VSU loan recipient Caroline McQueen is an actor, brand stylist and lifestyle expert from London. Her startup, Industry Avenue, provides networking opportunities for entertainment professionals & online training. Here she shares her tips for throwing a brilliant event.

"It’s launch day for your startup. Your “open for business” sign is out, the splash screen on your website has been replaced with a shiny new homepage, and you're waiting for the sales to roll on in. There’s just one thing missing…your customers.

One of the biggest challenges of starting a new business is building awareness for your new brand and getting your target audience excited about it. Marketing and advertising are great vehicles for driving traffic to your store or website. But it takes a lot of time and investment to get any significant traction from those activities.

If you want to build trust with your audience, and a loyal customer or client base, then hosting an event is the way to go.

How events can help your business

Although a lot thought and planning goes into hosting a great event, they're a fantastic way to build awareness and revenue for your new business. They're an organic way to capture a large number of potential customers and loyal fans all in one place, which makes it easy to start building a mailing list of engaged subscribers. Plus, it’s also a great way for your potential clients or customers to get to know you and your team, and hear your message first hand.

I started my first business when I was 18 to help fund my way through university. I was a makeup artist and I knew nothing about selling, but what I did know was how to inspire women to feel great about their skin. So naturally, asking my friends and potential clients to host skincare parties for me was a no-brainer for building my business. And it meant my service pretty much sold itself.

What makes an event memorable

The way to make your events a big hit with your clients or customers, and have them singing your praises to all of their friends, is to over-deliver on value and surpass all of their expectations. For example, if you have a product based business and you’re exhibiting at a trade show, allowing visitors to sample and purchase your products at the exhibition without having to wait for delivery is an effective way to show your customers that you care about providing an expedient service.

Events can stand out in the minds of your customers for all kinds of reasons. To make sure that yours are memorable for all the right ones, here are a few things to keep in mind when planning your next event…

Know the purpose behind your event

Do you want to educate or inspire your customers? Or do you want to increase sales during a holiday period?

Whether you’re launching a product, or attracting new customers to an existing one, setting a clear intention for your event during the early planning stages, will help ensure that your event has the desired impact on your target audience.

Think about what your goals are for the event. Do you want to build your customer base, be seen as an expert or leader in your field, or even attract media attention from the local press? Setting objectives that aren’t sales related will help you determine whether or not your event was a success by other factors.

Plan well in advance

Now, I used to live in New York City, so I’ve been to my share of impromptu roof parties in the village.

Although it’s possible to pull together a half-decent event in a short space of time, if you’re planning to mesmerise your audience with an awesome event, it’s going to take a lot more effort than few a fairy lights, and some chips and salsa!

A great experience takes time to craft. It doesn’t happen by accident.

If you’re an online business without a storefront, don’t be tempted to host your event at your co-working space, even if it’s convenient. Instead, find a venue that resonates with your brand and your mission statement. That way, your guests immediately get a sense of who you are and what your brand represents from the atmosphere as soon as they walk through the door.

Every element of your event can (and should) be used as touch point for your brand. Everything from napkins to coasters, to table decorations and flowers, can all be leveraged promote your product or service. Even the food your serve your guests can be infused with the personality of your brand.

For Industry Avenue, we had a signature cupcake designed by an artisan bakery to serve at key events in our social calendar, to make a non-verbal statement about the flavour of our brand.

Of course, you don’t have to invent a new cupcake or have a bar made out of ice for your guests to have a great time. But small details can make a huge impression on your clients or customers, and set them in the right frame of mind for doing business with you in future. Just don’t get too carried away adding tons of extras. Which brings me nicely to my next tip…

Set a budget…and stick to it!

Do you really need to hire a DJ, or will a playlist of your favourite tunes do the job? While some touches are “nice to have”, not all of them are entirely necessary.

Again, going back to the purpose for your event, and being mindful of your intentions will make it easy for you to prioritise the essentials and reign in any frivolous spending.

When planning a one-time occasion, like a launch party, decide early on how many guests you want in attendance, then cater for that number of people. If you can’t afford to cover the cost of drinks all night (and I don't recommend that you do), your guests won’t mind paying for their own if you (at the very least) cover the cost of one to two.

Also, not everyone will have a chance to eat before arriving at your event. So, to keep those guests from sneaking out early in search of the nearest drive-through (or from getting buzzed on free booze), provide finger food that not only looks appetising, but is also filling without the need to eat a lot.

And finally…

Remember: it’s not all about you

Your event is NOT about you, nor your brand. It’s about your audience's needs, and showing them how you can serve them better than your competitors.

How your attendees feel at your event, and what they get from it on the day, is way more important than the results you receive. If you remember only this one thing, you’ll always host an amazing event and have people wanting to come back for more...

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