Once you've held one networking event, it's going to be tempting to run another — to make your networking event a recurring affair that everyone in your industry or your area knows that they absolutely need to attend. But to make a networking event both popular and recurring, you'll need to invest some effort into building something more than an average get-together.
You need to find what appeals to your audience, as well as ways to bring new people to your event. After all, what's a chance to network if you already know every single person in the room?
To complete the tutorial you will need the following assets:
- The experience of running a one-off networking event.
- A list of attendees from your previous event.
1. Collect Feedback from Your First Event
Provided you've already ran a stand-alone networking event, you know the mechanics of finding a space and scheduling an event. You also have an invaluable resource: the opinions of the people who attended that first event. Follow up with those attendees and find out what worked, as well as what didn't work, in their experience.
- Did they enjoy the event overall?
- What caused them to actually attend?
- What would convince them to attend another event?
It may also make sense to collect some demographic information about previous attendees to make sure that you're reaching your target demographic. You want to make sure that you're bringing out the people who you want to meet and who are valuable to the group as a whole. Where possible, ask if you can rely on any of these past attendees to run future ideas past.
Brainstorm a theme or a connection for your series of networking events. Whether you're holding a series of mixers, inviting a different speaker to every meeting or otherwise creating an interesting topic for your fellow networkers to talk about, you need a consistent style and approach to your networking event. Standardizing the process will make running each event easier, as well as let your attendees know what to expect.
Test your ideas for your future events. Even if you're just sending out an email to a few people to check if they'd be interested in attending, having that level of information will help you to make sure you're on the right path.
2. Plan Your Actual Events
Once you have the idea for how you'll handle your recurring events, you need to set up at least the first event in your series. It's not necessarily a bad idea to plan several events at once, provided you'll have the opportunity to tweak your plans as each event comes closer. That way, you can batch-process similar tasks together, like by choosing your locations all at once (or finding a space that will allow you to host the whole series in one spot).
In order to grow your networking event — and the network that goes with it — you need to regularly be bringing new people to events.
You'll also benefit from advanced planning when you can tell the attendees for each event what to expect at the next — you can make sure that they're looking forward to each opportunity to meet and to bring along appropriate connections.
Create a marketing plan for each individual event. In order to grow your networking event — and the network that goes with it — you need to regularly be bringing new people to events. While it's more work, you need to be actively planning how to put announcements of your group in front of new audiences for each individual networking event you plan. Can you tap into other people's networks, invite related groups or convince speakers to bring along their established audiences?
3. Create an Online Presence
While your networking events may not need their own website, people need one place to check for information about what's coming up next. That can be anything from a Facebook group to a Meetup group or even your own website — but whatever you choose, make it a priority and keep it updated. Without a high level of consistency, your past attendees won't be able to keep up or let their own networks know about your events.
Make email your primary method of communication. Many of the options available for creating an online community for your networking will have some sort of email built in (like Facebook notifications). In such cases, you may be able to get by without your own list. But if you're not using a tool with a built-in mailing list, you're going to need to set up a separate way to contact anyone who is interested in receiving your updates. Luckily, there are plenty of different email newsletter tools that you can set up for free — my recommendation is MailChimp's free plan.
Plan out at least one event in advance, at least to the point that you can post it on the web presence you've built. If you don't have at least one event ready to go, it's a little hard to promote your on-going series of networking events.
Let past attendees — along with anyone else who you think might be interested — know about both the web presence you've created and the email list. Put an emphasis on how they can sign up to receive updates about future networking events.
Don't add anyone to an email list without their explicit permission: that's an easy way to get your emails marked as spam.
4. Promote Your Series of Events as a Whole
Beyond using your email list and online presence to connect with potential attendees, one of the most practical promotion methods is to get your events listed on event calendars relevant to your audience. Those can include local newspapers, group newsletters or online forums. Depending on the tools each publisher uses, you may be able to list your events yourself or you may need to email them notifications and request inclusion.
Don’t forget to push out updates to your own followers on social media and elsewhere on an ongoing basis.
Other promotion methods for an on-going networking event depend on the audience you're trying to reach. In general, you want to put the information in front of as many potential members of your audience as possible. Asking bloggers and social media users to spread the word, provided your event is relevant to their communities, can be useful as long as the audience you're trying to reach regularly reads social media sites.
You may also find that bloggers and other online publishers have deeper ties to their followers than members of more widely distributed media, like the local newspaper. Those ties, in turn, can prove more effective in actually getting people out to a face-to-face event.
Don't forget to push out updates to your own followers on social media and elsewhere on an ongoing basis. While a series of networking events may not be your highest priority to promote, especially if you have a product or a service you need to sell, the time you've put into creating this recurring event means that you should put just as much effort into promoting it.
Write your updates all at once and schedule them, if you need to — just make sure that you're promoting each networking event to the best of your ability.
Always Be Planning Your Next Event
The biggest danger that a popular series of networking events faces is that the organizer will get bored of the process. It's not uncommon for someone to put on three or four events and then allow life to get in the way.
If you're serious about running a recurring networking event, whether you're doing it for altruistic purposes or for your own benefit, you need to make sure that you're always planning the next event. The more momentum you can build, the easier it will be to keep your events moving forward.
You'll also have a better chance of growing the event series to the point that someone else might want to step up and help run it. Whether or not you want to hand your project over to anyone else is a personal decision, but you won't even have the chance to make it if it seems like your event is in constant danger of falling off the calendar.
Treating the networking events you host like the valuable marketing tool for your business that they are is crucial. Even if event planning has little to do with your company, you can create a great experience for your attendees.
Graphic credit: Some rights reserved by MikeKondrat and Brave.