As a business owner, it's your job to help your employees grow their careers, and one good way to do that is to make it possible for them to attend business conferences. Industry conferences offer a world of opportunity for professionals to mingle, swap ideas, and learn from one another. The downside, however, is that conferences tend to cost money, and when you send key employees to attend, it means having them out of the office. The next time a conference gets announced that piques your employees' interest, ask these questions before giving the go-ahead.

1. What will my employees gain from the conference?

Many conferences offer solid learning opportunities for attendees, but not all are created equal. Before agreeing to send employees to a conference, figure out exactly what they plan to get out of that event. Will they pick up new skills? Boost existing ones? Get a chance to develop business partnerships? All of these are valid reasons to send your workers to a conference, but make sure you can see the value at hand.

Adults congregating around tables, dressed professionally

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2. What costs will I incur other than the fee for the conference itself?

Conferences cost money -- that's a known fact. But the $500 attendance fee you might be looking at isn't necessarily the sole cost involved in sending employees. You'll also need to factor in travel to and from that event, lodging, and meal allowances (unless food is provided at the conference itself). Figure out how much the conference you're considering will cost you per employee who attends, and determine whether you have the money in your company budget to swing it. At the same time, make sure your employees who wish to attend understand what expenses you'll be paying for and which are on them. For example, you might agree to pay for travel and lodging, but insist that employees cover the cost of their own meals to make things more affordable for you.

3. Can I afford to have key players out of the office simultaneously?

If there's a notable conference on the horizon, chances are, it'll appeal to more than one employee of yours. But sending three or four people to a conference isn't just something you'll need to consider from a cost perspective; you'll also need to weigh the impact on the business. Think about the timing of the conference and whether it coincides with your company's busy season. If it doesn't, you might more easily manage to send a few key employees at once. Otherwise, you might have to be more judicious in who you send -- or perhaps not send anyone at all if you anticipate a conflict with looming deadlines.

4. What networking opportunities are available?

One big reason to attend business conferences is to network and seek out new partnerships. Before sending your employees to a conference, assess its size and scope. Will there be representation from new players in the field? Or will it be the same old attendees you already know? Keep in mind, however, that when it comes to networking opportunities, more bodies at a conference isn't necessarily a good thing. Often, your employees will have an easier time branching out if they're put in a room with 200 people, as opposed to well over 1,000.

Conferences can help your employees grow professionally and unearth new opportunities for your business. Just do your research before paying for them to make sure each one you agree to is truly a worthwhile investment.

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