Boost sales, launch new lines, build connections and gain exposure — all from your laptop or smartphone.

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What empowers an aspiring entrepreneur to become a leader? Experience, understanding and knowledge of business foundations and practices are essential. Even so, there’s no way to overstate the impact an entrepreneur’s network of like-minded peers, mentors and customers can have on the big picture and the small details, too.

No surprise, then, that making yourself available and visible is one of the best ways to connect with leaders. You can leverage your time at conferences and networking events, or you can reach out directly via email, messaging apps and a personal phone call. 

But how do you go from striking up a conversation to building a relationship without wasting anyone’s time — including your own? Over a recent two-week span, I organized an online event that enabled me to connect with more than 100 business leaders and draw nearly 6,000 participants. 

Related: 4 Reasons Why an Online Business Is the Best Investement You’ll Ever Make

Never hosted an online event? No problem. These strategies can help you across a variety of business-need categories:

  • If you’re beginning your entrepreneurial journey, you might seek mentorship, feedback or validation to help “presell” an idea.
  • If you’re working to take your company to higher level, you may need promotional partnerships, new clients or publicity.

You can follow a few key steps to launch a successful experience around your idea, with little to no budget.

1. Define a topic.

Your event’s topic should be relevant to your industry, category or interest group. That’s the no-brainer. A carefully designed event will build lasting relationships with leaders in your space. It also can help grow an audience of people who can provide feedback on your ideas, buy your products and refer you to other leads.

The potential is huge, so it’s crucial to make sure the subject will resonate with your target participants. Because my focus is on providing entrepreneurs with resources to help them bootstrap their ventures, I launched the Bootstrapping Summit.

First, though, I needed to learn whether such an event would find its mark. I floated the idea by emailing a sample group of subscribers from my larger newsletter list and asking for their feedback.  If you don’t have a newsletter or customer base, post your idea in online communities and groups. This is also a great way to build a group of ambassadors who can help you promote the event when it’s live.

Related: How to Use a Live or Online Event to Draw in New Customers

2. List 100 potential speakers.

Once you define the topic, your search for speakers becomes straightforward. Google search and tools such as Buzzsumo and SparkToro can help you create a list of top influencers within a few hours. Speed up the process even more by identifying the Top 5 podcasts in your industry, then use keywords in the search box to narrow the list of guests. Anyone who’s been invited to the best podcasts should be regarded as a credible voice in your market.

3. Reach out for an interview.

Experts like to be treated like experts. For the Bootstrapping Summit, I made my pitch to 250 successful entrepreneurs, and 163 of them answered. I aimed for 100 speakers, but your goal might be much different. 

Timing and relevance are two key factors to influencers’ willingness to respond and be part of any event. If you scoured top podcasts to generate your list of potential speakers, you can review the most recent interviews and reach out with a note about the episode. Demonstrate your genuine interest by including a few follow-up questions that expand on the previous segment and preview the expertise you hope they’ll share at your event. You’ll elicit far more responses from recent podcast interviewees than those whose episodes published a year ago.

Podcasts aren’t your only channel for free resources. You can search for recent articles, YouTube videos or speaking engagements and follow the same model. To locate email addresses, consider a tool such as Voila Norbert.

Related: Actually, Cold Emailing Can Work for Small Businesses

4. Ask them to promote the event.

Getting industry leaders to dedicate 30 or 45 minutes for your online event is only one part of the success equation. The most effective way to spread awareness and drive registrations is to provide each of your experts with a compelling reason to become your advocate.  

There’s no one-approach-fits-all answer to convince influencers to promote your event to their audiences. There are some best practices, however. First, inquire about their needs and short-term objectives. Spend some time thinking about their goals and then propose meaningful ways you could help. Offer them something of value.  

As I prepared for the Bootstrapping Summit, I asked one of these simple questions: “What’s your short-term goal?” I learned some speakers were looking for ambassadors to help market their own upcoming launches, so I proposed to be one. Other speakers were looking for referrals, so I made sure I connected them with the right people. I discovered that most speakers were happy to share “just because” — and because being part of a closed group of experts brings big branding value.

5. Recruit promotional partners.

Before pitching my event to potential partner companies such as RightMessage, ClickMeter, Rebrandly, Zenkit, Bubble and FreeeUp, I was careful to recruit enough known speakers to grab their attention. I asked each promo partner to email the company’s membership list about the event. My 14 partners brought me nearly 2,000 additional participants I likely wouldn’t have reached otherwise. 

6. Be different.

To differentiate your event, you might prepare and share supplemental material, create extra lessons, link to discounts from promotional partner companies or offer an hour of your time to a few winners randomly selected from the participant group. 

I set apart my Bootstrapping Summit by organizing six, one-hour, live Q&A sessions with selected speakers. Participants had the chance to ask questions in real time — getting valuable input from leaders who typically charge $500 an hour. 

Related: Here’s How You Differentiate Yourself in a Crowded Market

Entrepreneurs often spend too much time trying to solve the wrong problem. Learning from the best while building longlasting relationships is the best way to shortcut your path to success and cultivate a community of people to share feedback and invest in your products and services. 

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