Why I Stopped Going to Conferences: Marketing for Influence or For Sales?

The final year that I worked my university job, my director approved everyone’s requests to attend our industry conference…except for me. The next day she apologized and approved my attendance. I’ll never forget how that decision made me feel and when I started working for myself one of the things that I enjoyed was attending conferences.

Conferences were for professional development, connecting with other people in my professional space and learning about new techniques and resources for my business. I also think that I’m not the only out there who has had opportunities for professional development blocked during their career. I think that being able to attend as many or as few events as possible felt so empowering.

Attending conferences also gave me the opportunity to share my expertise through leading sessions, talks or panels. So why, then, have I aggressively cut conference attendance in 2022 and 2023? I’m going to break it down for you in the following podcast episode.

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Listen to the Show

Show Notes

Show Intro: “Welcome to the Brand Building Lab, I’m your host Michelle Jackson and I help progressive online entrepreneurs design businesses that lead with intention while earning money. I’m designing a monthly membership and mastermind that will help progressive entrepreneurs connect with one another, get connected with the tools that will help amplify their message and unapologetically earn more money so that they can help themselves and others.”

Before COVID, I’d vaguely noticed that as much as I loved conferences they were a little…distracting. The anticipation, the arrival, the event and the return home took a lot out of me. My favorite conference at the time would take me 3 weeks to recover in terms of lost sleep from the late night networking and partying and get back into the flow of things.

Then, COVID happened.

When events started happening again, really happening, I was so excited to carefully get out there and reconnect with people in person, learn new things and recapture that feeling of momentum that I always gained when surrounded by people who were doing the same thing that I was.

In the fall of 2021, I attended back-to-back events. It seemed like every 3 or 4 weeks I was hopping on a plane and making my way to somewhere new. By the end of 2021, I’d come to realize a couple of things that I’d forgotten.

  • Conference travel is so distracting
  • It’s important to always calculate my ROI for an event
  • It’s also important to reflect on my current business goals and which activities will move me towards those goals.
  • My recovery time has been longer and honestly, I’ve been dealing with low-key anxiety. This is new for me and it’s so frustrating. I’m really having to actively manage this issue.

Why I’ve Decided to Stop Attending Out-of-State Conferences

I run my business energetically. I try to really pay attention to “my vibe” and how I’m feeling about different aspects of my business. This could include, but isn’t limited, to the following:

  • Product offerings
  • Event attendance
  • Services that I’m offering
  • The content that I’m creating such as my podcast and any written content that I create for myself or clients.
  • Systems-are they working or making things harder for me?
  • Where I’m working
  • Business goals
  • Personal
  • My personal and business missions-Am I in alignment?

And anything else that comes to mind. I’d noticed some reticence and resistance around a couple of things.

  • Travel-It’s just not as relaxing as it has been in the past and I was finding that I was resentful of how business related travel seemed to disrupt my business.
  • Group coaching as a product-I talk about this in the previous podcast episode. It just kept feeling like the wrong fit for me and my brand at this time.
  • The products that I was selling-My business had shifted in a significant way to way more freelance writing than I would like to do long-term.

Finally Saying “No” to Conferences

It all came to a head at the beginning of May when I was planning to attend a conference and it just wasn’t working. The plane tickets, the accommodation, and I couldn’t figure out what my end ROI would be for this event. It was in that moment when I realized that I didn’t need to attend conferences for awhile and here’s why.

  • Years of networking and connecting with people in my immediate and adjacent business spaces. Also, during pre-COVID years I would see friends in my space whenever they visited Denver. It’s already happening again and I’m so excited about. The networking that I was doing at conferences, I could just continue to do from home.
  • My goals are different-I really want to build out my passive income. I enjoyed my business more when I had passive income coming in. In order to do that I need to be able to focus and execute an ongoing content and marketing strategy. Excessive travel is so disruptive to this goal.
  • I need to focus and implement all of the amazing stuff that I’ve learned. Every time I travel I can’t state enough how much it impacts my ability to focus for weeks afterwards.
  • Even though I’d begun alternating the events that I was attending, it was overwhelming trying to figure out which ones to go to.
  • I wanted to free up that time for leisure travel or traveling to stay in a new location while working. Why design a digital business where I can’t enjoy some of the perks that make working online and for yourself so attractive?
  • When you’re at a conference you have to be “On” and I just don’t feel like being “On” at the level that I need to when attending a conference. I need a break energetically.
  • I needed time to work on content that would convert. Again, I’m really focused on passive income and my platform had become too “active” in terms of the way my income was coming in. Passive Income isn’t passive so I was getting frustrated that I wasn’t consistently building out my platform with that end goal in mind.

When I said no to three events happening during what is the busiest time of year for me, I felt a huge sense of relief.

Clearly I have been dealing with a capacity issue. There are so many things that I would like to do, but something had to give in order to free up time to get what I wanted to do done.

What are You Marketing For?

What I came to realize was that my original goal of marketing to build my personal platform was still influencing my 2022 business even though my goals had changed. I needed time to design, develop and launch products that I’d created and sold prior to COVID.

I’ve spent YEARS building out the basic foundation of my online platform:

  • Writing blog posts for myself and other people
  • Doing talks, sessions and panels at events
  • Meeting people in person and online
  • Being the point person for online/in-person communities in my space FOR YEARS
  • Publishing podcast episodes both for myself and other people’s shows
  • Contributing paid content for well-known media brands and blogs
  • Showing up on social media

I wanted to work on and launch new initiatives and I realized that my goal now is to market for sales versus marketing to build a platform because that’s been built.

For those of you listening to the show, I think it’s important to ask yourself what is your goal?

  • Platform Building?
  • Sales?
  • To Build Brand Awareness?

Then ask yourself if the actions you’re taking align with those goals. Here are some additional questions that I would encourage you to ask yourself before hitting the pay button for your next event. By the way, I’m about to say the word “event” several times.

  • How will this event actually grow your brand? Will you get in front of potential partnerships, sponsors, or collaborations?
  • Have you finished implementing the tips and ideas that you learned about at your last event?
  • How quickly will you earn back the money you’ve invested in the event? (travel, accommodation, food, fun)
  • Does the content shown on the schedule meet you at the stage of business that you’re currently at?
  • What are your top 3 goals for your business during the quarter that you’re currently in and the quarter of the conference that you’re looking at attending?
  • How long does it take you to recover from an out-of-state trip? For me, my recovery time has gotten significantly slower than before even though I’ve started recovering faster than I was in 2020 and 2021. Are you attending back-to-back events?
  • What are your marketing moves in your hometown? You can market to a national market from your hometown-how are you making that happen?
  • Are there similar events being held in your your hometown?

If you decide to take a break like I have, do be aware that other people may react negatively. I had some people talk about why they would continue to attend events versus listening to the reasons why I was steeping away for awhile. Basically, they were defending their decision and I was confused because I wasn’t judging anyone’s choice to attend conferences. I happen to really love conferences and similar events which is why this decision was so hard. The negative reactions surprised me by the way and were completely unexpected.

Moving Forward

I will focus on staying connect to the people that I already know. At the same time, I will set aside time to connect with other folks online via:

  • Attend or create ongoing online events such as chats, spaces, closed communities
  • Contributing content when it makes sense
  • Collaborating with other thought leaders in my space as I create my new content
  • Keep some perspective whenever I feel some FOMO-There will always be another conference. They sprout like bunnies-they are everywhere and being held all the time.

I do plan on attending a conference in Las Vegas November of this year, but that event happens in my downtime. I’m known for working towards a 10 month year. Attending that conference won’t be disruptive to my workflow or ability to implement projects, etc.

On a personal note, I do want to bring up something else that I’m dealing with. I’ve been dealing with high levels of anxiety this Spring. The anxiety actually is worse than when I was deeply in debt and on the receiving end of collections activities every single day. I’m in the process of managing this issue and I’m hoping that things will get better soon.

What About 2023?

I will not be attending any out-of-state events unless I’m doing a long-term stay in a place. Right now I’m scheduled for one conference next year. My personal goal is to live abroad for a good part of next year. I’m in the preliminary stages of planning this out and thinking about what this would like.

Taking out-of-state events and conferences out of my schedule has significantly increased the time that I need to work on my projects, goods and services. I feel so relaxed now that I don’t have to worry about the next trip disrupting my “work flow”

Can you relate? What’s your plan for this year and next? Would you stop attending out-of-state conferences and events?

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