You Need to Plan a Business Event! How to Get Started
Think celebrations are just for corporations and large businesses? Think again! Small local businesses can and should host special events of all kinds. And while you may not feel like you have extra time to plan a business event, it’s important to remember that any time you spend on growing your business isn’t “extra”—it’s essential! Forrester Research reports that events are the second most effective marketing tactic, after a company’s website. That’s partly because, according to Event Marketing Institute, 74 percent of attendees have a more positive perception of a brand after an event and are more likely to make a purchase. If you haven’t had one recently, then it’s definitely time to plan a business event!
The good news is that it can be a blast to plan a business event that also achieves that essential business growth. If you’re looking to grow and expand your business, getting out in front of a new audience already intrigued by your special event is a great tool. You may emerge as a thought leader in your space, while adding value to your customer’s experience of your product or service.
What is a special event for a business?
What does it mean to plan a business event? It can be as simple as serving delicious food and drinks, playing music, and taking time out to connect with your customers for two hours during your work day—a traditional, yet very nimble in-house party. A special event can also mean a conference, a lecture, co-sponsoring a special gathering like a skateboarding competition, film screening, or day of caring.
For example, Skate Like a Girl Seattle recently hosted the Seventh Annual Wheels of Fortune Female Skateboarding Showcase. The group attracted over 500 competitors and spectators with the mission of creating “an inclusive community by promoting confidence, leadership, and social justice through the sport of skateboarding.” In doing so, Their sponsoring partners—sock and helmet brands, organic juice and vegan cookie companies—were able to authentically position themselves in front of a very inspired audience. Partnering with Skate Like a Girl at their event allowed these businesses to find new customers.
Designing your own special event—or collaborating with another business or nonprofit—can benefit any business, regardless of size. The trick is to figure out how to plan a business event that will be valuable to your target audience. Events can be especially valuable for home-based businesses, as a way to educate your community and potential clients about what you do.
The possibilities for activating the community around your business are endless, but let’s elaborate on a few that are low on cost and high on pizazz.
Co-host an event with a community partner. Is there an organization whose work is in harmony with your own? Get together and form a party dream team to plan a business event. You sell rare cameras? Get together with a youth media organization like Reel Grrls to host a party. Maybe the organization is having an event that you can hop in to partner on. Would they like to have their fundraiser at your shop? Can you provide some exclusive swag? Find out how you can help them achieve their goals, while getting your brand in front of their community.
Thank your customers. Is there a better way to say “Thank you for supporting my business” than a soiree for your customers with exclusive deals and treats? We think not. There are some easy ways to do it—serve cake all day!—while other options may require more coordination. Generally, parties and promotional events need not be expensive to be effective.
Tell your story. Your special event is a great way to make the story of your business or products come alive. Connect your products and your customers! For example, if you’re selling a product made with whole organic ingredients, you could include the folks that grow them as your event co-hosts or guests. When was the last time you met the farmer who grew the lavender in your hand lotion? That’s an unforgettable connection that you can forge for your customers, the kind that’s likely to increase brand loyalty.
Create Shop Local partnerships. Work with other local businesses to form new vendor relationships and new friendships while getting your event essentials lined up. Thinking of including music, a photographer, drinks, snacks, treats, or design collateral? There are likely other businesses within walking distance (and in your Townsquared network) that you can work with. Cross-promotion is a win for everybody.
Host a thank you party for your staff and vendors. Gratitude in your workplace is a great initiative for a lot of reasons. One big one is that managers who say “thank you” to their team find that those employees are often motivated to work harder. Researchers at the Wharton School found that fundraisers who received a pep talk from the director of annual giving, telling them she was grateful for their efforts, made 50 percent more fundraising calls than those who didn’t hear the talk. Plan a business event that increases employee retention!
Celebrate a national holiday with your own spin. There are countless ways of incorporating your business or products into these celebrations. Do you sell artisanal spices? Everyone likes a (red) Himalayan Sea Salt, (blue) Icelandic Sea Salt and (white) San Juan Island Sea Salt American Flag! On Father’s or Mother’s Day, celebrate families of all types by letting everyone who comes through your business write down a favorite family memory, and display it throughout the day in shop or online. Valentine’s Day rolling around again? Everyone, including single people, enjoy candy or a paper heart to go. Simple celebrations that uplift your customers pair your brand with that good feeling.
Collaborate with your community on local events. Maybe your special event is to volunteer with Pride, march in the parade, or host an after event or pre-march brunch. Post stickers and posters that proclaim your business as a loud and proud ally during Pride and all year long. If you are unable to afford fees like parade registration, many organizations will work with you. You might also just walk with a neighboring business or nonprofit and invite your customers and colleagues to join!
The right time to plan a business event
The reasons for creating your events are as legion as the event possibilities. It’s never the wrong time to say “thank you” to your team, customers, and colleagues. Customer (and employee!) loyalty are your reward for setting aside some time to evaluate the intersection of your interests and those of your community. What begins as a two-hour cocktail party or introducing the story of people in your supply chain, can result in lasting partnerships.
The right guest list
Any great event relies on the people you invite, and the best way to create a well-rounded guest list is to invite folks active in your community. Your partner, friends, and children are always around cheering you on? Another business owner you admire, but don’t yet know? Make sure they’re invited!
The best parties invites all types, from customers and admired professionals to professional partiers. That’s right, don’t be afraid to hire performers or experts as part of your event. Admire a local drag chanteuse? Hire her to sing a number at your event. Love the cocktails of a local mixologist? Get them pouring at your party. Have you always paid attention to the drawings of a local illustrator in your neighborhood alt-weekly? Have her draw your online party invitation. These kinds of organic connections create buy-in from a variety of surprising event stakeholders. It’s a great chance to turn a colleague into a friend, a friend into a customer, and a customer into a brand evangelist. Remember, special events work better as awareness raisers than sales tools. You might be surprised at how exciting you can make a small event, and then watch that excitement turn into sales.
But wait, you also get…
Not only do special events spread brand awareness at the event, they’re also a strategically efficient and authentically fun way to produce content for your web presence. This kind of content gives people a “behind the scenes” look at their favorite local businesses. Special events can electrify your typical marketing channels, give you a sense of satisfaction, and open doors of communication.
Creating special events encourages collaboration between community members, and a great event can bring together members of a diverse community around a common theme. Events are best when shared, so remember to lighten the workload by dividing it among many stakeholders.
Events can tell your story, remind folks to shop local, and help you celebrate and collaborate! Business-driven special events allow you to utilize community assets, hardwire celebration into the DNA of your growing business, make gratitude a ritual, meet new collaborators, get the word out, give back, and enjoy the enterprise you’ve created—all while giving guests compelling reasons to support your business.
Cori Ready is a creative event designer and founding board member of the Seattle Design Foundation. She’ll be one of the expert panelists at the Townsquared Seattle workshop How to Design an Event for Your Business, Monday, July 11. Check out our Events page for more information and tickets!