Bringing people together can deliver powerful benefits to your self-employed business. If you start a local business event or community and it becomes popular, the competitive advantages include expanding your contacts, and increasing awareness of your company. You’ll have something that helps you stand out from similar freelancers and businesses, and which can even generate revenue itself.
Many prominent conferences and industry groups have been started by small groups or individuals. And if you’re self-employed or freelancing, it’s often easier to add an event or community into your working life. It’s also likely you’re already a member of other organisations and networks such as IPSE, which can provide inspiration with a wide range of events and local meetups across the UK.
As with any new business venture, it’s important to remember that growth and success may take time. And you may need to try different approaches before finding the proposition that attracts enough visitors and members. But the result can be hugely rewarding on a personal level, as well as providing professional benefits.
Research existing events and communities:
There’s little point in replicating an existing event or community. It’s very difficult to persuade people to move from their existing routines and social contacts, especially if you’re only able to promote minor differences. Even a cheaper or free alternative will come up against social inertia, and the fact people will already have a network of contacts and friends from their existing conferences and networks which will make them reluctant to leave and start somewhere new.
Use existing conferences, networks, and meetups for inspiration, and to identify opportunities which aren’t currently being served by anyone. Important topics and groups may have been overlooked, or visitors and members might have common complaints.
It may be that your industry or area is already well-served with events and communities, in which case you might find it’s better to get involved with existing organisations than attempting to start a rival from scratch. For example, running a local IPSE member meet-up.
Define your proposition and objectives:
Having a clear proposition and objectives for your new event or community make it a business project rather than a fun hobby. There’s nothing wrong with arranging a social gathering to hang out with other people who share an interest or hobby, but it’s less likely to benefit your business. And you can quickly alienate everyone by trying to switch focus at a later date.
Your proposition is a clear and unique selling point which can explain the main reason anyone would be interested in your conference or group. It’s one or two sentences which will serve as your elevator pitch, and can be quickly and easily understood or shared by members and attendees to recruit more people in the future.
Setting objectives and targets is important to understand whether your efforts are working, or if you need to change tactics. Any good business plan will evolve over time, but you need something to aim for and measure against. Not only will they help you to know if you’re getting the results you hoped for, but growth or engagement objectives can also prevent things becoming repetitive and stale.
Having measurement and analytics in place will also give you a warning if things are starting to drop off. The majority of people will simply stop turning up, rather than telling you that they’re unhappy. And many events and communities can slowly fade away if you don’t realise that numbers have started to fall, without any opportunity to change things.
It also informs your business structure, if you decide your new venture should be separate from your existing companies. Especially if you’re considering setting it up as a non-profit or charity.
Make it easy for everyone to benefit
When you’re building a self-employed business, you’re typically the main beneficiary of your hard work. It’s always great to help and support others, but that will tend to come after you’ve taken care of your own business.
But with events and communities, you need to ensure everyone involved can benefit. Helping people to discover just one useful insight or piece of advice, or to meet a single helpful contact will ensure they return on a regular basis.
It’s the most powerful justification for taking part and sacrificing time anyone could spend working or relaxing instead.
And those benefits are key to attendees and members recommending your events or community to other people.
Get people involved, and delegate when possible
Establishing any new event or community can become a huge amount of work, especially for a single person. The sooner you can get more people involved and start to delegate some tasks, the more opportunities you’ll have to grow.
Unless you’re investing significant amounts of money, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to pay staff. But with clear objectives and benefits, you’re much more likely to be able to find volunteers and people within your community who are willing to help out.
Be prepared to invest time upfront to ensure that anyone getting involved is onboard with your vision, and well-supported in dealing with tasks, attendees, or community members. That effort will make it much more likely that they’ll continue to volunteer. Especially if you continue to show you value their contributions and maintain their morale over time.
Along with recognition, you can also provide opportunities for volunteers to develop new skills, take on leadership roles which will benefit their careers and add to their CVs, or look for other benefits and discounts which can reward them.
In addition to reducing your workload, having more people involved means more sources of ideas and suggestions for the future. Those contributions may not be the right fit, or achievable immediately, but they’re an important part ensuring volunteers feel part of your organisation, so make sure that you value them. Sometimes they can take your event or group to new heights.
Make the most of marketing
You don’t need a huge budget to attract an audience for local business events or attract new members to your community. There are lots of free opportunities you can utilise to build up your project.
Social networks are an obvious choice, but try to target relevant groups and individuals rather than sending out the same generic message to everyone you can possibly reach. Whether you’re using Facebook, LinkedIn or X, there are ways to find people in your industry and location.
Even if you’re using your own ticketing system or group platform, it’s worthwhile listing events on platforms including Meetup and Eventbrite where they can be found by anyone actively searching for things to do.
Actively look for testimonials, and encourage reviews and recommendations you can share. Quoting visitors or members is a powerful and convincing to highlight a benefit. Requesting feedback on a regular basis will help to encourage people to submit their opinions.
You can also encourage attendees and members to share their recommendations with tools to make it simple to share online, competitions, or rewards for recruiting new people.
In addition to optimising any website or listing for people searching, you can also find potential opportunities to cross-promote with other relevant events and groups. This can be another local organisation, or within your specific industry. Other resources can include local councils, arts and community organisations, or venues themselves.
You might be able to invest in flyers, which can be posted up in local businesses. But other opportunities include local newspapers, free magazines, and radio. Many of these publications and broadcasters are constantly looking for people to submit interesting new stories or event listings.
Don’t panic if it’s not perfect
It’s natural to worry when events or communities encounter issues, but don’t let perfection become the enemy of good. Especially when attendees and members may not even notice problems which could induce panic for any organiser.
Back-up plans are always a good idea as computers will fail, speakers might not turn up, and the tools you use to manage groups can change or fail overnight. But staying calm while you find a solution helps to reassure everything that things are under control.
Sometimes a minor mishap can result in a better event when speakers are forced to improvise, or result in better community management or tools being used in the future.
And don’t let your ideal vision prevent you from starting a new local business event or community. If you can’t afford a big venue, many local pubs, cafes, and other venues are perfectly serviceable. A marketing budget might be a dream, but just putting out something on your personal social media profiles can kickstart things. If just a couple of people turn up, that’s something you can build from rather than a failure.
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