Paul Lancaster at Northern Power Futures

Paul on the panel for Your Digital Reputation 

Paul Lancaster is the person to go to in the North East for start-up advice. Using his experience to guide new businesses and entrepreneurs, Paul is the founder of Newcastle Start-Up Week, Plan Digital and #ThisIsMINE. We grabbed Paul before he spoke on the Your Digital Reputation panel to give us some insights into how he curates his online presence and engagement to benefit his business.

Can you please introduce yourself and your organisation for our NPF readers?

I’m Paul Lancaster, I’m the founder and director of Newcastle Start-Up Week Festival.

What can you tell us about Newcastle Start-Up Week?

It’s a five day, multi-venue festival that takes place in May, across Newcastle and Gateshead. This is our third year, with previous festivals having over 600 people coming across the five days, and we’re hoping to have 750 this year. It’s all about inspiring, motivating, encouraging and supporting more people to start a business in the North East of England.

How have you seen the impact it has made on entrepreneurs and start-ups in the North East?

I’ve been involved in the start-up world for about fifteen years, and what I realised is I had a really good network around me. I knew where to go for help and advice, but a lot of people still don’t know where to go for that help and advice. I thought, why don’t we put on an event that pulls it all together in one place, puts it all on a plate. Create a platform for the best help and advice, and takes people on a bit of a journey. Each day has a different theme: day one is inspiration day, day two is getting started, day three is funding and finance, day four is scale up and day five is keep going or pivot. So people would learn in five days what it would normally take them five months or five years to learn.

That’s five days that pack a lot in!

You don’t have to go to every day but there is a hardcore group that goes to everything, day and night, including me! There’s afterparties and networking events every night. But most people go to one or two days depending on what stage they’re at. When you buy a wristband, you can dip in and out. Sometimes you find that some people are only going to come to day one but then they decide to come to day two, day three, day four .

You giving a talk at Northern Power Futures about broadening your online presence and reach. Do you have any advice for putting your best digital foot forward?

I’ve built a bit of career, definitely in the last ten years, using social media. I’ve built up a really good network online and offline, I’ve got an above average number of followers on social media and I use that to leverage the network to the people around me. What’s the point in having lots of followers if you don’t put it to good use? Basically, I set out and made sure I was very consistent. I decided who I wanted to be known as, and what I wanted to do. I only really talk about start-ups, small businesses, micro business, marketing, entrepreneurship, the North of England, the North East in particular, and I don’t really talk about anything other than that. I’ve become known as this champion of the North East. Being focused and consistent.  

What are the biggest mistakes people put on their online profile when trying to get a business or start-up off the ground? And, have you ever made those mistakes?

I am very high profile in the North East and I’m known in the business community. That definitely helped grow my business and I wouldn’t be able to do Newcastle Start-Up Week if I wasn’t known already. I’ve built up a lot of good will over the years as I’m always adding value. I call it AAV – always add value. I’m always matching people up, introducing people, signposting, giving help and advice without expecting anything in return.

Some people do confuse their personal and their professional profile, thats a big mistake. You might be following them on social media and you think you know them for a certain thing, and then they have a rant at something is out of character to what you think they are about and why you are following them in the first place.

A few years back I was already well-know for helping start-ups and small businesses, and working in the North East start-up community. Then I started working for a big tech company, and in amongst all the stuff I already was doing, I started putting out some more overtly-marketing messages related to that business. It made sense to me because it was all business related but a lot of people didn’t like that. Some people private messaged me and said, I don’t like you doing that because we know you for doing this. Now you’re talking about a corporate business. At first I was like, there’s nothing wrong with that, but then I thought, I’ve got to tone it down a bit. Some people where saying, I am going to unfollow you now because I don’t want to see those corporate messages you’re putting out there. You do have to be mindful about who is following you and why they’re following you. I try not to be political but occasionally I do retweet something political. Then I look back and think, I’ve overdone that and I un-retweet it because it doesn’t fit in with my timeline.

You’re only human at the end of the day, but you do have a lot of followers and influence – Plan Digital have 12.4K followers on Twitter. What are the most effective ways of building a following and engaging with a following?

Twitter is my thing, it’s where I’ve benefited the most and the people around me have benefited the most. Twitter come naturally to me because I’m on it a lot and I like using it for reaching new audiences, and keeping existing audiences interested. I use it more like a communication channel. People usually get a faster response from me if they tweet me, than if they email me.

I’ve worked in different roles that have helped me build my network, so it’s not an overnight thing, its an organic thing. I’ve picked up followers along the way by adding value, giving back, signposting and helping other people.

If you want people to be interested in you, be interesting. Engage with people, join the conversation. Particularly if you don’t have many followers, join a conversation. If somebody has a conversation with me on twitter, they can potentially tap into my 12k following, if we have a positive, constructive conversation. I’ll usually like and retweet. Take advantage of the hashtags! Events usually have hashtags, so you can join in even if you’re not there. Northern Power Futures has one: #NPFutures – so join in the conversation!

Take advantage of the hashtags! Events usually have hashtags, so you can join in even if you’re not there. Northern Power Futures has one: #NPFutures – so join in the conversation!

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Northern Power Futures photographs taken by Thomas Jackson at TyneSight Photography

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