7 Lessons from the Thriving Firm Conference



by Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk, president

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend and exhibit at the RAN ONE Americas Thriving Firm Conference in Sarasota, Florida. It was our second outing as exhibitors at a trade show, and it was time and money well spent. Much like our first trade show, the Southeastern Accounting Show in August, I learned quite a bit at this show that I thought I’d pass along here.

Read set-up details carefully. I made my travel plans with the idea that I would set up the booth early in the afternoon the day before, thinking the exhibitor packet said set-up started at 8am. I found out when I arrived that it was actually 8pm instead. Oops. Oh well, it gave me time to go eat lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, The Columbia Restaurant, and get some work done. No biggie.

An eye-catching booth is money well spent. If I do say so myself, I think our booth is pretty darn sharp. And others agree. I had quite a few people come over simply to compliment our booth’s looks and how nicely our giveaways and collateral materials carried out the theme. It was rewarding to see the time, energy and money we invested in it translated into something that really made a positive impression.

Try to secure a speaking slot if you can. This was the second year that I attended this conference. Last year I had the honor of speaking. This year that duty was filled by an internal marketing expert. Since many of the attendees had heard me the year before, I was really honored that so many of them asked if I was speaking this year and expressed sadness over the fact that I wasn’t. It’s not always possible to speak at conferences you attend, but if you can, it’s a powerful way to communicate your expertise. If you do it well, people remember.

Look at the composition and goals of the audience. This is not a technical conference where attendees are more concerned with the CPE they are earning than the content of the sessions. People are here to learn. One of the stated goals of this conference is to give the attendees the tools they need to realize the growth they want. Being all about growth and helping firms market themselves, this was definitely our crowd. The conversations we had were much deeper than the norm, and I’m excited about the number of firms who were serious about working with us to improve or increase their marketing.

Let your clients do the talking. One of our favorite clients, Craig Thomson of Thomson & Company, was at this conference and he was our biggest cheerleader. In the year since the last conference, we have helped Craig and his firm put together a marketing plan, a new brand for the firm, a new website and blog. And he’s seeing some amazing results from it too. The beauty of it is that he was more than happy to tell others in attendance all about the work we’ve done together, and even gave me a stack of his new business cards to hand out to those interested in talking to him in person. You can’t buy that kind of advertising and I’m incredibly grateful.

Awards matter. In the opening session, when Rick Solomon was announcing all the sponsors, he included my recent honor of being listed as one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in Accounting in his introduction of bbr marketing. I had at least 10 people come up to me in the following two days to congratulate me and shake my hand. While I’m still a bit shocked to be on the list, I’m delighted to see that it certainly gives both my firm and me a higher level of legitimacy, and people notice.

Have genuine conversations and follow up quickly. In the end, I had a wonderful time simply talking to the people at this conference. Some conversations were short; some lasted for quite a long time. I received many cards from people who asked that we set up a time to talk further about working together, which is obviously exciting. Since I had a bit of free time each evening, I decided to send brief notes to each of them within 24 hours to thank them for stopping by and to ask them to send me a few dates/times for that follow-up call. It didn’t take all that long, but I did send an individual note to each one, noting what we talked about too. I had a few people stop by the booth to say they were impressed with such quick and personal follow-up. Sometimes the small things make a big difference.

So there you have it. The entire team at RAN ONE Americas did a great job planning and hosting this wonderful show and those with whom I talked had only positive things to say. The location was beautiful, the weather was perfect and everyone really seemed to have a good time. I look forward to talking further with all the interesting people I got to meet.

For those of you that have exhibited at conferences, what lessons do you have to add? What have you seen work well and what has failed? I’d love your input!

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