The case for attending your client's conference

Sep 2, 2016

Just because you’re not a doctor, a realtor, a teacher, or a [fill in the blank with your client’s profession] doesn’t mean you can’t—or shouldn’t—attend their industry conference. In fact, it’s a great way to get a leg up on your competition and bring in more freelancing work. Win–win, right?

Last month, I was hired to freelance edit onsite at my biggest client’s annual conference. This meeting just so happens to be the biggest one in its field — a field that also happens to be my freelancing specialty. So I didn’t think twice; I jumped on the opportunity. And it ended up being so much more than a paycheck.

When you attend your client’s industry conference, here’s just some of what could be in store for you:

A Deeper Dive into the Subject Matter and Cutting-Edge Developments

Ok, so you may already know enough about your client’s subject matter to do your freelance job well. But when you attend a conference on the topic, you get to practice the terminology, see the graphics being used and discussed, and learn about the latest developments in the field. You can take your knowledge to a completely different level and use it to turn out an even greater product for your client.

Attend the sessions, read the handout materials, check out the posters, read the news releases—take in as much as you can.

Networking, Networking, Networking

Pull out those business cards and practice your elevator pitch because conferences bring ample opportunities to network with your current clients and meet potential new ones. Ahead of the meeting, ask current and prospective clients if you can meet them for coffee or lunch during the meeting. Download the exhibit hall map and plan which booths you’ll hit up.

Make sure you have a concise and personable intro about you and your freelancing services to use at each one, and consider tailoring it to each potential client (“I read about your new product in the news last week…”). After the conference, always follow up with every contact you make.

A Commitment to Your Clients

When your current or potential clients find out that you attended their industry meeting—whether you meet up with them during or mention it to them afterward—they will be impressed.

Just put yourself in their shoes: Wouldn’t you want to hire and collaborate with a freelancer who is so invested in your industry that they attended its biggest event? Share with your client what you learned and what you thought was most interesting or cool. And ask them about their favorite session or part.

Ideas for New Services or Ways to Pitch Your Services

At a conference, you get to see the industry at work, all the new advances in the field, and how industry experts interact with each other. And this is the perfect environment to uncover ideas for new services you could offer or ways to better tailor your pitches.

Ask yourself, what do these industry experts want? How are they using the deliverables that I work on/produce? What would help them do their jobs better? How can a freelancer help them with that?

How to Attend

I consider myself lucky having been asked to freelance at my client’s conference. I know that doesn’t always happen. But there are other ways to attend your client’s industry conference and reap all of these benefits:

Pitch Onsite Services

Instead of waiting around to be invited, look for ways that your freelancing services could be used onsite and suggest them to your client. Consider also expressing your interest in attending the conference to your client as an added bonus to your onsite services. Even if your client declines your offer, they will still see your interest and eagerness to learn more about the industry. And that is never a bad thing.


Most conferences use volunteers in myriad areas of the meeting space or convention center—information booths, publication handout tables, swag bag pickup, etc. You may have to pay your way to the conference and for your own hotel, but you’ll get to be right in the middle of the conference and possibly even have permission to sessions and the exhibit hall. (Make sure to inquire about that when signing up to volunteer.)

Ask for a Discounted Registration or Pay Yourself

Express your interest for attending the conference to your client and inquire about getting a discounted (or even free!) registration. Or consider paying out of pocket for the registration. You’ll have to weigh the cost-benefit of attending the conference, but remember, you can deduct it from your taxes!

Kate MacDougall

Kate MacDougall is a freelance editor and writer. She's empowered by networking with clients and other freelancers and loves learning how to make the most of those interactions.