Though I was excited about attending the GrowSmartBiz conference yesterday (to which I was invited as “Media/Blogger,” which was very cool for me), I did feel a little grumpy about getting ready and heading out early. That’s what happens when you work from home. After reading about Mayra Ruiz’ trek from West Virginia, though, I’ve resolved to never complain about doing so again (well, I can try). I only had to drive about 10 minutes to a Metro station and endure a not-unpleasant trip on only one Metro line. Mayra, you’re dedicated!

I live-tweeted during the conference, so I’m not going to recap all of that here. But here’s why I think GrowSmartBiz rocked:

1. Great food. When you attend a lot of conferences, you know what a difference a hot breakfast can make. Eggs, breakfast potatoes… the works. And it was nice to be able to sit down and eat without trying to balance your plate, bags, etc., on your lap. I even got to meet the folks from Indique (can I get an Amen?) during breakfast. Sweet.

2. For the most part, the panels were engaging. You can read great recaps/POVs here and here, to name just a couple. I had to divide my time between the conference and the “Learning Center,” so I missed parts of some panels, but I had as much fun hanging out there with people like Raj and Rebecca Malik, Robin Ferrier and Mike Dougherty, to name just a few.

But just being able to hear from people like Chris Anderson was incredible. Steven Fisher’s presentation on business cards was hilarious and spot on at the same time (btw, Steve, if you decide to use my card as a “worst of…” example, just let me know ahead of time, will you?).

3. It was really about supporting small businesses and growing them smartly. How many times have you been to conferences and left, thinking, “That doesn’t really apply to me?” I’m not a business owner who needs financing, for example (at least right now), but if I do, or if I ever consider starting up a new business, I have a ton of resources to get started from people I trust. During the breaks, I saw several of the speakers engaging with attendees, no doubt giving them more advice and brainstorming. That kind of intellectual gift is invaluable.

4. Network Solutions didn’t sell till the cows came home. Sure, their branding was all over the place, but to be fair, it was their conference. As Jen Consalvo said, “the real story here is Network Solutions… they are a complete resource for small businesses – online and offline.” And it takes a big man (aka Roy Dunbar) to publicly acknowledge that, for many people, someone who’s not the CEO “IS Network Solutions.” (That would be Shashi Bellamkonda, in case you were wondering.)

5. Resources, resources, resources. Everyone who attended came home with a thumb drive loaded with speaker presentations (much expanded from the live event, I might add) and additional resources (like a free online marketing calendar… yes, from Network Solutions) to go through at their leisure. If you’ve ever lugged home a huge binder full of handouts after attending a conference, you know what a gift this is.

What would I liked to have seen done differently?

Truthfully – very little. The organizers (and I don’t know how much of that was Network Solutions and how much was CRT/tanaka, but whoever it was, you guys know how to put on a show) did a tremendous job. Having said that:

1. I’d have liked to have seen the speakers’ Twitter handles on their tent cards, or on the GSB site. Live-tweeting from such an event was not only expected, it was encouraged, and at times it was tough to keep track of what they were saying while simultaneously looking up their Twitter handles. Props to Priya Ramesh for responding almost immediately when I tweeted that out.

2. Sen. Mark Warner. He’s got great presence and clear curb appeal for a conference like this, but after the initial glow of being in his presence, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the current health care drama has to do with small business resources, which was pretty much all he talked about. Even worse, he followed Chris Anderson, whose shoes were mighty big to fill. If there had been some practical takeaways, that would have been one thing. When I go to a conference like this, I’m not interested in hearing politics. Having said that, I doubt anyone, even Roy Dunbar, can keep a Senator “on message.” Still, that was a bit of a let down.

3. Earlier in this post, I said “for the most part, the panels were engaging.” Right after lunch, there was a detailed presentation on the findings of the Small Business Success Index. That was a little dry, though the findings themselves were interesting. Of course, it could very well be that it was just after lunch.

And the final panel that purported to discuss integrating traditional with social media pretty much focused on social media, though Jill Foster did a terrific job of moderating it. Now, it could also be that I (and several others who attended the conference) live work in that space. So maybe we were persnickety. Maybe. I also wasn’t thrilled to hear Joanna Pineda say “$2.5K is a lot of money for ‘PR.'” I don’t believe it is. Then again, that’s what I do. So take that with a fistful of salt.

All in all, GSB rocked. It brought home the point of connection. Heck, it was a point of connection. Isn’t that what business is about?

Photo: Dave_B_

What did you like/love/feel apathetic/hate about GSB? I’d love to know.

Shonali Burke
Founder and publisher of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke helps purpose-driven brands bring big ideas to life. She teaches at The Johns Hopkins University, has gone back to school herself with the Harvard Business Analytics Program, and is creator/lead instructor at The Social PR Virtuoso® online training hub , where ambitious PR pros learn how to unleash their inner Social PR superheroes. Owned by Lola the Basset Hound, she's mad about ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis, though not necessarily in that order. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

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