At Edge, we have been working in collaboration with Gateshead Council to create a new networking event series for businesses in the Baltic Quarter to help them identify new collaborative opportunities, learn about the latest trends, and share insights. After months of research and valuable discussions, we successfully launched our first networking event in the series, receiving excellent feedback. In this blog, you will learn how we created an event series from scratch and all the things you need to consider if you want to build your own.
After speaking with members of the Gateshead Council, who run the Northern Design Centre, it was agreed that businesses in the Baltic Business Quarter could benefit from increased collaboration and networking opportunities. To confirm our assumption, we decided it was best to investigate this further, before jumping straight into event planning mode. The Edge team created an online survey and distributed it to organisations within the Baltic Quarter to gain a full understanding of what people wanted to participate in and what they would be looking to get out of it. We linked this with a number of in-depth discussions with businesses directly.
After countless conversations and once the survey data was obtained, we started to shape the style and frequency of the events. The data provided insight into the preferred day, time, and duration of events and highlighted interesting business topics and the amount of time they would like to devote to networking. If you’re planning a new event, I recommend conducting research to ensure you understand what your desired participants are looking for and if there is a gap in the event landscape for your style of events. There’s no better way to understand your target audience than by asking them directly!
To ensure we had a comprehensive understanding of the current event landscape at the Northern Design Centre (NDC) we attended some existing events. We discovered that both structured and non-structured events can be equally successful, if there was something of value to take away (i.e., new connections or information). We also found that most attendees prefer events that provide free refreshments, including teas, coffees and sometimes food. However, the most interesting thing I noticed is events between the 90-minute and 2-hour mark were more popular than those longer than 2 hours.
If you’re planning an event, you need to ensure people can fit it into their busy schedules and an event that lasts too long usually means they can’t, or it has to be of high value for them to commit.
What steps did we take next?
Once we had finalised the core event details (location, date, time, duration etc.) we discussed the first introductory event itinerary with our partners. The NDConnect Team consists of Edge, Gateshead Council, and many other successful NDC organisations, including Layers, Fueled, Transmit, ArcherIP and NEPO. Each organisation plays a key role in the event series and contributed to the first successful introductory event. For us, collaborating provided us access to a continuous stream of innovative ideas and increased work efficiency. As a team, we were able to overcome challenges and access a wide network of desired participants quickly. Although collaborating with other businesses may not be for you, inviting members of your team from different departments will help improve your flow of ideas and delegating tasks can help you reach your end goal faster.
We delegated tasks between the group of partners, including the venue and catering logistics. It is important that the logistical details are planned as once your promotional materials are released to your audience, it is exceedingly difficult to change the venue and timings.
Leading up to the opening event, we focused a lot of time on our marketing efforts. Our event communications specifically focused on B2B promotional materials, including email campaigns and closed LinkedIn groups. Due to the event series being brand new, the marketing needed to be clear and consistent to ensure people understood the event’s purpose and the value of attending. The marketing activities included an introductory email to the NDC and Baltic Quarter database. The first email contained the key event details, a summary of what the event would entail and how to sign up. We followed up with 3 shorter emails summarising the value of attending and a reminder of how to sign up. The frequency of the emails has a direct impact on your open rate and customer engagement. It is suggested that sending 4-5 emails per month leads to the best open rate. However, you will need to try this yourself. Remember, sending too many emails or emails without value and purpose can result in someone unsubscribing.
P.S. Don’t worry if your event doesn’t take off immediately, consistency and regular communication is key as it can take people to view your marketing campaign up to 7 times before they sign up.
We also created an NDConnect LinkedIn community group for members of the community to collaborate, access event invitations, and communicate with other people with similar interests or skills. The purpose of the group is to help people maintain their new connections and stay in touch with the latest news and events.
So, what did our first event teach us?
Our first event ensured participants were able to network with everyone in the room, without the awkwardness of approaching a group of people you don’t know and trying to join in the conversation. Our facilitated networking activities allowed people to mix with others that they didn’t know and discuss different subjects. We deliberately avoided any hard sales messages. We found that this method encouraged people to be more confident and prevented them from sticking with the people they already knew. Towards the end of the event, we devoted some time to open networking, so people could continue unfinished conversations and spend their time in their preferred way. All the feedback pointed towards our next event continuing with facilitated networking activities.
Our next event will take place on Tuesday 25th April at 10.30am, we are hosting Food and F-ups. The concept is based on a ‘potluck’ food sharing with participants encouraged to bring food (home-baked or shop bought) and to think of a time in business when things didn’t go as planned. Instead of hearing how perfect and successful people are, we will be listening to the experiences of CEOs and founders overcoming mistakes or unpreventable mishaps. The event will be light-hearted, humorous, and valuable. If you are based in and around the Gateshead Baltic Quarter, you can sign-up here: https://FoodandF-ups.eventbrite.co.uk
So, what are Edge’s top tips you can take away?
Event planning doesn’t have to be crazy and stressful. Just ensure you are delegating your tasks, conducting your research, and giving yourself enough time to plan and prep!
Thanks for reading,