(Photo by Flickr user WOCinTech Chat, used under a Creative Commons license)
One of the biggest conferences for women owned businesses to sell to major corporations is coming to Baltimore. What do you need to know to make the most of it?
I often say that the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) certification is the best kept secret in the D.C. area. Most people are familiar with the goals that government entities have for doing business with women owned and economically disadvantaged companies. What many don’t realize is that corporations have goals for doing business with diverse organizations, as well. Unlike government agencies, they have goals and not set-asides. In addition, there are no size limits or net worth requirements. So, if you’re a government contractor, a startup, and/or a well-established business that wants to grow your client base of large corporate and enterprise clients, the WBENC certification can open doors for you.
You also have a great opportunity this month to see what companies are active in the WBENC network and what opportunities are available to you. The WBENC National Conference and Business Fair takes place in Baltimore June 24-27. It’s a large conference that gathers business owners and corporate members. Here’s the business fair exhibitor list.
In order to take advantage of the opportunities available at the conference, here are some do’s and don’ts for getting the biggest bang for your buck.
- Get certified. In order to take advantage of supplier diversity programs, most companies will expect you to be certified by a third-party entity. If you are a diverse business owner, meaning your company is 51 percent owned by women, people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQ people or veterans-consider getting certified by a national organization.
- Attend NextGen Events. If you are an entrepreneur between the ages of 26-40, there are free options for you to check out the network with WBENC’s NextGen program. NextGen is all about building the future of the WBENC Network, including leaders in the ecosystem and the next generation of women entrepreneurs and corporate leaders. The schedule starts on Monday June 24, and on Tuesday June 25, NextGen will be headed to a Baltimore entrepreneur ecosystem event at ETC sponsored by Procter and Gamble.
- Get to know your target audience. The single most important thing you can do to make the most of these meetings is prepare! Know which companies you plan to speak to, what problems you can solve for them and what you plan to request. When you are targeted and specific, they will be interested in you and will want to listen.
- Follow Up. After preparing for the conference, the most important thing you can do is to follow up appropriately with the people you meet. A business owner who has been very successful in the supplier diversity space told me that it takes 30 touch points before you close business with a major company. Most people stop at two times. In order to maintain your energy for follow up, schedule time in advance to do your follow ups, ask them how they want to keep in touch and listen to their instructions.
- Expect your potential clients to educate you on their core businesses. It may seem elementary, but the representatives of these major brands expect you to know their core business. Walking up to them and asking “What do you do?” will not make a good first impression.
- Be Salesy. Approach these conversations with a business development mindset, not a sales mindset. You are building relationships with people that can be advocates for you in the enterprise sales process. Most are not your buyer, but they can help you, as long as you approach them with managed expectations.
Some people do walk away with a contract from these conferences, but that is the exception, not the rule. Come to the conference ready to learn, contribute, and add value and you will make new connections, develop new leads, and expand your network.-30-
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