It’s the night of the event. The lights are dimmed, the speaker is presenting, everyone is engaged, and life is good. Perfect scenario, right? It always happens that way, right? Eh, not so much. That is, unless you plan, plan, plan — and even then there can be a curveball or two.
Whether you plan dozens of events a year and consider yourself an expert, or you just happen to be the person in the company who gets that task, you know it can be a lot of work! Let’s dive into the basics of planning a successful event, and how you can prepare for the worst-case scenario, while looking smooth and polished, and accomplishing the best-case scenario. By the time we’re done, your event audience will have no idea you don’t do this for a living.
Types of events
In my role at an executive search and consulting firm with a lively culture, I plan all kinds of events, and as a small business owner, it’s likely you do as well. Let’s start by looking at a few different kinds of events your business could host – just to give you ideas.
- Recognition and award ceremonies (celebrating milestones or accomplishments)
- Fun outings (such as chili cook-offs or golf outings)
- Happy hours (just for fun, also great for company culture)
- Holiday parties (who doesn’t love these)
- Charity functions (giving back to the community as a team)
External or client-facing events:
- Sponsorships (for a publication or industry organization)
- Client appreciation events (great for creating personal connections and increasing client retention)
- Workshops and seminars (sharing your industry-specific knowledge)
- Happy hours (networking with your current connections and beyond)
Planning an event: in-house vs. hiring
Now that you have a few ideas on the types of events your company could host, let’s look at who should plan the events. You have a few options – do it yourself, hire an intern, or hire an event planning company. There are pros and cons to each of these options.
Do it yourself
- It’s free
- You get to decide exactly how to plan your event – from strategy to execution (if you’re detailed, you’ll love this)
- You have to decide exactly how to plan your event – from strategy to execution (if you’re not detailed, you really might not love this)
- It’s time-consuming
- It could prevent you from connecting with your guests as much as you’d like to because you’ll be wrapped up in the details (e.g., checking to see if the food is running out)
Hire an intern
- An event or marketing-minded intern will like it, and (in theory) be good at it
- You’ll have someone to help you with all of the details (e.g., they can help print the name tags and sign guests in)
- It won’t cost too much (paid internships are commonly around $10/hour)
- If they don’t work out, it will be easy to end the commitment
- It’s possible the intern you hire won’t be the right fit (to avoid this, I recommend finding someone who is creative and very detail-oriented; past experience is helpful)
- Most interns are still in school and (some) have more to learn in terms of overall professional presence – especially when running an event
- With a short-term commitment, it can be tough to get submerged into your company’s brand
Hire an event planning company
- They know what they’re doing (it’s not their first rodeo, and it will show)
- They are great at integrating your strategy and thoughts if you want more influence in the direction of your event, or they can run with the event from strategy to execution
- It’s nice to have an experienced professional recommend ideas you may have never come across before
- They have established partnerships with industry vendors, which helps to avoid poor experiences
- They are more costly than you or an intern
- There could be miscommunication regarding the style of the event, but good event planners will be in communication with you for approvals of direction and big decisions
Kalsey Beach, owner of Do Good Events, a Minneapolis-based event planning company, says the most common thing she hears small business owners say is that with the help of an event planner, they are able to actually host their event, rather than worrying about the details such as making sure the music is at the right volume or there is enough punch in the punch bowl. This in turn helps them to mingle with the right people and increase the event’s ROI (whether that be through higher donor bids or establishing more profitable business connections).
Regardless of the direction you choose, it’s nice to have someone who can manage the details on the day of the event, even if it’s a reliable person within your company who can hand out name tags, and check on things…like the punch bowl!
Establishing an event budget
Prior to creating an event, it’s important to establish a budget. Below are items you’ll want to account for when planning for your event.
- Venue rental
- Food and beverage
- Equipment rental (speakers, mics, technical assistance, etc.)
- Photography and videography
- Decorations (flowers, table decorations, etc.)
- Design and printing (invitations, programs, tickets, awards, etc.)
- Supplies (name tags, extra markers, etc.)
- Gifts for guests
- Speaker fees
- Registration fees (for sponsorship opportunities)
- Tax and gratuity (this is very important to remember)
Now that you know types of events you can plan, options for who can plan your events, and what to account for in your event budget, it’s time to make sure you know how to evaluate the success of your event. HubSpot, a company that focuses on marketing automation, wrote an article called “5 Must-Have Marketing Event Success Metrics” that will help you do just that.
As a small business owner, your skill set is likely a combination of big-picture thinking and detail orientation (or you have someone who manages the details who should be reading this blog). Either way, you’re well on your way to planning fantastic events for your company. Happy event planning!
Kelli Schutrop is the Marketing Manager at Versique Executive Search and Consulting and McKinley Consulting. She has a drive for excellence and passion for helping companies lead their industry through strategic and tactical marketing solutions. With a variety of agency and in-house marketing experiences, Kelli enjoys marketing communications, brand management, and every detail in between. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.