This summer, I attended Connections 2022, put on by the CPA Firm Management Association. While it wasn’t my first in-person conference since the start of the pandemic, it was the first with a lot of networking outside our sponsor booth.
As someone with a “gift for gab,” I love networking. However, I know not everyone feels right at home in a bustling conference environment.
Still, meeting potential new clients is often the goal of attending networking events. So I thought this would be a good time to share a few tips for approaching business development at conferences.
Create your “must meet” list in advance
The CPA FMA conference had an app with all attendees' profiles, pictures, and contact information. I spent some time ahead of the event reviewing this app section and deciding whom I wanted to meet. Some of these were existing clients I wanted to continue building a relationship with because we’d only ever communicated via email. Some were entirely new prospective clients I wanted to introduce Boomer Consulting to.
Most conferences these days have apps or communities on social media where you can get an idea of who will be there. So take some time to plan your “must meet” list of three to five people before the event and seek them out during networking or free time.
Follow the 90/10 rule
Your goal for the event might be to drum up new business for your firm but don’t spend the entire time talking shop. Follow the 90/10 rule: talk about work 10% of the time and non-work stuff the other 90%.
People might decide to buy a product or service intellectually, but they decide whom to buy from emotionally. People want to do business with their friends. So talk about the food at the conference, the television show you’re binge-watching, a great book you just read—anything other than a sales pitch.
Of course, some people you meet might want to talk about business, and that’s fine. But let them bring it up first and only share your solutions if they ask.
Collect business cards
Some people think business cards are obsolete, but they’re still the fastest and easiest way to share your contact information with someone else and receive theirs.
When you have a great conversation with someone—especially if they seem interested in doing business with you—be sure to get their card so you can follow up. While handing out your own card is nice, many people collect cards at conferences and never follow up. You'll be far ahead of most conference attendees if you create a follow-though plan for even 25% of the cards you collect.
If someone I meet seems interested in one of our communities, I share a little information with them, then say something like, “I don’t want to talk your ear off here but let me get your card!”
Then I follow up with them post-conference to have actual business development conversations.
Rethink your swag
If you have a sponsor booth at the event and have a chance to hand out swag, try to avoid piles of socks, stress balls and other junk nobody really wants. If you are going to hand out swag, make sure it’s something potential clients can use.
At our CPA FMA booth, we handed out $5 Starbucks gift cards. There was a Starbucks right across from the event venue, so it was very convenient and the people we talked to seemed to appreciate them.
Don’t skip happy hour
The bar at the hotel or event venue is a great place to meet people, so don’t skip happy hour! You don’t have to drink alcohol—drink a soda or water if you prefer.
People are usually more relaxed in this setting, so it’s a great time to network informally with clients and prospects. Again, stick to the 90/10 rule and collect people’s business cards so you can follow up with them later.
Industry conferences and other events can be great places to meet the clients you want to work with. Attending them is an investment of time and money, so make sure they’re helping you further your business development goals by approaching them strategically.
Are you ready to stop wasting money on business development and marketing initiatives that don’t work?
Boomer Growth Consulting helps you create a clear marketing and business development roadmap that will help you reach more prospects and clients. Schedule a discovery call today and gain confidence that your firm’s marketing and business development dollars are being used effectively.
As a Solutions Advisor for Boomer Consulting, Inc., Kylie Pruser is excited about engaging with clients, helping them solve their problems, enrich their businesses and grow. Her primary focus is on communities, including the Boomer Technology Circles.