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Maximizing your dollar: A guide to picking the right conferences for your business
As a small business owner, you probably don’t have the budget (or time) to attend every conference that might interest you. In the United States alone, there are more than 1.8 million meetings, trade shows, conventions and other meetings held annually! With so many options, how do you choose which ones are worth your time and money? Answering these nine questions will help you get more bang for your hard-earned buck.
What are your goals?
The first step in sorting through hundreds of conferences is deciding what your goals are. Do you want to meet and connect with like-minded business owners? Do you want to grow your network and community? Do you want to attract potential customers? Do you want to learn about new tech or trends? Take some time to write down a few of your top goals for a conference and then look at what each of the conferences offer. By doing this you should be able to start narrowing down your list to those that align with your goals. If you’re looking to learn more about marketing and PR and have been eyeing a conference that doesn’t offer anything on that topic, chances are it’s not the right fit. This first step will drive most of the value you get from a conference.
What’s your budget?
Conferences can be quite expensive. Not only are you paying for the ticket to attend, but you’ll have to consider budgeting for travel expenses, accommodations, food, entertainment, parking and more. How far are you willing to travel? Is it worth it to travel to another country for a big conference or can you hit a couple of smaller, local events instead? You should also confirm what the conference cost includes; some conference registrations include meals, some include supply fees for workshops and some are all inclusive. Be sure to consider all costs to determine out how many conferences—if any—you can afford for the year. And remember, don’t force it! If you can’t manage any this year, start planning and budgeting for next.
Who’s speaking and who’s attending?
Another important factor in choosing the right conference is making sure the right people are speaking and attending. Check social media to see who’s going. Most conferences will have their own social accounts and hashtags so you can get an idea of who’s interacting with them. Which of your peers are talking about it? Is it people you respect? If no one is going, that’s probably a sign. If everyone you know is attending, that’s probably also a sign that the event is one to consider checking out.
Pay attention to the speaking bios to get an idea of who you’ll be hearing and seeing. If you’re going to a conference to learn, you’re going to want to make sure the speakers are in line with your industry and your goals for the conference. Will it be worth your time to hear them speak? Are they well-known in your industry? Some conferences are full of people from one company or industry group, which probably means the event is mostly about pushing that company’s agenda. Is that valuable to you? Make sure to do your research before you commit financially to a conference that isn’t valuable to your business goals.
What topics are being covered and what’s the format of the event?
Do the topics line up with your goals? (Do you see why setting goals was the first question we wanted you to answer?) Do they seem too vague or obscure? Are they useful for your day-to-day business? Do you find yourself thinking, “that’s what I need!” or “I already know all of this”?
You should also take into consideration the size and format of the conference. A national event brings out all the major industry players, but will you actually get a chance to interact with them, considering there will be thousands of other attendees? Consider a regional conference; fewer people, and a more intimate environment where you have better access to people and resources. Which one better suits your needs or interests? (Or goals…)
What would be most valuable to you; round tables, panel discussions, streaming presentations or workshops? Some of the big conferences will have multiple events happening at the same so it’s crucial to do your homework in advance to make sure you’re attending the best sessions for your business.
What did past attendees think about it?
Make sure to check out what past attendees have said about the conference. Read blog posts, reach out on social media, watch videos, and check for testimonials on the conference website. No conference will leave everyone satisfied, but this is a great way to get a general feel of what it’s like to be there and whether attendees found it worth their time and money.
What’s the return on investment?
Are you going to get a certification or another concrete outcome? Are you going to come home with new customers or clients? The conference should at minimum empower you to leave with clear ideas, concepts and knowledge that you can integrate into your business immediately. This also goes back to your budget. It’s always hard to invest your time and money into something you have no prior history with, but you’ve got to consider what you might be getting back. For example, if you spend $2,000 on a conference that gives you new skills that result in $20,000 in revenue, it’s definitely worth the cost.
Are you missing anything to attend?
Something you may not have thought about is the fact that the conference may take place when you have other obligations. Taking time away from your business at the wrong time could be a big mistake. Is the conference happening during a slow season, or your busiest season? Who will be managing business while you’re away? You could be gone anywhere from two to seven or eight days depending on how far you’re travelling, so it’s crucial to start planning months in advance to make sure your schedule works for you and not against you.
A pros list would easily outnumber a cons list, but when it comes to attending a conference for your business, you’ve got to put the time into research and planning to get the most for your dollar. No time to start like the present—you’ve got big plans for next year, right?