So it's no secret that I am a very social person... I LIVE for networking events, conferences, ice breakers, meet-ups, etc. (I'm a sorority girl, DUH!) Especially since I am a creative that works from home- I totally crave the comradery that used to be taken for granted when I was in school.
Something I've been really passionate about and look forward to every year is attending conferences that not only help me grow as a person and a creative, but also as a business owner. I have been rewarded tenfold from every conference I have attended, whether it was going to a local Student Council summer camp in high school, a national sorority convention in college, or traveling to New York with some friends to attend one of the biggest creative conferences, Create Cultivate.
Recently I was asked to teach part of my Mastering iPhoneography workshop in person at a Baton Rouge design conference called Crop, and it made me realize how much I really do just love the atmosphere at creative conferences. I mean, have you seen my video about the story behind "Do What You Want?" I talk about how going to a creative conference in New Orleans called Venture Pop helped me formulate that tag line...which is basically now a sub brand of my business.
I can't say enough how important it is to try and find events within your career scope (or maybe even out of it!) Below are my top 5 reasons why you need to pull the trigger, buy that ticket, and show up!
So the most obvious reason to attend a conference is to network. People use this term loosely all of the time, but I seriously mean it... you hardcore network at conferences even if you aren't aware that you're doing it. When I was at SXSW (I was photographing more than I was really attending) every time I sat down to check my phone or grab some food I struck up a conversation with someone new. I met people from all over the world! At conferences such as Crop and Venture Pop, I have made countless connections which turned into business endeavors and later on, friendships. When I went to the New Orleans Entrepreneur Week alone, I sat next to this woman who talked to me for literally 2 minutes. We exchanged cards and a few months later I got a referral from her for a huge commercial photography assignment at a music festival.
This is probably the easiest way to make friends and connections in your field, especially if you show up to the conference alone. You'll get so many business cards from people and you should hand yours out as well! You never know what could come from it but you gotta go to make it happen in the first place!
2. GAINING INSPIRATION
Since I attend mostly creative conferences, this is a given. Regardless of your field, there's something you can takeaway from meeting other people who are working in a similar fashion as you. Fun tip- attend something that's a little out of your comfort zone if you want to gain even more inspiration! An example of this for me is Crop, the annual design conference in Baton Rouge. Graphic design makes up about 10% of my business but these people at Crop are LEGIT ARTISTS. I get so inspired every time just from being around people who are so passionate and talented...and then I'm just the token photographer who's there in the corner soaking everything up from the presentations. It opens up my mind when the conference is over and has me looking at my work from a different perspective, which can be refreshing.
Being around so many talented creative people just makes me want to push myself more. I’m on autopilot so much these days, it’s refreshing to feel inspired again. Go to conferences, they’re important!!— Jordan Hefler (@JordanHefler) April 7, 2018
3. AN EXCUSE TO TRAVEL
This is a big one. If you work for a company or in a corporate setting, see what types of conferences your work is willing to send you to! My boyfriend works in marketing and he's actually about to go to Las Vegas for a conference on behalf of his work next week. Um, COOL!? Conferences are legitimate business excuses to travel and if you can swing it to be part of your paid days that you would have been in the office, that's even better. For me, this is a bit daunting because I work for myself and end up having to foot the bill, but last year two friends and I went to New York for a conference and made a whole trip out of it. It was 100% worth it and I am always trying to see where I can go next! Definitely put some money aside because conferences are investments for not only your own personal growth, but the growth of your business.
4. LEARNING SOMETHING NEW
This kind of goes hand in hand with inspiration, but unlike inspiration this is applicable to the real world in an immediate way. People who speak at conferences are presenting for a reason- it's because they know what they're talking about and they are there to teach you something new. Take notes! I've learned so many tips and tricks from watching the presentations and just having casual conversations with people sitting around me. This can be so valuable for your business, especially if you work alone.
This one is a bit more relevant for those of you who are there to promote your own business, but nonetheless going to a conference in your field gives you a built in audience of people who *should* be interested in what you have to offer. Find out if you can contribute to putting your marketing materials in the "swag bags" given to everyone at the conference, or bring your own cards, stickers, or other materials to hand out to people throughout your time there. If you're in a position to, BECOME A SPONSOR OF THE EVENT. Boom, instant advertising for an already tailored audience! When I was asked to do my workshop in person, I was so excited because I immediately realized I would 1. be helping a ton of people at once by teaching what I knew, and 2. if nothing else get my name out there to people who may be interested in my work.
I hate using the word "exposure" but going to a conference is one of the most classic examples of this because it truly is a great way to get yourself out there and let your face/business/knowledge be seen and heard! I always like to post something with my face in it about being at the conference if I can, because then people who are searching that event's hashtag will know who I am and hopefully that leads to in person conversations. This strategy has really helped me connect with others online who are also at the conference! To take it even further, from a branding aspect I like to wear bright colors in some way so that people associate what they see on my Instagram with what I look like in person. When I was in New York this one girl actually came up to me and said she had seen my posts with the conference hashtag and figured that must be me because of the colorful shoes I was wearing!
What conferences have you attended that made a difference in your life or business? I'd love to hear, and you already know I'm always on the lookout for something new to attend!