Get ready – busy season for conferences and trade shows is about to kick into high gear! Every year, attorneys and law firms spend a good deal of money attending or exhibiting at these events (or both) with the hopes of making new connections, strengthening existing relationships and developing strong leads. Depending on the total amount required to cover passes, travel and other expenses like meals or entertainment, the ROI needed to make the event worth the time and effort can seem astronomical, but it is achievable. While you’re planning what to pack and what book to read on the flight, take the time to also plan ahead for business development opportunities – and there are plenty!
Most shows send out an attendee list prior to the event. Some lists just have firm names and number of staff in attendance, while others provide further information like attendee names, emails and mailing addresses, depending upon your status as attendee, exhibitor, VIP, etc. However detailed the data you receive ahead of time, take advantage of it.
- Go through your list and see if there are particular companies that you’d like to reach out to. Assuming there are, contact those attending directly when possible and set up a time to meet during the show.
- Put together an email that goes out a week or two before the event, expressing how excited you are about the show. You can also talk about new and exciting things your firm is launching, when appropriate, and invite email recipients to come by your booth, or even make suggestions for fun things to do in the area.
- Have mailing addresses? If time permits, put together a physical mailer to send out before people leave for the show. Aim for this to arrive about two weeks prior, so attendees are still in planning mode for the event as the communication is received. Since some professionals leave a few days early to tack on a mini-vacation, sending your mailer a couple weeks beforehand gives you ample time to get in front of this group as well.
- Look at the agenda and plan to attend sessions that would attract your prospects, then fish where the fish are. This is a great way to meet and chat with other attendees and get to know potential clients.
During the conference
Whether you’re a vendor at a booth or an attendee engrossed in the presentations, there are plenty of opportunities to network and make great connections.
- If you are a vendor, pay full attention to booth visitors during breaks and times when attendees are in the exhibit hall. Put the computer away and don’t be tempted to check email or work, even if foot traffic is slow. This comes across negatively and can give the impression you aren’t interested in talking to people.
- When attending sessions, chat up the folks sitting nearby. This is a less stressful way to meet people.
- Attend all networking events, meals and snack times. Yes, there are typically quite a few of them, but take this opportunity to strike up a conversation about how amazing the quiche is, or how dry the steak, and have a bit of a bonding moment with your fellow table mates.
- Set up drinks, meals, coffee, etc. with folks outside of the main event. When you find a prospect who seems especially promising, don’t miss the chance to talk one-on-one, away from the hubbub of the conference.
- Been collecting lots of business cards? Great! But often people forget what the discussion was that prompted the business card exchange. As you receive a card, make a quick note on the back about what you talked about, who the person is, etc. This is not only a good reminder for you, but it shows the people you meet you are taking their conversation seriously and want to follow up on it.
Once you’re finally home and able to sleep in your own bed again, it’s tempting to open up your inbox and get lost in playing catch-up. Don’t let that happen though!
- Set aside some time the first day you are back in the office and start the follow-up process. Besides continuing education, business development is the primary reason you attended the event, so make it a priority.
- Send personal notes to everyone who gave a card, referring to topics you discussed and asking for a follow up call/meeting within three or four days of returning from the show. This way the conversation is still fresh with them as well and they are more likely to continue the discussion.
- Login to LinkedIn and connect with each person you met, adding a personal note about meeting at the show. This accomplishes two things. First, it once again gets you in front of these professionals while their memory – and yours – is still fresh. Second, LinkedIn saves the email messages you send to other LinkedIn members through the platform. If you reach out to that person later down the road, you’ll both have a reminder of how you met in the first place.
- Learned some great information that you think your current clients would appreciate? Write blog posts on the sessions that were particularly interesting. Sharing what you learned showcases your knowledge while also creating great content for your website and social media.
Most of this isn’t new or anything you didn’t already know, but sometimes it’s a good idea to be reminded and to have a checklist to help you stay focused. That’s especially true for conference follow up, since these efforts can be expensive and aren’t just an excuse to get more frequent flyer miles. Do you have any other suggestions for capitalizing on conferences and similar events? Let us know your tips!