Before 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 providing good, continual mentoring to help employees achieve their career goals. 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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