Are you an entrepreneur, small business owner or independent consultant in the Golden Horseshoe area? There’s a networking opportunity this month that you shouldn’t miss! (If you’re from outside the area, please keep reading, as you’ll find some tips for organizing your own local event below.)
The Golden Horseshoe Virtual Assistants Group will be hosting their 4th Annual Special Evening Event on Thursday, October 27th at Alloro Restaurant in the Burlington Hotel & Conference Centre. I hope you’ll come out and join us for a three-course meal, guest speaker Sheeba Varghese and, of course, a chance to network with local virtual assistants and other professionals. Because seating is limited, pre-registration is required.
Whether or not you can attend, you can promote your product or services to our members and guests by donating a door prize. All donors will be recognized on the GHVA Sponsors page for one year and will have the opportunity to submit marketing material to be distributed to all participants. Please let me know if you are interested.
I had no experience planning business events before organizing our first one in 2008. Since then, I’ve learned a few things which I’m happy to share with you today.
If your group is holding the event, ask the members what dates will work for them. If you’re hoping for guests to come from great distances, avoid the winter months when weather may interfere with travel. Find out what else is taking place in your area. You probably won’t have a date all to yourself, but be aware of major events that may draw people away from yours. (Last year we made the mistake of scheduling our Special Evening Event during Small Business Week, and lost a few potential attendees to trade shows in two neighbouring cities.)
If you hold your event in a hotel meeting room, you will probably have to pay for room rental on top of the cost of your food. Unless you’re planning a large group, this may force you to charge more for attendance than many people will be willing to pay. A better choice is a restaurant with a private room. I’ve had a lot of success locating suitable venues using MenusOnly.com, which covers the Hamilton and Burlington areas, and you may find a similar guide for your region.
Most restaurants that cater to groups have a special events menu where each guest can select one of three different meals. Sometimes you will have a choice of menus at different prices. Since some of your guests may have dietary restrictions, make sure that special requests can be accommodated.
If your event is being held by an association or other organization, there may be a good speaker among your members. If not, or if you’d prefer an outside speaker, ask your members for recommendations. Some speakers are willing to waive their regular fee in exchange for the opportunity to promote their products or services to your group.
If you’d like to have door prizes, contact your group members and other people in your network to request donations. Many will be happy to offer a small gift or a gift certificate for their services as a way of promoting their business. We’ve always been blessed with a great response, and have generally received enough donations that every person in attendance has gone home with something. Use a spreadsheet to keep track of the donations you’ve been offered, and mark it off when you receive them. You can use this list to follow up if something doesn’t arrive when expected, to thank your donors after the event, and to connect with them again before subsequent events.
Consider whether your goal is to make money, either for your group or to support a charity, or whether you only need to break even. When calculating how much to charge for registration, figure out how much the meal will come to after taxes and gratuity are added on. Be sure to also factor in any costs for room rental, speaker fees, a meal and/or gift for your speaker, and any other expenses related to hosting or promoting the event. Even if you don’t need to generate a profit, you may want to charge a little extra to ensure you don’t lose money if you don’t sell out.
Each year that I’ve organized the GHVA’s Special Evening Event, it takes a little less time and effort, because I already have a system in place. Set up a folder on your computer for your guest list, donor list, email templates, and any other documents you use or create while planning your event. This will make your life so much easier next time! And, if you decide to pass the reins over to someone else in the future, you’ll be able to share your system without spending hours explaining what you did.
Since event planning is not my area of expertise, please add your own suggestions in the Comments section. Maybe there’s something I missed that will make next year’s event even easier!