If you’re looking for inspiration, support or a networking event on steroids, you might want to consider attending a small business conference in 2016. While conferences may not be useful for everyone, they can be critical for those who want to grow their businesses through networking and strategic partnerships. In fact, it’s possible to not only make great connections at these types of events, but also learn new techniques and strategies for your small business.
But with the number of small business conferences in the hundreds, how do you find the right one? Here are a few questions to ask yourself before booking your travel or buying a ticket.
1. Who Is Hosting the Conference?
Take a look at the event organizer, as well as the sponsors. Events run by national organizations or their regional counterparts often have the leverage to attract big-name speakers and workshop facilitators. Also, if the sponsors of the event are companies or vendors that you would do business with, chances are good that other attendees will be in your same industry, which increases the chance for networking opportunities.
2. How Long Is It, and How Much Does It Cost to Attend?
This really depends on how long you can afford to be away from your business or family, and how much you can afford financially. Remember, it also isn’t necessary to attend a conference for the entire time. Review the schedule for the content you’re most interested in, and choose to only attend for those days. That way, you meet people and keep money in your pocket.
3. Why Do You Want to Go?
If you’re looking to attend a conference in Washington, D.C. because you’ve always wanted to visit the nation’s capital, you might want to reconsider.
First, if you truly want to get the most out of the conference, you’re not going to have a lot—if any—time for sightseeing. Also, if you’re just looking to network or just looking to meet other entrepreneurs, there might be events closer to home, hosted by your own chamber of commerce or other organizations that will serve that purpose. Lastly, you might also consider exhibiting at a conference, as opposed to simply attending if you really want to network.
The Best Conferences of 2016
Regardless of why you choose to go, you want to attend the conferences that will offer you the greatest return on investment. Below are some of the best small business conferences in 2016.
Dates: February 24-25, 2016 (Ft. Lauderdale); May 3, 2016 (Austin); October 10-13, 2016 (Las Vegas)
Locations: Ft. Lauderdale, Florida; Austin, Texas; Las Vegas, Nevada
If marketing is your passion, or simply the area where you need the most help, you might consider attending Pubcon. In 2016, the main Pubcon conference, which focuses on social media and optimization, will take place in Las Vegas in October, with a regional one-day event in Austin in May and a separate two-day South Florida Interactive Marketing Association (SFIMA) in Ft. Lauderdale in February.
Past keynote speakers have included executives from Google, Travelocity and Craigslist. Pubcon has also been named a must-attend conference by Forbes and one of Inc.’s top conferences for growing your business. Costs vary depending on conference location and duration. Check out the links above for more details.
Dates: March 2-4, 2016
Location: Phoenix, Arizona
Sponsored by InfusionSoft, a software company that specializes in programs for small business, Icon’s mission statement asserts that “small business success is about creative problem solving.” If you’re looking for a supportive network of like-minded professionals, Icon might be a good choice.
3. SXSW (South by Southwest Interactive)
Dates: March 11-15, 2016
Location: Austin, Texas
While SXSW is well known for its music and film festivals, there is also an interactive media festival that takes place concurrently with the film festival, and right before the music festival. In fact, the interactive festival has hosted such luminaries as Elon Musk and Neil deGrasse Tyson.
While some attendees complain that the conference has gotten too big and crowded, many others consider attending a necessity, if only to hear from some of their tech heroes. The interactive conference also focuses heavily on marketing, especially social media and crowdfunding. A four-day badge for the “Interactive Only” sessions is $1,095, and prices increase if you want to add access to the film or music festivals.
4. America’s Small Business Summit 2016
Location: Washington, D.C.
Dates: June 13-15, 2016
Hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, America’s Small Business Summit hosts more than 800 business owners and entrepreneurs. The summit features keynote speakers as well as small group breakout sessions. There are different costs for members and non-members, as well as discounts if you purchase your tickets early.
5. The Small Business Expo
Locations: 14 Major U.S. cities including Atlanta, Los Angeles, Seattle and Minneapolis
Dates: Varies depending on location; it is a one-day event
Small Business Expo is its own company and was recently named to the Inc. 5000 List of America’s Fastest-Growing Private Companies. This free one-day event offers workshops, a trade show floor and significant networking opportunities. The beauty of the Small Business Expo is that it is a cost-effective way to test out a conference. You only have to commit one day and the cost to travel to the site.