7 GENIUS Tips When Attending Your First Conference

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Conventions! Workshops! Boot camps! Retreats! They are an investment in yourself and your small business. They are also so-much-fun to attend, a little over whelming and also a pretty big expense.

Once you commit to attending a national convention like WPPI or Imaging USA, a little panic might set in.

Am I right?

people at a rock concert

Today I outline THE five best kept secrets to rocking your first convention so you can squeeze everything out of the conference experience and make true work friends in the process.

{I call them Friendpreneurs}

networking tips for attending a convention

5 tips on how to get the most out of a professional convention, retreat, or other networking event.

Personally, I budget for one intensive workshop or professional convention per year as my ongoing education. Everything from the flight & hotel to the fees are tax deductible, so it also helps my bottom line in tangible ways.

AKA taxes owed.

As a professional photographer, typically my convention of choice is either the WPPI Conference or PPA’s Imaging USA.

In 2016, I opted for a photographer’s safari in South Africa instead!

All of which was a tax deduction as an education expense. Score! Bucket list item as tax deduction.

Tax deductions are awesome, however I also attend national conferences and boot camp workshops for photographers in order to make friends in the industry.

Professional networking allows me to form lifelong business friendships (“bizships”) with people who are not direct competition in my field.

Business friendships make for an amazing sounding board for new ideas and I can be more authentic about my day to day entrepreneur struggles with these colleagues.

attending your first conference tips and tricks

Attending my first photography convention

When I attended the WPPI Photography Convention in Las Vegas in 2010, I met Allana Taranto a Boston photographer. She and I hit it off on the eco-friendly front and see each other regularly when I am in Boston.

Allana and I have also traveled to Mexico together for our own photography workshop!

Together we discuss the trends in our wedding photography industry, branding hacks and I’ve taught her the joys of wedding album sales techniques.

Due to this invaluable “bizship”, we both have hired the other to come to our local photography groups to teach photography business related classes.

Top Wedding Photographer Heather McKay gives a workshop to Boston photographers about how to create and sell wedding albums at the Boston PUG

Are National Conventions worth it?

Are you a weekend warrior who is building a side hustle?

Yeah, I’ve been there.

It can be hard to commit the financial outlay for a national convention for what your spouse or family calls a ‘hobby’.

Ironically, the first step to bumping it OUT of hobby-land is to commit to your professional development by attending a national convention.

The chicken and the egg, as it were.

Now that you’ve bitten the bullet, won the fight, and decided to jump in with both feet, let’s talk about the secrets to rocking your first convention or workshop.

You have heard the saying about those who fail to plan, right?

beginner photography mistakes

The Secret to Attending Your First Convention:

My advice is to only go to one big name speaker/headliner and instead search out the b-list convention presenters.

These newer presenters are on their way up to rock star status and tend to give out more information, real information, practical steps and feel more attainable.

The major headliner is so far ahead of where you are in your career that it can be more discouraging than empowering.

Rock star presenters also spend the first 20 minutes selling you on how awesome they are with a slideshow about their yacht lifestyle and Rolodex watches.

Guess what?

You are actually the one paying for that lifestyle with the products they shuck at the convention!

–>> Step away from the shiny object and dig deeper.

Crazy large trade shows are secretly the best reason to attend a large national level convention.

Where else can you touch and feel new technology and products?

If you take the rose colored glasses off and leave your credit card in your hotel room, these expos can be invaluable. What trends are coming down the pipes? Who is the new and eager new company giving out show-stopping deals? What problems in your workflow can you solve?

The key here is to go to the trade show twice. Once, just to wander around (do not stop at any booths) to see the over all gist and trends.

The second time around, circle the specific vendors on the map that you want to visit and go straight to those.

Here’s an extra tip: try to attend the expo when a big name presenter has most of the attendees captivated outside of the trade show floor because going during the off-peak times can actually get you quality time with vendors that you already use.

With this technique, I became friends with one of my wedding album manufacturers and now he is a sponsor for my wedding album sales workshops. I had one on one time with him to discuss questions about his ordering process, see new book covers, and he was able to put a face and personality to one of his customers.

That album is now my top seller. His success is my success.

Education is a Business Expense

It is imperative that before you book your flight and hotels, you learn how your spending can be harnessed for good and not evil.

This is especially helpful if you do have a spouse who is grumbling that you will be traveling without them for a week in the winter to a sunny destination.

Two words: travel hacking! You can sign up for a hotel credit card, earn a rewards bonus in the first three months and then use those bonus points for free hotel stays during your convention.

A little recon during the year prior to the convention is needed, however this is an easy task to complete.

A second option is to sign up for a new business credit card (apply here) just prior to the convention.

Use your new card for all of your expenses and impulse buys and earn a big sign-up bonus with that spending. Actually, just do both!

With most credit cards, you can have a personal and a business credit card from the same hotel or bank. I have a Chase Marriott for my personal spending and I have a Chase Marriott for my business spending.

The best all-around travel card for your small business is the Chase Ink Plus card. With this sign up bonus, plus regular business spending, you could take your whole family on a different vacation later. All with points!

Best business credit card for travel
Apply for the Chase Ink Business Preferred card and receive a sign up bonus of 80,000 points ($800 cash value!). I too get extra points when you are approved.

Mobil Business Cards for Photographers

What on earth does one pack for a convention? Laptop or tablet? Camera or smartphone? What clothing is appropriate?

Personally, I like to keep things simple with a small day bag that fits under my chair. It holds four basic things: a spiral notebook, a refillable water bottle, my smartphone and a light sweater.

It is scientifically proven to improve your retention when you have to write the information down, therefore I’m a notebook girl.

Additionally, later down the road, you can flip through your notes with ease. Looking for bullet points and ideas as you are ready to implement these concepts is a breeze on paper.

Will you ever actually find that note in your computer years later? Probably not. If you use Evernote as a journal keeping system, you can take a photo of your handwritten notes and this keeps it at your fingertips for ease of digital use too.

Did you notice that I did not mention business cards in my must pack list??

That’s because I have a card in my address book on my phone with the pertinent information. When networking, just ‘share contact’ via text with anyone! Be sure the card you create has a picture of you as well as the convention name/year in the notes field.

This little trick makes it super easy to remember where you met someone and you’ve done the hard work for them! Plus you can text each other later to meet for drinks.

Secret game plan for attending a convention tips and tricks creating a virtual business card



Attending Imaging USA and WPPI

Attending a professional conference is a perfect opportunity to meet other industry professionals, vendors, and attendees like you. As I outlined above on how to meet your vendors, you can also be mindful and specific when meeting other attendees.

The larger national conventions can be like swimming in a sea of other people. How do you gauge who is important, who will be friendly and who might be the next big thing? Even as an extrovert, I find this part of connecting at a conference to be stressful.

A few years ago I attended the Imaging USA convention in New Orleans. I really just wanted to visit New Orleans and hadn’t gotten much education out of a national convention in a few years.

I took the opportunity as a challenge to meet new people and learn the power of Twitter. Twitter had been eluding me and it didn’t come naturally to use that social media platform.

Therefore, my agenda during the convention was to figure out how to make it work. This made it more of a game and much more fun. My goal was to meet 5 new people each day and get invited to 2 parties.

It worked and afterward I felt so much more comfortable with Twitter and had made a few new industry contacts.

What are your top tips for attending a retreat or convention?

What are your thoughts on my top tips and do’s and don’t for making the most of attending a national photography convention, boot camp, retreat, or workshop?

If you interested in hosting your own conference, convention or event, let Eventbrite help you streamline the process. You can register right here.

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