Deciding whether or not to go to a professional conference can feel like a terrible Catch-22.
On the one hand, the connections and skills you gain through conferences can give you a big leg up on your career.
On the other hand, the price tag for the conference, travel, lodging, food, and other associated costs may be prohibitive, especially for freelancers and other independents who can't ask the boss to foot the bill.
Luckily, it is possible to cut down the costs of attending a conference.
Whether your company has cut the conference budget or you are just starting an independent career, here are some ways to keep conference costs low while still taking advantage of the opportunity to network:
1. Be an early bird.
Many conferences offer discounted prices for those who purchase their tickets within the first few weeks that they are on sale. Just stay on top of your industry news, so you know what conferences are scheduled and when.
Even if you miss the cutoff date for the early bird pricing, you may still be able to get a discount. Many conference organizers will offer discount codes on sites like Mashable and Meetup to help keep the event affordable for “smaller fry” attendees.
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2. Speak at the conference.
Conferences are always in need of speakers and panelists to offer insight and expertise to the attendees, and so speakers not only receive complimentary attendance, in a few cases they will also get paid. If your goal is to increase your visibility in your field, you can't ask for a better opportunity than to speak to your peers.
Editor's note: I can vouch for this! I’m speaking at FINCON and at the Financial Planning Association national conference this year and doing so had landed me a free conference ticket. I was even able to get my airfare and hotel paid for on the latter one. How? I asked. 🙂
3. Take advantage of group rates.
If you need to stay at the conference's hotel, make sure you ask about group or discount rates for conference attendees. These events are generally held at fairly large and expensive hotels, so discount rates can save you a bundle. In addition, rooming with other attendees is a good way to lower your lodging costs and possibly make new friends and connections in your field.
4. Don't stay at the hotel.
If staying at the hotel on a discounted rate and with a roommate will still strain your budget, remember that you do not have to lodge there just because it's where the conference is. While staying elsewhere might curtail some of your time to network (or party), it can also save you enough money to make it possible to attend.
Search for local hotels with cheaper rates, or stay with a friend or family member who lives in the area. You could also find a local resident who is willing to let you stay on their couch or in their guest room through such websites as airbnb.com and couchsurfing.com.
Another possibility on hotel savings is to only attend local conferences that you can reach from home. This will not only save you money on lodging, but also on travel and food costs.
5. Take advantage of the meals.
Most conferences will offer lunch, and many will offer breakfast as well. Add in the provided snacks and the free food handed out by exhibitors, and you should be able to eat pretty well while you're there, and even throw a couple of pre-packaged snacks in your briefcase for later in the day. Those will be helpful when hunger hits after hours and you're tempted to order a pizza to your hotel room.
The Bottom Line
Don't lose out on opportunities to grow your career because of the cost of professional conferences. By using savvy money strategies, almost anyone can afford to attend.
This guest post comes from Jason Topp of One Money Design.