Free networking events are the new trend in the land of the entrepreneur that is Western Australia.
While the concept of the networking event is not new, the rise of the use of social media as an integral part of the marketing strategy of a business has simplified the way networking events are organized, managed, and run. With the growing popularity of platforms such as Facebook, Meetup and Eventbrite, hosting an event is easier than ever.
Here is how I put together a panel networking event in 7 Steps. This is a real event taking place in Fremantle, Western Australia, on Thursday, August 20th, and it aims to bring together key player of the Hospitality environment, an industry often under-represented in the networking world.
Step 1. Decide the audience you are addressing and the event name
You need to think to whom you would like to attend your event and why they should be there. Who would you like them to attend? What will you offer them? Why they should take time off their busy schedule to attend your event? In other words, what is in it for them? Once you decided the audience you would like to bring together and what is the added value you will provide them with, you need to come up with a name for your event.
I came up with the idea for Hospo Freo Biz while talking on the phone with a friend. We both work to help the hospitality community thrive and we were chatting about ways to bring small business owners together to network. Nothing new, if not for the fact that THIS ONE is tailored for the Hospitality industry exclusively. We decided to put together an event to bring together an audience from a specific industry from a specific suburb, at a time during the day that suits them. That’s how Hospo Freo Biz was born.
Step 2. Find the Speakers
If you are planning to host an event where multiple speakers are going to talk, there are a few things to consider:
- Which topics would you like to see covered?
- Do you have the budget to pay a high profile speaker?
- How many speakers are you aiming to have?
As Hospo Freo Biz is a free informational event, we decided not to allocate a budget for speakers. Luckily we are a team of three with different expertise so it was easy for us to figure out this step, but if you don’t have a friend who could be part of your panel of speakers, you might look through your Linkedin contacts or the local newspaper and find someone you think could enjoy being a speaker at your event, or benefit from the exposure as a business, and approach him/her via email or phone.
Step 3. Find a Venue
Finding a venue for your first event can be a stressful experience, although on the bright side, once you build a network of preferred venues, you can streamline the organization process by simply asking for a quote for a specific date for an indicative number of people. You can find venues with Google, local directories, via word of mouth, or approaching hotels operating in the suburb you would like to have your event.
Hospo Freo Biz needed to take place in Fremantle and it is a free event, hence I focused on finding a venue with a good reputation that would offer a room for free. It took a little googling and chats with people I know from the industry, but I was so happy when I got to speak with the manager of Bar Orient to book!
Step 4. Find a Sponsor
Do you know of any business who could benefit from sponsoring your event? Think about businesses who could find clients within the audience of your event and ask them to support you. Support does not always need to come in the shape of a financial contribution, it could also be a barter, depending on the expertise of the company you are approaching and the level of exposure you plan to offer them.
Step 5. Ready, Set, GO!
You got an idea, an ideal audience, the event name, the speakers, a venue, and even a sponsor? Congratulations, you have an event ready to be marketed.
Now comes the fun part: you need to build an identity around this event and a strategy to market it, so that people from your audience will get to know about it and book. You can keep it simple and set up the event on Eventbrite (there is no fee unless you charge for your tickets) and cross promote it on your social media channels, or you can set up a mini website to opt people in so you can use the event as a chance to grow your database.
Hospo Freo Biz is currently on Eventbrite and Facebook, and I tried my hand with a one pager website which I am planning to finish soon, it does take a little more work but it is worth the effort.
Step 6. Marketing, marketing, marketing
This is the time to market your event. My suggestion is to develop a social media strategy or get someone to help you with it, as marketing on social media has proven to be the most cost effective way to reach a targeted amount of prospects right where they are – on social media. If your event has a good identity, you may consider to list it on relevant free online directories, as well as using Linkedin to InMail directly the contacts you believe would enjoy attending. I am not recommending to spam your contacts, rather to let them know there is a good opportunity for them to network, and ask them whether they would like to spread the word. If you are targeting an industry that is by definition not very digital savvy, you might consider a marketing mix approach to your promotion and put together a simple flyer to hand out yourself door to door (in person or by mail, depending on time and budget).
I am currently marketing Hospo Freo Biz on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Linkedin, but none of them will save me from some good old fashioned door to door flyer distribution this weekend. Actually I am looking forward to it, it gives me a chance to build a connection with small business owners in my community right there where the business happens…and I often get free coffee, I am not going to deny it 🙂
Step 7. After the Event
Social media can come very handy to make the “Thank You Note” part of the after event professional, easy, personal, and fast. A thank you note via Facebook where you tag your speaker give him/her one more chance to give visibility to his/her business, while ensuring he/she actually gets the note (I lost count of how many hard copy notes got delayed or simply were never delivered in the past).
How do you organize and promote your events?
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below as I learn just as much from you as you do from me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Federica is the founder of MJ Social, an Australian digital marketing agency that specializes in the Hospitality industry.
If you would like to learn more about how to integrate social media into your marketing strategy and grow your marketing ROI, visit mjsocial.com.au or follow MJ Social on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linkedin.
To book your seat and join us at Hospo Freo Biz, follow this link: