photodune-8522811-speaker-at-business-conference-and-presentation-m-300x200It’s not quite Hamlet but, if you pardon the paraphrasing, to business conference or not to business conference is no easy dilemma for small companies.

A few years ago a friend in the IT industry sent me an article in HR Pulse about the value of attending business conferences. The author Lia Marcus made a persuasive case to engage those business owners and executives who take a skeptical view about the importance of attending conferences for their employees. Many times they can’t get past the potential of no return on investment. Marcus said the value can be hidden unless you know how to maximize it.

She didn’t need to convince me. Of course, as a small company we have to watch our expenses carefully but among many important lessons I have learned in my career, this stands out – you can’t grow and certainly can’t innovate if you do the same thing day after day. If your expertise becomes routine you are in danger of becoming a one-trick pony expert and likely an obsolete one at that.

A good, well-chosen conference can break the routine. At some conferences we go as a vendor but others we go to learn. I will never turn down a chance to learn from the best in our industry and attending the two to three conferences we do annually has done exactly that. These journeys from the routine have proven beneficial for two main reasons.

First: These conferences with our industry peers and thought leaders allow us to take a deep breath and a huge step away from routine. As one might do looking down at the landscape during an airplane flight, taking in the view from 50,000 feet and getting a new perspective on your business is something hard to do when you are in the midst of day-to-day work. If you honestly analyze and look at your business as an outsider might see it, it can be of immense help to positioning your company for renewal and sustained growth.

Second: We make it a goal to enjoy ourselves and bring back actionable ideas we can apply. Obviously, you can’t remake your company on a whim so balancing ideas and actions and prioritizing them must be in play. We have been fortunate. Last October we returned from a conference energized from the many good breakout sessions we attended.

One of those sessions led to an important addition to our company. Inspired by the experience of one conference presenter, we created a detailed service handbook or Service Run Book. It put down policies and procedures in place that frankly had been part of our institutional memory and passed from employee to employee. We had never taken the time to do the right thing in this instance. We now have a living, breathing document that is updated and used on a regular basis.

And what has happened? We were surprised how this seemingly small and obvious step to literally get us on the same page made a difference. It paid dividends with huge gains in operational efficiencies, productivity, client satisfaction and employee morale. These are all positive check offs on what it takes to keep a business thriving and successful.

Earlier this year we attended Autotask in Miami, Florida. It’s one of our top IT industry conferences. As usual, we had fun – we somehow managed to take top prize at the conference golf tournament – and came back full of ideas. One stood out to me: the growing concept of “Coopetition” which is basically cooperative competition. It’s something talked about a lot at the conferences but rarely practiced on a local level.

But hopefully that is changing. For instance, we have partnered with three local IT companies that do exactly what we do to help each other expand services and, more importantly, deliver better results to our clients.

In short, a good conference is like an investment. If you go and don’t take action on all of the important concepts you learn, there’s no return on investment. However, if you come back and implement even one thing that can have a lasting impact of your organization, you have paid for the conference ten-fold with an impressive ROI.

Tim Martin is the founder and CEO of Portsmouth-based Neoscope Technology Solutions.
He can be reached at