When you’re running a business it can be tough to get away for a few hours or days to attend a conference, but it can be worth the time investment. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Gabie Boko, EVP Marketing of Sage NA to discuss her best tips for women entrepreneurs to use live events to grow their networks and their business.
We live in a 24x7x365 digital and social media world, where it’s hard to keep up with all that’s going on. How can women business owners stay connected, yet still find time to launch, run and grow their businesses?
Like most professionals, I use an ever-broadening collection of devices and applications that make communicating and collaborating easy and instantaneous. Digital communication is valuable and has its place in business, but putting it aside in favor of face-to-face connections is one of the best business decisions you can make all year.
Whenever possible, I recommend meeting with prospects, customers, and potential investors, anyone that’s going to help launch or grow your business, face-to-face. Meeting in person portrays you as communicative, professional, and frankly, unique, as most people chose digital paths. You can also attend conferences, events, and training meetings in person which are fantastic ways to develop or grow a business, in addition to getting up to speed on the latest industry trends.
WomanCon supports face-to-face interactions through several events each year that bring together hundreds of women entrepreneurs with experts, tools and resources. What does Sage do to facilitate face-to-face conversations?
The biggest initiative from Sage is our annual event, Sage Summit. Sage Summit brings together small and medium-sized businesses from around the world for four days of powerful conversations, networking opportunities, and incredible content. Our goal is to create a jumping off point with Sage Summit. We want attendees to continue the conversation long after the event. This might be via digital means, but the initial connection is made in-person.
What tactics or approaches do you suggest for building more meaningful relationships that can help women business owners to grow and succeed?
I have a few. Attend the trade shows and conferences that are relevant to your business. The networking opportunities alone can make a huge impact on your business. You never know who you will meet, and what they can offer you now, and in the future. Follow up soon after you meet someone at an event. Connect with them on social media, engaging on the platforms that make sense for you and your business. And don’t forget to invest in relationships, even ones you consider weak. “Weak” relationships may hold untapped potential; take time to reconnect or get to know people you have crossed paths with in the past.
A common misconception in business is to only focus on attracting new customers. Certainly this is an important practice, but don’t ignore your current customers at the expense of selling to prospects. Acquiring new customers is not the only way to grow; consider the up-sell opportunities you have with your current base, plus the power of customer referrals. Don’t just sell products or services; sell the value—the way your product or service alleviates one of their challenges.
Conferences are increasingly adding virtual components to their events or holding entire conferences via the web. What would you say to a woman who is considering attending an event from her computer vs. in person, or considering a virtual event in place of an in person one?
You have to weigh the pros and cons, and consider the outcomes and potential impact the event could have on your business. Sure, attending a conference virtually seems to make sense – there’s likely significant cost savings, no travel involved, and you can multi-task. But consider the cons to this approach: no real interactions with like-minded peers, multi-tasking means you’re not immersed in the content, and you’re not able to personally engage with the session presenters. Getting out of the office, whether it’s for a day at a local event, or for an entire business week across the country is good for you, and good for business. I know it can seem scary to travel for an extended period of time, but I promise you that your business will not suffer. You can’t put a price tag on new ideas and newfound inspiration.
What is your best networking tip?
Be authentic. There’s nothing more discouraging than when you meet someone that doesn’t seem real. Any true, lasting connection requires both parties to be human. Figure out who you are, what you stand for, and make that a part of every conversation and interaction you have. Authenticity fosters true connections.
Do you have an example of a time when a face-to-face interaction had a significant impact on your small business (when you were a small business owner), or now in your leadership role at Sage?
I’ve had amazing interactions my entire career that have defined course alterations in how I approach business. There are two that really stick out: My first marketing boss after I messed up pretty badly said, “Don’t let the mistake define you. Let what you do next be what people remember”. It gave me permission to be bold and I never forgot it. The second interaction was when I ran my own consulting firm and I had sent hundreds of letters pitching my services to this one company. I finally re-wrote it as if I were talking to my best friend and hand delivered it. The owner called me that afternoon, asking me to come in. When I met him he said, “You’ve been spamming me for months, but it’s nice to finally meet YOU.” I got the business and never forgot to speak and write like a human. Ultimately, people want to connect as people and that makes the difference between bringing in revenue or creating customer relationships.
What is the #1 thing the WomanCon community should avoid when attending an event, in terms of connecting with their peers?
Please don’t be the person that walks around the room passing out business cards at random. Does that seem like an impactful way to engage with someone? Conferences are busy; you must have a strategy in place in advance. Set a goal; for example, you want to engage with three people that might be able to offer you something of value. When you make contact with someone, immediately try to find what you have in common, how this person could help you out, and vice versa. If the ‘spark’ isn’t there, move on. Your time and business are too precious!