The temperature is dropping, the days are getting shorter, and there’s one thing on everyone’s mind: party time.
The winter season is known for overflowing social calendars and overflowing drinks, and is the perfect time for you to throw a holiday networking event.
But let’s face it, many small business owners don’t exactly have an ‘office’ to party with. So instead of reserving a table for one, mark this as the year you began your annual ‘Small Business Owner Office Party/Break Dancing Event.’
OK, the break dancing part is optional, but hosting an all-small-business-owner networking event is an excellent way to develop useful ties with the business owners in your town, and provide a chance for those who work solely out of their homes to connect with the local business community.
So how do you pull off the greatest holiday party of 2014? Find a space, invite the people, and keep the drinks flowing!
Find a Perfect Party Location
The most obvious option for a holiday networking event is your retail location. If you have the space, set up some tables and chairs, or a makeshift bar area. Giving your attendees somewhere to congregate around, and a place to sit, encourages even the most introverted introverts to talk and get to know one another.
If your physical location is too small to host the kind of party you want, try to think of alternative options that aren’t hugely expensive. Perhaps you could all meet at a bar and simply mingle while you enjoy a cocktail or two. It also wouldn’t hurt to reach out to the bar owner prior to the event and find out if you can get some kind of group discount on everyone’s tab. In fact, a coffee shop works just as well if the crowd will be small.
Hosting the party at a locally owned bar or coffee shop allows you to support the local economy at the same time, and solidifies your commitment to the small business community. The point isn’t to spend a lot of money, it’s to find a space where a large group of people can relax and get to know one another.
Now is not the time to be shy.
If you want your holiday networking party to be legend…wait for it…ary, you need to invite all of the local business owners in your area, including those who you haven’t made personal contact with yet. What’s the best way to do this? Start online.
Build a personalized email about your event and send it directly to everyone you want to invite. And to make it look a bit more professional, utilize a free email service for your holiday party invites instead of a standard text email. Most at-home businesses will list a contact email address on their websites, which makes it easy to put together an email blast.
Conversely, this is also a perfect occasion to send physical invitations to business owners with actual stores who do not list their email addresses online. Don’t feel weird if you’ve never met the person before. Send an invite addressed to the owner, with a little explanation of what type of party it is, along with the essential details. There’s nothing like receiving a physical invite these days, and you’re sure to at least stand out.
Oh, and your party doesn’t have to last all night. A three to four hour window should be enough to meet everyone and accommodate the chronically late.
Keep It (Mostly) Professional
Remember, this is a networking event for you to get to know the other small business owners in your town, so make sure it doesn’t devolve into some kind of frat-house kegger.
Enjoying a couple adult beverages will lighten the mood, however, and make networking easier for the more shy among your guests. Light music will also help diffuse the tension of meeting new people, and snack trays strategically placed throughout the space will give guests something to gravitate toward.
But please, I beg of you, do not hold a community introduction ritual, where you go around the room and everyone has to say who they are and what they do. Most people don’t like being put on the spot and will dread this part of the night. Instead, set up a table at the door with name tags and markers, because although it seems silly, it’s a good icebreaker and will help when drunk people forget each other’s names.
Don’t Get Too Fancy
Remember, the point of a small business networking event is to network and have fun, so don’t worry about getting too fancy with it. As Miss Manners recommends, the best gatherings are welcoming and conducive to conversation, so don’t worry about stocking your bar with Cristal.
The most important part of the entire night is to get a business card from everyone there, and in the following few days, send out emails to everyone you met, thanking them for attending. This will help you forge longer-lasting relationships and (hopefully) future business partnerships.