Networking is an important piece of entrepreneurship.
I have founded all my businesses on making the right networking connections. Networking allows us to build relationships with likeminded people that could possibly lead to opportunities in our businesses. What's stopping you from organizing your own networking event that suits your needs as well as others? Here is how you can host the perfect networking event.
First ask yourself why do you want to a host an event? Is it because you can't find the right networking events where you are? Is it because they aren't the right format? Is it to promote your own business? Is it to earn a profit? Is it to establish yourself within a community? Keep your "why" in mind during planning to keep you on track. This will be the driving force for all your decision making for the next steps.
Who is the networking event for? Once you know why you are doing it, determine who you need to attend the event to accomplish your goal. Do some research to find out what is it that would attract them to you networking event. Post a survey to a public forum and just call people you already know for input. Start by asking how they like to network, do they like big groups or small? Do they like long events or quick "in and out" networking style? That feedback will help you curate the event so the right people come and so they benefit from your event. This is a really important piece because what is a good networking event without the people? Don't make assumptions about your target market, get the facts direct from the source.
Now you get to be creative to pull together a genius event plan. If event planning isn't your thing keep your event small and more intimate so it is easier to manage. If you are ambitious, go big! But always keep in mind your target market and how they can benefit from a great networking event. Consider implementing something the attendees can take back with them. Whether it's a short talk from a local expert or the opportunity to network with people that are normally difficult to meet. Decide what is the value item that attendees will receive through attending your event. Make that clear when you begin marketing your event.
Another important point to consider is how will you create an environment where networking happens naturally? A networking event planner's worst nightmare is seeing a room full of people NOT talking to each other. Don't let it happen to you! Maybe you create an amazing event but people have a hard time working the room because the music is too loud or there was too much talking from the expert panel that people were stuck in their seats too long. Plan out the event so networking is the top priority. Icebreakers are a great way to encourage networking by way of a simple card with scavenger hunt style prompts (e.g. Find someone who gives you a good resource). Also, don't forget name tags! Pretty much a staple at every networking event.
When & Where?
Now that you have an ideal event mapped out you need to find a venue that matches your vision. The venue will likely be the biggest and most costly aspect of your networking event so choose wisely. Consider your budget and what your attendees would be willing to pay if it is a ticketed event. Will there be food? Or would a cash bar suffice? What does your venue allow? What kind of atmosphere does your venue provide? I know for me, personally, I am much more likely to attend a networking event that takes place in a cool venue vs. say a community centre. :) Call me snobby but it just makes it more exciting and really sets the tone for the quality of event.
You have a great plan and everything is set to go but, now you have to let people know about it. Eventbrite is easily the best way to manage RSVPs and sell tickets for any event. Use your social media outlets and even invite guests directly through email. Give yourself a couple of weeks at least or more to get the word out so attendees have time to plan. If your event is bigger then give yourself a few months time to advertise the event.
On the day of the event, get some volunteers to help pull everything together so that you also have the opportunity to network. Make sure everyone know their roles so you can also enjoy all of your hard work.
Networking events are a really great way to get likeminded people together with common goals. Providing a space for these connections to be made not only benefits those you attend but also establishes you as an important member of the community. Not only is networking great for business but it also reminds us that it really is about community over competition.