Conferences, conventions and events: The virtues of travel to gather insights (and how you can reduce your costs)

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A rendering of Google's proposed new campus, submitted to Mountain View council in 2015. It is unclear when this futuristic new HQ will be constructed.

I’m writing this column from a hotel room in Palo Alto, CA. In a few hours, our group of somewhat more than 50 people from around the US (with a few, like me, from Canada) will take shuttle buses to Google’s Mountain View headquarters for a day of meetings and events.

The program’s details cannot be shared in public – there is a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) in place. In any case, there likely won’t be any earth-shattering announcements. But there will be indications, suggestions and clues about the future, and that is why I have accepted the invitations to these events (and much larger worldwide summits) since they started some six years ago.

While it is unlikely you would experience the specific circumstances that led to these invitations, the concept of traveling to relatively distant places to pick up ideas and insights can certainly be applied in your own business, especially through association conventions at the provincial, national and international level, industry trade shows, conferences and seminars, and, in some cases, visits to remote suppliers and businesses.

These initiatives allow you to cross-fertilize ideas, gather insights, and sometimes to pick brains and share knowledge with non-competitive businesses and professionals who know your challenges and may have experienced similar problems in the past. Or you can gather inspiration for new projects.

Obviously, there are some costs associated with the travel. Even in the case of situations like my California travel, where Google picks up the tab for the airfare and hotel, there is the time and stress, and most importantly, the need to be away from “home office” for some time. However, these costs can be quite easily justified if you pick up just a few worthy ideas and have your business well enough organized that it can operate effectively without your immediate presence.

As well, you can earn your access to events and conventions through voluntary work and contributions, especially through participation in relevant associations. I can’t think of many better marketing opportunities than association leadership. When you achieve a leadership position at the local chapter of one of your client-focused associations, you will likely receive invitations to attend the provincial or national conferences.

In that context, you’ll not only often have your travel costs reimbursed; you’ll have the status and connections (and network) to expand your relationships, and win the key battles of mind, space and knowledge to have a competitive advantage for significant future projects.

It pays to volunteer. Get involved. Just remember the one important rule – you won’t succeed if you take these initiatives with the expectation of reward or personal gain. The results, like many of the best things in life, often arise indirectly as you build your reputation and trust, which translates in marketing terms to your personal brand.

Your comments and observations are welcome.  You can email buckshon@constructionmarketingideas.com.

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