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Hosting a Business Networking Event

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Meeting other business owners outside of your shop can lead to relationships and partnerships that will eventually generate recognition and growth for your company. Hosting business networking events inside your shop can be even more fruitful for your business, says Gerald Wicklund, owner of Wicklunds CARSTAR & Glass in Liberty, Mo. It provides opportunities to not only become acquainted with other businesses, but also to directly expose them to your facility.

Wicklund details the annual business networking event he hosts at his facility, one that can be replicated to pay off at any shop.

I am very active in two chambers of commerce in my local market. I go to a lot of chamber-sponsored networking events throughout the year, which typically draw roughly 40–60 attendees. I thought I could capitalize on that by bringing those people into my facility for networking events.

I started hosting annual business-to-business networking events about seven years ago. I host one event each year in May, and rotate on an every-other-year basis between the two chambers I’m involved with. The event, called “After Business Hour,” is a chance for local business owners to interact with one another, share ideas, develop relationships, and exchange business cards.

This effort does require an investment of time and money to carry out—roughly $1,200 to $2,500—but it’s not extremely difficult to plan. Here are a few pointers:

Plan in advance. It’s important to have the event scheduled long in advance for two reasons. First, you need enough time to advertise the event and let people know about it. Second, you want people to count on it as an annual deal, so you don’t want it to fall through at the last minute. I already have dates set for the next two years.

Advertise the event. Spend an entire year letting people know about the party. We invite every chamber of commerce member, other VIPs in the local business community and certain shop customers. I include information about the event on the back of my business cards so every business professional I come in contact with is informed about the offering. Don’t include information about the event on your general marketing materials. You shouldn’t offer an open invite to the entire community because this is designed strictly as a business-networking event.

Find partners. We get assistance from outside vendors to help carry out the event and offset some of the overhead cost. For example, Hertz helps us with some of the advertising in exchange for the ability to advertise the company during the event.

Make it fun. Our business-networking event draws far more people compared to typical chamber events. We average 250–300 attendees because it’s fun. We always offer great food (one year was a full hog roast), entertainment (including magicians and live music), and $2,000 worth of door prizes donated by other local businesses (restaurants, for example, jump at the chance to provide door prizes).

Schedule it in the evening. Our networking party is always held after business hours. That’s important to maximize attendance because it doesn’t get in the way of business owners’ daily operations.

This has proven to be a valuable marketing strategy for several reasons:

Name recognition. It’s a great way to get our name out. I’m not blatantly promoting the shop, yet I’m doing exactly that in a more subtle way. Even if certain people don’t attend, they still hear and talk about me. I’ve definitely noticed an improvement in the prominence of our brand.

Image booster. It’s an opportunity to get people inside the facility so they can see for themselves that we’re not the typical body shop. They can see how clean and well equipped the facility is. It’s a great way to eliminate the old stereotype of body shops—dirty places that people never want to step inside. That has created trust and credibility for our operation, which ultimately has been the catalyst to land more jobs.

Business networking. Regular networking efforts with other businesses are invaluable. It’s an opportunity to discuss new strategies and initiatives, and stay informed with things going on in other industries. Those conversations create familiarity and relationships, which has helped us land fleet accounts and other repair jobs.

This has become an event that people now expect to happen every year. I’m definitely well known in both chambers of commerce and among other business owners because of this. Attendees typically look forward to this type of business-to-business event because it’s a no-cost opportunity to promote their company as well. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.

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