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Working with People as a Special Event Planner
 
 

Working with People as a Special Event Planner

Being a "People Person"

There is no getting around it: To be a special event planner, you really have to like people. Not only must you like people, you must be able to interact with them easily, get shy people to come out of their shell, talk hysterical people out of their mania, and convince stubborn people that your ideas might work better.

Not sure you are ready?

The best news of all: You always can develop your ability to work with and talk with people with practice. One book that is frequently recommended to people who will be dealing with people in their line of work is Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. My father was excellent at dealing with people. He was a self-employed certified public accountant (CPA) and was known in our little town as the only man in the world who could greet a client, give her or him the bad news that thousands of dollars were owed to the Internal Revenue Service, and have the client leave smiling. My father was the consummate "people person," and I know that he read Carnegie's book and attended various lectures, seminars, and trainings on becoming even better at his ability to build relationships with people.

This type of learning is called "personal development," and some of the best minds in the field recommend that you attend to your personal development every day. Remember our discussion of "the formula"? It is suggested that you read one book on personal development a month, listen to a training on compact disc or podcast, and try to attend one seminar every year or two. Until you do this, you will not realize just how much your business can suffer from an individual who has not learned how to deal with people. By learning to be a leader, to be persuasive, to be a team builder, and to be a salesperson, your business will reach the stellar heights it otherwise might not reach.

Client Relationships

Your relationships with your clients will be as varied as the events they hire you to plan for them. Some relationships will be very formal and structured. Other relationships will be much more casual. With some clients you always will wear business attire, whereas with others you will meet in your casual weekend clothing. What you must remember, however, is that it is your client that determines the nature of your relationship, not you. Whatever you client seems to prefer is what you should offer. You will find yourself much more personable when you reflect your client back at them. If the clients are more low-key and speak in a quiet voice, it is best to modulate your pitch and cadence to match theirs. If they are more excitable and enthusiastic, again, match your demeanor with theirs.

Always remember that you get only one chance to make a first impression, so make sure it is a good one. Areas to work on are your phone etiquette, your manners, your communication skills, and your ability to relate on a personal level. Ask someone to evaluate how you come across, both on the phone and in a meeting. Ask that person to evaluate your voice, your tone, your speed of speech, and your eye contact. Most of us do not realize that we may talk too fast, not give enough detail, or simply are confusing. If your client cannot understand you, he or she will simply walk away and you may never know why.

Even though the special event planning business is not one where you put on a suit and answer to a boss every day, you still must maintain a level of professionalism that your client has reason to expect. Each area of special event planning will require a different degree of professionalism. The corporate arena usually is much more businesslike because of the business nature of the client. Each event will dictate what attire you should wear. You never would consider wearing cutoff shorts to a formal wedding, nor would you wear a three-piece suit to a renaissance festival.

What you need to do is aim for a consistent level of professionalism with yourself and your staff. Remember that you never know who your next client will be. Be courteous and professional to everyone, from the courier who delivered your contract to your hairdresser. Both of them could become potential clients.

When talking on the phone, try to do two things: smile and stand up.

When you smile as you speak on the phone, the warmth of your smile resonates in your voice. When you stand up, you sound alert, energetic, and eager to be of service.

Remember your manners at all times. The manners you use, from gum chewing to constantly interrupting can set the tone for your relationship with your client and put you in a bad light. Use good manners at all times. Always be the better person. Say "please" and "thank you". Never call a client after business hours unless it is a dire emergency. Do not allow your meetings with clients to be constantly interrupted. Most of all, be on time.

Want to learn more? Take an online course in Special Events Planning.

Vendor Relationships

Your vendors are the lifeblood of your business. Having good relationships with your vendors will make your business better because you will not have to be checking up on them constantly and worrying about whether they will come through for you. Establishing relationships with floral designers, caterers, bakers, pastry chefs, etc., will allow you to give your clients the assurance that the quality that they seek will be evident on the day of the event.

Your vendors will be found by asking other event planners whom they use. They rely as much on their reputation to maintain their standard of business as you do. When in doubt, refer to the section at the beginning of this article on being a "people person." Treat others with respect and dignity. Work with them rather than against them. Do anything you can to create goodwill among them. Try to have cold soft drinks and water available to the vendors who deliver to you. If you are a floral designer and need a staff of six for a large wedding, be sure to arrange for food for your workers. Not only will this keep your workers from getting hungry and grumpy, it also will keep them working when you need them to be working, rather than leaving their duties to look for the nearest vending machine.

You also may consider treating your vendors as guests at various events. Whenever it is possible and appropriate, include your vendors on a guest list for an event you are planning and hosting. Invite your vendors to your holiday staff parties. You also may consider offering your services for no charge for small events. Let us say your caterer is planning a 50th wedding anniversary for his or her parents; offer to plan it at no charge. You already have the connections, and a little bit of goodwill goes a very long way.

Staff Relationships

For your business to flourish and run smoothly, your relationship with your staff needs to be good. They need to be good, dependable workers so that you know you can rely on them. You must do more than pay them well. People need to be recognized and thanked for their efforts and contributions. Is your place of work a fun place to work? Do most of your staff smile during the day or do they look like they are going to get a root canal done? The environment in which one works is more important than how much a job pays. Being a great employer will attract great workers.

Whenever you get a chance, show your staff members how much you appreciate them. Thank them for their services, even if they just gave you your phone messages. Do not gossip at work. It is a negative activity and only leads to divisiveness and discontent. Pay your people as well as you can and offer them good benefits. Find out their birthdays and anniversaries and recognize them annually for that. Take time out to check out new venues together, especially if those locations offer something unusual, such as a vineyard, chocolate factory, or new theme park.

As stated with vendors, feed your people on event days. They will work better and more efficiently, and you will be less stressed. Build camaraderie with your people by getting involved with a local charity. Perhaps you can have semiannual softball games with other groups, with proceeds to be donated to charity. Remember the suggestion about personal development? Make arrangements for your staff to attend a training that you know to be of value, and you should pay for it. Have a company event that is just for your staff and just for fun. By nurturing your staff, you will reap huge benefits. Most really good event planning companies have very little turnover because their people are very content with their work and their working environment. Work hard to create that in your own business.

When the Chips Are Down, Would You Want to Work for You?

It may be time to take a good look in the mirror at you as an employer. Are you fair? Do you give good feedback? Do you value employee recognition?

The best way to find out is to send out anonymous evaluations. Because they are anonymous, your people will feel better about addressing a negative concern. This could be painful for you, but if you really take the time to evaluate their answers, you will turn yourself into a wonderful employer with a truly dedicated staff. This kind of a powerhouse can only succeed, no matter what the economy does. Ask yourself, "Would I work for me?"

Networking

In the business of special event planning, you are limited by whom you do not know. Your business grows only by the contacts you make, both inside and outside of your prospective business. You need to learn how to talk about your business in social settings without coming across as the guest who asks the doctor attending the same cocktail party for free advice about a problem with gallstones.
It Is the People You Know

Cicely Rocha-Miller of Life Design Events in Phoenix, Arizona, believes very strongly that your business grows only by whom you know. She started her career in a nonprofit business that recognized and used her talents. She recognized the importance of those contacts she made before she started her own business:

Q: When you started, you came off the nonprofit, getting your feet wet by doing the events, but then you just decided to one day "hang out your shingle,"saying that you are in business for yourself.

C: That's exactly what happened. I had an "aha!" moment when I realized that there was a big need for nonprofits out there and I felt that a lot of community members that were involved with the agency that I was [with] back then were involved in many other charities as well. They were all looking to me to help them, and I thought it would be wonderful to do this full time, but I just could not do it. Quite honestly, if I did not have the support of my husband, my family, my close friends that were really there for me from the beginning, I really would not have been able to do what I did.

Q: Cicely, I think that is the case with just about any successful business, really and truly. All businesses, especially when you build them from the ground floor up, it is blood, sweat, and tears 99 percent of the time. About 1 percent of the time is rejoicing and great success, but the rest of the time you're working. That is the only way a legitimate business comes into being and ends up staying. Would you agree with that?

C: Absolutely.

Q: From what I hear, you are considered to be one of the best in Phoenix, and that is not something that is easily accomplished.

C: Thank you. I find that it is constantly being out there and marketing yourself. No one is going to do that if you're not going to do it.

Q: With the TV spot, how did you arrange that? Did you arrange it or did they come to you?

C: I have a relationship with Channel 15, where I did a reality TV show last year, just an episode, and I sent out a press release…that is something we were taught how to do that in school, and I did some PR for the charity that I worked with, so I had relationships with the media outlets. I sent out a PR saying, "A local event planner is on International Reality Show." Then Stephanie Sandoval called me and said that they would like to interview me. I've been on the show about six times since then. We have a good relationship now and she called me and said, "Cicely, Super Bowl's coming up, can you pull something together in a couple of days and be down here on Friday morning for our live morning program?" Absolutely, and I got right on it. I think that if I invest in an ad or I invest in a conversation with someone, I don't want to sound like I'm getting something out of everything I do, but even if it is five years from now that somehow I'm going to be recognized for that time, or that ad, or that investment. It might not be initially, but somehow it is going to come back to me.

How to Become Known

You have to get your name known. Initially, your business will start small and most of your clients will be people you already know or people who know someone you know. As you begin, get letters of reference from those people. This will go a long way toward building your reputation as a good quality special event planner. Soon you will have a complete stranger come to you, and you will be able to provide letters of reference from satisfied clients and allow your potential client to call them for a reference.

Always have a business card on you. You never know when it might pop up in conversation, and if you make a good impression on someone, it is essential to have a business card so that the person leaves with your contact information. Work with a good graphics designer to design the material for your company. Get references from prospective designers before you hire one because your marketing literature will reach many people, and it is essential to make a good impression.

Jeanne Birmingham of White Poppy Floral Design in Phoenix, Arizona, was contracted by a bride to create the floral arrangements for her wedding at one of the five-star hotels in the Phoenix area. Jeanne had been trying for months to contact the facility planner of the hotel to no avail. As she was setting up for the wedding, some of the facility planner's staff approached Jeanne because of the quality of her designs and asked her if she would be interested in being on the staff's list of preferred vendors for brides in the future. Simply being in the right place at the right time gave this floral designer the "in" she had been seeking for months.

Know that you are always on stage. If you have your business name on your personal automobile or you regularly drive your business vehicle, do not speed, and do not be an aggressive driver. Negative advertising will be the result. Some people write down names and numbers of businesses they will never contact because the company vehicle threatened them in some way in regular highway driving.

Volunteering


One of the very best ways to become known is to volunteer your services for charity events. They found that they liked the work, and subsequently they volunteered to help plan special events for various charities. Make sure that the person who is in charge knows who you are. If you want to get your name out there, you cannot be a shy violet. Make sure the main person knows your name and what you have done for the event. Before too long, you will become the "go to" guy or gal for various needs. Soon, this will develop into a regular list of potential clients.
Mingle with Other Event Planners

Ask them questions. Do not be afraid to find out about your business. Most of the time, there is plenty of work for every event planner in your city, and you will find yourself working time and again with some of the same people. It is OK to ask questions, such as "How is business?" This is a good way to find out whether the trends you are seeing in your business are happening to everyone. How do you attract new clients? This is a great way to find out how to market your business.

It is a good idea to ask questions of people outside your specific niche because they may have ideas that you never considered. Here is a great question to ask: "If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?" Cicely Rocha-Miller of Life Design Event Planning in Phoenix said this:

Q: That takes me to the next part of what I wanted to talk about. I did see your television spot that was on your Web site, I think it was from this year's Super Bowl, where you did the foodball mums. How do you balance…because it sounds like you are so incredibly busy, how do you balance working your business and marketing yourself so that you have business next week?

C: It's hard. I think if I had to do it all over again, I wish that I would have partnered with another planner. I wish that I would have had the opportunity to work for a caterer or a resort because owning a business and being an event planner are two different things and many women do not understand that. So, it is really, really hard to constantly be out there, to be legitimate, to be marketing yourself, and networking is really key. If it weren't for Jeanne, I wouldn't be talking to you right now; you have to have good relationships.

Q: You said if you were to do it again, you would actually partner with somebody?

C: Yeah.

Q: What is preventing you from doing that now?

C: Because I've put so much blood, sweat, and tears into my company that I really don't want to merge with someone else. Would I open up the opportunity to the right girl? Absolutely! That might happen. My feelers are out there, and ultimately I don't want to plan events for the rest of my life. I want to be able to run the company and have this tremendous company with many event planners and be able to manage that and see it grow. I have some big, big dreams for it. I would have loved to get with somebody and "let me help you grow what has already been established."

Attend and Participate in Trade Shows


Trade shows can be expensive, but by attending them you will avail yourself of the latest and greatest in your field. Everyone who wishes to better himself or herself will attend a trade show in the pertinent business field because the newest ideas are going to be presented in the very best of ways.

Me: Let's talk about vendors, what types of vendors do you deal with?

C: I think the easier question would be what types of vendors that I don't deal with. Really, because people are really getting so outrageous in their events. It hasn't been as much lately, but even last year the crazy ideas that people were coming up with and it was up to me to look in my little Rolodex and see who could provide those services.

Me: Give me some examples of some of those "out there" ones.

C: For example, an oxygen bar, or I needed to rent a photo-booth, or a lip-reader. I saw a service that a woman could put lipstick on your lips, blot it on a napkin, and was able to tell your fortune by reading your lip-lines.

Me: And you had to find that person?

C: Yeah! Someone had read something in a magazine about it, and I thought "Are you kidding me?" but I had to try to find this and she actually exists.

Me: How did you find that?

C: This was through a local chapter called ISES, which stands for International Special Events Society, so I reached out to my chapter, asking if anyone had ever heard of this service, and a lot of times it might even be within my own network of planners. We all befriended each other. We understand that we compete against each other, but we also use each other as resources and ask "Hey, have you ever heard of someone who has done this, or this is what I am in need of…does anyone have a resource for that. You can be asked to find some really unique things, for sure.

Me: When you have someone like that who is very unique, how do you know they are going to come through?

C: It has to be history. With this industry specifically, it is really all about relationships and who you know. There is longevity, there is a history there, there is the network of what people are saying about you and the work that you have done. I've certainly been educated by others in my networks who have had bad experiences with other vendors and have chosen not to go with someone specifically because I trust in my network's professionalism and opinion of who they work with. Their morals and business ethics are aligned with mine, so I take their opinion very seriously.

Me: Are there vendor shows or exhibits, so that you can always be on the lookout for unique or fresh talent?

C: Absolutely. There was just a special event in San Diego that was in January, done in partnership with ISES. Cater Source just did something last month, which is a big convention that is at the Las Vegas Hilton every year. Then there is another one in Miami. There also are specific opportunities that are just educational and not necessarily product-based for professionals who are trying to grow their business more on a professional level rather than services rendered. There is also one coming up in the Cayman Islands in June that is another option. There are always conferences and different things going on.

Me: People come in from all over the country to investigate this?

C: No! From all over the world!

Build Networking Relationships by Partnering in Marketing Endeavors

In the field of event planning, you will find that your business overlaps the business of others in related fields very often. When this happens you can find a treasure trove of ways to combine your efforts to the benefit of both of you. A wedding planner interviewed for thisarticle really works hard to get her events publicized. When this happens, the vendors with whom she works often will get credit based on the content of the article or what is included in the article. The floral designer often is mentioned because flowers are included in a photograph in an article. Mere mention of the photographer, the caterer, and the venue will give all these vendors the opportunity to include this event in their "brag books." Whenever possible, try to establish relationships with people who have good connections with the media. Every time your business is mentioned, it is free advertising and more business being sent your way.
 
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