Venue. Speakers. Catering. Drink tickets. Hosting a conference comes with a price, and many business leaders make the mistake of thinking their companies are too small or too new to benefit from hosting an industry event.
However, a conference can provide value for companies of all sizes and in all stages. Customers will have the opportunity to meet you, interact, understand your personality, and establish a personal relationship with your company. This fosters retention and longevity, as well as a sense of trust and legitimacy.
The trick to throwing a successful conference that provides a valuable return to your business is identifying what you want your conference to accomplish and taking the steps necessary to make that happen — without getting caught up in the details.
Hosting an Event on Any Budget
When it comes to conferences, quality is more important than the size or price tag of your event. No one will remember if you went overboard on a gourmet food spread, but they will remember if your speakers and content weren’t high-quality. Here’s how to make it count:
- Have a planning powwow. Gather your event’s stakeholders, whether those include HR reps, the CEO, or salespeople. Ask them about their goals for the event, and host a brainstorming session. Then, take the best ideas to an operational person in your company who can execute them. There are a lot of moving parts to conference planning, so be sure to choose a detail-oriented individual to ensure a flawless event.
- Cut the fireworks. You might think your conference needs to happen in a big ballroom with top-of-the-line AV equipment and other bells and whistles. But that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, I recently attended a small-show conference that took place in an enclosed hotel lounge. There were no slides, AV, or audio. The speakers could talk to attendees in a casual, informative manner that felt hands-on. It was a great event, and all the attendees found value in it.
- Be smart about splurges. If you decide your conference does require a feature that threatens to tip the scale of your budget, then it’s time to think outside the box. In the first year of my company’s event, we spent about 20 percent of the cost that many bigger firms would have spent on an event of the same size. That’s because we did it in a theater that had all the sound and AV equipment we needed, and the venue itself was quite inexpensive.
- Spotlight your speakers. Many professionals will come for free just to get the experience for their résumés. You can also ask your best client or a particularly eloquent, experienced staff member to speak.
- Make it fun. Conference attendees want to feel like they’re engaged. Make your event interactive with a hashtag, ice breaker, or social media feed. Try Splash, which creates live event feeds based on attendees’ contributions.
- Shake some hands. I’ve been to a number of events where the host and speaker were locked away in the green room and didn’t interact with anyone. Don’t miss the opportunity to put a face to your brand and network with attendees. Shake hands, talk to people, and set up networking opportunities.
- Make your money work for you. You don’t have to throw down the funds for a fancy dinner spread or buffet. Last year, my company did a happy hour on a hotel rooftop and gave our attendees a certain number of drink tickets. Attendees understood they needed to pay cash once they used their tickets, but they still had an incentive to relax, network, and engage with other attendees.
The Time Is Now
Conferences create leads and spread the word about your business and your brand. When the clients who believe in your products and have paid money for your services are in the same room with people who aren’t yet customers, they’ll sell your product for you without any effort on your part.
My company recently held an event that offered our clients a slightly discounted price for services. Many non-client attendees came simply to hear the speakers. Our clients sold the non-clients on our products without any prodding on our part. If you do good work, your clients help create leads for you.
When it comes to conferences, there’s no better time to host than the present. If your business can provide value to clients — both current and potential — through a conference, it’s worth having. Plus, you’ll build your brand, increase visibility, build rapport with clients, and gain new leads. Shelling out for a few drink tickets is worth the ROI.
Lena Requist established herself as a powerful force in business before joining ONTRAPORT as COO in 2009. Her background in corporate finance and successful business building has helped to grow the ONTRAPORT organization 5,000 percent, landing ONTRAPORT at No. 102 on the 2012 Inc. 500 list. Lena has a passion for helping female entrepreneurs and is the founder of a virtual Women in Business group, where empowered women can share their strengths, struggles, and triumphs with each other. Connect with Lena on Google+ or Twitter.
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