Best-Kept Secrets of the IFA Annual Convention

IFA Annual Convention 2022

A look at the hidden gems and golden nuggets that await at the IFA 2022 Convention

The International Franchise Association’s (IFA) Annual Convention is one of my favorite franchising events. Not only does it provide a chance to connect and reconnect with the industry’s movers and shakers, but it’s an excellent opportunity to learn and grow. It truly is the place to be for franchise professionals who want to up their games and build important relationships.

IFA’s 2022 Annual Convention will be particularly special because it has been two long years since this event was held in person. It also happens to be IFA’s first convention under the leadership of CEO and President Matthew Haller. Thanks to Covid, the IFA Annual Convention went virtual last year. Even though IFA’s organizers did a great job with the online event, there is nothing quite like being surrounded by thousands of franchising’s top players and promising newcomers all in one place. This year, the conference will take place at the San Diego Convention Center from February 26 through March 1 and will likely be IFA’s best conference to date. 

Yes, I am thrilled to see NBA legend and entrepreneur Shaquille O’Neal speak at the event, but that’s not what I’m looking forward to most. There’s so much more to the IFA Annual Convention than you might realize. Below I share some of the best-kept secrets of the IFA Convention as well as tips to make the most of your experience. Hopefully, these will inspire you to seek out more than just the headlining sessions. And with some luck, my tips will prevent you from making some of the blunders that I made when I was an IFA Convention newbie. This first one is a biggie.

Register Ahead of Time for the ICFE Special Sessions

I’ll never forget my very first IFA Convention back in 2004. At the time, I was a new franchisor, and I didn’t exactly know how to navigate the event. I didn’t realize that IFA reserved the first two days for pre-registered participants for ICFE classes (this year’s start on February 25). At the time, I didn’t even know what CFE credits were, nor did I care, but I just wanted to learn. Unknowingly, I crashed the party and walked right into a CFE class, raring to go. The instructor politely told me that I couldn’t earn CFE credits for my attendance because I wasn’t registered. Ooops, my bad. At the next year’s convention, I did things the right way and registered ahead of time for CFE classes — and they were well worth it. But remember, you just can’t show up!

Don’t Miss IFA’s Annual Leadership Conference

Check out this half-day session (February 26 from 12:00 p.m. – 4:15 p.m.) for some serious franchise inspiration. This year’s theme: Modern Leadership – Embracing New Ways of Being, Knowing, and Doing. You will hear from the industry’s top leaders who examine important topics. Each year there’s a case study that is fascinating and ends with a surprise (when we find out the identity of the subject). We learn from the mistakes and obstacles the featured franchisor experienced and talk about how they could have been avoided. It’s a one-of-a-kind opportunity that I definitely recommend.

At the 2020 IFA Annual Convention. From left to right, Don Daszkowski, David Barr, Taylor Barr, Tom Hodgson, Ryan Barr, and me.

Go to the IFA Prayer Breakfast

The IFA Prayer Breakfast is a religious service for all faiths and a great way to see your franchise friends in a different light. Personally, I love it. It has helped me better understand and get to know people for who they are outside of franchising. This year, the Prayer Breakfast will be on Sunday, February 27th from 6:30 a.m. to 7:45 a.m. and includes a complimentary breakfast buffet.

Get a Workout in at IFA Franchise Fitness Time

The Prayer Breakfast is not the only way to get in touch with your inner spirit at the IFA Convention. At the same time (Sunday from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m), you can participate in a workout that doubles as a community service project. The Franchise Fitness Time led by Team Red, White and Blue, offers an opportunity to run a 5K around San Diego or participate in yoga with local veterans who are in need of companionship and healthy activities. This program is part of IFA’s Franchising Gives Back initiative (see below).

Participate in Franchising Gives Back Community Service Projects

The franchise industry is known for its commitment to community service, and the IFA has always been a big participant with its Franchising Gives Back community service projects. In years past, The IFA Foundation organized one large-scale service project that took place right before the conference started (such as painting homes and beautifying gardens for charitable organizations). This year, we’ll see a slightly different approach at the 2022 conference with more opportunities to participate. The idea is to have all projects performed on-site during the conference, making it easier for IFA attendees to join in.

Red Boswell
Me cleaning and staining a fence at the 2020 IFA Franchising Gives Back in Orlando. Made some friends for life during that awesome service opportunity!  

This year, the IFA Foundation partnered with four veteran-focused nonprofits to offer these community service projects in tandem with VetFran’s 30th anniversary. For example, at this year’s Foundation Community Service Project, attendees will join the Armed Services YMCA of San Diego to help pack boxes to be shared with local military families (Sunday, February 27, from 11:15 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.). Give these events a try. They are a great way to do good and get to know people better in a relaxed setting. For more information, visit the Franchising Gives Back website.

Visit the IFA Exhibit Hall

Unlike other franchise trade shows, the IFA Exhibit Hall doesn’t have franchisors exhibiting. Instead, it’s a showcase of vendors, or as I like to call them, the unsung heroes of the industry. Hands down, this is the best way to find the industry’s top vendors all in one place. I love it! Be sure to check out every booth. The exhibit opens for appointments on Monday morning, February 28, and kicks off the IFA Block Party, Monday evening at 5:00 p.m.

Propelled Brands CEO and former IFA Chair Catherine Monson visits the IFPG booth at the 2020 IFA Convention Exhibit Hall. From left to right, IFPG Founder Don Daszkowski; Nurture Assist and Career Transitions Leads Co-Founder, Daniel Claps; Catherine Monson, and yours truly.

Don’t Forget About the IFA Roundtables

IFA’s Vice President of Development and Member Services Paul Rocchio slows down for a selfie with me at the IFA Roundtables.

IFA’s Thought Leadership Roundtables (previously called Business Roundtables) are 40-minute rounds of topic-driven discussions that offer inspiring nuggets of wisdom and advice from your peers. I always enjoy them and walk away with great practical solutions and tips. This year, the Thought Leadership Roundtables will take place on Monday, February 28 from 3:00 p.m. to 5:20 p.m. Seriously, these cannot be missed.

Stay Present

From a franchise development standpoint, it’s natural to want to be hyper-responsive to candidates, but remember why you are going to IFA Annual Convention in the first place. This event only happens once a year, so go all-in and give it your full attention for the short time you’re there. You won’t regret it!

Red Boswell IFA Annual Convention
You never know the interesting friends you’ll meet at the IFA Annual Convention!

Practice Moderation

Pace yourself when it comes to alcohol. While it’s great to have a drink or two with colleagues, the conference can be exhausting. You don’t want to be nursing a hangover when you should be on your A-game in the morning. You’ll want to be bright and chipper to make the most of the conference.

Red Boswell IFA Convention
I sneak in a selfie at one of the convention’s giant mixer parties.

Schedule Appointments Now

The IFA Annual Convention is a huge event with thousands of people running from one session to another. It’s super important to schedule specific times and places to meet up with colleagues. Trust me, meeting by chance is a pipedream. And even if you happen to run into the folks you want to see, chances are it will be in a frenzied dash between sessions.

If meeting a prospect, potential vendor or any franchise professional is important to you, plan ahead. Don’t just say “I’ll meet you in the lobby.” It doesn’t work. And if you’re not wearing red Vans or a bright red jacket like me, you won’t easily be spotted. The moral of the story is to schedule appointments now! Collect the numbers of the folks you’re meeting ahead of time and keep them handy in your contacts in case you’re running late or can’t find them.

Be Social

The IFA Annual Convention is an amazing opportunity to meet and connect, so put yourself out there. You’re not going to make great connections by sticking with your coworkers the whole time and hiding in your hotel room. Exit your comfort zone. Here are some more practical and useful tips from IFPG founder Don Daszkowski on that subject.

Me and IFPG Franchise Consultant Trainer Mike Handy.

Connect on LinkedIn

Business cards may be a thing of the past. For me, the best way to stay in touch is through LinkedIn. One little trick I found is clicking on the “Search.” Then a weird button will come up in the upper right corner (see below) and generate a QR Code making it easy for someone to scan your profile. I love this because there are no worries about lost business cards or connecting a face with the card days after the event. See the example below and try it – let’s connect – seriously!!

LinkedIn QR code
Instead of swapping business cards at the IFA Annual Convention, connect on LinkedIn using its QR code feature.

My last tip: Don’t forget your education tracks. Whether it’s the finance track, emerging franchise track, or any of them, be purposeful about how you spend your time. While it’s important to determine which track is most appropriate for you, there’s nothing keeping you from changing tracks and attending other sessions that interest you. But plan ahead! It’s essential to know which session you will attend before the start of each round.

Red Boswell IFA Annual Convention

I am super stoked to experience the IFA 2022 Annual Convention. Remember, have fun, get some selfies, share them on social media, and don’t forget to include me! Can’t wait to see you there!

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Red Boswell is President of the International Franchise Professionals Group (IFPG), a membership-based franchise consulting network with more than 1,200 franchisors, franchise consultants and vendor members. Together, IFPG members guide aspiring business owners through identifying and investing in franchise businesses.
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