I first met Cesar Plata, founder of everyCircle, at the Razzle Dazzle event in San Francisco. He is an energetic man with a big smile and a firm handshake. One of his first questions to me was, “How can I help you today?” to which I responded, “I’d like to meet the person who organized this event.” Within seconds, he is leading me through the crowd and introducing me to Nolan Apostle, CEO of EventCity.
Cesar is the ultimate connector. He’s been producing business/tech networking mixers and expos since 1998 (about 2-4 events per month) and has developed a huge following of supporters who religiously attend his events. “About 30% of our attendees are new to the event,” he brags. He says that “There is a certain ‘art and science’ to hosting a successful networking event.” With his permission, we are re-printing excerpts from his article “How to Organize Effective & Successful Events, Business Networking Expos and Mixers.”
A Few Fundamental Principles of Organizing Events:
- Best business is personal business.
- LEVERAGE – Do not reinvent the wheel! Join forces with experts. Focus on your strengths, and let other experts do their thing. Share the wealth and glory – share the pain and work. Leveraging and sharing will save you time, money, and headaches!
- How you greet people at the door will set the ‘ambiance, tone and vibe’ of the event.
- Just because you are hosting a business networking event, does not mean it has to be boring, cliquey, or stuffy! It could be fun too! Offer people more than they expect – provide multiple caterers, music, live entertainment, prizes.
- The event is about your guests and clients, not about YOU, or your business!
- People attend your event to network with others, not to listen to long speeches. Give people value – respect their time and money. They are going out of their way to attend your event and usually only have 1-3 hours to make as many connections as possible.
- Food for thought – The purpose of ALL businesses is to GROW! A business or organization that does not grow (in revenues, clients, membership, etc) is no longer a business, it is a HOBBY!
Top 10 Lessons Learned:
- MARKETING: The key to success is not what you know, or who you know, it’s who knows you! Best business is personal business!
You may have the best product or service, but if no one knows that you exist , nothing else really matters. You should be an expert at what you do. Realize that running your business should be 5-15% of what you do. The other 85%-95% of running a succesful business is MARKETING! Let others know what you do, through advertising and networking. You can never pay anyone enough for word-of-mouth advertising!
We are not an overnight success. Since 1998, we have slowly but surely grown our weekly newsletter distribution list to over 19,000 individuals. We network a lot and distribute our flyers at numerous networking events. Hundreds, possibly thousands of people, tell others about our services and events. Our website has gone through several facelifts which have increased the traffic tremendously: 600+ visitors per day, and top 3-10 ranking for many keywords on major search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo.
2. AUDIENCE: Lesson – Be particular who you reach out to and invite.
We are very particular who we reach out to. We bring together many entrepreneurs, small business owners, and professionals from mid-size companies and major corporations. We often have 30-60+% newcomers at each of our events! Our regular monthly networking events usually draw 100-200+ business owners and professionals. Our larger, Silicon Valley Business Expos draw 300-800+. Our audience is upscale, professional, very polite, friendly, approachable, good-looking, and lively too!
3. LOCATION: Location, Location, Location! (Did we say Location?)
We host our events at awesome locations (museums, fine restaurants and hotels). Many businesses and locales are very willing to work with us because we draw diverse, professional crowds. Besides, we usually host our events on Wednesday or Thursday evenings from 6-9pm and many locations will welcome the business on ‘slow’ nights.
4. HOSPITALITY & VIBE: A little courtesy goes a long way, always!
There is a really positive, friendly, business-casual, and approachable vibe at our events. You will rarely see anyone standing alone (it is not allowed!). Sometimes we will approach that occasional newcomer who may seem to be shy or is simply hanging around, and politely greet them and let them know “We have a rule at our events – No one stands alone!” and then we introduce them to someone else. They are always grateful. People leave our events with new business contacts and friends!
5. EVENT REGISTRATION: The way you greet people sets the tone, ambiance, and vibe of the event!
We give it that ‘personal touch’. We greet people with ‘Good, Old-Fashioned Hospitality’, a smile, a handshake or a hug. People want to be treated like they would treat others. Greet them as if they were entering your home. ‘Welcome’ is a magical word. Your guests should hear it several times before they enter your event. DO NOT treat people like cattle (sign here, pay here, next…) People feel welcomed and usually walk in smiling at our events. They want to feel comfortable and leave an event knowing it was worth their time and investment.
We ask people to make their own nametag (NEVER use the ones that say ‘Hi my name is’), and drop their business card in a fishbowl OR give their business card to our staff person. People sometimes run out or simply do not have business cards. Create your own blank business cards with your logo on the bottom right corner.
6. AMBIANCE/ENTERTAINMENT: Indulge the senses!
The main purpose of a networking event is to provide a venue for your guests to meet new clients. Everything else simply adds to the ambiance. We usually invite many caterers, musicians, and entertainers to participate. Musicians play background music and entertainers (dancers, fashion shows, etc) simply provide more value and fun to the event.
7. COST: Provide a valuable Return On Investment (ROI)
We strongly believe in developing long-term relationships. We are not greedy. We do not charge much at our events (free, $11/advance, $15/door, OR $15-$25 at our business expos). Our exhibitor rates are also very reasonable.
8. EXHIBITORS: Provide first-class service to your clients and guests, always!
We provide each exhibitor with a table and a linen, and place all tables against the walls. We strongly emphasize to exhibitors to ALWAYS stand in front of their tables, NEVER behind them. People should be able to speak to an exhibitor eye to eye. It is simply very rude not to do so. Eliminating the 3 to 4 foot distance between the guest and the exhibitor will make people feel more approachable. It may also result in more sales.
9. THE PRESENTATION: Respect people’s time, do not waste it!
At approximately 7:35pm we will get everyone’s attention, and for a few minutes will welcome everyone, say a few words about everyCircle.com, allow a representative from the location to welcome everyone, and then we sometimes allow the exhibitors 20-30 seconds each to introduce themselves (only at small events). You do not need more time. People will approach their table if they want to learn more. We do not do presentations at our business expos due to the large crowds (300-800+) and many (45-140) exhibitors.
Usually during the presentation, and before the drawing, we will ask everyone to introduce themselves to the person standing next to them. You will notice a serious buzz in the room – this simple act enlivens the crowd and will encourage people to interact more. Our events end at 9pm. Often we have to ask people to go home at 10:30pm! They are enjoying themselves too much! Quite simply, this is what the event is all about!
10. FREE DRAWING: People like the “F” Word – FREE!
It’s Christmas every time at our events! We ask people to bring prizes for the free drawing. We also provide blank gift certificates. We draw business cards from the fishbowl and very quickly give away all the prizes and give brief plugs – ‘prize donated by…’. We do not deliver prizes – must be present to win. At our events most prizes donated range from $50 to gift certificates worth several hundreds of dollars for products and services, to tickets, hotel certificates and airline tickets! We do not give away cheap and cheezy prizes.
Sometimes, for larger events, we will sell drawing tickets ($5 for 3 tickets, $10 for 8 tickets, and $20 for 20 tickets). We ask people to fill out blank gift certificates or complete pre-printed cardstock sheets (prize number, prize description, donated by.., and prize value). Usually 40-60+ prizes are donated per event. At the end of the evening, we will list the winning tickets and prizes on a large butcher paper.
This business started as a hobby back in 1996 with the simple purpose of providing an online resource for non-profits to recruit mentors from the growing pool of professionals and business owners that we unite. A few words of advice that one of us can share with a young student can help make the difference whether he or she goes to college or ends up somewhere else! Organizations can recruit so many people to become mentors and volunteers at any of our events! We often provide opportunities for non-profits to become exhibitors. We have also collected 200-400+ toys each year during our annual toy drives.
The read the full article or for more information on Cesar, visit everyCircle.