Filed under: Globalization For Business, Multiculturalism, Software Localization, Translation Services, Web Localization, Women In Business
Last week, I had the pleasure of attending my first Womenâ€™s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) national conference in Orlando along with my colleague Lucia.Â While Iâ€™ve been glad to work for a certified woman-owned business since coming on board at ABLE late last year, I left the conference feeling even more exhilarated about having the opportunity to collaborate with such an impressive and diverse business community.Â Until you stand on the floor of the WBENC business fair and see the mix of products and services, ages, geographic origins, races and ethnicities on display by our fellow â€œWBEâ€™s,â€ it can be difficult to comprehend.
WBENC, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, was founded in Dallas in 1997 by a coalition of sponsoring corporations and womenâ€™s business leaders.Â Its goal is to serve as a respected certification body for woman-owned businesses throughout the United States, to offer resources to certified womenâ€™s business enterprises, and to provide a forum for mutually beneficial collaboration between these members and a large cross-section of corporations.Â ABLE has been WBENC-certified since 2006, and attended each annual conference since 2007.
I think Lucia and I were successful in achieving our primary goal for the week, which was to connect with our established clients in attendance, and to meet with other corporate sponsors and fellow WBEâ€™s that may have localization needs that ABLE can help them meet.Â Aside from that, we had the chance to hear from a wide range of speakers and attend a number of enriching activities and seminars.
Among the personal highlights for me were Mike Jonesâ€™ of Discover Leadershipâ€™s keynote speech, in which he implored those in attendance to be willing to accept risk in pursuit of opportunity; Nancy Creuziger of ManpowerGroupâ€™s emotional and highly personal reflections on the necessity of an organization like WBENC and the opportunities it has created for women in Americaâ€™s business environment; and having the chance to meet so many young women â€“ some of them just out of school â€“ with exciting, cutting edge WBENC-certified businesses of their own.
Since entering the localization industry in 2004, Iâ€™ve literally never encountered a colleague, contractor or competitor that didnâ€™t love and value the intrinsically diverse nature of our field.Â There are few other lines of business that so centrally derive their strength from being comprised of individuals young and old, from all countries and continents, and of all ethnicities, religions and creeds.Â In many ways, the WBENC organization embodies this same core value.Â That in our diversity there lies strength, and that all businesses â€“ small and large â€“ should embrace and benefit from it.
A few words of advice to the Small Business Owners attending the WBENC conference in Las Vegasâ€¦
I look at the calendar and all of a sudden I realize that in less than a month we will be getting ready to leave for the WBENC National Conference and Business Fair in Las Vegas.
For ABLE, this is a great event. We get to exhibit (this year in booth #116) and get to meet current clients, prospects and hopefully get new leads. This is the 5th year we have participated at the conference since we received our certification as a Woman Business Enterprise with WBENC (www.wbenc.org) in 2006.
I recall the first time we exhibited in 2006 in Los Angeles. Kaarina Kvaavik, CBO and one of the Owners of ABLE, and I, were like fish out of water. We didnâ€™t know anyone and we had no idea what to expect. All we knew was we had to be prepared to meet a lot of people. We had our brand new booth and we thought we would come home not only with a pocket full of leads and prospects, but with a couple of RFPs from multinational corporations.
Well, our bubble burst very quickly as soon as we got home and began to follow up with all the leads we had collected, the stack of business cards and a pile of collateral from the conference. But that was as far as it went. We quickly realized there is more to just going to the conference and networking with zillions of people and collecting business cards. Everybody does that!
As we reflected on what we did right and what needed improvement, we realized we had to change our approach on the whole preparation, networking and follow up. As rookies, we did what we thought was best, but we still had a lot to learn. So, we went back to the drawing board and realized that if we wanted new business, we had to do two very important things: have PATIENCE and make PERSONAL CONNECTIONS!
I read somewhere that business and trade, back in the pioneer days, was done around a campfire. Well, the concept is still valid today. Even though we have email, social media and smartphones, we still need to build personal relationships and be patient. When the opportunity arises, people will remember you and will ask you if you would be part of this opportunity.
Unfortunately, this takes time and patience, so here is my best advice to the new business owners going to this event. Take one step at the time and follow these simple steps:
- Make a list of the companies that you want to target (the list of exhibitors is available at www.wbenc.org). Start early, atleast a month prior to the conference – I start a lot earlier.
- If you are a first time participant, just ensure you meet the companies you have contacted first at the business fair, and, if you have time, meet with the ones you donâ€™t have on the list.
- Get the names of the supplier diversity managers, if you can, and send them a SHORT email asking if they will be at the conference and youâ€™ll be happy to meet with them. If they tell you to come by the booth, make sure you remind them when youâ€™re there that you sent them an email and were invited to the booth.
- Leave some short and to the point collateral with your business card. Sometimes information is written behind a business card. Donâ€™t rely just on that! Many times that information gets misplaced. Make detailed notes of your conversation; this will help you remember what you have talked about.
- Try to be original and make a good impression. The people at booths see hundreds of people during a conference, they wonâ€™t remember you unless you bring something special to the table and most importantly something they need. Make sure you know their business!
- Make sure you are registered with the company you visit. This is the first question they ask you. If you are not registered, they wonâ€™t even talk to you, so it would be a total waste of time.
- Be creative in your conversation. As I said before, they see many people and they all say the same things to them. Ask them specific questions as to what they are looking for and what the company goals are. Donâ€™t just talk! They wonâ€™t remember a word you said when the conference is over. Itâ€™s not possible for anyone to remember every single conversation, so notes are also very useful here.
- Go prepared. The first year I attended the conference, I had prepared a notebook with a list of companies I wanted to visit. I also wrote down the names of the people I had contacted by email and made sure that I met with them. If you can, try to meet them outside of the conference floor during the days surrounding the business fair. This seems to work and I am still doing this today. After 5 years, I have met several of these supplier diversity managers and procurement managers again each year and with some of them, I am on a hugging status! Not to mention that each year, we are not only seeking prospects, but we go and visit with clients and thank them for their business.
- Follow up. One of the biggest mistakes everybody makes as soon as they come back from a conference (I did the exact same thing) is to follow up with leads immediately upon return home. Big mistake, everybody does. These procurement managers and supplier diversity managers have to go back to their offices to catch up with their regular work and the tons of emails of people they have given their business cards to. They will not pay attention to your email, trust me. A bigger mistake, call them upon your return. This would only put you at the bottom of the list, or worst yet in the bin. I normally wait one week to 10 days before I follow up.
- When you do follow up, thank them for seeing you. Donâ€™t write sales pitches that will be ignored; they will appreciate more and remember you more if you thank them. Of course, if this turns up to be a hot lead, mention the conversation you had with them, but keep it brief. Let them come back to you with a response first and they will if they need your products and services.
- Last, but not least, NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK. You have no idea how important this is. After all, you are building a personal relationship and this is the foundation of it all.
I donâ€™t pretend to be an expert, but I have learned these steps making many mistakes along the way and understanding who we have to deal with. My boss always says, â€œPeople buy from people.â€ This will never change.
I hope this will help you have a productive and prosperous WBENC conference. See you in Las Vegas! Donâ€™t forget to come and visit ABLE Innovations at Booth #116.