Forget immediate return and focus on the customers

What approach should a business take to running a client seminar?

There are a number of reasons to consider doing this. For example, it might be to showcase expertise, socialise new ideas or approaches, share experiences or provide a stimulus for change.

From the small business perspective, it's about creating "brand authority" - that is, getting the business recognised as the "go to organisation" for those services.

For me, it's how this activity fits with your brand and where you want to position your business in the market.

In addition to the obvious benefits, we believe there is significant value in getting business owners and leaders together to share and exchange ideas and connect with like-minded individuals.

The secondary aspect is those who attend might be interested in finding out more about your organisation.

Who should SME owners be inviting to these events?

Diversity of thinking and approach are key. Don't just open up the email invitation to everyone. Think about the types of people you want there - for example, business owners, suppliers, customers, joint venture partners and advisers.

These are people who can indirectly endorse your business, prospective customers, academics or technical experts. The success of these events often is reflected in the depth and breadth of those who attend.

The most important people to you as a business owner are often those you see less frequently, but whom know you. They often come up with interesting opportunities and this is your chance to connect with them.

Think of these events as an opportunity to give, not take. Too often we get fixated on the immediate return. The longest I have waited for a client do business with us is 10 years.

Often individuals will come to these events because of the reputation of the last one you ran. Ideally, you want them to be over-subscribed, not be chasing around to get the numbers.

Should experts be invited along to speak or should the business present itself as the expert?

Be clear about your purpose. If you want to draw a crowd, a well-known expert will help, providing that supports your business and direction.

Our experience suggests the following are important:

  • Reputation - people like being with like-minded others and those whose opinions they value.
  • Venue can be important - an interesting venue or one of significance can help as much as an expert speaker.
  • Relevance is crucial - all the experts in the world will not help if the audience feel the message is not relevant to them.

How should the seminar holder expect to benefit?

This is about clarity of purpose - why is this event being run? If it's about creating brand authority, this may initially be a different outcome than if it's about selling your services or products.

In my opinion, few of us like being sold to. A wise person once said to me: "We don't sell anything, we let people buy from us". That mindset helps shape your thinking, particularly when linked to creating an opportunity to give, not take.

Being seen as experts in your field provides you with a great opportunity to position your business in a unique way with the audience and your subsequent ability to influence others.

Chris Johnson is a partner in leadership advisory firm Kerridge & Partners.

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