When your event clients give you tough love … listen

Event Client Feedback and InputIt’s hard starting your own business from scratch, building it from nothing, generating stable revenues, getting an office, bringing on employees. And even if you love it, even if you have an undying passion for it, you can always feel the pressure to keep up with the competition, to keep growing, to keep learning, to keep pushing forward.

And if you don’t run your own business but work for an event-related business like a hotel, venue or caterer or work for a larger company or non-profit, you still take pride in what you do and (usually) in who you work for, and you want to do your best and help your organization and everyone around you succeed.

If you’re anything like me, your own sense of self gets tied up into your work. Your work and your business become part of you, because essentially they are. They are an extension of you and how you want to make your impact on the world. And so, embedded within your business and/or career is a strong sense of pride in what you have done and what you have created.

And this sense of pride is what makes us so defensive when clients start providing lots of feedback and input about how we do business. Most customers are well-meaning and polite when they provide feedback about your products and services, but some of them can be rather direct, and a few can be downright rude and mean.

This is where a thick skin can make all the difference for you and your business, because you cannot control how other people think or how they behave. You can only control your reaction to their behavior.

Granted, sometimes it hurts to get feedback and criticism because it feels directed at you. Like I said earlier, our egos are wrapped up in our businesses and careers, so how can this not feel like criticism directed at you. And when it is conveyed in a negative or belittling way, then it becomes even harder to not be defensive and tell the person to F-off.

When I receive pointed feedback and criticism of our event management software, yes, my first reaction is to say to myself “Good god. We’re giving you something that didn’t even exist 5 years ago, and we are listening to our customers and making improvements every week and doing our absolute best to provide a great product and experience. What the hell else do you people want?”

It’s fine to say this to yourself, but then take a deep breath and dispense with the emotion of the situation, because all you should really be interested in is if their feedback is valid and if it would help you improve your product or service.

Here are the three most important things to remember about customer feedback:

1. Even the meanest, nastiest, bitchiest feedback you ever receive will probably be useful.

At some point we all get to experience the wrath of an unhappy customer. It may be someone who was never the right fit for your product/service. Maybe everything that could have gone wrong with their event did. Or maybe they are just eternally unhappy and treat everybody they encounter like crap.

In the past, they would usually unload on you online or in an email. But now with the advent of social media, they may also vent all over Twitter and Facebook. And because it isn’t face to face, they may say things that they never would to your face. This all makes it even more difficult to both diffuse such a situation as well as gain some useful input.

But sort through all the bombast and profanity and you may be left with some very valuable advice. You just have to remove the emotion from what is being conveyed to you and look for the facts.

Fortunately, most feedback is delivered in a sensitive fashion as constructive criticism, but even then it is always a good habit to remove yourself emotionally and look at what they are saying analytically and rationally.

One way you can make clients happy is by having the tools you and they need to make sure their events come off without a hitch.

Planning Pod offers more than 2 dozen easy-to-use event management software tools in one convenient place to help you manage every detail of your events. Try Planning Pod today for free >>

2. Receiving feedback and criticism means that people still care.

Put it this way. If your product or service were so crappy, if you were such an awful person or business, then the client wouldn’t bother to give you feedback. They would just never call you again, stop doing business with you and possibly badmouth you whenever the opportunity arises.

However, because they are coming back at you with ideas, feedback and input, it means they still care about you and want you to improve. Sometimes it may not sound like it, but their comments are really tough love. They are telling you the things you don’t want to hear, and it’s hard to hear these things, especially when the volume is turned up.

People get emotional about things they care about, so the fact that they may get a little emotional when providing feedback is also a good thing. It means they are invested in this and want to make it work.

Feedback and criticism are always better than apathy and silence. The former make your business better; the latter leave you clueless and possibly penniless.

3. Resist the urge to ignore criticism and find ways to channel it into making your business better.

It’s always easy to discount someone’s opinion when they are screaming at you. You might find yourself saying sometimes, “Yeah, they’re obviously nuts and irrational, so why listen to them?”

But instead of instantly pretending the whole conversation never happened, instead look to see what parts of it are useful to you. Does the person have a legitimate gripe? Do they have a point? Is there a good idea in there somewhere? And have you heard this from other customers before?

You see, sometimes it takes a figurative slap upside the head to get us to attend to something that has needed fixing for some time. And it could come in the form of a come-to-Jesus conversation with a client who isn’t 100% happy with what you offer. So leave yourself open to this possibility and you may be surprised as to the content of their message once you look past the tone of it.

So how do you deal with tough love from your clients? Let us know in the comments below.

11 clever tricks for dealing with difficult event clients and customers

Dealing With Difficult Clients and CustomersIf you have worked in any service-based business, you have encountered difficult customers, and event planners, event venues, caterers, florists and other event professionals certainly have their fair share of them.

When it comes to difficult event clients, there are several types:

  • The Know-It-Alls – They could do your job as well as or better than you could if only they had the time.
  • The Never-Happys – It’s almost like they were born with a special gene that makes them sour and whiny about everything they encounter.
  • The Polite-and-Pickies – They will be exceedingly nice and then politely nag and badger you so much that you wonder how they don’t have permanent strangle marks around their neck from all the people they annoy.
  • The Last-Minute-Changers – Everything is great right up to (and even past) the deadline, when they decide to make dramatic changes, causing a panicky fire drill for you and your team.
  • The Type-AAAAAs – They must be appraised of everything, looped in on everything, monitoring everything, at all times, in all circumstances. Like having a helicopter mom as a client. (Why five A’s? Because four just didn’t seem enough).
  • The Price-Is-Always-Negotiables – Some people think that services are vapor and that, unlike a physical product that has fixed costs, there are no true fixed costs in providing a service and hence lots of room to negotiate (basically, they have difficulty seeing value in your time). A less severe but just as annoying variant is the person who assumes that the first price you throw out is always the highest and is always negotiable; they are difficult to deal with, but great to have along when you are car shopping.
  • The Fighters – Some people are uber-uber-competitive and believe that everything in life is a fight, an argument or an obstacle to be overcome. You’d think most Fighters would be men, but actually it’s about a 50/50 M/F split.

Sure there are other variants of these, and all of us probably have tendencies towards one or a few of these unfortunate traits. However, some of us have them in spades, which can potentially cause problems when it comes to how event professionals can best serve these high-maintenance customers.

So here are a 11 simple but powerful strategies you can use when dealing with difficult event clients like the ones above.

1. Walk away early
Often it’s not hard to get a read on a prospect and quickly assess if they are going to be difficult to work with (with the exception of the Polite-and-Pickys, who will be very nice to you at first and then start their wheedling later).

In your first conversations with a prospect, if you can already tell they are going to be a nightmare to deal with, cut the cord now before they become a client. It’s so much easier to say “We don’t have the bandwidth (or resources) at this time to work with you” or “We’re all booked up” now than to fire them later and deal with refunds and he-said-she-saids when things are more complicated.

Oh, and do your competitors a favor and don’t refer these customers to them. It’s better for karma to take over at this point and let the universe decide who gets to work with them. Things always seem to even out.

2. Listen actively
Some high-maintenance customers often know they are high-maintenance and will tell you what they want and expect … good for them and for you. Others may be more cryptic or have no self-awareness how much aggravation they can cause.

So from the outset and in your first meetings, ask lots of questions and then let them talk. And while they are talking, repeat back to them what they are saying to you and take great notes. When they are done talking, summarize to them what you have heard and let them make any corrections at this time. When the meeting is over, send them the notes and have them approve them.

This way, you gain an understanding of exactly where you can anticipate difficulties, and you also have a record you can refer to later on to repeat to them exactly what they told you they wanted. Granted, this doesn’t work so well with Last-Minute-Changers, but that’s also why you should make sure to charge them out-of-scope and/or late fees (more on this later).

3. Set the ground rules of the relationship
Many high-maintenance clients are like small children, in that they need a set of rules from the outset that dictate the terms of the relationship. Yes, you definitely need to have them sign a contract, but this goes beyond the contract to things like…

  • No phone calls after 5pm on weekdays and on weekends.
  • All phases of completion require signoff.
  • Once decisions are made, they are final barring any force majeure (basically, something the equivalent of a hurricane has to hit to make a change after a certain point).

And so on. You set the ground rules upfront so they know what they can and can’t object to later on. Fighters will constantly battle you like a 2-year-old because it’s in their nature, but they also often respect someone who lays out the boundaries of battle. The Never-Happies, well, probably won’t be happy with any rules, but that’s par for the course with them. Set the rules anyway and they will begrudgingly follow them.

We could all use extra resources in addressing the needs and demands of our clients … especially the difficult ones.

Planning Pod gives you more than 2 dozen online tools to keep you organized and provide you with resources and reports so you can provide all your clients with up-to-the-minute data on their events.

Try Planning Pod free for 30 days.

4. Anticipate their demands and act accordingly
This starts with Active Listening and then follows through as you get accustomed to how they operate. Soon into the relationship you will start to see a pattern in how a demanding event client will behave, and at that point you need to start anticipating their demands and providing solutions even before they start demanding things.

For example, Type-AAAAAs need to know what’s going on at all times, so prepare update sheets for them or, even better, use a tool like Planning Pod where you can share limited access with your client so they can peek in and see progress for themselves (I know, shameless plug, but we do have great resources for helping you appease demanding clients).

5. Show them the added value
Some people will just squeeze you and squeeze you (Price-Is-Always-Negotiables, Fighters, Polite-and-Pickies especially) until there’s not much profit left. So instead of submitting and giving them discounts or add-ons, explain to them the value that is already built into your standard pricing.

This may require a more itemized proposal as well as walking them through everything they will get in the price, but it will be worth it when they understand the great value they are getting for their money. You may even want to compare your pricing to other competitors to show them they won’t really get a better value elsewhere.

6. Throw in some spiffs that don’t cost you much time or money
The Price-Is-Always-Negotiables, Type-AAAAAs and even Know-It-Alls will always drive a hard bargain, so leave some spiffs in your back pocket that you probably would have already included in the original pricing. This way, they feel like they successfully negotiated for more services, and your costs won’t increase or your profits won’t decrease.

A good example is if you have a event management software program that runs easy-to-generate reports. It takes you a few minutes to run them off and send them, but it seems like a lot of work to your customers and they think they are getting a better value.

7. Change the conversation
Most of these difficult client types will often get hung up on a certain item or deliverable and not let it go despite your best efforts to negotiate and/or reassure. Once you are at the point where you are no longer willing to negotiate, bend or appease, it’s time to change the conversation, because you are done talking about it and there’s nothing more to be said.

At this point, you simply say “Unfortunately there’s nothing more I can do about this matter, but here are a few things that you will find encouraging.” And then you show them some of your accomplishments and progress in working on their event. Basically, this is the “shiny bauble” tactic. Wave the shiny baubles (i.e., victories and finished tasks) in front of them that you know will get their attention, and move the conversation onward.

8. Overwhelm them with politeness…
It’s hard for difficult customers – even Fighters, Never-Happies and Know-It-Alls – to get angry with someone who refuses to return fire, and even harder for someone who is so overly polite and nice that it drains all of their vitriol.

In the past, I’ve treated this like a game where the object is to deflect their manipulative tactics (because all they are trying to do is manipulate you) and return it with a smile and a kind reply. Often they don’t know what to do with such kindness in the face of their anger or disappointedness. And once your politeness has brought their emotions down, you have a better chance of reasoning with them.

Note: It is especially fun to try and out-polite The Polite-and-Pickies crowd … they often don’t know how to deal with someone more polite then they are who isn’t caving in.

9. …But be firm
Like setting the rules of the relationship ahead of time, firmness displays to your difficult event client that you are no pushover. Most of these demanding client types prey on your desire to please and accommodate your clients. This is a great trait to have on your part, because any good event professional wants to make their clients happy.

However, there’s making them happy, and then there’s making them so happy to such an extent that you are tired, frustrated and losing money. So you must be kind but firm in all your dealings with them.

Also, for Fighters, Price-Is-Always-Negotiables and Type-AAAAAs, they usually respect someone who will stand up to them and will be easier to deal with after you have stood your ground.

10. Tell them why not
Earlier I mentioned about explaining your thought process to a demanding client who won’t accept your decisions at face value and trust you. And at the center of all these issues with difficult clients is usually trust … they just have a hard time turning over the reigns to another person and trusting them with something as important as a big meeting, wedding, conference, fundraiser, party or other type of event where they are on the hook if things don’t go well.

Well, if you have tried everything else and can’t change the conversation, then you finally have to tell them why what they want to do isn’t a good idea. Often this conversation starts out with two words: “Yes, but…” Basically you tell them that you can do what they are asking, but if you implement their idea then the following unfavorable or undesired things will occur.

You are basically outlining the consequences of their proposed actions, and you should tell them that they hired you for your expertise and it is your job – in fact, your professional responsibility – to look out for their best interests and to help them achieve the goals they first expressed to you regarding their event.

If they decide to ignore your advice, you have two choices: make the best of the situation, or fire them if the decision is so horrible that it will seriously impair your ability to pull off the event or damage your reputation.

11. Bill them accordingly
This may not sound like a strategy for dealing with a difficult event client, but it really is. Because most of us come to resent people who do not trust our decisions or our intuition, who are always second-guessing us and who require massively more time to deal with than our other clients.

What can help salve that resentment is billing them for all the extra time and bullshit that they put you through, because at least you feel like you are being (almost) fairly compensated for your time and efforts (as unappreciated as they may seem at times).

Thankfully, 95% of clients aren’t difficult whatsoever and are a joy to deal with, and with some patience and effort, most difficult client relationships can be saved.

Have any feedback on difficult clients yourself? Leave it in the comments below.

5 Irreverent Words That May Save Your Event Business

5 Irreverent Words That May Save Your Event BusinessNote: This post contains copious amounts of F-bombs, so if you are easily offended, STOP READING NOW and maybe grow a thicker skin; it will also help you in running an event business … or any other business, for that matter.

Say this with me … “I don’t give a fuck.”

Repeat … “I don’t give a fuck.”

Again … “I don’t give a fuck.”

Okay, now that we’re in the right frame of mind, I want to tell you why these five simple words can give you clarity and help you focus on the things that really matter.

This five-word phrase has become my mantra for anything not critical to running my event business or serving my customers. It sounds a bit extreme, but it should be, because it stops me from second-guessing myself and worrying about bullshit that’s beyond my control.

“I don’t give a fuck” is firm. It’s definitive. It’s brash. It’s severe. And it immediately turns your focus away from distractions and keeps your attention on more important matters. It’s like a light-switch, of sorts. Or a reset button for your brain. And, believe me, it works, even if you are just saying it to yourself (although it’s fun to say it out loud every once in a while, just to hear it ring).

Basically, “I don’t give a fuck” is necessary to keep you from going down unproductive, inconsequential rabbit holes.

But first things first … in order to say this with certainty and authority, in order for this phrase to work its magical power for you, you first must determine what you do give a fuck about.

For example, I have found there are certain things in running our event management software business that are critical to our survival and growth. They include:

  • Providing the best support we can to each one of our customers.
  • Making improvements to our event software that benefit the wide majority of our customers.
  • Fixing any and all bugs or errors in the system.
  • Generating new revenue streams based on customer/market needs.
  • Reaching out to prospects using ethical, positive, consistent methods.

And each one of these main priorities that I give a fuck about includes its own short sublist. So for example, the category “Making improvements to our event software” includes giving a fuck about:

  • Encouraging and collecting feedback from customers.
  • Identifying recurring requests.
  • Keeping tabs on competitors and their offerings (because you should always know what your competitors are doing).
  • Assessing whether we can (technology decision) and should (business decision) add a heavily requested feature.
  • Building new features so they seamlessly integrate into our software and don’t complicate the experience.

Do you give a fuck about being more productive and responsive to your prospects and clients? Well we do too, and our more than 2 dozen online tools will help any event professional stay focused and use their time more efficiently.

Try Planning Pod today for free.

So where does the buck stop and I start saying “I don’t give a fuck”? Here’s an example…

I am browsing around the Interwebs one day and see a new competitor that has some features we do have and some we don’t have. I look at their offerings and make a note of them (along with items of interest to keep tabs on) in my “Competitor” spreadsheet. Then I tell myself “Now I don’t give a fuck” and move on.

You see, a natural reaction is to see what a competitor is doing, panic when you see that they have some features or services that you don’t offer and then have your team scramble to add these new features quickly. But the way I look at this is that these kneejerk reactions would be a waste of our valuable business resources (more on this in a moment) and would not align with our business objectives, which are to collect data and feedback from our users and only build a new feature when there is critical mass behind it and when it will contribute to our growth (either through customer retention or a new revenue stream).

So basically, I don’t give a fuck what a competitor is doing until I see they are providing tools that our customers have asked for; that would align with our business objectives; and that would drive more revenues.

(As a side note, I have found that constant “competitor watching” is a real waste of time and energy. Keep an eye on them but don’t let what they do dictate what your goals are. You are better served focusing your energy on serving your customers and following your vision … not always keeping up with your competition.)

Back to business resources … The reason you shouldn’t give a fuck about such ephemeral things is that, regardless of the size of the business, you have limited resources to accomplish your business goals. Even big companies (think Google and Wal-Mart) prioritize their efforts based on business objectives, and most of us run event businesses exponentially smaller than this. So we cannot afford to give a fuck about everything. In fact, we can only afford to give a fuck about strategically selected and prioritized things that drive the bottom line.

“I don’t give a fuck” brings you back to your priorities and allows you to allocate time and resources appropriately.

This scenario also brings up another good point about not giving a fuck … you shouldn’t give a fuck about something until you need to give a fuck about it.

Here’s a hypothetical situation. Say you’re an event venue. You have a particular client that has emphatically requested a podium for their small meeting. But until that moment, you had no such requests from other clients, and you don’t have a podium on hand. So you tell the client you do not currently offer this option but would be happy to refer them to a rental company that can provide this to them, or you call one of your rental companies and arrange for the rental yourself and add it to your client’s bill. You treated them with fairness and honesty and provided a solution to the problem, and after that you didn’t give a fuck … and it was the right decision at the time.

But suddenly, more clients start asking for podiums … it’s all podiums, podiums, podiums for some reason. Now is when you should start giving a fuck and seriously investigate whether you should make this a product offering. In the end, you may decide it’s not worth it and farm this out to your rental company partners, but you gave a fuck when it was appropriate, made the decision and moved on.

Honestly, one of the best things about not giving a fuck is that it liberates you from worrying about stuff that’s out of your control or that’s simply beyond the scope of your business. Without all that stuff weighing on your mind, you can move ahead with a clear conscience and not feel one bit bad about not giving a fuck about certain things.

So, to recap…

  1. Identify the critical business items/goals you should give a fuck about.
  2. Do your damnedest to accomplish these items/goals.
  3. Say “I don’t give a fuck” to everything else that would distract you from these goals.

Pretty simple in theory, but at first difficult in practice. However, it gets easier the more you do it and say it. And here are even more strategies for not giving a fuck.

Who knew something so direct and profane could be so freeing and inspiring.

Event Planning as We Know It Is Over (Welcome to a Brave New Era)

Event Planning Is Over - Welcome to a New EraEvent planning spans back thousands of years to the earliest royal pageants, pagan festivals and village gatherings, with hands-on coordination and personal relationships being the core skill sets for those very early “planners”. Event planning and management as a profession has its roots in the early 20th century when wealthy families starting hiring other people to coordinate all their fancy weddings, balls and receptions, and it grew into a larger profession as advances in transportation and communication made it possible for people to travel longer distances to attend industry meetings and social events.

Celebrity event planners like David Tutera have brought event planning to television and have made event planning a hot profession in recent years, but right now event planning itself is in the midst of a critical juncture that will dictate the future of the profession and how events are planned in the 21st century. We are seeing this firsthand at Planning Pod, and we wanted to share with you how this transformation is affecting our customers as well as other professionals in our industry.

In our humble opinion, event professionals and planners have not always earned the respect that is bestowed on other similar industries like marketing or design, but that is all changing, and for a few important reasons:

  • The events industry is the quiet elephant in the room among large industries. It generates well over $1 trillion in revenues in the U.S. alone and is bigger than the auto industry and the data/IT industry  . In addition, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statics predicts that the event industry will expand 44% from 2010 to 2020 , which exceeds most growth predictions for other industries.
  • As the industry proceeds to expand, more and more savvy, experienced professionals with considerable (and impressive) skill sets will be required. Event planners of the 21st Century must have a firm grasp on marketing and sales, customer service, project management, design, human resources, communications, contract negotiations and many other disciplines in order to be successful; few other professions demand such a broad base of competencies.
  • With all this growth and income pouring in, innovation is not far behind, and we are seeing an unprecedented amount of technological innovation in the event sector right now, which will also require a work force that is quipped with the requisite skill sets to understand and employ these event tech solutions.

So what does this mean for event planners, meeting planners and wedding planners? And what does it mean for other event managers who are on the front lines of coordinating events (like conference center and venue managers, caterers, hotel managers and non-profit marketers)?

Well, it means a quantum shift in what event planners and professionals have been doing for years and what you need to be doing to prepare yourself and your business for this new era.

Here are the four big differences between event planning of yesterday and event planning of tomorrow.

1. Yesterday’s planner was a master of details. Tomorrow’s planner is a master of systems.
You may still be tracking hundreds or thousands of details for every event, but in the 21st Century you will be employing more advanced systems to help you manage all these details. Lots of these event management software tools will automate the process so that you don’t have to “touch” so many details many times but instead will have a centralized place where tasks and details will “flow through” to the appropriate people and give you the appropriate notifications and reminders at the right times.

Will these systems add to your workload? Overall, they should save you tons of time. Upfront these event planning software systems might require a bit of time to set up and customize. But once you have them tweaked as you want them, they will save you many hours of busywork.

Right now, we are at the beginning of this event tech transformation, and the event management systems will only get better and easier to learn and use. But the days of juggling lots of spreadsheets, documents, email trails and post-it notes will soon be over, and the event professionals that effectively employ the latest systems, software and applications will have a big advantage.

Want an event management system that prepares you for the challenges of today and tomorrow? Planning Pod is built to streamline how you plan events in the 21st Century and coordinate with team members, vendors and clients.

Try our >2 dozen online tools today for FREE.

2. Yesterday’s planner was a master of face-to-face relationships. Tomorrow’s planner is a master of hybrid relationships.
In the past, planners had a very personal connection with their vendors and contractors. You personally knew every one of them and often met face-to-face to discuss important event details and jobs. You may have even done business on a handshake.

Tomorrow’s planner will still have personal relationships with many vendors, mainly because vendors are the key to the success of any event, and you have to be able to trust your vendors to follow through on their promises. However, maintaining these relationships and how you communicate with these vendors will change as we dive deeper into electronic communications and social media platforms.

In the future, you may rarely speak with certain vendors unless an issue arises or you need to clearly communicate and confirm certain details. Or you may find a new vendor based on a trusted recommendation you got from a colleague on Facebook or LinkedIn; hire them via an email conversation; and exchange vital information online regarding the job. All this is happening already, and it will be even more common as we move forward.

Just like you have Facebook and LinkedIn friends and real-life friends (with some overlap), you will probably have some online/electronic-based vendors and some offline vendors (again, with some overlap), and this may even apply to clients (for example, many destination event planners never see their clients until the day of the event). But the planner of tomorrow will be able to effortlessly move back and forth between the real world and the Web to maintain their relationships with vendors, contractors and clients.

3. Yesterday’s planner wore dozens of hats. Tomorrow’s planner distributes hats efficiently and manages the people wearing them.
Yes, you may still take on multiple roles when planning any given event, but as certain event functions become more and more specialized, you will find yourself coordinating among a number of professionals rather than taking on all those roles yourself.

A good example is event design. For the longest time, event planners and managers have included design in their roles, and mainly because they enjoy it and are good at it. But soon event design will become its own unique sub-segment of our industry, and it will make more sense to contract with these folks who focus on design, freeing up your time to manage other aspects of the event.

Event planners have always been savvy managers and coordinators of people, but this skill will start to move to the forefront as event planners start to manage more and more specialists and delegate more of these responsibilities.

4. Yesterday’s planner put on events. Tomorrow’s planner creates experiences.
Certainly the goal all along has been to create a mood and a feeling for guests and attendees, but in the past it was a pleasant surprise when you came out of an event with a specific experience that was envisioned by the planner (such an experience would be similar to how a marketer envisions a brand and takes specific steps to shape that brand image in the mind of the customer). Now attendees expect to be provided with an experience.

It is the audience expectation that has upped the ante here. Haute cuisine TV shows and foodie restaurants have multiplied almost exponentially over the last decade, so now people expect much more than coffee and canapés. Hipster weddings and gala affairs have given people a taste of themed events where every detail has been studied and considered, so people expect this level of refinement in all events. And there’s so much competition among venues, caterers and other event vendors that businesses are scrambling to create a lasting impression for both the clients and planners who hire them and the attendees who sample their goods.

Like in any other industry, it’s client needs and expectations that dictate the direction of the industry, and as client expectations continue to grow, event planners will have to focus more on creating that singular experience that attendees will remember long after they return home.

So what is your opinion on the event planner of tomorrow? We would love to hear your feedback.

Forecast for the event industry in 2015? Sunny, with a few clouds

2015 Event Industry Forecast - Sunny and PromisingEvery December we ask event planners and event professionals what their outlook is for the event industry in the coming year. This year, we posed three big questions to our audience, and here is how 420 event planners and professionals responded:

Do you anticipate revenues to be higher, lower or about the same in 2015?
The response: Overwhelmingly higher

79% of event planners responded that they anticipate event revenues will be higher in 2015, as opposed to 3% who think they will be lower and 18% who think they will stay about the same as 2014.

Overall, many event planners have seen positive growth in revenues over the last 2 years, and with the U.S. economy picking up steam, they anticipate 2015 to be another healthy year of revenue growth for the events industry. And even overseas event markets in Europe and Australia see positive revenue developments coming in 2015.

Do you anticipate event budgets to be larger, smaller or about the same in 2015?
The response: Either larger or about the same

Event budgets have been growing since the Great Recession (when they bottomed out), and event planners and professionals are anticipating another year of event budgets that are either a bit larger or the same as the previous year. That’s the good news.

The bad news? Well, it isn’t exactly bad, but it does pose challenges for event planners. One thing we heard loud and clear from our respondents was that event clients expect a lot more for their money now. This is probably a result of event planners, event venues and event vendors providing discounts and lots of value-adds during the recession to capture as much business as possible. And clients have become accustomed to this climate of added value and now for them it is business as usual.

So while event budgets may be growing somewhat, the value that clients expect from their budgets is growing even faster. This is requiring event professionals to get creative with budgeting and delivering unique solutions for clients who have become more demanding over the last few years.

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What is the biggest challenge you face in 2015 regarding event management and planning?
The response: Business development … followed by staffing, budget management and rising event costs

Event planners, event venues, caterers and event vendors overwhelmingly said that business development / lead generation was the single biggest challenge facing them in 2015. Finding new clients is never easy in any economic climate, and a few contributing factors that our event professionals cited were the growing number of competitors in the marketplace as well as the growing costs of marketing and advertising an event-related business.

Finding, hiring and keeping qualified staff members was also named as a big challenge for event professionals. A few event planners we talked to noted that, as the job market tightens up and unemployment rates go down, it’s more difficult to find Millennials to fill entry-level positions, especially part-time positions with employers like event venues, reception halls and hotels.

Budget management and rising event costs were also cited by event planners and event pros as looming challenges in 2015. Again, clients are demanding more value from their budgets, and as venue and catering costs rise, planners and event management pros are having to get creative with their budgets to accommodate these rising costs and still over-deliver on other items like décor, rentals and entertainment.

How do you see 2015 shaping up for the event industry? Let us know in the comments below.

Seven Do’s and Don’ts of Discounting Event Services

Do's and Don'ts of Discounting Event ServicesMost of the marketing books I have read over the years have discouraged discounting because of two reasons:
1. You train your customers to always buy your product/service at the discounted price so that they will wait to buy until they can take advantage of the next discount.
2. You are tacitly saying to your customers that your product isn’t valuable enough to buy at the discounted price.

Those are certainly two valid arguments, but as an entrepreneur, you tend to learn things in running a business that most marketing “experts” never encounter. And the events industry is unique in the mix of services and products we offer; the diverse customer bases we serve; and the seasonal cycles we experience every year.

I used to be strictly in the “no discounts ever” camp, but in the middle of 2014 we experimented with offering discounts for our online event management software during the 30-day free trial period, and it worked so well that we have continued this practice. So I have to admit that I am now in the camp of “offer discounts when it makes sense.” So here are some scenarios when it may or may not be advisable to discount your event venue, catering or event planning services.

One word of caution, though … discounting is like a drug. Once you start, it’s hard to stop. Your customers WILL expect to pay the discounted price moving forward, and it will causes friction if you try and raise prices on them.

DO consider discounts when you are trying to build a customer base.
It’s hard to start a business, and even harder to build a client base from nothing, especially in an industry like hospitality, catering or event planning where there are so many competitors.

As such, offering discounts and perks when you are just starting out can help you land clients that are a bit more price-sensitive and establish some operating revenue while you get scaled up. This is why we have been discounting our online event software this year, and it has provided us with a solid base of great customers and revenues that are sustaining us through our first few years.

DO NOT offer discounts in perpetuity.
Discounts are great for certain purposes for a defined time period (like in Scenario #1). But offering never-ending discounts just really means that your retail pricing is too high and that your customers don’t believe the services you offer are worth full price.

You would just be better off either lowering your prices or keeping your prices higher, removing the discount and emphasizing the value that your customers receive when they use your event services. Demonstrating value can be more difficult for service-bases businesses, but you can to this with lots of customer testimonials, polished marketing materials (especially your Web site and promotional videos) and making a great first impression.

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DO consider discounts during slow seasons.
Slow event seasons are slow for a reason … people simply don’t book certain events certain times of year. Fewer brides and grooms book weddings in the winter. Fewer trade shows and fundraisers happen during the summertime and fall.

However, if you give someone a very good reason to book their wedding in November or their meeting in the fall, they may reconsider their thinking. Providing such prospects with discounted pricing for booking your event services during off-times or off-season can provide some much needed revenues during those slow times when you weren’t expecting much income, and it gives clients more options. Many event venues offer these discounts to keep their venue booked, and it works very well for many of them.

DO NOT offer discounts selectively.
If you are offering a discount for a certain time period or purpose, make sure that you treat all customers the same. For example, if you are offering a limited-time discount to new customers, don’t offer it to some customers and not to others, because this is unfair and people will eventually find out about it.

I had a friend who worked for a company that was providing such a discount, and along came a fairly flush customer who they knew could afford full pricing. So they didn’t offer the customer the discount, and a few months later during the final preparations for the event, the customer found out that other customers received discounted pricing and she has never ceased badmouthing my friend’s company around town.

Whether you run an event planning, event venue or catering business … whether your clientele is local, regional or national …
people will find out, either via word of mouth or social media, so just treat everyone the same regarding discounts.

DO consider discounts when you are testing out new offerings.
Sometimes if you have a new product or service you are rolling out, you may have a vague idea of what the pricing for the new product might be but aren’t exactly sure. So a good idea is to establish what you think is an appropriate full price for the long term but offer a discount in the short term to get people into the product and establish a track record with the product.

An added bonus of discounting a new product/service offering is that you can start to gauge if people would pay the full price or if they wouldn’t buy the service if they had to pay full price, and you can adjust your full pricing accordingly.

DO NOT offer discounts to cover up deficiencies.
If you go to a store an buy a new television on sale, you don’t expect it to work 75% of the time or you don’t expect half the features to malfunction. If you buy a loaf of bread on sale, you don’t expect half of it to be stale and moldy. You still want an intact, fully functioning product for the money you spent on it.

The same goes for discounting event services. Your customers may realize they paid less than full retail, but that doesn’t mean they expect anything less than your best service and effort. If you have any deficiencies in your business, you need to fix those first and ignore discounting until you are able to provide your customers with the experience and value they expect.

This brings up an interesting angle on discounting your pricing when recovering from a bout of bad publicity. A batch of bad potato salad can ruin a caterer, and poor upkeep and uncleanliness have sullied the reputation of more than one event venue. So if you have an event business that has fixed troublesome issues and is trying to rebuild its reputation, discounting can be a good strategy to woo customers back and to prove to the marketplace that you have righted the ship.

DO consider discounts for special occasions.
Do you know how Corona now owns Cinco De Mayo? Or how Macy’s owns Thanksgiving? Well, you can also pick a day out of the year and offer a discount to your prospects and customers to enhance your top-of-mind awareness.

For example, many businesses offer discounts on their anniversary. But a better idea is to pick an occasion that people are already familiar with, like Groundhog Day, and every year promote an offer, maybe something like this:
“Spring is right around the corner, and now is the time to start planning those spring and summer events. To commemorate the arrival of spring, this Groundhog Day, if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, you only get 5% off all event planning services. If he doesn’t, you get 10% because spring is coming early!”

Basically, have fun with it and be consistent with it every year, and you will “own” the day in your market and have a great way for people to remember you.

Event management apps that you’ll find handy

We thought we’d jot down a list of event management apps for the iPhone and Android that event planners would find useful, so here’s our short list of iPhone apps / Android apps for event professionals:

Dropbox – Yes, the popular file sharing software also lets you access all your files on your phone or tablet device. You can even sync your photos from your phone to your Dropbox account to simplify loading all your event pics.

Hootsuite – Another computer software app that also works great on a phone so you can track and post all your event updates to your favorite social media sites.

Easybooks – Great tool for bookkeeping and tracking all your income and expenses for your event planning business or your events department.

1Password – This is by far the best way to manage all your logins for your online tools. Store all your usernames/passwords and just remember one password to log into all your other apps and sites.

VenueFinder – The most aptly named event planning app in this post. Looking for a venue and have a special set of requirements? Just use this app and locate an event venue with the specs you need.

Palettes Pro – A great way to create color palettes on-the-go and to store color ideas for your events. It even gives you lots of options and ideas for complimentary colors as well as what is trending.

Shoeboxed – Awesome for taking pics of receipts, business cards and other scraps of paper that you can then store and pull up at a moment’s notice for your events. Beats the heck out of a cluttered purse or wallet.

Planning Pod – Yes, we have an app for that … an event management app, that is. Access all your to-do’s, contacts, calendars, notes, messages and much more from your Planning Pod account on any mobile device or tablet.