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As fall approaches, so does the slew of annual plumbing conferences and meetings that have traditionally been scheduled this time of year. You’ve probably already made plans to attend at least one, if not more, of these events. And your communications in recent weeks with business partners, colleagues and peers have likely included questions of “Who’s going where and when?”

These events can be very effective business tools, but there is, of course, a cost to participate.

It’s fairly easy to calculate the typical cost variables like registration, airfare, hotel room, private dinners and networking opportunities. But perhaps most important — and the hardest to calculate — is what the time spent away from your business and market equates to in dollars.

When added together, the total cost to participate in an industry event can be pricey. So there is sometimes a question of whether there really is value in attending them?

The Value In Attending Events

To answer that, it’s critical to carefully look at the bottom line of your calculations along with evaluating the audience and range of educational and networking opportunities at each event. This knowledge allows you to be selective in choosing which events provide the best ROI for you and your organization.

Once you make that decision, it’s important to maximize your investment. I’ve regularly attended a range of industry conferences and trade shows throughout my career, and can honestly say that I have benefited from participating. The key word in that sentence is “participating” — taking advantage of every opportunity there is to fully engage in on-site activities. As with most things in life, the effort you put into an event is roughly equivalent to the benefits you’ll get in return.

Education is a big part of any conference, and there is typically a wide range of session topics and presenters to choose from. By sitting in on the available sessions you can often glean ideas and practices that you’ll be able to effectively put into use at your own company.

But my biggest ROI has undoubtedly been in reconnecting with my current network as well as the opportunity to build new relationships. Emails, LinkedIn updates and occasional phones calls are great, but that only covers a small portion of the people I see at various events.

Building New Relationships

My favorite story about the value I’ve received from attending a conference is an experience I had several years ago. I got on the hotel elevator to go downstairs for the closing reception. The elevator stopped on the next floor down and I was joined by a gentleman who looked like he was headed to the same place. I had my badge on and he did not, so I was at a disadvantage. He saw my name, our company and that I was from Florida. We struck up a lively conversation about the Florida market and he peppered me with questions.

By the time we reached the ground floor he had introduced himself as the VP of Sales for a manufacturer whose products were then being sold through an internal sales team. But they had just lost their salesperson for Florida and he was struggling on how to cover the market. By the time we got to the bar, I had him convinced to go with an agency. By the time the first platter of crab cakes made it to us, our agency had the line. It has become a major income source for us, he has become a good friend and I still attend that conference.

How can you put a dollar figure on what you can gain by being “present”?

I also strongly believe in giving back to the industry that has given us so much. So even though the economics may say otherwise, I look at it as an investment in the future of our channel. We have to make an effort to keep it relevant and make sure we are progressing as a whole. It’s often been said that an organization is only as strong as its weakest member.

So whether it is AIM/R, ASA, HARDI, ASPE, DPHA, (or whatever acronyms are in your industry), I encourage you to make the investment and attend. You never know who might be getting on the elevator with you.

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