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How can small business owners benefit from attending SXSW?

March 25, 2014

Guest blogger Helene Kwong highlights the benefits of small business owners attending the annual South by Southwest festival.

SXSW is a must-attend for technology entrepreneurs, but all are welcome. Guest blogger Helene Kwong shares tips on how small businesses can benefit from attending SXSW.

This year was my first time attending South by Southwest, the annual music, film and interactive festival held in Austin, Texas. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, considering I had changed businesses in the past year. Can small business owners benefit from SXSW? I already felt overwhelmed.

A week after returning home from the Interactive festivities, I better understand all the ways small business owners and other entrepreneurs can benefit from attending SXSW.

Here are a few of my tips for getting the most out of the event:

1. Become comfortable with social media (especially Twitter).

You’ll need social media skills to break the ice with fellow attendees and scope out pop-up events around Austin. I have always had an affinity for Twitter as an important conference tool. Check out the conference hashtag and comment on other tweets about SXSW. Share tweets announcing you’re having a pop-up or meet up event in order to connect with other attendees. If you have physical products to show off from your business, bring those along to demo them to other attendees at your meet up. I wish I had enough time beforehand to prepare some gourmet marshmallows or Snickerdoodles to hand out at the convention center from my Ms. Kwong’s Baked Goods collection. Though I wasn’t prepared with treats this year, I’ll definitely remember them for next year.

2. Share insight from the conference on social media.

Along with the previous tip, you can also utilize the conference hashtag to tweet insights from each session you attend. This is another way to break the ice and have others notice you and your business. When tweeting insights, it’s best to tweet from your business account in order to expose your brand more to the Twitterstream and associate it with the SXSW hashtag.

3. Build your ‘tentative’ schedule of events you’ll attend before arriving.

I say ‘tentative’ because, as I found out, there’s no use trying to stick to a rigid schedule at the conference. There are SO many sessions, events, lounges and activities going on that you cannot possibly attend every single one. Get rid of your FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) before you even arrive in Austin. Go with the flow when things don’t seem to work out with your schedule. I ended up attending only about 10% of the sessions I had ambitiously put on my calendar. However, I made many more meaningful connections and memories by straying from my schedule.

4. Bring power strips or external chargers to the conference.

Coming prepared with this items made for an easy way to network. I made new connections by letting other attendees use my Limefuel external charger and I certainly will bring a power strip to next year’s SXSW to amplify my helpfulness and networking power.

5. Visit the Trade Show floor.

Staying up-to-date on what’s happening on the trade show floor allows you to scoop out potential competitors and discover new widgets. I wandered around the Trade Show floor a couple times and discovered some pretty neat technology (and super friendly people!). There were a few businesses I was interested in that may be good partners for future promotions or events. I definitely wouldn’t have found these connections if I had avoided the trade show. Small businesses can benefit from attending trade shows.

6. Don’t forget your business cards.

This seems like a super simple piece of advice, but I have come across some people who end up running out of their business cards because they did not prepare well. You want for people to be able to follow up with you after the conference and you want to be able to follow up with them as well. At any chance encounter where you’ve hit things off with a new connection, remember to ask them for their card so you can keep them updated on your business.

I hope these tips will help future small business owners feel at ease about their investment in a SXSW badge. SXSW isn’t only for tech start-ups, entrepreneurs and small business owners are welcome, too. There are many tracks to follow, so I am certain that others can find a little bit of something to learn while there.

Helene Kwong is a serial entrepreneur residing in Denver, Colorado. She tweets a lot, bakes a lot, and enjoys consulting others with their lives and careers. Learn more about Helene at http://www.helenekwong.com.