Creating Effective Networking Events

By Jarrod Goldsmith

Every entrepreneur is told they need to start attending networking events in order for their startup to grow. It doesn’t matter in which industry the small business is in, people need to know about it so that it will grow. As an event planner, this is definitely a large market!

With so many networking events to choose from, how can event planners create unique events that will have traction, longevity and active community engagement?

First of all, an event planning business faces many of the same challenges that any other small business faces. Exposure and credibility are key ingredients to a successful brand. Start by personally attending networking events in your area. Get to know the major ‘players’ of some of the most active networkers, as well as the organizer of other events. If you don’t have a solid grasp on the market, how can you expect your new event to be successful?

Venue selection is a huge component of creating a successful networking event. The number of people you expect, the overall look and feel of the event and purpose of what you are trying to accomplish all play-into what would be an appropriate place to host. Some venues might charge a lot of money to rent rooms, with a commitment to purchase food and/or beverages. It’s always wise idea to discuss with the venue the option of them waiving any potential charge, especially if you can guarantee them a certain number of attendees, particularly on a slow weekday. Perhaps they may even be willing to provide some complimentary appetizers? (Providing food for attendees is always wise)!

Costs for creating an event need not be extravagant. If a venue is not charging for the space, and there are no other major commitments, perhaps your only out-of-pocket expense may be parking. But remember that if it’s the first time you’re hosting an event, you want to make it memorable, so it’s a good idea to do what you can so that people will talk about it. This could mean paying for extra food or a round of drinks for everyone. As with any business, sometimes even event planners need to initially pay in order for exposure so that they will bring more traffic next time. Think about the future and how your event will contribute to a lasting legacy.

Normally freebie events have higher turn-outs than events that charge. This is true particularly for the startup business community who are notorious for not having much money. Keep in mind that if you don’t charge a fee, you may find attendance may be overshadowed by an abundance of people in certain industries such multi-level marketers, real estate / mortgage agents, financial etc.

It’s frequently said that paid events ‘weed-out’ many of these kinds of people and lead to a higher-level of attendees. For example, it’s likely that people who are members of Chambers of Commerce will not attend freebie events since those are often not the kind of people they are looking to connect with. Again, it goes back to who the target market of your clients are looking to meet. This should make you aware of your target market.

The more established your events become, the easier it is to start charging. At the end of the day, we all need to make ends-meet, but if you start an event with the intention to make money, people often have the tendency to notice, and it might not lead to a very good first impression.

Finding sponsors is always a wise idea. Once you create a niche, know your market, have a few events under your belt and have a steady number of people attending, you could be ready to start looking for sponsorship. As we all know, if an organization has funding or is willing to provide goods or services in exchange for sponsorship, it means they want access to your audience. By creating various sponsorship packages, they can pick and choose the kind of exposure they can expect to receive. A great resource to help you start looking for sponsorships is an Ottawa-based company called Sponsearch. Sponsearch matches organizations looking for sponsorships, with those organizations looking to offer sponsorships. In essence, it has been equated to a sponsorship ‘dating’ website.

All entrepreneurs are busy, so choosing a time of day to host your event is essential. Once you complete your due-diligence, you will find that there are many breakfast networking events happening almost every day of the week. Perhaps you may wish to try something different and host events towards the end of the day or evenings. Figure out for yourself the best time for your target market to attend. Ask people you meet at other events for their preference. Perhaps you may find that parking of traffic is an issue for some. By holding events in the late afternoon/evening there is a better chance that on-street parking might be free, which would be an added-value to attendees.

Social media is the key to any successful business. Being actively engaged on many different platforms such as Facebook and Twitter will help expose and promote your brand. It’s one thing to attend networking events yourself in person, but you should also use social media to help spread the word to entrepreneurs about your evenst.

Hopefully these few tips will help you to start realizing what it takes to create and host success entrepreneur networking events!

Happy networking!

Jarrod Goldsmith

About: Jarrod Goldsmith is one of Ottawa’s best-known entrepreneurial networkers and is the embodiment of the small business spirit. His passion for music, public relations and networking skills made for a perfect combination in creating two unique businesses.

eSAX (The Entrepreneur Social Advantage Experience); is an entrepreneur networking community and tradeshow for small business to create connections, gain knowledge and promote collaboration among Chambers of Commerce and community/business leaders. Sax Appeal (Canada’s Premier Saxophone Ensemble); is an all-saxophone ensemble whose specialty is to provide live music to enhance the ambiance of functions that require the finest of touches and is transforming the musical landscape in Canada with their distinctive sound, look and feel.

As an additional way to help encourage, promote and offer greater assistance to aspiring entrepreneurs, Jarrod also hosts a weekly YouTube video series titled Ask the Fedora about a wide-range of networking/business tips to help make your networking endeavors not only less stressful, but successful!

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