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As small businesses consider how and where they are going to spend money, one area that can be difficult to assess is the value of going to a conference.

For many small businesses, the cost of a conference can be significant - whereas larger business can roll them into a marketing or sales budget. In many ways, however, conferences can be a great investment by providing attendees a way to capture the spotlight.

Here are some tips on conference attendance:

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1. Pick a conference that meets your needs: It sounds simple but focus on whether the conference's programming features keynotes, panels and workshops that are relevant and have the potential to provide new information or insight. Look beyond glitzy keynote speakers and whether the conference is being held in a glamorous or warm-weather location. It's important to keep in mind that you will likely not be spending much time as a tourist so location can be irrelevant.

2. Take some time to assess the networking possibilities. Figure out who's going to be there, and how they can jump-start your business through new sales or partnerships. For many conferences, the networking opportunities can as interesting and valuable as the keynotes, panels and workshops. Be prepared to introduce yourself to a lot of new people given the fact a good conference can be a great place to meet others with the same interests, needs and challenges.

3. Calculate the total cost of attending a conference. This includes the cost of the conference registration, travel expenses, accommodation and meals. Then there is the cost of being away from your business for a few days. Can you afford to be absent to attend? Are there other people who could handle some of your responsibilities while you're away?

4. To get the "scoop" on a conference, ask your peers and colleagues for their suggestions and recommendations about what conferences to attend, or whether a particular conference is worth attending. Social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook can be great ways to broadcast a question, and get responses from a wide variety of people.

In many respects, going to a conference is a major investment of energy, time and money. Going to the right conference can provide a huge return on investment by introducing you to new opportunities and people that otherwise would have never presented themselves.

(Note: Mark Evans is one of the organizers of the mesh conference that happens on May 18 and 19 in Toronto.)

Special to the Globe and Mail

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Mark Evans is a principal with ME Consulting , a content and social media strategic and tactical consultancy that creates and delivers 'stories' for companies looking to capture the attention of customers, bloggers, the media, business partners, employees and investors. Mark has worked with three start-ups - Blanketware, b5Media and PlanetEye - so he understands how they operate and what they need to do to be successful. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshUniversity and meshmarketing conferences.

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About the Author
Content/Communications Strategist

Mark Evans is the principal with ME Consulting, a strategic communications and content consultancy that works with start-ups and fast-growing companies looking to drive their marketing, communications and content activities. More

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