How long has it been since you went to a business conference or professional meeting?

I do a lot of online learning, and much of it totally worthwhile; I wouldn’t give it up for anything. But when it comes to growing my business, nothing beats getting together with like-minded entrepreneurs in an actual physical room.

Last week, I was in Knoxville, Tennessee to speak about speaking at Charting Your Course for Profits. It was a fabulous experience.

Of course I learned some things from the host, Lisa Hall, and from other speakers. And there was a valuable emphasis on the importance of systems for a successful business – Lisa actually said systems are sexy. I have to admit, systematic anything is not my gift. So a nudge in that direction is helpful. And I definitely got nudged.

But beyond the content of the day, a conference like that is such a great opportunity to meet other business owners, hear their stories, and learn from their experience and insights and opinions.

As with most events I’ve attended, there was a cross-section of entrepreneurs and professionals at this one. I met women who have well-established, successful, secure businesses. And others who are just starting down the path and still finding their way. I’ve discovered that I can learn something from all of them.

In fact, sometimes the least experienced people provide the best education. It always fascinates me to hear how someone decided to go into business for themselves. And how they chose the business that’s right for them.

Plus, people who are just starting out often ask questions that more seasoned business owners wouldn’t bring up. The answers turn out to be illuminating – for all of us.

So why would anyone say no to attending a conference like Charting Your Course for Profits? Some say they don’t want to spend the money. Some say they don’t want to spend the time. Both are short-sighted. I know for certain I have to invest in my professional development and in networking if I want my business to grow. And an event ticket is a small investment for the amount of value you get.

And let’s face it, some of us are hiding behind a computer, holding out the hope that we can connect with clients and customers through email or social media. Those online communication tools can certainly be helpful, but there’s just no substitute for live-and-in-person.

I’m going to encourage you to get out of the office and go to an event in the next month. Choose one that’s hosted by an individual, and there are lots of them around. Or you might attend a conference sponsored by organization you belong to – or one you should belong to.

I’m a member of NAWBO (National Organization of Women Business Owners) for example; they have a couple of big Chicagoland events every year and I make it a point to be there along with the smaller NAWBO meetings in my area.

When you spend a day at an event, notice how much you can learn and how many people you can meet. And then, of course, follow up with those people. (That can be the tricky part, right?)

I’m reaching out this week to some of the business owners I met in Knoxville. Connecting through Facebook and LinkedIn. Sending emails. And yes, picking up the phone and having actual real-time conversations.

Go to an event. Connect with people you can help or people who can help you. People whose experience you can learn from. Or people who just seem like they’d be fun to hang out with. And follow up after the event ends. That’s the formula to make the most of a resource that too many business owners overlook.

Let me know how it goes for you, will you?