8 Ways to Attend a Business Conference for Free

The majority of business conference attendees are there for business contacts, networking and other job related duties. It’s part of their job description, and their company pays (or reimburses) them for their time.

But when you’re starting your own small business or freelance company, you have to front those costs yourself. And it doesn’t come cheap. The first real business conference I went to, was the 2011 Financial Blogger Conference in Chicago.

In my opinion the cost for the plane ticket, hotel and other expenses was totally worth it. Plus I got a tax write-off when filing my taxes, so it all works out, right?

Well, sometimes you just don’t have the cash to invest in a business conference. So here’s 8 ways you can go to a business conference for free (or almost free).

Find a sponsor (or two)

Every industry has a specific niche of companies/products and you are your best asset! So sell yourself, to whomever will listen. Offer to wear their company shirts the entire time your there (and even on the plane ride).

Tell them you will advertise their products on social media or write up a review to promote the company. Whatever skills you possess, start putting them to work.

Become a volunteer

Seek out the director of the conference and offer to volunteer your time/skills in exchange for a ticket. Lots of conferences need media coverage from photographers, camera crews and social media promoters.

They need lots of hands to handle giveaways, swag bags, print campaigns and all the speaking schedules. There is no shortage of help needed.

Once again, use what you have at your disposal and volunteer your services. If you’re good at organizing events, offer to head up all the volunteers and maybe you can even negotiate a free stay at the hotel too.

Save money where you can

It’s always a good idea to reserve your flight and hotel early. Do a little pre-networking before the actual conference and you might find a few people to room with too.

Finding a roommate is a great way to make good business contacts while saving some money. Other ways to cut expenses:

  • Shop around for the cheapest flight/transportation
  • Negotiate a better rate with the hotel
  • Always split cab rides and meals when going out
  • Stay at a cheaper neighboring hotel
  • Plan ahead so there’s no last minute costs

Save money when attending a conference

Find a side job or work part-time

How badly do you want to go to the conference? Are you willing to work and do what it takes to get your business out there?

If you really want to make it happen, you might have to sacrifice a little now to reap the benefits later. Find a side job, pick up some extra overtime at work, or deliver pizzas during the evenings.

Sell some unwanted stuff or pick up an extra freelance job or two. Determine how much money you need for the trip, then create a timeline of how many hours/days you need to work to complete your goal.

Become a conference affiliate

After you register for the conference, ask the sponsors or event coordinators if they have an affiliate program. If so, request to become an affiliate and you might be able to recoup some of your out of pocket costs.

See if the company will promote a giveaway, or you could host a raffle or even ask for donations. Promote any products they’re selling and get the word out about the conference. It might even get you in for free!

Combine the trip with a family vacation

If you have some extra days saved up at work, take those paid vacation days and kill two birds with one stone. Go a few days early before the conference, or stay a few days later and enjoy a vacation with your family.

If you take a trip every year anyway, now is a great time to combine it with a few days of “work” at the business conference. Your family won’t mind if you spend some time away – I’m sure they can entertain themselves.

Negotiate with your boss

If the conference is relatively in the same career field, consider asking your boss to cover some of the expenses. I work as an accountant for a small business, so by going to a financial conference I can learn a lot of small business and entrepreneurial ideas.

Then, I can bring back these tips to my daily job and help increase the company’s profit. If nothing else, you might be able to win your boss over, by grabbing a stack of business cards and promising to network like crazy.

Or D – All of the above

Of course the best way to ensure your expenses are free, is to apply all (or most) of these ideas. It makes me sad when people want to go to a conference but don’t have the resources or capital built up yet.

All you gotta do is get creative and make it happen with any of these tips. I hope to see you at the next conference!

How do you save money when going on a business trip?

Photo Credit: Tag

About the author: Carrie Smith is the financial artist and editor behind Careful Cents. She helps creative entrepreneurs make a living with their creations, and reach financial freedom through systems and financial organization. She’s been featured in The Huffington Post, Glamour Magazine, Kiplinger Finance and several other business websites. In May 2013 she quit her full-time accounting job to pursue entrepreneurship and blogging. You can find her on Twitter or Instagram @carefulcents.

13 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own

  • Hunter February 23, 2012, 8:30 am

    Great ideas Carrie. There were some opportunities to employ some of these strategies at FINCON last year. I like the vacation combo the best.

    • Carrie Smith February 23, 2012, 12:48 pm

      Yeah definitely! There’s always a way to maximize time and get two things done at once. I love it. :)

  • Modest Money February 23, 2012, 11:08 am

    Yes these are all very good ideas.  When offering to promote a company in exchange for sponsorship, what’s a fair rate?  Obviously selling in-person promotion is a much different offer than selling blog advertising.  Would you still promote them if they try to lowball you?

    • Carrie Smith February 23, 2012, 12:50 pm

      For me personally, I would be straight up honest with a company and tell them I needed certain costs covered completely. Or get one company to pay for the flight expense and another for the hotel.

      I probably would NOT entertain lowball offers. I’m serious in my business ventures, and hope they answer my proposal seriously as well. Great question!

      • Modest Money February 23, 2012, 5:03 pm

        I guess this is where it helps a lot to be able to put your foot down.  I’d probably be more likely to undersell myself and ask for too low a price.

        • Carrie Smith February 23, 2012, 6:52 pm

          I’ve always been pretty confident in my skills and I research/study a subject till I’m comfortable “selling myself”. I mean obviously I would negotiate and if I wasn’t getting a good response I’d lower my offer. But it’s still important to feel your worth the amount you’re asking. They can smell fear! Lol

  • Kevin Yu February 23, 2012, 10:48 pm

    Great idea, my favorite is the first one.  Companies are always looking for reps to stand by their booth and mingle with people. PF bloggers could potentially be ideal candidates for this..

    • Carrie Smith February 24, 2012, 8:51 pm

      I agree! Shannyn from FrugalBeautiful.com wrote a post recently about how bloggers are becoming one of the best advertising platforms. They are relate-able and the readers really trust them.

  • Rick @ Invest In 2012 February 25, 2012, 2:15 pm

    Hey, I didn’t see you at FinCon last year. How come?

    • Carrie Smith February 25, 2012, 2:27 pm

      Hey! I was there :)

  • Gabe Mac March 12, 2012, 10:53 am

    I always just try to become a speaker myself at the conference. When that works out, [more often than you may think] not only is the whole trip paid for, but I get my message across on stage generating more leads. Best of both worlds. Have a line of people giving you their biz card rather than running up and trying to give yours away.

    • Carrie Smith March 13, 2012, 9:12 pm

      That’s a great suggestion Gabe! I would be way too freaked out to become a speaker (at least right now). But maybe in the future I can offer to speak and get my trip for free! I love the business card trade-off too.

  • Thefinancialite April 12, 2012, 7:37 pm

    I love this post!  Any other conferences that you have been interested in going to?  I’m still on the fence about FinCon12 because its a lot of money to put out there, but I enjoyed the people interaction the most!

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