How Xero puts on such an excellent event (and how your accounting firm can too)

For accountants, attending an event like Xerocon is a highlight of the year. Many firms bring multiple team members, and some bring the entire team. It’s the least accounting-like event of all, with free ice cream and good food and strobe lights and a seriously swinging party on the first night.

In Gary Turner’s closing remarks, he mentioned that the Xero team had been a full year and a half planning this major event – and that the work would start again the next day preparing for Xerocon 2018.

This year, we at PF were exhibitors at Xerocon, and we experienced on a smaller scale the effort required to make our exhibiting a success. So how does Xero do it, getting more attendees every year? What did PF do that gave us a constant stream of visitors to our stand? And what can you do that will make any event (or marketing activity) for your accounting firm a success?

Begin event preparation months (or years) in advance.

The larger the event, the more prep you need. We’ve helped accounting firms with events as small as 5-10 people, or as large as 400+ attendees. If your event is very small, a month’s worth of preparation may be all you need. If you’re at the larger end of the scale, you’ll need at least 9-12 months.

Here’s a quick list of some of the prep you’ll need to do:

  • Name: Choose an event name
  • Graphic: Design a logo or graphic for your event
  • Web page: Build a website or a landing page
  • Registration: Create event registration (Eventbrite works if you don’t have a custom system)
  • Pricing: Confirm prices, or decide if the event is free
  • Call to action: Identify what you want attendees to do afterwards
  • Hashtag: Choose a hashtag and begin using it
  • Social media: Prepare custom designed graphics, images, GIFs, and videos to share on social
  • Email: Write content for invitation emails (and follow up emails too)
  • Photography/Videography: Arrange for someone to take still & video shots of the event for follow up & future marketing

Ideally you’ll build an event campaign plan which will list out all the specific items you need to do, the dates of completion for each, and who will do them.

If you need help with your own campaign plan, book a workshop with us now.

To Do: Prepare a specific campaign plan for your event with every action identified in detail, with dates and responsibilities.

Give any discounts or offers a clear end date.

Xero offered an ‘early bird discount’ which was significant enough to be worth snatching up in advance. Their marketing could not have been more clear about the end date (website, emails, social media, etc), but even still some people missed registering in time. Days and weeks after the discount was closed, there were people scrambling about trying to get hold of it…but it was gone.

If you’re going to do discounts and offers, make the deadline clear. Share it in a variety of ways (email, social, video, website), and when the deadline passes, stop. If they really want to attend your event, they’ll pay the full price knowing that they chose not to respond to the early bird discounts.

I do recommend that you keep to your word with discounts and offers (if you say 31 October, stick with it), but you always have the option of extending a discount too, as long as you explain why. We had a Xerocon discount for our Content Marketer and Accelerator programmes which was originally due to close the Friday after Xerocon. But we had so many people tell us that they had booked time off after Xerocon that we decided to keep that discount open for another few days. (It’s still available until the end of today!)

Content Marketer discount – £79/mo

Accelerator discount – £795 one-off fee

To Do: Agree your early bird pricing and regular pricing, with clear deadlines. Make it easy to find.

Train your people to be energetic and enthusiastic.

At the first Xerocon I ever attended, I was amazed by the fact that every single Xero employee that I passed smiled at me, without exception. And not one of them was staring down at a phone in their hand. Even five years ago at the start of this head-down, phone-centric age, that was remarkable – and it still is today.

After Xerocon this year, one of the remarks made to me by multiple different people was on the energy, enthusiasm, and helpfulness of the PF team. That’s one of the greatest compliments we could receive as a company.

This energy and enthusiasm is not something you expect your team to miraculously have. The PF team are wonderful people, and they do their work well. But we also had regular training sessions and preparation meetings, weekly and even daily running up to the big event, so that we all were clear and consistent in our approach. I’m sure Xero does the same. An event (especially of a Xerocon size) is overwhelming if you’re not prepared for it, no matter how friendly you are.

To Do: Set out specific goals for the event, and hold monthly and then weekly training sessions with every person who will be representing your firm.

Be crystal clear about your brand.

When it comes to an event, brand matters, immensely.

Xero has a simple, clean brand. A blue circle with a word inside it. Consistent colours of black, blue, and white. But we at PF know the hours and months of hard work that goes into ensuring that every piece of marketing material, every T-shirt and water bottle and postcard, all the signage, is fully on-brand.

For your event branding, you want simplicity and consistency. It’s not simply blue: it’s Xero blue. Our PF colours aren’t green and yellow; they’re PF green and PF yellow. Our designers care about hex codes and fonts and spacing, because the consistency of your brand in every part of your event builds trust.

When you cobble something together, it gives the impression that you’re not a serious brand. And the inference may be made in the buyer’s mind that if you don’t put effort into your marketing, you may not put effort into the work you do for them, either.

To Do: Make sure you have a branding identity document for your firm.

Create one clear call to action, and keep it simple.

One of the challenges we have at PF is that there are so many things we can help an accountancy firm with when it comes to marketing. This means that if someone says “How can you help us?”, the answer varies for every person asking it.

As a team, we discussed in advance of the event that there are essentially three routes that almost every accounting firm takes when they consider working with us:

No matter what kind of marketing you want to do – social media, video, blog writing, a new website build, email marketing – it usually begins in one of these three places.

One firm asked if we could write content for their email newsletter. That’s not a problem in principle, but the first question is not “what content will we write for your next newsletter?”, but “is a newsletter the best focus of your time and energy right now? Is it what your clients want? Is there anything else that needs to be considered instead?”

We found ourselves repeating these three routes so often that for our next exhibition we will make sure they form part of the stand design – so we can simply point to it, explain the three, and ask which one sounds like a fit.

Your accountancy firm is in a similar place. It’s not only “doing accounts” that your clients need – it could be payroll, or strategy, or funding applications, or cash flow forecasts. But where do they almost always begin? Identify that, push your prospects towards it, and everyone will be glad for the simplicity.

To Do: Identify ONE single call to action for your event, and share it everywhere. You can have more options available, but focus on the one in the first instance.

Give away great swag.

One of the best parts of Xerocon is the high quality of the swag that you can look forward to. None of these tired items like mouse mats, pens, or mugs – instead you get phone chargers, classy water bottles, comfy hoodies, socks, rubber ducks, and beer.  (Yes, that’s right, beer.)

In the same way that consistency of brand matters in every element of your event, so too does the quality of your swag reflect on you as a firm. We were ordering stickers to be printed a few weeks before the event, and when the samples arrived, we realised with horror that the quality was terrible. They looked like someone had printed them on paper at home and cut them out by hand with scissors. We quickly found another sticker supplier we were more confident in (we had samples already of their work) and the result was a much higher quality. Whew! This came in handy for our #pfsocial competition, as those stickers made it round all of London!

We even wrote an entire blog post on the swag you could look forward to collecting at Xerocon. There’s no chance we covered it all, but it gives you an indication of the quality of what was being provided – not only by Xero, but by all the exhibitors as well.

My tip for swag is to make it something either very cool, or very useful, or both. Xero’s water bottles and over the shoulder bags are not only classy looking, but practical and something you’d actually bring along with you when travelling. PF was giving out our own branded coffee, which we know to be extremely useful for those who can’t start work without it (that’s definitely me!).

To Do: Brainstorm with the team some very cool swag that gives a good impression and is actually useful or fun!

Be flexible and have fun.

If there’s any constant about events and event planning, it’s to be prepared for the unexpected.

The best way to prepare for this is to mentally remind yourself – and discuss it with your team – to presume that some things will not go as you planned. Mistakes will be made. People won’t show up, or will get lost. Signage could be printed wrong. Boxes delivered to the wrong place. Someone could get sick. Whatever it is, be mentally prepared to adapt to what goes wrong, or doesn’t work as you expected, or is a surprise.

No event runs seamlessly, but having a positive and cheerful attitude when things aren’t going right will make sure that your event is still a success, no matter what.

And plan to enjoy it!