Planning your own networking event can be a great way to make sure that you have the opportunity to meet exactly the sort of people who you want to connect with, as well as to establish your company as an important part of your local industry.
Yet, holding a networking event is pointless if no one else shows up. You've got to make sure that prospective attendees are just as excited about the idea of your networking event as you are.
To complete the tutorial you will need the following assets:
- A confirmed location to hold your event.
- A chosen a format for your networking event.
- Refreshments for attendees.
- A speaker or other draw for attendees (optional).
- A ticketing tool, such as Eventbrite.
1. Plan an Event with Some Pizzazz
As you're planning your networking event, consider how you can make it interesting to the audience you're trying to attract. You may need to go out and survey some of the people who you'd like to attend, so that you can get a sense of what convinces them to go to one networking event and skip another.
Create a draw for your event beyond just the opportunity to meet some cool people. Exactly what will work depends on your industry and audience. There are some people who will show up any time there are free drinks and others who want to hear a speaker or see an exhibit.
There are some people who will show up any time there are free drinks and others who want to hear a speaker or see an exhibit.
Especially for your first networking event, it's okay to go with a draw that may not necessarily get every single possible person out. You'll always have the opportunity to plan future events, so put a priority on choosing something appealing that you know you can deliver on.
Consider charging for your networking event, at least a nominal amount. Having to put down cash in order to attend an event can convince prospective attendees that they are attending a premium event — that a higher quality of people will be there. It doesn't matter that much if you charge a fairly insignificant amount; the goal here is not about making money directly off the event. You might even consider announcing that the funds raised will be donated to charity.
Furthermore, a price tag increases the chances that someone who says he'll attend will actually show up. Because an attendee doesn't want to lose the value of even a small amount of money, there's a psychological push to carry through on spending even five dollars.
Line up any sponsors, speakers and other resources you need to actually run your event. It's important to have your planning mostly complete before you launch your marketing efforts.
Set up a ticketing tool, such as Eventbrite. While you can just leave it up to people to decide whether or not they'll attend on the spur of the moment, having a clear count of how many people are planning to attend can help you more effectively drive your marketing techniques.
If you choose a ticketing tool that shows who has already signed up for a given event, you'll also have some social proof of the value of the event. If someone looks at the list, he can tell that people have already decided your event is worth the effort, so he can just follow along — and if there's another attendee who he particularly wants to meet, a prospect is far more likely to sign up.
You may also face the question of limiting the number of people who attend. You may not expect to hit the upper limit of what the venue you're using can hold, but you'll want to limit ticket sales just in case a lot of people sign up. There are worse problems to have!
2. Create Your Own Mini-Media Blitz
Publish the news of your event to the channels you control. If you have a blog, an email newsletter, social media accounts or any other way of telling a large group of people about the event, do so.
Depending on how long you have until your networking event actually takes place, you may be able to publish multiple updates, reminding your followers of what you're putting together.
Email those individuals who you particularly want to attend. If you have friends or connections who you'd like to have at your event, tell them so. If you've decide to charge for the event, you may consider offering to waive the cost or give them a coupon code.
You might point out why you particularly want someone to attend. If your friend knows that you want to introduce her to a potential client, she'll be more interested in showing up for your networking event than if she thinks that you just want help filling the room. Your friends may come to support you even without an incentive, but it doesn't hurt to add some frosting to the cake.
Contact local media, particularly those who cover your particular industry or the audience you're trying to attract to your event. Take a broad approach to defining media: local bloggers may be better equipped to mobilize their followers to attend your event than a television reporter, by far. Someone with a few hundred followers can be even more valuable to you than someone with thousands, especially if you're only trying to get twenty-five people out to your event.
Be available to answer questions for these individuals. Some may want to attend themselves, so offer them the opportunity to do so — after all, they are doing you a favor.
Make it easy for your friends and colleagues to share information about your event. While you don't want to expect that sort of help from your connections, many will offer — or at least ask what they can do to help. If you can put together a list of tweets they can choose from to share, or give them blurbs to post to their blogs, your connections will be more likely to actually help you out.
3. Keep Reaching Out, Right Up to the Event
Keep an eye on the number of attendees who have signed up for your event. You want to make sure that number keeps growing, even if it happens slowly. For your first time, you can take some additional steps to promote your networking event — they may not be practical if you're holding events on a regular basis, but they can help you ensure that your first event succeeds.
Search for people local to your area who may be a good fit for your event.
Search for people local to your area who may be a good fit for your event. You may be able to connect with them through social media or even in person before the event; either way, make a point of inviting them to your networking event. LinkedIn and other business networking sites can be a great source of people for this strategy.
Ask those friends of yours who have already committed to attending to consider bringing a friend with them, especially if they know someone who would be a good fit for the group you're putting together. This strategy can be a little harder to implement if you are charging money, since you don't want anyone to think that you're pushing for higher attendance just to raise your income. If it's appropriate to comp a ticket or otherwise remove the price barrier, you should do so.
Send out reminders right before your networking event. Most ticketing tools will allow you to send an email to attendees even if you don't have direct access to their contact information. Sending an email increases the chances that the people who promised to attend your event will remember that they planned to do so, even if it didn't make it onto their calendars.
Don't Forget to Build on the Success of Your First Event
Your first networking event is just the beginning. If you make a point of collecting contact information for everyone who attends, you'll have a great starting point for marketing your next event — you'll be able to invite all of the people who have already seen what a useful event you can throw. You can even ask attendees who want to be kept up to date on future events to join an email list (opt-in only, of course).