So you have gone to a few business networking events and they did not turn out to be what you expected. Maybe you ran into the challenge of being taken seriously by more seasoned business people. Here is an idea: host your own networking event and build up your credibility. By planning and sponsoring a networking event, you’re suddenly transformed into a business leader in the community. You are bringing entrepreneurs and small business owners together to talk shop – and many believe that only a leader does that. The added bonus is that you also bring extra exposure to your business and brand.
Here are some tips on how to pull off successful networking events:
1. Choose your event venue wisely. You do not want to choose a venue that is not easy to get to and not centralized. Many people will suggest you host your networking event at a downtown hotel or bar, but that could become a distraction for some of your attendees. A great choice for a networking event venue is a seminar/training room in a professional office business centre. Centres like Telsec can offer you a fully equipped room where the desks, tables and chairs can be arranged to a configuration that best suits your event, thus giving you options of how to work your event. If you choose to hold your networking event at a business centre like Telsec on a weekly, biweekly, monthly or quarterly basis, consider setting up a virtual office solution. Having a virtual office at Telsec not only gives your networking organization a professional address and a telephone number, but it also gives you a discounted price on the meeting room or conference room that you rent.
2. Make it easy for people to RSVP and attend your networking event. Consider using event promotion tools on Facebook or Google+, as well as using a registration app such as Eventbrite to allow attendees to register. The benefit of having people register in advance (for free or a small cost) helps you estimate the attendance ahead of time, and it gets a commitment from attendees while providing an automated reminder via email to those who register. Remember to use social media to promote your networking event. Set up landing/business pages on Facebook and Google+ with details of the event, as well as a potential community where attendees can follow up with other attendees.
3. Be sure to make on-site check-in as smooth and easy as possible. Even if you are not charging for your networking event, it is always a great idea to have attendees check in. This allows you to be able to track how many people attended. And ask them to confirm their email address, therefore allowing you to follow up and announce future events. Just be careful not to draw out the registration process. If someone doesn’t want to give you their email, just let it slide. If you are not using a computerized check-in system, be sure to have plenty of pens and name tags available.
4. Don’t just attend your own networking event; be sure to meet everyone. This means introducing yourself to ever person who attends so they know who is behind the event. When you welcome them, focus on talking about what they do, not what you do. Showing them that you are a great listener and taking a genuine interest in them and their business, will help them to remember you in a very positive way.
5. Connect people to others. Because you are greeting everyone, you have the unique advantage of knowing what everyone does. One of your jobs as host is to be looking for opportunities to connect people with other attendees that could benefit them. That guy who works in packaging, might be interested in speaking with the other guy who is a graphic designer.
6. As you plan your events, think about people you know that can also be connectors to help you. You cannot be in every corner of the room, but chances are there is an attendee standing alone. Having volunteers help you at your event by introducing people will ensure that everyone is talking with someone – and no one is over in the corner not networking.
7. If you are planning to make your event more than a one-off, be sure to follow up with attendees. You want to ask them for their feedback and ideas, and what do they think could have gone better. Listen to all the feedback, consider the ideas that people are telling you, and look for popular ideas. Just remember the most suggested idea might not be the ‘wow factor’ ideas you are looking for. That ‘wow factor’ idea could come from a single attendee!
8. As you develop your networking events, consider having a guest speaker or a theme for the event. This will help you get repeat attendees who want to see something new for each event. In the beginning, you might not have a budget for speakers, but there are plenty of entrepreneurs and small business owners who will be more than happy to have an audience for what they are promoting. Telsec once hosted a networking event where the keynote speaker had just published a book on craft beers. According to the event organizer, the speaker was not paid – and even provided the beer for sampling!
9. Generic business networking events are not for everyone, but who says all your events have to be aimed at a generic audience. One way to build a business networking event business is to diversify and have various events aimed at different audiences. This is especially true if you want to be able to have multiple networking events in a given month. You could have your generic all-inclusive event once a month and other specialized events other weeks of that same month.
10. While many will say that establishing a price should have been the first thing you should do, others will tell you not to expect to make a profit or even break-even on your first few events. Create a budget that includes your expected expenses and the number of people that you expect to show up. Your first few events might not have too many people RSVP’ing – but that does not mean you should not do the event. It means you may want to rent a smaller meeting room and charge a small reasonable fee to attendees.
11. Consider sponsored networking events. As your events grow in popularity and attendance, you can approach companies and brands to not only provide you with a free keynote speaker, but also to pay a fee to be a sponsor and place their brand at your networking event. Many companies in the service industry want the opportunity to get in front of a dedicated audience to educate them on how they can offer services to that audience.
Hopefully these tips have given you some ideas and helped you to start your own business networking group. But we are certain there is much more advice that you can also find on the Internet from people who do the same thing in other cities across the continent.
One last tip we have is to speak to the people at an office business centre like Telsec and offer them a private networking event for only their office space tenants, coworking members and virtual office clients. This will help establish a relationship with the business centre. Demonstrating the benefits of your events to their members and offering their members free admission to your other events, could get you a reduced rental rate on the larger training rooms as you grow.