Earlier this week, Where 2 Get It National Account Manager Lily Wolfrum attended the International Franchise Association’s Annual Convention in New Orleans. We asked Lily to share some highlights & tips from her experience. You can follow Lily on Twitter at @LilyWolfrum! Here are her thoughts:
In her first book Grow Smart, Risk Less* Shelly Sun, CEO of BrightStar, makes the following observation:
“I don’t believe franchising is merely a distribution model or solely an expansion strategy. It’s a business unto itself. When you understand that, then you understand that franchising is also a business unto itself.”
Franchising is an industry unto itself. The truth behind these words did not fully sink in until I attended my first IFA Convention this week in New Orleans. While I have attended other Franchise conferences, the International Franchise Association’s Annual Convention is in an entirely different league. For those of you who might be new to the Franchise industry or are curious as to what it’s all about, here are my three tips for ensuring a successful IFA Convention experience.
1. Bring Lots of Business Cards
The IFA Convention has thousands of attendees. While the turnout for this year’s conference has yet to be announced, last year’s conference had over 3,000 attendees and it just keeps on growing. This annual event is a great time to meet potential business partners, and, believe me, you will meet way more people than you can possibly imagine. I brought over 50 business cards and ran out halfway through day one of the event!
Do not make this same mistake. Pack more business cards then you think you will need. Everyone you encounter will ask for one, and you will run out fast. The connections I made at the event are invaluable, but I cringe to think of the connections I might have missed simply because I ran out cards.
2. Keep Focus & Know Your Goals
If it wasn’t clear from my first tip, the IFA is large -- really, really large. Unlike other Franchise Conferences that focus on just one aspect of the industry (like The Franchise Consumer Marketing Conference), the IFA Conference covers all aspects of the complex franchise business model across a myriad of verticals. Everything from legal to financing to reputation management is touched upon.
Once you arrive at the event, you will be overwhelmed by everything that is going on. If you can clearly articulate what you hope to get out of attending before you arrive, you will feel much more accomplished afterwards. You will get a lot more out of your IFA experience if you head out to the conference with a clear objective in mind.
Be sure to review the itinerary beforehand and plan your schedule accordingly. Furthermore, since so much of the value of attending the IFA Convention lies in networking, try to grab a list of the attendees in advance and reach out to those people who might turn into potential mentors or business partners. Personally, I’d rather establish a mutually beneficial relationship with just 5-10 people than casually say hello to 100.
3. Be Prepared to Learn & Share
You might be surprised by who you meet at the Convention and what you are able to learn from them. You might also be pleasantly surprised by the unique knowledge you have to share with others.
Still skeptical of Facebook’s Graph Search. It’s been around 4 awhile...& still less than impressive. Anyone else? #ifa2014
— Taylor Hulyk (@taylorhulyk) February 24, 2014
For example, after attending the “Facebook & Franchising: What You Don’t Know and Wish You Did” session, it was interesting to see some of the negative sentiment on Twitter regarding the importance of optimizing for Facebook Graph Search. This presented a great opportunity for me to share Where 2 Get It’s recent White Paper which discusses setting up a parent/child relationship on Facebook and how it is crucial for engaging customers at the the local level. If you would like to learn more on the impact of Graph Search on multi-location businesses, you can download the White Paper here.
I was also interested to hear about the struggles many franchisors face with reputation management online. While I understand that every brand has their own division of responsibility between the franchisor and franchisee, the fact is that reputation management needs to be a top priority for all brands. Whether your brand requires everything to go through corporate or if the franchisee acts as the owner-operator, it is critical to invest in technology that scales from the national level down to the local level.
While the previous three tips will help ensure that you have a rewarding experience on a professional level, I thought I'd also share two quick "ProTips" to make sure you have fun and stay comfortable during the Convention:
ProTip #1: Wear Comfy Shoes!
Beyond the sheer vastness of the content and attendees, the IFA Convention is physically large as well. As you spend hours walking back and forth from the coffee stand to your next break out session, your feet will start to hurt. While I am not suggesting that you show up in Chuck Taylors and sweatpants (my secret uniform), it is important to keep in mind how much moving around you will be doing. Be sure to wear something you can actually stand around in for a good 10-12 hours.
ProTip #2: Be Prepared to Rally
Beyond the awesome knowledge-sharing that is going on throughout the day, there is an even better nightlife! The IFA Conference organizers and sponsors put on some great after-parties. This year’s FranJam party lasted until the wee hours of the night and featured a killer Jazz Band. In fact I would argue that the true relationship building begins at night. It’s important to let your guard down so you can truly create the chance for potential partners to become friends.
With all of the fun-filled social events you will be attending, it is also important to find a few moments for yourself. Go into the event knowing that you will exude a lot of energy and plan for mini-breaks to recharge. If all else fails, there is always free coffee waiting for you in morning!
*For those of who you who missed out on scoring an IFA Swag Bag, you can get a copy of Shelly’s book here!