I received an email today from a local economic development staffer in a small rural community with an interesting request related to next month's Small Business Week: "I would love to hear some of your ideas for events we could run to celebrate the small businesses in our community. They would have to be ideas we could pull together in a few weeks..."
They left it kind of late, but here is what I wrote back:
Hi, Jean. Thanks for your email.
I think there are lots of things you could do to celebrate small business in your community.
How about asking a local banker, lawyer and accountant to put on a panel session, each talking about "5 things that local entrepreneurs need to know, but often don't." Then invite all the business owners in town to come for the free advice. And give them lots of time to ask questions of the panel.
You might also ask local businesses to bring in samples of their products, if appropriate, to raffle off at random.
Another fun thing is to have an "idea cafe," where you invite local business owners to an event where they form discussion groups with the people at their tables and work through specific problems. If time allows, you could also have each table appoint a representative to present their problems (and solutions) to the other groups in the room.
Or you could just hold a networking event. Invite the local town council, business owners, and professionals just to get together and mingle and meet each other. You could even offer a prize to the person who collects the most business cards that day.
Another way to hold a networking event is to invite some expert to speak for 15-20 minutes on a topic of interest to everyone in the room. It might be the mayor talking about the future of the community, a local expert on marketing through the Internet, an accountant talking about the upcoming HST, a sales coach talking about better cold-calling methods, the local newspaper editor offering tips on how to get publicity, etc. The greater the sense of community you create, the more everyone will bond.
Get a local hotel or service club to sponsor the location, and you can pull off a great event for very little cost. But better get started right away. Best of luck!