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In this new normal, online operations have become the modus operandi for small business owners everywhere. Despite light relaxations of COVID-19 regulations in certain states, for the most part, businesses are not back to normal. As a result, product reveals, conferences, training, and many other key selling events have ground to a total halt.

Business-to-business (B2B) and direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands depend on substantive customer interaction through events. It’s how they sell. Whether it be a trade show or just a networking opportunity, getting customers “in the door” is the first step to developing a meaningful business relationship that drives value for the customer and revenue for small business owners.

The accelerated adoption of business IT products like Zoom, Webex, or Microsoft Teams has made hosting online events easier than ever. These products have evolved rapidly to be instantly intuitive and most people, as a result of their adaption to work-from-home, have gotten very good at using them. The pain of troubleshooting a customer’s video software is almost totally gone. Now’s the time to capitalize on this new normal and catapult your event marketing game to the next level.

We’ve put together a short guide to walk you through why online events are a critical content marketing strategy and a few ideas to get you started in planning your first virtual event.

Why You Need to Be Hosting Online Events

For many D2C and B2B brands, events are their bread and butter. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has other ideas. Without the ability to interact face-to-face with their customers, small business owners are finding it harder to close sales and establish new relationships or partnerships.

“We used to do at least 3 or 4 in-person product tutorials a week for local contractors,” a concrete surfacing professional told us. “These live events and meetups were a critical aspect of our marketing channels. With COVID, we’ve seen our lead generation take a big hit.”

The obvious solution, where appropriate, are digital events. Online events have four key advantages over their in-person counterparts.

Do you want 100 people at your event? No problem.

Online events can host pretty much any amount of event attendees that you can turn out. While audience size isn’t the top concern for every event, especially those that require close customer engagement (like a new product training), it can be a huge boon. Generating sales and leads is a numbers game. The more people you can get in front of your product, presentation, influencer, or subject matter expert, the better. Additionally, through savvy social media marketing, you can get advertisements for your upcoming events directly in front of your target audience.

All you need is a webcam and a microphone

Online events can be put on at a very low cost compared to in-person events. Your business likely already adopted a video-conferencing solution, so the only thing you need to spend is your time. There’s no need to travel to a location, rent out a large space, or even buy refreshments! All you need is you, whatever you’re presenting, and (ideally) a good webcam and mic.

Data collection can be quick and easy

Data collection at a digital event is seamless. Need to collect emails for further promotions? No need for a paper and pencil form or an awkward line in front of a company tablet. Just share the link to your form directly through the video-conferencing tool. Want to track engagement? Easy. Have a member of your staff flip through the participants to see who’s actually paying attention in real-time. Whatever data you usually collect, I’m willing to bet it’s easier to get in an online environment.

Say hello to seamless, real-time customer engagement

Lastly, real-time customer engagement is seamless. Members of your staff can answer questions on-demand without interrupting the flow of the event by interacting in integrated chat rooms. Supplementary materials like thought leadership can be shared seamlessly in the same way. Gone are the days of presenters and exhibitors getting thrown off by a poorly timed question. Digital event experience can be made that much better with real-time interaction.

4 Essential Online Events for Small Businesses

Product Training and Tutorial Sessions

Especially for businesses whose products are a software-as-a-service (Saas), online product training and tutorial events are a great, scalable way to bring value to existing customers and pique the interest of potential users. Businesses with a physical product can do all the work for their customers, who can watch you demo your product from the comfort of their home office (or their couch!).

By simply sharing your screen or taking a live video of your and/or your team, it’s easier than ever to exhibit your product.

Virtual Conferences and Networking Events

Do you miss trade shows, conferences, or networking happy hours? Do you also remember having to drive an hour to get there or having to book a hotel room? Virtual conferences and networking events do away with all of that. While you can’t shake physically shake their hand or get them a cup of coffee, video-conferencing solutions have all of the tools you need to make meaningful connections with potential customer and business partners.

Webinars For Product Launches, Interviews, and More

Webinars are an excellent addition to a business’s content marketing strategy. They’re an excellent opportunity to present an exciting new development in your business, educate your customers on a salient topic in your industry, or showcase your latest product or service.

Biz2Credit recently had a webinar where we hosted multiple subject-matter-experts on small business lending, including Senator Susan Collins (R-ME). Our audience members got a ton of value from it, and we were able to collect some awesome data about how small businesses are dealing with government lending programs.

Instagram and Social Media “Mini-Events”: Story Events and Takeovers

A creative way to host an online event is through a native experience on frequently used social media like Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn. Lots of small businesses have had a lot of success reaching their target audiences by meeting them where they are: in their content feeds.

Live-streaming tools are ubiquitous across all of the major platforms and have tons of cool features to engage with your audience. Other native tools like hashtags, search engine ads, and digital marketing suites can grab the attention of your online community and get more eyes on your event.

Whether it’s a product giveaway post or a quick and interactive tutorial post in an Instagram story, learning to leverage the power of social media can be huge in an increasingly online world.

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