Small Business Saturday Blog

How to create an event for Small Business Saturday UK

Wednesday, October 23 at 22:33

So you’ve heard about Small Business Saturday UK, and you’ve caught the bug - there’s no better way to promote this amazing campaign, on a local level, than with an event.
First of all, you need a venue.
Many councils in the UK are supportive of Small Business Saturday UK, and some even include it in their manifesto. Luckily, Derby City Council is one of them. So, when Essential Print Services was one of the first #SmallBiz100 in 2013, the local council contacted me to be a panellist at one of their business growth events. Great!
At that time, the campaign was only just getting started, and I was determined to ensure that more people knew about Small Business Saturday UK for the following year. I kept in touch with the council officials to find out what their plans were for Small Business Saturday UK the next year. From that conversation, we agreed that I would co-host a free event with Derby City Council, and all entrepreneurs, retailers and service providers would be welcome. It would include free exhibition space and popup stalls, free workshops, inspiring talks and networking.
When you’re thinking of a venue, are there areas in your town or city in need of extra footfall?
In 2017, we switched venues from the Derby City Council house to Derby’s historic market hall? Why? Derby’s Market Hall is beautiful and is located in the city centre, but over the years, the visitor numbers were in decline. I made it my mission to fill the stalls with popup traders for our Small Business Saturday event and to keep it completely free.
It was a great success with one particular retailer taking over £500 in sales on her popup shop, which is usually online only. She loved meeting her regular customers face-to-face. A couple of popup traders became regular stallholders!
So you have a venue, you have the format. To make this a success, you will need help.
What’s your superpower? I own a small print firm in Derby, and I am passionate about what I do, but I also love networking and bringing people together. These passions come in very useful when organising events. But not everyone is a confident host. If you’re not happy about public speaking, ask someone else to compere. There are times when I am not feeling 100%, and on those occasions, I take a step back and instead, I help manage the event behind the scenes. After all, you can’t do it all yourself.
Ask for help. You’re a small business owner – you’re already busy, but you really want to create this event so, ask for help. In 2016, the event took place one week before my wedding day. I was running a business, hosting an event and organising my wedding. The event would not have been such a success without the help of my business buddies.
Find your tribe: find a group of people who are reliable and who will support you. Create an event committee with other local entrepreneurs. Decide on what needs to be done, by when and assign tasks. Save time by using an online collaboration tool to communicate in one place and to see how the project is moving.
So you have a venue, you have the format, and you have people to help you. Now, you need people to turn up. How do I spread the word?
Networking: I network extensively in my local area at several business groups, and my business has a large client base. After a short evaluation, it was apparent they were our perfect target market, so the next step was to promote the event to those audiences.
How?
Make it personal. It is a nice feeling to receive an invitation, so send personal emails to people you know inviting them to your event. Include your LinkedIn connections too. Remember to include local MPs and dignitaries.
Be resourceful. Utilising our resources, I design and print flyers to hand out at meetings and to include in our delivery packs. I even walk around local business parks and the city centre pushing them through letterboxes. Remember to give a supply of printed literature to everyone who has agreed to help you and ask them to distribute them amongst their contacts. Many local organisations will agree to display the flyers in their reception areas, including the local tourism office.
Get social. I schedule regular social media posts on all our business platforms and identify online business groups who will agree to include it in their event listings. In 2016 I created a Facebook Group for Derby's small business community, which has now over 550 members. Any events I host, I let the Facebook group know. I use Eventbrite to ‘sell’ the free tickets.
Remember to include Small Business Saturday UK in your social media posts – they will help you spread the word to their vast number of followers.
On many occasions, I struggle to conjure up social media content for my own business, but the Small Business Saturday events gives my business something to shout, and it also showcases our corporate social responsibility.
And last of all, any opportunity I have to talk about the event, I do!
There are other ways to promote your event.
Local Media Channels: Back in 2014, I used one of the Small Business Saturday press releases as a template to distribute an article to the local press. I included business organisations such as our local Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Small Businesses and the Council’s own communications team. At this point, I had only been in business for two years and to see my company name on my Council’s website was a real thrill. I loved the thought of a big organisation supporting a small business. Another proud moment was in 2016 when I hosted the event in the council chambers and I sat in the Mayor’s chair in front of 80 people.
Flash Mob: To generate some anticipation in the run up to an event and for a bit of fun, I organised a flash mob on one of Derby’s historic streets, Sadler Gate. It is an area with many small, independent retailers – the perfect place. I called upon my network of business buddies and invited the local retailers to join me at a specific time with a print out of their company logo for a photograph. I incentivised the idea by agreeing to use the photo for all the publicity in the run-up to the event. I knew the image had to be perfect - I needed a professional! Looking at our client base and contacts, who did I think would be willing to take the photographs and what could I offer them in exchange? Simon from JAKT Photography agreed without hesitation- he simply wanted to help. This happened in 2014, and the image is still in use today*.
During the flash mob, a local restaurateur; Holly from The Wonky Table, saw what was happening and opened up just for us. She offered the ‘flash mob’ free drinks and a chance to network. Those who took up the offer made new contacts, which created new business opportunities. Not only that but The Wonky Table made some new, repeat customers, me being one of them.
What can you do during the event to create a positive atmosphere and make your day memorable?
Everybody conga! During our event in the Market Hall, we had a small business exhibition, popup traders, networking, talks and two workshops but the climax of the day was when we did the conga around the stalls. At this point the local newspaper arrived and captured our antics, which led to publicity online and in the newspaper not just for the event, or the campaign, or even my business for that matter, but for other delegates and stall holders too. Win, win!
Razzle dazzle them! Find a local band or music students to provide some live music. What about a flash mob-style rock choir?
Last year we implemented a ‘Golden Ticket’. We put all the delegate names in a hat and picked out ten to present their ‘elevator pitch’ to the entire room of over 80 people. We gave them physical golden tickets and asked people to wave them in the air, which provided some theatre as well as an excellent opportunity to promote their business.
I have enjoyed hosting and curating these events over the years. One crucial factor for me is that everything remains free: free to exhibit and free to attend. I believe it is essential to make it inclusive to everyone and to remove the hurdle of cost. These free events can only remain free with the generosity and support of my local business community, and for that, I would like to say a public ‘thank you’.
In summary:
+ Contact your local Council. Can they sponsor a venue? Small Business Saturday UK is an excellent way of them showing support for their local businesses.
+ Use your tribe – who do you know? Sometimes the best people are right in front of you.
+ What are you doing it for? It is great to help others in your community but remember to accept and create opportunities to publicise your own business too.
+ “What’s in it for me?” Quite often, you won’t feel the benefit of your efforts until months or years to come. Be patient.
+ What does success look like? Set a goal: what would a successful event look like to you?
+ Quality, not quantity. Don’t be disheartened if delegate numbers are low. Many of my best meetings have been with fewer people because it allows you to have meaningful conversations.
+ Add some razzle dazzle!
+ Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
+ Know your strengths – use your superpower.
+ If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Be cheeky – you’ll be surprised how many people are willing to volunteer their time, skills and resources. When asking for freebies and help, be clear with your reasons why others should attend and get involved.
Yvonne Gorman owns Essential Print Services in Derby, which was one of the #SmallBiz100 in 2013.
*I would recommend you ask people to sign a Model Release Form or at the very least ensure people understand you will be using their photograph. This applies to photography for any commercial event.

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