How successful are your events when compared to other small businesses? Do you over- or under-spend? How many people should you expect to turn up?

These are just a few of the questions we wanted to answer by conducting a survey of 126 small to medium sized businesses and startups about their event marketing activity.

Here we share 10 key findings that will help you better benchmark your own events.

1. Why run events?

According to our survey, there were 5 main reasons for businesses to run marketing events, but one stood out as the most important, with 43% saying that networking and building relationships was their primary goal.

After that, generating a profit (36%), building brand awareness (32%) and education or training (30%) were the next most common aims for business events.

An example of a networking, branding, and educational event is a Hootsuite Hootup. Hootups are casual, free events often hosted by Hootsuite Ambassadors and supported by the Hootsuite Community team. These events are a great opportunity for Hootsuite users to bridge their online and offline worlds and network with their professional peers using Hootsuite. Attendees share experiences, discuss social media best practices, and learn about Hootsuite’s products and features.

Coming in 5th was demand and lead generation, with a surprisingly small number (18%) citing it as the key reason for putting on events.

2. What kind of event should I run?

We asked what kinds of events SMBs ran to meet these business objectives.

The most popular category of events were classes, training sessions and workshops with 66% of all respondents choosing the run these. Given their low cost, flexibility and ability to offer both networking and education it’s not surprising these formats have become a standard for businesses looking to connect with their audiences.

More surprising was the fact that 55% of SMBs also ran conferences. While common amongst larger organisations, the cost and complexity of hosting conferences meant we had assumed they would be less popular amongst smaller businesses.

However, because conferences can generate quite significant profits, they are also likely being used as additional revenue streams for bootstrapped startups (given profit was the second most popular reason for running events, this makes a lot of sense).

The third most frequent format was a networking event, and with networking being the number one goal of SMBs when hosting events, this would seem like an obvious choice.

3. How much do events cost?

Marketers are always under budgetary pressure, so it’s good to know how much it costs to put on marketing events.

Well, according to the results of our survey, the average budget for a small business marketing event is £12,626. That covers everything including venue, catering, marketing, printing & branding, AV, the programme or content, tools & technology and video or photography.

Of course this ranges enormously, with some events costing in excess of £75,000 and others coming in at just a few hundred pounds.

Digging into the costs of promoting a business event, we found that the majority of SMBs (29%) spend only between £1 and £100, while 22% spend nothing at all, and a very small number (3%) of outliers invest over £10,000. The average marketing spend across all SMBs was £1,244.

4. Should you be investing in technology?

35% of SMBs who took our survey said they are planning on increasing their budgets for event technology this year, so to keep up, you may want to do the same.

Their budgets will primarily go into mobile event apps, with 27% saying they would definitely be using this tech in 2015 for their events (and a further 53% saying they are considering it).

After that, there is a huge drop-off, but the next most likely tools and technology to be adopted by SMBs for their events are Big Data & Analytics Software (38% ’considering’), followed by iBeacon and other sensor technologies (37% ‘considering’).

5. How should you market your events?

We asked SMBs to rank their most effective marketing channels for event promotion, and there were three clear winners.

Top of the pile was email, with 25% voting it their most effective marketing tactic. This was closely followed by free social media at 23%; and referrals or word of mouth at 22%.

“Don’t think about your social media as just impacting one event. There will be so many people who catch a Tweet or a post that will put the event on their radar for the next time. So it’s almost like you’re doing PR throughout the year, even if you’re only building up to one event. So think about the lingering impressions.” – Emma Andrews, National Educator, Vega

6. What’s new in 2015 for marketing events?

While these channels are currently popular, there was also a clear trend for new tactics being adopted by marketers when promoting their events.

Top of the list was partnerships, with 59% of respondents saying they expected to use more partnerships in 2015 than the previous year.

The next emerging channel was an increasing reliance on marketplaces and discovery platforms like Eventbrite to help attract attendees, as 47% of businesses said they were planning to use them more this year.

Inbound marketing made up the third most popular emerging tactic for event promotion, with 45% telling us it would play a bigger role in their marketing mix in 2015.

“Hootsuite has been organising events for years. Over time, we have increased the number of events we organise jointly with like-minded organisations such as eventbrite and we noticed that such joint events are multiple times more impactful than events we organise on our own.” – Olivier Adam, Director of Online Revenue, EMEA, Hootsuite

7. How complex should your marketing plan be?

This was pretty clear-cut, with the majority of businesses (52%) using 3-4 different marketing channels, which aligns with the above findings, suggesting they likely use email, social media and referrals to drive attendance.

19% used 5-6 different tactics, while 18% used just 1-2 and on the opposite end of the spectrum, 11% used 7 or more.

8. How many people do you need?

To execute your event marketing plans, what size of team do you need? That was our next question.

It turns out that most event marketing teams operate pretty lean, with most (46%) averaging 2-3 in size, and a further 26% being the sole event organiser. 16% had slightly larger teams of 4-5, and a lucky 12% had 6 or more team mates.

9. How many events should I run?

Do you need to run several events per year in order to achieve your business objectives? And if so, how often. The answer from our survey suggests that regularity is important, with the largest portion of respondents running 4-5 events a year.

A brave 13% run more than 26 events annually, but only 5% run just a single event.

This is probably because it takes more than 1 interaction to build the necessary relationships for converting prospects into customers, or getting across your educational message.

10. How many people should I expect?

Last but not least, we asked one of the most important questions for commercial teams – how many people should you expect to meet at your events?

Given the modest budgets and team sizes the results are not too surprising, with the large majority (61%) of events being 1-100 people in size. This is the perfect number for classes, training sessions and workshops (the most popular type of event for SMBs).

After that, 18% of respondents said their events had 101-250 attendees (a good number for networking events); and 10% managed to attract 251-500, which would make for a good sized conference audience.


Everything extends from the goals of your events.

If you just want to network with potential customers, then it makes sense to run networking evenings on a fairly frequent basis, will smallish overheads, a lean team and expect 101-250 people turning up.

If you want to educate your customers or establish your company as a thought leader, then training sessions, workshops and classes are a great way to achieve this. Run a few times per year at a larger scale, or potentially every other week if you just want to invite a handful of prospects, they are a great, low-cost way of building trust and credibility with your target audience.

For those with more ambitious brand-building plans or who want to achieve a mix of all those goals, then you could consider running a conference, where you’d expect a much larger audience, but would in turn need a larger team and budget.

Whatever goal you choose, and whatever your budget or team size, these figures show that you can organise an event that will work for your business.

If you found this useful, join thousands of other organisers and sign up to our newsletter for more timely updates, insights and advice every Monday morning. 

  • Was this article worth your time?
  • Yes   No