The 8 Secrets Of Successful Event Hosting

Robin RobinsMSP Marketing

Nothing beats the old-school charm of face-to-face interactions. For MSP owners, pulling off a great event is about leaving a mark, not just handing out brochures. Read the interview or watch the conversation below as Robin Robins and Jeff Johnson share everything you need to know about hosting an event including where to get started and how to get people to show up.

Dan Fusco: I want to get into hosting events. I’ve hosted small events, but they were kind of like half-assed a little bit. You know, we invited like 15 – 20 people, which was okay, but it wasn’t great. So I wanted to pick your brain a little bit. Take us back to your first, like, major event that you created and hosted. How many people did you get there? Did you have to make the phone calls or did you hire someone? Was it local to Nashville? Did you have vendors for it? How many people showed up? How long did it take you to prepare and how much did you sell? Basically, what kind of challenges did you face? You’re a master at this now, so I’m sure you have SOPs on it, but that first one must have been scary.

How Many People Can You Expect To Show Up At Your First Event?

Robin Robins: Oh, it was scary. You know, when you’re doing a real event where you have a hotel contract, food and beverage, and you’re doing print materials it’s tough because you have to be prepared. Because putting butts in seats is still one of the single most difficult things we have to do for marketing around this company. And we’re good at it. We’re great at it. But it’s extremely difficult.

I actually didn’t start doing my own events until I was about five years in. And the reason for that was because I wanted to build a big enough list. The general rule of thumb is if you have a list of customers or people you have a relationship with, you should be able to get at least 5% of that list to 15% of that list to come to an event.

Now, I’ve had small MSPs say, well, I did a client appreciation event and I got 50%-60% of my customers to show up and okay, that’s great. But, you know, they never do events. It was a golf outing. They’re all local. I mean, so there’s always those anomalies. But, in general, if you can’t get 5% to an event, you have a relationship problem or the content is just totally uninteresting to them. It’s either one of those two problems. If you can get 15%, you’re doing great, you know? We actually get about 18% of our members to an event. That’s a very, very good thing. So you’ve got to size up your list.

What Marketing Tactics Do You Use To Get People To Show Up?

Now, originally when I first started doing events, how did I get people there? Purely through direct mail and email. I did not have a sales team. I didn’t make cold calls. We just emailed people. We mailed them. I think we were even using fax back then. Believe it or not, it sounds like I was a dinosaur. And there weren’t social media ads, right? There was none of that.

Today, what do we do to get people to events? Of course, we still do direct mail. One of the things I would recommend is the event needs its own website. Don’t let it just hang off your main URL like we have So if you go to that event site, you’ll see it has all the details of the event, location, topics, speakers, the agenda, and the registration.

We email, we do social media organic posts, we do paid ads, and we do retargeting. When someone hits that website, they’ll see ads on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google Display Network. We target them that way. I have telemarketers, people calling on the phone, direct mail, organic posts, and paid ads. We also upload lists to Facebook.

How To Leverage Other People’s Events

Most of my first events were tagged on other people’s events. For example, Harry Brelsford’s SMB Nation. I would do a three-hour evening preview seminar the night everybody was coming in. So let’s say the event started on Tuesday morning. On Monday evening, around 5:00, I would do cocktails and some food. You know, like heavy cocktails or hors d’oeuvres. And then from 6:00 to 9:00, I would do my event or something similar to that. And, I would always work with the event coordinator, so I didn’t ever pirate it. There are some people who do this at an event. They set up an event in another hotel, which is really bad behavior, but some of them do it. That’s a quick way of making enemies super, super quick. Right? But, I would always work with Harry. The advantage to him was he got a cocktail reception and got people in the night before, which he wanted. And I paid for the food, the beverage, the AV, the everything. I paid for it all. I also paid Harry to do the confirmation. I asked Harry, “Well, how are you confirming people coming to the event?” And he said, “Well, I emailed them.” I said, “Well, do you physically mail them anything?” He says, “No.” I said, “Well, how about if I put together a physical welcome to SMB Nation mailing? You totally approve it, it’ll have your logo, your name, I’ll write it. I’ll do everything” Then Harry would give me the names of everybody who registered and I would mail them this package that would invite them to the evening seminar.

So it was like I helped him. He helped me and I would promote the event as well to my list that I had. So when I originally started, I rode on the fringes of other events until I got big enough. And then we had our bootcamp in Nashville and that was our first event. We probably got about 70 maybe 80 people to that event. It was pretty pedestrian. Like I look back at photos of the registration desk and the room set up. It was nothing like what you see today. I mean, there was no lighting, there was no backdrop. It was like the Marriott podium was up there. It said Marriott on the front. We’re talking no frills.

When Should You Begin Preparing For Your Event?

As for preparation, we prepare a year in advance for these events because we have more extensive hotel contracts. I would say you want to be planning at least three months out, you know, where are you going to have it? What’s the agenda? Who are the speakers? What are the sponsorship spots? Getting the registration and confirmation set up. Because once you register people, you’ve got to have the confirmation, but then you need to call and confirm people before they come. I would say no less than three months out, I would be preparing.

How To Reach Out To Sponsors

I put together a very basic sponsorship. I emailed people and said, “Hey, do you want it?”. And I was the one selling it. Look at your list and ask yourself, if you can get 5% of your list to show up, would you be happy? And that’s what I would base it on. Or 5% to register because then you have a no-show rate. I would probably start by doing free events because if you put a ticket price on there, it just makes it that much more difficult. You’ll have a higher no-show rate, but it’ll be easier to get people there for the event. I would say initially you might find 1 or 2 vendors and charge them a small nominal amount to cover some of the costs. The other thing I would recommend you do is go talk to your vendors about MDF. We have an MDF report.

The catering. Do you want to feed them a little bit? Don’t go hogwild on this. But if you don’t provide people at least with coffee, they’ll riot on you. So I would say at least have coffee and tea.

Jeff Johnson: I’ll throw something in around the vendors. Vendors will look at the past history of what you’ve done typically unless you’re partnering with someone. So if you’re partnering with someone, that can be a good strategy for an event because they’ll bring their list and their people to the event. Maybe you get 2 or 3 of them. That’s how they pay their admission to be able to pay a lot of times that first one. Because if you’ve never run an event before and ask someone for money right now, they are likely to ask, “What have you done before?” And I see this all the time with someone where the first time out doing an event if they haven’t proven themselves of being able to put together an event, it’s hard to get the sponsorship dollars because there’s just nothing for them to expect off of it. You’ll get minimal dollars on that, typically.

A lot of it depends on how much you spend with them. The more you spend, the more likely that they’re going to approve of what your request is there. And they’re usually going to start out small because if you haven’t done anything, you know, there’s a risk factor for them of what you’re going to do and put into it. If you prove that you can bring them business based on what you’re doing, they’ll keep on feeding you that money because it’s worthwhile to them.

I think Rob Ray when he was with Datto talked about something like for every dollar of MDF that they spent they were looking to get back $3.50 or $4.50 in revenue. That’s what these sponsors are looking for.

Draw People To Your Event With Can’t-Miss Content

Jeff: You got to really think through how am I going to get these people here? And it’s the content, just like Robin was talking about. It’s the content of what you have. It’s the venue. It’s, you know, sometimes it’s even the entertainment or what’s the draw of getting there?

Robin: You know, having a celebrity is very expensive. In the beginning, I did not have a celebrity. It was just me. It was just purely the content.

Jeff: But start out by getting that 10% to 15% of people to show up. If you can get that and run a smaller event with a smaller budget, you’ll lower your risk. If you’re hoping for 15 people to show up to your event, and you really screw things up and only get two people to show up, then you didn’t waste thousands of dollars. So my advice would be to start small on some of these things. Don’t try to get this with vendors and this whole circus of everything.

Do A Test Run By Hosting A Webinar First

Robin: Try to do a webinar on the topic first. If you can’t get people to register for a webinar, you’re not going to get them in person. Okay, so start with the webinar topics first. Okay, then that’s the content. Now there are other reasons people come to events. They don’t just come for the content, they come for networking with each other. For celebrities. They might meet the vendors who might be there. Or the venue, or the food, or the experience. During Covid, so many people couldn’t make virtual events work, because when you stripped away the cocktail reception and the meet and greets and the venue and like all those things, all you were left with was the content. And a lot of people have very, very weak content. So they just didn’t do events at all.

How To Structure A Small Event

Dan: If you’re going to do small events, would you recommend a full-day event or a half-day event?

Robin: Well, I would start out with a two-hour event. That’s not technically a half day but build from there. You have breakfast and then the content so that way people can go back to their office. You can have lunch and serve a lunch and then have the event right after. Or you could do an event that starts at 3:00 in the afternoon and ends at 4:30 and then you have a cocktail reception. I think that’s where I would start.

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