It can be incredibly difficult as a contractor to pull yourself away from work to attend trade shows and conventions. Even if you know it’s important that you go you also know there is a never-ending list of things you must do at work.
I advocate that no matter how busy you are the best thing to do is to attend the right trade shows and the right industry conventions. There rarely is a better use of your time.
But if you’re going to attend, you have to have a plan to maximize your time and effort.
So, here are some tips I’ve used myself as a contractor and that I’ve shared with clients through the years:
1. Every January plot out which trade shows and conventions you’ll attend. There are bound to be these types of events that broaden your perspective and teach you something new that will get you in front of key vendors you need to talk to and/or classes you need to attend. There are tons of them but not all of them are worthy of your time, energy and money. So, choose wisely.
You’ll want to strike a balance between just attending technical classes that do make you better at your trade but don’t make you any better as a business person. Expand your horizons and stretch yourself by taking the business classes that are often available at these types of shows.
Most of us, including me, were not born business people. We were born to be contractors. And although being good at the trade we do is very important it isn’t enough to ensure we will have a highly profitable and properly functioning business.
One more thing about planning what shows and conventions to attend, it’s easy to commit to too many of them and then you risk tipping the scales away from never being able to leave your business to not being around enough. Again, choose wisely!
2. Try to go with someone else from your own team. Since a lot of information is coming at you in a short time, it can be hard to remember what was said and by whom. If there are two or more of you, you can stay together and talk about it later on and create summary notes. Or, you can split up if multiple classes are being offered at the same time and each write up a short summary that you debrief together.
Understand there is perceived politics at your company when it comes to who goes and who has to stay behind, so make sure you’re proactive about addressing this. Your decision on who attends will require you plan well in advance when it comes to coverage at the business. Sometimes, a rotational schedule for attending can be helpful if you have enough depth of staff to permit this.
Yes, there is a cost to the company to having multiple people attend, but I wholeheartedly believe there is a much greater benefit of bringing staff to these types of events with you. There is a great source of pride instilled in them by being selected to attend. It helps to have someone from the team to bounce ideas off of as you’re attending or when you get back home.
It also helps that someone besides you from the company comes to the event because as owners we can attend and get inspired, but when we get back to the company the staff is disconnected from that inspiration. But when a team member attends, too, you have an ally.
3. Create your Top 25 questions and concerns that you want to address while you’re attending. Put them in writing or on your tablet so you can easily access them. You don’t want to miss out on getting them addressed while at the convention or trade show. Then, prioritize the questions because sometimes it’s not possible to address all 25. I suggest getting it down to a Top 10 “must get answered” questions.
How do you prioritize the list?
Start by sorting the list of questions into the Have to Know vs. Like to Know.
Ask yourself: “What will either solve my biggest problem and challenge or give me the greatest chance to grow and be more profitable?” Getting the answer to these key questions always makes a Top 10 list.
4. Before attending any event for the first time, try to see if there’s someone who is in the “inner circle” you already know who will be attending so you can ask them to give you the introductions to the “right” people you should be meeting.
Grabbing the floor plan, looking at what seminars and classes are being offered and the schedule will help you create a game plan that will maximize your time at the convention.
Know that hanging with the right people doesn’t always mean time on the floor. This could mean having breakfast, lunch or dinner and even a drink at the bar together. This is where a lot of good exchanges about what’s working and what’s not working for others can be helpful to you.
5. Follow-up with key contacts you made by email and/or a quick call within two weeks so you can leverage what you did when you were together. Hopefully, this creates a stronger business relationship rather than a cold email or a cold call.
Do this and you’ll be well on your way to maximizing your time at industry trade shows and conventions!
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