Agents Decoded: How to pick a real estate conference
As you plan your schedule for 2023, consider attending a conference or two. Jay Thompson offers tips on what to look for and how to cut costs.
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The real estate industry loves a good conference, and why not? A well-organized event can change your business and life.
As we enter year three of Covid, in-person gatherings and events have ramped back up. When you're mapping out your schedule for 2023, here's some food for thought as you consider your conference options.
Why attend a real estate conference?
Over the years, I've attended dozens of real estate conferences and events. Without fail, I've learned something new or met someone who was helpful to me — or who I could help.
From small events with a couple dozen attendees to massive gatherings of thousands, a conference can be a great place to expand your knowledge, learn about new tools and ways of doing business, meet people, have fun, and take a little break from the daily grind.
Managing conference expenses
The downside of attending a conference is the time and expense. Time away from your business can be good, and it's fairly easy to manage with a little planning. The bigger issue is the cost: travel, lodging and admission can be pricey. Take advantage of reduced hotel rates many conferences offer, find a roommate or go to a conference you can drive to instead of jetting across the country. Don't forget to talk to your accountant, as many conference expenses can serve as a tax write-off.
You can also reduce expenses by getting involved in the conference — speaking, moderating a panel, or volunteering to help organize or run part of the event. Most conferences will provide free admission in exchange, and a few will even cover travel. Start by looking for the event's "call for speakers" announcements — you don't have to be an expert public speaker to apply.
Narrowing your options
With literally hundreds of events to choose from, deciding which to attend can be difficult. It's important to think about what you want to accomplish.
Want to learn about products and services? Attend an event with a trade show. The National Association of Realtors annual conference includes the mother of all trade shows, with hundreds of vendors who are all eager to chat about how they can help your business. Large franchise events as well as your state association conferences also typically include good trade shows.
Want to meet people and network? Focus on "brand agnostic" events. Yes, you can meet lots of folks and network at a brokerage or franchise event, but if you're doling out money, you might as well expand your networking opportunities by choosing an event with attendees from multiple franchises, and better yet, non-agent players in the real estate space. Inman's biannual Connect events are fantastic networking opportunities, as are large regional events like Triple Play.
Is learning your thing? Look at the lineup of speakers prior to registering. Large conferences typically offer multiple simultaneous sessions, so it's helpful to have a conference buddy. You can divide and conquer, attending different sessions and comparing notes. Conference buddies also make great roomies, splitting those lodging expenses in half.
Is there a city you've always wanted to visit? Find a conference in New York City, Washington, D.C., or Honolulu, and take a couple of extra days for sightseeing and a well-deserved break. Last month, I attended NAR's annual conference in Orlando. To be honest, I spent more time at Disney World and Universal Studios than I did attending the conference — nothing wrong with that!
Don't forget 'lobbycon'
Sometimes the best networking and learning experiences happen outside of conference sessions, in the hallways, the lobby bar, or over a cup of coffee, lunch, or dinner — even in a restroom.
You never know when you might meet someone influential. Years ago I was in the men's room at an event and in walked Pete Flint, the founder of a new real estate site called Trulia. I introduced myself, simply saying, "Trulia looks interesting, congrats on your success so far." We shook our freshly washed hands and chatted for a couple of minutes outside the bathroom. He blew my mind when he said he'd read my blog. We didn't become best buddies, but we have mutual respect and would certainly stop and catch up if we ran into each other again.
Look outside the real estate space
Finally, look outside the industry. I've gone to social media conferences, photography conferences and writing seminars, all of which made me be better at things that affect my business. There are tremendous learning experiences available outside your direct field. And yes, these expenses can also help reduce your tax bill.
Conferences and events provide learning, sharing and networking opportunities. They can help your business grow. Importantly, they can help you personally as well. Listen to what past attendees say, research the event and explore the possibilities.
Fair warning, "conferencing" can be addicting.
Jay Thompson is a former real estate agent, broker-owner and industry outreach director. He is currently an industry consultant and sits on several boards. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the author.