I’ve attended several pet industry conferences, and I must encourage you to hit the road and go! They’re filled with education, great vendors, and lovely pet sitters (and trainers, and groomers, and day care owners, and… ). Have you ever wondered if attending an industry conference is a good move? Like, if it’s worth your time and, more importantly, your money? Let me tell you about my experiences and you can decide.
I’ll preface this by saying I’ve attended four conferences, two as a host (PetSittingOlogy), and two as a vendor (NAPPS and the Texas Pet Sitters Conference). I will also be updating this after I attend the NAPPS Forum in April 2018, at which I will be a vendor and a speaker (yes!!). My experiences therefore are shaped by my background activities as well as chatting with attendees.
What are conferences like?
They’re exactly what you’d expect: educational sessions at which you learn more about your business. If they have the right mix, you’ll learn more about caring for pets, and caring for your business, and caring for yourself. I prefer a mix of all three, although the first two are obviously the ones most folks concentrate on.
The conferences I’ve attended have taken place in one or two large meeting rooms, with the seating arranged around neat tables. Each attendee chooses a table and grabs a seat. Most of the time you keep that seat for the day but possibly for the length of the conference. Most seats are comfortable, but you are free to walk around as needed.
There is usually a screen at the front for presentations to appear, and microphones, and there’s sometimes an elevated speaking platform so the speaker may be seen more clearly.
Some conferences or hotels give each attendee a notepad and a pen, and hosts often distribute “swag” bags. These are filled with samples or promotional items from vendors and sponsors, and they’re often quite nice. Some of the items I’ve seen include pens, flyers with discounts, books, phone chargers (thank you, NAPPS!), luggage tags, small office supply kits, post-its, leashes, pet food samples, and t-shirts. At the recent Texas gathering, someone even gave out soaps with their contact info in the packet (and a discount code)!
What about the schedule?
Most conferences offer full days of educational activities. For example, days may start with a casual breakfast, then sessions from 9 – 10:20 and 10:30 – 11:50. Then there’s a lunch break (often provided, sometimes not), then sessions from 1:00 – 2:20, 2:30 – 3:50, then a 4-5 quick session. There are occasionally evening sessions, including those for specialty groups or vendor gatherings.
My favorite times, though, are the informal gatherings that usually happen in the evenings. Sometimes these are organized by a host, but sometimes they’re just a bunch of new or old friends saying “let’s go out!” If you’re lucky, the conference venue is near restaurants, or a local pet sitter can help you get to great spots. The Texas Pet Sitters Conference was a happy marriage of the two: each of the three organizers escorted groups to different venues on Saturday night. I was amazed at the town and restaurant where I ended up: the town of New Braunfels, which I never would have considered, was amazing, and the restaurant we dined in was just great. But this was brought about because the organizers (Cathy, Michelle, and Deanna) realized how important networking is to their commmunity. (And a personal shout out to my companion for the day, Sharon Jones of Guardian Pet Sitters, who took me on an adventure to look around New Braunfels before we hit the restaurant!).
Which conferences are available?
NAPPS and PSI move to different locations to work with their membership, which is a great idea (note: you must be a member to attend their conferences). The Texas folks are independent and are based at Cathy Vaughn’s day care, boarding, and training facility in San Antonio. So it would be to your benefit to look up the individual conferences to see where they’re being held each year.
What are the benefits to your business?
There are many! The first is that you can gain continuing education in your specialty area. So if you work with cats, you can take a training course on Cat Wrangling 101 (as they had in Texas with the amazing Arden Moore). Or it might be pet first aid, or pet behavior training.
You can also get training in an area you’ve always wanted to know about. It could be intellectual property (oh my), or social media (I hear Therese Kopiwoda will be speaking on this at NAPPS this year), or even working with a coach. But most importantly, you get in-person insight on topics that you may not pursue on your own, but that you need for your business.
(I’m actually speaking at the NAPPS Forum in April on how to make your Google Business listing your site’s best friend. This is a topic I go on about, but I’m hoping that being able to ask questions will be an advantage to conference participants.)
Another side benefit of attending a conference is that it’s a mini vacation. Many pet sitters I’ve spoken with really don’t get time off; their peak times are at holidays and times when others go away. They therefore have to carefully budget their time away from their businesses. I’ve heard from many that these conferences provide a break from their norm, at which they can get their heads together and just relax.
But the best benefit to attending a pet sitting conference, though, is being in the presence of your peers. Many pet sitters work solo, or don’t have friends in the industry. As a result, they feel they’re operating in a void. This can really get people down, which I think is why many pet sitters are great on social media, where they can get a nice sense of community. But in-person connections are the best, and I’ve really learned a lot at dinners, lunches, and car rides with friends. There are so many differences in how we all run businesses, and when you meet folks who are in a similar situation, you can gain some solid insight.
And friends. I cannot tell you how many great friendships I’ve made at conferences. I’d make a list, but this post would go on forever. The friendships that can be made at conferences can be supportive on both a business and an emotional level. And the opportunity to leave the conference and interact on other levels can not be beat! I’ve done road trips at three different conferences, and I will cherish the memories for a long time!
I wanna go! What should I do first?
You should first look into your calendar to check when each conference is held. NAPPS is being held in April, and PSI is in September. Texas just wrapped up, and was held in February.
I would then consider your work schedule. These conferences require you to be present not only for the in-person part, but you may need to add a travel day on either end. As a result, you may need to leave your business for a week. You therefore would need to make plans with your clients for coverage.
And finally, think about your expenses. Some of these conference prices include meals, and some do not. Some require you to travel to them, and then stay in a hotel. All of these need to be factored into your plans. But the experience will be well worth it!
Industry conferences are a great way to build your business. They include business and pet-specific training, and you can interact with speakers and vendors on a one-on-one basis. There are many advantages to attending a conference, but I love the networking the best. I’ve met friends, vendors, and speakers who are amazing and who’ve helped me in many ways. If you operate a pet business, it’s worth your while to attend an industry conference. You won’t regret it!