Recently I challenged myself to host a networking event in my area. It would be a great way to get myself out in the community while also connecting local professionals. Good idea, right? The devil is in the details: How was I going to set it up? Whom would I invite? Where would I hold the event? Hmmm. Imagine me tapping my fingers and staring out the window. I needed inspiration.
Because all those logistical questions were dry and not getting my creative juices flowing, I got busy looking for an angle or theme for my event. You know, the fun part. A quick search on Pinterest for "networking" produced results for speed dating. Could I apply the speed dating concept to a professional networking event? I didn't know, but I liked the challenge.
I jotted a list of friends, vendors, local businesses and anybody I knew who worked by referral. I examined the parts of town where they live and work and selected an eatery that was central to all. A quick visit with the owner of the restaurant and I walked away with a date, time, and menu. The owner didn't understand what speed dating was, but he agreed to provide delicious Italian food and our own room for the event. Perfect. (Note: We negotiated a bit. He wouldn't charge me a room fee if I'd host my event on a slow night...hence the selected date and time).
Next step was a "Save the Date" e-mail followed a few days later with a printed invitation. I made my invitation in the style of a ticket, which was used as a drink ticket for the bar on the night of the event. I wanted it in a "chalkboard look" style. A quick search on Etsy and I found a designer who sent me a PDF for $12 and I printed all the copies I needed. So far, so good.
I've planned a lot of parties and reunions in my day, so I knew that if I wanted to have 25 people, I needed to invite 75. After the first Save the Date email I had 2 responses. After the printed invitations were mailed I got about 8 more confirmed guests. Fast forward to Monday, two days before the event, which was my day to call and confirm RSVPs for all the folks I hadn't heard from. By the end of the day I had 30 confirmed and 8 maybes. A lot of talking, good results.
On a whim, I stopped by some local shops and asked for door prize donations. They were incredibly generous. Score! Everyone loves swag. I also asked some of the folk planning to attend if they wanted to promote their business with free stuff. Some jumped at the opportunity.
The day of the event it poured rain. That's never good for a social event. As expected, I received 8 "I can't make it" or "my kid is sick" last minute cancellations (life happens...). We had a few no-shows, too. However, we ended up with a solid group of 20+ business owners and vendors to meet and greet and repeat! They were incredibly open to the concept and willing to try my networking experiment.
I asked a friend and fellow agent to be my "door man" and to collect the $10/per person for attending. He is super friendly and funny which made a great first impression at the door. I also put him in charge of "whistle blowing" and timing for the speed dating.
After about 20 minutes of drinks and appetizers, we welcomed everyone and explained how our speed networking was going to work. Each "couple" had two minutes to introduce themselves and their industry. I had printed questions in the cups on the table, so each "couple" had to pull one question and discuss it. Questions all related to their professional lives, things like: What do you like about your job? What is the biggest challenge in your business? What's the biggest change to your industry over the past few years? After two minutes (TOTAL) we blew the whistle and each person moved to the right (on one side of the table, the folks on the other side of the table stayed put).
I think 2 minutes was just right because people didn't run out of things to say, and sought each other out afterwards if they wanted to have a follow up conversation.
Finally it was time for the swag, and we pulled business cards out of a fish bowl for a variety of prizes. We had rounds of golf at a country club, $50 spa certificates, $50 restaurant certificates, adult drawing lessons for an art studio, gift items from a local shop, and lots more. Some of the folks in attendance donated door prizes in conjunction with their company, so don't forget to offer that opportunity to those you invite who own their own businesses with products or services that make for good prizes.
After the door prizes, some folks hung out to mingle and others took off to be home for dinner with their families. I tried to keep the event from 5:15-6:15 so folks could stop by on their way home from work. Next time I think I'll try a 7:00-8:00 time-frame to get a cross section of people who couldn't attend this time.
After I got home from the mixer, I sent a quick e-mail out with the names/industry and e-mail addresses of everyone in attendance (I also included web links to the great businesses that donated door prizes). I encouraged everyone to refer to the professionals they met at the mixer (a far cry from the pressure of a BNI group). This was a low key way for all of us to get our businesses on the radar with other business professionals, and walk away with a handy resource list for future referrals. I'll be curious to see if this will bring me direct real estate referrals, but at the end of the day it was a fun evening and I enjoyed making new connections and learning about the talented people in my community. My only regret was that I didn't get to particiapte in the actual speed networking because I was facilitating it. Had I participated it would have been an odd number of people. Not sure if that was a lost opportunity or being a good host. I knew most of the people there already, so I tried to concentrate on running things smoothly.
What are some of the more creative things you've tried for marketing and networking? What gave you the best results and ROI?
Buying a home in Richmond, VA? Richmond has city living AND country views. The Fan and Museum District, as well as surrounding areas like the University of Richmond, Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Mechanicsville, Short Pump, Glen Allen, Chester, Powhatan, Goochland, and Midlothian make RVA a diverse and desirable place to call home. Describe your dream home and I'll do my best to find it!
Selling your home in Richmond, Va? My job is to make you the most money in the shortest amount of time. I can help you sell your home with stunning staging, professional photography, and internet marketing beyond your wildest dreams. You are in the right hands for Richmond real estate. You will receive consistent communication throughout and after the transaction.
I am committed to my clients and serving their best interests. Real estate is not my hobby, it's my passion and full time profession. I welcome the opportunity to serve you as we locate and negotiate your "best nest" in Richmond, VA estate. 804-317-7997