Robert asked a couple of questions: "Karl, do you have an SOP on what you do after attending a conference? Often times ideas and inspiration get lost in the shuffle when returning to the office. Also, do you use a process to disseminate key take aways to your team?"
We'll look at those questions, but first we need to back up a bit. You've heard the advice, "Start with the end in mind." That certainly applies with conferences. You need to decide before you get to the conference what your goals are. A few possibilities are:
- Technical education
- Business education
- Meet people or network
- Find new technologies I might want to integrate into my business
- Learn how other people are addressing my current challenges
- Personal growth
- Try to find an answer to a very specific problem
- Get free swag for the kids
Once you know why you're going to the conference, you can create a plan of action AT the conference, and you can evaluate whether it was worthwhile. One thing I always do at events of any kind is to keep track of where it paid for itself. For example, if I paid $150, where did the value of conversations, education, and new product offerings exceed that $150 investment.
I have attended hundreds of events over the years. An average of 30-50 per year, including local, national, and international events. In all of those I have only attended a handful that did not provide enough value to pay for the price of admission.
So, first, you need to define why you're attending the event. Second, you need to execute your attendance based on that. If, for example, you are looking to meet people and network, then go do that. If you're looking for a new RMM tool, then you'll want to hit the vendor booths and talk to attendees about their experience.
In other words, do NOT hang out with your friends the whole time. Mingle, meet people, collect business cards, and take notes. For all the info on business cards and what to do with them, see my SOP post: http://blog.smallbizthoughts.com/2012/11/sop-friday-business-cards-all-details.html
The two key things I just mentioned are: Collect business cards and take lots of notes. One tip Jason posted in response to Robert's question: "Create a service board that you can email to and send your ideas from your phone. When you get back to the office you can assign the tasks to someone or do them yourself." That's a great, modern approach.
I tend to write notes on the backs of business cards. I also keep 3x5 cards and post-it notes with me. I travel with an envelope and stuff all those things into the envelope, along with receipts from the trip. That way, when I get home, that envelope contains everything I need to "do" or take care of after the conference.
After the Conference . . .
Okay, so you've planned for the conference and you've executed your plan. Now you're going to head home with three things that need further action:
1. People (connections)
2. Products and Services
3. Ideas and Action Steps
People will fall into two general categories: Business cards and non-business cards. For the business cards, I highly recommend getting a card scanner. That way you can hand the cards to someone and have them scanned into files you can import into Outlook, your CRM, Constant Contact, or whatever you use to organize contacts.
I've written several blog posts about business cards. You can find them with this search: http://blog.smallbizthoughts.com/search?q=business+cards.
When you receive a card, you have to immediately write on it:
- A mark that you know means to throw it away when you get back to your hotel room because you have no reason to keep it
- A note about the conversation
- A note if you promised to follow up with an email, web link, introduction, etc.
- The "category" this person fits in. For example, is it a vendor, another IT Pro, a potential strategic partner, etc.
Personally, I divide the cards into these categories before I get home. Then I hand them to Jessica and she scans them into spreadsheets for vendors, IT Pros, etc. These are then integrated into our contact systems. Then the cards are recycled so they don't grow in piles that take over the universe.
Jessica gives back to me any card with a note on it. That way I can fulfill promises I've made such as sending a document or introducing them to someone. Once completed, these cards are recycled.
Products and Services fall into a few categories. They make their way home by means of a flyer I collected, a business card, an email I sent to myself, or a note I wrote on a post-it or 3x5 card. For each product or service I found interesting, I determine WitNS - What is the Next Step (with a grateful nod to David Allen for his book Getting Things Done).
After all, if I decided to follow up, that follow-up has to have an action. So what is the next step? These are all action items, such as join the reseller program, do some research, ask friends what their experience has been, watch a webinar, or place a phone call. Whatever it is, these action steps need to make their way into my PSA. I literally create a ticket and assign it to myself. You might use tasks in Outlook or your CRM system.
The point is, all product or service oriented ideas you bring home must result in a next action step. If not, you have lost the momentum. Note: You do not need to execute the action step immediately (although that might be a good idea). If you are busy or overwhelmed after being out of the office for awhile, at least create the next steps in your PSA or CRM so that they are not lost.
Ideas and Action Steps are essentially identical to products and services. You will need to flesh out the ideas a bit. Maybe write a full paragraph in your PSA/CRM to make sure your thoughts aren't lost over time. There's nothing worse than finding a note that says something like "Pos solution for JSB" - and you have NO IDEA what you meant.
"Ideas and action steps" might actually lead to some major changes in your business. It's important to talk to someone on your team as soon as possible so the idea is out there and you can have discussions about whether it's something you really want to do. If nothing else, educating your service team about an idea will help you to keep the juices flowing.
Your team may have questions about how it would work, why you need to change, etc. That's all good. The more you engage them, the more you think about the ideas in detail. You can avoid some pretty big mistakes by responding to the questions of you team. Be aware that there will probably be some natural resistance to change in general. But separate that from the actual objections.
In the end, Robert identifies the biggest frustration that comes from some events: You get all excited and jazzed up at the event. Then you come home, the excitement is hard to explain, the ideas fade, and very little gets done. Oddly enough, that's the very reason you need to attend more events - You need to keep getting excited about new ideas until you figure out a way to take action and finally make those changes to your business that you know you want.
Hope that helps!
Feedback and additional ideas always welcome.