Launching a Live Event: How to Get Things for Free
Almost one year ago (on April 7th), I launched my very first paid live event in a town with less than 40,000 people...and sold it out within 48 hours.
To say that I was shocked was an enormous understatement.
I had no idea it would be popular, and I remember sitting on my bed, watching the "You have a PayPal payment" notifications rolling in and after it was 50% sold out, I closed my computer, laid down in my bed and took a 2 hour nap.
(Imposter Syndrome, anyone?)
I created this event, wrote the sales page, learned how to hook up PayPal to my website, and I sent an email to 10 friends, with Instagram graphics and pre-written Tweets/Instagram quotes and asked them to promote it.
Here's how I went about planning it, and here's how I ended up getting a lot of things for free (usually it came down to...asking).
I knew that I financially wouldn't be able to host the event if I had to put a down payment down on a venue. And so I got a little strategic.
There was a fun hotel opening up down the street from my apartment building. Because I had recently launched my event planning business, I knew I wanted to network with local hotels that had conference space, not only so I could bring MY clients to THEM, but so they would feel comfortable recommending ME as a planner to any clients that may come in looking for someone local to help plan conferences and events.
The Lark Hotel was gorgeously designed -- but they didn't have a dedicated event space. Bummer.
However, they had a GORGEOUS lobby (right?).
And they REALLY wanted to get people in their space, especially because they were brand new and were fighting to stay ahead of another, larger chain that was opening a few blocks away a few months later.
So after emailing the General Manager to simply set up a meeting to tour the rooms, I told him that I was thinking about hosting a small event and would he be interested in being the "host sponsor" for the event.
He said sure without even blinking.
Action step: What local venues aren't often that busy during the time you want to host your event, and are interested
I sent an email to 10 of my biz besties with the vision for this event (now that I had a venue). I told them I wanted some gorgeous photography and that I was hoping to get a photographer that
One of them consulted for a local non-profit and knew of a photographer that was trying to expand her network outside of product and portrait photography. I set up a coffee meeting with her and asked her if she'd mind shooting for two or three hours.
Kate (Citizen Lucida) was happy to help, and once I had a photographer on board, I knew it would be easier to ask for in-kind sponsorships for other things.
Action step: Approach your local SBDC or non-profit community that may know of photographers who may be interested in changing up their portfolio in exchange for attending a cool event, and getting a shoutout or introduction from you, the organizer.
SWAG + CALLIGRAPHY
Little Red Wagon Coffee Roasters and Birdwalk Press were both swag sponsors and they were both rolling out new product lines at the time of the event. Since I knew them personally, I asked them to swag sponsor, and I promised them images of their work in return.
Lady Lewton was happy to do the calligraphy (again, she's a personal friend and it was only 40 tags, plus I provided the paper). I don't think I even asked; she offered.
Action step: Who in your community has the ability to fund a small level of in-kind donation? Maybe it's an old branded notebook that they don't sell anymore. There's TONS of small shops who are looking to offload old merchandise at no or low cost...how can you take advantage of this?
This go-around, I didn't get wine sponsored BUT because I did get wine sponsored at the next Boss Lady Bash, I can tell you how I did it.
I didn't know anyone that owned a wine store BUT I did know a distributor in town who was a woman. I emailed her the concept of my event, that I was putting it on at a lower cost than most events, and I asked her if she would donate a case of red and a case of white (again, promising her photos of her merchandise to use with credit to the photographer).
Even though I had NEVER met her, she said yes almost immediately. If she had said no, I would have tried again with a different store that may have understood the value and had more marketing dollars to spend.
Action step: Brainstorm people in your community that may have a connection to the mission of your event. Ask for a donation or at least a discount, and let them know the benefit they'll receive (photographs are always tempting).
My friend Jasmine of Whipped! Confections was launching a Kickstarter around the same time as my event, so I asked if she would sponsor cookies and cupcakes in return for branding her cookies around the Kickstarter campaign.
She was totally on board.
Action step: Take note of anyone in your community who may be sending out an extra fierce marketing effort. Maybe it's a new clothing store or a new boutique that's happy to sponsor branded materials to raise awareness.
I did have to pay for food, boxes for the swag, notecards that I hand wrote (to 40 people, which took FOREVER!).