By Sophie Christopher, head of events, PR and external communications at Viking

Many small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) avoid hosting business events purely because there is the perception that this type of activity will incur large costs. However, hosting or taking part in a business event does not have to cost the earth and the benefits can far outweigh the potential spend. Business events can be a useful tool for increasing brand awareness, new business leads and ultimately sales.

The benefits

A business event, whether created from scratch or as part of a larger exhibition, can have huge advantages for any SME. The power of meeting face to face, despite the instant connectivity that email and social media allow us, should never be underestimated.

Ultimately, the purpose of an event is to increase sales, this should be your motivating factor throughout every stage of planning. Decide from the start what people should learn from their interaction with you. Whether it’s a quirky souvenir or a company brochure, give people an opportunity to take valuable information about your business away with them for future reference.

Host your own or just take part…

For those that choose to host a stand-alone event, the advantages include inviting a highly targeted audience and delegates who will attend to see your business alone, there will be no competitors to fight with for attention. Hosting your own event also allows the freedom for it to be tailored towards your customers, by selecting the appropriate time, location and any activities that may take place; this is a great opportunity for building relationships and business reputation.

However, decide to be one of many exhibiting at a large event, for example, and although you lose out on the advantages of organising something bespoke, depending on your objective, this can be a great opportunity to maximise the number of potential customers you meet, with minimal time investment. Benefits include: a high footfall of attendees (taking the pressure off inviting your own delegates) and research, marketing and communications activity is completed on your behalf, with little planning needed from the business.

Minimise costs (where possible)

The first instinct when holding an event is to hire a venue. This is a chance to showcase your company and its point of difference. Rather than promote someone else’s venue, utilise your own working environment and host the event at your premises. Delegates will not only become aware of your geographical location, but will also gain more personal insight into the company team and knowledge about your venture.

Where to splash (a small amount of) cash

Budgets may be a key concern for many when planning an event, but there is one place it pays to push the boat out — the ‘hook’, which will be the key to getting delegates to attend your business event, or stopping at your stand among a sea of many other exhibitors. The ‘hook’ essentially must be attractive to your target audience; will champagne after work entice them to your event, or will your target audience prefer an early networking breakfast? The ‘hook’ should be determined based on your target audience and overall objective.

Communication is vital for success

Communications activity before and after the event is essential for success. Creating a hash tag on Twitter is a simple way of promoting your event and targeting your key demographic. Engaging with individuals on local or industry forums provides an ideal opportunity to spread the word. Miss out on this vital activity, and the hard work put into the organisation process will go to waste. Post event communication is just as essential, to build upon those relationships created and maintain momentum with any possible new clients. Whether it’s via telephone, email or social media, establish the preferred channel of communication for your audience and preserve the relationship.

There are many factors to take into account when creating an event, and having an objective firmly in place when deciding on different factors is key. Deciding on either a bespoke event or joining a larger exhibition will have a massive impact on whether objectives are met and what results are gained. Overall creating a business event does not have to break the bank and the benefits can be essential to increasing awareness, building reputation and therefore growing your business.