Last weekend, I attended the American Medical Writers' Association (AMWA) annual national conference in Washington, D.C. I'm actually writing this blog in D.C., after touring the National Gallery of Art and daydreaming possibilities of the freelance lifestyle...
First, a little personal story:
My freelance writing career and this blog are based in medical writing- the professional communication of health science so target audiences (freelancers, health care providers, regulatory bodies, medical device companies, pharmaceutical representatives, the public, etc.) can use it.
I learned about medical writing when trying to create a job out of teaching my friends about the latest medical research. Next, I read a ton of business and writing books, like The Accidental Medical Writer by Brian Bass and Cyndy Kryder, and the Creative Revolt (formerly Writers' Revolt) blog.
Cold emails netted a few clients and short jobs, but the turning point was going to the AMWA 2017 conference in Orlando.
If you're wondering whether attending a conference in your field is worth it, I say, "Yes, definitely."
I had never met another medical writer before attending the conference, so I had a feeling that I was making the whole thing up. However, meeting hundreds of writers who had made successful careers of it changed everything. I connected with the Florida chapter of AMWA, who are crucial mentors, colleagues, and sounding boards in the development of Fit for Freelance. Being present, learning, contributing, and growing relationships eventually led to my selection as President-elect for 2018-2019.
The inspiring people I've met encouraged me to present "Health and Your Medical Writing Business" at the 2018 conference last Saturday. The feedback was great and it was the most memorable presentation of my life!
We even had a little stretch break!
You don't have to go all out and become a presenter, but here are 6 huge benefits to attending a professional conference in your field:
1) Meet the experts
Experts from all walks and stages of life have found success in the type of work you do, and have contributed to your profession to make it just a little easier to get started. Not only are they testaments to what's possible, they're guides for what can help you through the current challenges of your career.
People who literally wrote books in your field are active in the association and likely to attend the conference. There's nothing like meeting people who taught you such valuable information. I was star struck first meeting Brian Bass in 2017. Now I have an idea of the wealth of knowledge and experience he has, I call him Brian, and he might answer if I call his cell.
No amount of teleconferencing and messaging can substitute for seeing a colleague face to face. It's much easier getting to know someone in real time instead of relying on their LinkedIn About section. You all become resources and partners as you learn the needs of the community how to give back to it. Casual chats at meals, between sessions, and after hours are beautiful little reminders that we're wonderful people with interesting lives beyond work. Plus, it's refreshing to meet people who understand what you do isn't that weird.
3) Learn your history
Conferences have decades of experience from those who have been doing what you're just learning about. Spend time with seasoned vets to see how the profession has changed since they started, what they miss, and what they see for the future. Award presentations named after legendary figures vividly paint the organization's culture and the tradition of your work. Seeing the superstars and major contributors win these awards inspire you to pursue greatness and imagine what you can make the best contributions to your field.
4) Get up to date
Get fresh ideas as you join the live presentations and discussions of developments in your industry. Having a sense of what's going on around the country and what's coming next ensures you're relevant and aware of client needs- there's a lot of buzz about video, visuals, and social media!
5) Build your brand by investing in yourself
Coming to conferences signals to clients and prospects that you take your craft and improving your business seriously. More importantly, you show yourself that you're doing something you find important. Money invested in your education is among the best spent.
You might even get a job or contract from attending! Top organizations send recruiters and post jobs to attract dedicated professionals in attendance. Building relationships with people takes you from an anonymous series of emails to a person with character. We're more likely to work with people we know, like, and trust, which means they are more likely to refer clients you would be a good fit for, and you can provide quality referrals when you can't or don't want to take on a particular contract.
6) Take a break
Conferences are in places people want to visit! Changing location shifts your perspective and gives you a fresh take on business and personal challenges. Bonus if you get to reconnect with old friends, visit museums and landmarks, and try the best local restaurants!
I fully encourage you to attend the next professional conference in your field! If it's coming too soon for you to afford it this year, plan on attending the next one by setting aside money each month. It's worth it.