With the accessibility of the online space, in-person events can seem like an unpopular choice to grow your small business. However; in-person events offer the opportunity for long-lasting, quality relationships that will serve you and your business for years to come.
Sure, the digital world means you can connect with a lot of people at once, that’s a big plus. It also makes staying in touch fairly easy. However; in-person events allow for more meaningful and genuine connections that stand the test of time.
As humans we are wired for connection. We’ve survived (and thrived) for millennia operating in communities. Studies have shown how feeling a sense of belonging and connection to community contributes to overall health and well-being. I often feel our society seems to prefer spending time online, without realising the benefits that physically being amongst others can bring.
The power of word of mouth referrals
Aside from the whole connecting thing, events also present a wonderful opportunity for marketing your business and brand.
The saying ‘people buy from people’ has roots in these environments. By putting a face to the name of your business, you’re allowing your customers a glimpse into the person behind the brand.
When you invite people into your inner world, you help to build rapport, establish trust and increase the chance of them both buying from you and recommending you to their family and friends.
These word of mouth referrals are what will continue to work for you long after your event is over. Word of mouth is such an underrated marketing tool. Multiple studies have shown how it is one of the strongest methods to help grow your business (and it’s free!). Data shows as much 90% of purchases rely on word of mouth referrals – HUGE!
8 ways hosting an in-person event can help you grow your small business:
When planning a business event it’s helpful to break down what you would actually like to achieve as a result. This helps you not only get clear on your vision and what the event needs but also helps you to measure whether it was successful and worth it for your business. Here are some ways that events can boost your business.
1. Connect you directly with your audience and potential customers.
This is pretty self-explanatory but it’s often overlooked in favour of online methods. There’s no algorithms to contend with or hacks needed for you to convey your message to your audience. Events also help to build hype and amplify messaging. A successful event means you could be creating raving fans in the space of hours vs. months and years of social media posting.
2. Build your email database.
When you sell tickets or ask people to opt-in to attending your event, it’s the perfect opportunity to gather emails to add to your database.
Email marketing is one of the best value ways to market your business. The average expected ROI is $40 for every $1 spent on email marketing. As a small business, where funds are often tight, this is a lot of bang for your buck.
Just make sure if you are going to be marketing to your event attendees that you do the righty, legally and inform them they will be opting into your email marketing database.
Another way to collect emails is to host a competition at your event where attendees can give you their email address in exchange for a prize/special offering. Using QR codes is a super simple and fun way to do this. You can create your own printable QR code for free at sites like qr-code-generator.com. Link the QR to your email sign up page and not only will it make it easier for peeps to sign up, it will save you on data entry, later.
Capturing emails is also really useful if you are expecting guests on the day that perhaps didn’t purchase tickets using their email, so you can gather a higher volume of data.
3. Brand awareness and messaging.
The saying ‘first impressions last’ rings true. As mentioned before, hosting an event is an opportunity for you to introduce yourself so your audience can get to know the person behind the brand. The connections we make in person tend to be lasting and memorable compared to those made online.
Physically, you have the opportunity to also convey the visual dynamics of your brand. If you have the budget you can style the event with the venue, decor, props and florals to create the ultimate ‘vibe’ you want to communicate.
Gift bags or goodie bags are a popular inclusion at in-person events, too. This is yet another way to bring more of your unique branding into the event and gives attendees a lasting memento.
Remember, it doesn’t have to always be an elaborate affair or require a huge budget to make a statement. Sometimes the pared-back, intimate events leave the most genuine impressions on those that attend them.
4. Sell products.
If you have a product-based option in your business, events are the perfect scenario to sell your wares.
The most obvious choice here is to participate in a market stall. Here in Perth there are some amazing markets to apply for.
It’s worth noting that markets often require a lot of prep.
Not only do you need to have the stock available to sell, you need to think about your product display, payment gateway, packaging and signage. Some markets also require you to have your own marquee if it’s outdoors. I know many people who have signed on to do a market without realising the amount of preparation involved.
In my experience, once you’ve done a few markets you get to know the essentials and what you do and don’t need. I would recommend having helping hands especially for your first market stalls, so you aren’t trying to do it all alone (been there, done that!)
Aside from markets, in-person events are a great place to test your market with merchandise, new products or special offers. Often, in the moment, people are keen to support you or if they love your vibe, purchase gifts for their family and friends to share the love.
Networking is a powerful tool for small business growth. There’s a saying ‘your network is your net-worth’ which you may have heard before. The people who you surround yourself with in business, matter. Meeting people face-to-face at events is an authentic way to build your own network without feeling sleazy or salesy.
Small business networking has multiple benefits, including:
- Job referrals/sales and projects.
- Help to bounce ideas and workshop solutions to problems
- Establishing yourself as an expert in a particular field.
- Sharing stories.
- Advice and support.
- Making friends!
6. Bring fun into your business.
Not all events have to be about capital-raising or sales. Sometimes it can be that you want to just have a bit of bloody fun! This also ties back into brand awareness. If your event is a hoot, your brand will be synonymous with letting the good times roll, which is a magnetic marketing message – after all, aren’t we all looking to inject more fun into our lives?
If you make time to have fun and bring joy into your business, you are going to increase the warm fuzzies that help you to continue through the hard times. Business is a rollercoaster and we need motivation and inspiration to get us through. Often we don’t make time to sit back and celebrate everything we have achieved in business. There’s no better celebration than a party for your biz. If your event goes well, you’ll be riding high on those feel-good chemicals to help you spring into another period of growth and development.
7. Instant social media content.
User-generated content is a fantastic way to spread the word on socials about your business. Encourage those attending your event to use a signature hashtag and tag you in photos. Not only will it help potentially build your social following, you can then reshare their content (tagging them, of course) for future posts and stories = instant content library.
Hiring a photographer and/or hiring a professional photo booth are other ways you can make the most of the content opportunities at your event. This also will help with user-generated content. Naturally, people are more likely to share flattering images of themselves, so having a pro to snap some pics makes a difference!
Inviting social media influencers or local PR teams also helps to spread the word about your event and biz. Often there is a fee associated with this but some are reasonably affordable. A tip here is to choose PR or influencers in your target audience or align with your brand messaging so it doesn’t feel fake or ‘spammy’.
8. Collaborate with other businesses.
Sometimes an event can be an expensive and logistically huge undertaking. Collaborating with other aligned businesses is a way not only to cut costs, but to leverage multiple audiences and widen your potential customer base.
Even if each business has a modest reach, combining forces means you are instantly doubling/tripling/quadrupling your audience.
Collaboration also contributes to networking for your biz and can create strong partnerships for years to come.
20 event ideas for small businesses
Okay, so you’ve been convinced that you’d like to give an event a whirl for your business. As I mentioned earlier, you don’t need a massive budget or elaborate setup to pull off an epic event.
I’m sharing some of my fave ideas for in person events to help get the creative juices going:
- Speed networking
- Making/Craft workshop
- Hotseat/live coaching work
- Coworking day
- Panel/interview series
- Mini market
- Art exhibition
- ‘Ask the expert’ interview
- Content creation day
- Headshot/branding photo day
- Group exercise/yoga/pilates etc
- Outdoor fitness class
- Kids craft activities
- Meet & mingle
- Live podcast interviews
- Psychic readings
- Dance class
- Women’s circle
- Barefoot bowls
Tips for finding the perfect event venue
Finding a venue can be one of the hardest tasks when planning any event. It’s all about location, location, location! Your chosen venue can make or break an event. Poor parking, substandard customer service or crummy food can negatively affect the experience of your guests. Again, it doesn’t have to be the fanciest or most expensive location, you just need to make sure it helps you meet the goals you’ve set out.
First, you need to look for a space that’s large enough physically to accommodate your guests. Think about what activity you’ll be doing and whether everyone will be able to comfortably fit.
There’s the obvious things you’ll need like bathrooms, seating and tables (depending on your event). Consider catering – are you providing food and drink? Make sure there is suitable food storage and heating facilities if required. Is there drinking water, tea/coffee or will you need to provide your own.
If using electrical equipment – suss out power points – check for accessibility to these as well as whether WiFi is included, if needed.
A huge one is also parking. There is nothing worse than a venue with poor parking available. If parking is ticketed or limited, be sure to communicate this to your attendees so they aren’t frazzled on the day when they can’t find a park or receive a parking ticket.
What will the space communicate about your brand? Do you need to add your own styling or is the venue perfect as-is? Take into consideration not only your brand but the event itself. For example, if you’re hosting a meditation and visualisation session, you may prefer a quiet, dimly lit space over a bright, clinical office environment.
I do believe that you create the vibe yourself with the energy you bring to the event, however; the environment also plays a part. If you’re using a space that’s cramped, with stinky, smelly carpets and no natural light it may be hard for your guests to feel fully relaxed and can negatively impact their experience.
Start with smaller events and embrace trial and error
Another tip is that know it’s hard to get everything perfect the first time round. Self-compassion is a key throughout the business journey but especially when executing an event. You are only one person, you can only do so much! Those ‘perfect’ events you’ve been to before often have a team behind them, helping with planning, logistics and delivery on the day.
In my experience, the best way to see what will work for an event is to just give it a shot. You’ll always find things you can change or do differently but you won’t know until you take action!
If it all feels a bit overwhelming, start with smaller events. You don’t need to have a huge amount of people to create a successful event. Starting small means you can iron out any of those teething problems before you go bigger.