Planning dos and don’ts for your next small business event

By Mark G. Auerbach

Sooner or later, your small business will have to plan an event: a product launch, an office opening, a client holiday party, a press conference, or any one of those myriad of events that require careful planning and budgeting, and attention to detail, and a lot of patience.

Think of the wedding, bar mitzvah, high school reunion, or family reunion you’ve planned or been involved with. The best events are planned in advance, innovative and interesting for the attendees, neither garish nor cheap. And after all is said and done, they look like you pulled it off effortlessly.

Good event planning is all in the timing. So, build a timeline way in advance. First, figure out why you’re holding the event. What are you trying to accomplish, and who are you trying to reach? Second, build a potential budget. How much can you afford to spend to achieve success? Third, select a date. Pay attention to other events that may be happening on that date. Holidays? Elections? Major sporting events like the Super Bowl? A competitor’s event? Pick a couple of dates, because you’ll have to select a venue and a caterer. Both book up well in advance so you might not be able to get your first choice.

If your venue is outdoors, you might want to select a rain date. You can get insurance to cover expenses of a date change. Likewise, if you’re in a snowy climate, you might want consider a snow date.

You’ll want to get the invitations out in plenty of time for people to respond, and for you to meet caterer deadlines. Remember, very few people realize the importance of providing a timely RSVP, unless they, themselves, have planned an event.

If it all seems daunting, hire an event planner. Many of them are one-stop shopping for caterers, bartenders, invitation printing, flowers, audio-visual etc. Rob Hard in The Balance shares 15 steps to hiring an event planner in this article.

Sometimes, your venue or caterer may have an event planner on staff. Before you hire one, know what the purpose of your event is, what kind of budget you’ll have, and allocate monies for an event planner’s services. I’ve worked with several good ones. They’re not cheap. But, the money they save me in negotiating with vendors, and their willingness to take on every detail makes them worth their weight in gold.

For one of my clients, who was doing a trade show, we used the resources of the hotel’s catering manager, who took care of everything on-site, and a special events and production company, which helped with everything else. I’ve served as an event planner for small events, like a press conference. My client provided me good administrative support.

If your event is out-of-town, you’ll likely need a good local planner. Ask your host hotel or the local convention and visitors bureau for several recommendations. Interview them all carefully. Their prices and scope of services will differ. Make a site visit in advance of the event, so you know the layout of the venue, the menus, and have a chance to ask all of the on-site questions. You don’t want any surprises when you arrive for the actual event. If you’re doing a destination event, you might also want to secure the services of a travel agent who can assist with travel needs, airport transportation, etc. And, be sure you build travel insurance into the package.

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Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn.

2 comments

  1. Clive B says:

    Interesting article but if you are a very small business then perhaps you may not be able to afford an event planner for a trade show. So the advice in the article which says you should give yourself what is possibly the most valuable commodity in the world of expos and events…..time. If you having things like printed banners and roll up stands don’t rely on the 24 hr guys. Save a lot of stress and get everything produced for a couple of weeks before.
    That way if there is a mess up you can find an alternative. So often we are approached by clients who need a reasonably complex product produced in less than a week!

    • Mark G Auerbach says:

      You’re right in that not everyone can afford an event planner, but when it comes to an out-of-town meeting or trade show, they can often be worth the price, since they have the contacts who can do the task better, quicker, and for less. A person on a small business staff can often do the same functions, if they’re well organized. I have a real small shop, and we do event planning for our clients locally. When it comes to doing something for an out-of-town client, I have used an event planner at the site of the meeting for things like a/v rental, catering, production, and done the invites, ticketing, etc in-house. Thanks for your response. I’m working on a follow-up piece and will keep your thoughts in mind.

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