Should you attend that conference?
Right now the BlogHer conference is ramping up in San Jose, and those watching the hashtag from the sidelines might be feeling a little left out, regretful, or even anxious about not being in attendance.
This is only the second BlogHer I’ve missed since 2007, so I understand the feeling.
But this year, I’m sitting the conference out with no regrets.
Why? Well, while I’m sad not to see friends who will be at the conference – and yes, I do love to sleep in a hotel bed! – this year I took a hard look at the cost-benefit ratio and decided that as lovely as it would be to attend, ultimately, this year the benefits weren’t worth the tradeoffs.
It’s nothing against BlogHer, by the way. Of all the conferences I’ve attended – and conferences, I’ve seen a few (more like a dozen, to be honest) – I’ve been most loyal to BlogHer. It was the first blogging event I ever went to, and I’ve attended a total of six times. I’ve found the conference professionally and personally rewarding every year.
But the focus of my business has been slowly evolving, and when I sat down to really think about what I wanted to get out of BlogHer this year, the truth was…I just didn’t know. And just not knowing isn’t a good enough incentive to get me to shell out a lot of money and fly across the country for the duration of one of just a handful of precious summer weekends. No matter how great the content, how nice the location, or how crisp those hotel sheets might be.
So if you’re also sitting this one out, or maybe have never been to a conference at all, I don’t want you to feel too bad about it. I also don’t want you to let your left-out feelings spur you into making a hasty decision to register for some other event just to make yourself feel better about missing this one.
Attending a conference can be an excellent and worthwhile investment in your business, but like any other investment, it’s one that’s best made with plenty of critical thought.
So click away from that registration window for just a few minutes, and take a few steps before you pull out your credit card:
1. Ask yourself what you plan to get out of it. The most successful conference experiences I’ve ever had have started with a simple step: setting 1-2 goals for how I want to use my time and what I plan to go home with in the end. Do I want to leave feeling inspired and refreshed? With a phone full of new contacts and connections? With my head swimming with so much new information I’m not sure what to act on first?
Truth is, while you might get lucky and get a smattering of all three, the more focused you are about prioritizing your objectives, the more likely you are to feel good about what you accomplished when you get home. So ask yourself how you envision the conference benefitting you, either professionally, personally, or both – and if the benefits you come up with seem weak or not worth the tradeoffs, take a pass.
2. Be honest with yourself about the financial investment. When you really want to do something, it’s easy to find yourself doing “creative math” about the costs. Well, you figure, the hotel will only be a few hundred total if you get a roommate…and you can get a cheap flight…and the conference is offering a special rate if you sign up rightnow…
But there are a lot more costs to consider than flights, rooms, and entry fees:
- What about parking at the airport – or gas to get there and back?
- Taxi fees from the airport to the hotel?
- New business cards?
- That desperate call you might find yourself making to room service at 1 AM when you realize you didn’t load up on enough free appetizers at the sponsored cocktail party?
- Will you want to go out exploring the conference city on your own?
- Will you need new clothes, accessories, or shoes to feel confident? (I always think I’ll be able to make do with what I have. It never works out that way in the end.)
Even if you land a sponsor, unless it’s a very generous deal you are almost certainly going to have out-of-pocket costs. Don’t underestimate them. (Oh, and that whole “but it’s a tax write-off” thing? Yes, expenses do lower your taxable income – but they don’t come right off the top of your taxes owed. That is a huge misconception and one that I have seen many people use to justify excessive business costs.)
3. Do you need this particular event to reach your goal? Before you let FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) take over and propel you into registering for an event just because “everybody is going,” think about it: do you really need, or even want, to be at the same conference everyone else is going to? Consider:
- If you’re a beginner, Bloggy Boot Camp might be a great entry point – the conference is inexpensive, takes place in a variety of locations each year, and is jam-packed with focused, actionable information and friendly, approachable people.
- If you’ve been doing the mom-blog-conference circuit every year to the point that they’re all blurring together, maybe it’s time to pare down and focus on the one that you like best. This year I’ve been to exactly one conference: Mom 2.0. It’s always in a gorgeous location, offers great content, is small enough that I can spend plenty of quality time with people I really want to see, and the schedule integrates sponsors in a way that makes it easy to connect with decision-makers at agencies and brands. That ticks off all my boxes, so it just makes sense to clear my schedule – and prepare my budget- for that one rather than trying to squeeze them all in. Think about it this way: if you could only choose one conference, which one would it be? Do you need more than one?
- If you want to get beyond generalized advice and contacts and ready to delve deep into your niche, check out a niche conference like BlogHer Food or I Heart Faces. There’s a conference for almost any imaginable niche, from beer to crafting to kosher food, so Google around and see what you find.
- Maybe you’re ready to break out of your comfortable network and try something completely different? Business and content strategy conferences like the World Domination Summit or ConFab could offer you a refreshing – and horizon-broadening – experience that shakes up your preconceived ideas and introduces you to completely new ideas and people.
- It’s possible you don’t really need a conference at all! If what you really crave is the intimate, chatting-at-3-AM-in-the-hotel-lobby experience, why not recreate it on your own? Gather a few trusted colleagues you admire and see if you can put together your own mini-retreat to exchange and workshop ideas and cheer one another on.
To make myself very clear: I’d be a hypocrite if I said that bloggers, small business owners and creatives shouldn’t attend conferences. I’m a conference enthusiast for many reasons, and it’s not always just about the direct ROI.
But I want us all to be honest with ourselves about why we’re there and what we’re getting in return so we can make the best decisions for our business dollars…not to mention, make the conferences we do attend the best they can possibly be.
Which conferences have you attended in the past? Which ones do you hope to make it to in the next year?