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Today’s guest post couldn’t have come at a better time. I just began attending in-person conferences myself. Thursday Bram has such good tips, I’m all fired up to go to my next networking event!
Every time I go to a conference, even if it isn’t exactly relevant to the type of work I do, I come home with a stack of business cards — and at least one client.
It’s not luck or fast talking. It’s just some planning and a few techniques that anyone can put to work. You can walk away from any conference you attend with new clients, if you’re willing to invest time and effort into the process.
I tend to go to several conferences every year, ranging from small local events to South by Southwest Interactive (19,000 official attendees plus thousands more who attended without buying tickets). No matter what the size of the event is, though, I have a similar process.
- I read every word of the website and promotional materials the conference organizers create. I get a good idea of who the typical attendee is and what they’re expecting to get out of being at the conference.
- I create a special offer or elevator pitch tailored to that typical attendee. I write out exactly how I can help that type of person and their business. If I think it’s worth it, I’ll create a special package deal just for a given event, including setting up a landing page on my website and printing up postcards for the event specifically.
- I go over the speakers’ list and research each person. I look for people who would be ideal clients for me, as well as who could be a good connection in general.
- I look at who else will be specifically attending the conference. A quick search on Twitter will get a good list, even if the conference isn’t publishing an attendees list.
- I schedule a time to sit and chat (such as at lunch) with anyone who seems like a particularly good prospect. This isn’t a sales meeting, though — I don’t heavily pitch any of the people that I talk to at a conference. I just try to be helpful and learn about what they do.
- I brush up on industry news so that I have plenty to talk about, even if the conference isn’t covering an industry or niche I usually work with.
Beyond the time I invest in research, I also make sure that I have a huge number of business cards for any event. It’s easy enough to say that as a freelancer, someone who really needs you will remember you or that you’ll just get the other guy’s card. But the fact of the matter is that not having a business card can very easily come off as unprofessional and absolutely no one remembers who they talked to at a conference without a physical reminder.
Even those phone-based apps that are supposed to help you exchange information aren’t going to be as good of a reminder as a new contact finding your card in his pockets as he’s unpacking from the conference.
At the Conference
All that sounds like a lot of work, but when you get to the conference, it pays off. I’ll usually have two or three appointments each day of a conference and those right there can be golden opportunities. Just sitting and talking about how business is going with someone makes a big difference in how they perceive you when you get around to talking about what you do. Just by letting the other guy go first, you can always frame your business in terms of how you can help him.
The same goes for less structured introductions. There are a lot of conferences where I spend most of my time out in the hallways. I go to sessions I really want to hear, but I’m constantly looking for new people to introduce myself to. You can’t be shy in this approach: if I’m hanging out with people that I knew before the conference started, I assume I’m doing something wrong. I ask strangers if I can join them for lunch, chat up people standing in the hallways, ask questions of speakers after they finish their talks.
All that interaction always pays off. At some point in the process, I’ll always find someone who really does need what I can offer. When I do, I’ll jump in and suggest that I’d love to do a free consult when the conference is over — oh, and I have my calendar, so let’s schedule it right now. I don’t mention selling at this point, even though I can be a little aggressive about getting a time pinned down to talk. But more than half of those consults that I’ve done have resulted in at least a small project. Some have resulted in thousands of dollars worth of work, which is more than enough to cover the cost of going to a conference in the first place.
Do you have a question for Thursday? Or additional tips for freelancers looking for clients in conferences? Post them in the comments below.
Thursday Bram has been freelancing for more than eight years — the last four full-time. She’s the co-founder of EnhancedFreelance.com, a membership site for freelancers ready to up their game.
Image by Lisa Padilla