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How to get the most out of your next conference

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We all know that conferences are a great opportunity to network with our peers, learn and grow. Keynote presentations inspire and motivate. Training workshops introduce you to new accounting technology. Breakout sessions teach you how you can step up results. And the connections you make can lead to big breakthroughs in your business.

The question is, do you take the time to prepare and plan ahead of the conference to make sure you can maximize the value of your time and investment?

Since 2011, I have substantially increased my revenue year after year by dedicating time and resources to attending conferences and networking events. The secret to gaining as much as knowledge as possible and making valuable connections every time comes down to three things:

  1. Preparation
  2. Planning
  3. Showing up

This is a guide to getting the most out of your next conference, which is essentially the process I use for every conference and industry event. Hopefully these preparation tips will help you!

Get More Out of Your Software

While there are some great support resources available to customers of accounting software, sometimes you just can’t beat getting some face time with product managers and customer success gurus that can help you push your software to its limits.

Review the conference program in advance and identify the people you want to meet and sessions you want to attend to help you fill in any gaps so you can get more out of your software.

Make a list of questions you want to ask or tool integrations you want to research ahead of time.

This is one of the main reasons I prefer going to a conference and asking my questions in person because you can check out the new apps that can help you and your customers save time. In some conferences sessions we can even bring up the software on a computer screen and brainstorm a solution to a problem I might be having. It’s so much easier to have everyone under one roof for a couple of days to solve those problems.

When software providers are hosting a panel discussion, it’s the perfect opportunity to ask the tough questions about gaps, integrations and improvements that can benefit how bookkeepers, accountants and our clients use the software.

With Sage 50 and Sage Business Cloud Accounting, round table discussions are a great opportunity to provide feedback and ask questions. Don’t be afraid to bring up what is not working and what’s missing. Your feedback is valuable!

Build Your Referral Network

You can never underestimate the amount of business opportunities that can come from meeting other partners in a setting where we can collaborate and do work with each other and for each other. When you meet people, you get to put a face to the name. You’re also cementing your own credibility as an engaged member of your professional community, something that’s a lot harder to do by staying glued to your office. People feel more comfortable referring business to those that they have met and had a casual conversation with face to face. Only by doing this can you confirm that the other party is on the same page as you when it comes to values and key work practices. Put simply, I like to know who I’m doing business with and sending business to, because my name is attached to that referral.

Address your clients’ pain points

Remember you’re not just trying to better your own business at these events, you’re also there representing the interests of your clients. Your clients hire you to do their accounting or bookkeeping because it might not be their strong suit. With that in mind, if I can give them the tools to do their job it makes their life easier. For example, I have 90 percent of my clients using Sage Business Cloud Accounting and Apps such as Receipt Bank and Waypay, to streamline their systems and free up their time to focus on serving their customers. If I’m not attending conferences, I can’t give them the latest and greatest knowledge. Make sure to bring, not only your own pain points to conferences, but those that are obstacles to your clients’ success. I am always trying out new Apps and looking for ways to solve the pain points of mine and my clients business.

As an experienced attendee of these conferences, I’m often asked by my friends and colleagues: “How should I make the most out of a conference day?”

Here is my before, during and after conference plan to maximize your productivity and conference experience:

Before the conference

  • Set up meetings – Try and arrange all your meetings before you attend the conference. Everyone will be out to fill their networking hours between sessions, so book your desired contacts as far in advance as possible.
  • Know the agenda – Knowing the breakdown of each conference day helps you identify the sessions that will be most relevant to you and your clients and help you prepare to get the most out of those ‘unmissable’ presentations.
  • Register your attendance – If the function is possible, register your attendance on the conference app or website to allow other stakeholders to know you will be there. The more ways you can make your presence known the better!
  • Don’t forget your social media – Let your audience on Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter know that your conference-bound. Not only does it assist in boosting your profile it gives your clients an opportunity to put some questions together for you to ask on their behalf.
  • Survey your clients’ pain points – Meet up with your clients before you go and see if there are any pain points in their business that could be addressed by a technology solution you discover at the conference.
  • Business cards – It’s common for me to hand out anywhere between 100-200 business cards. It’s just good business to have an adequate supply with you at every event you attend.
  • Double up – Reach out to your colleague to share a room with during the event. It’s a great way to get to know people better and collaborate and share stories while saving money.

During

  • Talk to vendors – Don’t forget it’s not just customers and company representatives that will be in attendance, there will also be a variety of third-party vendors that could be working on a solution that could be an excellent fit for your business. Keep an eye out for vendor stalls in the networking areas.
  • After hours – Keep an ear out for the networking events (official and unofficial) taking place after the day’s sessions end. It’s not uncommon for some of the best business coming from a casual conversation taking place at the after parties while sitting around having casual conversations.
  • Take notes – Don’t let that free swag or hotel stationery go to waste! Whether it’s jotting down information about new software releases, prepping your questions for later sessions, or taking note of a product manager’s email address. The old school practice of putting pen to paper will no doubt come in handy or you can also use an app to track all this information whatever works best for you.
  • Be social – Tweet, post, Insta story to your heart’s content. Never underestimate the power of tagging the event’s hashtag and your colleagues around you. One woman approached me at a conference to tell me she felt like she knew me already thanks to my social activity, which I thought was awesome.

After

  • Take an extra day – If a conference is one to three days, take an extra day off from your normal work schedule so you can properly digest all the new learnings and properly process all the potential business opportunities.
  • Arrange your follow up meetings – Take out all the business cards you accumulated during the event and compose your follow up emails to the contacts you plan to connect with soon. Don’t let this task simmer on the backburner, get going with this as soon as you can while you’re fresh in everyone’s mind.
  • Do demos – Get in touch with all those helpful product managers and vendors and start arranging demos of their offerings for you and / or your clients.
  • Handover new learnings to your clients – If you were able to address any of your clients’ pain points at the event schedule some calls to equip them with your new found knowledge.
  • Do a takeaway blog post – What better way to pay if forward while also boosting your profile than to do a takeaway blog post that tells your audience all about the exciting learnings you extracted from the conference?

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