Hosting a business event can help attract prospects, cement relationships with existing customers, and build buzz. This could be a holiday party for your most loyal clients, a workshop for business owners at your accounting firm, or an in-store reading and book signing by a notable author. It could even be a simple gesture to thank customers on Small Business Saturday®.
Yet the idea of hosting a business event might feel overwhelming, as even the smallest events can require careful coordination of many moving parts.
Read on for 10 quick business event planning tips that can help make sure your event goes off without a hitch, no matter how big or small it is.
1. Set a clear goal.
What are the primary and secondary things you want your event to accomplish? Is it to build business awareness, generate future sales leads, get customers on your mailing list, or something else entirely? Once you can define the goals, you can select the best event ideas for your business to achieve them.
For example, if your aim is to help people learn more about your company, you might consider inviting the public to an open house or setting up a hands-on interactive event at an industry expo. Charity events, like a fun run or auction, can be a memorable way to connect your company to a noble cause. Workshops can also be an effective way to share knowledge and network with prospects – and potentially turn them into future customers. Laid back happy hour events, luncheons, or group meet-ups can help show customer appreciation, create memorable connections, and get people talking about and appreciating your company in a new light.
It can seem easy to copy other events you've seen or attended, but you can also think creatively. Sponsoring an escape room event, a virtual reality experience, or even an outdoor adventure can create unique experiences that generate buzz, enhance brand visibility, and leave a lasting impression.
2. Find the right venue.
If you’re just starting out, you might consider a smaller venue and shorter length of time for the event. A brief open house or a half-day workshop at the main office might make more sense than a multi-day conference in a major ballroom. This might make it easier to manage the basics, such as refreshments, seating, and other details.
You can think through whether your business event idea aligns with your brand and target audience. Some audiences might love the fun and challenge of an escape room or outdoor adventure, while others may prefer a more educational workshop experience.
3. Time the event.
Timing can be an integral part of a business event’s success. You can plan around key dates, such as holidays or annual events in the community, to increase your likelihood of a good turnout. You might consider how much time it could take for attendees to not only get to the event, but how long it might take for them to sort out trip logistics, whether it's public transportation, rideshares, or flights. It can help to have an event located in a central business district that's easy to reach by multiple modes of transportation.
You can also factor in ample time for you and your team to prepare for the event. Securing a venue, arranging speakers, and organizing catering can sometimes take more time than anticipated – plus, the more time you have to prepare for the event, the more time you have to promote it.
4. Choose your team.
One person can likely take ownership and manage all the high-level event details, while others can supervise the moving parts. For example, who will coordinate refreshments, pick up supplies, organize rooms, and make sure Wi-Fi info and device chargers are accessible? Clear-cut responsibilities and smart delegation can ensure nothing will slip through the cracks – you don’t want to end up without chairs at your conference or glasses at your wine tasting.
5. Plan out the event.
You can walk through every step of your business event: envision it happening and picture everything you will need, from chairs and a PA system to napkins and clipboards. You might consider doing this at the event venue, if possible. Try to predict the size of the workforce you’ll need for the event to go smoothly. Do you need to outsource security or hire temps to work the event, or do you have enough employees to cover all the bases?
You can also workshop things that possibly could go wrong. Playing through these “scenes” can help you determine who and what you’ll need on hand to overcome potential hiccups.
6. Set a budget.
It may sound awesome to have a well-known athlete speak at your event. But is such a guest within your means? As you come up with business event ideas, you can monitor costs to see how things stack up against your budget. This can help you decide whether it’s time to scale back plans or find a way to bring in additional money. Some options that may help ease the financial burden include selling tickets in advance, seeking an event sponsor, or partnering with a complementary business that's willing to split costs.
7. Create a marketing plan.
You can find creative ways to get the word out. Depending on the type of business event you’re planning, your marketing strategy could include email outreach, direct mail, targeted and native social media campaigns, in-store signage, or advertising on multiple relevant platforms that target your key audience demographics.
It can also help to notify local media about your event since they have a built-in audience. You can send them a press release, invite them to cover the event, and offer to share your photos or videos afterward. Similarly, you can find social media influencers who suit your brand and targeted audience and see if they’re willing to help promote the event and talk about it afterward.
8. Develop promotions.
You can decide how you’ll market to customers when they’re at your event, whether with business cards and brochures, discount coupons and gift cards, or product giveaways and contests. You can capture attendees’ contact information so you have a way to reach them afterward, first as a thank you for attending and later as a way to build upon the relationship and, ideally, convert them into a loyal customer. This can be as simple as writing their email addresses on a form in exchange for a raffle ticket or dropping their business cards in a bowl that’s used to pick a gift card winner.
9. Stay positive and flexible.
If mistakes happen, your attitude can help save the day. Even if a detail or two falls by the wayside, you can choose to stay positive, keep your sense of humor, and make sure guests and customers are happy they came. If attendees feel welcome, it may not matter so much if there aren’t enough chairs or that you probably needed three hors d’oeuvres stations instead of two. You can chalk it up to a learning experience, and know you’ll do better next time.
10. Follow up with event attendees.
The real work in planning a business event can be how you leverage it afterward. That can be the time to thank customers who attended – you can offer them something special, such as a discount, free trial, or an invitation to your next event. You can ask them to rate the event so you can learn and improve the next one.
You might look inward and assess how well you met your goals. How many new customers showed up? How many returning customers? How many units did you sell at the event – and in the months following it? Developing and tracking your own metrics can help ensure your events pay off in dollars as much as a good time.
Business event ideas can be fun to brainstorm and execute. Harnessing that fun into a deliverable event that’s on budget, well thought out, and smoothly run can be beneficial to you, your business, and the event attendees. A positive experience can help keep existing customers happy while building new buzz around your business.
A version of this article was originally published on October 20, 2015.