Making connections is part and parcel of growing your small business – but it’s important to understand how to get the most out of the industry events you attend.
No man is an island – and the same goes for a small business. We exist in a landscape of opportunities, many to be found amongst a busy schedule of industry events. In the IT sector, industry events help us keep up with a constantly evolving commercial environment, meet new clients, forge professional connections and, ultimately, generate new business.
We’ve recently been to the CompTIA annual member meeting in Chicago and have attended the Autotask Community Live in Miami in the past, so we’ve learnt how to get the most out of our time at events. Yes, they can be daunting, especially for SMEs still finding their feet, but if it worked for us, it can work for you…
Do your homework! You might research weeks or even months before for crucial info, including lists of exhibitors, keynote speakers, dedicated networking sessions, attendance numbers, associated costs, “early-bird” discounts, or anything else that might be pertinent. It’s also worth learning the names of the people you particularly want to connect with! If you are confident doing so, reach out to fellow event-goers on relevant social media platforms such as LinkedIn or Facebook – you never know who might respond.
Think about how you’ll represent or promote yourself and your organisation to other attendees. Conversational networking sessions are a different proposition from expos and conferences, while some events may be entirely formal affairs. In any case, think carefully about how you’ll pitch yourself – and network with purpose and confidence. It’s surprising how quickly you get into the swing once you have a few events under your belt.
Depending on an event’s size, you won’t be able to attend every session or meet every exhibitor. Wandering randomly is an option, but having a list of speakers you want to see, or organisations you want to connect with, is a more effective way to spend your time. The same goes for networking: you simply aren’t going to meet everyone – it’s far better to have a constructive conversation with one person, than meaningless ones with many.
There’s no point building your network if you’e not going to explore it. Use the contacts you make to follow up in a timely fashion post-event. In the least, you’ll make yourself memorable, and at best you’ll create a potentially rewarding new professional relationship – which may pay off at a future industry networking event.
Join the club
Many industry events are “members only” – so it’s worth thinking carefully about joining the club to access a range of benefits. Your chamber of commerce is dedicated to promoting a diverse local business community, so is often a great starting point for members to shape their region’s business landscape while building links between organisations.
• Steve Ross is managing director of Shackleton Technologies