Should I stay or should I go?

Conferences, networking events, too-good-to-miss social media training opportunities…

Let’s face it, there are plenty of activities to distract us from everyday business life that promise to promote and improve our businesses, to make connections and hopefully secure sales along the way. If like me you live in a rural area then many of the really high-profile events can mean a day out just for travelling. Working smarter, not necessarily harder, is essential when you’re a small business, so working out the true value of attending an event and whether the investment of time and money will get the results you want is essential.

I recommend using the following three point plan:

1. Do your Research
Whatever the event, always do your research in advance to find out as much information as possible.

  • Who will be there?
  • What’s on the agenda? (invited speakers, topics, workshops)
  • How many people are attending? (for training this will give you an idea of how tailored an event can be to your own situation or whether it will be a ‘one size fits all’ type session)
  • What are the demographics of people attending in particular do they fit your target market of customers and suppliers?
  • Will anyone from your target list such as possible collaborators and/or key influencers be there?

2. Decide your Outputs
Think of outputs in terms of tangibles that you want to achieve as a result of attending the event. For a training session this should be fairly straightforward e.g. to be able to use Twitter and Linked In for your business and/or increase quality of followers and interactions.

For events such as networking or conferences aim for realistic targets such as meeting key people from your influencers, supplier, and customer groups. With networking events in particular you need to be realistic and patient, they require a longer-term investment in developing contacts and relationships rather than securing any immediate gain.

If you’re attending an exhibition then outputs will vary depending on why you’re there. As an exhibitor be absolutely clear about your expected return on investment (preferably number of sales or at the very least good quality leads) as they are not a cheap promotional activity. As a visitor, plan your schedule in advance and stick to it – for example meet Head of Sales from x company, establish communications with x company, participate in x workshop to get noticed, and so on.

3. Decide and publicise
You’ve done your research and worked out what you want to achieve from attending the event.  If you’re still unsure about going at this stage then it’s probably best that unless you’re missing some key information, you go with your gut instinct and say no. If you decide not to go, try to follow-up with someone you know who did go to the event and find out what they thought of it, whether it was worthwhile in terms of outputs (potential leads, contacts etc.) so you’ll know for another time.

If you decide it’s the right event to go to then make sure you tell your networks that you’re going. For one thing they might be there too so it gives a great opportunity to meet up with for example suppliers in person, as well as communicating the fact you may not be as contactable as usual on that day.  Using social media networks to publicise your attendance can be beneficial to other companies hoping to speak with you (you may be on their ‘outputs’ list!), as well as making connections in advance of the event to make it more worthwhile.

So the next time you’re thinking about going to a business event, use this three point plan to help you decide whether your investment of time (and money) is going to be worthwhile.

  1. Do your research
  2. Decide your outputs
  3. Decide and Publicise
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