Thinking of attending the SXSW conference this year for the first time? Here are several things you should be aware of before registering for the March 9-18 event, to ensure you get the best experience.

1. Draw Up a Battle Plan

Setting goals for what you wish to achieve is key for any conference, and even more so for SXSW. By virtue of its massive size, you need to have a solid battle plan to make attending worth your while. Draw yourself up a schedule of the events, talks and panels you want to attend but don’t forget to leave time for networking. If done properly this can be the most valuable part of attending. – Thomas Smale, FE International


2. Be Clear on What You Want to Get Out of It

First-timers should know that SXSW is massive. It’s now a landmark event for multiple industries with tens of thousands attending. The size means you can get lost in the shuffle, but it also presents opportunities. What do you want to get out of the festival? Networking? Making a brand splash? Find funding? Be clear on your goals and focus your agenda to match, or you’ll miss out. – Francois de Lame, Policygenius Inc.


3. Download the App so You Don’t Miss Out

I’ve been going to SXSW for 10 years now. It’s a huge festival with tons to see and do. It’s critical that you do your homework beforehand. Download the app and spend at least a few hours reviewing all the available events, panels, and speakers. Build your schedule around your goals. Are you going to network, learn, or party? Plan ahead so you don’t miss out on business-applicable information. – Shawn Rubel, Vecteezy


4. Consider Not Buying a Badge

As SXSW takes over downtown Austin, there is so much you can do and access even without a badge. If you are clear on your goals for going, and they are more centric on making meaningful connections (an ever-important goal), sometimes saving money on the badge and instead going to the pop-ups around conference center can be well worth it. – Darrah Brustein, darrah.co


5. Register Early and Book Venues in Advance
As SXSW grows in popularity each year, attendance gets more and more competitive. The best way to ensure your spot is to register early and book any venues that interest you in advance. Once you are there, don’t get overwhelmed and don’t waste any opportunities. Chat while you are in line and walking to other events. Also, make sure you have a plan to share your contact information quickly. – Blair Thomas, eMerchantBroker


6. Enjoy the City
Some of my best SXSW connections came from morning taco meetings and BBQ lunch lines. Don’t be so fixated on SXSW-sponsored activities and parties — get out and enjoy the city, because chances are, if you are in line waiting for a lunch, many of the other folks in that line are SXSW attendees as well! – Jen Brown, The Engaging Educator


7. Book Accommodation Early
With more than 70,000 conference attendees and close to 75,000 trade show attendees in 2017, finding a hotel room toward the event’s beginning was near impossible. If you’re heading there for the first time, make sure you book your hotel room in advance. The cabs-to-attendees ratio also leaves considerable room for improvement, so either stay close to the event or rent a car. – Derek Robinson, Top Notch Dezigns


8. Be Mindful of the Weather
Texas is known for its hotter, drier climate, but many people may be taken by surprise to discover just how rainy and windy it can be. This is especially true around March when SXSW is scheduled; the stormy weather was so intense one year that evacuation warnings were called during the festival. This doesn’t mean rain is guaranteed, but it does mean it’s a good idea to prepare for it. – Bryce Welker, CPA Exam Guy


9. Establish a Home Base
Don’t get caught scheduling key meetings on the fly. Pick a central location where you can camp out on days you are looking to do your meetings. If you are staying at a hotel near the convention center, find a good spot in the lobby. Otherwise, SXSW has official lounges on the top floor of the convention center. Either option is a great central location for meetings, random run-ins, and drinks. – Ryan Stoner, Phenomenon


10. Set Meetings in Advance
It’s best to be ready to set meetings in advance — it’s a great opportunity to make some strong connections, and you’ll want to connect with as many people as possible. Just be sure to screen them carefully prior to your meeting. It’s a good idea to hire someone dedicated to this role. – Nicole Munoz, Start Ranking Now


11. Be Flexible

I think it’s a good idea to have a schedule of things you cannot miss, but be open to tossing your schedule aside. SXSW has so many things going on that you will have never heard of, you may find yourself engaged in an arena you never expected. Be okay with that. – Colbey Pfund, LFNT Distribution


12. Look to Build Lasting Relationships
I went to my first SXSW in 2011. I had no idea what I was in for but made it a priority to be open to trying to really go deep with a few people during my time there. Rather than saying hello to 100 people, I wanted to connect with just five or 10. Taking that approach gave me a focus. Nearly seven years later, I’m still connected with the people I met, and most of them helped me grow my business. – Sean Ogle, Location Rebel