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You want to grow your business but you’re struggling. Perhaps you’re out of ideas, or the ones you have are stale, and you’ve got a limited marketing budget.

One option, which can be a win-win-win in terms of exposure, partner and customer relations, is to hold an event. Not only does it get your brand out there in a positive way, but it also allows you to network and engage with current and potential clients on a personal level.

Over 37 million people attended more than 412,000 business events across Australia in 2013-14, according to industry research. It’s estimated that business events generated $28.0 billion in total revenue. Even better, a recent independent study conducted for Eventbrite found that 52 per cent of Australian respondents are looking to attend more events over the next 12 months.

If you’d like a slice of that pie but don’t have the budget to stage TEDx here are five effective events that SMBs can still run:

New product promotions

Turn these into a party, generating publicity and good will. Introducing new products in a fun and friendly setting helps customers forge an emotional connection between their enjoyment of the experience, and their enjoyment of your brand.

It doesn’t even have to be your own event: many brands such as Tupperware and Thermomix enjoy highly effective sales and promotion through party planners. See if key customers would be interested in hosting events on your behalf, and provide them with the products and materials they need to make it a great occasion. These events can also help to extend your brand into local communities in a scalable way that will not drain your budget or resources.

Educational events

Training and educational events are a great way for businesses to showcase use cases for products and services. They’re also a way to keep customers loyal, since if they’ve been given free training in your products, they’ll be more likely to buy and use them in future.

Make it an occasion: many people associate training with death-by-PowerPoint in a windowless conference room. Encourage networking and discussion so it becomes more interactive and helps build relationships. Create interest and secure the value of the session by listing the key takeaways from the educational event on your event page and promotional materials.

Networking & VIP events

Targeted networking events are highly valuable to busy professionals, as it means they can get network with multiple industry members. Ideal for B2B companies where relationships are important, all you really need is a venue, and some food and drink.

Some networking events include a guest speaker, and this can be an extra way to drum up interest as guests may be drawn to the speaker and their topic. Although everything’s going digital these days, a business card draw for a bottle of wine is still a welcome feature. And making a list of participants available is helpful to those who missed out on someone’s contact details, or to show non-attendees what they missed out on.

Beanhunter, a café review platform, is one SMB that has used events to build its customers based. It turns monthly “taster events” called The Beanhunter Social, where they partner with roasters from around Melbourne. Key clients and industry figures are invited to network and learn about all things coffee.

This events strategy has allowed Beanhunter to build its brand and client base, and develop meaningful and valuable relationships with users and industry partners. Since The Beanhunter Social began, the company has increased its social audience by 34 per cent.

Open office events

Everyone enjoys a behind-the-scenes peek at another company, and it’s a great way to show off your new refurb and build trust and transparency. It also gives a wider range of your own staff the opportunity to meet and interact with partners and clients.

As a side bonus, open office events reveal what it’s like to work at your company (and how great it likely is), which may help with recruitment further down the line.

Online events

Great for SMBs with distance challenges and those on very tight budgets, webinars and live chats are a cheap and accessible way to deliver value to clients.

They’re also good for building an online social following, giving you insight into your customer base and engagement. Best of all, people can access them whenever they need, so if they missed the live webcast they can sign up (capture their details!) and watch the recording at their leisure.

Tips to keep the budget under control:

  1. Consider partnering. A client or even a customer may be glad to co-host with you, halving the cost and potentially doubling the reach.
  1. Look for sponsors. Your target audience may be very valuable to a related business or service. Providing an interested organisation with preferred partner benefits, such as 1:1 networking opportunities, unique brand activations, or dedicated emails can help to lock in a supporting sponsor.
  1. Streamline ticketing. Nothing is worse than catering for 200 and having only 20 show up: it’s just a waste. Manage attendance with an online service that encourages people to RSVP and also sends event reminders. Increase your show rate by charging a small fee; even charging $5 – $15 increases the likelihood attendees will show up on the day.
  1. Create social value: Events have the potential to create value that extends beyond the walls of your event. Ensure you dedicate time to developing a compelling social component that will make people want to share your message.

About the author:

Laura Huddle is Head of Marketing, Australia, at Eventbrite, the world’s leading self-service ticketing platform and live events marketplace.

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