A Step-by-Step Guide for Walking Away from Conferences with New Leads and Partnerships

There’s a reason most companies have “business development” staff that spend practically all their time attending conferences and events and networking:

Conferences have a clear and easily definable return on investment.

But as a Freelance Mom bootstrapping your way to a new business while trying to spend as much time as possible with your family, the time and monetary investment required to attend a conference can seem like too much of a sacrifice.

Last week, we looked at the top conferences for Freelance Moms to attend this year, but now I want to look at how.

If you are booking hotels and flights, paying attendance fees, and bartering with your husband for him to take over full childcare duties for several days, you need to get more out of your conference than some nice conversations over drinks.

There are innumerable blog posts out there telling you to “network,” but we’re going to break down the nitty-gritty of exactly how to get the most bang for your buck out of your time with some high-level, conference-specific networking wonder tricks.

Plant Some Seeds Before You Arrive at the Conference

If you have enough time remaining before the event, submit a speaker proposal. Look at last year’s program and look for holes in the content you can fill or email the organizers and ask them directly if there are any topics they need covering in your area of expertise.

When money is an issue, speaking at the conference can get you in for free, but you can also volunteer.

Not only will you get to take in sessions for free, but volunteering fast-tracks you to connecting with the conference organizers—while showing them that you are fun, hard-working, and dependable in the process.

Study the schedule seriously before you arrive. Look for speakers that you specifically want to see or meet and put those sessions on your calendar, then balance out other sessions to make sure you’re getting a good variety of topics—or boning up on the area you came to learn about.

Even the most experienced speakers like to know they have an advocate in the room, so email speakers of sessions you’re particularly excited about in advance to let them know you are cheering them on. You can use it as an in to run into them at the opening party and start a relationship.

If possible, look through the attendee list in advance as well, identify people you’d like to meet, and email them to say hi, set up time to grab a coffee the opening day before the event starts, or sit together at a meal.

If there is no “official” list, look through the event’s hashtag and see who is tweeting that they are going.

Most importantly: rest up.

You want to be able to be up in the morning and carry on conversations at the evening events as long as things stay interesting.

On the Ground, Stay Sharp So You Don’t Miss Out

If you’ve done your prep properly, you should have some people that you’re on the lookout for and who are hopefully on the lookout for you as well, especially if you’ve been able to set up some coffee dates.

At the opening reception, try to make sure that you end up with the kind of people you’re interested in networking with as soon as possible. Groups tend to form up at this time, and it’s a great opportunity to get in before the onslaught of sessions if you’re new.

Continue to meet and qualify as many new people as possible through the event though by:

  • Chatting up people you sit near or next to for talks
  • Asking people you’re having a good conversation with to join you for a meal or sit together in a session
  • Asking an extremely on-point question in each talk, preferably first
  • Tweeting the highlights of each talk you’re in and interacting with others in your sessions and others on twitter during the talks
  • Greeting and expressing appreciation to the organizers whenever the opportunity arises
  • Messaging folks you’ve had a really great connection with to try to set up another time to connect during the event

Post-Event Follow Up Strategically

Hopefully you’ve already been following up with people that you’ve met during the event, but only a speed-typing superwoman could follow up completely with each card while out at an event. As soon as it wraps, set out a block of time to sit down and tackle your card pile.

For each individual that you’re interested in continuing a relationship with—you can ignore those folks that just jumped in your conversation and shoved a card in your face—do these four things to keep the conversations going:

  1. Tweet them a sincere “great to meet you” tweet (ASAP)
  2. Send a longer note via email reminding them what you had in common and a suggested next step for the relationship (in a couple days)
  3. Follow them on Twitter and Facebook (in a week or so)
  4. Add them on LinkedIn and add a short “how’s it going post-event?” note (in a couple weeks)

It’s easiest to batch them so you are following up at appropriate intervals with everyone.

Once you’ve got the wheels of your relationship follow-up going, set aside an hour or so as soon as you can after the event to write a recap in whatever level of detail you have time for or a post related to something you learned at the event.

Post it right away and send it to the organizer of the conference (and the speaker if it’s related to a talk) and thank them for putting the event together.

Most conference these days will link to your recap on their blog. Getting in early can gain you buckets of new readers.

Next week, we’re going to look at what marketing ducks you should have in a row before you attend an event—or anything really. But first:

Do you have any other great tactics for getting the most out of conferences?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lisa Stein owns FreelanceMom.com, is a college business professor and a mom to Gabriela and Elle. Lisa is dedicated to playing a part in helping women and moms run a business they love, help support themselves and their family and create a flexible lifestyle. You can find her online on Facebook and Twitter or at home burning something in the kitchen.