Sponsored by Sage North America

By Rieva Lesonsky

Are you taking advantage of networking as an opportunity to grow your business? Sure, I know you’re active on social media, with tons of online connections you interact with every day. But that’s not the same as in-person networking—and if you’ve let your networking efforts slide in favor of virtual connections, you’re making a big mistake.

Real-world conferences, seminars and other networking events offer exponentially more returns than online networking. The immersion, inspiration and energy you get from meeting your peers face-to-face is priceless. But how do you choose the right networking event for you, and make the most of it? Here are some tips.

Assess what the event has to offer. The ideal networking event includes a mix of many offerings, including:

  • Education. Seminars, how-to courses, peer discussion groups and training from vendors can all provide education in how to do things better, optimizing your business management processes and building your company’s value.
  • New ideas. Hearing thought leaders, industry experts and other speakers can spark new ideas, as can discussions with your peers. Bringing back ideas to implement in your business is a powerful result of networking.
  • New connections. Of course, meeting new people who may become clients, partners, vendors or mentors is a huge benefit of in-person networking. Expanding your scope beyond local networking organizations to attend regional or national networking events exposes you to a broader range of contacts—and opportunities.

When you’re deciding what events to attend, here are some steps to take:

  • Check out the agenda. Visit the organization’s website or sign up for its newsletter to learn what planned activities will take place.
  • Consider location. Why not kill two birds with one stone? If the event is close to current or potential clients, you can expand your trip to include meeting with them, too.
  • Explore solutions. If you are looking for practical help with your business, an event featuring vendors demonstrating business products and services, or trainings in using the tools you already have, might offer the biggest bang for your buck.
  • Get insights. Talk to colleagues who have attended the event before to find out what they liked and disliked and what activities they got the most value from.
  • Register early. If you sign up for an event early you will not only get an early bird discount in most cases, but ensure you get a spot at the most coveted seminars, speeches or trainings.
  • Make meetup plans. Use social media to find others attending the event and make plans to meet up in person while there. Of course, be sure not to schedule every minute of your day—you’ll want some free time for the serendipitous meetings that are such a big part of networking.

One of the best events where you can find all of the above is the Sage Summit, which will take place in New Orleans July 27-30. At this year’s Summit, you’ll have the opportunity to meet and mingle with thousands of business owners just like you and share your challenges—and solutions.

sage summitSage has lined up an incredible array of speakers, including entrepreneurs and small business experts (I’ll be there talking about the importance of mobile marketing, among other things). Plus, you’ll have the rare chance to hear from such luminaries as actor and entrepreneur Jane Seymour, entrepreneur and skateboard legend Tony Hawk and Chad Hurley, the cofounder of YouTube. And not to take anything away from anyone else, but I can’t wait to hear Matthew Weiner, the creator and executive producer of Mad Men.

At the Sage Summit, you’ll also get the chance to learn about the very latest Sage Software innovations and new product introductions. It’s exactly the kind of networking opportunity that’s too good to pass up. Follow them at @Sage_Summit to keep up with the Summit.