The Secrets to Successful Business Partnerships: Event Planning

02/06/2017 06:27 pm ET Updated Feb 08, 2017

Jody-Ann Rowe is an Event Planner for Osgoode Hall Law School and Founder of The Event Certificate. An Eventpreneur Launch Expert, she studied Economics & Event Management at York University before getting her master’s degree in Education. She currently works with aspiring event planners to provide them with a roadmap to launching their business and careers.

Jody-Ann Rowe, Osgoode Hall Law School Event Planner, and Founder of the Event Certificate in London, England.
Jody-Ann Rowe, Osgoode Hall Law School Event Planner, and Founder of the Event Certificate in London, England.

I invited Jody-Ann to share her insights into the different ways in which seminars and workshops can be leveraged to build successful business partnerships and how to do so effectively.

How do you plan a seminar or workshop?

Planning a seminar or workshop can be broken down into 5 steps as follows:

1. Research the market to find a topic that is timely and relevant

The first step to planning a seminar or workshop is conducting research. You will need to research the field or area in which you are working to discover what issues are timely and relevant and then coordinate your topic and focus around this.

2. Sourcing and booking a speaker(s) that is suitable to your chosen topic

If you are hosting a seminar or workshop with yourself as the headliner, you can consider this step complete. If not, then you will need to search for speakers who can speak to the topic of your event, are well-known in your industry and whom your potential attendees would be intrigued by. I find the best way to do this is to start with recommendations from potential attendees within your industry. Ask your network! Who in the industry inspires you? Who would you love to have as a mentor? Even if this person(s) is not in your industry add them to the list, they might still be able to speak to your audience on the basis of practical skills and advice rather than specific industry knowledge. I once attended an event planning seminar where the speaker was a Wilderness Guide, but she spoke to the event planners and managers in the room about Leadership, Teams and Diversity. She was able to create a parallel between dog sledding and leadership style.

3. Selecting a date/time/location for the event

This step can be a little bit tricky and I’ll explain why: Some event managers will select a date and then try to find a speaker to fit inside that timeframe, and there is nothing wrong with this method, however if you find a speaker you absolutely love and their schedule doesn’t fit your pre-selected date, then you might have to pass up an opportunity for an invaluable collaboration. I always suggest if possible, and if you already have a speaker in mind, to work with their schedule and other events taking place in your industry to select the perfect date for your event.

4. Finding an audience for your event and begin marketing to them

The fourth step is to locate an audience for your event and start marketing to them as early as possible. If you have a date, your keynote speaker and a vague idea of the city you intend to host your event in, get your promotional materials out. Circulate a save the date, add your event to all relevant industry websites and calendars. The sooner you can get people signed up the more you can guarantee a sold-out event. Give potential attendees a way to join your list or sign up to be notified when your registration officially opens.

5. Confirming all your event logistics

This step includes your venue, room layout, catering, event materials and schedule. Once you have a venue booked you can also open your registration and your event is ready to go.

What is the difference between a seminar and a workshop?

A seminar is a small expert(s) led event, while a workshop is a more interactive event with a focus on training and discussion that leads to the acquisition of a new skill or way of thinking.

How do you market a successful seminar or workshop?

Marketing your seminar or workshop will be slightly different depending on if you have an existing audience or not. If you have an existing mailing list your first step should be to be alert your list to your upcoming event and provide them with the ability to share this with their network.

If you do not have an existing audience, or even if you are trying to increase your reach beyond your current network, you can market effectively by following the steps outlined below:

1. Find your audience on social media and market to them. If you are looking for professionals in a particular field your first social media platform should be LinkedIn. This is one of the best ways to connect with professionals who would be interested in your event and share the details with them directly or finding their company information and connecting through email or direct mail. The great thing about LinkedIn is that if you find a company that matches your target audience exactly, once you click on them in the right-hand column LinkedIn also provides a list of related companies under “People also viewed”, which provides you with even more potential attendees.

2. Locate your industry hubs and get your event listed in them. Do people in your focus area all subscribe to an industry magazine? Then get your event listed in the magazine. Are your potential attendees all members of a professional association? Contact the association and find out what marketing and promotional services they provide, that will get your event featured to their members. You can also collaborate with these organizations and offer a special member pricing in exchange for marketing to their members.

3. Use pricing to your advantage. “Early-bird pricing” is a great way to lock in attendees early and guarantee an audience at the event. If you are still trying to fill seats closer to the date then “Last Minute” pricing deals or “Limited Seating” is also another effective marketing strategy.

4. If possible get your seminar or workshop accredited by the relevant professional organizations. This increases the authority of your event and potential attendees have a better chance of getting this approved and covered as a professional development activity by their companies.

5. Think of your network as your marketing team. Always leverage the marketing power of stakeholders for your event. Ask your keynote speaker(s), sponsor(s) and other stakeholders to promote the event to their network. This will multiply the reach of your event without costing you anything.

Many consultants and small business owners are looking to seminars and workshops as a way to market their services. Is this effective?

Seminars and workshops are a great way to market your business and services, online and offline. It gives you an opportunity to connect with an audience, demonstrate your knowledge and expertise and if you offer them an incentive to provide you with their contact information, you will also be able to build a list of potential clients.

What does a typical budget look like for a seminar?

A typical budget for a seminar will include everything you need to execute the event. Your expenses will often include the cost of your venue and room setup, speaker (s), catering, marketing materials, printing, seminar supplies, audio visual, gifts, welcome packages, paid advertisements and any administrative fees. Your revenue will often include those from ticket sales and sponsorship.

Figure 1. Pre-event sample budget with estimated numbers
Figure 1. Pre-event sample budget with estimated numbers
Figure 2. Post-event budget with the actual costs
Figure 2. Post-event budget with the actual costs

What are the unseen or hidden costs than people often overlook?

One cost that is often overlooked by seminar and workshop organizers are those associated with any speakers at the event. Speakers will all have different fees and expected arrangements for their event attendance. Some speakers will charge a flat fee that includes all their relevant costs, other will also request the coverage of their transportation, accommodation, meals and other incidental expenses.

Organizers will often assume what these costs are and will only account for the common ones such as airfare, taxis and meals. It is important to clarify EXACTLY what the expectations are for this prior to confirming the speaker. For example, a speaker might expect you to cover their ground transportation which to you means a taxi, but to them is a private car with a driver. These would be two very different costs in the end, so it is important to always discuss with the speaker or their contact the exact terms of what is being covered and to what extent.

How do you choose a location and venue?

There are 6 steps to choosing a venue and location:

1. Analyze the event's need – What type of atmosphere are you looking to create? Are you looking to have a more professional or informal type event? Where are your attendees located? These and other factors should be used to dictate the type of event space you will need and the location that would work best for your audience.

2. Investigate possible venues – Once you have an idea of what type of event you would like to create your venue search will be much easier. Check local venue directory listings. You can also work with the Convention and Visitors bureau in your selected location for recommendations on properties that are suitable for your event.

3. Make site visits – If you find a number of venues that meet your requirements, setup a site visit with each. Photos on a website do not often reflect how well the venue will suit your needs. Venue managers are always eager to show their property and answer any questions you might have. Bring along a checklist and make notes as you conduct the tour.

4. Agree on price and terms – Once you find a venue that is suitable, negotiate the price if needed and agree on the terms of your venue rental. The venue will provide you with a contract once you decide to go ahead. Review this contract carefully, ensure that everything you’ve discussed is included and be sure to clarify anything that is unclear.

5. Make a booking and confirm – Once you are satisfied with your selection, sign your contract and confirm the booking. But do not stop there, it is also recommended that you keep an open line of communication with the venue and do not wait until the last week before your event to confirm your booking is still listed. Double bookings can happen!

6. Make further site visits – Venues will have construction to facilitate upgrades, change décor or remove fixtures as needed for their business purposes. Always visit the venue again if possible prior to the event. This way you can ensure that nothing has changed since you last visited that would have an impact on your event.

How do you know when to do a local event close to where people work, or a "travel event" in a vacation location?

The best way to decide on a location for your event is to research your target customers. Are they willing to travel for professional events? Will their companies provide travel bursaries for events held outside of their area? Look up the organizations you are targeting and speak to anyone there that you know. This is more difficult when your event is fairly new, however, once you become an established brand or annual event, it is easier to become a “travel event”.

How do partnerships play a role in successful seminars and workshops?

Partnerships will provide numerous benefits to your event and your attendees. Having a collaborator on an event will allow you to build and access a greater network of potential attendees. It will also help to establish and build a reputation for your event, particularly if you partner with a brand or company that is well-known. There is also a financial benefit if that partnership is secured in the form of a sponsorship to offset the costs associated with the event.

Many companies are considering managing their event internally, or having someone else manage their events. How should a company make this decision? If they choose to do it themselves, what training should they get?

The decision to managing your events externally or having an in-house event planner should be based on cost and efficiency. Will the revenue from your events be hiring than the cost of hiring an external event manager? Will you lose productivity on existing projects by shifting resources to managing an event internally? If the answer to these two questions are yes, then hiring an external event manager would be your best option.

Before you start planning an event, it is recommended that you enroll in an event management, project management, hospitality or public relations course to get you started.

If they choose to get another company to do it, how do they select the firm? Where do you find great event planners?

If you choose to work with a firm it is important to conduct a thorough search to get a list of potential companies, then try to narrow your list down to 3-5 of the best options. Once you have those options, contact the firms and begin vetting them; find out what type of events they specialize in, get estimates on pricing and ask them to see past projects they have completed. It is also a great idea to see them in action if you can, ask if you can visit an event they have coming up to see what their management and execution process is like “on the ground”.

The first place I recommend starting a search for a planner is through professional associations. Many professional associations such as Meeting Planners International for example, will have a marketplace or directory list on their website. The reason I recommend this is route is that only members will be listed in these directories, meaning you will be connected with an event planner who is aware of certain industry standards and continuously developing their professional knowledge through these associations.

The second place to begin your search is through other online directories and marketplaces such as Eventective.com, thumbtack.com, Google Places, Yelp and other local directories.

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