smb-tech-trendsAny of you who were around during the Internet boom might remember it was party time almost all the time. New companies were cropping up every day and many of them wanted to put on a big event to celebrate their official launch. We all know what happened to most of those companies, although the events were hardly to blame despite the large amounts of money spent on them.

The fact is putting on an event — and in this case I’m speaking of offline ones — can be a very effective way to grow sales with customers and prospects, differentiate your small business from the competition and establish an industry-leading position. In “Grow Sales with a Solid Business Event Strategy,” Small Business Computing points out how business events can position you as a business maven, since they create a venue for prospects and customers to meet and converse with each other.

In terms of how to stage your event, Small Business Computing recommends that you consider interviews with industry or thought leaders or a panel discussion on issues facing your market or industry. Put the spotlight on clients and let them speak about their experiences using your product or services, which is far more effective than any sales pitch you could deliver.

business presentationEnsure success from start to finish

Here are several tips to help plan and manage your event to get the results you want:

Plan ahead, far ahead: When it comes to putting on an event, you can’t have too much time. Sometimes it can take months just to book the venue you want. Give yourself at least two months to plan a small event and as much as five or six for a larger one. At least a month before the day, make sure all your contracts for location, food, speakers, etc. are signed and sealed.

Create a planning document: There are templates online for planning an event; find one that maps to yours and populate it with each action or task assigned to someone on your team with a deadline. An associate of mine said she worked with someone who actually created a scenario of the day, plotting out hour by hour what should happen. This is particularly useful is you are planning an event over one or two days.   Be sure to build invitation reminders into your planning document timeline so that you achieve the attendance you need to make the event worthwhile.

Keep a vendor list handy: Make sure to keep a list of all the vendors involved the day of the event so you easily access their contact information if something goes wrong.

Have a backup plan: Invariably something will sidetrack your event. It can be anything from handout materials arriving late or not at all, a speaker failing to show, or equipment breaking down. Anticipate what could happen and have a backup plan for any and every possibility. And if you have speakers, always do tech checks at the venue in advance.

Encourage social activity: Today you don’t need to be somewhere to enjoy an event – you can experience it vicariously while it’s happening. Encourage your guests to tweet about your event while they are in attendance and take photos and upload them to Facebook or Twitter (with permission, of course).

Follow up: Don’t wait too long after the event to send an email to attendees thanking them for attending and recapping the highlights of the day, including a few photos if appropriate.

Events can be hugely successful but they are an investment of your time and money. Before you call the caterer be sure you’ve set your objectives and  have the bandwidth to ensure success.