Venue and Ventures’ Iain Beaumont offers an overview on getting your event venue up and running.
As with any new venture, getting off the starting blocks can be one of the most daunting aspects.
For some of you reading this, you may already be well versed in running events but are now looking to diversify your business to include outside space or take advantage of emerging trends. For others, it may be that you are sitting on a piece of real estate and are not quite sure how to really get the most out of it.
This short guide is designed to help get you thinking about the steps you’ll need to take to get off the ground.
Explore your options
Before you dive headfirst into renovating an underutilised barn into a hedonistic cavern Led Zeppelin would covet, you should first take a step back and put together a number of ideas based on your income aspirations, market trends, investment capital and operating costs. While it may take some time to really get into the details, this exercise is absolutely necessary. You may find that weddings and outdoor music are far more profitable than conferences and camping.
Writing a three year business plan, including a draft budget and cashflow projection, is essential. Not only will it help focus you and your team but will be a useful reference when you’re looking at how to grow your business in the future.
Licensing and regulation
Once you have determined the type of business you wish to operate, you are likely going to have to obtain consent from a number of different statutory bodies. If you’re looking to sell alcohol or play music into the small hours, you’ll almost certainly need a premises licence. If you are looking to hold civil ceremonies, then you will require a wedding licence from your local authority. It is important to deal with these aspects early on as once they’re sorted you can really start to focus on energising the business.
Know your space
You’ve run the numbers, you have a plan and the licences are in hand – so far, so good. The next step you need to look at is the condition of your site and its facilities. If you already have good facilities and a structurally sound site, it may just be a simple requirement of getting things tested to ensure that you’re safe and compliant.
If it involves knocking down the internal walls of a listed building, you’re going to need to get consent to make it happen. If your idea involves opening up rooms to provide guest accommodation, then you may find it is necessary to upgrade your heating and plumbing – eight baths running at once from a single boiler might prove too much.
It is likely that you will have already identified who your business appeals to and therefore will understand who you need to reach out to. The next step is knowing how you connect with your audience and get them excited about your offering.
- Website: This should be your first real marketing investment; it will be your primary platform from which you can promote your offering. It should be slick, easy to navigate and professionally built. Once up and running, it is likely that you will need to invest some time and resources into search engine optimisation (SEO) to ensure you’re high up the rankings in Google. From the outset, I would recommend that you focus on imagery and video to highlight your offering – a 90-second video clip will give visitors to your website a great overview of your venue. While words are important to help build your search engine profile, don’t get bogged down with paragraph after paragraph of clunky text – the reality is that most people will skim read at best.
- Videos and imagery: Having a good stock of high-quality and brand-aligned imagery and video on your website is very important. I really cannot stress this enough, and your iPhone image library is unlikely to give you the professional feel that you’re after. Once you have a great range of media, you can also start linking it with your chosen social media.
- Social media: If you have not embraced social media already, then you will need to get this established early on. The key platforms which will help inspire a large cohort of your market are most likely to be Instagram and Pinterest, with YouTube, Facebook and Twitter following closely behind. If you’re struggling to find the time to source and post fresh, relevant and timely content, I would recommend outsourcing this aspect to a trusted agency or freelancer who is able to manage it on your behalf.
- Online platforms and agencies: Using online directories is an excellent and cost-effective way of promoting your venue to a far-reaching audience. Typically, each directory enables people to search for a venue based on their specific parameters, but you are often able to pay a supplement to secure a premium listing if you want to promote your venue to a much wider audience. If you have a rather unique or special venue, you may benefit from working alongside agencies who are matching clients with their ideal location, but be prepared to pay a commission for any bookings.
- PR and influencing: Good PR can be huge for your business and I would suggest reaching out to media organisations working in your sector to identify opportunities for building brand awareness. When you launch your venue, you should invite a good mix of print and online journalists, together with those who you know are likely to promote your business within their own circles or at networking events.
The rise of the influencer in recent years has added another avenue which you may wish to pursue. While it is not necessarily a new concept, the reach of the modern-day influencer can be far and wide, therefore giving you an opportunity to promote your offer to a massive audience. Before you jump into the influencer market by either paying for an influencer to visit and review your venue or giving away too many freebies, do consider who their audience is and whether you will be able to get a decent return on your investment.
Enquiries, showrounds and conversions
Once you have your marketing platforms established you should start to see enquiries pick up. It is important that you are able to manage these effectively and investing in customer relationship management (CRM) software may prove sensible at this stage. If resources are limited, you should at least keep an electronic record using a programme such as Excel. As with all information that you hold, ensure that you remain GDPR compliant.
You should aim to convert as many solid enquiries into a showround (a visit to your venue) and subsequently convert every showround into a booking. In order to ensure that you get the best rate of success, I recommend mapping out the sales journey and refining each stage until you have the perfect method for converting enquiries into confirmed business.
Unless you are intending to run the venue(s) by yourself, you are most likely going to require a number of staff to support both the sales and operational aspects of the business. At first this may be something that you can manage but as you get busier you will either need to recruit a team to support you or outsource different functions to specialists who can manage this on your behalf. It will be a careful balancing act at first but I advocate rolling your sleeves up and getting stuck in from the outset in order to really understand what support you require.
One of the most reassuring and exciting aspects of the events world is being able to use a multitude of different suppliers to support your clients’ needs. Pretty much everything you can imagine is on offer, from Michelin starred chefs and organic florists right through to Bear Grylls survival academies and international DJs. It is important to establish a good relationship with your most important and regular suppliers, as they will know how to operate in your venue and will ultimately be one of your biggest advocates.
As with most business arrangements, you will need to enter into a contract with your clients in order to set the terms of the event and protect yourself against cancellations, damage and event ‘creep’ (e.g. where an outdoor party starts to morph into something much more substantial). Your clients will expect this, and a well drafted contract should be easy to manage without being overly restrictive for either party. If a client refuses to enter into a contract or agreement, I would walk away from the proposition without hesitation.
Setting up your own venue is tremendous fun and can be a very profitable enterprise. As with all new ventures, taking the time from the outset to ensure that you build the right foundations will ultimately pay huge dividends in the future.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Iain Beaumont is the founder of Venues and Ventures, a management consultancy specialising in unlocking a venue’s potential across both built and natural environments. As a consultancy focused on heritage venues, private ownership and outdoor space, the aim is always to balance the sensitivities of individual assets and the owner’s needs with the requirement to generate a strong return on investment.
Iain has worked on some of England’s grandest country estates and leading luxury venues including Powderham Castle and Cowdray Estate, refining his eye for spotting new opportunities and helping businesses realise their potential. www.venuesandventures.co.uk