What makes some venues wildly successful while others flop? // PHOTO CREDIT: Natalie Toombs via Unsplash
Starting an event venue can be a great business opportunity, but it requires a ton of preparation and collaboration with your local event and business community, your team and (ultimately) your future customers.
Creating a venue business plan takes effort, but is vital in laying the foundation for a successful event venue operation that will have the appeal necessary to both make your venue shine, as well as attract new customers for years to come.
Give the lady what she wants. — Marshall Field
“Give the lady what she wants,” was an oft-used phrase coined by retail pioneer Marshall Field to underscore the importance of serving the customer and appealing to her every need from the moment she entered the store until she stepped back out onto the street.
But how does that philosophy apply to your event venue?
Many venue owners and managers rely on a “If I build it they will come” attitude and often spend more time focusing on the venue’s physical details and not enough on the aspects of sales, marketing and customer service. Knowing your venue’s audience, and how you’re going to sell its “fabulousness” is essential to your success.
The human element of what you’re hoping to accomplish cannot be overlooked or underestimated in your approach.
Let’s consider two (2) common scenarios for venue business plans:
#1. If a new venue opens, but no one knows about it, it’s going to stay empty due to a lack of awareness, or more likely have unfulfilled potential due to missed opportunities.
#2. Similarly, if a well-established venue doesn’t update their marketing strategies to compete with those newer, fresher spaces, they will struggle too because they will seem old, tired and the market will think of the space as a “been there, done that,” sort of option.
So how should both event businesses help ensure their success?
Craft a well-oiled venue business plan that considers both the operational (internal) and business development (external) ingredients essential for definitive success in tandem – and not independently.
This blog post is the third in a ten-part series about how to market an event venue.
In this post, we’ll share five (5) things you should incorporate into your venue business plan so you’re certain to create one that not only accomplishes your venue’s operational goals, but also incorporates your sales goals and attracts more customers, faster.
Understanding buyers is an important part of your venue business plan. // PHOTO CREDIT: Hermes Rivera via Unsplash
Who do you want in your venue?
Do you intuitively know the person (or people) you have in mind? What do they look, sound and act like? What are their favorite brands, music, shows and movies? What jobs are they likely to have? What friends and family are they likely to attract to your venue for other (future) events?
Being able to answer these questions lends itself to building a strong customer avatar—the fictional, generalized representations of the person (or people) who are most likely to buy from you and your event venue. You may also hear avatars referred to as buyer personas, target audience or target demographic.
No matter the phrase you prefer, it’s the impact these buyers have on your venue that you should focus on when building your venue business plan, and an element that’s often overlooked, or over simplified.
The concept of avatars is relatively straightforward. You build your favorite fictional characters, then you work to go out and get them.
In short, you need to remember that you cannot appeal to everyone, and shouldn’t be trying to do so.
In his Entrepreneur article, If You Don’t Have a Good Customer Avatar, You’re Losing Money, Steve Eakin, Founder of Startup Black Belt, explains:
“When you reach too far and try to help too many people, the message will be watered down so much that no one will truly benefit.”
If you want to sell to people, you need to know who they are and how to get your message in front of them.
Think about who you’re trying to attract (and avoid) and what questions they’ll likely have. Work with a team of friends or peers to simulate their buyer experience when you think about designing your website, digital tools and venue’s other supporting materials. You should also know that it’s perfectly fine, and highly likely that you’ll have more than one customer avatar for your event venue.
Knowing your customer avatar (or buyer personas) will give you a head start on creating your venue’s marketing plan and help you design a marketing mix that allocates the exact advertising and promotional ideas and budget in the correct areas to reach your exact target audience.
Website visitors form opinions in under three second. // PHOTO CREDIT: John Schnobrich via Unsplash
People judge with their eyes, and they judge quickly.
When someone walks into your venue for the first time, they start making judgements on what they see. You wouldn’t leave a mop bucket in the foyer for a site tour, right?
The same can be said for your online presence. Your website should exude the same vibe and polish as your venue, but what if potential buyers are walking away before they ever even take their first step inside the front door?
According to a Missouri University of Science and Technology research study which formed the basis of Sirjana Dahal’s thesis, “Eyes Don’t Lie: Understanding Users’ First Impressions on Websites Using Eye Tracking,” when first visiting a website it takes site visitors less than three (3) seconds to focus on a particular aspect of it and form a first impression.
Specifically, the research notes seven (7) key areas where some attention and focus may help you make a better digital impression for your event venue and should be considered a part of your venue business plan:
- Main Navigation Menu
- Search Box
- Social Network Links
- Main Image or Graphics
- Written Content
- Website Footer (bottom of website)
Having a handle on your website is a start, but remember the same could be said for your other social media channels and directory listings too, so be certain to hone in on the venue’s brand message, visuals and design you want in all areas for consistency.
Take some time and make a list of some of the top venues in your area that you feel have a strong visual presence and are doing a great job of showcasing their venues online. It will give you some insight into your competition, set the bar for what you want to achieve and help you better position yourself to be a unique addition to your community.
Your digital footprint follows you across the web. // PHOTO CREDIT: Josh Rose via Unsplash
There’s a lot more to your online presence than your website and a handful of social media channels.
Any site that links back to your website or is in some way connected to your event venue is part of your digital footprint—the trail of digital breadcrumbs you’re leaving across the Interwebs between your website, social media pages, search engine listings, reviews, directories (both business and niche), blog posts, quotes and more.
All these links are important for signaling algorithms and crawler bots that allow search engines to know what your website is about, what services you offer and what sort of reputation you have in your marketplace.
Not only do they help others understand more about how awesome you are (of course), but they also serve as a funnel to drive traffic back to your site.
When search engines work to determine the quality of a site for page ranking purposes, links from other quality sites help improve those results and where your event venue might land in the mix.
Why should you care about search engines?
Because that’s where 9 out of every 10 people start doing their research, including their event research. They are doing this research before you even know they are interested, and you may never even know they were there.
Google refers to this as the Zero Moment of Truth, or ZMOT for short. This is the moment in the buying process when the consumer researches a product or service prior to purchase online.
No longer can the digital world and physical world be thought of as two (2) independent problems to be tackled, rather they must be incorporated as “equal thoughts, not afterthoughts.”
Since we know prospective customers will be making decisions based on what they can and cannot find online about your venue before contacting you directly, your venue business plan should include all the details about the digital presence you plan on having both under your own control (like your website and blog), as well as your presence in a variety of social media channels, other venue directories and a variety of search tools.
There are three types of media for venues to consider. // PHOTO CREDIT: Branden Harvey via Unsplash
Knowing the types of media available to you (owned, earned and paid), as well as when and how to use them, can go a long way in determining the success of your marketing and sales campaigns and should most definitely be a part of your venue business plan.
We’ve already talked about components of the first one.
Owned media is anything where you directly control (or “own”) the content and messaging such as your website, blog, video channel, social media pages, etc. (There’s some debate about how much you “own” your social pages since they could be snatched away from you overnight, but for the sake of our designations, this is where we’d place these for messaging purposes.)
Earned media is the media you “earn” from others by way of positive reviews, direct referrals, social comments and sharing, external blogs or a media outlet picking up one of your press releases. Think of this as the way you “earn” more street cred as a solid venue choice for events, weddings, meetings and parties.
Finally, there’s paid media which includes most traditional media channels such as paid advertising on TV, radio, billboard, direct mail, as well as digital ads and promotions—including paid social media ads on any channel.
Focus on what you own and control first and what you can get for free before branching out.
That means building a great-looking website, reserving your social media channels on all of the top social networks (even if you don’t plan on using them) and claiming your business on review sites such as Yelp. (You can also reserve venue profiles on several directories, including ours.)
Make plans for how you’ll handle earned media when you receive it, and if you have a budget for paid media, include how you’ll leverage it when you open your venue or as you retool your marketing plans for your existing venue. If you don’t have an extensive budget for paid media, at least take some time considering how you’d like to use it in the future as your business grows. There’s no harm in outlining what your paid advertising program may include in your venue business plan now or in the future.
What’s next in your digital footprint expansion? // PHOTO CREDIT: Benjamin Dada via Unsplash
As your venue grows, you’ll want your digital footprint to grow as well. They help to feed one another.
You’ll want to have a plan for expanding your footprint as soon as possible. Always focus on what you can get for free first. Sites and social media channels rise and fall in popularity. Be vigilant about claiming new social media channels and finding new event venue directories and review sites. If you develop standard venue content including a description of the venue, the services you offer, a selection of your best photos and your logo, you can simply plug that info into any social media or directory site. It’s much easier and consistent to have the information ready to go.
As you start to host real-life events, ask your customers to leave reviews on your preferred venue review sites. Have them provide testimonials for you to use on your website and in your other marketing materials.
As you start to push the outer boundaries of what you can get for free as far as online listings, you’ll want to focus more on search engine optimization (SEO). That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to hire someone as you start, it just means you need to find additional ways to expand your footprint. Starting a blog and writing details about the events you’ve hosted with gorgeous photos of what others have accomplished in your venue provides content that search engines crave. Plus, sharing details about the caliber of events you’ve produced in the venue helps customers get a better idea of how you work and what you can do for them.
Your venue business plan can simply start by listing your ideas about expanding your digital footprint in six (6) months, one (1) year and three (3) years. Remember, the evolution of your footprint will grow and change over time and that’s perfectly fine.
Jumping in to grow your venue is key. // PHOTO CREDIT: Clem Onojeghuo via Unsplash
Taking the necessary time and effort to focus on the essentials for venue marketing and business development will help set you up for success whether you’re opening your doors for the first time, or you’re in the midst of refreshing your presence in your city.
Knowing your ideal customer, showing them your venue at its best, and constantly expanding the ways in which they can find you online can help you create a cycle that is constantly increasing your customer base as well as your venue’s reach.
While we’ve covered quite a bit in this post, we didn’t touch at all on operations, staffing, zoning, insurance, food service and food handling (if you’ll be your own caterer), alcohol permits or security.
All of these would be important things you’d also want to assess on a case-by-case basis in your own municipality to have a robust understanding of both the operational and promotional aspects of the event venue industry.
In Part 4, we’ll discuss more about this topic.
In the meantime, you can read all aspects of marketing your event venue by downloading our free eBook. Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to keep up to date with new posts. You can also create a free event venue profile on Snappening to help grow your venue.
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