Small business conferences provide a great opportunity to network with peers, learn new things that you can apply to your business, and gain a renewed motivation for your work. But, like most things, what you get out is related to what you put in.
You could go to a conference or an event without any preparation, but will you know who to seek out to meet face-to-face, or which sessions to attend so you can ramp up your learning opportunities? Probably not! This is why it's so important to take time to thoroughly prepare for an event before you arrive.
The tips below will help you get into the right mindset so you can get as much hands-on value as possible from the next small business conference you attend.
Research the Event
Researching the event is important not only as you decide which small business conference to attend, but also as you are getting ready to go. It's good to know who is hosting the event and what kinds of other events they have managed; this will give you a feel for what you can expect.
You should also take a look at the conference schedule ahead of time and map out which sessions you want to attend. With most conferences, you can do this before you even leave your house. When you arrive and receive your schedule and other conference materials, you'll probably discover a few more highlights you won't want to miss. Create you own conference schedule so you can maximize your time there.
Many conferences publish a list of registered attendees before the event starts. If this available, take a look and create a short list of people you want to connect with. Many times, it may also make sense to contact these people ahead of time to coordinate schedules once the conference begins.
Plan for Out of Office Time
One of the biggest challenges for small business owners attending conferences is leaving their business behind. Sure, you can bring your laptop and work during the conference, but the more you have you head in your work, the less you will be experiencing at the conference. So it's makes sense to plan ahead.
In the weeks leading up to the event, start getting work done ahead of time so it's easier to disconnect for a day or two. If there are times during the conference you know you will need to be working, plan for them in advance and work them into your personal conference schedule.
You may also want to assign an employee or team member to hold down the fort while you are away. Not only will this alleviate the pressure for you to be on call the whole time, but it can also help you maintain productivity while you are out of the office.
Lastly, make sure you tell your clients ahead of time that you will be traveling. Give them a chance to let you know if they have any important work coming up and prepare for your out of office time. You should also inform your clients about your availability while you are away. Will you be checking email? Working for an hour or two per day? Completely inaccessible? Keep them in the loop.
Prepare Promotional/Informational Materials
There are plenty of promotional opportunities at every small business conference you attend. Whether you are attending as a participant, a speaker, or a vendor, there are two must-haves for every event: business cards and an elevator pitch.
Despite technology advances, business cards are still necessary for in-person networking. And just any old card won't do. An effective business card can make you memorable, strengthen your brand and show your professionalism. Plus, business cards are expected in networking situations. So make sure you update your cards and bring a bunch with you.
An elevator pitch can not only be a great way to promote your business at small business conferences, but it can also increase your confidence and make it easier for you to interact with other attendees. Before you leave for the event, take time to write an elevator pitch that encompasses your business/brand in 60 seconds. You may be surprised how much you use it during the conference!
When you have thoroughly prepared for a small business conference, the value you get from attending will increase immensely. So take time for each of these preparation tactics before you leave for the event.
There is, of course, one other part of preparation I left off this list -- packing! You can use this small business conference packing list to make sure you have everything you need before you walk out the door.