If you can’t find the perfect networking event to join, why not host your own? Organising this kind of professional get-together can be a great way to generate new leads and expand your industry database. Not only that, but it can help you make your name in business and create a memorable impression on potential clients.
Here are our eight key steps to planning a networking event and creating exciting opportunities in the process.
1. Define your purpose
The first step to coming up with great networking event ideas is to work out your end goal. Perhaps you want to create a group for people working in your specific industry or a network for entrepreneurs or small business owners? Or maybe you simply want to provide networking events for people new to the area to make friends?
When thinking about your networking event proposal, it helps to define the type of people you want to come along and what you want them to get out of your networking event. Remember, this is how you will ‘sell’ it to them. For example, if you’re running an event for media professionals, you might say it’s ‘a chance for journalists, editors, and publicists to expand their contact books, collaborate on stories, and discover professional opportunities’.
2. Decide on your format
Virtual networking events have exploded in popularity over the last couple of years. Predominantly this is due to the pandemic, but online events also offer greater reach and easier accessibility for attendees. There has also been a recent rise in ‘hybrid’ events, in which attendees can choose either to attend face-to-face or online.
In terms of content, networking can be structured or a little bit more free-form and casual. If attendees already know each other, the conversation might flow freely. But if you’re bringing a new group together, they might need help in the form of icebreaker sessions. For example, you could think about a speed networking event, where every participant makes a short introduction to someone else. This also works well in a virtual format. For face-to-face networking events, consider activities that might facilitate conversation, such as a cooking class or hike. A masterclass or seminar from a well-known industry professional might also offer an extra incentive for attendees.
3. Outline your budget
Most networking events will incur some kind of cost, whether that’s a fee for a guest speaker or just snacks and refreshments. Once you’ve decided the purpose and format of your event, you’ll be better placed to price it up. Next, it’s time to decide how you’ll cover costs. This might be by charging for tickets. Don’t be afraid to charge a reasonable cost for attendance, as this will instil a sense of value in attendees and most likely improve turn-out.
You might also choose to use your company’s marketing budget or seek outside sponsorship. Sponsors might pay to present or have an exhibit at your event, which can be a great way of covering costs. It’s important, however, to make sure the sponsor is relevant to your audience.
4. Choose a venue
If you’re hosting a face-to-face networking event rather than online, consider how you can make your event as COVID-safe as possible. For example, if you expect there will be a lot of shaking hands, think about setting up hand-sanitiser stations at the entrances, exits, and tables. Make sure your chosen venue has enough space for attendees to keep their distance if they need to, and think about how you can manage high-traffic areas like the toilets or bar.
Networking event venues like community halls or private rooms in pubs can be great low-cost options, or you might choose a more unique venue for a memorable wow factor. Think museums, racecourses, and art galleries. You can negotiate with venue managers by emphasising the benefits of your attendees coming along, which might mean reduced rates for room hire. Once your networking group is more established, a member might be able to offer their own premises for more regular get-togethers.
5. Select a time and day
While it’s near-impossible to choose a date and time to work for absolutely everyone, it’s worth considering your demographic and seeing if there’s an option that’s most appropriate for them. For example, young professionals might enjoy after-work drinks, while parents might prefer events earlier in the day or outside of school holidays. Midweek events, before people start thinking about the weekend, can work well. Think about the travel time it might take attendees to get to and from your event, as this might impact whether or not they attend.
Virtual events can help to alleviate some of these timing difficulties. After all, your attendees won’t need to travel anywhere but to their computers, so this gives you a little more flexibility. You can also record your sessions so that anyone unable to attend can still benefit from the event, particularly if you’ve invited a guest speaker. These materials can also be repurposed for promotional purposes in the future.
6. Promote your event
Setting up an event page on Eventbrite makes both managing sign-ups and promoting your event simple and straightforward. The Eventbrite search listing is used by thousands of potential attendees each day, and it also integrates with Facebook to make social media promotion seamless and easy. You can create a highly targeted Facebook campaign at low cost to bring your message straight to your desired demographic. You can also make use of professional resources like LinkedIn and industry press to promote your event far and wide, and our ticketing platform will keep track of all sales to make sure your event is never oversubscribed. A personalised networking event invitation can be a great way to create a memorable impression on any attendees you’d specifically like to invite.
Eventbrite offers plenty more tools to make light work of your promotion strategy. Boost is an all-in-one platform that helps you create ads for YouTube, Spotify, and more, as well as send customised emails so you can engage with potential attendees in their inboxes.
7. Get the conversations flowing
The key purpose of business networking events is that people chat and get to know each other, fostering new connections and opportunities for collaboration within their industry. A little pre-planning on your part can make sure attendees get as much value out of the event as possible. Think about which contacts might benefit from meeting each other, and take the time to introduce them at the event itself. You can get to know a little bit about your attendees using Eventbrite’s Custom Questions feature, which enables you to gather extra information at the registration stage.
For example, you might choose to ask your attendee’s job title, employer, and any additional interests. With permission, you can then circulate this information in the run-up to your event, allowing attendees to schedule in slots with anybody they’d particularly like to meet. A networking app can be a great way to help people connect before, during, and after your event.
8. Follow up
Maximise the impact of your face-to-face or virtual networking event by engaging your attendees in follow-up activities. A Facebook or LinkedIn group can be a great way for attendees to share resources, thoughts, and plans for future meet-ups. Developing this kind of online community provides a low-commitment opportunity for these relationships to keep growing in between formal events. You can also share all photos from your events on social media, and use them to promote your get-togethers to new attendees.
Make sure to send a follow-up email to all of your attendees to thank them for coming. Ask for any feedback and things you could improve for next time by using Eventbrite’s seamless integration with Survey Monkey, which allows you to easily send out post-event surveys. Capitalising on the momentum of your event and capturing feedback in the immediate aftermath will help you to keep evolving your events to really deliver for attendees.
Time to start planning your networking event
Now you know all about what makes a successful networking event, it’s time to start planning yours. The Eventbrite events platform, with its integrated apps and powerful planning tools, shows you how to plan a networking mixer. Not only that, but it can help you to grow your business and get your name out there at the same time.