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One of the greatest ways to generate new clients and build an everlasting relationship with existing clients is to host events. From charitable events to holiday themed functions to black tie events to casual get togethers, there are many different ways to create an event that is mutually beneficial for both the host and attendees alike.
Step 1) Information.
Answer all the ‘W’ questions. This is the most important step in creating a successful foundation for the event.
Who and What: Decide the clients or potential clients you are trying to target and how the event will benefit those people. Perhaps you are trying to draw more young urban professionals into your men’s retail shop that sells watches and other accessories like wallets and belts. Having a beer tasting or game night with prize winners could draw groups of these young people who fall into your target audience.
The who/what could also apply to the host(s). If you can partner with a non-competing company, you could end up paying less out of pocket for setup and more than doubling the amount of potential clients you are reaching. Let’s stick with the men’s accessory shop example. Having a local men’s shoe company invite their entire mailing list and bring some of their best selling shoe styles could turn some of their clients into some of yours.
Where and When: Decide how many people you will invite and plan for a large enough space to support about 60-70% of invitees to show up. The location should be easily accessible for most of your invitees via public transportation or by car.
Ideally, you want to get a save the date out 6-8 weeks prior and a formal invitation out about a month before the event. Also, a reminder 2 weeks in advance will be a good way to assure people do not forget. Try not to schedule it when most people usually make plans. Planning an event the Saturday before Christmas or another major holiday is a good way to make sure people do not attend. Aim for a Thursday evening, as most people tend to be more flexible and a bit less engaged in heavy workloads later in the week. In additional to mailers, events can be set up on facebook, as well as via e-vites and other digital means. Make sure to track all RSVPs from all platforms and make sure you are not counting the same people twice.
Keep the seasons in mind as well. A single snowstorm could wreak havoc on the commute to your event, so again, keep in mind public transportation access when planning winter season events up North.
How: Write down everything your guests may want to know about how the event will progress. What to wear. How to park nearby. How they will get their hands on food and drinks during the event. How long the event will last. Will there be gluten free/vegetarian options? Will they have to bring cash for drinks? Are they allowed to bring guests?
Step 2) The Event
Make your guests feel welcome immediately. Name tags are always a great idea when hosting a large scale event especially one involving a lot of networking between guests. If it is a smaller or shorter event and people will only be passing through for a bit, name tags may unnecessary. Make sure you have enough staff on hand to engage your guests and introduce them properly to reps or other guests. It helps to know ahead of time who is coming so you have an idea of who best to introduce to who. Stay away from hard pitching and getting people to sign contracts an an event. People want to relax and do not like to be harassed to buy products when they are at an after-hours networking event of any kind. Keep the atmosphere light and you can count on people to return to your next event and even tell others how great it was.
Make sure everyone’s needs are met as far as food and drink and it is clear where the restrooms are and who to talk to if they need anything else. Most importantly, have fun and make sure your guests are doing the same!
Step 3) After the Event
Send follow up emails thanking all those in attendance for helping to make the event a success. This is also a good time to get feedback in the form of a short questionnaire about the event. Ask what could have been improved or what people liked the best about the event. Ask the same of your own staff on how the next event could go more smoothly. Having a small gift bag or takeaway (especially a branded one) will keep people thinking of your company for event long after the event has come and gone.
And it never hurts to small live plant arrangements to decorate tabletops and to give away at the end of the evening!