How to Grow Your Business with Professional Conferences

September 2, 2015


As a freelancer, the success or failure of my business rests on my shoulders. No one else will suffer from my lack of results. Everything revolves around my ability to get the job done.

If I don’t make sales, I fail.

If I miss deadlines, I fail.

If I don’t deliver quality work to clients, I fail.

It’s all on me.

That kind of pressure can weigh down even the most seasoned freelancer. And if you’re just starting out, it can feel even more overwhelming. I’ve spent years navigating this terrain, and in that time, I’ve found one thing that brings peace of mind:

Keeping a full sales funnel at all times, even when I have enough work.

Now, a quick Google search will leave you sifting through dozens of sales strategies to make this happen. Some of them will work, while others won’t.

But today, I’m going to talk to you about one of these techniques that’s served me well –  growing my business through conferences.

Find Ways to Save Money

It’s an unfortunate fact that conferences cost money. In fact, you can spend a couple thousand dollars just for the ticket, not including costs for travel, food and lodging expenses.

Luckily, there are a few ways you can save some money.

Get Early-Bird Pricing
Save money here by getting a discount for purchasing your ticket early. That’s one reason why it pays to do your conference planning months in advance.

Only Buy an Exhibitor Pass
You’ll miss out on a lot of the learning experience, but when you attend for the sole purpose of networking, this can save you some money.

Stay Close to Home
Much of your conference budget will go to travel, food and lodging. It can come out to as much as the ticket (if not more). Try to stay within driving distance, especially if you’re just getting started.

And don’t forget, conference expenses are usually tax deductible. But you’ll need to track your write-offs with care. Using a tool like Freshbooks can make this a seamless, simple task.

Do Research Ahead of Time

Review the speaker list beforehand. Research the different speakers that will be presenting and determine how building a relationship with you could bring them value. Once you’ve done that, follow these steps to create a connection:

  1. Make a quick introduction via email, Twitter or LinkedIn before the event. Congratulate them on their speaking opportunity at the conference. Share your excitement about hearing their talk. People love genuine compliments. It feeds the ever-hungry ego.
  2. Most speakers will invite you to come say hi at the conference. That’s the goal. Now, you’ve set yourself apart by getting an invitation for an in-person meetup.
  3. Follow up with the speaker 2-3 days before the event. All you need is a casual greeting to bring your name back to the front of their mind.
  4. Go meet them at the conference.

Speakers aren’t the only valuable resource at conferences. If your services could benefit other attendees, conduct some research there as well.

Try to get your hands on an attendee list. Organizers will have these, but they may not make them public knowledge. Send an email and ask if they’ll send it to you. If they do, great. Use the same steps above to connect with attendees and build relationships with potential clients before the conference.

Related: Introvert, you can network too.

Focus on Collecting Leads

Most conference networking guides will encourage you to bring plenty of marketing materials. Don’t get me wrong, you definitely should come prepared. But many attendees get so wrapped up in giving away materials that they forget their main focus – making sales.

Make a game out of seeing how many business cards you can collect. You’re attending a conference to land new business. And that starts by generating leads – not becoming one.

When you get home, the real work begins. Put the leads into your system and create a strong follow-up strategy. Send a personalized email a few days after the conference to each person that gave you a card. Open the dialogue and turn those leads into sales.

Ask Meaningful Questions

Everybody goes to conferences trying to sell something. That’s why people pay so much money to attend. Conferences can yield profit for every professional there, not just you.

To get the most out of these events, attend with open ears. Dr. Ivan Misner, founder and chairman of BNI, gave some great advice on this topic, saying:

“A good networker has two ears and one mouth and should use them both proportionally: ask questions and elaborate, rather than, ‘Hi, my name is Ivan and we should do business.’”

Showing genuine interest in others is the quickest way to make an amazing first impression. And when you nail that, you’ll increase the chances of ultimately landing new business.

Related: Networking tips and tricks for freelancers

Create a Signature Look

In a room full of people all trying to sell something, you need to make an effort to stand out. You can do this by creating a signature look. People will expect it from you as you attend more conferences and build relationships.

That’s a good thing. It makes you memorable. It shows that you’ve got a piece of real estate in that person’s mind. They’ll start thinking:

“There’s the guy that always wears a bright orange beanie to these things. I wonder what that’s about?”

Having a signature look pulls you out of the crowd and captures attention. Some ideas for incorporating a unique style include:

  • A specific color or patterned tie
  • Earrings that you always wear
  • A bold piece of clothing (e.g. blazer, pants, shoes, etc.)

Think of ways that you can differentiate yourself. Commit to it and use it throughout each conference you attend.

Which Conferences Are You Hoping to Attend This Year?

Attending these events can forge valuable connections that help grow your business long after the event is over. Just make sure you go into each conference with a clear game plan. Do your research, ask great questions, collect leads and stand out from the crowd.

That’s the way to win the conference game.

I’d love to hear what conferences you plan to attend this year, or which ones are on your wish list. Use the comments section below to share your list and any other tips you have on using these events to grow your business.


about the author

Freelance Contributor Justine Smith teaches creative entrepreneurs how to grow their business with affiliate marketing. To learn more, visit her affiliate library and get instant access to free workshops, guides and templates today.