What Early Phase Entrepreneurs Need to Know About Conferences

change creator new business growth

Excitement. Stress. Wins. Losses.

It’s all part of the entrepreneurial journey.

Maybe you’re waking up early and working on your social business before your day job starts.

Maybe, you’re staying up late working on your social business after your day job ends.

Maybe your social business is your primary work focus already.

The two biggest challenges we hear from most of the entrepreneurs Change Creator talks with include:

  • They can’t get the traction they need to reach the next level
  • They can’t get funding they need to scale up

All entrepreneurs face those challenges but only some overcome them.

I usually reply by asking what steps they have taken to try to get traction. The typical answers include marketing strategies such as video, social media, groups and SEO…etc.

But that’s only half the battle.

You also have to build your network, brand equity and authority if you want to break through saturation and gain momentum. Easier said than done, right?

This is why a conference like SOCAP is so powerful for anyone in the social business space. It’s an opportunity to build incredible partnerships, brand equity and authority.

Here’s what you need to know as an early phase broke entrepreneur struggling for more traction and funding.

Related: The Beginner’s Guide to Starting a Social Business

Investing in Opportunity

Let’s be blunt. At some point, you have to put money into the machine and see what comes out.

You can’t expect to have a successful social business that drives big impact if you’re not willing to invest in yourself or the business beyond a $20 Facebook boost.

I interviewed the founder of Bustle for Change Creator Magazine and in 2016 they earned $30 million in revenue but they also spent $30 million. Crazy right? They will be profitable in 2017. They play very big and believe in their strategy!

Big event’s like SOCAP offer a big return but you have to be willing to invest in attending.

I used to look at conference ticket fees and say, “but I need that money for marketing and operations.”

Here’s the thing, that ticket for the conference is an investment in marketing and operations. A very powerful and most times better investment at the early phase.

Why? Because one of the most powerful tools we have found for growth is building a great network.

You can hide behind your computer and fire off some emails or Linkedin messages but there is no substitute for meeting people in person to build a solid relationship. Remember, you’re interviewing people just as much as they interview you.

In 2017 SOCAP was saturated with over 3,000 of the most amazing like-minded people in the world tackling our most pressing problems. Everywhere our team turned we learned something new and connected with someone relevant to our business. Some were investors, some were in media, some were incredible social entrepreneurs. You can barely keep up with it. Good thing three people from our team attended!

You have to get out there and show up. When you do, opportunities you never would have expected tend to pop up.

For example, this was our team’s first year at SOCAP. Once we got into town we realized that Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Muhammad Yunus was speaking at the Commonwealth Club. So, we decided to go check it out. Long story short, we spoke to his publicist and ended up interviewing him for the January 2018 Change Creator Magazine cover story! That never would have happened if we didn’t invest in our trip to San Francisco for SOCAP.

Remember, your network is your networth. You have to invest in your future.

Related: What early stage investors really look for in a social enterprise startup

Dust Off Your Dating Game

If you’ve ever been on a date that went well, then you’re ahead of the game and will do just fine at a conference like SOCAP.

change creator new business growth

Actually our team was blown away by the relevancy the dating analogy has to the experience. We would meet people and say, “do you think they liked us, will they call?” Or, “should we reach out now or wait a few days?” We had a good laugh about it.

What are you looking for in a partner?

Funding, content share, maybe a technology partnership, speaking opportunity, or advisory?

Let’s pretend you’re on a first date with someone you’re interested in.

For starters, we all get into character. When you go on a date you get into character to attract the other person. You don’t just wear your sweatpants and burp after each course. You’re polite, respectful and dress the part. This may go without saying but you’d be surprised! So, be yourself but play the part. No matter how you feel about it you’re playing a sales role.

How would your date feel if you dominated the conversation all night talking about how awesome you are? I can answer that. They would hate it and feel like it was an awful experience. If you haven’t read the classic book by Dale Carnegie that talks about winning friends than you should.

You have to listen to people and let them ask questions about your business. Their story is essential to understand so you can see where you might fit in and if there are partnership opportunities.

Now, let’s say you’re the type that ultimately wants to get married and have kids. Would you ask them to marry you that night? Of course not, you wouldn’t even bring it up.

You’d seem crazy right? So, don’t ask for funding on the first date either.

After listening to them, if you get a good vibe on a human level and see a good fit to work together, the best thing you can do and let them know that and plan a second discussion to explore ideas. Look them up on Linkedin on the spot to connect and pass that old school business card over for good measure.

Once that fire gets warm you want to keep it warm, so don’t let weeks go by after the conference before you lock in the next steps.

Stacking Success

Once you decide to get out there and show up you need to get a plan in place.

I’m the kind of person that loves strategy. It can be a flaw sometimes because I overthink things. But most times it’s a big benefit.

When is the right time to get to a conference like SOCAP? What do you want to get out of it? Who do you want to connect with?

I like to stack success. What this means is that I determine a big desired outcome and define the intermediate steps required to get there. It’s like a prerequisite for a class.

For example, we did not reach out to get Tony Robbins for the front cover of Change Creator Magazine until we had Neil Patel and Arianna Huffington. We also waited until his latest book was being released. Those were the prerequisites for connecting with his team as we felt it would improve our chances. And it worked!

Planning your experience at SOCAP is not much different. Based on where you are in your journey, you should clarify your desired outcome and plan accordingly.

If you want mentors and investors that can help you grow your business, what do you need to prepare to attract them?

A few thoughts:

  • If you want to increase your chances for success, than you probably want more than an idea to share with people.
  • Maybe something in beta form
  • A well designed website
  • Potentially some early adopter beta test feedback
  • Maybe you already have some partnerships in place or a solid team of co-founders?
  • It could be very good to have a small leave behind that’s visually appealing to share with people that amplifies your value. For example, we would show award winning social entrepreneurs we have featured on our magazine.
  • Is your social business complicated? Can you explain it simply?

Those are some factors that can help attract people to work with you and take you seriously.

SOCAP and other conferences will also usually offer an app or forum to connect with other speakers and attendees in advance before the conference starts.

Make a list of key people you’d love to connect with and let them know you’ll be there, you’d love to introduce yourself and then share a little something to grab their attention.

Many conferences have a lot of people in one place which can get chaotic. Taking steps to connect before hand could be the difference in meeting specific people or not.

Lastly, don’t avoid talking to people because they don’t fit your perfect partnership profile. You never know who they know and what kind of incredible story they have.

Final Thoughts

The fasted way to build your network with wonderful people is to get out there and meet them. This is an exercise in building your brand, being on the inside track in the industry, and opening the door to new opportunities.

I cannot express enough, how much you can expedite your process by investing in networking. We have met people that we never would have met or gotten attention from if we just emailed.

Being in-person allows you to cut through the clutter and jump the line for attention. After you meet and make a good impression, they will reply to your email first.

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