Tips for Organizing Business Events

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Tips for organizing business events

Working from home can get lonely sometimes, so several years ago, I established the Golden Horseshoe Virtual Assistants Group as a way to regularly have face-to-face networking with my colleagues.

For a few years, we held a Special Evening Event which was open to business owners from other industries. Before that, I had zero experience or training planning business events, but I learned a few things along the way, which I’m happy to share with you.

Date

If your group is holding the event, ask the members what dates will work for them. If you’re hoping for guests to come from great distances, avoid the winter months when weather may interfere with travel. Find out what else is taking place in your area. You probably won’t have a date all to yourself, but be aware of major events that may draw people away from yours. (One year we made the mistake of scheduling our Special Evening Event during Small Business Week, and lost quite a few potential attendees to trade shows in two neighboring cities.)

Location

If you hold your event in a hotel meeting room, you’ll probably have to pay for room rental on top of the cost of your food. Unless you’re planning to host a large group, this may force you to charge more for attendance than many people will be willing to pay. A better choice is a restaurant with a private room. Use Yelp or Trip Advisor to help you locate suitable venues.

Menu

Most restaurants that cater to groups have a special events menu where each guest can select one of three different meals. Sometimes you’ll have a choice of menus at different prices. Since some of your guests may have dietary restrictions, make sure that special requests can be accommodated.

Speaker

If your event is being held by an association or other organization, there may be a good speaker among your members. If not, or if you’d prefer an outside speaker, ask your members for recommendations. Some speakers are willing to waive their regular fee in exchange for the opportunity to promote their products or services to your group.

Door Prizes

If you’d like to have door prizes, contact your group members and other people in your network to request donations. Many will be happy to offer a small gift or a gift certificate for their services as a way of promoting their business. We were always blessed with a great response, and generally received enough donations that every person in attendance went home with something. Use a spreadsheet to keep track of the donations you’ve been offered, and mark it off when you receive them. You can use this list to follow up if something doesn’t arrive when expected, to thank your donors after the event, and to connect with them again before subsequent events.

Price

Consider whether your goal is to make money, either for your group or to support a charity, or whether you only need to break even. When calculating how much to charge for registration, figure out how much the meal will come to after taxes and gratuity are added on. Be sure to also factor in any costs for room rental, speaker fees, a meal and/or gift for your speaker, and any other expenses related to hosting or promoting the event. Even if you don’t need to generate a profit, you may want to charge a little extra to ensure you don’t lose money if you don’t sell out.

Documentation

Each year that I organized the GHVA’s Special Evening Event, it took a little less time and effort, because I already had a system in place. Set up a folder on your computer for your guest list, donor list, email templates, and any other documents you use or create while planning your event. This will make your life so much easier next time! And, if you decide to pass the reins over to someone else in the future, you’ll be able to share your system without spending hours explaining what you did.

Ask for Help!

Planning and coordinating a business event, even a relatively small one, is a lot of work! Because it wasn’t my area of expertise, everything took me much more time than it should have.  I could have saved myself a lot of trial and error by seeking advice from to someone with experience. Before organizing a similar event in the future, I’ll definitely be reading Rashelle Isip’s How to Plan a Great Event in 60 Days. Eventually I learned to delegate and let others attend to many of the details, and I wished I’d done that much sooner.

Since event planning is not my area of expertise, please add your own suggestions in the Comments section.

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Gravatar mystery man

A former professional organizer, I'm now a Website Design and Care Specialist. I love helping others succeed by sharing the knowledge and insight I’ve gained through marketing my own business for over 15 years! When I’m away from my desk, I enjoy reading, photography, watching movies, and cooking.

Gravatar mystery man

A former professional organizer, I'm now a Website Design and Care Specialist. I love helping others succeed by sharing the knowledge and insight I’ve gained through marketing my own business for over 15 years! When I’m away from my desk, I enjoy reading, photography, watching movies, and cooking.

33 Comments

  1. Avatar Seana Turner on May 19, 2015 at 10:05 pm

    NAPO-CT is just starting to talk about working with nearby chapters to have a “fall/regional conference.” We were talking about these very issues. One idea that came in was to see if a store, such as The Container Store, might sponsor us, or give us a place to meet, both of which would reduce costs. I think this is a super idea!

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on May 20, 2015 at 6:58 am

      Getting sponsors is an excellent idea! Our group did that for one event which was organized by two other members and it made a huge difference. We had a mini-trade show around the outside of the room where sponsors and members could present their products and/or services.

  2. Avatar Sabrina Q. on May 20, 2015 at 6:15 am

    Great guidelines! I love the idea of door prizes. I have setup giveaways with raffles tickets for end of year parties for work and my kids school. I actually really enjoy coordinating these type of events. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on May 20, 2015 at 7:01 am

      Those raffles can be a lot of fun and make great fundraisers! I’ve won a few prizes myself… 🙂

  3. Avatar Autumn Leopold on May 20, 2015 at 11:19 am

    We have a new Program Development Director this year and I’m going to share this with her as a resource! One question I had was are you allowed to promote your own business products at this meeting or is it strictly social?

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on May 20, 2015 at 2:58 pm

      Our regular meetings are strictly for VAs so they would be similar to a NAPO Chapter meeting. The Special Evening Events were open to people from various industries. The main purpose was to educate other business owners about virtual assistants and promote our members, but through the mini-trade show and door prize donations, they were able to promote themselves to us as well. Does that answer your question?

  4. Avatar Ericka Samuels on May 20, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    Thank you Janet, its nice to have a business organizing topic for a change! And a very practical one.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on May 20, 2015 at 2:59 pm

      I’m glad you liked it, Ericka! You may be pleased that the Professional Organizers Blog Carnival for June will also be on a business organizing topic.

  5. Avatar Rashelle Isip on May 20, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    I love the door prize and mini-trade show ideas. In the events that I did, we had mini handouts that we placed at each seat/place setting. Thanks for mentioning my book in the post. I hope you and others find it helpful in planning a business, or even a personal celebration.

    One event planning tip that I have for folks is to start planning an event as soon as possible. Even if you’re in the initial planning stages for an event that’s months down the road, it’s worth seeing what the lay of the land is in terms of meeting space/availability, attendee availability, and the like.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on May 20, 2015 at 3:02 pm

      Great advice, Rashelle – and I’m sure there’s lots more in your book (which I’ve downloaded but haven’t read yet). We tried to replicate one of our most successful events, only to learn that the prices at that venue had gone up so much that it was out of our reach. By the time we found that out, it was too late to make other plans and we had to cancel altogether.

  6. Avatar Kim on May 22, 2015 at 9:51 pm

    Good practical advice Janet 🙂 It is great when you have the help of someone who has gone through the process and has already ironed out a few of the kinks. I know that the fundraising events that we do get easier every year but they are a lot of work and take a lot of woman power. 🙂 Thanks so much!!

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on May 23, 2015 at 7:42 am

      Thank you, Kim! There’s a lot to be said for the power of numbers.

  7. Avatar Jill Robson on May 23, 2015 at 4:16 pm

    I love the part about Documentation, such a great idea to have everything in one place, it is easier to find for reference later.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on May 24, 2015 at 7:34 am

      Yes, documentation is key to almost everything we work on! There have been a few times I didn’t keep notes because I thought it was a one-time thing, but wished I had when it came up again much later.

  8. Avatar Sarah Soboleski on May 23, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    Such a comprehensive list! I like the tip about using a restaurant banquet room as opposed to a hotel meeting space. Helpful info.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on May 24, 2015 at 7:37 am

      I just remembered that we did find one hotel that didn’t charge for the room, as long as we had a meal, so it never hurts to ask.

  9. Avatar dana on May 27, 2015 at 10:40 am

    great tips! if i ever need to plan an event, i’ll be sure to check back here. xx, dana

  10. Avatar Audrey Blakeney on July 28, 2015 at 10:40 am

    As you hinted in the tip about location, business meetings can quickly become expensive. Renting a hotel meeting room and paying for catering is norm, but your suggestion of meeting in a private restaurant room is a genius way to save money without sacrificing elegance. I will be sure to keep this in mind the next time I help business plan their events and conferences. This little trick will hopefully help my event planning business boom.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on February 2, 2016 at 12:29 pm

      It can make such a difference, especially when it’s a small group where adding the cost of room rental will make it too expensive.

  11. Avatar Veronika on October 22, 2015 at 6:29 pm

    I have severe food allergies. So most of the events and banquets I attend, I have very limited options to eat a meal. I wish there were more considerations for dietary restrictions. The last one I went to had a full menu for that, and I was so appreciative!

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on October 24, 2015 at 11:14 am

      Yes! There are a lot of people today with special dietary needs, whether for health, religious, or ethical reasons, and it’s very important to have proper options for them (not just, “You don’t eat meat? Okay, here are a few overcooked veggies on a plate with some boiled rice.”)

  12. Avatar KimberlyGayeta on November 25, 2015 at 8:55 pm

    Food preparation is always one of the most crucial part of planning a party. Hire a an event planner or caterer to ease the pressure. You wouldn’t want tension building up on you during the event 🙂

  13. Avatar Julie Austin on December 7, 2015 at 11:50 pm

    If you don’t have the money to pay a speaker, let them get their own sponsor. Or even better yet, help them find one. This way you can get better speakers because they’re getting paid.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on December 8, 2015 at 10:53 am

      Thanks, Julie – I’d never thought of that! As someone who is occasionally asked to speak for free, I will definitely look into this further.

  14. Avatar Veronica Marks on December 10, 2015 at 4:09 pm

    I’m so glad to see that you included mention of the possibility of diet restrictions and making special accommodations. I have Celiac disease, so it’s always a gamble when I go to work functions where food is provided. More often than not, there are no gluten free options for me. Thankfully, my current company does a great job at making sure there is something I can have.

  15. Avatar Angela Waterford on January 22, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    I really appreciate you mentioning to make sure special dietary restrictions and requests can be accommodated. I actually have a gluten allergy, and it’s so frustrating when I go to an event or meeting where a lunch is provided and have to decline. It has made for some awkward situations as I have to then explain why I can’t eat a meal that someone else has already paid for me to have.

  16. Avatar Hazel Owens on March 14, 2016 at 12:23 pm

    I like your tip about considering location when finding an event venue. I hadn’t thought about the advantages of a restaurant over a hotel room, but it makes sense. As you said, a hotel room has to be rented out, which costs more money, but a private room at a restaurant usually only has to be reserved. Thanks for all the tips about how to find a good venue for business events!

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on March 14, 2016 at 1:00 pm

      Our biggest challenge these days is finding restaurants that have a private meeting room!

  17. Avatar Vivian Black on May 12, 2016 at 7:29 pm

    I am a manager for a small business, and we are holding an event to outreach in the community. The advice to look at different restaurants for catering is really helpful. I also appreciated the tip to consider that some guests may have dietary restrictions and to plan accordingly.

  18. Avatar Julie Stobbe on September 23, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    It is a simple article for people to follow to able to plan a successful event. When it comes to dates I made a list for myself to “watch out for”. On it are dates like , Super Bowl Sunday, Easter Weekend, March Break week, and dates near long weekends. Also with door prizes, I think people should select one they want. Once I contributed a door prize of significant value and I know the person who got it will never use it. It probably became a door prize again at another event and that’s OK.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on September 23, 2016 at 3:42 pm

      Great tips, Julie – thanks!

      What you said reminds me my very first speaking engagement – I was to give a talk on time management at a local bookstore and not one person showed up – it was during the Stanley Cup playoffs and there was a game that afternoon. I was so nervous it was actually a relief, but that’s a story for a different day. 🙂

  19. Avatar Zoe Campos on December 3, 2020 at 6:55 am

    It’s good to be reminded that guests with special menu requests at a party will always exist. For example, some clients in corporate events would ask for a dessert bar that isn’t usually present in formal gatherings. Still, I think that organizers of these events should always prioritize the preferences of their attendees for a better outcome.

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