How to Plan a Networking Event
It's no secret that I believe live events have incredible power to grow your business from a one-on-one, trading time for money, hustling for clients and customers WORRY-FEST, to portraying you as an influencer, a thought leader, and a pillar of business ownership in your community.
And while some people think that simply going to networking events is enough to sustain their relationships, becoming an influencer in your niche is all about creating opportunities for OTHER people.
Which means creating a networking event, with you as the host, encouraging conversation and introductions to other people in the room doesn't take business FROM you, it helps your potential clients get in front of THEIR potential clients...which is good for goodwill and good for your business.
Here are a few things to consider before you create a Facebook event and invite all your friends.
Decide who you want to target.
Networking events and meetups can be awesome for you and your business, but you want to make sure that the value your attendees get from coming is clearly stated. I've spent TONS of time at networking events and meetups that are meant for "people in business!", which is to say "everyone ever!" These experiences rarely left me with good connections, and I often felt that I wasted my time talking to sales reps for other companies.
Look around in your community and see what's missing? Does their need to be a software developer meetup/networking event? Or one for graphic designers only? Or one for photographers? Or moms in business?
Niching down and really digging into who you want to serve is great for you AND great for the community. You're basically telling people "I've already done the research and if you're a mom who is vegan and a business owner, this is the ONLY group for you."
People want to feel like they're walking into something that they already buy into and so the mental barrier to networking is a little more broken down because they already know that they definitely have something in common with the other people in the room.
For example, my Boss Lady Bash events are targeted specifically at creative female entrepreneurs. They're for women who are makers and designers, who have Etsy shops and retail boutiques, who provide creative services for other businesses or individuals. They're for women who are bootstrapping and trying to figure out how to make a sustainabile income.
Does that mean that other business owners don't come? Nope! There are lots of people who are real estate agents, or network marketers, or people who aren't specifically in my niche. And that's totally okay and totally awesome! It makes the community robust, especially when they share their experience and their knowledge with others in the group.
There will always be some people who are outside of the "fray" of my niche. But that's okay, because the expectations that have been set up front are clear and those people know what it means to be in this specific community -- even if they aren't the target market.
Reach out to a bar or restaurant that is in a good location, with easy parking, but may not be too busy on a weeknight.
This is by far the trickiest piece, although it doesn't have to be. You don't even really need to reach out if the meetup is going to be small, but if you have some marketing power behind you, then it may be a good idea to at least give the location a heads up.
If they try to charge you, GO SOMEWHERE ELSE. There are plenty of restaurants and spaces that would LOVE to get 10 - 30 people in their doors without doing any of the work. You're going to give that to them, and you shouldn't be charged for that.
Need a sample email script to get you started? Fill out the information below for the swipe scripts I use when planning my events (they're FREE!)
Create a Facebook event and email your people individually
I don't do a TON of promotion of my networking events because a) they're free and b) I find that the personal approach goes a lot further than the mass blast.
In reality, you really can only meet and make 3-4 solid connections at a two-hour networking event. And while I'd love for the room to look full and super busy, I'd also love for people to ACTUALLY make good connections.
Which is why I always tell people to bring one person that they think they'd love to introduce around, and not to go crazy with the introductions. Deeper relationships are more important than vast relationships. If you can cultivate deeply, your network will grow, but focus on depth versus width.
This may seem counterproductive, but I promise your events will grow. When content and atmosphere is delivered well and in a way that's high-quality, people will naturally want to come, want to invite their friends, and want to be a part of the community.
Make sure you're capturing email addresses.
I don't require people to RSVP but I do require them to sign in with an email address. The only thing I'm asking is that people give me their email (because email is where it's at in terms of growing a community who will end up being customers).
I do this the old school way, with a sign in sheet and pens. If you want to do it with an iPad, awesome! If pen and paper works for you, go for it!
Send reminder emails...with personality!
If you're on my email list (and if you're not, why not? Sign up here!), you'll notice that any time I do a reminder about a webinar or a live event or a new service that I provide...I email about it more than once, and I make sure I'm telling a story with each email.
Conversely, if you're just blasting people with pre-written copy that's the same three times in a row? They're going to be annoyed.
So what I'm saying is DEFINITELY promote your event and send emails to your peeps more than once...but don't let it get stale and boring. Sure, it's a little extra work, but the return can be HUGE depending on how consistent you are with it.
Show up early and introduce people to each other
Networking events (or any events that you host, really) are not about you...they are about helping other people. That can be tricky at a networking event, but the reason that most people go to a networking event? Is to meet new people!
Make introductions! Start by simply introducing new people to other new people, and as you get to know your community better through more and more events, try to introduce people who have similar businesses, similar struggles, or might be good for collaboration.
Follow up after the event
Make sure you add all the people who attended to your email list (and if you don't have one, start one!). Start emailing them regularly...perhaps once a week or twice a month to get them in the habit of receiving emails from you. They may not read all of them all the time, but they'll be much more likely to open them since they know you or have met you at an event.
At the end of each email, let them know about your next event and ask them to SHARE your email with anyone they know that may be interested in receiving it. This is how you start to organically grow your audience...no sales pitch, no money exchanging hands, just providing intense value and help to people who have met you and who want to learn from you.