Check out a guest blog from The Apprentice Program and friend Mary Baird-Wilcock!
What is your marketing strategy? There are a ton of channels for you to market your Startup’s brand and products. Mastering these channels can take a lot of work - but no one said building your reputation was easy. You fill your days with SEO and copywriting and web design and email marketing, etc... Live events are another opportunity to reach your audience. Yet, many times, startups dive into the event planning process without considering whether they are ready to do so. Here, we are going to take a look at what it takes to become #StartupEvent Optimized.
There are endless reasons that you may considering planning an event and adding it to your marketing mix.
So you want to plan an event...
This is a great idea - you understand the potential of hosting an event and how it can enhance your brand and authority in your industry.
But... There are a few questions you need to ask yourself before you decide that an event is the best fit for your company.
Events are risky. You are setting yourself up to be vulnerable. By delving into a space that you may have no experience in, you may fail. Not to mention that budgets tend to creep upwards on things you would never expect. If you aren’t keeping an eye on registrations or interests - you may ACTUALLY be stuck in an empty room.
We are going to take a look at a few of the things you should ask yourself before you dive into planning an event. Some of these will be barriers to entry and some are just things that will shape the format of your event. It will be key to understand each as you start the planning process.
Get #StartupEvent Optimized in 5 Simple Questions
#1 - Do you have an audience interested in attending an event?
Hosting an event can be a great way to get your audience in a room to share a live experience together. You have their attention and can shape the way that they interact with your brand and one another. But do you have the actual audience to fill those seats?
Take a look at your mailing list. How engaged are your followers in the content that you are sharing? Are your open and clickthrough rates enviable or dismal? Do you have a few hundred people on that list? A few thousand? Tens of Thousands? You want to get an understanding of your reach before you decide that a live event is an experience you want your attendees to buy into.
It is also important to gauge whether there is any interest in an event at all. You know you are onto something when people start asking when you are going to host a conference or a workshop. And sometimes, it takes you asking them if they would attend an event that you hosted.
CAUTION: I worked with a client with an email list well into the tens of thousands. I encouraged this client to ask his list if they would be interested in attending a conference. With over 600 "Yes's", they had hoped for 200 attendees to register. That goal came up a bit short. You should build a budget with variable costs based on attendees, but be sure manage your expectations.
#2 - What type of event do you want to host and why?
Pretty much any reason to gather people together can be a reason to plan an event. What type of event are you looking to host? Startups events generally fall into the category of marketing events, but can have any number of purposes. Here are a few examples of events that startups often host:
Conferences or Workshops
Product Development/Testing Events
Client Advisory Board Meetings
That is just a quick glance at various event types that your Startup may be hosting. Regardless of the format of the event, they all have a common goal - to enhance your brand’s presence and assert authority in your industry.
#3- What are your revenue goals for the event?
The type of event that you are hosting will often influence the revenue model you will use. There are three primary models to consider:
For your event to make money, you need to either find sponsors or charge admission. Conferences and workshops are often events that can generate revenue for your company. Make money by charging your attendees a markup on the hard cost of the event and passing along certain costs (including hotel rooms, transportation). Once you sell enough tickets to break even on your fixed costs, you can start bringing in revenue.
Maybe you just don't want to lose money. Networking events often use a break even model. It is pretty low cost for you to host a happy hour, paying for the cost of a bar and a few snacks. You can charge your attendees the exact cost of their body in a chair for that event by dividing your costs by the number of attendees - and meeting that attendance goal (see question 1).
Give to Get
A loss leader event means you are going to spend money to achieve an outcome. You are spending money to meet your experiential goals for your attendees. Giving to Get works well for events meant to build on existing relationships. Client facing events are often loss leaders. By bringing your current clients together, you have the opportunity to celebrate your successes and gain feedback on how to improve your products. That means that you might pay for airfare, accommodations, food, entertainment, and more.
By identifying your financial goals for an event, you start to define budge implications and assumptions you will need to make later on. Be sure you are able to communicate the ROI of the experience to whomever will be footing the bill for whichever model you choose.
#4 - Are you willing to pit your reputation against the risk of a live event?
Live events are risky. Even the best laid plans have the opportunity to derail. By hosting an event, you are engineering a potential conflict between your reputation and the risk that you might face when it comes to the event. If your registration process is broken, you lose. If your content is weak, you lose. If a pipe explodes during the middle of your conference and you can't quickly respond, you lose.
This risk should not scare you, but you should respect it. Know that you have to be willing to tempt failure to succeed. That said, if you don't have any experience planning events, I cannot stress how much you need to consider question #5.
#5 - Can you even plan?
Planning an event is a huge drain on mental and physical resources. There is a reason that the event industry is projected to grow by 33% by 2022, and that reason is skill. It takes a lot of skill and specialized knowledge to plan an event. Between vendor management, scheduling, customer service, design development, risk management, etc... , it is no wonder that Forbes has identified Event Coordinator as one of the top 10 most stressful careers of 2015.
It is hard! Going at it alone is one of the ways to will lose that fight against the risk you take in question 4. So be sure that you have someone on your side that knows how to plan a successful event. Does that mean hiring an employee with event management experience? Maybe. How often are you executing events, and does that volume justify having someone on your payroll?
Startups often try to tackle everything in house, both for cost savings purposes and to fuel that drive to achieve. To often though, non-experienced event planners can cost more by missing savings opportunities. Your staff should focus on perfecting your product and mission specific projects. Not on learning how to plan an event.
This is why you should consider hiring an outside firm or consultant to help take your events to the next level. Hire an event professional or agency to take your idea and build an event around it. This mitigates a lot of the risk involved in the minutia of your new marketing effort. There are tons of event agencies around the globe producing events for specific client markets. Startup Event Solutions is the agency you should look at for your startup event needs. We specialize in working with startup teams + founders to maximize the impact of live events on their company goals.
Adding an event to your marketing mix can be an exciting opportunity. By making sure you are Event Optimized, you can start off on the right foot. Take some time to answer these questions and get comfortable with the risks that you are going to be taking on. If you take the right risks, your event might just be one of your best assets.
1) Do you have an audience interested in attending an event?
2) What type of event do you want to host and why?
3) What are your revenue goals for the event?
4) Are you willing to pit your reputation against the risks of a live event?
5) Can you even plan?
I am the owner of Startup Event Solutions - where we plan incredible events so you don’t have to. Whether you are building your product, working on securing funding, getting ready to sell, or any other stages of your company’s lifecycle, your time is money. Why bother learning the in's and out's of the beast that is an event when you can focus on what you do best?