Attending industry events doesn't mean all work and no play. These outings can be fun, informative, and help your business get to the next level. However, these networking and educational opportunities can still be intimidating. With the proper strategy you can take some of the anxiety out of networking and make events pay back in dividends. This can include returning home with more than a stack of business cards, and instead result in meaningful contacts that can work to help you.
You might meet similar quick lube shop owners from other cities with whom you can compare notes, or make connections with new vendors that have products able to help serve customers more efficiently, and marketing professionals who can advise on creating better customer contact. There may also be opportunities to meet a business coach who can steward your business to the next level.
To maximize your time and to meet goals, you should head out to any major event with a plan. Otherwise, you might not get as much out of events like iFLEX or The SEMA show.
There are many reasons to attend an industry event or show, the most of which is to gain perspective and learn more about the industry.
"These shows are all great opportunities to expand your horizons," explains marketing strategist Jennifer Filzen, head of Rock Star Marketing. "Shops, owners, start looking only at their own four walls. If they are looking outside they're looking at competition only in their home city."
At shows "you get to see everything," Filzen expands.
Your first goal might be to decide to go to an event. Once you decide to attend an event such as iFLEX, ask yourself what your main goal is for the trade show. If your goal is to learn new procedures, techniques, or marketing strategies, check the show's schedule to determine which educational seminars to attend.
Are you hoping to refresh your product offering? These shows have aisles of vendors waiting to show new and innovative products that could attract new customers. For some that may mean browsing the aisles on the exhibit floor, but others may want to lock down the companies they want to meet ahead of time.
"If you want to meet the vendors and see what the new tech is doing, going to the shows is a great idea," Filzen tells NOLN. "There's new tech, new accessories, new parts, new vendors."
Recruiting might be another goal.
Filzen suggests it's possible to find people who can fill a shop's roster such as technicians, service advisors, and other roles.
Whether your goal is education, recruiting, or products and technology, you should have a goal to work the room, meet industry executives, and possibly have some fun while you're there.
Network Every Opportunity
When an education session wraps up, go introduce yourself to the speaker and participants. If you collect a business card or contact information you can reach out for follow-up questions once you return to your shop and try to put the strategy to work.
Do more than take the free tchotchke at a vendor's booth, talk to a rep about what they're offering and how it might benefit your shop.
At industry shows such as iFLEX there are both formal and informal networking opportunities. Formal settings includes booths, classes, sessions, and show events.
"Then there's the bar," Filzen says. "Going to the bar is truly an opportunity to meet up with people. It could be an opportunity to discuss a franchise opportunity, acquiring a new shop, or finding a vendor that has a product or service that makes your business stronger, faster, better."
Along with industry parties and other events, spending time at the bar can provide an opportunity to compare notes with other shop owners to find out what you missed on the show floor, and get the scoop on what vendors or people you should meet up with the next day.
Shop owners might also be able to meet a business coach at an industry event. Discuss goals and use the networking time to determine if a coach, and a particular coach, is someone you might want to work with to help advance your business.
The Take Home
While networking, or schmoozing, may be the fun part, the real work begins when you get back to your home base. Go over all show materials, business cards, and even some of those tchotchkes you picked up.
If you took a class or an educational session, start to make a plan to implement what you learned. How will it work for your business? Whether it was a technical tutorial or a deep dive in keeping up with social marketing to stay in contact with your customers, how can you put that into action? Do you need supplies? Can you appoint someone on your team to do the job? Or is this something you can handle with or without extra help?
Next, look though those acquired business cards. Put those contacts into your version of a Rolodex: your database, spreadsheet, or your phone's contacts. Sort through those cards to separate based on what type of contact they are. Put all the contacts that you want to seek for more information, products, and services. Then create a spot for those people you chatted with who might not seem as relevant. Don't toss those contacts!
Follow up with them just to keep the relationship open, possibly spark conversation.
"The first thing I do as a marketer is put them in my database," Filzen says. "I make sure and send them an email. It doesn't always have to be about selling them on something. You just never know who you're going to run into."
Don't discount any connection you made at an industry event. Filzen offers this pro tip: "Think about what you can offer this person that you want to get to know. Is it support? Information? A helping hand? In the automotive world we all find situations, we all have to solve problems."
Filzen says it's about finding some common interests and having a nice conversation about it.