Why do I say this?
Well, ask yourself what impresses you most or makes you want to do business with someone or buy from them? Is it the free drink and gift bag or having a host(s) that personally greets you, makes you feel welcome and valued?
In a past life, I use to have a nice little side-hustle in corporate event management (£100k+ budgets). I still from time to time do MC and stage management gigs. So here are some basic tips, if you are planning an event and you are pushed for budgets.
Firstly my Golden rules - that I strongly feel can make a real difference:
Rule #1 – You are a host. Remember no matter the format or venue, plan to spend the early part of the event greeting people and working the room. Make sure guests get a refreshment and introduce them to other people. Never let a guest stand by themselves. You don't know how important they are for your business and they may leave early if made feel awkward.
Rule #2 - Make sure you and your team are noticeable, wear similar colours, badges, t-shirts, etc whatever you can afford, but make sure you appear a team and are approachable for questions. It might be an event, but you are at work.
Rule #3 – Create a hashtag for the event. Or use your company #. Either way, you want to encourage social media engagement on Twitter, Instagram etc. Set aside time the next day to like all the posts that are positive for your event. Perhaps do a small prize for the best post.
Rule #4 - Allergies! I have a nut allergy, so it’s annoying when everyone gets obsessed with gluten. There are several well-known brands of snacks which suit gluten sensitivities and are nut free. So no nuts at events:). Plus don't ignore vegetarians and vegans.
Rule #5 - Avoid childish gimmicks – Remember guests from a corporate background like to have structure and clear planning. If you say a presentation starts at 7 pm start at 7 pm, not 8 pm just because you were having a laugh with selfies sticks:).
Rule #6 – It is a business event, make sure you have a container to take business cards at the entrance or have an online way to gather valuable contact details. Make sure it is GDPR compliant.
Finally it’s not just during the event that counts-
Rule #7 – Always send a thank you email to all those that attended, afterwards. You want to continue the feeling of customer service and good CRM to boot.
- Sponsorship- Not as easy as it used to be, but try and offer advertising and social media traffic to companies that will supply funding for the venue, food and drink. However, make sure there is a brand affinity. Also important, guest do not want the hard sell from sponsors. Have their LOGO featured and make sure to give them a thank you in your speech and follow up social media.
- Showcasing new brands - Startup food and drink companies are often looking for opportunities to showcase their goods. So in exchange for free food and drink offer them an opportunity to showcase their produce. This also applies to services such as beauticians, photographers (e.g. free headshots) etc.
- Invites – There are plenty of free email distribution solutions such as Mail Chimp. You can send to a large distribution list and it looks professional. It also saves on stamps, stationery, and is environmentally friendly. Plus you can have an online RSVP list. GDPR- make sure you have permission to use email addresses.
- Eventbrite, meetup.com and other social media – There are several other methods for promoting your event and securing attendee numbers. When you’re a small business or startup people will respect you have a budget.
- Venue. There are plenty of places that will provide a venue for free. Never ask how much. Always start with ‘I am looking for a free venue’, then prepare to haggle to get for free and/or negotiate a minimum spend at the bar. Also, reach out to your network. Many people are members of clubs, office sharing spaces and college campuses etc. They may be able to get a space for you.
- Day of the week. Consider Monday to Wednesday for your event as they are the cheapest days for venues. Prepared to be flexible.
- Catering. Do not be afraid of negotiations. To give an example. I joined a committee during an event they were planning. To my horror, they had agreed €20 a head for burgers. I immediately pushed back with the venue and ask why it cost so much. Turns out they were offering multiple side salads and some other fluffy menu items. I got this down to a €10 per person by sticking to one option and negotiating simpler substitutions I even got some free veggie options. Ask what you are getting for your money and see what can be substituted/omitted. Remember, most people have conservative food preferences. Unless you are a food business, keep food simple.
- Bring your own supplies – yes you can do this. Many of the big supermarkets do great deals on snacks and drink. The pound shops can be great! Ask about corkage deals with venues as Lidl/Aldi etc do great deals on decent plonk. Finally, get a cash-and-carry card. These are free (unlike Costco) and open to all registered businesses. No brainer to get snacks and drinks at wholesale prices.
- Creating the mood – depending on the industry, you can look at renting props and employing some savvy website and pound-shop browsing. Tiger shops, IKEA are also great for nice decorative touches. Just be mindful of your company brand colours and keep it simple. Be prepared for some DIY decorating and most venues have a store of decorations. Also, if you know a performer, see if they will perform for free (they can plug upcoming gigs).
- Gift-bags – In the fashion, beauty and media industries these are often expected. As with the sponsorship option, reach out to several brands for free samples and make sure you insert your own marketing materials. Or set-a-side a small budget for a fun branded novelty item. Even try publishers for surplus magazines they are willing to give away, which are in keeping with your brand.
The primary goal of any event is to celebrate something. Either a thank you to customers or announcing a milestone, new brand or achievement. You want to make sure you focus on the message and make sure it is clear to those attending why they are there. This can also help manage costs as you are managing expectations.
If the guests know they are going to learn something and network, they are less impressed by free food and drink, when there is no structure to the event and they are not made feel important.
It is crucial to remember, potential guest/customers are busy people, they really do not have the time to go to the opening of an envelope, unless you have a strong message and a purpose. You could spend a lot of money on an event that no one attends, or you get all the wrong sorts (freeloaders). Also, you could be competing with a few other events on the same night - very common in capital cities. Therefore be prepared to work around, i.e. start an hour earlier than another event or start a bit later and you could be the afterparty!
So do make sure you actually need the event and be prepared to do some leg work if you are on a budget. It is OK to hold off a few months to get the best deals and not clash with competitors and other key events. Be mindful of your audience and their availability.