by Skip Cohen
With ShutterFest just around the corner, I pulled this post from the SCU archives. It's the perfect reminder to make some plans for the conference - Not just ShutterFest, but ANY convention or workshop series you attend!
There are two primary reasons to be at a convention: education and building a stronger network. The sad part of the process is, so many of you spend the money and take the time but do absolutely no planning. Time is your most valuable commodity and once it's gone you'll never get it back! So, let's look at ways to get the most out of every convention.
For those of you who are regular readers, I know this is going to be redundant, but as often as I've written about it, even I forget some of the basics. We all get too busy and as recently as ten minutes ago I got an email from my good buddy Bryan Caporicci about finding time on both our schedules at ShutterFest to catch up. We've work on a lot of projects together, but lately never have the time during our regular days.
Here's the first big rule!
DON'T GO TO A CONVENTION COLD! THINK THROUGH WHY YOU'RE GOING, WHAT YOU NEED HELP WITH, WHAT YOU WANT TO COME BACK WITH! WHO ARE THE MOVERS AND SHAKERS YOU WANT TO TALK TO? PLAN YOUR TRIP! Sorry, It's all in caps, a font larger and bold, because I'm yelling at you! LOL
1) Think about what you need most in terms of help with your business. Do you need more education in marketing and business, a better understanding of photography or more products for providing added value to your customers like frames, canvas prints etc? Are you creating slideshows for your clients? When you print your own images are you calibrating your monitor and printer? Maybe you need a few new focal lengths in your camera bag - maybe you need a new camera bag! Have you checked out mirrorless technology? How about the albums you offer? Is it time you had some new things to show your clients?
The purpose here is to establish your priorities - at the bigger shows, for example, there are a few hundred exhibitors and it sure helps to walk in the door focused on where you need the most help. Otherwise, it's simply overwhelming, with too many choices to make once you're there.
Note: My personal top choices to check out at ShutterFest this year? Panasonic for LUMIX cameras, especially the new GH5, Marathon Press for Bella Art Prints and Albums, X-Rite for color calibration, Tamron for outstanding optics, Photodex for slideshows and obviously Profoto for the best in lighting!
2) If you need high ticket equipment - look into leasing if you're worried about tying up capital. You've got time to establish your credit line with a leasing company before you go, then you know exactly what you've been approved for and can work the convention like a pro. This is about using somebody else's assets without depleting yours!
3) Go to print competition judging! If you're in early enough for any convention in professional photography with print competition, it's the best bang for your buck out there! I went in to observe 10 years ago for half an hour wondering how my own entry was going to do (yes, I only had one) - I stayed all day. With the comments from the judges, it's like having class after class in composition, exposure and printing being given by dozens of industry icons!
4) Plan your days in advance. For example, most convention schedules are out early and on line. Think about what classes you want to go to and then be there at least 15-20 minutes early for each one. And, when you get there early, go talk to the instructor - this is just as much about building your network as it is absorbing the content of the class. Programs fill up fast and you don't want to be closed out of a program, but if you are, it's not the end of the world. Yes, it's frustrating, but there's a lot to choose from - so select your programs on where you need the most help, not exclusively on the popularity of the speakers.
5) Pay attention to the lineup of speakers at many of the exhibitor booths. This starts by reviewing any convention's exhibitor list and knowing in advance who their spokespeople are. Many of the exhibitors have some great mini-programs going on in their booth throughout the trade show.
6) Network, network, network - since you're there early to get a seat in a program then utilize the time wisely and talk to the people around you. Try to never have dinner alone or with the same people - bring along a newbie, somebody you've just met at the show. This has always been the coolest part of any convention for me personally - the friendships you can make just sitting and talking to people. Remember, everybody is dealing with the same challenges you are - the economy, creativity, growing the business, marketing and technology. When you exchange ideas, even your frustrations, sooner or later somebody you talk to from another part of the country is going to have a solution that worked for them!
7) Diversify - I've already written a lot over the years about staying diverse, but here's your chance to really start to learn a new skill set. Find at least one program to attend that's completely out of your element - the one that might scare you the most! Do that at every convention you attend. Always have one program on the list to help you expand your horizons.
8) "Working the trade show" is no easy endeavor, but since you're there, at least do it right. You don't need to go straight to that one company you want to see the most - because your tunnel vision will result in missing everybody you walk by on the way. Literally work the room one aisle at a time and do your best to see EVERYBODY. I love ShutterFest because it's a smaller show, but don't underestimate the power of quality! There might be less exhibitors than at a bigger show, but Sal and his team have been very selective and these are all vendors you need to know.
10) Bring some of your own images! I never understand photographers who come to a convention with access to every icon in the industry as well as so many manufacturers and leave all their work at home! You don't need to carry around a 16x20 portfolio case, just a book of a dozen or so of your favorite images, or your promotional piece or even a few images on an iPad - but be careful of boring somebody with too many images on the screen. This is where I really like paper prints at a convention. If I'm working in a booth and busy, I don't have time to have somebody try and direct my focus to their iPhone or iPad, but leaving me a couple of 5x7's in a folder with a business card and more information will stay in my memory a lot longer. Plus, it allows me to examine the material at my leisure when things might be a little quieter.
11) Take a camera with you!!!! I'm not talking about the gear you shoot with for your business, but something better than your phone. Since ShutterFest is all about hands-on, most of you have a decent camera with you. Don't just use it to build your portfolio! Get a few shots of yourself at the show interacting with vendors and other photographers. Do a press release when you get back to the local paper, Chamber of Commerce, post it on your blog or Facebook page - nobody is watching out for you but you!
12) Take advantage of evening programming and special events. Sure, it's important to have a good time, but take advantage of the various presentations. You want to come home from a great convention with more than a hangover and a few good jokes you heard at dinner!
13) Don't be afraid to talk to your favorite speakers. Everybody is approachable and everybody is there because they believe in education and sharing. But, I can't bring this blog to a close without a few words of caution - show some courtesy.
I know it seems basic and maybe insulting to some of you, but when you see one of your favorites stay away from the storm trooper approach, especially if they're already in a conversation. You might have to wait a few minutes for an opening or you might even need to catch them later. It's tough when you're involved in a conversation and somebody just jumps in and interrupts - you'll never get anyone's attention or the respect you want and deserve.
And for me at ShutterFest, Sheila and I will camped out each day at a table in that incredible lobby of the hotel. We've got a couple of breakfast meetings, but we're almost always there by 9:30. And I'm there to not just meet new friends, but to help you with business and marketing issues you're dealing with. Don't be afraid to ask for help. I won't always have the answers, but I've got an incredible network and it's all yours if you need some guidance!
Last but not least - have fun! Seriously, it's one of those words that's lost in business today - you're going to a great convention. You're going to see old friends and make new ones. It's okay to work hard and play hard - just make sure you never miss the bell the following morning!
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