Every startup needs to sell. Nothing is more important than getting your product out in the market and finding folks to pay real dollars for it. There’s no shortage of marketing and sales approaches — cold calls, networking events, banner ads, knocking on doors, etc. They’re all worth a shot.
But I’ve found, I get the best ROI from attending conferences, conventions or trade shows. In two days at a conference, you can achieve what could take months sitting at your computer.
As with anything else, it pays to prepare for your next trade show or conference. Based on my experience, here are eleven tips to help you get the most out of every trade show or conference you attend.
Figure out which conferences work best for your business (hint: they’re rarely the hyped-up conferences like SXSW; although those are a lot of fun). You’ll be amazed by how many associations and trade groups are accessible in every industry. Get creative. Go where your competitors aren’t. Keep a running list of the conferences you hear about, and prioritize based on two key metrics: Who you will meet and how much it will cost.
Do your homework.
Look through every detail on conference websites. Check out who’s sponsoring, speaking and exhibiting. If that information isn’t available on the website, look at last year’s program. Decide whether it’s a conference worth attending. And once you pull the trigger, plan to attend specific sessions. Leave plenty of time to walk the exhibit hall floor.
Be frugal, but smart.
Don’t let a limited budget get in your way. Go to a few conferences as an attendee before shelling out the big bucks for an exhibit booth.
Find conferences close to home.
When traveling, crash with friends or use AirBnB to save money on hotels. Conference registration fees aren’t cheap, so always ask for startup discounts. They’re not listed on the websites, but organizers may offer discounted rates.
Reach out to industry experts, vendors, and conference organizers in advance. Introduce yourself and ask for a few minutes of their time while you’re at the conference. I’ve found that sending an email and a LinkedIn message at the same time yields the highest response rates. Before sending cold emails, check LinkedIn for mutual contacts who may be able to make an introduction and keep it brief (five sentences max)!
You won’t hear back right away. Conference speakers and organizers tend to be busy folks. Give it a few days, then send a follow-up email. If they don’t reply before the conference, don’t take it personally.
I email anywhere from 50 to 200 people per conference. There’s no way to keep track of all those emails without a system. I use Google Docs spreadsheets to list all key information for each contact.
Know your objective.
On the plane to the conference, write down key objectives and critical questions. Then show up with laser focus. It’s all too easy to get distracted by the overwhelming number of sessions, exhibit halls full of tchotchkes and free booze. But remember why you are there—to learn and establish connections.
Be social (media).
You’re probably younger and more social-media savvy than the rest of the attendees. Use that to your advantage. Tweet about the conference using the official hashtags. I did that recently, and on the last day they presented a wrap-up full of attendee’s tweets. My tweets kept popping up on the screen, and the presenter thanked my company for its “terrific tweets.” As you can imagine, this was great free publicity.
Be social (-izing).
Don’t get stuck on your phone or sitting in conference sessions all day. Networking events are great for striking up those all-important conversations. Even if they cost an extra few bucks, sign up. Remember to bring lots of business cards, and go light on the alcohol.
If you follow these tips, you’ll collect dozens of business cards at the conference. But that’s just the beginning. On the plane back home, write a personalized email to every contact. Briefly rehash what your company does and why it could be interesting for that contact. Send emails that are friendly, personal and short, and watch the replies fly in.
Happy hunting! Looking forward to seeing you at a conference soon.
This article has been edited and condensed.
David Adelman is the Head of Business Development and Growth Strategy at Snagajob, America’s largest marketplace connecting hourly job seekers and employers. Prior to Snagajob, David founded two video startups—Reel Tributes and ReelGenie. David graduated with an MBA from Wharton and an AB from Harvard, and lives in Washington, DC, with his wife Melissa and Shih Tzu puppy Samson.
© YFS Magazine. All Rights Reserved. Copying prohibited. All material is protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this material is prohibited. Sharing of this material under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International terms, listed here, is permitted.