Holding an event for your customers - a luncheon, workshop, conference, getaway, etc. - can help ingrain you and your company in the community and build your brand, says Jessica Schroder, marketing/events manager for The ASCII Group Inc., an information technology reseller organization based in Bethesda, Md. But before you send out the invites and book a facility, Schroder says there are some planning steps you need to take and some key decisions to make to help ensure a successful event.
1. Determine why you want to have an event and what's in it for you:
- To sell product to existing customers or prospects. “An easy way to do this would be to have a local event instead of having to visit different clients' offices. This is going to save you some time and also it makes it easier for you,” says Schroder. You may even get some funding from a vendor if you're selling their product at your gathering, she adds.
- To educate clients. “Have an event on [a] specific product that you just installed for them and you can educate them all at once. They're going to appreciate you because you're taking the time to train them. This is going to save you time from having to go from client to client.”
- To reinforce branding or create goodwill. “This is really a good way to make yourself stand out in your community,” says Schroder. For example, she says, you could hold a drive to fill backpacks with school supplies for students in need. “When your clients think about you they're going to have this warm fuzzy feeling about you because you're caring about your community.”
Schroder adds that you don't have to have one specific reason to have an event. “You can do a combination of any one of these to have an event,” she advises.
2. Know that you are the creator and curator of your event. “Your content should always maintain your brand and expertise,” she says. That means thinking about the message you want to convey and keeping your audience in mind. “If you don't have a technical audience, don't go too technical,” she says.
3. Understand your audience's time constraints. “How much time can your audience actually give up? How much time can they miss from work? You need to take this into consideration when you're planning your event,” she stresses. “The more time you ask of your audience, the more value you have to give.”
4. Determine time of day for the event and associated costs. For example, she says, if you're planning an event around meal time “you're going to have to provide them a meal of some sort. If you want to avoid that, have it when it's not meal time.”
5. Do some event sketching, which is like a rough draft of your event. Your goal and your final end game should be the starting point for the planning, she advises. This should include the content you want to share, the length of your event, and the size. “Is your office big enough to hold the amount of people that you're going to have? If not, then you have to start thinking about other places that you can have it.”
If you choose to host your event at a restaurant or hotel, Schroder advises to consider things like parking. “We had an event in Boston. I didn't even think about parking.” When attendees got their parking tab of almost $50 they were “not happy with me. Now before I go to a hotel I find out exactly how much parking is going to cost. If there is a fee I see if I can negotiate a lower fee.”
6. Once you have chosen a venue, determine your needs for food and beverages, audio/visual, and speakers. Also find out about any service fees and taxes the facility may tack on, so there are no surprises.
7. Set up a registration process. There are online resources for this, both fee-based and free.
8. Set up your logistics. This can be as simple as using a spreadsheet to stay organized and track things like materials for a conference guide, any special food requests, any special vendor requests, rooms to book for attendees, etc., she says.
9. Set a marketing timeline. “Decide when you're going to start sending your first email or mailing. Set your marketing timeline and stick to it. That will help keep you organized. Whether your event is big or small, simple or complex, you need to figure out how you'll fill the seats.”
10. Make sure all your content maintains your brand and message. “When you're promoting it to people make sure you're sending the same message so they understand clearly what they're going to get from you when they come to your event.”
In addition to these steps, Schroder advises taking advantage of the many different resources available to help run an event smoothly, such as free speakers bureaus. And, she adds, “One of your biggest resources you have if you're an ASCII member is us. … We have been doing this for many years. We will be glad to help you and give you a starting point and help guide you through your process.”