You know that to stay competitive in today’s marketplace you have to stay on top of newer trends like SEO and blogging, but some of the business tactics that pay off today are actually more old-fashioned. So much of what works well online is all about making valuable connections with people and for that, there’s still not much that beats meeting in person.
That makes conferences an extremely valuable tool for small businesses, but one that often comes with a pretty high price tag. Industry conferences bring the biggest concentration of the experts and influencers you want to know into one place, but if you’re going to stretch the budget to include all those travel and registration expenses, it better be worth it.
Image Via Armosa Studios
It can be worth it. You can make sure it is, but you have to do more than just show up. Here are five ways to make sure you get more out of each conference you attend:
1) Be picky.
None of these tips will help much if you go to a conference that isn’t actually relevant to what you do. Do your research before committing to attend a conference to make sure the topics covered and people attending are useful to your business and your particular needs.
There can still be some variety in what those conferences look like based on different goals – maybe one is the best place to meet people in your industry and learn about important trends, and another is a great place to meet potential customers – but make sure you know what your goals are before you go and that the conference is a good match for them.
2) Pre-plan (and pre-network).
Many conferences will provide some kind of resource that gives you an idea of who will be attending. Make use of it. Pinpoint the people you know you most want to meet and contact them in advance to let them know who you are, that you’ll be there, and you’d love to chat with them.
Some people may not respond, but many will. You’re much more likely to make those contacts and have those conversations if you’ve done the early legwork.
With your pre-networking done, then sit down and create your plan for the rest of the conference. Which sessions and events are likely to be the most valuable for you and help you reach your goals? Which will inspire quality content that’s useful for your readers? You’ll probably end up making changes to your plan once you’re on the ground. Flexibility’s allowed (encouraged, really), but you’ll still find you get more out of the conference if you have a plan going in.
You leave a conference enthused about all the people you’ve met and the things you’ve learned, then you get home the next day and there’s a pile of work waiting for you to catch up on. Everyone deals with this. It’s always difficult to keep your enthusiasm up and apply what you’ve learned once you’re back to the responsibilities of everyday life.
Don’t let that become an excuse. Put time on your calendar in advance to post-plan after the conference. Sit down with your notes, organize your ideas, and decide what you’re going to do with everything you got out of the conference.
What changes are you going to try out at your business? What content will you produce based on what you learned? Is there anything new you’re inspired to try, or something you learned might not be worth it anymore?
Work out your plan while the conference is still fresh in your mind and commit to sticking to it.
4) Commit time to follow-up.
Make this a priority. If you meet a person once and never make contact with them again, it’s a wasted opportunity. Every business card you got should turn into a personalized LinkedIn invitation, follow-up, or both.
Make these as personal as possible. Reference something you talked about, or send a link that helps them solve a problem they mentioned. Ask something that makes them more likely to respond, so it’s not just a one-time contact.
When you’re making that plan up in #3, try to think how some of your new contacts might fit in. Is there someone that would make a perfect expert guest for a web conference or a good interview for your blog? Turn those one-time meetings into connections that matter.
5) Start planning for next time.
Start by reviewing what you got out of this conference as compared to the cost to decide if it’s worth attending again. If it is, jot down some of your ideas and impressions from this year that will help you have an even more productive conference next year.
Create and hang on to the list of attendees you met, as many will be around again and should be a part of your pre-networking next year. Make a note of which speakers were the most impressive, which just weren’t for you, and the topic areas you found the most valuable. A year is a long way off, so put a note on your calendar to re-visit all this information when the time’s right.
The ROI of conference attendance starts to look different when you commit to making every opportunity they present count. Representatives from the big businesses out there can get away with just showing up, but you need every conference to be a business tool of greater value than what you put in. All it takes is some extra work and planning.
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