5 things to do before heading to a conference for creative entrepreneurs

Picture this:

A hip bar in New Orleans. A warm October night. More than 60 stylish, successful women sipping cocktails and chatting about business and life.

This was the scene I walked in to at my first conference and I was nervous.

  • I didn’t know anyone

  • I was worried I’d have nothing to talk about

  • And my name tag was stuck to my hair

Crap.

Fast forward a few years, and now I love going to conferences to meet new people, connect, and get inspired.

In today’s post, I’m breaking down the 5 things to do BEFORE a conference if you want to meet new clients, connect with collaborators, and make friends in your industry.

We’re talking strategy, networking without being a douche, getting your website on point, and more!

5 things to do before heading to a conference for creative entrepreneurs

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    Why should you prepare for a conference before it starts?

    Before I started my business, I worked in fundraising for a major museum. Every dinner, gala, and cocktail party was an opportunity to connect with a donor who might give millions of dollars.

    With stakes that high, do you think anyone from the fundraising team ever walked into a room cold, just hoping to meet who they were supposed to meet?

    Hell no!!!

    Behind the scenes, a TON of research and preparation went into every event.

    We had a team of full-time researchers whose job it was to find out who was coming to an event, what they were interested in, and if they’d be a good fit for one of our programs.

    By preparing for an event ahead of time, my museum colleagues were able to boost their chances of connecting with the right people and hitting their fundraising goals.

    The same goes for you. A bit of prep work before your next conference will skyrocket your chances of meeting new clients, connecting with collaborators, and making friends.

    Plus, the 5 steps I’m going to show you are free and ultra-simple.

    I think of these 5 steps as my secret “hack” for getting the most out of events and conferences and I know they’re going to help you, too.

    Step 1: take a look at the public guest list for the event

    Most events will have a guest list online. Here’s the one for Craft + Commerce hosted by ConvertKit, which is one of my favorite conferences for creatives:

    step 1 - find the public guest list for the event

    If there’s no public guest list, often there’ll be a Facebook group, event hashtag, or some other way for you to connect with attendees ahead of time.

    People who host events want you to make connections, so the guest list isn’t usually some big secret. If you can’t find it, email the organizer to ask.

    Step 2: check out the websites of the attendees

    Once you’ve got the public guest list, you can go through and look at people’s websites. Some events will make this really easy for you by providing a direct link. If not, it’s time to fire up Google.

    If you like what you see on someone’s website, you can go a little deeper and check out their social profiles. I love Instagram for learning more about someone’s personality and interests and Facebook for figuring out if we’ve got mutual friends.

    Step 3: create a list of people you want to connect with

    Cami Farey, Marie Forleo, Emily Thompson, Kathleen Shannon, and Kimra Luna

    As you’re checking out people’s websites and social profiles, make a note of anyone you’d like to connect with at the event. This can be as formal or informal as you’d like — you can write it down in a notebook, put it in Trello or Asana, or just keep a mental list.

    Here are 5 questions to help you decide who you’d like to connect with:

    1. Is this someone I want to be friends with?

    2. Could they be a good client?

    3. Could they be a good collaborator or source of referrals? For example, someone who serves a similar audience to you, but has different products and services

    4. Could they be a good colleague? For example, someone who does similar work to you and also serves a similar audience

    5. Do you have any mutual friends or other points of connection?

    By asking these questions, you can narrow down the guest list to twenty or so people who you’d really love to meet. After doing your research, it’ll be easy to spot them at the event and say hi. You can even connect with them ahead of time by following step #4 below.

    Step 4: reach out to people before the event starts

    step 4: reach out to people before the event starts

    Going to a conference can be intense. You’re running between workshops, taking in new information, and meeting lovely people whose names you may or may not remember in 5 minutes.

    You’ll feel way more relaxed if you start doing a little networking ahead of time.

    In my niche, Instagram is the perfect place for this. You can follow someone and then send them a direct message in response to a story or post to get the conversation going.

    Another reason I love Instagram is that it’s a great way to reach people who don’t read their email. Want to connect with someone busy or influential? They’ve probably got a virtual assistant managing their inbox and they might never see your note. On Instagram, though, you’ll often get a personal reply within 24 hours if you send someone a direct message. (Of course, your mileage may vary).

    How to reach out to someone before a conference without feeling awkward:

    If someone is going to a conference for creative entrepreneurs, it’s because they want to meet new people. They’ll probably be happy to hear from you!

    If you found them through the event’s public guest list or Facebook group, it’s not creepy. It just means you looked at the guest list.

    So, my first tip is to check your mindset gremlins.

    My second tip is to keep it simple. Say hello, then ask a question to start the conversation. Keep it short and breezy, and don’t overthink it.

    Here are a few examples of how I’ve reached out to different kinds of people in the past.

    If I’ve got a mutual friend with someone, I’ll send them a DM on Instagram and say:

    “I saw your name on the website for [EVENT] and I wanted to pop in and say hi! I noticed we’ve got a mutual friend in [NAME]. How do you guys know each other?”

    If we don’t have any friends in common yet, I’ll say something like:

    “I saw your name on the website for [EVENT] and I wanted to pop in and say hi! I’m also [a reality TV fan / a web designer / a human being / insert whatever you have in common here]. Which speaker are you most looking forward to hearing?”  

    If I’m reaching out to one of the speakers, it might look like this:

    “I saw that you’re speaking at [EVENT] and I wanted to pop in and say hi! I love your blog and your perspective on [insert really specific thing here] and can’t wait to hear more when we’re in [CITY]. Will there be a Q&A after your talk?”

    The key here is to keep it light and casual — you’re just a person saying hi to another person. It’s no big deal!

    Step 5: get your website ready for the event

    step 5 - make sure your website doesn't suck

    When you’re doing pre-event research, you’re going to see a lot of websites. Some of them will be awesome, but most of them will be various shades of frustrating.

    The good news is that your website doesn’t need to be perfect or even “pretty” to be ready for an event. It just needs to cover a few basics.

    To get your website ready for an event, imagine you’re a stranger visiting your site for the first time. Then, answer these questions:

    1. Who is this person or company?

    2. What do they do?

    3. Who do they serve?

    4. What do they look like? Is there a photo that will help me recognize them at the event?

    5. How do I get in touch? Is there a simple contact form I can fill out?

    If you were able to answer those questions quickly and easily, well done! All you need to do is test drive your contact form and make sure it still works.

    If you weren’t able to answer those questions, then you’ve got some tweaks to make. My advice is to find the quickest, most straightforward fix, implement it, and then move on.

    Remember, you don’t need the “perfect” website — you just need something simple that works.

    There you have it — the 5 things you need to do before heading to a conference for creative entrepreneurs.

    In this post, we chatted about how to prepare for a conference so that you can meet new clients, connect with future collaborators, and make friends — without ever having to leave the couch.

    To recap, before an event, you need to…

    1. Take a look at the public guest list for the event

    2. Check out the websites of the attendees

    3. Create a list of people you want to connect with

    4. Reach out to people before the event starts

    5. Get your website ready for the event

    Of course, preparing for a conference isn’t the only important step.

    You also need to think about what you’ll do during the conference and how you’ll follow up with people afterwards.

    That’s why I’ve created a pitch-free masterclass for you called “The introvert’s guide to getting clients at live events.” It’s a total crash course in what to do before, during, and after a conference!

    Want in? Pop your name and email in the form below and I’ll send you the replay.

     

    Want to know what to do before, during, and after a conference?

    Get the pitch-free masterclass “The introvert’s guide to getting clients at live events.”

    Pop your details in below and I’ll send you the replay!

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