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5 Tips for Small Business Event Planning

Planning an event for your small business can be a pain. But preparing in three stages -- the before, during and after -- can make it more manageable.
Planning an event for your small business can be a pain. But preparing in three stages -- the before, during and after -- can make it more manageable.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Event planning for a small business is big business for party planners because doing the work yourself can be a pain. But if you're planning a get-together for your own small business, preparing in three stages -- the before, during and after -- can make it more manageable.

So why even have a business event? Whether it's for networking, celebrating an anniversary or launching a new brand, service or product, the party itself will probably be different based on the goal. The type of event will also dictate where you have it and who you invite. It even has a lot to do with how much you spend.

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Everyone wants a party to be enjoyable and memorable, and when it's centered on a business, most people want to meet a goal, too. So, what's the reason behind the main event? What do you want your guests to do or experience? And how can the follow-up be good for your business? We'll look at some tips on catering to the goals while catering for your invitees, next.

Planning a party involves using resources and staff -- even if it's a one-man operation -- so drawing up a formal plan and budget might get the ball rolling before the bills and hours start piling up. Thinking about the original idea of why you want to host an event and who you had in mind to invite can shape the where. A celebration of success like an anniversary or landing a big new client can take place in a restaurant or hall and even at the business headquarters if it fits the occasion and size, while an informational meeting might require a site with audiovisual capabilities and presentation space.

Networking events can take place just about anywhere, and many use a cocktail hour or coffee and dessert format to bring people together. Loud music would be a "don't" if you want to encourage mingling, while interactive ice-breakers or other activities would be the way to go.

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Start brainstorming and reviewing your mailing, vendor and personal lists for who must be invited, such as a loyal client, and who may be a boon for future business, for instance an influential member of the community or local media personality.

Setting a budget will help prioritize the guest list and make decisions about the next stages of planning.

It's probably worth it to invite some special guests, like members of the media and VIP clients.
It's probably worth it to invite some special guests, like members of the media and VIP clients.
Stockbyte/Thinkstock

Whether you have a really clear idea of what kind of event you're having or not, you can usually start creating buzz by making the upcoming party look really inviting so people will want to be there and will RSVP "yes." Using social media such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as your company Web site or personal blog, can get people talking and even can replace costly and time-consuming paper invite mailings. Rolling out an event by posting a date and time, following with another status update with a catchy name or hint about the venue and finishing with a posting with the details of the event itself is one way to build up and keep reminders coming without paying for multiple cards and postcards. It's also greener by saving on paper and printing resources.

Making the RSVP process easy for invitees will help you stay on track and on budget, and an option to toggle a simple yes or no without having to explain the why of whether someone will attend makes it even easier on guests. It might be worth it to invite some special guests, like the media and VIP clients mentioned earlier, with a more personal touch such as a follow-up phone call or hand-written note on stationery. Also, have a plan for following up with all partygoers by updating social media or sending thank you's electronically or on recycled paper after the event.

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Whether or not your small business has a brand, style and theme, you can also convey those in the type of event you plan. If hosting an event and inviting a lot of new guests or people in the community, using obscure or overly-designed promotional literature, e-mails or Web site graphics may look great but won't go as far in showing the public what it is you excel at -- unless it's graphic design itself! Simple and memorable graphics can cement an image with your name and business, so a picture of a vintage fashion magazine cover for a consignment shop or an image of a recycling symbol for a local conservation or environmental services group make it clear what you do.

Choosing a site for an event also helps communicate the style of your business. If you have a modern interior design or home de-cluttering and organization business, for example, hosting a party in a streamlined loft would probably be more representative than using a cluttered but historic Victorian bed and breakfast. If your business is all about the outdoors, use one of your landscapes to inform the event itself.

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Using minimal, ornate or modern entertainment venues might impress, but will it showcase what you're all about when you get down to business?

If your company can barter with a catering company or local liquor store, that can be a win-win for your budget.
If your company can barter with a catering company or local liquor store, that can be a win-win for your budget.
Stockbyte/Thinkstock

Even the best business soirees can bring little return on the investment, so deciding how much you can afford to lose -- though not something to really celebrate -- can keep all the partying and paying in perspective. Budget a set amount and stick to it. Having a best- and worst-case scenario for spending makes it easier to enjoy the party and your guests, too, because there won't be as much running around to add "this and that" right before or during the big event.

Partnering with other small and even large businesses can be a big payoff whether the party is a success or not. If you have services to offer a catering company or local liquor store, maybe in the way of editing their Web sites or printing fliers at cost or providing free haircuts for a season, bartering can be a win-win. Some companies even offer goods and services in exchange for setting out cards or linking to their business Web sites from your event site, and the more business owners you contact, the more potential for word-of-mouth and getting your own services on the minds of others who might not know of you otherwise.

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Your small business is often your "baby," and having a vested interest as well as an emotional connection to what you do shows. Event-planning can be as stressful as launching a new venture or plunking down an investment in the future, so stepping out of planner mode and into party mode isn't always easy. Being a host, however, is a perfect opportunity to show your energy and passion for your products, services, customers and potential clients.

Be determined to have a good time whether 10 or 200 people walk through the door, and especially if one of those is covering your event for the local news. Most of us remember a business or individual from a mention in an online or print newspaper and we're sure to know about those places where friends and family have had bad service or experiences, so plan for success as a business ambassador, as well as the life of the party. Both can pay off.

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Sources

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