If you ask small business owners about their favorite ways to grow their sales and get new customers, they almost always include networking somewhere on that list. That’s because it’s just that effective. But sadly, networking opportunities and small business development efforts can be pushed aside in the busy day-to-day of running a business.
That’s where small business conferences can come in. While they can be an efficient way to get industry insights, learn skills, or find vendors, it’s the networking among conference attendees that seems to bring people back again and again. It’s also why there is an increasing number of these events each year. Check out this list of our top picks to attend for small businesses in any industry; they offer a variety of sizes, venues, costs, and niches!
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1. Small Business Expo
With the words “small business” in the title, how can you go wrong? Held at 10 locations across the U.S. each year, this massive trade show gives ample opportunity to network and learn. Did we mention that the speakers, workshops, and trade floor are also free to attend?
Run since 2008, the Small Business Expo is still going strong. You can see the 2020 schedule here.
This “Connect to Convert” event is focused solely on sales. Attendees will get insights into the best practices for attracting leads and gaining conversions through digital marketing, print, calling, and search engine optimization. Held in a different location each year, it’s a hot spot for B2B and B2C companies and their marketers.
LeadsCon 2020 will be held in March in Las Vegas. You can find more details here.
3. Business Boutique
This women-led and focused event series is made up of several one-day events and a large fall event led by Christie Wright (who was made famous as a colleague of Dave Ramsey.) The conferences are designed to take women from step one of their business idea to a complete marketing plan, with unlimited opportunities to network with other like-minded and motivated females. Designed for entrepreneurs of all stages, it also addresses work/life balance and personal goal setting.
Business Boutique 2020 will be held in October in Nashville. More details for the annual expo can be found here.
4. National Small Business Federal Contracting Summit
The National Chamber of Commerce puts on this business summit each year, and in 2020, they are scheduled to take it to Washington, D.C. With big-name speakers and hands-on opportunities to learn, it’s one of the most buzzed-about industry networking conferences for businesses of any size. Meet other enthusiastic entrepreneurship professionals at our nation’s capital and get the scoop on legislative actions that may affect you, too.
Learn more about this year’s event here.
5. WBENC National Conference and Business Fair
The Women’s Enterprise National Council puts on this event each year, and it’s a hotspot for motivated and talented female small business owners from all over the world. Their mentoring and one-on-one “speed date” type sessions give a more streamlined chance to meet with top talent in a variety of business fields. This year’s Detroit locale offers four full days of activities and sessions for women’s business owners.
Find more information about the 2020 event here.
6. Launch Festival
Designed to give brand-new startups their time to shine, Launch is also a huge attractor of VC and angel funders looking for opportunities in which they can invest. The founder tickets usually go fast, however, as they are limited to the first 10,000 applicants to submit their business idea. You can still get a chance to sit in on the demos and meet other creators with the various networking events, however. Find out more about next year’s Launch Festival here.
This cultural phenomenon is a little bit business and a whole lot of creative energy. The marriage of gaming, music, film, and tech marketing industries brings about a rush of enthusiastic go-getters who are eager to share their projects. It’s impossible not to be inspired, and the great opportunity to rub shoulders with influencers and brilliant marketing minds at their after-hours events is perhaps the most fulfilling portion of the 10-day festival. Find more info about next year’s SXSW here.
8. World Domination Summit
Lovingly referred to as “WDS” by the 10,000+ rabid fans of the event, it’s a little less business and a lot more motivation than other conferences. This leadership conference is high-energy, and the inspirational speaker line-up is geared toward anyone with a dream and the grit to make it happen, which is why small business thought leaders from all over the globe put it at the top of their to-do list each summer.
Learn more about the 2020 event in Portland, Oregon here.
Over 20,000 marketers and doers meet for this celebrity-studded conference, which has hosted keynote speakers and industry leaders such as Michelle Obama, Andy Cohen, Amy Schumer, and more. But if star-gazing isn’t your thing, there’s plenty of business credibility to this event, as well. Their 250+ marketing and educational sessions are praised each year, making the meet-up a source of more than just star-power. You can learn more about social media and content marketing strategies here, if you work the schedule right. More info on the 2020 event in Boston can be found here.
Remember, that even though these national events are huge opportunities to learn, grow your business, and network, other good things are going on in neighborhoods across the country (and the globe). Reach out to your local Chamber of Commerce or do a quick search on event ticketing platform Eventbrite to see what cool events might be a bit more under the radar. They can provide a cozier atmosphere for those who want a more low-key introduction into the world of business networking.
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This article was originally written on January 2, 2020 and updated on January 27, 2021.
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