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Going where the clients are

Posted by Ilise Benun on

I've been to many design/marketing/technology conferences over the years. I find them inspiring and informative and I'm always energized to do even better work when I return. It’s also easy to prepare for an event where I will mostly encounter colleagues, as opposed to prospective clients. All I have to do is make sure I remember to bring lots of business cards.
But with renewed focus on growing my business, off I went to meet my target market at the CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education) District I Conference in Boston. Being a designer among college development and alumni relations people required a completely different plan and mindset.

Here's what I did in advance: 

1. Researched like crazy. I spent too many hours on the conference web site reading about the sessions and the speaker bios. I Googled and checked on LinkedIn, then made myself 3 lists: interesting sessions, sessions my targets would most likely be in and speakers I might want to meet. (Note to conference committee: this would have been a lot easier if the web site was better organized and used readable typography.)

2. Posted a question to the CASE LinkedIn group about the conference. I got a response from one of the presenters who said it was a great networking opportunity. That started a conversation and we arranged to meet there. This proved to be the best move I made.

3. Got my game face on. Being an introvert, I admit that putting myself in the mix of strangers whose workstyles and areas of expertise are totally different from mine scared me. So I turned to Ilise's book, Stop Pushing Me Around!, for tips on questions to ask and ideas to offer. I also reread the chapter, "Be a Conference Commando," in Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi.

4. Set some goals that I could actually reach: Talk to at least 10 people. (Not a very high number for 2 days, but as I said, I'm an introvert.) Get ideas for enewsletter topics. Gain knowledge I can share w/my current clients. Get the attendee list. Check out the competition.

How'd I do? 

I definitely talked to way more than 10 people. Came home with a number of business cards and followed up with all within days.
I had an excellent meetup with my LinkedIn preconnection and some of her colleagues. Although they were a group of writers, it turned out that I, the designer, had more expertise in the world of enewsletters and blogs to share (thanks, Ilise). I am hoping that some referrals and collaboration will come from this.
Social networking was definitely the hot topic at the conference and I used some of that info for my recent enewsletter on the subject. 
At least two sessions I attended were relevant to a current client situation and I was able to share the speaker notes with that client.
An attendee directory was included in the goodie bag. I intend to use this list for research calls and background info. 
Would I do it again? 
I think so. While it's too early to tell if my financial investment has paid off, I think it was a good networking opportunity and learning experience. And personally, I once again proved to myself that I'm more competent and confident than I always think I am. Hoping to keep that confidence in my voice as I move forward with those dreaded cold (oops, make that research) calls.
Thanks to Lauri Baram of Panarama Design ( ) in Clifton Park NY. And sign up for her email newsletter here:

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