As the founder of Business Expos and the Excellence in Business Support Awards, what have you learned about event running?
Businesses are as unique as human beings. Each has a distinct personality. However, to operate all businesses need clarity of vision, a robust business plan, effective financial management systems, marketing strategies, HR systems and more. It's these business fundamentals that the Business Expos tapped into and in doing so helped our attendees' businesses flourish.
An event has to deliver value. It has to attract a quality audience. Understanding how to do that is key. If you can crack that, the profit will come.
What were businesses aiming to get out of the Business Expos and what worked well?
The successful business owner is ambitious, has a mind-set of lifelong learning and a desire to connect with peers. The expos tapped into this aspect of community, offering opportunities for self-development, networking and exploring new business ideas.
Our "Stuff-ups" documentary, which ran continuously during the last series of nationwide expos, was hugely popular. The video gave business owners the opportunity to learn from mistakes made by Kiwi businesspeople such as Erica Crawford, the marketing might behind Kim Crawford wines, Steve Bonnici, owner of Urgent Couriers, and John Barnett, owner of South Pacific Pictures.
We got a lot of feedback from business owners that these stories helped people feel more comfortable with the risky environment they face each day.
Is running an event like the Business Expo a profitable venture?
It can be, although it can depend on what's happening in the macroeconomic environment. The financial crisis had a significant impact on the discretionary marketing dollar. That, coupled with the pressure on marketing spend that initiatives like the Rugby World Cup creates, can make things challenging.
How does your AUT role draw on your event management experience and business networks?
As director of business relations I am responsible for building on AUT Business School's connections with industry. The networks I have built up through running my own business and as a previous chief executive of Business in the Community are hugely helpful.
Running significant business events is key to our engagement strategy. The new Sir Paul Reeves building is a great hosting facility. It's good to see business owners and leaders on campus engaging with business students.
You looked at taking your suite of business support initiatives to Australia. Are events tricky to export?
Yes, we invested a lot into franchising Bizzone. Australia has immensely strict franchising laws. The recruitment process was extremely rigorous and long. It's certainly possible to export but you have to be prepared to invest in building the necessary networks and market expertise, which takes time. Entering Australia was one of a number of audacious projects we were tackling and in the end we were stretched as a result. I faced a key decision in whether to go into Australia alone or take on an investor. In hindsight, an investor with Australian experience and connections would have helped immensely.
Sarah Trotman is AUT University Business School's business relations director.