Planning a meeting or conference for an already busy small business can seem overwhelming. There are many components involved in planning corporate events, including logistics, marketing, promotion, design and coordination. One overlooked detail can change the outcome of any event. Events require a commitment of time and attention from you and members of your staff. The following checklist can facilitate the colossal task of event planning and make it manageable.
1 year–7 months ahead
-Put together a planning committee. A planning committee may help with some of the work. It is usually helpful to delegate a different committee member to be responsible for each area — marketing, program, logistics, sponsorship, attendees, etc. It’s a good idea to have your committee members sign a commitment form so they know what your expectations are.
-Create an event budget — estimated/anticipated revenues and expenses. Estimating your expenses will help you decide on a registration fee or ticket price (if applicable).
-Create a marketing position for the event. This includes deciding on a title for the event, a logo or graphic look for your event, and what text you are going to use to sell the event. Make sure people know what the event is about and why they should attend.
-Decide on your target audience. Compile your organization’s existing contacts (clients, colleagues, vendors, etc). Then, research different trade publications and associations to help grow your list. For example, if you were planning an event that targeted accounting firms, you could search Google Directories or contact the New York State Society of CPAs.
-Create a marketing plan including advertising, publicity, new media, “save-the-dates,” invitations, letters and e-mail blasts.
-Research venues. Keep in mind that some venues have to be booked at least a year in advance. More popular venues book up quickly. Use a venue directory (you can find one at bizbash.com) to figure out which venues can accommodate your needs and number of guests.
-Select a venue and sign a contract — after you negotiate. You can negotiate the price per person, the room rental fee, and/or the service charge. If they won’t negotiate pricing, try to negotiate having the room for a longer period or more food.
-Develop sponsorship levels (if appropriate). Put together a sponsorship package and agreement form (consult your attorney if necessary), and begin targeting sponsors. Start by thinking about which companies will want to reach your audience. Then ask your planning committee for any connections they may have.
-Create an event website and/or put the information on your website. Also consider creating a Facebook page.
6 months–4 months ahead
-Create spreadsheets to track all your information, including sponsors, attendees, vendors, etc. Keep notes on your spreadsheets about the contacts’ participation. You can use the notes to make improvements for future events.
-Start a list of supplies you will need for your event — name badges, signage, giveaways, promotional items, folders, etc.
-Put together a list of vendors — caterer (if not part of the venue contract), photographer, videographer, audiovisual technician, entertainment, etc. Research and interview possible vendors and begin placing orders and signing contacts. A good place to start is asking your venue for recommendations.
-Prepare and distribute a save-the-date press release with all the details — who, what, where, when and why. Sometimes it makes sense to send the release to potential speakers and attendees to add credibility to the event and create excitement about it.
-Develop and distribute a save-the-date mailing to your target audience. This could be an e-mail, a postcard or even a magnet.
-Start to work with other associations and organizations whose members would be potential attendees. For example, if you were targeting women business owners, you could pair up with WBENC or NAWBO. Invite them to be an association partner. You list them as a supporter in all event materials and in return they distribute your information to their members.
-Start to plan your program and develop a list of speakers. Be aware that certain speakers may ask for an honorarium or ask you to cover travel expenses. However, there are experts available who will speak at no cost in exchange for the marketing opportunity.
-Send letters inviting potential speakers to participate. Always follow up with a personal phone call. Also, ALWAYS have backup speakers in mind in case your first choices decline. Once your speakers are lined up, send them a confirmation letter with all the details to date.
-Research, invite and secure an event emcee or moderator.
-Begin placing advertisements. Decide which vehicles (newspapers, websites, radio, etc.) will hit your target audience.
-Coordinate a site visit with your venue and start to visualize your event.
3 months–2 months ahead
-Develop the conference agenda.