Event Marketing Ideas For Small Business

June 4, 2020  |  by:

Event marketing ideas are all around you. Whether your SMB’s revenue is in the thousands or millions, you can host successful events. Or you could just have some fun with your customers. 

“Why does everyone I know use Mad Mimi?”

A few years ago, before I’d even heard the term event marketing, I was the Chief of Culture at an email marketing startup called Mad Mimi. The above quote was a real question I fielded at a workshop in Honolulu, where I was living. 

That workshop was the third or fourth event I’d spoken at that month. It was a four hour class on Small Business Marketing with a focus on search engine optimization – a topic I enjoy talking about. And yes, I spoke for four hours. In fact, someone eventually had to point out we were hitting overtime.

At each event, there were between ten and thirty attendees. And each time, I’d gain a few new customers right away, but word of mouth spread too. And I made new friends at each event also.

First, I hosted a couple of small events myself. I rented out a room during a lunch hour and plonked down a couple hundred dollars for snacks and drinks. I spoke for about 10 minutes, and the rest of the time was a relaxed hang in which potential customers chatted with me, or amongst themselves. 

But I started to get invited to talk at similar events, and it snowballed from there. Eventually, my small little talks culminated in launching an annual conference for a few hundred people that. 

What Is Event Marketing?

So, what is event marketing? Well, Event marketing is when a company or brand creates a live experience for promotion.

Some common types of events are:

  • Conferences and trade shows
  • Sponsorships of special events
  • Charity fundraisers
  • Seminars and workshops
  • Launch parties
  • Pop up shops
  • Virtual events
  • Webinars

But that’s not all. Event marketing can include pretty much any live group activity in which your small business is promoted.

One of my favorite examples of event marketing is how Yarn Shops host knitting circles. The yarn store hosts a small gathering, sells products, builds clientele, and grows awareness. But the lesson here is simplicity. It’s still event marketing, and it drives sales, but it isn’t a significant undertaking with high costs. Are you beginning to see the potential for your business? 

We’ll look at different examples and inspiration, but broadly speaking, there are two types of approaches you can take. Partnering or hosting your own events. And all the above types can be done alone or in partnership.

Partnering For Your Events

As you dip your toe into event marketing as a customer acquisition channel, partnering with others a solid starting point. There are a few reasons I recommend working with other businesses.

First off, there’s crossover. You’re not relying exclusively on your network. Let’s say you’re an accountant who wants to host a workshop on business taxes. If you partner with a local tax attorney, and you each bring fifteen attendees, you’re both doubling your reach. Just like that. 

Then, there’s added credibility. The fact that the other business partners with you function as a warm referral. A sort of vote of trust. The trick is to ensure that you’re partnering with someone who fits your event and shares a customer profile. 

You can also partner with larger events, like local street fairs, or setting up a booth at conference or expo. Again, you’re benefiting from someone else’s efforts. Although you’re likely paying for it, the conference or fair will handle the marketing, ticket sales, and attendee registration. You just need to be ready to stand out from the crowd. 

Hosting Your Own Private Events

There’s something emotionally satisfying about hosting your own event for your own customers. It’s intimate, rewarding, and fun. You’re less focused on introducing your service. You’re able to talk in more detail about your business to those who already know you.

There may be more pressure in terms of marketing the event, planning, and fussing about decor and food. But if you follow the Yarn Store example above, you might only invite ten people anyway, which eases the stress.

If you have an office space or retail store, keeping it open to invited guests is low-cost and low-risk. You can grow into more elaborate events over time but start with small gatherings in a comfortable space to test. 

Hosting your own event doesn’t need to be a luxurious event, but we’ll look at some event marketing ideas in more detail in a sec.

Whether you’re partnering or going it alone, I’ll run through some ideas of small events before getting into the more significant events like conferences. Please note that larger events don’t mean your event marketing will be large-scale. Read both sections, and you’ll see what I mean.

Small Event Marketing Ideas

Whether you’re partnering or going it alone, I’ll run through some ideas of small events.

Workshops

Your workshops include ways for your customers to better utilize your services if you’re a service business, like a lawyer or accountant. If you’re retail, well, it could be product demonstrations. Williams Sonoma does cooking classes, while a florist in my neighborhood has terrarium-building workshops. 

Mixers

Sometimes your customers just want to hang out, have some drinks, and chat. The trick with a social mixer is to invite both happy clients and potential clients. That way, your clients will do much of the selling for you. People come for the networking, and you’re utilizing those connections to bolster your credibility and gain new leads.

Interesting talks

Y’know, it’s really not very difficult to invite colorful locals to give a speech or reading. Bookshops have been doing this since forever with book readings. Pretty much any business, big or small, service or retail, can host an event with a fascinating speaker.  

Knit-nights and get-togethers

Gathering like-minded customers together is a ton of fun and works well as a repeat event. I’ve seen service businesses do regular monthly round-tables, and retail stores like Yarn Shops do their knit-nights. If you bring people together over a common interest, you’ve got yourself some event marketing!

Happy Hour

Happy hours work great for many service-oriented businesses. If your clients share a buyer profile, then a happy hour at a local bar works both for networking and customer relationship-building. I’ve even seen large corporations do this with sales teams and their clients. And bars generally will work with you to offer discounts, flat rates, and other deals.

Farmers markets and small fairs

Keep your eye on local events and offer to join in. Often you’ll find niche area gatherings in your town’s media, and they’ll likely be delighted for the extra attention. If you offer to help out, sponsor the coffee, or something similar, you’ll also build brand awareness and grow your reputation. 

Volunteering

Volunteering as a company is a rewarding team-building exercise. It feels odd to consider it as a marketing channel. Still, employees will feel good about themselves, and customers will appreciate the investment in the local community.

Large Event Marketing Ideas

You can partner with other businesses to create a large event yourself or register as an event sponsor. But that’s not all. You can also piggyback on significant events, as we’ll discuss below.

Join Forces

If you’re confident that you can bring twenty attendees and partner up with three, four, or even ten other businesses, congrats, you’re a large event. You’ll need to pool some resources to rent a space and do some decor, but with fifty to a hundred people, well, it’ll be fun.

Expos and Conferences

Set up a booth at a conference to get in front of hundreds of potential customers. These spots can get expensive, so do your research into the conference attendees and make sure they’re your target market.

Host An After Party

You can host the after-party when you’ve got a few hundred people in town for a sporting event or conference. Or a post-event brunch. If you’re able to market to the attendees, then you can leverage someone else’s function to generate the audience for your own.

Mini-Events

If you’re a sponsor at an event, begin reaching out to attendees a couple of months before. If you can get twenty or thirty people to commit, why not rent your own venue (on PeerSpace) and host a mixer the night before. I know a startup that does these in their hotel suite during large conferences, and it always gets them plenty of new business.

Peripheral Events

When a SXSW or a Coachella-type gathering rolls through town, you can hold peripheral events for those who may not have tickets. SXSW in Austin and CMJ Music Marathon in New York are well known for generating many side-events. With some smart marketing, you’ll use their star power to draw in an audience for your event.

Virtual Events 

I’ve been doing webinars for over a decade. While it may be new to event marketing circles, webinars have been a mainstay of the software industry for a while. Especially for service-oriented businesses, webinars are an excellent way to get the word out about your business. And partnering with other companies will expand your reach nicely. Learn more about virtual events here.

Be Bold And Try Out Event Marketing Ideas

The bottom line of it all is that event marketing doesn’t mean hosting an experience with considerable investment, risk, and planning. There are many event marketing ideas to suit all comfort levels. So give it a shot!

And use event planning software to keep everything organized too!

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