Local businesses are navigating uncharted territory right now. Many businesses are having to completely pivot the way their business operates, bookstores are offering curbside delivery, dealerships are picking up cars for repairs and bringing them back, and real estate agents are giving virtual tours to their clients. And as some states begin the process of reopening, there are new changes to navigate.
We’re experiencing change, too.
We typically host and participate in a lot of in-person events that have been canceled or postponed for the foreseeable future. And the thought of not seeing our local audiences in person is a big hit. We love the excitement and engagement we get during an event like our Growth Labs, where we’re working with business owners to help them understand the power in their brand story through an interactive and hands-on experience.
Clearly, we won’t be very hands-on, in person at least, for a while.
But, we still wanted to connect with local business owners across the country in some way and provide marketing resources that might help them navigate these unprecedented times we’re all experiencing.
So, we’ve gone digital!
We’re completely pivoting our events strategy to focus on virtual events for a bit, and we’ve created all new content that speaks to how local businesses can innovate, survive, and thrive during this pandemic.
Our first event in our new digital series, aptly named Navigating COVID-19: How Your Local Business Can Innovate, Survive & Thrive, was a great learning experience for our team in how we can quickly change course, come together, and execute on an idea that serves our clients and other local business owners.
Here were some of our learnings that will hopefully help you as you’re navigating the switch from in-person to online events:
1. It’s going to get messy.
This is just a fact. When you’re running fast with an idea, you don’t have time to outline all the steps in your plan, confirm with all your stakeholders, and then get started. You kind of have to do everything in tandem. Which means your team members might duplicate work, they might get a little annoyed with you, and you might feel like you’re going to pull your hair out.
But, it’s important to give each other some grace, acknowledge the messiness, and see what you can learn for next time.
We certainly experienced this as we were creating all the assets for our event. Landing page and email copy had to be written while we were still finalizing what we were going to present on — and we were coordinating building those landing pages in different systems that don’t talk to each other. It was stressful. But, we pulled it together, our emails went out, our links worked, and we had over 550 webinar attendees on our event that we promoted for just three days!
2. Don’t be afraid to get real about your challenges.
When you’re moving forward with a new idea, things might go wrong, and you have to be okay with that. We’re all human, and we know that not everyone is perfect. It’s what connects us — so, share that!
We tried our first Facebook Live to promote our event, and it just did not work at first. We ended up posting a blank video that was 12 seconds long. But, we tried again — and it worked! We could have glossed over that, deleted the post, and pretended it never happened. But that’s not real. So, we acknowledged it.
And when we were presenting on our webinar, we had technical difficulties, we were all in our homes where you could see what our kids left in the room behind us. But that’s real, and that’s the situation we’re pretty much all finding ourselves in right now.
3. It’s all about the value.
When we decided we wanted to put on these virtual events, including webinars and weekly Facebook lives, it was born out of a need to support our clients and local businesses navigating this challenging time. We focused on how we could add value for them by sharing information and insights from our experts and our learnings working with businesses experiencing the same challenges our attendees might be.
If you’re just putting on an event to put on an event without focusing on how you can add value, it will probably come across.
4. Get your audience involved.
I have to tell you. I’ve never seen so much engagement as we saw during our first Growth Lab Live webinar. Our chat was blowing up! It was amazing. People were so excited to participate and share, and it made the event that much more impactful.
When you’re at an in-person event, it’s really easy to connect with other people. You can see each other, make eye contact. On an online event — not so much. So, you have to find ways to connect with your audience.
We chose to do this by encouraging attendees to chat along with us on Zoom, and then we read out their names with their questions or comments. Once we started doing that, the chats piled in. My partner, Jenn Karsner, and I have also streamed our Facebook and LinkedIn lives to our personal pages as well as our LOCALiQ pages so we can leverage our own networks and encourage even more online engagement.
5. Have fun.
We always have a blast at our in-person events. And just because we’re transitioning to online events doesn’t mean we have to lose that fun. Yes, we’re talking about serious subjects, and we’re navigating a difficult situation — but people want a little bit of brightness in their day. You can be that for them by having a good time while you’re presenting and talking with your co-presenters.
This might require some practice because it’s a little unnatural to feel relaxed while you’re presenting to a bunch of people you don’t see. But, if you and your co-presenters can run through your content a few times, don’t read off the slides, and show your faces on camera, you can probably convey a pretty good time to your attendees.
We’re all navigating a lot of change and trying new things for the first time. We’re excited to continue learning from our journey into virtual events, and we’re here to support local businesses encountering unprecedented challenges. Check out some resources we’ve put together below.