Special Event Planner: Vendors

As a special event planner, you will develop a very close relationship with a team of independent contractors, known as vendors. These people supply everything from flowers, cake, special effects lighting, and fog machines to food and beverages.

No event can function without the use of vendors. This is an area that can get very complicated for the individual planning an event who has absolutely no experience and no contacts. Whom should you hire to cater? How do you know that the cake will be delivered on time and to the right location? What happens if your vendor is unreliable?

A good event planner usually will be experienced enough to have made some contacts in the industry. There may be dozens of caterers in your city, but you will have direct knowledge of a few of them. By their reputations, you will know if they should be hired or not. In this business more than any other, events are planned and handled by people because of whom they know. Getting your name out is vital. Providing stellar products and services for a good price is essential. In this business, there are no second takes. You either get it right the first time, or you lose business. Bad press, deserved or not, will kill a vendor in this business.
Your Job as Director

As the event coordinator, your job is to be the director of the script. Your clients will give you the specifics of what they want and need for their event. You then reach out for your Rolodex, Blackberry, or computer database and get to work.

If your client wants a 1/5 scale model of the Titanic, your job is to know who can provide such an item. You do not have to provide it yourself, but you do have to know who can and will do it well.

You have to know who will be reliable and responsible. Your vendors absolutely cannot let you down. Your job as an event planner is difficult enough without having to second-guess your vendors. They absolutely must do what they contract to do, they must do it well, and they must be on time. It does not matter that your sister-in-law's big brother is starting a tent business. If his tents fail in a light breeze or he shows up an hour late or not at all, this will damage your reputation.

You are only as good as the people you contract to fulfill your needs and requirements.

What you do is make the initial contact, pose the request, give the vendors the specifics, and then verify immediately prior to the event that they will be there.

As stated previously, your relationship with the following vendors and others as your needs change will vary according to the event you are planning. For some events, your client wants only referrals to vendors and will then create a specific relationship with those vendors. Your job may be to confirm details, especially as the date of the event approaches.

Other times, your client will hire you and depend entirely on you to provide any and all of the services that will be outsourced to various vendors. Because it is your name on the line, you have to know these vendors very well, and have binding contracts for each event.

Floral Designers
Most events use flowers to provide atmosphere, decoration, and a feeling of luxury. The art and language of color is the floral designer's stock in trade. Your floral designer will know when gardenias are in stock and how much they are. Your floral designer will direct you to flowers that will do the job better than the ones you are thinking of.

The difference between a florist and a floral designer is that a florist can be an owner of a flower shop, or an employee of a flower shop, but has no specific training in floral design. A designer is trained to create art using flowers. Some designers specialize in exotic flowers, Oriental design, or weddings. Most designers continue to take ongoing classes and seminars in floral design and are always adding something new to their portfolio.
Interior Decorators

These folks learn all about color, design, and how to put it all together to create an atmosphere. In your career as an event planner, you likely will work with interior decorators/designers from time to time, especially when you are creating a theme event that needs a fair amount of time.

Bakers and Pastry Chefs

Some people get into this field because they have gone to culinary school, others because they are naturally good bakers. Most renowned bakers and pastry chefs will have studied and apprenticed with someone in the field who has established an excellent reputation. Those in this field excel when their fantastic creations taste as good as they look. It takes much more than just being good enough; you have to strive to be the best. These people will have pictures of their creations, and they also will have testimonials from satisfied customers available for you to read.

A chef is an individual who cooks as a profession. This individual can own or co-own his or her own restaurant, and is responsible for taking care of menu planning, food preparation, and presentation. Chefs often are consulted in the course of event planning because they are food experts. A consultation with a chef will allow you to prepare an event that is seamless from start to finish. A Hawaiian-themed luau may not support a menu of Beef Wellington and a 10-tiered chocolate cake for dessert.
Caterers also cook for a living, but they typically specialize in off-site events. A caterer is often thought of as a chef without a home. A caterer may work from home, out of a professional kitchen, or be part of a banquet facility that does not employ a full-time chef. A catering manager is responsible for booking events for a company and is actually an event planner who is employed by a catering or banquet company. The catering manager is responsible for pricing, contracts, designing the event, and the menu.
Vendor-to-planner Transition
It is often a possibility that you may already be working in a related field as a vendor for special events. This type of experience can prepare you for a position in special event planning. Floral designers, caterers, chefs, bakers, pastry artists, interior decorators, and many others all work with special event planners. There may be an opportunity for you to take advantage of your position in one of these related fields to become an intern or take part in a mentorship program with an event planner with whom you already work. As you have just seen, too, a catering manager is actually a special event planner for a specific company.
Confirming Details
Because the event planner is the director of the play, it is your job to confirm all details. It does not matter if you made the arrangements with each vendor or if the client did, it is still your job to contact each vendor, verify the information your client has given you, and update your timeline with each vendor so that you know when to expect her or him and the vendor knows when to arrive at the site of the event.
A timeline is your bible for an event. The timeline will list every task that must be completed prior to the event. The larger the event, the larger the timeline. Here is an example of a smaller event timeline:

This will be the area where a professional event planner will shine. During each of the steps of the timeline, there is bound to be something that will go wrong: Something unexpected may happen, critical personnel may cancel, the speaker may develop laryngitis, etc. A special event planner is someone who can think quickly, make an instantaneous decision, and have it be the right decision.
As you work with other people, assisting them during events, pay particular attention to the problem-solving skills of the planner who is ultimately in charge. Most of the time, this individual is confident, already has considered what could possibly go wrong, and what a good plan of action might be. By keeping an eye on every little detail, the successful event planner will avert disaster by being able to troubleshoot problems, large and small.
Money, Contracts, and Insurance
How to Get Paid

Getting paid is one of the primary goals of being in any kind of business. Planning special events is no exception. Getting paid in this business involves signing contracts, taking deposits, and sometimes being assertive when it comes to getting paid.
Most individuals in the special event planning career arena require initial non-refundable deposits to start work and receive their final payment before an event has occurred. It is always better to get paid before the event than to try to collect afterward.
When the Client Does Not Pay
Want to learn more? Take an online course in Special Events Planning.
If you have a client who managed to get out of paying the last portion of what is owed to you and your vendors, you either are out a lot of money or you need to sharpen your business acumen and establish a system to collect unpaid debts.

Most event planners prefer to start with a softer touch; a phone call reminder is the first step, followed by an e-mail. In the e-mail, refer to your previous attempts to contact him or her with times and dates.

If your client still does not respond, you need to write a professional letter, expressing your concerns and requesting that you be paid. Include the unpaid invoice and send the letter via certified mail. It is vital that you document your steps should you eventually have to consider using legal means to recoup your money.
Credit Card Authorization Forms and Charge-backs
Other instances in which it is difficult to get paid occur when a credit card you charged for an event notifies you of a charge-back from the credit card company. This means that your client disputes a charge to the credit card. Usually all the credit card company needs is to send a copy of the contract and authorization forms you had your client sign, enabling you to charge any cancellation fees, as well as unpaid charges to the card. The authorization form details the specifics of the event, as well as your cancellation policy.
Returned Checks
Once in a while you may get a check that is returned for insufficient funds. Contact your client by phone. Most of the time, it is merely a simple error. Follow the same steps as outlined above when attempting to get the money due you. Before taking legal action, you can take the contract and returned check to the bank manager. In many cases, the bank will authorize a release of funds to pay the check.
Creating a Good Contract

Trademark and copyright permission: You also may need permission from the following in order to prepare materials for your event, broadcast music, use text materials, photographs, advertisements, drawings, and drama pieces. Always check the copyright of the materials you intend to use. Copyright infringement is a serious offense and is punished accordingly.

  • Copyright permission may be obtained from one of the two major U.S. music-licensing companies, Broadcast Music International (BMI) and the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP).
  • Trademark permission must be obtained because distinctive trademarks are protected. If you intend to use a brand name in your literature, you must obtain permission first.
You also will need to go the extra mile and ensure that your vendors have the appropriate permits and licenses prior to your event.
Insurance Needs

In the special event planning business, the crystal ball foretelling the future is pretty hazy. You never can guarantee that everything will turn out as planned. For this reason, you need to be aware of various insurance programs that will protect you and your clients.

A sad fact of today's society is that when things go wrong, the first course of action is to bring suit against the offending party. Events are at very high risk of facing a lawsuit, and as a planner you need to understand this and protect yourself against potential losses by understanding insurance policies and how they affect you, your business, and your clients. Do not risk being unprotected.

Insurance promises monetary compensation for possible specific future losses. In return for this promise, you pay periodic premiums. There is a distinction between the insurance that covers you and your business and the insurance that your client should purchase for the event.

Your Insurance Needs
As your business grows, you will need to consider several types of insurance. It may be necessary to carry several insurance policies to protect you and your business. Talk to your insurance agent about the specifics of your business and how insurance can protect you. Consider it an investment in your future.

Here are just a few things that could possibly go wrong with an event:

  • Weather conditions disrupt travel or cause the cancellation of outdoor activities.
  • Venue damage is caused by fire, wind, or flood.
  • The venue becomes unavailable because of a double-booking mistake.
  • Speakers and/or entertainers do not show up as promised.
  • Power goes out or other essential production resource fails.
  • A quarantine or travel restriction is declared because of an outbreak of infectious disease.
  • Reduced attendance stemming from an unforeseen event leads to a loss of revenue. This can be devastating for fundraising events.
  • Damage occurs to personal property or that belonging to the venue.
  • Business reputation is lost.
  • Travel arrangements are delayed or disrupted because of bad weather, road blockage, or another unforeseen event.

Some of the possible types of insurance you may wish to consider include:

  • general liability insurance;
  • event cancellation;
  • promoter liability;
  • participant legal liability coverage;
  • liquor liability;
  • third-party property damage;
  • participant and spectator medical benefits;
  • weather;
  • fire;
  • flood;
  • earthquake;
  • accidental death and dismemberment;
  • rental equipment;
  • workers' compensation (for when you start hiring employees);
  • health insurance;
  • key man (or employee) life or disability insurance;
  • business property;
  • business Interruption;
  • unlimited certificates of insurance.

The vast majority of your events will go off without a single legal concern. It is only the smallest percentage that may have a problem, one big enough to actually cancel an event. In this case, the monetary loss could be enormous. Considering that there are all types of dangers, both natural disasters and the willful actions of people, you need to have insurance before putting on your next special event.

Insurance Needs of Your Clients

Your client also will need to consider obtaining insurance for the event. If you are not contracting with each vendor and venue yourself, your client must carry the appropriate insurance before a contract can be signed. This may cost your client only a few hundred dollars, but can protect against the loss of thousands of dollars' worth of event costs.

Client event insurance will protect your client should a vendor go out of business prior to the event. Should a vendor have a fire or a flood at his or her place of business, event insurance can protect against a loss, such as photography, as the insurance will pay for the photographs to be replaced. Should an event need to be postponed or canceled because of bad weather or some other unforeseen circumstance, the client's event insurance will cover these losses. It also can cover lost or damaged gifts and lost clothing, such as a bridal gown, on the day of the wedding. Client event insurance will cover damage to the venue and usually is worded to cover personal liability on the part of your client.

Many clients will balk at obtaining event insurance until they understand what it could cover. They would think nothing of insuring their $10,000 car, but until they realize that their event could cost that much or 10 times as much, they begin to see why event insurance is so important.

Some venues carry their own insurance, but some will require that your client buy additional coverage. A certificate of insurance is the document that outlines what will be covered with this type of insurance. Proof of liability is the evidence that your client will have to provide to the venue that the necessary insurance has been purchased.

Such insurance can start at a couple of hundred dollars and go on up to over $10,000, depending on the event that is insured, the venue, the duration of the event, and everything that is covered. Handling insurance matters is a very necessary task for you as an event planner.

Never overlook the need to take care of the legal aspect of your business. You are in business; act like a business.