As providers of franchise bookkeeping services, the Remote Quality Bookkeeping team always looks forward to attending the International Franchise Association’s Annual Convention. This year’s conference, which took place in San Antonio, Texas, did not disappoint. We learned about recent trends in franchise management – and we had a chance to meet with industry leaders from across the country.
It was such an informative and enjoyable event that we thought we would share some thoughts about conferences as a tool for business and professional development.
Why Should Entrepreneurs Attend Conferences?
Let’s face it, attending conferences can run you a few thousand dollars when you tally up the cost of airfare, lodging, registration fees, food and ground transportation. However, one should carefully weigh the costs against the benefits:
- Lifelong learning: Conferences offer the opportunity to hear from industry experts and colleagues because there are always new ideas we can learn to improve or business practices.
- Keeping up with trends in the local and global marketplace: You may think you have your pulse on the “next big thing” in your industry, but do you really? Attending conferences may also help you with strategic planning and forecasting.
- Networking: You can make new friends and reconnect with old ones. This can help with growing your business, adding partners, learning new ways to solve existing problems or helping other business owners solve theirs. Conferences also offer referral opportunities that you might not have had otherwise.
- Realizing that you are not alone: You may attend seminars or meet with people who are dealing with similar challenges to yours. These events allow you to troubleshoot and seek the advice of others. You many often find that on returning from a conference, you have new ideas and answers to questions you didn’t know you had.
Ways to Participate and Market Your Brand
Another major benefit of attending conferences is that you have the opportunity to market your personal brand and business in a meaningful way.
- Set up a booth: If your budget allows, create a unique display that other conference attendees will not forget. Be sure to have your marketing materials available for those who might be interested in learning more about your brand. If it is a very large event, you might consider bringing along another team member to help set up the booth and answer any questions during the event.
- Provide a giveaway or offer a coupon code for event attendees: Everyone loves freebies and discounts. This may be an excellent way to introduce first time customers to your brand and service offerings.
- Present a session by yourself or with a colleague: What better way to build your personal brand, than to be a guest speaker at a conference? You will learn a great deal when you research the topic you plan to present. Also, be sure to ask someone to take video footage of your speech to be posted on your website and social media platforms.
- Volunteer: Man a booth for the conference holder or assist with the registration process. Helping out the event coordinators may propel you into the “inner circle” and allow to meet more conference attendees and participants.
How to Pick a Conference
There’s a lot to choose from when it comes to conferences. You could opt to attend with general leadership event. Or you could decide to try out an industry or niche-specific one.
Seek out the professional organization in your field as they often offer annual conferences. Next, follow bloggers or podcasters in your industry, or those closest to yours. They will often attend or present at conferences that might be of interest.
How to Pay for Conferences
Depending on the conference and the location, costs can add up quickly. However, planning ahead will make things more manageable. Here’s some advice:
- Budget for conferences as one of your business development expenses and set aside a specific amount each year for this line item.
- Follow the conference’s website and social media pages to see if there are any early bird specials or scholarships that you might be eligible for.
- Share a room with a colleague to cut costs.
- Sign up for any free or discounted breakfast, lunch or dinner events that are open to conference attendees.
- Think about attending virtually. You might be able to watch live streamed sessions or online webinars for a discounted cost if you can’t afford to travel to the physical conference location.
What to Wear
Check the conference website to see if there is a suggested dress code. In addition you’ll want to ensure that you bring:
- Comfortable shoes – as you’ll likely be doing a lot of walking.
- Scarf – if you are cold natured.
- Transitional outfits – that take you from day to evening.
- An interesting item (e.g. a badge) – that that will make you stand out and be a conversation piece.
How to be as Productive as Possible During the Event
Conferences tend to last a few days at most. These tips will allow you to get the most bang for your buck and ensure that you have a memorable and productive trip:
- Stay hydrated and eat a healthy diet wherever possible: Sessions can start as early as 7 a.m. and go into the evening hours. Be sure to eat a substantial breakfast and set a reminder on your phone to take a lunch break (or eat an energy bar).
- Bring a list: Make an agenda listing all the events/seminars that you want to attend (including the building/location of them). This will save you time when you are there.
- Remember your business cards: You can take physical ones or get digital business cards for easy sharing.
- Add in a little time for recreation if possible: You may want to visit some local attractions such as museums, restaurants, etc.
- Bring a notepad or laptop: You’ll certainly want to take notes during sessions so that you don’t forget new ideas that were presented or that you came up with by listening to others.
What to do After the Conference
Once you’ve returned from the conference, take some time to debrief your team. Provide a summary to your teammates with the takeaways from the event and next steps which may include:
- Implementing new ideas.
- Following up with the contacts you made at the event by sending them an email as well as adding them on LinkedIn.
- Sharing information with your clients about industry trends.
Have you recently attended a conference? Feel free to comment below. We’d love to hear about your experience!