How to take advantage of your time at Business of Software 2009 – tips from @asmartbear (#bos2009)

This is a guest post by Jason Cohen, founder of Smart Bear Software
and blogger about startups, marketing, and geekery.
Jason gave a Pecha Kecha speach at BoS 2008 and has this advice for 2009 attendees.

So you’re going to Business of Software 2009! It’s going to be awesome.

There’s a 100% chance you’ll get your time and money’s worth from
the speakers alone, but that’s not the only benefit of the conference.
In fact, most of the folks I’ve talked to agree that getting to know
the other attendees is half the experience.

This conference is unlike any other, and you should take full advantage of it, especially if you’re working on a small business.

Here are some ways to get the most from your time:

  1. Practice your 30-second pitch (w/extension).
    This is an amazing chance to hone your pitch. Getting your entire
    business down to a 30-second sound-bite is a wonderful technique anyway
    — it forces you to clarify what’s truly important, what sets you
    apart, who your customers are, and exactly why they give you money.

    Start by honing it before the show. Airports and airplanes are good
    places to practice under your breath. Use a stopwatch — really force
    yourself into 30 seconds. Also develop a 60-second extension in case
    the listener wants more detail.

    Then pitch at the show, all day long. Watch people’s faces: What do
    they react to? When are they bored and look around? Where do they
    interrupt you for more questions? Use this to hone further.

    Remember that the point of a 30-second pitch is not to tell them everything about your business! It’s to get them to be interested enough to keep talking. That makes it easier to cut words.

    Not only will you walk away with a crisp pitch and a well-defined business concept, you’ll have the perfect marketing fodder for your home page and advertisements!

  2. Be direct and respectful.
    Everyone there will be smart, no-nonsense, small business folks. Many
    are founders, most are close enough. Sure there’ll be some shills from
    big soulless corporations, but not many. On the one hand this means acting
    like you’re the smartest, most experienced one at the table won’t get
    you anywhere. On the other hand it means you can jump directly into
    deep conversations about business operations, philosophy, customers,
    growth, hiring, raising money, selling the company, or whatever else is
    on your mind. You’re in extraordinary company, so take advantage!

  3. Reveal your fears and commiserate.
    Because we all share your pain, being direct and genuine means you can
    “talk shop” about anything — even normally taboo subjects like
    charging more, firing customers, or being completely sick and tired of
    your business.

    You can talk to people about stuff you can’t even talk to your
    employees about (e.g. “Hey everyone, I’m totally burned out. Just
    wanted you to know I hate coming to work. Cheers.”). So open up.
    Sometimes a 5-minute hallway therapy session can give you real
    perspective, even if it’s just knowing that everyone else goes through
    this too.

  4. Promote yourself. Don’t be afraid
    to pitch your business or yourself. This is a business conference with
    business people. Of course you don’t want to be an asshole either, so
    here’s a tip: ask the other person about their business first. Then
    follow up with more questions — dig, figure out what’s interesting
    about them. Then you can pitch without looking like that’s
    why you struck up the conversation. Additional benefit: You can tune
    the pitch to that person!

  5. Don’t stop at business cards.
    Everyone gets a pocketful of business cards. They’re stuck in a drawer,
    never to be seen again, unless they get tossed immediately. Instead,
    every night go through your cards and connect on LinkedIn (or anywhere
    else). Put a personal message in there so the other person remembers
    who you are. (Remember they met 20 new people today too.) To remember
    who they were, jot down notes on their card while you’re talking to them in the first place.

  6. Have a goal. Like a trade show, it
    helps to define a result you want by the time you head home. Depending
    on the stage and nature of your business, a goal could be:

    • Pitch your idea 30 times and see what people say.
    • Get 5 really good critiques of your idea.
    • Get 10 new people to trial your software.
    • Get 20 warm leads for your consulting services.
    • Determine the 5 “keywords” that everyone is talking about.
    • Demo your product to 5 people (after hours).
    • Find a co-founder.
    • Find a whiz at [technology].
  7. Take notes. This might sound
    obvious, but I took copious notes from BoS 2008 and I refer to them all
    the time. Sure they eventually put the videos up on the Internet — and
    thanks for that! — but you still don’t want to scan around 90-minute
    talks when you could look at your own notes.

  8. Move your seat. Never sit in the
    same place in the auditorium. That way you can meet at least two new
    people (to your left and right) between every talk, which means dozens
    of new chances to meet a friend or make a pitch.

Oh yeah, and have fun too.

What are your tips? Leave a comment and join the conversation!

Enjoyed this post? Follow Jason on Twitter (he’s @asmartbear)