Making the most of events: a guide for startups
Author: Jérémy Bourhis
16th September 2015
Whether you’re attending a small workshop or a renowned international conference, events provide immense – and often unprecedented – opportunities for your startup. Here’s a quick guide to making the most of them regardless of your industry and size.
Determine your goals first
The first step is considering what you want to get out of the event. No matter how small or short it is, always go with defined aims. These could be as vague as ‘Have a conversation with at least 3 new people’ or ‘Introduce myself in person to Thor and sell him the merits of Hammer 2.0’.
It’s usually best to stick to a maximum of three goals to increase your chances of success and the amount of time you have to dedicate to them. Setting one as a primary goal and prioritising it above the others can also be useful.
Your goals should also be flexible enough to be adapted to the environment. For example, you may need to rethink a goal if it depends on a specific person who doesn’t show up. On the flip side, the event may reveal interesting opportunities you hadn’t considered before and you may have to sacrifice one of your original goals in order to make room for a new one on the spot. For this reason, having a back up goal is a good idea.
A goal doesn’t have to be an endpoint in and of itself. It may be that you’re simply getting a step closer to what you want to achieve, e.g. introducing yourself to a potential investor as part of the process to get funding, or improving your knowledge on a topic in order to understand your potential customer base better. It’s still part of the journey.
Other examples of goals include:
- Drafting/planning website content relating to the event (through notes and/or photos).
- Live tweeting useful information.
- Developing a relationship with someone you’ve spoken to online.
- Introducing yourself to someone completely new.
- Finding a freelancer or new hire.
- Getting advice in an area you’re less familiar with.
- Sourcing informal opinions on a feature or product.
- Helping to introduce two other people who could be useful to each other.
- Spreading the word about your business.
- Growing your social media following.
- Increasing your network of contacts.
- Securing a speaking engagement.
- Developing a relationship with the event organizer(s).
- Securing more customers.
- Drive more traffic to your website.
Once you’ve set your goals, determine how and when you’ll achieve them. decided you’re attending an event, make a list of goals and tasks. To structure this efficiently, break it up into the following sections and plan everything before you attend:
The event build up
Make a plan for the run up to the event. This could include things like checking the attendee list, tweeting about what you’re looking forward to, sneak peeks of any prizes/swag you’re giving away, setting up discount codes for attendees, ordering business cards or flyers, sharing the organisers’ updates about the event, interacting with other attendees doing the same, and so on. Think about the practicalities of the event: if you have a stand, what do you want it to look like? Will there be a theme? How will you engage with people? Will you be running any contests or asking for survey submissions?
This is also the time to introduce yourself to (or remind) attendees about your business to test the waters. People who tweet and post in the run-up to the event will have more time and be more open to one-on-one engagement than they will be in the mad rush of an event itself, and there will be a lot less competition for their attention. By this point you’ll know the specific people you want to meet, so you can always engage them in conversation about the event even if they aren’t already talking about it themselves.
Time to spare? A blog post series covering a topic of interest to event attendees is a great tool in your favour. If one of your goals is to improve your relationship with organisers or sponsors, being proactive with your involvement in the run up to the event will be something they really appreciate…and they’ll be more likely to share your blog posts on social media and in newsletters too.
Consider how you can maximise results for your specific context and role. For example, if you’re setting a challenge at a hack event and one of your goals is to increase awareness of your brand or drive traffic to your website, create a landing page with a bit of background and links to all the necessary docs beforehand. Check out useful articles such as Logikcull’s “10 Things We’ve Learned From Exhibiting at Dozens of Trade Shows”.
Before you travel to the event, write a checklist of what to take and remind yourself of your goals. This is especially important for events that take place over several days and/or where you have a stand because you’ll have so much more to take.
The event itself
While your first priority will be your goals, it’s important not to neglect anything else. Talk to everyone you can, whether attendees, sponsors, speakers, or helpers. If you’re giving away free stuff, put together specific goody bags or bundles for the speakers and/or organizers (bonus points for personalising with their names).
- Plan to arrive as early as possible; there will always be keen attendees who arrive an hour early and have nothing to do, which is a great time to get chatting.
- Make a note of the official hashtag early on in the event and start using it as soon as possible to get noticed.
- Prepare for anything you will need in the post-event phase, e.g. photos, notes for blog posts.
- Avoid heavy sales pitches; ask people about their work/interests first and gradually explain how you can improve their lives.
- Have some interesting conversational openers or introductory questions in mind that don’t sound clichéd or forced.
- Attend any welcome/after parties for guaranteed one-on-one networking opportunities.
Then it’s time to work on your goals. This will obviously depend a lot on what you’re trying to achieve, but even creating the roughest of plans for your time will help you succeed. Focus on the successes: if you have three goals and only manage one, that’s still helped you move forward with your business.
To fast track your success, aim to engage with people also working towards a compatible goal (consciously or subconsciously) who will help you towards achieving yours. For example, if you’re looking to hire a PHP developer, aim to talk to a recruitment sponsor or a PHP developer attendee looking for work. You could even be open about your goals and recruit a wingman.
During the event, try to be fairly active on social media. Help out where you can with questions that are raised, and engage positively with people sharing quotes or opinions. It’s a more intense commitment but definitely worth it. If you’re looking for help or hiring opportunities, use social media and the event hashtag to spread the word as people are likely to share it.
This is likely to be where the bulk of the work happens. Create a to do list of tasks that cover all areas, for example:
- Following up with people you’ve met via social media or email and telling them you enjoyed meeting them. This should always be fully personal to each recipient.
- Thanking the organisers on social media.
- Uploading photos to any relevant areas (event-specific forums, Facebook groups, Flickr groups or similar) – a good way to get links and sometimes press coverage.
- Writing a blog post summarising the event, incorporating photos and interesting tweets (@ mention these people directly so they see their tweet was embedded in your post).
- Answering any unanswered questions from the event with supplementary links or your own advice. This helps you build authority and shows that you care. If there are any big questions or interesting points raised, you could respond to them with a whole blog post, especially if they were a big deal/widely talked about.
- Following up on any opportunities that came up at the event, e.g. collaborations, sponsorships, introductions.
- Finishing any interactive tasks, e.g. sharing your talk slides, deciding on a competition winner, summarising your challenge and participants in a series of blog posts, etc.
After all that, you’ll be unstoppable.
How do you prepare for events? Tell us on Twitter!