Before leaving it all behind to travel in South America, I was a professional Event Planner for several high-end, fast paced venues in San Francisco, CA. I learned a lot about dealing with clients, navigating the business world and the event planning process. I had some amazing highs and some painful low moments in my career, but I came out the other side stronger with a new found love of sharing my passions and knowledge. Here are my dos and don’ts of professional event planning.
Respect peoples budgets
I started as an event planner in the height of the recession. The hospitality industry definitely took a hit. Regardless, it seemed like people were choosing to spend their money on a great experience. Companies were still hosting holiday parties, meetings, and business dinners. People were still celebrating major life events such as weddings, birthday parties, and baby showers. I learned fast that although these events were still happening, the “purse strings” weren’t as open as they may have once been and every event is going to have a different bottom line. This is especially true for social events. You are often working with a host who is paying for the event with their hard earned, hard saved money. It’s important to be respectful of their budgets and help find ways to cut back if needed.
Be afraid to stick to the rules
Clients will sometimes want to push the rules. Whether it’s extending their party members, hanging decorations, congregating in the lobby, or not wanting to pay for service staff, it can put you in a difficult situation. I try to understand where they are coming from, but my job is to enforce the policies. I do it to protect myself because I know that if I stick to the rules my bosses will back me up. If I don’t enforce the rules, then I could jeopardize my job, the safety of our staff, and the success of the event. If a client ever has a strange request, I always involve my superior. It shows that I am going to bat for my client and takes the heat off of me for making the ultimate decision.
As an event planner, you will often work with clients who are not professional event planners. It could be an Executive Assistant who is helping their boss plan a company dinner, a bride planning her special day, or a Groom’s Mother planning a rehearsal dinner to impress her guests. It’s important to be patient throughout the planning process. You will get the same questions asked a million times and some odd requests. Some days it will make you want to tear your hair out as your cry and laugh hysterically like a maniac. Trust me, I’ve been there! Take a few deep breaths, take a walk around the block, and center yourself before going back to work. If you understand that they aren’t professionals, you’ll have an easier time walking your clients through the planning process.
Nothing is more frustrating for clients than working with a planner who never responds. I’ve been on both sides of event planning and I am amazed at how unresponsive people can be. It’s downright unprofessional! If you really want to make your clients happy and impress them, communicate in a timely manner. If I am ever too busy to get back to someone right away I will write them a simple email saying “I wanted to let you know that I received your email. I am having a very busy day today working on an urgent matter. I will get back to you shortly. Is there a good time we can schedule a time to discuss this further?”. They often appreciate the honesty and are happy to know that you’ve seen their request and have it on your agenda.
Give clients alternate options
Sometimes your client's first option is not available. When this happens, don’t turn the business away; Often they are flexible on the date of their event. Look at the dates that surround their choice to see if another day would work for them. Luckily I worked for venues that had multiple rooms so I was also able to give them other venue options. Even if the client is not able to move dates or has to have a specific room in mind, telling them about other options and availability showed you are trying to accommodate them. I would often receive requests from a potential client months or even years later for a different event.
Assume you know everything
I had been in the Event Planning business for about 3 years when I started working for a yacht club and thought I was a pro. Boy was I wrong! I had a lot to still learn, especially when it came to Audio Visual. The first company I worked for used an outside AV company who worked directly with the client on their needs. At my next job, we provided the AV in-house. I started getting complicated requests, like having multiple TV’s playing or using multiple microphones at the same time. Sometimes it would be easier to just say, “yes, we can do that” or “no, that’s not something we can do” but I had to learn. In order to understand our AV capabilities, I reached out to my set-up team to explain the logistics. After a while, I started to have a better grasp. By using my set-up team as a learning resource, I became a stronger planner and communicator for both my clients and staff.
Keep your clients aware
Like I mentioned before, many of my clients are not professional event planners, so it’s important to keep them informed of your policies. When I sent my clients the contract, I always included an email detailing the timeline requirements; such as the menu selection due 1 month prior, final details due 2 weeks prior and a final head count due 1 week prior. Since most people forget, I also followed up about 2-4 weeks prior to the first deadline to remind them of their specific due dates and request to schedule a time to finalize their event details. Food and beverage minimums are also important to keep track of. Once the details are finalized, I would send my clients an estimated cost breakdown. This would give them an understanding of the overall price but also gave me the opportunity to remind them if they aren’t meeting the minimum costs.
The prospect of booking new business can put a “blind spot” on what your facility can actually handle. One of the biggest issues my with companies’ was having enough banquet staff to service all of the events I booked. It wasn’t only the servers that struggled during busy times, the kitchen team struggled to put food out on time and our set up team would make mistakes. Some months I had a huge financial budget to meet, so I would book everything that came across my desk. During these times, I learned to turn down business that was not worthwhile. My Pro tips: Leave plenty of time between events for your set up team to flip the rooms. If you have multiple parties on the same day, try to have your clients select similar menus. Have your chef create a smaller menu for the high season (ie. Holiday menus). Hire temporary staff or seasonal staff well in advance. Having three dinners starting at the same time puts your kitchen staff in an impossible situation, so try staggering event start times helps alleviate problems.
Be detailed and communicate
Having a detailed event order, sometimes known as a Banquet Event Order (BEO), is key to a successful event. Each event has their own specific needs and communicating these requirements is a significant part of an Event Planner’s job. You should take this a step further by communicating the specific details of the BEO to different departments. Most venues have a weekly or bi-weekly BEO meetings to discuss the basics and details of events with department leaders. This is a great time to ask questions and delegate tasks. The day of the event, the execution falls into the hands of other departments like the kitchen, set up and service staff. It is important to interact with each department during this time. I always check the setup of the rooms, test audio visual equipment, and confirm any fine details with the team. I talk to the Chef to make sure we are running on time and remind the kitchen of special requirements like dietary restrictions and vendor meals. I also check in with the front desk staff to make sure our reader board is correct and communicate delivery details. When the service staff is onsite, I go through the BEO in detail. This gives me a chance to answer any questions and recap specific details of the event. Sometimes it is hard to trust that other people will do the job right. If you have an accurate detailed Banquet Event Order, clearly communicate the client’s needs to each department, and follow up the day of the event, you will create a positive occasion for the client, the company and yourself.
Issues will arise throughout the planning and execution of events. Often times they are out of your control; the room wasn’t set up correctly, a staff member was rude, or the food was late. It’s easy to get defensive and make excuses, but once it’s at this point the client doesn’t care about your explanations. It comes back to understanding your clients want to feel heard. If you are apologetic, empathetic, take responsibility and offer a fair refund, your client will have a higher chance to come back. According to a study by the Carey Institute of Business at Arizona State University in 2013, when businesses offered an apology with fair compensation, the customer satisfaction doubled from 37% to 74%! Clearly, empathy over defensiveness is the best way to deal with problems.
Are you interested in becoming an Event Planner? Do you have any event planning tips?
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