But I just checked my give-a-rat's-rearend-ometer and I don't care.
. . .
Note: While everyone might have their favorite conference, this advice is for folks who are serious about improving their business and haven't attended many (or any conferences before). So keep that in mind.
First, You Should Attend Conferences!
Someone recently posted on a social media site: "I’ve yet to make a penny networking with other owners."
My only response to that is, "You haven't tried."
Networking with people in your industry is the fastest way to find out about new products and services, different ways of solving problems, and new ways of improving your internal processes. I've been involved in a million conversations that started with, "How do you . . .?" and ended up with people engaging in lengthy discussions about making their business more successful.
As John Donne said, "No man is an island." Your business does not exist in isolation. You need to read deeply about what others are doing. And you need to interact with them in order to understand where you fit. You are part of a larger continent.
Plus, isolation results in massive wasted effort as you reinvent the wheel and learn through all the mistakes one needs to make. When you interact with others in your industry, you learn without making all the mistakes yourself.
Plus . . . Conferences are a great place to meet new vendors, find out about new products and services, and make connections that may help you down the road. I highly encourage you to grab those vendor cards. Pick up every one you can. The person you meet at the conference probably can't help you when you need it . . . but they can put you in touch with someone who can!
Second, Which Conferences Should You Attend?
There are many kinds of conferences. If you are starting out, you probably do not need to attend the massive, big, expensive conferences.
Let's start with Microsoft. If you are not a $5 million and above partner, or a developer, then there is probably zero value in attending the Microsoft "Inspire" conference. That's okay since it's next week and very expensive. :-)
The other 800-pound gorilla conferences are IT Nation (ConnectWise) and DattoCon (Autotask). These are awesome, amazing, and spectacular. They are also a little pricey, take a serious time commitment, and will absolutely overwhelm you if you're new to the industry.
Plan to attend one or both of these at some point. But you need to be big enough to implement the changes and education you're going to receive. If your company is 1-3 people and you can only change one small thing at a time, these conferences will make you feel awesome and educated . . . but you won't be able to implement the changes you'll be inspired about.
There are several good conferences that are either free or affordable and get a good mix of partners and vendors. As a rule, these conferences are more regional. But all of them get folks from all over. Here are my favorites:
ChannelPro SMB Forum - a great program!
ChannelPro is a media company and, not surprisingly, their conference is extremely well put together. There is massive content, an educational theme runs through the whole day, and the planning literally begins half a year in advance. These events are extremely well designed for IT consultants who serve the small business space. Great vendor hall with lots of opportunities to interact.
Shows remaining this year include San Jose and Newark. Free.
Full disclosure: I present at these conferences.
The ASCII Group IT Success Summits
ASCII is an awesome association dedicated to helping you improve your vendor relationship. You have a problem with a vendor? They will help you fix it. You want to get better pricing from a distributor? Members get that automatically.
So, as you can imagine, their conferences are 95% vendor focused. There are a few "partner" presentations, but this is an opportunity to learn which vendors are new, which offers are new, which services are new, etc. They have started hiring big-name keynote speakers that you probably won't see anywhere else. So that's a bonus.
Shows remaining this year include Denver, Toronto, New Jersey, and Boston. Free.
TechFest is run by long time Microsoft MVP Dave Seibert. It is always held in Anaheim, CA and happens four times per year. This event is a little different each time, but always has a great mix of partners, vendors, and education.
I love TechFest because it's built like an all-day conversation about improving your business. You need sales? Let's talk about sales. You need new service partners? Let's talk about that. The vendor hall is normally excellent and the vendors here are very low-key. I think that's because so many companies have offices in Southern California and this is generally a low-stress event for whoever attends because they don't have to get on an airplane.
Shows remaining this year are July (next week) and October.
Full disclosure: I will present at the July event.
IT Owners Compass
ITO Compass was new to me this year. I think this was their third year. Run by Lori Tisinai, a multi-preneur along with her husband, this conference is filled with partners who have been successful in a variety of fields and are moving toward the more channel-focused and managed service type businesses.
The vendor hall was small this year, but the response from vendors was overwhelmingly positive, so I suspect it will be larger next year. The speakers and partners here were excellent. And while there were breakout sessions, it felt very much like a 2- or 3-day conversation.
Not sure when the 2020 conference will be, but get on the mailing list so you don't miss it. Price was $299. Not sure what it will be next year.
ChannelCon is the tech industry’s premier education, networking, and partnering event hosted by CompTIA. This year, it's at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas on August 5-7.
You may have heard of CompTIA from their Plus certifications and training. They really are a major force in technical education and certification in the SMB space. ChannelCon is their annual gathering and is chock full of education from their various committees.
I am on committees for Advancing Women in IT, Managed Services, Emerging Technology, and the new Drone technology committee. All of these committees will be presenting at ChannelCon. Keyword: Education!
Ostensibly, this is a 41,200 conference. You can register for free with my link up above.
Full disclosure: I am involved with CompTIA on several fronts.
Robin Robin's "Technology Marketing Toolkit" Big Event
I have to throw this in because it's another big, big event. Robin Robins is the premier marketing consultant focused almost entirely on the SMB IT community. She has developed massive amounts of marketing programs geared specifically toward your clients and the solutions that you sell. You can (and should) just take her programs and send them out without editing.
Every year, Robin gathers up her subscribers and others and puts on a multi-day massive educational program. It is super high end. She also has great keynote speakers. There IS selling from the stage. But you'd be disappointed if a marketer failed to do that, right? Trust me, the education overwhelms everything else. You get a 3" binder when you arrive and the entire event is run like a massive boot camp on your success.
Pricing varies depending on when you register. Get on her list now for the best price.
Full disclosure: I've subscribed to Robin's stuff for more than 15 years and I love everything she does. It may not be your style, but you can't argue with success.
For the Aussies: SMB IT Professionals Annual Conference
If you are in Australia - or willing to get there - you will LOVE the annual SMB IT Pro conference. It is 100% partner-run and extremely educational. There are vendor presentations, but they tend to be far less pushy than what we see in the U.S.
AND it's another conference that's basically a two-day ongoing conversation about improving your business. Great vendor hall and participation. Packed with some of the smartest people in the industry (not just from Australia).
The conference is put on by the SMB IT Pro groups that are still running successful meetings across Australia. I promise, no matter where you're from, you will love this conference.
October 25-26 in Adelaide, Australia
Full disclosure: I am speaking at this event.
Roadshows, Vendor Events, etc.
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AND there are dozens - maybe hundreds - of little events you can attend. Most of these are either person-specific (e.g., my roadshows, or events put on by Richard Tubb, Nigel Moore, Jamison West, etc). OR they are vendor-specific.
Vendor-specific events are normally educational programs focused completely on the new products and services being offered, plus information on how to get more from your relationship with a vendor.
Many vendors put on these events. They are NOT a waste of time. They ARE a great way to meet other local partners. They often include a nice lunch and a few vendor give-aways. Keep an eye on your vendor newsletters, or my weekly newsletter.
Note: This category includes events such as Sherweb's Accelerate conference, which is super-educational even if you're not a reseller partner. And it includes events from distributors such as Ingram Micro. The goal is to educate you on how you can make more money. The hope is that you'll partner with them to make that money!
BTW - If you see an event that looks relevant but it's not on my calendar, shoot me a note. Thanks.
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Sorry, Andrew, if that's too much information. Hope there's something useful in there somewhere.