Use Networking Conferences to Build Your Business

Kevin Trokey on September 16, 2014

I had the great opportunity to attend, and speak at, the recent Employee Benefit Adviser Summit in Phoenix. For those of you who may not be familiar with this event, you really are missing out on a great opportunity. Not only do they bring together the agency/brokerage/consulting side of the industry, there is also a conference track for HR professionals.

Many of the benefits of attending these types of conferences are obvious: education, networking with your peers, realizing you're not alone in your challenges, personal/professional growth, gaining new perspectives, and bringing home actionable ideas. However, many of the most compelling reasons for attending may not be immediately obvious. They actually have very little to do with session topics but very much have to do with the opportunity to make new personal connections, learning from the perspective of others, and building relationships which last long after the conference is over.

Here are a few of the reasons I will continue to participate in these types of conferences and the EBA Summit in particular.

The Summit is put on by Employee Benefit Adviser magazine. For those of you who read the magazine on a regular basis, you will recognize the names Elizabeth Galentine (Editor-in-Chief), Brian Kalish (Managing Editor), and Marli Riggs (Associate Editor). As you might expect, these three dynamic professionals are very engaged in the conference. Connecting with "voices of the industry" is an opportunity not to be overlooked.

As a result of meeting Marli, Brian, and Elizabeth at last year's event, we have had the opportunity to contribute to both their print magazine as well as to their website content over this past year. That exposure has definitely helped us increase our brand recognition within the industry and helped introduce us to many people/organizations we likely would not have met otherwise. It is always flattering when one of the three is working on an article and contacts us for our opinion on the subject. Of course, the press that comes along with that is a nice additional benefit.

Our relationship with EBA continued to build at this year's conference, and we have some great opportunities for Benefits Growth Network, as well as for some of our friends, as a result.

Marli attended my session "Leading Your Clients and Your Agency to Exceptional Performance". Within a couple days of the conference she wrote a great article about my session and the ideas we are promoting.

Brian stopped me in the exhibit hall to discuss a feature they are working on which will focus on powerful "up and comers" (rising all-stars under the age of 40). Not only was I able to give him the names of a couple of worthy candidates, one was right there in the exhibit hall, and I was able to make an immediate introduction.

On the last day of the conference, Brian stopped me again along with one of our network members, Tanya Boyd of Tanya Boyd and Associates. This time he was working on a video project and was wanting to interview Tanya and myself on camera to get our perspectives on what industry challenges agencies will be facing over the next 12 months. While it wasn't something either of us had a chance to prepare for, Tanya immediately saw it for the opportunity it was and eagerly agreed to participate.

I promise you that Tanya's prospects/clients will find further confidence in her and her ability to help them as a result of this opportunity. Seeing her as a thought leader within the industry is what will fuel that confidence. To state the obvious, she wouldn't have had that opportunity if she didn't attend the conference or hadn't been willing to go "all in" when approached by Brian. By the way, watch for that video to be posted on the EBA website in the next couple of months.

The conference also offered me the opportunity to attend sessions led by some of the industry's thought leaders you see contributing to the magazine on a regular basis. People like Nelson Griswold, Jack Kwicien, Sam Fleet, and Robert Lieblein to name a few. Not only did I walk away with some new perspectives, it was a great opportunity to network with these session leaders.

It's amazing how opportunities seized tend to create more opportunities. Not only was I able to make introductions that created opportunities for others, I benefited from the same.

  • As a result of seeing some of my articles published by EBA, one of the gentlemen mentioned above approached me, complimented me on what we are doing at Benefits Growth Network and asked about the possibility of collaborating on a project.
  • Tanya Boyd introduced me to the Managing Editor of another industry magazine who was there in attendance. As a result, there is a very real possibility that I will now be speaking at that magazine's conference next spring and perhaps even contributing content to their readers.
  • Once I returned to my office I received an email from a well-known online enrollment company whose both President and CEO attended my session. They have now invited me to speak at their event in March.

And of course, there are the business growth opportunities that come from attending and participating in these conferences. After I spoke at last year's conference, I was tracked down in the hall by one of the young women, Jennifer Lencicum of Fickewirth and Associates, who sat in on my session. She loved our message, wanted to learn more about us, and, as a result, she and her firm are now clients working with us.

In Jennifer, we have had the pleasure of watching her, and her agency, achieve amazing results over the past year. She was back at this year's conference and this time she was joined by her agency's President as well as four other team members. By the way, Jennifer is the same young lady I mentioned above who I recommended as a "rising all star". Again, you think that will earn her credibility and confidence in the eyes of her prospects and clients? I guarantee it will!

Sure it takes an investment of time and money, but it's a small price to pay for the opportunity to grow, to grow your business and to grow as a professional. Don't base a decision to attend such an event based on what you think it will deliver to you. Instead base your decision on the opportunities you will be able to create for yourself through the connections, perspectives, and relationships to be built with other attendees. If you are willing to go "all in" like Tanya did, the return on your time and money invested will be huge!

I don't yet know the dates for next year's EBA Summit, but I was told it will be held in New Orleans. You can bet I will "save the date" as soon as I hear. I hope you will do the same. See you in 'Nawlins!

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