The final months of the year are an important (and busy) time for small businesses. In addition to wrapping up projects, it's an opportunity to thank clients, customers and staff for contributing to the success of your business, and a time to look towards attracting new clients to your portfolio. Holding an event – whether it's a lunch, cocktail party or dinner – is a great way to show your appreciation. But putting together a networking function is not as easy as booking a room and opening a few bottles of wine.
For the past 50 years, the event management experts at Moreton Hire have worked with all sorts of businesses, from the family-owned to large corporates. National Business Events Manager, Kevin Smith, knows how to craft the perfect soiree for networking.
"The key is planning appropriately," he says.
"It sounds basic but it's really fundamental. Have an end goal of what you want to achieve from holding the event. Write it down. That will help you formalise a lot of items."
"Think about who the target audience is and what the purpose of the event is. Is it to win business or say thank you? Is it to look after existing clients or to seek new business opportunities? Is it around family, friends and partners, or an existing customer base?"
But no matter the size or style of your event, Smith believes there are a few fundamental tips that, if followed, will impress your guests and ensure your event is a success for you and your business.
A seemingly simple tip but an important one. Although it's easy to track people down via social networks these days, having a card on hand to share takes care of the admin before your guests settle into party mode.
"If your audience is young staff members, consider a Friday drinks event that has plenty of Instagrammable moments," says Smith. "If your invitees are mid-life, keep in mind they're probably time poor and have to work things around their family so a Wednesday or Thursday evening may work best." Ensure you communicate the external guestlist to internal staff ahead of time also.
Finding a space that suits your business is essential but that doesn't mean you need to spend thousands to hire the latest and greatest venue in town.
"Sometimes, the best events are those that make the most of your own facilities," explains Smith.
"Do you have the space to host something back of house, somewhere different, where your guests haven't been before? If you're a manufacturer, for example, you could hold your Christmas event in your warehouse. You're thanking clients and making the event educational at the same time."
First impressions matter – that applies to both the introductions you made and the the energy a space reflects.
"Add touches of greenery – such as plants on a green wall – as this has a calming effect and creates a relaxed atmosphere," says Smith.
"Opt for mood lighting, as you don't want the venue to be too bright, and keep music soft so people can talk without yelling. Have some lounge or bar seating but not too much because you want people to move and mingle."
"Food and drinks are things people will always remember and talk about after the event," says Smith.
If your budget permits, having waitstaff on hand will prevent conversations from pausing when someone needs a drink refill. A professional catering company will not only take care of circulating food but also ensure all dietary requirements are catered for.
Smith recommends sticking to a three-minute maximum for any presentations.
"Your audience is at its peak about 45 minutes into the event so this is the best time to get everyone's attention."
Go back to your guests within days of your event and thank them for coming. Try sending a handwritten card – if someone's made the effort to attend your function, make the effort to say thank you.
Smith says to also consider offering a thank you gift, such as a bottle of wine or chocolates. Make a strong impressions by including a product meaningful to your key suppliers.