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Accessing a global resource with all the leads and information needed to produce a successful conference is now a reality thanks to web-based business, Conference Online – After only two years in business, it’s already in hot, international demand.

Conference Online began when Val Sanders saw a gap in the conference management market. Not just a local niche but a gap that went way beyond Australia to some of the world’s biggest markets.

"I was a travel agent at the time, doing conferencing, and I saw there really wasn’t one place I could go to find all the information I needed at the one time. So with my knowledge of the industry, I set about developing Conference Online, which allowed anyone access to the site as a research tool and an easy-to-use, cost effective management program."

More than just a website, Conference Online (www.conferenceonline.com.au) is a search engine, database, and online management tool for organisers of conferences, events, and meetings. It offers a full conference management service and has around 17 different products, making it a one-stop shop with everything from search directories and finder services for venues, events, suppliers, and speakers, to corporate products and an e-commerce registration and reporting package.

Sanders says the registration program is the main feature of the site because it’s completely new to the industry. "To have a management system you had to buy a software program and that can be very expensive, particularly if you’re a small organiser. So the market really needed a registration management system for all organisers without having to buy the software."

Conference Online operates on a membership basis, so venues, speakers, and suppliers pay a membership fee to be on the site. Sanders says that while it was hard work collating all the information and getting members on board initially, it’s easy for them to see the value in it now as an all-in-one resource. The site is now getting half a million hits a month. Clients are attracted to the site to list their conference for free.

Global Conferencing

Sanders says she always planned for Conference Online to go beyond the Australian market. Within six months of starting the business, she sought assistance. "Conference Online was accepted into Austrade’s New Exporter Development Program. The first opportunity came through my TradeStart adviser and AIMIA [the Australian Interactive Media Industry Association] representative who offered me the opportunity to participate in AIMIA’s booth at the Hong Kong ICT Expo in 2003.

"From there I saw a need for the program to be worldwide because people were asking about the program and were very interested."

Sanders came back and did a lot of research and soon discovered that even one of the world’s biggest markets, America, had limited online registrations. "There were a few in America at the time but none were a one-stop shop," she says.

However, she decided to start by exporting a little closer to home, and after being in business locally for 18 months Sanders sold her first overseas licence in New Zealand. After obtaining a licence for a particular country, the licensee takes on the business in that country totally. "They have their own site attached to our site and form their own business using the one site."

Since then, Conference Online has grown its global coverage with a licensee in Indonesia, with hopes of securing a licensee in America soon. Sanders says Austrade’s assistance was a catalyst in establishing this relationship. "Austrade took me to an event in Silicon Valley and I presented my product and had meetings with about 30 people. Austrade San Francisco recommended the particular person I’m negotiating with in the US now."

Conference Online has been so successful with its export agenda it was awarded the Best Emerging Exporter Award at AIMIA’s annual awards earlier this year, which Sanders says has helped with recognition from industry and clients, as well as boosting confidence. "It’s confirmed our vision for the business, which has always been to licence our technology and business platforms internationally."

Sanders is constantly working at increasing membership and adding new content to the site, and is focused on redesigning the website’s home page to make it more functional and appealing, despite the huge range of products it needs to present. Her goal is to have 12 countries on board by the end of the year.

—Rebecca Spicer

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