No matter where you are or what industry you're in, there are bound to be at least a handful of conferences that you could consider appropriate—and ideally beneficial—for your business. The thing is though, it can be tough to justify the cost and time-spend. After all, every minute you're at (or preparing for) a conference is a minute you're away from your business. (The trade-off might be even greater. On car trips, my dad always said that for every minute you're off the road you lose two on, resulting in three total minutes lost. Note: learned mathematicians are still verifying this calculus.)
The ultimate question is this: how do you determine whether or not a conference is worth your time and money? Here are a few guidelines that can help...
There Has to be a Point
Before you commit to a conference, you need to identify at least one tangible outcome that can improve or contribute to the growth of your business. If you can't do this, you shouldn't go. In order to justify the travel, time and costs, you've got to have a reason for going:
- Can attending this conference result in new business leads? (Perhaps not, if it's attended by folks just like yourself, aka, competitors.)
- Are there sessions or talks that will provide you with knowledge or ideas on how to improve your business? If so, you've got a worthwhile takeaway.
- Will attending give you a better idea of what the competition is doing?
- Will any of your customers be in attendance? If so, and if you don't see them that often, a conference can be a great way to score a little face time.
- Do you have any other reasons to be in the city where the conference is happening? If so, line up a handful of other meetings that can make the trip more worthwhile.
Conversely, if your reasons for attending a conference center around things like your desire to visit a given city or a chance to get away, take a vacation!
Consider the Financial Impact
Typically, conference-related costs are recorded as a business expense. That's good in the "let's reduce our tax exposure" sense. But from a cash flow perspective, you want to have a clear understanding of how carving off not-a-small-chunk-of-change will impact your business in-the-now. Including ticket/attendance fees, travel costs, hotel costs, and meal costs, a two-day conference can get into four figures rather quickly. Can your business stomach that?
Is Speaking or Presenting an Option?
If the conference you are interested in accepts speaker or presenter proposals, consider tossing your hat in the ring. Besides gaining the opportunity to present a subject you're passionate about to an audience that (presumably) will find value in what you have to say, presenting at a conference often comes with a free ticket. Should that be your sole motivation? No. But it sure doesn't hurt.
Who's at the Helm While You're Off Conferencing?
If you're a small (like, really small) business, you being out of the office for a few days is no insignificant issue. Can you crank out things like emails and phone calls in between conference sessions? Sure. We've all seen conference-goers pacing a hallway, iPhone in hand. But you need to have a plan in place with regards to who's at the controls back at the shop. You also need to align expectations with customers and clients.
Ultimately, attending a conference requires a concrete reason. If you can't validate attending, your time's better spent elsewhere.
P.S. - If you do go a-conferencing, make sure you've got your Kashoo iPhone app with you to capture all those expense receipts!