5 Ways Attending Conferences That Aren’t About Writing Will Help You Make Money

By Debbie Swanson May 27th, 2015

When freelancers think of conferences, they typically jump right to events just for writers. And there’s nothing wrong with that—writers conferences are useful for sharpening skills, mingling with like-minded professionals, and trying to glean helpful productivity tips.

But there’s another way to benefit from the conference scene: going to events that have nothing to do with writing. Financial writers go to finance conferences. Tech writers go to tech conferences. Science writers go to… you get the idea. While everyone zags their way to big writing events, you zig. That’s how you wind up getting work from unexpected sources.

If you have a specialty—or you’re hoping to find out—taking part in an industry-focused conference is a really smart thing to do. Just about every industry hosts conferences, and here are five ways you can use the opportunities they provide to earn some serious cash.

1. You’ll connect with more people who need writers

At writer’s conferences, everyone wants work. A few may be lucky enough to get it, but the focus tends to be more on how to find jobs than actually finding them. At a conference that’s not about writing, that focus is markedly different.

Freelance travel and sustainability writer Annika Hipple has landed numerous gigs as a result of making—and nurturing—industry connections at conferences. “The first year I attended, I was on a … multiday excursion before the event with the VP of a tour operator. We bonded on that trip, and couple of months later, she asked me to write for them,” Hipple said. A steady flow of copywriting assignments followed for the next three and a half years.

And Hipple’s approach of keeping in contact with connections via social media has netted her a paycheck more than once. She was hired to write website copy for another tour company after running into the CEO at the same conference year after year.

By attending the same conferences annually, particularly in smaller industries, the faces you see may start to become familiar. If you stay in contact with your connections during the rest of the year, it’ll help bring your face to mind when a company needs a writer.

2. You’ll be better at talking the talk

Whether you’re a seasoned pro or tentative newcomer, attending a conference is a great way to immerse yourself in an industry. When Maui-based writer Ilima Loomis was transitioning from staff journalist to freelancer, she set her sights on science writing but wanted more expertise. So she attended a local conference on Space Situational Awareness, which are military telescopes that keep track of satellites and space junk.

Loomis admitted she initially felt a bit out of her element at the conference: “The subject matter was highly technical—think lots of acronyms and jargon.” But she trusted her training as a journalist. “I just tried to read the room and be low-key, respectful, and persistent. After a couple of days, a few [ideas] started to emerge,” she said.

After one topic struck her interest, she talked with experts to get a better understanding of the nuances of the idea, which wound up becoming a story for Science.

3. You can make money just from attending

Your trip itself may be of interest to people, particularly those unable to attend themselves. By letting your contacts know which conferences you’re going to attend, but you may be able to get paid to write about your experiences.

Before attending a recent conference about nursing and research, nurse-turned-freelancer Marijke Vroomen Durning went through her list of connections and contacted anyone she thought could benefit from the event. That simple step led to two blog posts, which covered Durning’s attendance fees.

And even though some clients didn’t take Durning up on the offer, she believes reaching out to her colleagues about conference plans is an easy way to stay on their radar.

4. You’ll walk away with specific pitches

Since writer’s conferences typically have to cater to attendees from broad backgrounds, panels will emphasize best practices for finding ideas. But at an industry conference, everything can turn into a potential topic: the sessions, the chatter, the speakers, the displays, and so on can all blossom into a future article.

And as anyone who has been to conference knows, speakers love to discuss the future of a company, a product, an industry at large, so you’ll be in prime position to identify upcoming trends that could become major stories.

5. You’ll meet plenty of potential sources

At a venue packed with industry insiders, you’re in the perfect place to build up your source pool. For Loomis’s aforementioned venture into science, this was especially helpful. “The military and NASA can be hard to penetrate, so those personal connections turned out to be really valuable.”

Do your best to interact with others. If a speaker is particularly engaging, let her know. At a dinner event, introduce yourself as a writer in the industry. Everyone in attendance will have some connection to the industry, and odds are, those connections will be different. Meeting executives, salespeople, researchers, data scientists, etc. will give you more than enough perspective when you’re thinking about who to interview for your future stories.

Talking shop with other freelancers has its place, but making time to go to conferences that have nothing to do with writing is very important. After all, that’s where the real money is.

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