Can you build a business without regularly attending industry events?
If you know me at all, you know I think conferences are essential to starting and building a business. Which is why my anxiety has been through the roof lately as I've had to decline so many invitations. Part of the agony of work-life integration, or so I thought, meant having to choose between family and work. At night, family wins. But my rate of decline has been eating away at me of late, causing me to question whether or not I’m “out there,” or visible, enough in my field.
“Help!” I wrote to a close group of successful women friends in an email that I called “Mogul Mom Mania,” I sobbed into my keyboard, "I need to make time for more events, but I just don't have it.”
Fortunately, friends showed me that there's a way to "hack" events and conferences — and still establish the networking connections I value — without having to attend so many.
Here's the killer advice that came back:
Angel investor and Gotham Gal blogger Joanne Wilson advised me to "share the spotlight by sending other team members instead — you'll get more traction." Such a good point — 99 percent of invites I can't attend should be passed along to teammates. This not only takes the pressure off me, but creates additional training opportunities for my staff. And, as it’s hard for small businesses to offer big-company perks, this allows me to thank teammates for their work in a way that’s cost-efficient for the company.
Rachel Sklar, founder of girl-power network TheLi.st, says she generally prioritizes events filled with “high-profile targets.” Influencer dinners are especially great for fostering those connections with fewer targets. I believe her: DailyWorth hosted an influencer dinner last year, and the ripple effect was enormous. So if you can't find one, create one.
Lauren Connolly, SVP executive creative director at BBDO, had the most practical advice. She said to pick events strategically and go for only 15 minutes. Identify who you want to meet in the program beforehand and engage with each person with a provocative question or interesting question. Participate in a few key moments via Twitter, then reach out the following day with an email saying, "Sorry I didn't get to connect last night at the event. I was hoping to have more time to discuss [fill in the blank] with you. Would you have 15 minutes by phone this week to finish that conversation?”
I tested Lauren's advice at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women, where Hillary Clinton spoke to 7,000 business women. I walked into the convention hall with my list of three names in hand, managed to find them and left mid-day without stress that I hadn’t made best use of time.
How do you make the most of conferences when you’re pressed for time?