5 insider tips for identifying the best event software for you

Best-Event-Management-SoftwareI have been using and buying software for almost 30 years now (as well as helping to build it for the last 10), and what a strange journey it has been. I can remember buying my first computer like it was yesterday (well, almost); it was a Commodore VIC-20 on which I played interactive games like Voodoo Castle and built my first primitive programs in BASIC. Then I moved on to building spreadsheets on the Apple IIe, using the first MacWrite and MacDraw programs, slogging through server-based software like early versions of Statistics Program for the Social Sciences (or SPSSX for those of you who geek out for this kind of stuff) and then in the early 90s moving on to oh-so tedious electronic typesetting applications for printing presses.

So if that doesn't give me the geek cred I need to provide some tips on evaluating event software and technology, I don't know what does.

But seriously, my business partner Steve and I were buying, trying, testing software for years before we started building it. And we have definitely used some great programs and some complete duds (which then motivated us to build better tools than the rather mediocre ones we were forced to use at times).

For the sake of full disclosure, we do offer our own event management software product, but I don't want this post to be about our software.  In fact, no one piece of software is the perfect fit for 100% of a target audience; this is why there are many event planning apps out there that are successful. Different strokes for different folks.

Instead, I wanted to put myself in the shoes of an event professional and talk about what criteria I would use to evaluate and find the best event software options if I were out there looking for myself. So here are 5 things I would personally look for when evaluating and deciding on the event management and planning software.

1. Something that fits your specific needs
This is by far the most important and probably the most obvious criterion for evaluating software, but it still needs to be said. The important thing to note here is that you first should come up with a wish list for what the software needs to do for you, and you should do this BEFORE you look at your first piece of software.

That is, don't be biased by the existing features on what is already out there but instead come up with your own list of desired features and functions and see if anything matches your needs. Having your wish list ready will allow you to quickly weed out the options that don't meet your minimum requirements and focus on those that do.

2. Solid help resources and support
Before you pay for anything, find out what the application's help resources look like (such as help documentation, tutorial videos, etc.) and what kind of support the event software company offers to get you up and running (like training, email/phone support, etc.).

We made a BIG mistake a decade ago in a previous business when we signed up for a $400/month Web-based software that had paper-thin help documentation and email support with a 2-4 day response time (no, that's not a misprint). I fault that ridiculous application for practically all of my hair loss.

3. The development arc of the software (and philosophy of the software company)
Does the application look a little dated? Is it coasting on past success? Has it offered updates lately? And do those updates really improve the product? And on the flip side ... How much experience does the company have? Will it be in business next year? Does it have the infrastructure to support your needs? And what version of their software are they currently offering?

These are all questions to have in mind when poking around the software's web site and questions to ask other people in the industry who have used the software (getting peer opinions is a critical part of software research). Basically, you are looking for an event software company that has lots of energy and ideas as well as the experience, desire and commitment to improve its products.

4. Value for what you get
This can be more subjective, because a bargain for one person is a rip-off to another. For example, I once paid $500 for a piece of Web marketing management software that, frankly, ended up doing about 10% of what I needed it to do; hence it was a horrible value for me. On the other hand, I pay $10 a month for online appointment scheduling software that does 150% of what I expected it to do and makes my life sooooo much easier, so it is an incredible value to me.

This brings me to my next point. Price isn't the only way to gauge value ... you also need to consider how much time the event management software will save you. Any piece of event software you invest in should make your work life easier ... that's the whole point of it. So you should consider price and features as well as time savings and convenience when determining the value of the software to you.

5. Feel and vibe
This is even more subjective because it has to do with how using the software feels to you when you use it. Every piece of event organizing software has a learning curve (especially when you start adding on more and more features). And you will have to adapt to some extent to any event software application, whether you like it or not. Yes, this requires you to change your habits to some extent, and none of us like change all that much. So you just need to be prepared to change your habits to some degree if you want to use any kind of event planning application.

But how steep is the learning curve? And how much do you have to adapt vs. setting up the software to work with how you function? These are personal questions and require poking around the software and getting acclimated to its structure. Are tools and functions easy to find and use? Do you find yourself moving around easier after 30 or 60 minutes, or is navigation still a struggle? Is the layout clean, or is it cluttered and confusing? All these are great things to keep in mind as you try out different applications to decide which is the best event management software for you.

In the end, the best event software for you needs to rank well for many, if not all, of the above criteria. Best of luck in your search, and please provide any criteria you use in the comments link above.
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Want a good staring point on researching event management tools and trends? Try here. Then try our online event planning tools for free.

10 Do's and Don'ts on how to turn event issues and complaints into victories

Event Customer Support - Addressing ComplaintsVery few events happen in which there are no issues or problems encountered, mainly because there are so many moving parts when planning and staging an event. Frankly, any event that goes off without even a minor snag should be considered a miracle.

The problem with this is that very few people outside of the events industry are aware of this fact. Which is why some clients or attendees get so worked up about even minor problems or issues at an event. And in the case of events like weddings or parties, there are added expectations and emotions, which can magnify even the smallest of problems.

Simply put, people have no idea how complicated event planning and management can really be, and so they often feel compelled to lash out at planners and event staff when something goes wrong.

So how do you approach on-site event complaints, and how do you address the concerns voiced by attendees and clients? Here are some key do's and don'ts.

NOTE: I often take care of customer support for our online event management software, and I implement these techniques for addressing customer complaints and issues almost every day. I have also talked with dozens of event planners, and they also use these tactics when faced with an event crisis.

DO listen, listen, listen
If you ignore all the other tips here, make sure to remember this one. Listening to the person with a complaint is the #1 way to both understand the issue and start diffusing whatever anger or frustration the person is feeling. When confronted, most of us like to talk to show we are in control of the situation, but actually listening and asking questions and listening some more is the best way to get to the bottom of the problem. And it is the best way for the client or disgruntled attendee to feel like they are being heard and not handled.

DON'T get defensive
Is your main responsibility at the event to plan and manage it or to fight with your attendees? Defensiveness almost always leads to conflict, which is what you are trying to avoid in this situation. Putting up walls only heightens the anger and frustration of the other party, and it moves you further away from finding a fast and effective solution to the problem.

DO stay positive and in control
Even if the issue is something you're not sure you can fix completely, you still need to stay positive and communicate to the dissatisfied person that, once you are done talking, you will be looking into this issue immediately. What has happened has happened, and you need to make it clear that are now taking responsibility for finding a resolution.

DON'T act without having accurate information
Acting first without knowing ALL the details may actually make matters worse. So before you start running around and fixing things, talk to all the relevant parties (staff, vendors, other attendees) to collect more information, just in case you received inaccurate or biased information from the unhappy guest/client.

DO let them get their emotions out
The person facing you will be somewhere on the spectrum from a little annoyed to completely enraged, and you should let them feel what they need to feel and vent for a moment. However, if this emotion spills over into disrespect or even rudeness, you should remind the person that you are here to help them and that you can better help them if they remain calm and simply relate the relevant details to you so you can start addressing the problem.

DON'T make promises you can't keep
When you first hear about a problem, you often have no idea that you may be able to completely fix it. And if you say you can fix it and then cannot, you set your client/attendees up for more disappointment and yourself up for even more disparagement. Just say you will be looking into the matter immediately and will do everything in your power to make things right.

DO take a moment to evaluate the situation
Once you have collected information, take a moment to take a deep breath and consider the alternatives on how to fix the issue. In some cases, there may be only one option. But often giving yourself a chance to think provides an opportunity to reflect on the situation and may unearth another viable option or two that weren't immediately apparent.

DON'T start placing blame
Blame is as counterproductive as being defensive. It only adds emotion to a situation that already has plenty, and consider this ... the person or people you want to blame may also be the ones you need to help you fix the problem. And they will be much more amenable to helping you if they don't resent you.

DO communicate your course of action and provide updates
Once you have determined a course of action, communicate this to the disgruntled parties. Even if it's not a perfect solution, it will show that you want to keep them in the loop (which they will later appreciate once they have cooled down) and will give you a sense of how much damage control you need to prepare for later on after the dust settles. It also shows you have taken control and responsibility, which people respect.

DON'T let an imperfect solution ruin the event
Yes, you may not be able to completely salvage the broken signage or the fallen wedding cake. And the backup entertainer or speaker may not be the ideal fit. But you have done your best with the limited time and resources at hand, and now it is your job to make sure the rest of the event continues on and that your guests feel welcome and engaged. You are the glue holding all this together, and everyone is looking to you to keep it all together.

What other do's and don'ts do you have? Provide them in the comments below.
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One way to minimize event complaints and issues is to plan for all contingencies. And Planning Pod's 26+ tools give you control over all your event details so that you are supremely prepared for all your events. Try our event registration and planning software tools free today.

10 underrated event marketing tips and ideas

Explosive event marketing tips You would think there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to event marketing tips, especially when such great event marketing ideas have been covered here and here and here. But think again.

In fact, some of the most effective event marketing tactics being used today are variations on event marketing strategies that have worked for a decade or longer. Here are 10 best practices to keep in mind for 2014...

Pre-launch marketing - The following are event marketing tips prior to when you are first brainstorming your event and developing your content and event focus. And, yes, you can and should start marketing long before you have an event name, venue, program and website.

1. Search online forums for programming ideas (and then interact to drill down on content and drum up interest)
One of the best places to see what people are talking about in your industry is in forums that pertain to your industry. You can start with seeing what people are talking about on Facebook and Twitter, but an even better place to eavesdrop on conversations and tune into hot topics is in Linkedin Groups for your industry, on Q&A sites like Quora and on industry-specific online forums and communities.

Once you have gleaned what people are talking about, start some conversations yourself and drill down on what specific issues and challenges people are facing and if they would attend an event that provides guidance and answers. This can lay the groundwork for some early advocates and attendees.

2. Use surveys and research to begin to generate interest
Not only can online surveys provide you with vital feedback from your target audience on what kind of event will succeed, but it also puts you in front of your audience long before you contact them regarding the event.

Prior to creating a survey, you should have a working name for your event or at least an idea of the focus so you can position the survey properly, and survey questions should inquire not just about the content of the event but also variables like location, amenities and scheduling/event dates.

3. Optimize your online content for search engines
It's amazing that many event planners still don't optimize their event websites to be found by search engines, so if you do optimize your site, you are one big step ahead.

First, use tools like Google's Keyword Planner tool (you need an AdWords account to access it) or SEO Book's keyword tool to find the top 10-20 phrases that your target audience uses to find information that will be offered at your event. Then optimize your event website pages for those keywords in the file names, title tags, headings and body copy. In addition, you can optimize your images using keywords in image file names and alt tags. And don't forget to optimize pages for your unique event name, too.

4. Develop an event content curation calendar
This should be much easier once you have done your research, mainly because you know the topics your audience is interested in. Once you have your list of topics, lay out a schedule for you, your staff, your partners and your presenters to create content for your event website, blog, emails and social media posts. Informative articles and posts related to your event theme as well as videos, contests and giveaways all build credibility for your event and keep you top-of-mind with your audience. Consider this the appetizer before you serve them the main course.

Marketing via programming - These next event marketing tips relate to building marketing into your programming angle.

5. Promote extra networking opportunities and time
One of the main reasons that people attend events is to connect with other people in their industry or peer group. Unfortunately, many events don't allot for nearly enough time to network and to openly engage with other attendees and participants.

In fact, many prospective attendees already assume that there won't be enough time in your schedule to mingle. So if you actively build in more networking time and activities into your schedule with the intention of promoting that as a value-add, this may give you an advantage in your marketing message.

6. Offer and promote "additional attractions"
Often, the content or theme of an event alone may not be enough to entice people to sign up. But if you pair a great theme and programming with other attractions - like a desirable venue or location, interesting or exotic cuisine or noteworthy entertainment - that may be enough to push people over the edge to register or RSVP. So make sure you add some additional reasons for people to attend and play those up in your marketing message.

Post-Launch Marketing - Event marketing ideas for once you have launched your event website and are actively collecting registrations / RSVPs.

7. Prompt attendees and audience members to share information via social media
Sometimes people don't want to take the extra few steps of going to their Facebook or Twitter page to post information about your event. However, if you put share links or widgets for social media applications on your website, blog, emails and even "transaction complete / thank you" page, you have made sharing this information a simple click away. And if your attendees have lots of followers, this is an easy way to spread the word fast.

8. Use pictures and videos heavily in your social media posts
Posts that contain pictures and videos are the most viewed on all the social media sites, so much so that Facebook gives priority in your followers' news feeds to posts with pics and videos. Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram are all great applications for posting these materials, which can include:

  • Pictures and testimonials from past events.
  • Photos and videos of your speakers.
  • Videos that offer a sneak-peek at your content.
  • Infographics related to your content.

9. Try out Facebook and LinkedIn Ads
Believe it or not, but Facebook ads can be very effective for both B-to-C and B-to-B audiences, mainly because you can easily target people by their interests and well as demographic and location information. And LinkedIn ads are excellent at targeting certain industries as well as job titles within industries. Just make sure you dip a toe into the water by setting your daily spend limits low at first to see whether your ROI is worth a larger spend.

10. Provide discount codes for partners and presenters to offer to their audiences
Finding the right marketing partners is often the key to a successful event, so look out for those speakers, entertainers, sponsors and association partners that have considerable leverage with your target audience. As part of your negotiations with these partners, work into the agreement the fact that you will provide these partners with a discounted rate for their audiences.

This works for you in two ways. First, it provides your partners with value-adds for their audience and makes them look good to their fans. Second, this is essentially a warm sell to an extended audience because your partners have influence over these audiences, making them more likely to take advantage of the offer.

Do you have any other interesting twists on event marketing ideas that you would like to provide? Put them in the comments below.
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A big part of successful event marketing is having a professional, easy-to-navigate event website. Try Planning Pod's event website builder with online RSVP for FREE today.

How to handle scope creep when managing events (and clients)

Event Scope Creep - Event Management TipsNobody likes to talk about event scope creep even though more than half of all events go over budget. And we don't like to talk about it because nobody likes to tell the client or the boss that things are going to cost more than anticipated, even if those costs are legitimate and were unanticipated from the outset.

Burying our collective heads in the sand only exacerbates the problem, mainly because the later a client or boss finds out about the scope creep, the less they can do about and the angrier they become.

So how do we avoid these uncomfortable conversations? And if we can't avoid them, how do we make them more tolerable and less of a shock to clients and supervisors alike? Here are 4 proven tactics used by thousands of event management professionals every day.

1. Educate clients ahead of time on common overages (and how to avoid them)
As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So while you are scoping out the budget for an event, talk openly and honestly with your client or direct report to let them know where you may hit snags in the budget or where events commonly go out of scope.

In addition, talk to them about what steps you will take if you foresee any potential overages on the horizon. This is where you need to have a communications strategy in place as well as a change order process and forms.

2. Spell out everything in your contract or scope of work
Yes, I said the word "contract." To many event planners and professionals, event contracts are a necessary evil. But in the case of out-of-scope charges, an event contract is another teaching opportunity where you can educate your client about what happens when things go out of scope. But it puts it all in writing so there's no "he said, she said" misunderstandings down the road.

First, you need to clearly outline what the client will be receiving from the overall cost you have agreed upon. Some event planners go as far as to quote how many hours they will spend on certain tasks, and any additional hours worked will be charged at a predetermined hourly rate. But you should detail what the client gets, what those items cost, and what additional, out-of-scope items or labor might cost.

Then you need to outline how the client will be notified of potential out-of-scope charges (so they can either avoid them or incur them) as well as how the change order process works with you. Change orders can include costs for rush builds/shipments, overtime for installation/strike/operator/build crews, hiring additional personnel to handle extra work, permits/licenses, rush fees, etc.

If your event is for an internal client, instead of a contract you would have a scope-of-work document with related expenses, in which you again would spell out how out-of-scope situations would be handled.

Bottom line ... clear, open communications in writing not only covers your ass, but it keeps your clients fully in the loop.

Oh, and your client or direct report needs to apply their signature to the agreement before you lift a finger.

3. Being diligent in spotting potential overages ahead of time
If you are a seasoned event pro, you already know where certain types of events typically go out of scope, so you know what to look for. But this is only half the battle.

In addition, you need to reach out to your client or direct report as soon as you are aware of any potential overages so you give them ample time to make a decision on whether they want to pay more or cut back. When someone isn't given proper time to reflect, they feel as if you haven't given them any real options and will resent you and the additional amount you will be billing them.

4. Being direct with your client when they ask for changes
Beating around the bush when discussing out-of-scope charges helps nobody. It's best to be direct in these situations. When asked by a client or supervisor to start making changes that will affect the total cost, you can reply in three different ways:

  • "Yes, but..." - What they are asking for is possible and may be a good idea, but there are ramifications and trade-offs; be prepared to list them off.
  • "No, unless..." - What they are asking for isn't possible (and may not be advisable) unless other criteria are met or other measures are taken.
  • "No ... period" - Sometimes what a client is asking for may not be a good idea or may work against the original purpose of the event. If that's the case, it's your responsibility to tell the client that, in your professional opinion and experience, this isn't advisable.

They put you on the job because they wanted and needed your experience as a seasoned event planner. They may overrule you, and you can take them to task for this, but you should stick by your guns if you think the new idea will somehow diminish the main purpose of the event. And if you find out that the purpose of the event was simply to massage their massive ego, then they can make all the changes they want, as long as you are compensated for them.

Have any other tips for avoiding event scope creep ... please provide them below.

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One way to manage scope creep is to create accurate event budgets and event proposals and estimates. You can quickly create these with Planning Pod's online budgeting and finances tools ... learn more about them and our FREE trial here.

5 most effective marketing tactics for an event planning business

Marketing-Event-Planning-BusinessThis is the first in a series of posts on marketing tips for the events industry.
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Building a service-based business like an event planning business is no easy task, mainly because you are essentially marketing and selling yourself and your ability to do what you say you can do.

Any experienced event planner or professional will tell you that one of the keys to running a successful event planning business is keeping the pipeline full of prospects. And so we asked hundreds of event professionals on LinkedIn what marketing strategies work best for them, and here are the top 10.

However, before we continue, I wanted to share two key things.

First, many planners mentioned that planning amazing events that leave a memorable impression on clients and guests and exceed clients' expectations is one of the best marketing tactics itself, mainly because great performances lead to word-of-mouth and referrals. Second, in order for any marketing tactic to be effective, you need to be consistent in applying it. A rule of thumb used by one prominent consultant to event businesses is to spend a minimum of 10 hours a month on marketing (and I would submit that it should be more like 20 or 30 hours).

#1 - Networking / Referrals
Event planners are social animals by nature, so it's no surprise that most of them find that networking is by far the most effective marketing tactic they use.

Developing and nurturing relationships with other vendors who can refer you business is critical here. This could be as simple as mutually referring prospects back and forth, like a hotel referring a party client to a planner and a planner referring a wedding client back to the hotel. However, you could also offer up services in exchange for leads. One planner agrees to donate their services to manage a charitable event for a hotel in exchange for getting loads of referrals from the hotel.

One key thing to remember here is to find reputable, reliable partners to refer people to, because you will not make friends by referring leads to less-than-stellar vendors.

Many referrals also come from former clients, and the best way to encourage this is to periodically reach out to your former and existing clients and ask them if they know of anyone who could use your services. Remember, if you don't ask, people may assume you're busy enough, so always, always ask.

#2 - Facebook
Surprisingly, many event professionals cite having great success using social media sites - primarily Facebook - to find new clients. In fact, one planner said that 60-70% of their business comes from Facebook.

For starters, this tactic requires both having a well-developed Facebook page as well as building up the number of your fan page "likes" (which you can do by putting links to your Facebook page in your email footers, on your Web site pages, in your e-newletters, etc.). Simply adding likes from your friends, networking partners and clients can give you a great start on this. (Again, you must ask for them.)

However, this tactic also requires diligent and regular posting to your Facebook page so you can increase your EdgeRank (the algorithm that Facebook uses to rank your posts and place them in your fans' news feeds. Note that posts with photos and videos rank higher than posts with just text or with links; Hootsuite is a great tool for automating this process.

Several event planners also noted that locally targeted Facebook ads worked well for them in driving visitors to their pages, and it may be worth trying.

#3 - Search Engine Marketing and Optimization
Of course this requires a Website (which, in our opinion, isn't a marketing tactic as much as it is a necessity of being in business), and you need to put the requisite time and resources into making your event Web site stand out.

But one of the most effective ways that event planners are driving visitors to their site is through programs like Google AdWords and Bing Advertising. You can easily bid on localized keywords and try this yourself to see if it works in your area. For example, if you are an event planner in Denver, CO, you can bid on keywords such as "Denver event planner", "Denver wedding planner" and "Denver event planning" to drive search traffic to your site. It's advisable to start with a small budget and test.

In addition, you can optimize your Web site title tags and copy with keywords and work on building mentions and links to your site (start with asking your networking partners for online recommendations/links), which can help with your organic search engine rankings.

#4 - Email
Event planners are using email in three different ways to attract new clients.

First, they are emailing current and former clients to stay top-of-mind in case they or their acquaintances need event planning services.

Second, they are building their own lists via their Web site (using incentives like free e-newsletters) as well as information they gather at trade shows and such, and they are periodically emailing these lists with useful event-related information.

Third, they are using email groups to connect with both prospects as well as referral partners, sharing their expertise and passing leads back and forth among community members.

Which works best? Try each method out for yourself and see what works for you.

#5 - Trade Shows
Finally, trade shows round out the top five marketing tactics for event planners. At the least, planners attend trade and bridal shows and walk the floor to interact with prospective clients. However, many planners choose to exhibit at shows, which besides providing them with a prominent presence at the show also can provide additional perks (like a list of show attendees, which alone can be worth the exhibitor's fees).

Event trade shows and bridal shows do require preparation such as printing up flyers and brochures as well as booth decor and staging. But the added expense is worth it to many planners simply because of the sheer number of potential prospects walking the aisles.

Another strategy planners can take with trade shows is to co-op with another vendor and share space so that you can spit the costs but still have a prominent presences.

Honorable mentions
Event planners have also noted success using the following marketing tactics and materials:

  • Business collateral like flyers, brochures, business cards
  • Angie's List
  • Direct mail

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Landing clients is so much easier if you show them you have the tools and resources to handle their events. Planning Pod has 26+ easy-to-use event management tools that are used by thousands of event planners every day to manage their events and impress clients.
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17 proven ways to boost your event attendance

Proven-Ways-Boost-Event-AttendanceNothing is more deflating than spending countless hours (as well as lots of money) planning an event only to have a paltry turnout. Empty chairs are the bane of every event planner's existence, and so we decided to compile a list of tactics for improving the attendance at your events.

Note that some of these event attendance tips may not apply to every type of event ... some are better for meetings, some better for corporate events, some better for weddings and parties. But this is a good place to start your brainstorming. I didn't cover all the specific ways you can use social media to promote your events, mainly because there are so many great posts like here and here and here. I'm not going to mention "Choose a great speaker or entertainer" because that's fairly obvious. And I am going to use the term "attendees" to apply to any kind of guest, attendee or participant.

And keep in mind that people procrastinate to the last minute to RSVP or register (Eventbrite had a recent stat that 1/2 of event registrations or RSVPs occur within 2 weeks of the event date), so your goal is to push those RSVPs/registrations earlier.

1. Ask for input upfront (and feedback afterwards)
Doing your research is the first step in planning a successful event, so find out what your target audience wants (and doesn't want). Talk to your prospective attendees, and if you have a list, email them a short e-survey. Then follow up with attendees after the event to find out what could have been done better and make those tweaks to your next event.

2. Choose a convenient location that is memorable yet affordable
The best way to drive away attendees is to choose a venue that is too far away or too expensive for them. So find a location convenient for a majority of your attendees and make sure it's distinctive enough to set your event apart and yet not so costly that it drives up the per-attendee price too much.

3. Choose a date that works for your audience
The time of year, day of the week and time of day all make a difference for attendance. For example, mornings are great for seminars, after work is great for appreciation / networking events and weekend afternoons and evenings are preferable for weddings. In addition, Tuesdays and Thursdays make for good meeting days, and holidays and Fridays should usually be avoided for most events (unless it's a 4th of July party, for example).

4. Don't compete with similar events (unless you piggyback on them)
If there's already a similar event planned for the approximate time or day you want to hold yours, you should look to what other dates would work. The only exception to this rule is if there is already an event that is being attended by many of your prospective attendees, and then you may want to plan your event immediately before or after the other event to capitalize on those people being in town already.

5. Provide options for multiple demographics
You may have widely varying age and interest differences among your audience members, so one way to appeal to each audience segment is to provide incentives or programming specifically designed for each segment. If it's a wedding with lots of younger people but a significant number of baby-boomers, you may want to offer two different kinds of music or activities that appeal to each audience.

6. Send out save the dates early
Get on people's calendars as soon as you can so they can set aside the day and time.

7. Personalize your invitations and other mailed correspondence
Believe it or not, but mailed correspondence gets more attention these days due to the predominance of email. And anything that is personalized with handwriting gets even more notice.

8. Simplify the registration / RSVP process
If you are using online registration, make your forms as easy as possible to complete. Minimize the number of fields. Make it easy for multiple registrations (because for weddings and parties one person often replies for an entire family, and for business events one person may be registering for multiple co-workers). And consider bundled pricing for those multiple registrations.

9. Offer incentives for early registrations or arrivals
Early-bird discounts are a must for priming early registrations for many business-related events. But also consider giving away books, discount coupons or other value-adds to people who sign up early. And extend your early-bird registration at the last minute to give bargain-hunters a second chance.

10. Build your schedule/agenda early and communicate it to your audience
The clearer and more detailed you are about your agenda, the more people will feel they can make an informed decision about attending. Make sure you include this in your communications.

11. Build extracurricular fun time into the agenda (and make events family friendly)
Any event that is longer than 2 hours needs breaks or down time built into the schedule, and multi-day events should have some extracurricular fun time built into the schedule. Also, many attendees like to turn conferences and meetings into family trips, so keep this in mind when proposing entertainment and dining options to your attendees.

12. Express multiple value propositions in your promotional efforts
Just one benefit isn't enough for most people to attend your event. You should include in your invitations, emails and marketing materials (including Web site) the valuable take-aways of the event (e.g., what attendees will learn); keynote speakers and/or entertainment; the schedule/agenda; photos and testimonials of past events; people/companies that attended past events; and any other relevant benefits.

13. Use emails to both invite and remind
Even if you sent out mailed invitations, it still doesn't hurt to also send an email invitation and link back to your event website. However, it is critical to use email to send out reminders to your invited participants as well as your attendees. A good rule of thumb is sending out emails 14 days, 7 days, 3 days and 1 day prior to the event.

14. Followup phone calls
Before you are up against your RSVP or registration deadline, it's a good idea to call your prospective attendees and ask them simply if they are planning on attending your event. This has been shown to boost attendance.

15. Optimize your event Web site for mobile devices
Some event planners have found that up to 20% of registrations come from mobile, so if you have an event that requires online registration, you should make sure your Web site works well on smart phones and tablets.

16. Cross promote with other organizations
Contact other organizations who may also reach out to your target audience and give them incentive to cross-promote your event to their lists. You could make them an in-kind sponsor and give them registration discounts or other spiffs for helping you.

17. Ask attendees and speakers to help you promote the event
Finally, the best way to promote an event is to empower your attendees and participants to spread the word. Make it easy for them to reach out to their friends and peers via email and social media. Offer discounts for bringing friends. Encourage your speakers and event participants to promote the event to their networks.

Are there any important tips we left out? Provide them in the comments below.
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While you are boosting your event attendance, you can use Planning Pod to help you manage the other details of your event, like budgets, to-do's, itineraries, guest lists and much more. Try our online event management software with 26+ easy-to-use tools for FREE.

5 Tips For Keeping Your Client Sales Funnel Full

Cheryl Bailey BTB fb profileA warm welcome to today's guest blogger , Cheryl Bailey. Cheryl runs Wedding Industry Rescue (the business coaches to the wedding industry) and Yellow Umbrella Events. She has successfully built more than a couple wedding/event related businesses to more than $100K in less than a year, so she knows what the hell she's talking about and has great advice for event planners. On a completely unrelated note, she worked as a tree trimmer as a child and just bought her first pair of skinny jeans (after making fun of everyone that wears them for the last year). Thanks for sharing, Cheryl.
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Oh the proverbial sales funnel. Much talk, many articles, and a whole lot of fancy diagrams have been written (and drawn) on this magical sales funnel. Your event planning sales funnel basically refers to following a person through the entire sales process, from seeing them first as a contact through to the completion of an eventual sale. And then it starts all over again, hopefully.

At any given time in your business you will likely be juggling a number of different contact types - inquiries, referrals and leads (both genuine and not so genuine), actual paying clients, and past clients. And each one of these contact types needs to be moved towards a sale in a different way. And it's your job to keep each area of this client funnel full so you can sell more to the types of clients that you want in your event planning business. You know, so you can STAY in business.

We could spend a half day at a seminar in some crappy hotel ballroom somewhere dissecting each one in minute detail, but as they say "ain't nobody got time for that". So here's my down and dirty, fast and furious, 5 tips for keeping your event planning business client sales funnel full everyday:

1. Answer Questions With More Questions (i.e., auto-responders be damned - start a conversation!)
Email inquiries. We love them. We hate them. We love getting them but they usually look like this, "Hi, I'm getting married and need some help planning my wedding. How much is it?" And this is where most event planners lose the sale. Because you've been taught to save time and automate your business, you send out your canned reply that sounds like a sales job all around (and possibly reeks a little of desperation), has your bio, a list of services with full pricing, your mothers maiden name, 12 paragraphs on why you should use a planner, and a link to the questionnaire she's required to fill out before you meet, and then you get...crickets. Gee, I wonder why she didn't reply back.

Answer their email with a warm congratulatory greeting and some questions right back, but mimic their tone. If their message was short, keep your email short. If they mentioned a lot of details, address them. Something like,

"Oh my gosh Sara, I'm so excited that you thought of us for planning your wedding! We'd love to help. Can you tell me anything you already know about your wedding? Venue (if you've chosen one)? Date? Guest count?

Can't wait to hear all the details!"

Easy. No pressure. We're just having a conversation. And if she answers these little details I am already on my way to knowing if she's the right client for me and I know where to go on the next correspondence. At this point in the game we're establishing an emotional connection with the client and also accessing their suitability to be an actual client.

2. Make Referrals from Venues and Vendors a Priority
"It's hard to get in with the venues here. They already have people that they refer."
"My area is really cliquey. They don't like outsiders."
"They only refer to their friends"

I hear these very excuses from planners I consult with almost every day. (I may have even used one or two myself when I was just starting out.) And they're all valid. But they're all bullshit! These are excuses we tell ourselves to deal with the rejection we think we're about to get.

Most of my business is through referral - and here's why. I ask. End of story. Seriously - I ask all the time. Not just once, but regularly. I make a habit of asking for referrals and I make it fun. I run contests. I offer prizes. Oh, and I give really really nice gifts. Like Coach purses and trips to the spa! Isn't a $6000 planning client worth a $400 Coach purse?! You better believe it is. I'll make that trade all day, every day! And a funny thing happens when you give Coach purses. Everyone finds out. :)

3. Refer To Others!
I can not tell you enough how eagerly referring to others helps grow your business and keeps that marketing funnel full. Don't just tell someone to call so and so. Facilitate the transaction. Call the vendor and give them the client's info. Tell the client that the vendor will be calling them. And then step aside.

I referred $2.1 million dollars in business to others last year alone. No, I'm not kidding. And yes, that's a hell of a lot of referrals! And people are very appreciative of your referrals. Which puts you in a position to be able to ask for (and receive) referrals from them. It's a great little system.

4. Market to the Right Client
Part of any good sales funnel is quite simply getting the right kinds of leads into your funnel. If you are a corporate event planner and you are only getting leads for weddings, then you have a problem. If you're a luxury wedding planner and all of your leads are for weddings with $20k budgets, then you are going to have a lot of wasted time.

The two reasons that I see most often for why planners are attracting the wrong client is that their marketing is not saying the right things and that they are not being specific with the type of referrals they're asking for.

If you're a corporate event planner and your website has a bunch of pretty pictures of weddings, you need to remove those and showcase your past business clients. There's a reason people keep calling you about wedding planning. If you're a luxury wedding planner, you should be telling your vendors, family, friends, etc that you only work with brides with $100k or more to spend. That way your neighbor won't refer you to her cousin with the nonexistent budget that wants to cater her own wedding!

5. Reach Out to Current and Past Clients
The most overlooked place for quality leads and referrals is current and past clients. And it's simply because planners don't ask for them! You've planned their amazing corporate holiday party for 5 years in a row and they haven't referred you once. They keep using you for your awesome work. So you think your work should speak for itself, right? Well it doesn't. You need to ASK for that referral. Do they know the business owner next door to their office? What about that other executive you know they golf with each week. Why haven't you gotten their holiday party too? Did you ask?

One of the times that I knew I failed at this was at a client's wedding (that I had planned) when one of the bridesmaids was telling me that she wished she had heard of me before she booked her planner for her wedding. This bridesmaid had just gotten engaged a few months prior and was close with the bride. It was at that moment that the bride turned around and exclaimed, "Oh my gosh Cheryl, I never even thought about referring you! I'm so sorry!" But it wasn't her fault at all. I was the one that never asked. You have to ask! Or you'll only have yourself to blame.

There are a ton of different ways to keep your client sales funnel full. What are some of your tried and true techniques?
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Want a great way to keep track of the sales funnel for your event planning business? Try Planning Pod's lead tracking tools (and our other 25+ event management tools) for FREE and easily manage your prospects as they become your clients.

How to make it easy to do business with your event planning company

Doing-Business-With-Event-Planning-CompanyBefore I started my own business, I worked at a few companies that did many things right. Like hire good people and then figure out where they fit. Or encourage a healthy competitiveness in the workplace. Or simply by stocking gratis snacks, drinks and beer for the staff. Amazing how food can create a much friendlier and creative environment (and there is a fair amount of social psychology research that backs this up).

Unfortunately, I have also worked at a surprising number that simply got all kinds of things wrong all the time. Sometimes out of incompetence. Sometimes due to crazy circumstances. But mostly out of arrogance.

It still amazes me how hubris turns companies with bright, able people into toxic environments with high turnover, but we will save that for another post and another time when I feel more vengeful and a little tipsy.

But what I'd like to focus on in this post is ways you can make your event planning company or event management department more attractive to clients (external or internal) and easier to do business with. Some of these may seem simple and a little arbitrary, but each one of them made a difference for me in landing or impressing one or more clients, so they are certainly worth your consideration.

1. Keep your terms and conditions brief and clear
When we started out first creative business 12 years ago, our attorney gave us some great advice: Keep your contract very short.

Nothing makes a client drag their feet more in starting work with your event planning firm than handing them a thick contract that must be signed before you lift a finger for them. You don't really need an opus of a contract; just something that plainly spells out the basics (such as ownership of work, confidentiality, limitation of liability, indemnification, etc. ... but don't take this as legal advice, because I'm definitely not an attorney).

Our first letter of agreement was a page and a half; our terms and conditions were three pages. And only a few times have we had to go through any kind of substantial negotiation (mainly because we had to use the client's much more lengthy contract, requiring several rounds of revisions).

Here's a good rule of thumb; don't make your contract any longer than what you would want to read and sign yourself.

2. Start relationships with "test" projects or events
Clients can often be intimidated when starting a big project or event (like planning a big annual meeting or major fundraiser) with a new firm, and rightly so. They have never worked with you, and they have no idea if you can deliver on the grand things you've promised or if your two companies can work together effectively.

So dispel those fears by finding a smaller project or event you can start with. Maybe a luncheon, office party or cookout. This can give them an idea on a smaller scale - and with a lot less pressure - of how you work and how you collaborate with clients.

I will admit that I have had a few big initial projects turn sour, but I've never had an small initial project fail to please a client.

3. Provide detailed estimates / work orders
Every project needs a clear scope of work for two primary reasons: 1) so you know what to deliver, and 2) so the client knows exactly what they are getting.

The latter is much more important than you think. I have been on the receiving end of vague, poorly defined estimates, and I must admit I feel like I'm buying a black box and not completely aware of what's going into it. Clients like to be kept in the loop; it makes them feel comfortable and in control. By starting a relationship with a vague definition of the scope or broad and loosely defined line items, it carries a whiff of subterfuge and misdirection, which is never a good way to start a relationship.

I break estimates into sections and then further break down discrete tasks into line items so that a client can walk through the project step-by-step and see exactly what they are paying for.

4. Accept credit card payments
Let me begin by flatly stating that I don't encourage having all your clients pay by credit card. The transaction fees eat directly into your profits, and you have to maintain some kind of account with a merchant processor, which also costs money.

However, there are those clients who 1) want to use the credit line on their credit card to finance their event for the short-term or 2) have no easy alternative but by paying you with a credit card (could be due to a company policy or other circumstance).

In these cases, a credit card is a great option because you make money now (instead of none or getting paid much later) and your client gets the work done when they need it. One thing you may want to consider, though, is adding a credit card surcharge to recoup the credit card transaction fees.

5. Make your clients feel good
Don't take it from a sales guru or social psychologist that people do business with people they like. Take it from me and thousands of other event professionals and event planner business owners who have landed client after client by getting them to like them.

And if you think there's something underhanded or disingenuous about this, it certainly doesn't need to be. I've always hated "selling" a client or "shmoozing" them; it simply isn't me and that hard sell approach doesn't really sit right with me.

But I love talking with people, learning about them and from them, sharing ideas and finding things in common with them. Simply taking an interest in someone - finding out that they like dogs and mint-chocolate-chip ice cream and Roy Lichtenstein prints - is fun, congenial, healthy and, coincidentally, a great way for them to take a shine to you.

Bottom line ... Just be yourself, take a genuine interest in people and make them feel at home and comfortable. You will discover that many of them will want to spend more time with you.

In the end, you should ask your event planning clients what you can do to make their business lives easier and better. They may shrug their shoulders and have no answer; or they may tell you exactly what you need to do to land and keep their business.

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Want another way you can make it easier to do business with your event planning firm? Make it easy to collaborate with you and share progress with clients using Planning Pod's collaboration and communication tools.

Try our online event management software tools free for 30 days.

The Quick Guide to Event Floorplans and Seating Arrangements - INFOGRAPHIC

To commemorate the launch of our new seating arrangement / event floor plan software tool, we would like to offer up this infographic entitled: The Quick Guide to Event Floorplans and Seating Arrangements.

It covers the basics of laying out event floor plans, including customary event and table layout formats; table and chair placements; suggested table capacities; and industry best practices.

Feel free to post this on your site by cutting and pasting the code below into one of your Web pages:

<a href="https://www.planningpod.com/"><img alt="Infographic on building event floor plans and seating arrangements from Planning Pod" src="http://blog.planningpod.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Event-Floorplan-Seating-Arrangement-INFOGRAPHIC.png" /></a>

Quick Guide to Event Table Plans and Seating Arrangments

How to build an event budget - Infographic

Building an event budget isn't always the easiest thing to do, which is why we created the How to Build an Event Budget infographic . This walks you through the basics of building an event budget and creating your event budget categories and line items.

Feel free to post this on your site by cutting and pasting the code below into one of your Web pages:

<a href="https://www.planningpod.com/"><img alt="Infographic on building a complete event budget from Planning Pod" src="http://blog.planningpod.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/INFOGRAPHIC-How-To-Build-Event-Budget.png" /></a>

Oh, and check out the full-featured event room layout / seating arrangement software tool we just added to our online software app.

 

How to build an event budget infographic

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