Conferences can be a fun way to get out of the office and grow your business at the same time. A good entrepreneurship conference provides great networking opportunities as well as excellent marketing opportunities.
But conferences do not come cheap. If you’re not fortunate enough to have funding for conference attendance, you can pay upwards of $2,000 to attend (depending on your industry). This doesn’t include time out of the office and travel and lodging. Yet the inherent value of conferences is immediately obvious.
There are so many connections to be made at key conferences. They often pay for themselves over time if you have a purposeful goal and networking strategy in mind.
Hacking a business conference is a great way to achieve specific business goals and squeeze every last drop of opportunity from an event.
Here are five hacks for your next conference.
1. Choose your conferences wisely.
Conferences are expensive and your time is valuable. You don’t want to waste both on a dull conference that produces no results. There are a number of conferences across many different industries. It can be hard to choose the most beneficial ones. But the best way to choose your conference well is to determine your goals.
Does the conference attract people you are hoping to connect with? Is there something specific you need to learn about in the next few months? What topics would most benefit you personally alongside your business?
Don’t assume that the biggest, most expensive conferences will offer the best experience. This is a tip shared by marketers at Edge Bioactives—sometimes smaller, niche conferences offer more opportunities and more focus than those with hundreds of events and thousands of attendees.
2. Have a conference plan.
The worst thing you can do is show up at a conference a few hours after registration opens and flip through the program. Most conferences will launch lists of programs, schedules and important attendees online in advance of opening day.
It is in your best interest to be informed about everything before hit happens. This will help you make sure you get into the talks and breakout sessions that are valuable to you. It will also prevent you from missing essential speakers. You should also create a list of potential contacts or leads before you arrive at the conference.
3. Book the conference hotel, when possible.
One of the most frequent mistakes that conference attendees make is overlooking the missed opportunities of informal networking that happens in the hotel. After a long day of keynotes and breakout sessions you will find attendees hanging out in the hotel lounge to unwind.
It is not uncommon for many attendees to stay off-site and save a few dollars. Yet, planning early so you can stay at the conference hotel is an essential part of the experience. Most events are scheduled at least a year in advance. The earlier you plan, the better chance you have for finding great hotel rate.
4. Use social tools to connect and amplify the experience.
Most conferences encourage attendees to engage socially during a conference on social media with a unique hashtag or handle. Getting involved in the online conversation surrounding an event is a great way to announce your presence and availability to connect with attendees.
Be prepared to create value for your social networks by making meaningful observations during the conference and then share them on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. Content is king at conferences, it can boost your personal brand exposure. So, don’t post hangover photos with the conference hashtag, #turntup. Active attendees will be keeping up with conversations online. This is a great way to join conversations and make initial connections with people you’d like to meet.
5. Always follow-up.
So, you went to the conference and had a blast! You chatted with people on Twitter and made new connections at the hotel bar. Wait! The conference experience doesn’t end there.
Make sure you follow-up with new contacts within a few business days. What’s the point of collecting business cards and filing them away in a drawer?
At a minimum, send a quick thank you note to those who sparked meaningful connections with you. Conferences are what you make of them. If you go into the conference determined to achieve your pre-planned goals, you will get the most for your money every single time.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Simon Crompton is a freelance journalist and entrepreneur running several online businesses including his marketing firm, Threecolors.blue. Simon spends the majority of his time blogging about business startups and consulting on web development. He has launched multiple online companies. He is also a dedicated follower of fashion, and has written for the Financial Times and GQ. Connect with @PermanentStle on Twitter.