In the middle of the beautiful month of May, online seller and selling expert John Lawson of ColderICE Media held his first Business (E)ssentials Boot Camp.
The two-day session was crammed with guest speakers and sessions that included nearly every aspect of e-commerce, from the latest SEO techniques to outsourcing some of your smaller tasks.
I knew I would come away with a wealth of information to help me get to the next level. I just wasn't prepared for the amount…for me it was massive
Before we go too much further, it's only fair to note that Deb worked with Lawson to write his book Kick Ass Social Commerce for E-preneurs. As you might guess, this means we have an insider's view of Lawson and his work.
To keep some journalistic integrity, we interviewed some of the boot camp attendees to gain their insights on the event. Here, we'll share those insights. Our next installment will include an interview with Lawson to see what he took away from the first of his boot camps, and what he may have in mind for the ones that come next.
We hope these articles will help you decide whether going to such a boot camp is worth the expense ($100 to $250 depending on when you register) and time commitment (two days).
Should beginners attend?
"This was a boot camp geared toward business and those who sell or want to sell on multiple platforms," says Jennifer Crowder of Boston Fashion House.
Katherine Terrill of NYC Fitness, Family and Finds agreed the session was not for those just starting out in e-commerce.
"If you're just beginning in e-commerce, the amount of information might be overwhelming," she reports. Terrill recommends getting a few months of selling under your belt before you step up to the information offered here.
Cie Bay feels that no matter where you are in your business development or experience, you'll benefit from attending. "I knew I would come away with a wealth of information to help me get to the next level," she says. "I just wasn't prepared for the amount…for me it was massive.”
Insight leaves sellers with 'dizzy elation'
The attendees we spoke with felt the speakers and presenters were knowledgeable and good communicators. Al Loise, director of Market Development for Vayu Media New Era Marketing spoke about SEO. Brent Leary co-founding partner at CRM Essentials talked about customer relationship management, and Jacqui Knight, CEO of NightOwl Communications, addressed branding.
"I've done a lot of work with SEO," Terrill notes, "but I came away with so many ideas about how to improve."
Everyone sharing insights with us felt this same sense of dizzy elation about all they had learned. "I'm going through my notes and making my plan, starting tonight," adds Bay, "but plans are going into effect Monday morning, first day of business!"
We did mastermind sessions with small groups to share our biggest challenges and got unbiased feedback
The presenters gave the attendees plenty of good stuff to chew on, but the networking among the attendees and with the speakers, themselves, also struck the right note.
"The size of the group was small enough to get individual face time with most of the speakers," reports Dave Bosely, managing director of Artwork on Tile. "And, of course, the networking was priceless. We did mastermind sessions with small groups to share our biggest challenges and got unbiased feedback to analyze and implement."
Terrill also spoke to the networking advantages. Not only were attendees put into small groups of six to eight people, but groups were shuffled throughout the day so people wouldn't hang out with the same small group of people, as many of us do when attending seminars. No settling into a comfortable niche of familiar friends and sliding through boot camp was allowed.
"They even asked us to sit with different people for the meals," she adds. This allowed the group to share new and interesting insights even during the downtime.
Variety was 'the strength'
Boot camp attendees were very enthusiastic about all of the sessions. "The strength of the boot camp was the variety of presenters and attendees," Terrill says. "All of them were focused on learning, giving and being very supportive of each other, even when they were actually competitors."
Some sessions seemed to have stood out in particular among the group we spoke with. The session about using Google technologies and the one about outsourcing smaller tasks seemed to really strike a chord. "We were shown step-by-step how to locate, qualify and hire virtual assistants to help with our business,” Bosely says.
"I'm automating like crazy," Terrill says. "I'm loaded with apps and Google add ons!"
In addition to all of the information and networking opportunities, the group was nearly unanimous in its enthusiasm for the takeaways the boot camp offered. All of the presenters sent their slides and documents on to the group once the session had passed. When we spoke with Terrill, she was looking forward to receiving these files. She also spoke about how useful it was to know this information would be coming along.
"We could focus on the hands-on part of the sessions without worrying about taking notes throughout the two days," she says. Others agreed that knowing they were not in danger of missing anything allowed them to stay focused on the learning as it happened.
All the sellers attending are very successful. I'm thinking they are successful, because they look for opportunities to learn and grow
"I'm looking forward to the website with all the slides so I can digest, digest, digest the awesome two days," she continues. "What many conferences would have done in four or five days, John did in two! We easily could have had one day per presenter. That's how dense the material is. John is a great moderator. He sets the tone and keeps things moving, making comments and giving his own insights."
Learning ignites growth
Terrill spoke about the difficulty of arranging to step out of the routine and attend such a learning session, but how vitally important that is to growing your business.
"All the sellers attending are very successful," she notes. "I'm thinking they are successful because they look for opportunities to learn and grow." Still, she admits it can be tough to get away, remembering a time earlier in her career when family commitments made that type of travel difficult to impossible.
"Now I'm more free to travel," she says. But traveling a good distance may not be necessary if you are hoping to catch one of Lawson's boot camps.
This first session was held in Atlanta, but another is scheduled for August in Dallas. Lawson's plan is to travel throughout the country, offering sessions that could make it easier for travel-challenged sellers to attend.
If you feel ready to work among a small group of peers, led by some proven e-commerce educators, you may want to keep your eyes open for a boot camp coming close to your home base. From those who shared their thoughts with us, it seems well worth the two days you'll be investing.