3 Reasons You Can’t Afford NOT to Attend That Conference

3 Reasons to Attend That Conference

I’m writing this while on the plane to Chicago, en route to attend the Business Marketing Association (BMA) conference. It promises to be three days of learning and best practices sharing and networking with other B2B marketers like me. Inevitably, when I tell others I’m headed to a conference, I hear variations on the theme of “Oh, I’d love to go to that conference, but I can’t afford it.”

I get that. For many of these conferences, even with early bird pricing, you’re looking at $1200 in registration fees. Plus hundreds of dollars in airfare and hotel costs. It’s easy to sink $2500 into attending a conference. But that said, I still think it’s a small price to invest in your professional development. In competitive, hyper-change fields like marketing, I think you actually can’t afford NOT to attend these events, if you want to stay competitive and employable.

Reason #1: Conferences, by Their Nature, Give Insight into Emerging Industry Trends

Why is this important? Because although you may not be up on what’s going on in your industry or profession, chances are your organization’s competition (and the professionals you compete within the job market) will be. Not all industry trends stick around for the long run (remember when Second Life was heralded as the next frontier in marketing and customer service? No? Well there you go.) but many of them are relevant and timely markers for shifting customer expectations.

Adoption of social media for customer service and marketing is a great example of an emerging trend that’s gone mainstream. Companies and professionals who quickly embraced this trend, and figured out how to make it work within their customer ecosystems, saw their brand image and customer loyalty increase. Imagine how much of an opportunity cost laggards have accrued if they’re just now waking up to the impact of social media on current society.

Reason #2: You Learn More, and Have More Creative Ideas, by Immersing Yourself in a New Environment

Most of us work in the same office environment, surrounded by the same colleagues, on a daily basis. There’s comfort in this familiarity, but numerous studies on creativity and breakthrough ideas have shown that breaking out of your comfort zone and working in a new environment is a great way to spur creative thinking and creak out ideas.

Packing up and traveling to a conference not only gets you into a new physical location, it changes up your information inputs, and surrounds you with all sorts of unfamiliar people who have the potential to spark new ideas. And that’s even before the education sessions have started!

Similarly, the trade show floor is your opportunity to have 1:1 time with suppliers of products and services others in your industry are using to be more effective. Walk that show floor and see what catches your eye. It just might be a tool that can help you work smarter and faster. And who doesn’t want that?

Reason #3: You Can Build Connections With Other Professionals With Similar Challenges, Building Your Own Personal Think Tank

Perhaps even more valuable than the best practices and new ideas you take away from conference education sessions are the connections you make with other professionals like yourself. More than just building your LinkedIn network count, these connections can start to form your own personal best practices community, that you can consult when you are wrestling with business and professional challenges of your own, or looking for recommendations for new service providers.

I should note that I tend to “meet” a number of attendees at conferences through livetweeting interesting tidbits from sessions I attend. The same goes from sharing my key takeaways from events in blog posts like this one, on my experience at Content Marketing World 2013. The real-time conference back channels at conferences are a great way to connect with others. This is especially helpful if you’re an introvert who gets hives at the thought of walking up to someone you don’t know and making small talk.

How to Make it Happen

It can be difficult to find the funds for attending a conference. This is especially true if you’re self-employed. Luckily, it may be an eligible tax write-off. Talk to your accountant to see what would qualify.

Many companies don’t have a budget set aside for staff professional development. However, if you can provide your boss with a concrete area of learning you’ll be able to bring back and share with the team, you may be get your company to foot at least part of the bill. Some of the other ways you can bring that conference price tag down a notch include:

  • Group registering with your colleagues
  • Paying before the early bird deadline
  • Volunteering at the conference
  • Successfully applying to share your expertise by being a speaker
  • Asking partners who are exhibiting if they have a discount registration code

If none of these options are open to you, and you can’t swing a large lump sum at once, start planning a year ahead. Save a little bit each week, for your conference fund. Consider starting a change jar, or skipping one fancy coffee each week and putting that cash into your conference fund. You may surprise yourself with how quickly you meet your goal.

Creating a Weekly Social Media Plan in Support of Your Personal Brand

Create a Weekly Social Media Tactical Plan(updated October 2017)

It can be easy to get sucked into a social media time sink when you’re getting started building out your personal branding social media strategy. That’s why it’s important to identify your top objectives for your social media usage, then draft a social media plan to define the activities you’ll do on a regular basis.

For instance, as a solopreneur or small business owner, your objectives might look like this:

  • Expand word-of-mouth about my services
  • Connect with 12 new industry influencers
  • Identify and become active in 2-3 online groups/communities related to my services
  • Drive 20% of all new business inquiries from social media channels by the end of the year

So how do you translate your positioning and focus areas into your social media plan?

First, set aside a couple of hours to draft your social media plan.

You’ll want to start by taking a close look at your bios on each of your active social networks. Does your bio consistently reflect your messaging?

Before you dive into tactics, you want to ensure you are presenting yourself with the same photo and/or graphics across your channels, and using the same language to reflect your value proposition, regardless of channel.

Moving into the planning process, you’ll need to identify:

  • Your primary keywords. Pick at least 3 and no more than 5 to focus on. Examples: digital marketing, financial services marketing, financial planning, social media.
  •  Key thought leaders and content sources for your keywords, starting with what you’ve already been reading/sharing via social. Aim for 10-20 total.
  •  Your weekly goal for posting content. Content can be something new that you share and microblog about (i.e. add your own perspective to a link), or can be something you RT from the folks you follow.
  • Your weekly goal for 1:1 interactions. This can include replying to an update someone posts, responding to a question with info or a resource, or just sharing something interesting 1:1 with a key person.

Now that you’ve defined your activities, and aligned your profile content to your objectives and value proposition, go ahead and block off 15 or 20 minutes per day, every day, on your calendar to focus on your social media activities. This time should be spent on your 1:1 interactions with influencers and followers, and tee’ing up content in Hootsuite or another scheduling tool, to be shared with your audience over the course of the upcoming week.

Documenting Your Social Media Plan

Social Media Calendar
Given a 15 minutes per day budget, you can aim for 1 Twitter post and 1 Facebook post per day, and a couple of LinkedIn posts of interest to your network per week. This time budget should also allow for 2-3 Twitter interactions and 2 Facebook interactions with influencers each week, and commenting on a couple of LinkedIn status updates or community posts per week.

To make sure you use your time wisely each day, add the related To Do’s to your daily calendar reminder.  This should include both interactions and content sharing activities.

By setting your goals and having them part of your daily To Do list, you’re on your way to improving your brand through regular use of social media.

3 Career Resolutions You Need to Make

Career ResolutionsThe start of a new year is a great time to reflect on what’s been working well and what you’d like to change for the year ahead—both in your personal and your professional life. Thinking about your core competencies, and the goals you’d like to accomplish in 2014, I propose three career resolutions you need to make for 2014 to make them happen:

  1. Create a career development plan
  2. Get a mentor/be a mentor
  3. Nurture your professional network

Create a career development plan

Whether your top career goal is to get promoted, find a new job, or expand your solopreneur business, setting concrete goals and creating a career development plan is key to helping you get there.

Why is it so important? Because it starts by defining your career goals, assessing both your strengths and areas for improvement and then mapping your development goals to specific, measurable activities. Career development plans are not one size fits all! Simply attending a conference and a few random industry webinars doesn’t cut it either. You need to create a personalized roadmap that focuses on what you need to learn and improve upon to attain your specific professional goals.

Get a mentor/be a mentor

Everyone can benefit from an outside point of view from time-to-time. That’s where a mentor comes in. Ideally, you want to look for someone who is further along on your career path, whose experiences would be valuable to you as you carve out your career path. Or they can be someone who is exceptionally skilled in one of the competencies you ID’d in your career development plan as being one you need to work on.

Similarly, if you are an individual contributor looking to take on a management role, consider mentoring. Mentoring gives you hands-on coaching experience you’ll be able to apply with your future direct reports. And if you are an experienced professional, with decades of experience under your belt, mentoring is a great way to give back to your profession and your community.

Still not sold on the idea of mentoring? Check out this blog post on Convince & Convert on the virtuous cycle of mentorship.

Nurture your professional network

Don’t be that person who only reaches out to former colleagues when they are looking for a new opportunity! Make time each week to reach out. Grab lunch once a week with a current or former colleague you don’t see very often. Drop someone an email w/a link to an interesting article you read that made you think of them. Follow them on social media and share their blog posts. There are many small ways to reach out that don’t take much time but still make a significant impact.

If you need some ideas on more ways to reach out, check out this list of 52 random acts of kindness (that’s one for each week of 2014); not all apply, but many of them do.

Keep yourself accountable

After you settle on your career resolutions, you need to act on them. A good way to stay o track is to share the resolutions with your friends, family and support network. Ask them to help keep you accountable, and to cheer you on as you go. Now you’re on your way to making 2014 a year full of career success.

Ready to Take Your Job to the Next Level? Create a Career Development Plan

Career Development Plan(Updated October 2017)

How is it that drafting a career development plan became part of the “Wish I Didn’t Have To Do” list? Is it because in many large organizations the task is lumped in with (often onerous) annual performance reviews? It’s too bad they’ve become an unpleasant chore for so many workers because they’re actually a very useful tool for focusing in on and honing the skills you need to acquire to advance your career.

3 steps for creating a career development plan

Creating an actionable career development plan can be broken down into 3 distinct steps:

  • Step 1: Define your career goals
  • Step 2: Identify your strengths and areas for improvement
  • Step 3: Map development goals to specific, measurable activities

You don’t need to wait for your annual performance review cycle to get started (although it’s helpful to have your most recent review in hand). You only need to have the motivation to start working on developing yourself and advancing your career.

Career Goals

Continue reading “Ready to Take Your Job to the Next Level? Create a Career Development Plan”

5 Key Ingredients for a Successful LinkedIn Recommendation Request

.LinkedIn Recommendation Request(Updated October 2017)

Recommendations for your past work are one of the most powerful inclusions to have on your LinkedIn profile. But it’s not enough to do great work and wait for the recommendations and endorsements to flow in. Typically, you are going to need to ask for them. But just making a general request using the LinkedIn recommendation boilerplate copy is not enough. What you ask, and how you ask it, will determine how likely you are to get a reply—and a useful recommendation for your profile.

LinkedIn Recommendations

5 steps to follow when asking for LinkedIn recommendations

Step 1: Decide on one project or role to target

Although it may be tempting to send out dozens of requests, covering every position listed on your LinkedIn profile, resist that temptation! You’ll get better recommendations if you keep focused. Start with the role or project that you are most proud of, and that exemplifies the kind of work you’d like to do more of. Now, break down that role into the core competencies you demonstrated, and your key accomplishments. With this list in hand, you’re ready for the next step.

Continue reading “5 Key Ingredients for a Successful LinkedIn Recommendation Request”