AUGUST 17, 2011

All those wonderful conferences!

How do you decide where to invest your time and money? How do you assess the value of a specific conference?

Whether you are planning for a new fiscal year right now or just trying to decide whether to attend a specific event, conferences can be a real value for your business success – or a big waste of time and $$.

Here, in Letterman style (i.e. backwards) are three tips to help you make that decision.

Tip 3: Grow your Knowledge and Connections.

How do you keep up with the changes in your field, your market, your business? Do you learn best by reading, by talking with others, by listening, or through experiential methods?

Conferences and conventions are great for those who learn best by listening and talking shop or participating in a more active setting. But you still have to be sure that the way the program is laid out works with your style… and that the topics covered are those you value.

In my field, the laws change constantly.

With enough caffeine, I can read laws online.

But the most effective method for me is an annual legal conference on what the new laws mean for businesses, with recommendations. So that is one area I plan for each year.

In some fields, there are conferences where you MUST be seen to be considered a real player. In most fields, networking at conferences is very useful.

Don’t be like me – I get shy at such events and just talk to the folks near me.

Map out your strategy – do you know others who will attend with whom you can deepen your connection? Are there people you know you want to meet? Companies you want to discover more about? Speakers you would like to talk to? Plan your networking – and work your plan.

Tip 2: Plan and Pick!

You do not want to waste time or money. So tie your conferences to your business plan/goals.

Think about all those you could attend and evaluate each in relation to:

  • your short- and long-term business goals
  • what you need or want to learn
  • staying visible in your field
  • becoming or staying visible to potential clients
  • growing professionally; growing your business
  • what you can afford to invest over a full year
  • which provide the most for your money

And, remember that this same exercise applies to those you send staff members to. What is in it for your company, as well as for the person?

Before you decide to attend any specific event, make a list of your goals for attending. Define how success will look in achieving those goals. Then review the conference program carefully.

Can you achieve your goals? Will you? How?

Tip 1. Embrace options.

Perhaps in your industry, there is one “main event” that you feel you must attend. But are you really getting value out of it? Could you skip it this year? Or send someone else?

Check out conferences before you sign up (two local conferences I think are valuable are the 2010 Women Entrepreneurs’ Expo in October and the 2010 GrowSmartBiz Conference, jointly hosted by Network Solutions and the Washington Business Journal).

Ask people you know what they felt the true value was. Ask for recommendations from your networks for conferences on topics which specifically meet your business needs – bet there are some you have never heard of that are really relevant!

And leave some space in your budget for choices during the year. New conferences may come along. Ones you ignored in the past may become more relevant with their choice of topics or speakers.

I could attend conferences all year around

that just look fascinating or are directly relevant to my work – and we won’t even discus those that are peripherally related but in a great location.

Fortunately or unfortunately, my budget is not quite so expansive that all which seem interesting – or even 10% of them – are going to make it into the plan .

So each year I have to look at all my options and re-think what makes sense for this year. What fits with my business goals for the coming year?

And then suddenly an event will show up – and here I am wondering again, how does that fit in? Is it worthwhile?

Do I just want to go or will it really enhance my future?

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