Next Sunday I'm traveling to Denver for the 360iDev conference. I'm looking forward to learning some new tricks when I attend the design and business tracks (my responsibility in our partnership). But better than the sessions is the networking. Through the eight years we've been in this business, I've attended several conferences and each one has proven to be invaluable. One could even consider attendance more of a marketing cost than an education cost. Despite having to rebook my main travel this time from train to more expensive air travel, plus add extra night stay, the networking return on investment will be well worth the trip. This post will share some of the effects networking has had on our business in the past.
Much of a marketing budget talks about Return On Investment, or ROI. Sometimes ROI is easy to understand, but mostly it's a complex measurement, if it can be measured accurately at all. If I buy Adwords at 75c a click for a 99c game I earn 70c on, it's easy to see my ROI is negative 5c for each click. However, if the person who bought my game tells five friends, and they each buy it, then my hidden ROI is .70*6-.75=$3.45. Much better. Unfortunately, no way of measuring referrals exists. You also do not know how many people who click your ad will actually buy your app (a conversion), which is highly unlikely to be at 100%. The calculations are muddy, but in general, if you spend marketing dollars, and your sales increase, something is working.
Some marketing techniques are even more difficult to measure than simple adwords. These can range from putting your app free for a day, to buying print ads, to buying banner ads on websites, to tweeting, to setting up a Facebook page, to issuing a press release. Doing as much as you can, as low cost as possible, will most likely generate more sales. However, no one has the time, nor does the app have a life cycle to trial/error all possible marketing techniques. It's important to read where others have had success, but realize that some techniques work better in other markets, for other apps, and in other timeframes. I covered in a past post what we did and what worked in the Palm economy, but not all that is applicable for iOS apps. I've also shared some iOS techniques in a previous post. However, I'm far from being finished in investigating my options.
One thing that IS applicable across markets and timeframes is the networking phenomenon. When you attend a conference, you meet people from all stages of development. The ideas flow freely, as everyone is chatting and sharing their experiences. Sometimes it is like a big brainstorming session. Someone might mention something that makes a light bulb go off and you get a new app idea. Or you make connections that later come back to help you in areas you wouldn't have imagined when you attended a conference.
At one conference in San Jose, I met three developers from Chicagoland, where we're based. In the following months/years, we met regularly for dinners and shared our successes, complained about our frustrations, and generally enjoyed sharing tech and each other's company. Recently, I posted on Facebook that we were looking for contract jobs, and one of our dev friends responded that his brother was looking for people. Now we have a nice long term contract set up. In addition, another of our dev friends from the group is now working on contracts with this company, too. All this started from attending one conference and maintaining contact.
Conference are not the only way to network. Several years ago I joined the Palm Entrepreneurs Forum (PEF). We still talk via email on the latest mobile topics. Through PEF, I've met a lot of devs (and in person—at a conference). One connection helped us get onto a preferred channel for selling our Palm software. Another connection became part of our dev dinner group and we are now working on a shorter term iOS project for him. A third connection has been essential in keeping me sane as we have both transitioned from Palm to iOS.
Other results from conferences: connections to people who can help us or give advice, being invited join in a mass email newsletter campaign and a daily promo campaign, meeting contact people who have helped us resolve issues with electronic storefronts, and getting advice for determining our product mix for maximizing our profits.
Twitter is another great way to network with like-minded developers, who always help each other. The conference just takes that relationship a step further by meeting in person, engaging in deeper conversations, and cementing friendships. I'm looking forward to meeting a slew of twitter friends at 360iDev. I expect we have a lot to share, and a whole lot of fun will be had by all. As you might surmise, since I post to iDevBlogADay again two weeks from now, I might be posting my experiences from the conference.
My parting advice—try to attend at least one conference if you are able, time and money-wise. You won't regret allocating the expense towards your marketing and education budgets. The value is immeasurable.