Attending a major conference as a business owner feels completely different than attending when you work for a company. It’s not just the fact that you’re paying your way…well, that is certainly a big one!
As a newbie entrepreneur, you know that conferences are a great way to network, but might feel a little hesitant about how to prepare for your first big conference as a business owner.
I sure did! Here’s my story.
After more than 15 years in the corporate world and many conferences under my belt, I found myself feeling unsure of how to approach my first FNCE as an entrepreneur. I knew that I needed to make connections with potential collaborators, market my business and interact with brands and influencers.
It was an incredible experience and most of my important business milestones have been the result of networking at FNCE!
These are 5 tips and advice from veteran attendees for networking at FNCE as a newbie business owner.
1. Meet new people – While this probably sounds obvious, I can’t tell you how many attendees spend the majority of their time in a bubble talking only to colleagues they already know or staring at their smartphone. FNCE is the largest gathering of Food and Nutrition Professionals in the world! It is a time to connect with others in the field that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to cross paths with.
You might be thinking, but I’m an introvert or that talking to strangers is awkward. If you feel overwhelmed at the prospect of making connections during the crowded Expo Hall hours and between session strolls, there is a few things you can do.
First, reach out and connect before the event. Kristi Coughlin shared “I didn’t get to meet nearly as many people as I would have liked the first time I went to FNCE. So, I created a pop-up Facebook group for people to connect before, during, and after FNCE.” Join her FNCE friends 2019 group and make connections ahead of time!
Second, it can feel a bit intimidating, but conference attendees aren’t strangers!” Break the ice and ask which session has been their favorite, or what type of work they do.
Between each session, make it a point to introduce yourself to at least 1 new person. This could be while waiting to enter the conference room or standing in line for coffee. You might be surprised how many other people are just as hesitant as you to strike up a conversation but jump in when you break the ice.
Introduce yourself to people around you after you sit down at a session. Instead of scrolling social media, browsing some flyers or a new resource from the EatRight Store, use the pre-session time to share business cards and expand your network.
After FNCE, many people contact me because they saved my card or remembered meeting me at a session. It may not seem like these quick conversations have a huge impact, but you might be surprised.
2. Ask questions and listen – It’s easy to be eager to share our own thoughts or talk about our interests. Avoid making networking opportunities about you. Mandy Enright shares top networking mistakes and how to fix them in this helpful RD Lounge article. Use the power of psychology and our desire to talk about our own interests to your advantage when networking.
Instead of thinking about what you are going to talk about with people you meet, focus on planning the questions you will ask new acquaintances and how you can better listen, record your notes and create opportunities for your business.
Libby Rothschild shares valuable tips “Plan your days around meeting with other people versus lectures. Prioritize the networking connections with the people there vs the actual exhibit and or talks. Also, sign up for DPG events like dinners.”
Be sure to be specific when writing out questions and have a plan for when you meet someone that has expertise in practice area or business aspect that you are interested in learning more about. For example, if you want to publish a book and meet someone with experience, you should know exactly the questions you want to ask.
For connecting with brands, Suzi Fisher recommends “Bring a specific list of questions. I also recommend emailing (or direct messaging on Instagram on Facebook) some of the exhibitors in advance to see if private meetings or demos are available.”
While there is nothing wrong with a fun conversation, try to be strategic in your networking. Ask questions that serve to create a return on investment for your business.
3. Don’t downplay your business – as a newbie entrepreneur, you might be tempted to start your introduction with a statement such as “I’m trying to start a private practice” or “someday I’ll be publishing a cookbook.”
This is especially important if you plan to use FNCE as a way to connect with brands.
Be confident and speak about your business in a way that clearly shows that you have charted a course for success. Every successful business has a beginning. This is yours and there is no need to by shy about it. To cultivate the most beneficial relationships and build you network, you need to send signals that you are on a path to success.
Take time before the conference and plan your “elevator pitch.” This is quick description of your business. It should be short and clear, a statement that could be easily shared on an elevator ride. You must practice this pitch until you are confident and comfortable sharing it with a stranger. It will feel awkward, but having a strong pitch is essential. If you are striking up a conversation with a brand or potential collaborator, your ability to clearly and confidently share details about your business puts you out in front.
For example, my 2 sentence pitch for RD2RD is below.
RD2RD is a marketplace for RDs a to buy, sell and share digital downloads. From handouts to presentations and business tools all available for immediate download, it is a destination for quality nutrition resources and a way for RDs to share their wisdom and earn extra income.
4. Have a gameplan – You decided to make a major business investment by attending FNCE and need a plan to get the most out of it. This means more than just looking through the sessions and planning which you will attend. Be sure to download the FNCE app and get familiar with all the functionality/information available at your fingertips.
Suzi Fisher, a veteran FNCE attendee recommends: “Review the exhibit floor plan before you attend. Place businesses into categories based on level of importance to your specific need. Head to those first. You have mere minutes to impress so go in with a clear vision of how you would like to partner or collaborate. Practice your elevator pitch before the conference. Review any software type company websites prior to attending so you have a bit of background as to what they offer in terms of services and products.”
Take time to research special events you can register for and scoping out planned networking opportunities offered by dietetic practice groups (DPGs) or brands. Look at the conference schedule and identify opportunities to grab coffee, lunch or even a morning walk with people you meet.
5. Follow-up! – It may sound basic, but post-conference follow-up is easy to let slip. You will be tired and catching up on the work you set aside to attend FNCE. Don’t let that stack of business cards and “let’s talk more about this” statements get dusty. Make it a point to add notes to business cards or other collateral you pick up at the conference and jot down notes. It will not be as easy as you think to remember people you meet or that great idea that came to mind while you were talking. Jot down a few notes and any specific follow-up items.
Then, follow-up. Send an email. Schedule a Skype. Follow new contacts on LinkedIN or social media. Make effort to cultivate the fruits of your networking labor!
Networking at FNCE is an incredibly opportunity for your business, but requires that you plan and execute. Don’t think that as a newbie entrepreneur, you need to just watch and learn. Get organized and craft a networking plan and nail your elevator pitch.
Grab the 5 Days Until FNCE Prep Checklist!