Whether it’s a holiday luncheon for your best customers, a workshop for business owners at your accounting firm, an in-store reading by a beloved local author at your children’s bookstore or just a way to thank customers on Small Business Saturday®, hosting an event is a great way to help attract new customers, cement relationships with existing customers and build buzz about your business.
But the idea of hosting an event can intimidate many small-business owners. Yes, there can be lots of moving parts involved in pulling an event together, but don’t let that scare you off.
These 12 tips can help you plan and execute your next event with ease:
1. Set a goal.
Do you want to attract local media, create awareness of your business, build a mailing list of potential customers or sell slow-moving products? Set goals first, then determine the type of event that will best achieve them.
2. Figure out the scope of the event.
Will you have refreshments, entertainment, workshops or speakers? Scale the event’s scope to your level of experience. If you’ve never held an event before, don’t start by trying to host a day-long business conference for hundreds of attendees in a hotel ballroom. A one-hour workshop at your office will achieve many of the same goals.
3. Time it right.
Timing is crucial to the success of your event. Consider key dates, such as holidays or annual events in the community, that might compete with yours, or choose a theme to highlight. Also consider how much time attendees will need in order to plan ahead to attend, and how much time you'll need to prepare for the event.
4. Choose your team.
Who will be in charge of the event? Whether it’s you or a key employee, you need one person to take ownership and manage all the details, then others to help with the rest of the moving parts. Making sure responsibilities are clear-cut ensures you don’t end up without chairs at your conference or glasses at your wine tasting.
5. Think it through.
Sit down with your team and mentally walk through every step of the event. Envision it happening, and picture everything you will need—from chairs and a PA system to napkins and clipboards. Also consider how much manpower you'll need at the event itself, what could possibly go wrong and what (and who) you’ll need to have on hand to handle those snafus.
6. Set a budget.
As you envision your event, you may find the costs are adding up to a price beyond your means. That’s when it’s time to either scale back your plan or find a way to bring in the additional money you need. Depending on the type of event, you might consider seeking a sponsor for the event (perhaps one of your vendors or suppliers), selling tickets in advance or partnering with a complementary business to share the costs.
7. Create a marketing plan.
Allow plenty of time to get the word out. Depending on the type of event you're planning, your marketing plan could include email outreach, direct mail, in-store signage, and radio, print, online and cable advertising.
8. Alert the media.
Local media are critical to building awareness of your event in the community. Send local reporters and bloggers a press release about your upcoming event, invite them to cover the event and send them a follow-up press release after the event. The publicity can help spread the word about your business even to those who can’t attend.
9. Build buzz.
Use social media to get your target audience excited about the event. You can tease the event well in advance, post pictures of and news about your preparations and even invite customers to the event. Keep the social media energy high during the event by having an employee live tweet and post pictures and video from the event as it’s going on.
10. Develop promotions.
Figure out how you’ll market to customers when they’re at your event, whether with business cards and brochures, discount coupons or gift cards, or product giveaways and contests. Be sure to capture attendees’ contact information—this can be as simple as having them write their email addresses on a form or put business cards in a fishbowl for a drawing to win a free prize.
11. Be positive.
On the day of the event, be prepared, but also be ready to accept that you probably haven’t planned for every eventuality. If mistakes happen, your attitude is what matters most. If you stay positive, keep your sense of humor and make your customers feel welcome and happy they came, it won’t matter so much that there aren’t enough chairs. Chalk it up to a learning experience, and know you’ll do better next time.
12. Follow up.
Your work isn’t done when the event is over—in fact, that’s when it really starts. Follow up with customers who attended the event to thank them and offer them something special, such as a discount, free trial or invitation to your next event. Ask them to rate the event so you can learn for your next one. Assess how well your event achieved your goals. How many new customers showed up? How many returning customers? How many units did you sell? How many attendees make purchases in the months following the event? Developing your own metrics and tracking them will help ensure your events pay off in more than just good feelings.
Read more articles on Small Business Saturday.
A version of this story was originally published on September 13, 2013.