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How Freelancers Can Squeeze More Value Out of Industry Conferences

  • By Tori Dantono
  • November 25, 2020

Sure, SXSW is flashy. Founders. Celebs. Taco trucks—less flashy, more delicious, but you get the vibe. But it’s not all about the moguls, stars and glorious eats. Did you know that roughly one-fifth of SXSW attendees are self-employed?
With the Freelancer’s Union predicting that 40 percent of the U.S. workforce will be “freelance” by 2020, we expect the number of free-agents in Austin to continue to rise. I was lucky to be on the ground earlier this month, where I gleaned conference best practices for independent hustlers in particular.

Wear your entrepreneurialism on your sleeve

SXSW is a melting pot of professionals across a range of disciplines. Some work at large companies, others are founders, and others are doing their own thing and carving their own career adventure as solopreneurs. Networking is the name of the game at SX (and anywhere, really), but you need to be authentic about it. Be open to meeting people you wouldn’t normally cross paths with, and be genuine in your interest about their own endeavors. You’d be surprised at what you can learn from another freelancer’s journey—missteps, mishaps and all.

Be humble, be generous

Most freelancers aren’t splurging for the three-day party crib on Rainey Street during SXSW (that would be cool, though!). Rest-assured, there are ways for you to connect with others and add value without throwing down insane amounts of coin. Share a spare battery, take turns at an outlet or offer to send recap notes from that amazing panel you just witnessed.

Make your network work for you

Before attending any industry conference, posting on social media is a great way to figure out who in your network will be there. Better yet, you can reach out to contacts with a personal note to see if they’re attending. Even if they’re not going to be at the conference it’s a good way to show your involvement in the industry, stay top of mind and reignite conversations. And if it turns out they’re not attending, it’s another opportunity to be generous and share what you learned. Plus more karma points.

Do your homework and mind your follow ups

Get ahead of industry events by doing your homework. Plan your schedule. Book meetings. Bring essential items. Get the app. For example, within the SXSW app, you can search for prospective clients that may be attending or speaking on a panel. If they’re speaking and you’re at the conference, make it your business to show up early and sit front and center. If not, follow along from home via the panel hashtag. Either way, prepare smart follow up questions to show your interest.

Capture your connections

Once you meet someone, be sure to get their contact details to stay in touch. Business cards still run abound at most conferences, but there are high tech ways to get connected as well. At SXSW, I learned about Ping by Wurqs. Ping allows you to easily connect with a single email that includes brief details on “things you would like to learn about” and “things you can be helpful with,” adding instant value and memorability to any connection. Ping makes keeping track of who you met much easier than looking through a stack of crumpled cardstock.

Pick the right sessions for you

One of the best sessions I attended during the week was as part of the Ignite series. Rather than one speaker or panel, these sessions featured ten independent speakers covering a broad range of topics. Each speaker covered 20 slides that automatically advance every 15 seconds for a total of five minutes on stage. This was the best format for what I was going for, but it might not be the same for you. Review the agenda ahead of time (ahem, see above) and choose your battles wisely.

Embrace the solo-journey

It can be intimidating to be on your own at an event like SXSW, but letting people know that you’re flying solo is a great way to encourage others welcome you into their world. I met amazing people in Austin and was able to join in their plans throughout the week. As for those “lonely” windows, well, I had the opportunity to skip lines, meet different types of people, grab the last seat at the coffee shop, or make it into a crowded panel, simply because I was one person rather than a massive group. Sometimes one isn’t the loneliest number.
Before you embark on your next conference, these tips will help keep you in a great mindset, stay on your A game, and have fun too! Plus if you’re just starting out on this freelance venture, they’re pretty easy to adopt as best practices and will set a great tone for you and your entreprenurial career.
How do you plan for these types of conferences? Let us know in the comments below!

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