How to Prepare for the National Conference & Business Fair — the Experts Weigh In

Many of the most successful women-owned businesses in the WBENC network know that certification is just a starting point – the key to unlocking business opportunities is how you put that certification to use, especially while at our biggest event of the year, the WBENC National Conference & Business Fair.

Today, hear from the Host Committee for the 2019 WBENC National Conference & Business Fair on how they prepare for conference, including practical tips to make the most out of the event and generate the most business.

Want more insights and advice? Check out our profiles of each committee member, including a full Q&A about their business, how they leverage certification, and their advice for young entrepreneurs.


Jennifer D. Collins
Host Committee Co-Chair
President & CEO, JDC Events

I research companies in advance that I am interested in targeting. Once the map of the show floor is released, I locate those companies so that we can navigate the floor more efficiently. I also make sure that we are registered in the target company’s supplier diversity portal since they will always direct you to do so. Lastly, once registration opens, I register immediately to be eligible for MatchMakers and to ensure my hotel reservation is within one of the host hotel properties where the main action will be.

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Lynne Marie Finn
Host Committee Co-Chair
President & CEO, Broadleaf Results, Inc.

Educate yourself on the Corporate Members and sponsors who will be attending the conference and determine who may present potential business opportunities. I would choose no more than ten primary and five secondary businesses to reach out to.  Understand what their needs may be relative to your business and what has happened recently in their business and industry. Then come prepared to offer a solution. Also, make connections with other WBEs, relay your elevator pitch, and find out about their businesses. You may be able to connect each other with a good contact and create opportunities. Be friendly and talk to as many people as possible – you never know where you may find a connection!


Kathleen Benson

Our team focuses on our core message and produces information that can be shared with the supplier diversity folks either on paper or electronically. We also practice our pitch with our key differentiator so that will stay top of mind with the supplier diversity folks. Additionally, we research the top 20 companies that we’d like to meet, understand what they buy, and develop questions that we’d like to ask so that we can qualify them as well.


Loren Breslow
President, Command Marketing Innovations

Attend as many of the events as possible and be engaging – you never know who you are sitting next to at lunch or riding the elevator with. It may just be that corporate sponsor you were hoping to meet.  I think it’s best to look at the conference as a potential to make connections and hope for business opportunities to follow at a later date. And most importantly, ENJOY! I have made some truly lasting friendships at these events – even where no business opportunity exists. 

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Jacqueline Cleary
CEO, Atlas

Be on your game at all times and be very present at the conference. The next contact you make or conversation you have might be your ticket into something big. Utilize the fun events as an opportunity to nurture the relationships you are making throughout the Business Fair and workshops, and keep coming back! You’ll see acquaintances turn into trusted partnerships, and sometimes life-long friendships.


Lois Gamerman
President & CEO, Soft Stuff Distributors, Inc.

The National Conference & Business Fair can be very overwhelming. The best way to prepare yourself for a successful event is to solidly know your business. Know your value proposition, know your differentiators and know your capabilities. This way when you engage with prospective clients, you can articulate why doing business with you is good for them. Be professional and relaxed in your approach. Enjoy the opportunity to share your story, your vision and embrace the community. Don’t over-promise or speak ill of your competition. Make friends everywhere you go!


Bev Gray
President & CEO, Exhibit Edge Inc.

Bring lots of business cards. I’m surprised how many run out. Know the corporations you want to talk with before the conference. Do your homework about who they are. They will ask you to submit your company information in their supplier portals. Do that before the conference so you can ask what the next step is. Don’t forget to follow up repeatedly.


Kay Hamilton
President/CEO, The Hamilton Group

Everyone should know that the value of their experience will be proportionate to the amount of effort they expend. In order to facilitate opportunities for success, seminars, trade shows and other WBENC events must be recognized as the valuable resource they represent. If economically viable, these events should be attended by new members, in order to broaden their knowledge of the important projects, opportunities and programs that exist in the local economy.


Gia Machlin
Founder & CEO, EcoPlum, Inc.

First and foremost, it is important to prepare a good Capability Statement in advance and have copies ready to hand out. Review the list of attendees to determine who you would like to meet in person. Research people and companies of interest to know something about them and understand what they may want and need. Since EcoPlum has a focus on sustainability, we review a company’s sustainability practices. We also reviewed supplier diversity sections to understand their priorities. EcoPlum prepared for its matchmaking sessions with even more thoroughness. Then attend everything you can!


Dee C. Marshall
CEO, Diverse & Engaged

Create a target list of about 10-20 companies you’d like to work with; research the company; read annual report and press releases; take a look at LinkedIn for key decision makers and Google the latest. Prepare an elevator “like” speech and talk it through a few times. When you arrive, map your walking route and visit your wish list first. Don’t pick up trinkets if you want business.   


Jayne Millard
Chairman & Co-CEO, Turtle & Hughes, Inc.

Come rested and ready with your elevator speech, business cards and a targeted list of whom you want to meet with at the business fair. Utilize the social events to network and attend the meals to be inspired with stories that look like you and inspire you to do more.


Carol Muszynski, IIDA
President, Eighth Day Design (EDD)

Plan ahead and clear your schedule the best you can. Be involved. Don’t hide in your room working. Don’t be afraid to walk up to a group and politely join the conversation, often they also just met. With women in social settings, it’s hard to tell! You will likely be welcomed into the conversation instantly.


Sharon L. Olzerowicz
President/CEO, Hired by Matrix, Inc.

Most importantly, attend the events. Supplier Diversity professionals promote those they trust. Give them the opportunity to get to know you and your company as one they choose to recommend with confidence to their stakeholders. They will advocate for you. Further, I strongly encourage you to give back to our WBENC family. I spend a great deal of time mentoring and advising young women entrepreneurs, encouraging them to become active members of our WBENC community. 


Hetal Parikh
President, Rangam Consultants Inc.

We make sure to introduce our company and representative to our lead prospects, key clients and partners. Our team proactively has hard and soft copies of our products and services and / or presentation available in case anyone wants to review what we do etc. Network, network and network – be sure to introduce yourself and company to key companies and suppliers you are looking to partner with.


Avis Yates Rivers
Chief Executive Officer, Technology Concepts Group International, LLC.

Just know it will be a bit overwhelming, but if you approach the conference strategically and ensure you stick to your plan, you will find it to be quite manageable. Resist the urge to stop at every booth. Make primary and secondary target lists, so once you finish meeting all your primary targets, you still have a planned approach. Advise your customers in advance that you will attending and schedule some time with them, even if it is just for a cup of coffee.  The touchpoint will be invaluable. Determine in advance what other WBEs you could potentially partner with and reach out to them as well (either in advance or visit their booth).


Hallie Satz
CEO, Managing Partner, HighRoad Press, LLC

Plan on being energetic and assume you will not get much sleep. Try to plan out your calendar before you go. You will be extremely busy. Wear comfortable shoes. Make sure your office knows that you will not have time to be on emails and calls. The conference is where you work ON your business not IN your business.  Make a prospect list of the corporations that are attending that you would like to connect with.  Go to the events. Don’t sit in your room even if you are alone. There are hundreds of WBEs like you that do not know people. Use the time to make NEW connections. Most important, HAVE FUN. If you did not hit this time it is only the beginning.  Every year there are local and national events. Stick with it. This is a process and an investment. If it were that easy then everyone would open a company and get certified.   


Jackie Smith
President, New Kent Coatings, Inc.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the number of people that are there. Have fun, be yourself and be prepared to represent your business with the passion and energy you have for it.

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Susan Wright
President, Marlboro Group International LLC (MGI)

Prior to attending the National Conference & Business Fair, I try to get an overview of who is attending and map out who I would like to meet with. I bring a binder with empty laminate sheets to slip business cards into, and post-its to make notes for follow up. Prepare ahead and wear comfortable shoes! Meet and enjoy the other WBEs attending.


The WBENC National Conference & Business Fair is the largest event of its kind for women business owners, featuring innovative educational programming, inspiring keynotes, 1:1 MatchMaker sessions, networking opportunities, and an unrivaled Business Fair.

Posted on May 21, 2019 and filed under WBE Wisdom.