Company Branding/Mission Statement
When you begin crafting your marketing materials, your beginning sentence on flyers, brochures, and correspondence should be a defining statement of your company. It's what is known in the book industry, or the script industry, as the hook sentence, pitch line, or log line. The defining statement should, in one sentence (a standalone sentence), immediately define your company to anyone who reads it. If you can't define your company in one sentence, you either do not have a razor-sharp concept of your company, you're not prepared to interview clients, or both.
The marketing statement will be used to pitch your company when you meet potential clients. A marketing statement is meant to be fun, upbeat, creative, and often capricious. Let's take a look at a few samples:
1. Hi. I'm Sandy from Happy Rabbit Birthdays and I make unforgettable theme parties, including face-painting, balloon-shaping, loads of guest participation and prizes, and
featuring B.J. the rabbit.
2. Hi. I'm Magic Man Bill from Magic Land Parties and I do amazing "King or Queen for a Day" parties featuring my supercharged magic show, heaps of children's involvement, and fabulous gift bags for the kids to take home.
3. My name is Elaine Price, owner of Fantasia Parties, and I plan birthday, anniversary, and holiday events from start to finish, with plenty of guest participation, attention to detail, and an experienced staff of event professionals to make your party the most memorable time of the entire year.
Which is your favorite? Naturally, you will spend more time coming up with the perfect introduction to your business than used for the examples. Don't rush it. Think about pitch lines or business names right before you go to sleep. Often people wake up with a fresh idea or the answer they have been seeking. Once you have mastered your defining statement, you can use it to brand other marketing materials.
Developing Marketing Plan and Materials
Once you have completed your market analysis and identified your competition and prospective clients, it's time to develop a marketing plan and pull together your materials. As you grow your business, it's essential to market and increase your client base.
Certain experts believe networking is a better tool than traditional print advertising. In fact, networking can be even more of a payoff than a large ad in the Yellow Pages. If you do decide to run an ad in the yellow Pages, be aware of the local publication cycle. If you open your business in February, but the publication doesn't come out until November, look for another source. Your local newspaper, depending on the circulation and size of the classified section, is another good source for advertising.
You should be marketing your business constantly. Even while doing party planning for an event, try to always set aside a certain amount of your time for securing new business. If you don't, this will cause gaps in your financial affairs and party-planning cycle, which makes it harder to get the ball rolling again. Answer your calls appropriately, and turn your proposals around, so you always keep some irons in the fire.
It's hard to juggle everything, and even harder to keep perfect balance. If a conference center or a room is booked for the date your client has requested, you should get back with the client with ideas for other locations until you can book a comparable site for the agreeable date and time.
Take the time to plan a website. You only need a page to start, and you can always add more information at a later time. I suggest, if you have no experience setting up a website, seek out professional help. If you shop around, or have a college or university nearby, you can find talented people who will work for a reasonable price.
Whether you decide to use brochures, direct mail (obtain mailing list from a related industry) flyers, one-sheets or only business cards at start-up, have your items professionally printed. The more you order, the better the price. Computer generated business cards, no matter how good the paper, always look home-made. Business cards may be small, but they can be powerful. Market with class!
Tracking Your Spending
As the owner of a new party-planning business, how do you plan manage your income and expenses, and track your jobs? QuickBooks is wired to accounting like Microsoft is wired to computer software. Whatever accounting program you select for your business, shop around and be comfortable with it for the long term. A financial software program should allow you to invoice your clients, track income and expenses, and pay your bills. A good accounting software program should let you know the financial health of your company and keep track of tax and certain legal responsibilities. You cannot afford to be asleep at the financial spending wheel.
Depending on what you specialize in, social or corporate, the party/event planning business can be seasonal. For this reason, it's important for you to know how your cash is flowing in and out each month. Consider your rent (if you do rent space), any employees you have hired ? full or part-time -- telephone, equipment payments, office supplies, marketing, and advertising; and don't forget to include your automobile expenses.
You may be financially fine this month, but what about next month with no jobs on your calendar? This is the reason you should ideally book parties ahead. Understandably, when the economy is falling apart, that can be really difficult. Be prepared to improvise by offering special pricing, more services, party favors, or gift bags. Become an innovative party planner.
If you are a social planner, keep the birthday parties coming. Pump up your marketing when you feel things slowing down. People have birthdays every day. Perhaps it's time to plan a couple of holiday events, or expand your business. If you are running into a dry spell, hustle. If you know winter is slow for you, then work harder during the other seasons. Party planning doesn't need to be seasonal, if you are willing to take on events during holidays.
To track cash flow, keep your business accounts separate from your personal accounts. It's also wise to have a credit card set aside for business purposes only. Check around for the best rates. The bank where you have your accounts may give you a break on the credit card rate. If not, continue to shop around for the lowest rate. Don't be fooled by the lure of credit card perks such as extra plane miles or special discounts. The bank can quit these programs any time, without giving advance notice.
Hiring the Best Caterer for Your Party
Party Planners leave the cooking serving and cleaning to outside help. As a party planner, your caterer is the glue that will hold your party together. Whether you are planning an intimate party or a wedding reception, hiring an experienced and competent caterer will make your job easier. Hiring the wrong caterer can turn a gala event into a nightmare.
Where do you find prospective caterers? Word of mouth is often a great way to add a caterer to your interviewing list. You'll want to interview at least three caterers for your event. Check out restaurants that offer a catering service. Have dinner at the restaurant a few times and sample the food you would consider party fare. Ask if there is an upcoming event you can visit and view the work and food -- then visit the event personally. Talk to the waiters and waitresses who will be working your event. Are they up to professional standards when it comes to courtesy, appearance, and enthusiasm? Remember they will be serving the guests, and if you have any doubts or negative gut feelings about a person's demeanor, ask if there is someone else, and move on.
If you attended a function where the caterer has impressed you, get their name and number. Ask each caterer for their credentials (Lesson 7) and length of experience. Ask each caterer you interview for a list of references, preferably of people near, or in the area, where the party will be held.
Once you have your caterer list narrowed down to three candidates, call each one to discuss a preliminary budget (you may need to furnish a first-round menu or a per person budget). Give each caterer your estimated head count and full budget, and confirm availability for the party date. Give each caterer the exact date you want them to return their written proposal. For a veteran caterer, three days maximum is fair. You competition is out there also jockeying to be the winner, and you want to get information back to your client ASAP. It can't be emphasized enough how important it is to find a caterer who can answer the following questions:
Can meet the needs of your client?
Has a well-trained staff?
Length of time in the catering business?
What else will they provide other than food?
Will the cost include serving after-dinner coffee?
What is the server cost, and will their gratuity be included in the final cost?
What will the servers be wearing?
What is the ratio of servers to this event?
What percentage, or cost, of the budget covers the cost of the servers -- and what exactly will they provide?
How will the leftovers be handled?
Will the caterer provide tablecloths, skirts for the tables?
Will they break-down the tables at the end of the party?
Will they take care of trash and clean-up?
This, and whatever else you discuss for your particular event, should be included on the signed contract, and if there are any special meals, dinnerware, glasses, etc. Everything discussed pertinent to the party should be listed, not only to protect the planner, but the vendor as well.
Prospective caterers should visit your location so they can get an idea of your party setting. If they are familiar with the conference locations and hotels in the area, they may already have a good idea of the location.
Ask them to show you a sample menu and inquire as to how the food will be prepared. Not everyone likes blackened catfish or tofu salad. If you are planning a buffet, how will the caterer keep the cold foods cold and the hot foods hot? What is their clean-up procedure? You don't want guests sipping after-dinner coffee to hear the dishwasher or clanging pans.
How much of a deposit does the catering company require, and when is it due (this is but one reason why you need a deposit from your client)? Get a 24-hour number where the catering owner/manager can be reached in case the crew is late or worse, a no-show. Use a credit card to pay the caterer. A check gives you no recourse.
Besides a list of caterers, party planners should have a list of other vendors who help fill a variety of needs. Party planners have many needs vendors can fill, such as entertainment, rentals, printers, or invitation calligraphers, bakers, florists, decorations, certain production services -- and don't forget the photographer and parking personnel.
If you have completed your homework, you should have in your party-planner tool kit vendor brochures, flyers, business cards, and ad clippings. Make some calls; explain what you need, and your budget. You don't need to conduct as intense an interview as for a caterer, however, you will be signing a contract with all your vendors, and everything must be indicated on the contract.
On the list with the vendor name or business name, jot down their prices, areas of service, insurance, and licenses held, discounts offered, and any other pertinent information. Keep this information in your office. Also, ask the vendor for a complimentary sample, be it food tasting, a floral arrangement, a CD of the orchestra or singer, and a video of the magician. If you are planning a wedding, it's important to have a cake tasting with the bride and groom in attendance.
Support staff can be on call for your event, and can be a full-time professional during the day, and work parties and receptions week-ends and nights. You may want to have at least three bartenders in your staff file. These are people you pay independent of the caterer, professionals who you only have to say a few words to for them to know exactly what you need.