Every week my inbox is filled with conference invitations: small business seminars, social media events, women’s conferences, and Internet symposiums. As a small business owner, I know that I need help from time to time. I need a source of new ideas and inspiration, and the right conference can provide that.

The price may be as little as $250 or as much as $2,500 for events that last one, two or even three days. The locations are exotic (Maui) or ordinary (Cleveland).

I look at each invitation and wonder if I should invest the time and money to attend. Clearly, I can’t attend them all. I have limited time and resources, so I have to pick and choose. I look for events which will deliver a return for what I invest.

As I evaluate a conference, the first question is, of course, does the content interest me? If it’s not immediately obvious what I might get out of the program, there’s no point looking any further, even if it’s being held in Fiji. What kind of content do I look for? Speakers I have never heard, topics I want to learn more about, information I can apply to my business as soon as I return home, and most importantly a chance to spend time with business owners like me. The conversations between the presentations are as valuable as the presentations themselves, sometimes even more so.

I have to be practical and look at the registration fee as well as the total cost of attending, which includes airfare, ground costs and time out of the office. A conference in Las Vegas may take longer to get to, but will be relatively inexpensive once I am there. In contrast, an event in Chicago is fairly easy to get to, but I can expect to pay a premium for my room and meals. For me, several hours of flying time is actually a benefit at the end of a conference. It gives me time to review my notes, maybe write a blog post or two, and decompress before I jump back into the swing of day to day business.

I like local conferences like BlogIndiana and MBO because they give me an affordable way to learn a few new things and spend time with people here in Indy who I don’t see as often as I would like. The downside is that I have heard many of the speakers before, so there isn’t as much really new information.

The bottom line
For me, attending conferences a few times a year helps me keep my skills fresh, challenges me to think in new ways, and sometimes even results in immediate business opportunities. There is benefit, not just for me, but my employees as well: as they learn more, they can do more. In 2013, conferences will be a significant part of my marketing budget because I believe it will be time well spent.

photo credit: JoshuaDavisPhotography via photopin cc