To build and grow a business, sometimes you have to get away from the comfort and safety felt behind your desk. Going to in-person events gives entrepreneurs and business leaders the chance to recharge while joining like-minded peers to expand their networks, learn new strategies and uncover ideas that can lead to profitable and rewarding opportunities.
There are thousands of events out there, from annual national events like Inc.'s GrowCo to local networking events near me such as the Get Down to Business Lunch benefiting Easter Seals in Palm Beach, Florida. Many attendees at these conferences and networking functions fail to tap into the true value that exists within an event. By utilizing these events properly and taking advantage of the value they offer, you can grow your company, extend your network and come out reinvigorated about your business' potential.
#1. Approach it as an Investment
Attending numerous conferences and seminars isn't cheap. Including travel and lodging, a single event can cost upwards of $3,000, and even more if you're an exhibitor or sponsor. Also, your time is valuable, and you have to take that cost into consideration as well.
Approach each event as an investment opportunity. Before investing in a conference, research the event's website, agenda and social media sites. These resources will tell you who is speaking, who may be attending, what topics will be covered, and what types of networking opportunities there will be. The more you know about an event, the more opportunities you can find to make the most out of your investment. You don't need to recover your expenses in direct sales at the event for it to be worthwhile, but you need to have clear goals of what you hope to gain from attending.
#2 Make the Most of the Trip
Most likely, the conference or seminar will be in a city you don't typically have a reason to visit. Take time prior to the event to research if there are any suppliers, people, entrepreneurship incubators, businesses or economic development organizations that may help you explore or expand on opportunities that could be available in the area. Since you're already there, take advantage of the potential that comes with being in a different demographic area with its own specialties and resources.
Traveling is fun, and there's a lot to do and see in cities that host events. Try and plan to get to your destination city a day before the event or stay a day after. Visit a historic place, a theme park, famous restaurant, museum or park. This will allow for some fun and relaxation and will ease the monotony of travel. Just because you're there to work, doesn't mean it can't be fun!
#3. Say Hello
It's hard to share your value with people when they don't know who you are. Introduce yourself to organizers, speakers, and other attendees. Most everyone at an event is actively engaged at some level and likely to want to talk, share, help, and get to know other attendees. Take advantage and let people know who you are. Who knows, you may be just the person they need or want to meet.
#4. Wear Your Name Badge
It may feel silly to wear a large laminated badge with a lime green lanyard around your neck, but this conference accessory has a few major benefits.
The badge identifies to event staff that you're where you're supposed to be. It's also a good conversation starter with other attendees that may spot you walking down the hall, street or through the lobby during the event. Most importantly, your badge has your name on it. This is helpful to other attendees who may use it as a visual aid in pronouncing or remembering your name and vice versa.
#5. Remember, Use Names
Names are a large part of our personal identity. It makes me feel valued when someone remembers my name.
In addition to being able to use their name instead of chief, big guy, or "there she is!", it gives you the ability to easily start a conversation with them in the future. If you don't remember someone's name, you're less likely to approach them, and more likely to miss out on opportunities to build relationships.
Try hard to remember names and be honest if you forget them. Even if you have to ask a second time, they will respect that you are making the effort and taking the time to get to know who they are.
#6. Share What You're Going Through and What You Need
When first attending events, I didn't know what to expect. I was terrified to share the actual pains and struggles I was going through because I didn't want to be seen as a failure.
I took over Frigibar Industries, Inc. about five years ago after my father had passed from a swift battle with Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS). He didn't have a succession plan in place, and I had very little experience workingin the business prior. It was extremely difficult to make the transition from the corporate world to running the family business in the marine refrigeration industry. Once I learned to be open with others at events, I was overwhelmed with support and guidance, and I made new friends and connections who genuinely wanted me to succeed. This all happened because I decided to be vulnerable and share my situation. If you're going through a hard time and are around like-minded people, it's likely that other attendees are going through similar situations or have before and know exactly how to help.
#7. Be Curious
The more events I attend, the more curious I allow myself to be. At a recent event in Dallas, I saw a guy eating by himself at the bar. He had a conference badge around his neck, so I knew we already had something in common. I asked him if he really wanted to eat alone, and invited him to sit with the group I was eating with instead. We had several valuable conversations about our businesses that day and the next and made a wonderful connection.
Without being curious and going out of my way to offer a friendly invitation, I would've never met him and many others. Value from serendipity depends on you allowing it to happen. Be curious.
#8. Mark Your Cards
Asking for a business card is making a commitment to contact that person sometime in the future. I get business cards from individuals who I want to develop relationships with and I mark them to help me remember who they are, what we talked about, the date, where we met and a next step to take after the event. These events can be overwhelming, and it's easy to forget details. After meeting someone and taking a business card, take a second to write notes on the back of the card to help you remember, it will enhance your relationships later on.
#9. Follow Up with a Thank You Card
Want to show your appreciation and stay top of mind with the people you've met? Nothing says you care like taking the time to handwrite a thank you card after meeting someone at an event. I write thank you cards to everyone that had an impact on me, letting them know that I appreciate the time and help they gave me and offer my help in return.
#10. Start Long-Lasting Relationships
Events are often seen as one-weekend excuses to get out of the office and spend some time in a sunny destination. Living in the South Florida area, I can't argue with the beautiful weather and scenery as a worthwhile reason for travelers to visit, but events offer a lot more than a chance to get away.
Look at each in-person event as an opportunity to build rich relationships. Starting with a simple introduction, they can build into something much more meaningful and beneficial to your business and your life. Create a process of how you go about building these relationships to allow the value you get from the event to continue long after it's over. Don't view this as a weekend to meet people, look at it as an introduction to new opportunities and new relationships.
This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.