(Or, What I Learned by Planning and Hosting a Major Event in 90 Days)
While struggling to grow my own small business, “Every Little Thing Market” and navigate the vast world of social media marketing, I realized that the shear volume of information can very quickly become overwhelming. I also recognized that the growth of my business depends on how well I use social media marketing. I searched for social media managers, which are too expensive for a brand new startup. Social media courses are insanely expensive, and online training—which there are literally hundreds of options to choose from—well, who knows which ones are giving correct and current information!? Also, I don’t learn very well that way, so none of those were good options for me. That’s when I decided to bring teachers to me, AND offer training to other small businesses just like mine…if I could do that, I might be able to help a lot of people!
So, I began planning a seminar in early February (2018). I started by searching for speakers, which was the easy part. I quickly got six volunteers who do social media management for a living. Just as quickly, I found two nationally recognized speakers to be my keynote and main attraction. It was a little more difficult finding a venue, but I settled on a hotel at the oceanfront—which was a big draw for many people who came—but that had its own drawbacks: you’re required to use their catering services, which are priced ridiculously high (4 pots of coffee for over $400), and their A/V services aren’t particularly cheap either ($780 to use their projector). So we didn’t serve coffee or food, which ended up being one of the very few complaints, and I found a projector to borrow for free. As well, I was told by the venue that their wireless connection was “really good.” It was not [sad face]. Attendees tried to follow along with their laptops but were unable to do so.
Another issue was my own ability to shoot myself in the foot. I panicked a few times early in the process. For example, I paid someone to help me find a photographer and vendors, but didn’t sign a contract with them and they did almost nothing. Ticket sales were low, so I cut the price. Attendees, however, didn’t think the price was too high. So, it turned out that I shouldn’t have reduced the price—lesson learned. I also attempted to change the ad campaign completely, but the agency I hired to do my Facebook ads talked me off that ledge.
The one thing I did VERY well was to choose fantastic speakers. I picked the best-of-the-best, with a few exceptions—two of my speakers dropped out a week before the event. Since they were volunteers, there was really nothing I could do other than try to replace them. I was able to replace one, while one of the other speakers was nice enough to teach an additional topic. But other than that, the speakers were the most professional, helpful, and amazing group of individuals I could have asked for. Having bad or even average speakers could have completely screwed up the whole thing, but everyone was thrilled by the presenters, the amount of information provided, and their ability to teach.
I also found good volunteers to help, choosing only the people I could absolutely depend on not to let me down. Two of them helped set up in the morning, pass out info, sign people in, help with drawings for door prizes, and all the other little tasks. And another manned the A/V equipment. That equipment led to another hard-learned lesson. Since I couldn’t afford to pay the venue $780 for their projector, I borrowed an older one which ended up being a little blurry. Based on attendee feedback forms, I’ll have to go with a higher quality projector next year. It’s a lot more difficult to teach people if they have a hard time seeing your content.
I did all the planning and coordination of speakers and topics, wrote the contracts for the two main speakers, designed the programs, and designed and distributed flyers at every event I could find leading up to the seminar. I designed and ordered all the signs and banners. A few of the speakers and vendors provided additional promotional material. Additionally, I set up the Facebook Event and Eventbrite pages; found the web designer and helped design the event website along with him; hired a photographer to shoot the event and provide headshots to attendees for their business pages; developed door prizes, games, and presentation feedback forms; and drafted the opening and closing remarks. But I could have done so much more if I had started earlier and brought partners or teammates onboard to help.
One other major lesson I learned is to “get it in writing.” When you are paying people to help, especially high value contracts, you really need to have everything in writing—EVERY LITTLE THING. Regard your contracts with vendors as gospel—because they sure will. I assumed the success of the event would be as important to our speakers as it was to me. WRONG! Some of them asked for hundreds of extra dollars for the simplest things: one mention on their Facebook live, a Facebook post, or an email blast. In a desperate bid to sell more tickets, I paid a speaker $700 for a single email and to sponsor her podcast one day. So, when you are writing up your contract you need to think of every little thing you want them to do. Make sure it is all spelled out, thoroughly and completely. Don’t assume they are as invested in this event as you are—they are most likely not. They get paid the same whether you sell 40 tickets or 400.
But, the NUMBER ONE lesson I learned is the importance of doing your research and networking long before your event. If I had spent 6 months networking and researching venues, ticket prices etc., I could have made this a much more profitable venture. We held our Social Media Marketing Made Easy seminar on April 21 and 22 (2018), only three months after planning commenced, and ended up with an audience of 42 people and 9 vendors. Judging by the reviews and comments from attendees, it was a huge success. Although most of our attendees were local to Virginia, we had people travel from as far as Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. On our feedback questionnaires, we scored a 9.17 out of 10. Everyone loved that it spanned two days, and many asked for an evening session to be added next year.
Here are just a few of the comments about the speakers from the attendees:
“Very engaging, grabbed everyones attention, hilarious!”
—Written about Jennifer Allwood (Keynote speaker)
“OMG!! Loved her. Very knowledgeable and fun. Could listen to her for hours!”
—Written about Angela Herrington (Facebook ads and overall strategy)
“I really liked that they spoke about a topic that they are in the trenches with. Made them very relatable.”
—Written about Cindi Pomeroy Pope (Email lists)
“Full of information, so helpful. Very prepared and knowledgable.”
—Written about Melanie Diehl (Google & Register your business)
“Love, love, love! Lots of information that was useful!”
—Written about Sarah Hanford (Facebook Live and Messenger Bots)
“A wealth of information that I wasn’t aware of, so very informative. She was cute, energetic, and well spoken.”
—Written about Brittany Tilley Hanson (Pinterest)
“A lot of info, fast paced but definitely made me want more. I Immediately joined her group”
—Written about Rajsheda Richeson (Instagram)
We have already begun planning Social Media Marketing Made Easy 2019, so I have an entire year to make it bigger and better, AND sell enough tickets so I don’t lose money next time. Nevertheless, I’m really excited to watch as this year’s attendees use what they learned to help grow their own businesses!
Follow us on Facebook to keep up to date on next year’s event- https://www.facebook.com/smmmarketingmadeeasy/
You can also follow my blog on www.everylittlethingmarket.com
Finally, I’d like to thank StartWheel.org for the opportunity to share my experience with the Hampton Roads entrepreneurial community!
Would you like to see the top 14 tips to growing your business using social media, straight from the lips of our expert speakers? If so click here!
By Sharon Blackwell
Every Little Thing Market
Editor’s Note: StartWheel asked Sharon Blackwell to write about her experience with organizing and launching the event “Social Media Marketing Made Easy.” If you have an idea for a story you’d like to contribute, let us know!”
StartWheel’s mission is to centralize and mobilize efforts that foster the growth of entrepreneurism in our regional innovation economy. We aim to support and cultivate an entrepreneurial network in HRVA where talent, resources, information and leadership come together.