By Brett Boehm
You’re too busy. Budgets are tight. There are professional development resources already available online. These are legitimate reasons to be selective about the industry events you attend. But please do attend, regularly. Better yet, get involved.
I’ve found that the benefits far outweigh the costs. Events I highly recommend for professionals in traditional and alternative finance include the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association (ELFA) annual convention, LEND360 and LendIt.
Business growth, professional growth and personal growth through charitable projects are key reasons for becoming active in industry events. But “being there” can also lead to unpredictable opportunities, like the one that came my way recently.
After committing to LEND360 this year, I decided to make the most of the experience by volunteering for a speaker panel and signing up our company for a sponsorship. Business professionals at the event noticed my company’s involvement and reached out to me using the conference’s networking app. Among them were two C-suite executives from the same organization who expressed interest in my company’s commercial debt-buying services. Before considering a business relationship with my firm, they added, I would need to engage the interest of their CEO.
Fast forward a week later to the ELFA Annual Convention. I’ve been active in it for years. This year I am serving on the association’s membership committee and our business also sponsored one of the educational session rooms during the event.
While talking with a banking professional at the convention, he noticed one of his customers in the crowd and introduced us. “Your name is familiar,” the customer commented. Turns out he was the CEO of the company I was first introduced to at LEND360. Out of 1000+ people attending the ELFA Conference, suddenly I was speaking with the very CEO I had hoped to meet someday.
The value of industry events in business development cannot be overstated. We live in a world where much of our work is conducted online and by phone. Conferences provide a dynamic venue for forming real relationships with business prospects, customers and partners.
I often work in advance of events to set up appointments with key people there. Most conferences provide attendee lists or apps and social media hashtags you can use to make connections. Important networking also takes place on the fly like it did in the serendipitous introduction to my business prospect’s CEO.
We can learn so much from professionals outside our company and even outside our industries. Different generations in business can also learn from each other. Conference speakers and exhibitors expand our knowledge and skills in specific ways. With very large events like LendIt that have overlapping sessions, you may have to be strategic in selecting your focus to make the most of your experience.
Harder to quantify are the motivational benefits of attending industry events. Participants often leave conferences reenergized and enthusiastic about the work ahead.
One reason for the large turnout at the ELFA Conference this year undoubtedly was the high quality of the speakers and relevance of the topics. I attended all four sessions in the room our company sponsored at the event, including one geared to millennials in finance. The speakers were engaging and informative.
Personal Growth through Charitable Projects
Participating in conferences is one way to “give back” to your industry, which ultimately helps your business, too. Some events take this a step further and give back to the community by incorporating service projects and charitable donations in their activities.
This year, I was excited to participate in and help sponsor one of the ELFA Convention’s three community service projects. We assembled meal kits for families in need including those in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico through the charity Feeding Children Everywhere.
I joined with other volunteers at the ELFA Convention to package 20,000 meal kits of dry foods including lentils, rice and dehydrated vegetables. We looked a little funny in our hair nets but had a lot of fun and made a difference. It was a rewarding experience that I will never forget.
You Get What You Give
Occasionally I will overhear someone complaining that a conference was not worth their while. It’s true that you may not land a business deal there. What I can guarantee is that attending industry conferences can help you make important connections and grow professionally and personally.
And, as in most things, you get what you give.
Use industry events as opportunities. Do everything you can to make the conference a productive one for you and your business. Be generous in helping others there, too. Consider becoming really involved in conferences as a volunteer, speaker or sponsor. It will enrich your experience ─ and multiply the benefits.