indoor venue, also keep in mind that building capacity does not automatically increase during SXSW—it’s still based on square footage.
No Badge? You Can Still Network
Your business doesn’t need to have a huge budget or an approved music venue to benefit from South By. Even if you don’t want to spring for a $1000+ festival badge (we don’t blame you), you can still attend plenty of free networking events. Here are a few that we’ve found:
- Pre-SXSW Startup Crawl: This pub-style crawl between downtown startups had more than 50 host companies and 24,000 registered crawlers last year, and it promises to be even bigger this year. Several of our Leverage team members will be there—come say hi if you attend. The event takes place March 12th from 5-10 pm; you can register here.
- SX Create 2015: This weekend tech showcase at the Long Center is for anyone who considers themselves a ‘creator, maker, hacker, or enabler of these types’. Even if you don’t work directly in the tech industry, it’s a good opportunity to meet people who could help you grow your business. Learn more here, and attend any time from 11am-6pm, March 13-15.
- Tech Cocktail’s Startup Celebration: This is another opportunity to network with tech innovators in a laid back setting (Maggie Mae’s, on 6th Street). The free event takes place from 7pm-11pm on March 15th. Register here.
Carry the Essentials
If you’re planning to run around town to different networking events during South By, make sure you pack/wear your survival kit:
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Clothing for all weather
- Portable phone charger or extra batteries
- Up-to-date business cards
- Your polished elevator pitch (you never know who you’ll meet)
Strengthen Your Online Reputation before SXSW
One thing that many local businesses overlook when preparing for SXSW is their online reputation. This is especially important if you own a restaurant or store in the downtown area—many festival attendees will be checking Yelp, Urbanspoon, Google+, and other online review sources to decide where to go, and a few prominent negative reviews may be enough to dissuade them. In fact, research shows that even a 1 star difference in online reviews can affect a business’s revenue by 5-9%.
So what can you do? Claim your business’s Google+ profile, if you haven’t already. Make sure you’ve updated all your business’s social media channels and your personal LinkedIn profile. Respond positively to any negative reviews, potentially offering a concrete solution to problems that past customers have voiced. Highlight positive reviews on your website and in your ad campaigns. If all of this sounds overwhelming, contact Leverage Marketing—we’d be glad to help you build and maintain a positive online reputation.