Conference Tips: Afford the VIP Room on an Average Income

By Chelsea Baldwin, Contributor, on January 24, 2018

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I was buying VIP tickets to conferences long before I was even meeting the country’s median income. I wasn’t rich, and I lived every single month on a budget, but — surprisingly — I could still afford it. Getting help from a VIP I’d admired for ages made me realize just how much of a game-changer getting into the VIP room at conferences can be, which makes conference tips so important.

Being considered a freelance VIP feels like a long-shot. Most of the time, it can seem like you’re practically begging clients to hire you, let alone like you deserve a spot in the VIP room beside them. But I figured out how to put myself next to these big-shots — whether it’s with a VIP pass or by simply attending big, expensive conferences — and it’s been one of the best things I’ve done to grow my business.

Being in the VIP room has helped me land high-quality referral partnerships and five figures’ worth of income each year, while giving me the opportunity to make solid connections with influencers I never would’ve reached via email. With these influencers, I’ve gotten referrals as well as the occasional project here and there, and I’ve even created content-based partnerships that have really helped me grow my readership.

I won’t give you some “foot in the door” strategy on how to play the networking game to get in via non-conventional means. Instead, here’s how you find yourself having a beer at the same bar as a VIP in your niche: Pay for it.

Yes, I really just said that. Pay your hard-earned cash for it. But before you crucify me, let me explain. If wads of cash to blow on conferences all year long isn’t something you’ve got sitting around in your bank account, I’m going to tell you some of my best strategies to get affordable VIP access, and how to make sure you get the most out of the money you do spend.

1. Plan Early, Buy Early

Two years ago, I bought the cheapest ticket option available for an internet marketing conference, but because I got it early, it included VIP lounge access at no extra cost. Beyond free drinks, I was also sipping those free drinks in the same lounge as the conference speakers. Plus, it was a huge confidence boost to walk around with “VIP” on my name tag.

This is the best strategy for getting VIP tickets at an affordable price. Conference organizers always need cash up-front to go ahead and book their venues, pay their staff, make deposits and purchase materials needed in advance. While some of that cash can come from sponsorships, a good amount of it comes from ticket sales. If you’re willing to give them money in advance to secure your place at their conference, they’ll love you for it. And most of the time, that “love” manifests itself in either deeply discounted ticket prices, or add-on bonuses that provide a ton of value.

2. Spread Out Payment of Associated Fees

One of the coolest feelings in the world is to go to a conference with everything 90 percent paid for, because your financial strain minimizes hugely when your only expense left is food. Paying for my ticket, flight (which I buy via travel hacking) and accommodation in the months leading up to the conference is another way I’m able to budget things out to help afford a VIP ticket option.

After I buy the conference ticket months in advance, I wait a month or two, depending on my timeline, and book accommodation. I look for budget options within reasonable distances of the conference venue. Airbnb has been my best friend, but another option, like splitting a hotel room with another conference guest, is also a good idea. Later, I buy the plane ticket. And then I leave the food costs for the week of the conference itself.

3. Choose Self-Selecting Conferences

The goal of going to conferences, after all, is to network — which means having conversations. But unless you’re rude, you’re not going to have a conversation while someone’s on stage going through a PowerPoint presentation. I’ll also admit that a VIP lounge ticket does not guarantee a nice 20-minute chat with a VIP that lands you a business deal.

Opt to go to self-selecting conferences, the kind people pay for on their own, rather than just attending on the company dime so they can have an excuse to drink beer during the day and not work. If you can’t find anything like this, try to pick a conference that offers plenty of small-group discussions, rather than a conference that has only one main stage and a procession of speakers. You’ll have more conversations with more people, and walk away with more beneficial connections to help you grow your business.

Other strategies, like monthly contributions to a savings account set aside for conference fees, are out there, but the above conference tips have helped me connect with VIPs regularly. They’ve become clients, partners, advisers and business friends I keep up with on a regular basis. No matter your level, you can absolutely find yourself in the VIP room too — sooner than you think.

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