Business travel can be expensive. Recent data suggests that in 2015 alone, business travel spending in the U.S. reached $310 billion. The most expensive costs associated with business travel? Airline tickets, lodging and car rentals.
For accountants, these costs can add up quickly, especially during conference season. In order to make the most of your time—and dollars—I’ve outlined a few tricks for navigating conference season below.
Step 1. Own What You (Don't) Know
The first trick for making the most of conference season is to take stock of where you do and don’t have expertise. Many states and professional associations mandate that accountants maintain a certain amount of CPE credits each year. Rather than sitting through a seminar on tax and auditing, for example, why not use CPE credits to develop new advisory skills that will help grow your firm?
Accounting conferences provide the perfect solution. Many not only offer CPE credits to attendees, but several also host a handful of seminars and sessions on a diverse range of topics. The upcoming XeroCon conference in San Francisco, for example, includes everything from a keynote session on self development and entrepreneurship from a Hindu priest to a session on how to leverage technology for succession planning.
Once you’ve obtained new information, make sure to share it with your team. Before heading to the conference, schedule a post-conference breakfast session or lunch n’ learn with your colleagues so you can immediately share information while it is still fresh. People will appreciate the time you are investing in their professional development and it will maximize the return on your conference investment.
Step 2. Find The Missing Link
Accounting conferences are ground zero for networking, but what separates master networkers from amateur networkers is how they use their time on the conference floor.
The most successful accountants rely on a networking strategy to achieve maximum results. Before going to the conference, think about two or three areas where your business could benefit. Perhaps you are trying to build out your referral network. Is there a technology gap that needs closing? Is there a new ecosystem partner you would like to learn more about? Is there a new industry you want to specialize in?
Once you’ve had time to think through these questions, use these as priorities to guide your conference activity. Schedule a product demo in advance with that new ecosystem partner your clients keep asking about. Alternatively, post on social media asking if any of your connections will be attending. Based on responses, this can help you identify people to engage with. Proactivity on the front end will yield more meaningful conference results on the back end.
Savvy accountants also know that successful networking goes beyond an exchange of business cards and a handshake. After the conference, take the time to connect with people you meet on LinkedIn or send a personalized note via email. Follow up a few weeks later about potential next steps for collaboration. Just like a personal friendship, developing a business relationship takes time and requires ongoing attention.
Step 3. Take Care of Yourself
We are our best selves when we are healthy. That can be hard for accountants who are constantly on-the-go during conference season and have to balance a hectic travel schedule with demanding client work. In order to make the most of your conference investment, it’s important to pay attention to your health so that you are fully alert and can absorb what you are learning.
The little things help. Start by making sure you get a full night’s sleep. Eating healthy is also key. Rather than munching on calorie and carb rich food that may be provided by the conference, bring your own snacks. Protein packed snacks available from most convenience stores are not only filling, but easily transportable and don’t make a mess.
For those staying overnight at a conference, check to see if your hotel has a gym. Many hotels also offer on-demand in-room workouts, including yoga and pilates, that can help you unwind after a hectic day. For those who are feeling extra ambitious, Google how far your hotel is from a spin studio or group gym before booking your room. Whatever you decide, the most important thing is to enjoy yourself and take the time to de-stress.
Make the most of the opportunity
While conferences are designed around their participants’ needs, it is ultimately up to attendees to make the most of their experience. Passively attending sessions and presentations will only get you so much. Those participants that strategically think through their business and networking needs, while making sure to stay healthy and have fun, will derive much more value from conferences than their peers.
Wishing you a great conference season and lots of success!
Amy Vetter, is Global Vice President, Education & Head of Accounting, U.S. at