I’m just going to come right out and say it: I love going to conferences.
Out of all the expenses for my freelance business this year, spending money to attend conferences was never something I regretted. I’ve been to three this year alone, across a couple different states.
In fact, conferences have proven to be the best return on investment in my business’s entire history, even above educational courses, time spent cold pitching, or any of those silly certification programs that claim they can get you thousands of dollars in new clients and income. (Seriously, I’ve yet to hear of a single freelancer who’s had certifications pay off for them.)
For example, I invested about $500 into attending VidCon this past summer, and met a video marketer who eventually hired me to do some blogging work. This garnered me $1800, which means I recovered everything I spent attending VidCon, and even made an extra $1300!
I want you to experience the same benefits in your business, and in the rest of this post, I’ll show you how.
Why Conferences Are So Useful for Growing a Freelance Business
Before we get into how you can learn to pick the best conferences for your business, you need to understand why they’re such an effective marketing method.
For starters, conferences allow you to network, and networking is one of the top ways to advance any business or career. Millions of professionals in all types of industries across the world (even non-freelancers) have vouched for the importance of networking for their success. This is because if you show your face in a location where almost everyone could be a potential client, you have a good chance of turning them into real clients, having them remember you down the road, or even just impressing them enough to have them refer you to someone who might need your services.
Additionally, conferences mean you don’t need to compete for attention with thousands of other freelancers like you do online. Instead of solely relying on social media or your own blog posts to get clients, conferences allow you to bypass all the noise from your competitors and meet potential clients face-to-face. And since freelancers are notoriously hermit-like, you likely won’t even run into that many other freelancers at a conference, anyway!
Finally, conventions and industry conferences can also have very narrow focuses, such as knitting versus an entire event dedicated to all kinds of hobbies. When you’re targeting specific clients or want to learn more about your chosen niche, these industry conferences are some of the best places to be to accomplish both goals.
How to Select the Best Conferences for Your Freelance Blogging Business
Now the reason I manage to get such a good ROI out of conferences is because I’m very picky. If I think a conference won’t be worth my money or time, I simply won’t attend.
Picking conferences isn’t the easiest of tasks, especially when there are so many to choose from each year. But I’ve managed to come up with a decision process that works perfectly for me, so I’m going to share it with you to test out in your own business, as well.
Here’s how to determine which conferences will result in the most bang for your buck, based on my experience:
Pinpoint why you want to attend.
Why do you want to go to a conference, anyway? What do you hope to get out of it? How will it help you grow your business?
Before you even think about attending any event, you need to ask yourself these questions. As I mentioned above, this might be because you want to meet potential clients, or it could be that you want to learn more about your chosen industry. Whatever the reason, it needs to be clear, solid, and defined, or you’ll have a damn hard time choosing a conference which will be an effective use of your time and money.
Do a general search for conferences.
Now comes the researching part. Do a Google search for conferences happening in the next 3-12 months (anything happening sooner may already be sold out or freakishly expensive to get to last-minute, but you can always check). Write down or save links to your top 20 conference preferences; you can include any kind of conference you find interesting in this initial search.
Cull your list to about 5-10 conferences you’d like to try to attend.
Don’t hold back here; if you want to attend a massive conference, include it. But don’t overlook the power of smaller, industry-specific conferences, either. Even local ones can be excellent. If you can, find out which conferences your potential clients have previously attended via their blog or news coverage for the event, and check to see if they’ll be there again this year as speakers, exhibitors, or sponsors; include these in your top ten list if gaining clients is your priority.
Narrow down your list to the best options.
Which conference(s) are likely to put you directly in touch with the people you’re trying to meet? Which one(s) have the greatest potential for ROI? Which one(s) won’t break the bank now? Do your best to avoid conferences which sound tempting, but may not align with your primary goal or be worth your time in the long run.
If, for example, you want to pick up more clients, don’t attend a conference that teaches you how to blog better or connect with other bloggers (like BlogHer, for example). Instead, focus on the conferences and conventions where your potential clients will be hanging out. By following this guideline, you’ll likely figure out 2-5 conferences which would be worth your investment over the course of the next several months to a year.
Buy a ticket or apply for a press pass well in advance.
As I noted above, conferences can sell out quickly depending on the industry, the topic, and the number of tickets available. I always make sure to apply for a press pass a minimum of two months before the conference I want to attend (though I recommend applying sooner, around 3-4 months beforehand). This usually leaves me enough room to buy a ticket at early bird pricing should my press application be rejected. Also, don’t forget to buy a plane ticket or rent a car as early as possible to get the best pricing you can!
What Else to Consider When Making the Most of Conferences
Congrats! You’ve picked the best conferences to help you grow your biz. Now that you’ve made your selection, your job is over, right?
Not quite. You still have to actually attend.
To make your trip as successful as possible, follow these tips before you board the plane or hop in the car:
Plan your schedule the week before.
Go through the agenda and pick which panels or sessions you’d like to attend, or which demonstrations or presentations you’d like to watch. I usually pick ones which will teach me more about my industry, or are being hosted by a potential client, so that I can talk to them immediately after the session is over instead of trying to get their attention on the exhibit hall floor or in between sessions.
Planning early like this helps you stay organized and focused the days of the conference, which I can guarantee will fly by faster than expected. I’ve tried planning my conference days the night before each, and I always feel like I’m rushing around with no clear way to accomplish my goals.
Leave room for walking the exhibit hall.
Speaking of the exhibit hall, this is often where you’ll get to directly interact with potential clients, talk to them about their products and services, and then swap business cards so you can follow up with them afterwards.
While you’ll be competing for attention with these brands’ potential customers who are also talking to them at their booth, as long as you show genuine interest in their business, they’re more likely to remember you when you shoot them an email after the conference than if you never even stopped by their booth and tried cold pitching them later.
Amp yourself up for industry parties.
Especially if you’re an industry expert or journalist in any way, you’ll likely be invited to at least one industry party during the conference. More often than not, these can be the best places to network and connect with clients on a personal level, because the booze is flowing and spirits are high.
If you’re not an outgoing person, just remember that being as social as possible at these parties is vital to growing your business, and do what you must to ready yourself for attending. I often go back to my hotel or AirBnB at least two hours before an industry party to clear my mind, relax, and maybe even take a bath or pregame with a drink to loosen my nerves.
And that’s it! Now you know how I’ve managed to pick and attend conferences which have earned me $1300, or connected me with experts in my industry, or given me hands-on advice and industry insight I couldn’t find anywhere else.
If you follow this decision-making process, you won’t need to wonder which conferences to attend out of the hundreds you can pick from, or worry if going to a convention will drain your bank account with nothing to show for it.
Instead, you’ll be growing your business like it’s no one’s business, all thanks to a few successful trips.
Here’s to a lucrative, conference-laden 2017!
photo credit: CSSConfEU