Marketing conferences offer value for business owners, solopreneurs, marketers, and freelancers alike.
Last week, I listened to personal finance guru Dave Ramsey talk about his “Super Bowl” playbook for small business success.
I watched in awe as Lisa Nichols demonstrated her amazing — and incredibly effective — “Dip Method,” designed to enhance marketing communications through the addition of personal storytelling.
I learned why rejection is actually a good thing from the Rejection Guy himself, Jia Jiang. I was forced to step outside my comfort zone and spend five minutes talking to three people I didn’t know, sharing my goals for the upcoming year and learning theirs in return. (Nice to meet you, Canadian small business owners who are extremely-excited-to-be-here!)
Bonus: I got to meet a few members of the WriterAccess team in person, which, after working with them indirectly for the past five years or so, was pretty cool!
So where did all these magical events take place? At ICON16, the annual small business conference hosted by InfusionSoft in Phoenix. Disclaimer: I’d never heard of ICON before, but when the WriterAccess team invited me to attend and live blog the conference, I jumped at the chance.
After all, where else can you listen to industry experts, get ideas and inspiration from others who’ve been there done that, have the opportunity to meet others in similar fields, and pick up a bit of swag along the way? (I now have a super cool squishy stress ball in the shape of the Earth gracing my desk. Thanks, small business marketing agency!)
Conferences like ICON and other marketing conferences offer value for business owners, solopreneurs, marketers, and freelancers alike. In fact, I’ll take that one step further: conferences like ICON can be especially valuable for freelance writers. Why? Because — and excuse my tendency to make broad, sweeping generalizations here but I’m going to do it anyway — many freelancers find the networking and self-promotion aspects of the job less than enjoyable.
In general, writers tend to be an introverted bunch. (No, this is not just my opinion! Check out An Introverted Writer’s Lament, an article in The Atlantic about the “agony of community.”) But even if you’re a total and complete ENFJ on the Myers-Briggs scale, marketing yourself has got to be one of the most difficult parts of freelancing. Don’t believe it? Just do a Google search for “freelance writing marketing yourself” and see how many results come up. (More than 1.1 million).
Plus, by definition, writing is a pretty solitary activity by definition, and one that doesn’t naturally lend itself well to networking. It’s easy to see why the marketing and self-promotion piece remains a challenge… but that’s where conferences like ICON come in.
So what, exactly, can you gain by attending these events as a freelancer?
1. Get fresh ideas.
When you’re freelancing, you’re likely working in isolated settings. Maybe you venture out to the local coffee shop every now and then for a change of pace, but you’re likely working out of your home office (or in my case, my dining room table and/or back yard.) Needless to say, sitting alone all day may result in great ideas, but there’s just something about being around a group of people that tends to spark creativity and catalyze innovative thinking.
Science backs this up; decades of research by psychologists, sociologists, organizational experts, demographers, and other super smart people shows that we tend to come up with more creative ways to solve problems and find more innovative solutions when we work in groups. BTW, the more diverse the group, the better.
But this is kind of a no-brainer, right? Different people bring different backgrounds, experiences, knowledge, and expertise to the table — and that’s exactly what you’ll find at a conference. Break-out sessions, panel discussions, and even the dreaded networking breaks (a.k.a. the torturous 15 minutes in between speakers when you’re supposed to “mingle” but really you just want to play on your iPhone to avoid talking to anyone because it’s just so exhausting) offer the perfect opportunity to, yes, step out of your comfort zone, get a bit of brainstorming in, and glean ideas from others who just see things in a different way… and can help you do the same.
2. Be inspired.
Look: I’m not usually one for the rah-rah. To be honest, when I think of inspirational speakers (which I actively try not to do) my brain just jumps straight to 1990s SNL Chris Farley playing Matt Foley, motivational speaker, who lives in a van down by the river.
But while there was, admittedly, a bit of rah-rah going on at ICON, it was really inspiring to hear the stories of people who’d started out small and built their business (or their hobby, or their interests, or whatever) into something much bigger, into something that allows them to make a living while pursuing their passion — because that’s something that often feels elusive.
Specifically, I’m thinking of the story that speaker Lisa Nichols told about her own journey of starting out as a single mom with $12 in her wallet, to becoming one of the first African-American women to lead a publicly traded company. Not only was she an amazing speaker, her story was truly inspiring. Judging by the reactions in the audience to her presentation, I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.
Hearing stories like hers make it easier to believe that you can achieve your own professional goals.
3. Create new content.
If you’re like many freelancers, trying to come up with things to blog, tweet, share, and write about in order to promote your own business is a constant challenge. Lucky for you, conferences are goldmines of ready-made material.
Whether you’re live blogging, live tweeting, or posting your best shots on Instagram, covering the conference on social media is just the first step. The next step is taking what you learned in those sessions, distilling it, and disseminating it to your audience.
It’s a win-win: Not only are you connecting your freelance business (in some small way, at least) with the thought leadership associated with the conference, you’re also doing your readership a favor by sharing the info you gained. By passing along the knowledge you gleaned at the conference, you’re providing your readers with value, so hash-tag your heart out.
4. Make connections.
Then there’s that whole networking thing. Though it kind of goes without saying, conferences really are the ideal place to make new connections and grow your professional network. So take advantage of those 15-minute breaks, grab a stack of business cards, put away your iPhone, and get ready to make an effort. You might just meet your next client!
So thanks, WriterAccess, for the opportunity to attend ICON. It was well worth it, even if I did have to pretend to be outgoing and social for a few minutes here and there.
WriterAccess was a sponsor of ICON16 in Phoenix.
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Linsay E has written more than 4,000 articles on topics ranging from gardening and nutrition to women’s issues and finance. Her work has been featured in USA Today, Houston Chronicle, Sitterfied, Motley Fool, Trails Travel, Livestrong, the Nest, and more.