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Attending small-business conferences is one of the best ways for small business owners to network, build connections and partnerships, and generate leads for their companies. Covid-19’s cancellations only reinforced the point. Virtual meetings don’t provide the same value.

This article explains what you need to know to find the most valuable events for you and reveals some of the best small-business conferences in 2023.

Small business conferences: The basics

Small business conferences and trade shows vary widely. The thing that they share in common is that they make it possible for small-business owners to gather so they can grow their companies. At a typical conference, you can expect to:

  • View presentations from industry leaders
  • Take part in workshops and seminars
  • Spend time networking with other professionals.

Networking is a big part of most conferences. Attend as many social events as possible, even if you’re not an extrovert. Lunches, dinners, and parties are perfect environments for making new friends, learning from other business owners and professionals, building brand awareness, finding new vendors, and chatting with people in a comfortable setting.

Which small-business conference should you attend?

Finding the correct forum for you and your business can feel overwhelming. An excellent way to develop your shortlist is by talking to other small-business owners in your industry. Check online ratings and reviews to find out what attendees of previous events thought about their experience.

Stick with industry-focused or topic-specific events. They provide more value than general conferences. For instance, if your business is in tech, find out which conferences cater to your technology area. If you’re a brand new startup, find conferences that draw in venture capitalists and angel investors who fund businesses in your industry.

Be aware: You may need to spend money to travel to the right conference for you, but it should be worth your while. Plus, you can write off most of the expenses on your taxes. Check with your tax expert to ensure you don’t make any mistakes that could get you in trouble.

Top small business conferences for 2023

Here are my five top picks for small business conferences already scheduled for 2023. Don’t limit your consideration to these. There could be small, more limited industry events that could benefit your business. I selected these because they are high-quality, well-executed trade shows that are known to provide value to attendees.

Small Business Expo

The Small Business Expo isn’t a single event. It’s a series of national small business conferences at convention centers and other venues across the United States throughout 2023. Some of the cities and dates currently scheduled include:

  • Orlando, February 28, 2023
  • Washington, D.C., March 15, 2023
  • Philadelphia, March 29, 2023
  • Boston, April 13, 202Chicago, April 26, 2023
  • New York City, June 23, 2023
  • San Francisco, August 18, 2023
  • Los Angeles, September 6, 2023

This is only a partial list, and dates are constantly added, including cities like Atlanta, so it’s essential to keep monitoring the Small Business Expo website.

The Small Business Expo is one of the most widely attended conferences for small-business owners anywhere. It attracts entrepreneurs, seasoned professionals, and presenters from many different industries. The good news for small business owners is that attending the Small Business Expo in person or online is free.

If you’re new to small business conferences, The Small Business Expo can provide a great first experience.

WBENC (Women’s Business Enterprise National Council) Conference

WBENC takes place from March 20 to 23 in Nashville, Tennessee. It’s the conference’s 26th year.

The WBENC Expo is a large-scale networking and information-gathering event featuring booths, interactive exhibitor demonstrations and activities, women-owned business demos, one-on-one meeting opportunities, and more. WBENC is the largest organization in the United States that certifies women-owned businesses and supports women business owners. If yours is a woman-owned business, this conference could provide a great networking opportunity.

During the Open Expo, you’ll have the opportunity to network and mingle with exhibitors organized by industry type. You can seek new contacts, solutions, and prospective clients and customers.

The event may be a little pricy for some small business owners, but most find it worthwhile. In many cases, the cost can be written off on your federal taxes. The early-bird pricing for a complete event pass is $849.00 if purchased before February 23, 2023. After that, the cost goes up to $949.00 for online registration and $1,049 for onsite registration. The full event pass provides access to general sessions, meals, and receptions on all conference days.

If the entire conference is too big a commitment for you, you can get a day pass for $499.00 with early bird pricing, $549.00 if you purchase online after February 23, 2023, or $559.00 if you register at the event. The day pass provides single-day access to the conference.

INBOUND

The INBOUND small business conference takes place from September 5 to 8, 2023, in Boston, Massachusetts. There is also an online opportunity from September 7 to 9.

This conference, run by HubSpot, has been exclusively virtual. However, last year it became a hybrid experience, which proved to be very successful. This year you can join in person for three days of speakers and networking in Boston or for two days online from wherever you are. INBOUND provides information about marketing, business management, entrepreneurship, and customer satisfaction. Past speakers have included Oprah Winfrey and HubSpot co-founder Dharmesh Shah.

INBOUND offers many pricing tiers, so most business owners should be able to find a way to attend all or part of the conference. General admission, in-person pricing starts at $695 and includes access to all streaming and in-person events and sessions, along with concierge support for booking a hotel room.

A VIP tier costs $1,699.00 and comes with all benefits of general admission, plus access to an exclusive welcome party, complimentary lunch, matchmaking events, reserved seating, advanced registration, VIP lounge access, and early access to hotel registration.

Startups and newer business owners can take advantage of a starter pass that provides free access to all live-streamed content. For $99.00, you can get access to a broader range of content online, including webinars, along with other benefits for an entire year.

LeadsCon

LeadsCon is scheduled for March 13 to 15 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

If your top priority is to generate and convert more leads, this could be the ideal small business event for you. Executive-level speakers have been sharing strategies and insights on nurturing and converting more quality leads at this event since 2007.

Company owners across all business segments can benefit from attending LeadsCon, including mortgage and lending, insurance, fintech, education, auto, home services, and healthcare. More than 25 different verticals are represented.

General admission for LeadCon is $949.00. It provides access to keynotes, networking events, general sessions, exhibitions, and post-show content. General admission for groups of three or more is $799.00, with a $150.00 discount on each ticket. The price falls to $749.00 for groups of eight or more. If you know other business owners interested in generating more and better leads, it could make sense to attend together to save money.

BrandWeek

The BrandWeek symposium is scheduled from September 11 to 14, although the dates are tentative and could change. Pricing for the event is also currently unavailable.

Sponsorship is provided by the well-known marketing and advertising publication Adweek. This conference covers how to market your brand better. It explores themes like content creation, cyber security, creative talent procurement, and virtual reality. It’s an excellent event for networking and building business relationships with top brands, influencers, and business leaders. Attendees can purchase a three-day in-person pass or a virtual one for this conference.

Additional networking ideas

If you don’t have the time and money needed to attend a conference, there are other ways to expand your network. Here are some of the top ones:

Stay active online

Every online interaction, whether on Facebook, Linkedin, or other social media platform, is an opportunity to expand your network. Plus, posting, commenting, liking, and sharing content online isn’t expensive and takes relatively little time. It can be an excellent way for entrepreneurs and other business owners to grow their brands and expand their reach. Plus, social media doesn’t have borders, so you can network with people anywhere.

Join local organizations

One of the best ways to get yourself — and your company — out there is to get active with your community. Consider joining a local club, becoming a member of the chamber of commerce, getting involved in a charity, or joining a group related to your specific field. This is also a great way to discover local opportunities to showcase your business.

Provide excellent customer service

Strive for excellence when it comes to customer service. Be professional, kind, and accommodating. Going above and beyond will get people talking about your business, bringing in new clients and customers, and new opportunities to build your network.

Conferences and networking: The bottom line

Whether you own your own business or work for one, attending business conferences can be a great way to grow. Small-business conferences provide attendees with opportunities to learn new skills, gain fresh viewpoints, get tips from industry experts, and, most importantly — a chance to connect with other professionals and small business owners.

What’s important is to promise yourself: I am attending at least one small business development event in 2023.

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