Sponsored by Sage

By Rieva Lesonsky

As a small business owner, it’s vital to always keep learning—about your industry, your market and small business in general—if you want to keep your business thriving. One of the best ways to educate yourself is to attend networking and industry events.

Here are four ways to make the most of your next industry event.

1. Choose the right events. What are you most interested in learning more about? What new knowledge will benefit your business the most? Not all networking events are created equal, so seek out those that provide the information, experiences and networking opportunities that will help your business grow.

For example, some events focus primarily on networking, while others have an educational bent, with seminars, breakout events and speakers’ panels. Ideally, you can find an event that offers a mix of both learning and networking.

Reviewing agendas for upcoming events and talking to trusted colleagues about what events they’ve found valuable can help you pinpoint the industry events that are best for you.

2. Bring your online life into the real world. If you think you’re making all the business connections you need on social media, think again. Meeting colleagues, vendors and potential partners in person at an event forges bonds you just can’t develop online.

In fact, an industry event is a great place to deepen relationships you’ve started on social media. Stay abreast of upcoming industry events and reach out to your social media connections to see which ones they’re planning to attend. Take charge and plan to get a group together for dinner, coffee or drinks before or after the event. Plan to attend a breakout session with some together, Or at lunch, ask your connections to bring a couple of their connections and you exponentially increase your opportunities to meet new people.

3. Get involved. Taking a leadership role at a networking or industry event will expose you to more industry leaders and networking opportunities than if you just show up, sit back and listen. For example, offering to moderate or participate in a panel, help plan breakout sessions for the event, or identify and recruit speakers will give you the chance to meet industry influencers in person. This is a great chance to make some meaningful connections, while also raising your profile among other attendees.

4. Choose strategically. Some industry events are packed with so many interesting seminars, speakers and sessions that it’s hard to choose which to make time for. If you can’t decide between multiple activities at an event, recruit a colleague or employee to attend the event and split up the sessions between you. The two of you can fill each other in on what you missed, and your business can maximize the information gained from the event.

The upcoming Sage Summit 2016 is an ideal place to accomplish most, if not all of the above. Why not join us—yes I’ll be there—in Chicago July 25-28. The ultimate entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson will give the keynote. And you don’t have to be a Sage customer to attend. Sage Summit 2016 is a great place to learn, be inspired, meet great people and have fun.