Posts Categorized In Running Your Event Bus.:

Let the Big Dog Eat. (What golf can teach business owners about selling.)

Posted October 26, 2010

Costner in Tin Cup

I’m sitting in the conference room of a mid-sized event company talking to the owner.  He’s lamenting that he can’t seem to get his company ‘to the next level’ and wants my help.  When I press him, he seems to think he knows what’s holding him back.

“We need more sales,” he says.  “I need to hire a kick-ass salesperson.”

I tell him what kick-ass sales people go for these days, if you can get them, and then ask him how much time he personally spends developing new business.

“I really don’t have the time,” he answers, and proceeds to rattle off all the things that prevent him from doing so.

“These are all operational tasks,” I reply.  “If push comes to shove, they can be delegated.  But nobody can sell your company the way you can.  It’s time to let the big dog eat.”

I love using that line, which I picked up from Kevin Costner in Tin Cup.  Costner plays a wise but washed up golf pro giving advice to Rene Russo.  The ‘big dog’ is the driver, the biggest club in the bag, which she’s afraid to use.  Sometimes, he’s saying, the big dog needs to be let out.

“You’re the big dog in this analogy,” I say, driving the point home.  “The company needs you to be out there selling more.”

He starts with the “yeah, but . . .” face, but then nods his head sheepishly when he realizes I won’t take his bullshit.

Part of the problem with entrepreneurs is that there’s usually nobody around to challenge them, to push them to do what’s best for their company, even if that might force them out of their comfort zone.   So they gravitate to the areas they like, areas they feel safe in.  And they create a nice little cozy cocoon for themselves within their business.

Unfortunately, the comfortable place is not always where the business needs them the most.  Show me a business owner with the discipline to allocate his or her time in areas that is best for their business, and I’ll show you a company that’s getting to that ‘next level’.

Shaq may have grown up wanting to be a point guard, but at 7 feet tall, he had to play center for his teams to win.  Seems obvious when you look at it that way, right?

But part of the problem here is this business owner just doesn’t think of himself as the ‘big dog’.  “Don’t underestimate the impact to a client or prospect of dealing directly with a company owner,” I tell him.  “You can hire someone to help with your research, outreach, etc., but you yourself must be part of the sales solution.”

Before heading out I leave him a note, and tell him to tape it to his computer.  It reads: “If I want to get to the next level, I must let the big dog eat.  And I am the big dog.”

How to Land A Big Client . . . NOT.

Posted October 6, 2010

Dear Howard,

I’ve been trying to get my foot in the door with a big corporate client who does a ton of major events, including many big product launches, which are right up our alley.  I’ve been calling on them for almost two years, and have even been in to pitch them in person.  Finally they gave me an event to work on, only its so low end I don’t know if I should take it.  It’s a retirement cocktail party for 50 people for a low-level executive, with a budget that is paltry.  On the one hand the client says it’s a way to get into the organization.  On the other hand, I’m concerned that if accept this job I’ll be pigeon-holed into more small gigs.  What should I do?


Confused About My Client

Dear Confused, (OK, the person who emailed this to me signed it with their real name, not “confused”.  But it sounds better this way doesn’t it?)

Though you can find people who’ll argue the opposite, my advice is to turn it down.  In my 20+ years of running an event company rarely – scratch that, never – have I seen this strategy work.  Why?  Let’s say you’re the client’s boss and you’re given two companies to choose for a major product launch: a company that focuses mainly on product launches and other similar events, and a company that did a kick-ass job on the retirement party of some VP.  If you’re job is on the line, would you hire you?  No way.  The safe bet is the other firm.

Here’s another analogy.  Let’s say you do get the job and you need to hire a caterer.  Would you pick a vendor who’s done a ton of product launches, or someone who catered your office holiday party, but gosh-darn-it he wants to work his way in.  Or let’s say you’re being sued for $5 million by a client who claims his VIP guests got food poisoning at your event.  Do you bring in a ringer who defends these cases routinely, or hire an aggressive attorney who really wants your business and successfully argued a parking ticket for you?  You get the point.

But wait!  Confused says she too is a ringer in product launches!  Surely the client’s boss will see that, and appreciate how Confused did that VP’s retirement party as a good faith gesture, right?  Sorry, not right.  Unfortunately, simply taking on that much smaller event lowers your stature in the client’s eyes.  It’s not fair, but it’s reality.

Now, once you’re in and have done the big product launches, if they then ask you to do the retirement event, you can take it on and it won’t hurt you.  But as your calling card for moving up, it’s a tough sell.  You get branded as the small job vendor, and you’re far more likely to get requests for more of the same.  Then what?

I remember years ago I took on a high profile fundraiser for a new client’s non-profit for next to no money.  The client was a well-connected Park Avenue socialite, and she swore she would introduce me to her friends.  And she did.  You know what they said?  “I hear you gave Penny a great deal.  I want the same thing.”

It can be done, and I’m sure I’ll get my share of readers who will argue the point with me.  But by and large, the odds are not in your favor.  If it really kills you to walk away from this opportunity, here’s what I would suggest.

1.    Bump up your fees by at least 30%.

2.    Then, in the proposal or contract, type in a line showing a discount for that exact amount.  Write something like, “Special discount in exchange for allowing our firm to bid on your next product launch.”  Then you’re at least spelling out your quid pro quo: I’m doing this event SOLELY to get a chance to bid on this other bigger event.  Hey, it’s the truth isn’t it? They’re obliged now to allow you to bid on their next launch event.  Mind you, they’re under no obligation to hire you; just to give you a chance to bid on the kind of work you want.

3.    And if for some reason they push back, that’s your cue to run for the hills.

In America we’re all enamored with the narrative of the kid from the mailroom working his way up the ladder to be CEO.  That may have worked 50 years ago, but it’s a non-starter today.  Mailroom Johnny has no chance against a college grad with an MBA in today’s business world.

I know, it feels so un-American.  It’s like stomping on the Little Engine That Could.  But it’s not personal, it’s just business.  Tell your client/prospect that, “as much as we’d love to work with you, we’d rather wait for the right project.  Perhaps (insert name of your biggest competitor-let them be the sucker) might be interested in this smaller event?”

You’re Only As Happy As Your Least Happy Client. (Solution: A happy client is not the same as a successful event.)

Posted September 27, 2010

That’s my personal modification of a brilliant quote by Joe Paterno, the legendary Penn State football coach, who said, “You’re only as happy as your least happy child.”  And it’s equally brilliant when applied to working with clients.

The least happy client demands the most attention, pulling your time away from other clients, and generally making you tense.  Further, if you’ve got staff, it spreads. In 20 plus years of running an event company, every time, with no exceptions, a crotchety client became a cancer in the office.  Whoever was the lead account executive on that project would get incredibly stressed out, and the rest of the team (myself included) would lose productive time on their own clients having to calm her down and lend support.  Pretty soon, nobody’s happy.  The only benefit to the others was the perspective it gave them, the “thank god I don’t have to work with Lisa’s client!” comments.

And sometimes it wasn’t even that the client was nasty; sometimes they were sweet as pie, but just frustrated because their expectations did not synch with ours in terms of client service levels, deadlines, availability of our team, etc.

So what’s the solution?  Make your client’s happiness more important than the event’s success. Here’s how:

1.    Understand that those are two completely different things.  It’s possible to have a successful event and still lose a client, but it’s very rare to lose a satisfied client, even if the event goes south.

2.    Realize what will make your client happy, because it differs dramatically.  Some want you to take the lead and plow ahead, others want you to run every thing by them first.  Some are militant about sticking to budgets, others want to be told of great upgrade ideas regardless of cost.  The point is, make it your top priority to learn how your client wants to work with you.

3.    Religiously take your client’s temperature, not just on how the event planning is going, but on how they find the process of working with you.  Whatever feedback they may have, get it as early as possible so you have time to correct it.

Making your client’s happiness more important than the event’s success is a whole mindset shift.  When was the last time you were at an industry event and heard someone rave about how well they serviced a client?  But it’s what’s required to be successful in business.  And if need be, do it for selfish reasons.  The happier your clients are the happier you’ll be.

The Era of the Perma-Lancer. [Or, Temporary Freelancers Are Here to Stay.]

Posted September 19, 2010

The business cycle we’ve gone through these past two years in our industry has exhibited some fairly typical traits.

Phase 1:  The economy tanks, prompting companies cut back on event spending, which in turn prompts event companies to lay off workers.

Phase 2:  The economy stabilizes (albeit at a lower level), and event spending starts coming back.  But event company owners aren’t sure for how long, so they respond to the added volume with freelancers.  After all, with so many out of work planners, the freelance market has never been so good.

Phase 3:  A year later and that stabilized level of business has continued.  This inspires event company owners with greater confidence, and they start converting those temporary freelance positions to permanent jobs.

Or not.  Someone forgot to give event company owners the memo, because freelancers are everywhere.  Still.  I call this the age of the Perma-Lancer.

And why not?  I owned an event agency for 20 years, and trying to match the staffing with the workflow was always an adventure, particularly since our events never spread out evenly over the year.  We’d always be slammed in the fall and spring, and light in the summer.  But with good freelancers, you bring them on for a specific project, at a specific rate, and when the gig is over, well, see ya.  There’s absolutely no wasted capacity.

Plus, the freelancers I hired always had a rock-solid work ethic.  They never chatted much with the permanent folks, never took long lunches.  When they were in the office, they worked.  And freelancers sure won’t ask you about career growth.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you can get a far more qualified staffer if they’re freelancer.  For one, you don’t have to pay benefits.  In addition, while you might not have room to add a $100k a year person to your team full time, you might be able to bring them in at a comparable hourly rate for a limited engagement.

The big drawback, however, is there’s no guarantee that person will be available when you need them on your next project.  Still, that hasn’t seemed to make a significant dent into this new practice.  So many event firms either have enough work year-round to slot good freelancers into, one project after another.  Or, they are figuring out how to maintain a steady rolodex of freelancers, train them quickly on their internal procedures, and get them up to speed in no time.

This has truly created a new paradigm for growing an event agency, where firms are modeling their behavior after movie productions: for each project a dedicated team is assembled, after which they go their own way. Only the key principals remain.  Of course you can still build your agency the old fashioned way, by growing a bigger and bigger team.  But after the body blow the economy delivered to most business owners two years ago, this new model has a lot of appeal by enabling firms to expand as much as they need to, while keeping their fixed costs low.

Perhaps the only true impediment to this model will be when the corporate side begins hiring planners in greater numbers, drying up the pool of good freelancers.  But I sense even then this model will still be a viable alternative, given the seemingly endless flow of new bodies entering this field.

[I was going to title this post, “Temporary Freelancers Are Here to Stay”, but that sounded terribly oxymoronic, so I added the term Perma-Lancers.]

The E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Fail, & What You Can Do About It

Posted August 25, 2010

eventprofs blog awards nominee

Tell me if this story sounds familiar.

My friend Tom is a gifted carpenter.  After working for 15 years as the lead project manager for a contractor who built & renovated houses, he decided to go out on his own.  He’d learned everything there was to learn about a building site and managing a construction job, and grew tired of making lots of money for someone else.

Within six months he’d eaten through all the money he’d put aside to start the business, and was now dipping into his 401K.  Within a year he was putting major charges on his credit cards and paying the monthly minimum, incurring debt at 20% interest.

All this and he couldn’t understand why his business was failing.  He’d landed a bunch of jobs early on and they were all going well.  The workmanship was solid, his customers were happy; in short everything about the building of houses was going smoothly.  The business, however, was heading over a cliff.

Feel free to insert any other job into the above scenario, and it’s always the same.  Lawyer, architect, graphic designer, web developer, event producer, etc.  We all know people in our industry who are good at what they do, really good in some cases, and fail miserably when they go out on their own.  We look at their work, and wonder, “how on earth is this guy NOT successful?”

On the flip side, we see people who are mediocre at best at their craft, but who are very successful at running their businesses.  We look at their work and think, “how on earth IS this guy successful?”

The answer to both scenarios is neatly encapsulated in an eye-opening book called “The E-Myth Revisited”, by Michael Gerber.  It’s often one of the first books I recommend to business owners I consult for, as it’s easy to read and never fails to produce a ‘Eureka!’ moment.

Gerber’s tenet is basically this:  There is a big difference between being good at a craft, and being good at the business of selling and providing that craft. Too often people assume that if they’re good at being carpenters, or event planners, they should be able to run a business a carpentry or event planning business.  Sadly, those skills do not run hand-in-hand and are completely unrelated.

The easiest way to see this is in sports.  Pat Riley and Phil Jackson, two of the most successful coaches in NBA history, were mediocre players at best, in their day.  Isaiah Thomas, a hall of fame point guard for the Detroit Pistons, is only one of numerous all star players who failed miserably at running a team.  (I will never forgive him for wrecking my beloved NY Knicks).

What’s the difference in doing something and running a business?  There’s lots; financial planning, personnel management, pricing, marketing, etc.  Probably the most common areas I’ve seen people fall short are:

1)    in managing their pipeline of developing new business.  They get absorbed in producing events for their clients, and put off going after new ones until its too late.

2)    in properly pricing their services to allow for the time it takes to operate the business.  Too often they assume they can do X number of events a year, because that’s what they did when they worked for someone else, and forget to factor in the time it takes to run the business.

The first step is simply the realization that different skill sets are required between doing the craft and running the business, and it’s hard to do both, even if you’re good at both.

One successful example in our industry was Sarah Merians Photography, which for most of its 20 years or so in business was the dominant event photography company in the NYC area.  The firm was a partnership between Sarah Merians, who was the photography expert, and Elizabeth Beskin, who was the business expert.  Though they recently went their separate ways, with Elizabeth focusing on Fifth Avenue Digital (the corporate and online end of the business), and Sarah keeping the social end of the business, their partnership was something I always admired, and stands as a case book example of how a craft expert brought in someone else to focus on the business needs of the company.

At the end of the day, my belief is that a good business person will trump a good craft person, which is why you see people with mediocre event skills sometimes be quite successful in business.  The key is identifying which side of the spectrum you’re good at, and making sure you fill in the other side with someone who complements your skills.

If I Had A Million Dollars (for your business) . . .

Posted August 4, 2010

So goes the song by Barenaked Ladies, but I’ve also found it’s a great tool to use in diagnosing an event company, or any small business for that matter.  Here’s how it works.

ABC event company says to me, “We’re doing ok, but we can’t seem to get over this hump.  How do we get to the next level?”

Upon which I say to them, “If I gave you one million dollars today to invest in your business, or start a completely new one in the event industry, where and how would you spend it?”

Boy would you be amazed at some of the responses.  But in particular, it’s rare that someone answers the question by saying, “I’d do things exactly as I’m doing them now, only faster / bigger, etc.”  Anyone who says that believes firmly in their current business model, and deserves a pat on the back for their confidence.  (Whether their bus. model is correct is another matter.)bare naked ladies

Usually, however, people respond with surprising insight on their own business.  They would re-brand themselves differently, go after a different type of customer, offer a new service, overhaul the way they compensate their staff, etc.  And a fair amount say they would simply not invest in their business at all, but go into the industry in a completely different capacity.

Business owners are smart enough to know that the landscape in which they started their companies 5, 10 or 20 years ago is now very different.  There’s more competition, margins are tighter, clients are smarter, etc.  At the same time they see opportunities opening up in new areas in the event world.

This helps me to bring them to their come-to-jesus moment.  “If you would not invest that million dollars into your business the way it is today,” I say to them, “then why are you clinging to doing business that way at all?”  It’s really a fantastic moment of truth for an owner or manager to be confronted with their own business logic.

To be sure, making any significant change in the way we do business is time consuming and involves a degree of risk.   Our employees and customers may resist, and we may take a hit for a year or two during the transition.  But without making the changes we know we should make, I can virtually guarantee we’ll still be wishing for that next level for years to come.

And if you’re interested in what the Barenaked Ladies would do with $1 million, click here to read/listen.

Industry Awards: The good, the Bad, and the Spin

Posted June 18, 2010

And the winner is . . .

Not you if you haven’t entered anything.  No thanking the Academy, no trophy to carry around at the post-awards show reception to feel like a big shot, no sparkling hardware to show off in your office or reception area.

And, most importantly, nothing to market yourself or your company to your  client or boss as tops in your field.    Because, lest we forget, industry awards are not established to recognize the best work in a given field.  They are established to market the industry to the end user.

Before you yell at me for tearing off Tinkerbell’s wings, just look at the Academy Awards, which were created to market the movie industry.  In addition to the broad promotion the awards generate, individual movies use nominations to heavily market their films.  If they win, even more so.

We could all take a page out of Hollywood’s playbook in this regard, and do a better job of shouting from the mountaintops when we get nominated or win.  A common complaint among in-house planners has been the concern (annoyance is probably a better word) over management giving event planning duties to admins instead of themselves.  What better way to show your company the huge difference in planning skills than by letting them know you’re among the best at what you do.  Award recognitions are perfect third party validations of your value to your bosses.

I know at my old event firm, we put nominations and wins in our email signatures, sent out email blasts and newsletters announcing them, put it on our website, etc.  But the absolute best was in pitching a client and discussing a case study or showing it in a powerpoint deck, and adding the wonderful “we won an award for that event, by the way.”  [If you’re feeling really ambitious, develop a comprehensive marketing plan around the awards, or hire a PR/communications consultant to help you with it, such as Liese Gardner of Mecca.]

“Nah, I won’t bother,” you say, because . . .

1. “I’ll never win.” First of all, you don’t have to win.  You can get plenty of mileage out of just being nominated as a finalist.  Second, you might be surprised.  I used to be in this camp, until 2004 when I joined the Advisory Board of Special Events Magazine and judged their Gala Awards.  During a break I was editing a video of a recent event we’d produced when my judging colleague, Colja Dams of Vok Dams, Germany’s largest event agency, saw it and said, “you should have entered that event.  It would have gotten a nomination in the last category I judged.”  That was all the push I needed; we went on an awards-submission binge as soon as I got back to my office, and never looked back.

2.  “It’s too much work.” Yes, and no.  It does take some time, but the good news is:

  • Awards organizations have heard the complaints and most have been steadily minimizing the submission requirements to make it easier and easier.
  • There are a handful of great freelance writers who can help you with the writing.  I recommend Ruth Moyte of Red Dandelion Creative, who has experience in writing award-winning entries.
  • The more you do, the easier they get.
  • The judges don’t read every word.  There, I said it.  They should, and some do, but most don’t.  They look at the visuals (photos, video, collateral, etc.), and read enough of the written material to get their arms around the event and what you accomplished, and they make their evaluations from that.  Do not confuse this to mean they don’t make accurate judgments, rather, that you shouldn’t agonize over the written portion.  It doesn’t have to be a term paper.

3.  “The same companies win all the time.” Yes, that’s often true.  Wanna know why?  Because they enter a lot.  Andrea Michaels’ agency, Extraordinary Events is a case in point.  She’s probably won more industry awards than any other firm, in part because she’s made a priority of it.  If she has a strong event, she’ll enter it into multiple categories.  She has photographers shoot every event in great detail.  And, her submissions are meticulously prepared.

That said, after a while it becomes harder for people like her to win.  Judges subconsciously know EE has plenty of hardware, and, while they are not supposed to, they tend to favor newcomers; they don’t want to be seen as playing to the usual favorites.  So actually, you have a better chance than the industry heavyweights.  [NOTE: some contests are judged blind, meaning all identifying information of a company is removed from the submission before judges see it, so they don’t know whose work they are judging.]

4.  “The biggest events aren’t always entered, so the award doesn’t carry as much weight.” To quote Danny DeVito in Other People’s Money, “I have two words for you:  who cares.”  If the guys behind the Superbowl halftime show chose not to enter, that’s their problem.  Your client or boss doesn’t care, I’ll tell you that much.  They think if you won an award or were nominated that your work is best in class.  And it very well may be anyway.  We once entered an awards contest for the launch of Mariah Carey’s fragrance, M, and you know what?  We were the only ones who entered that particular category.  Think I care?  That was a killer event and I’m convinced we would have beaten anyone out for that award.  Not my fault people didn’t enter.

So get your butt off the couch, and show off your work.  Start with local competitions if you are gun shy, and then move up to national ones.  But get in the game.  And when you start working on that acceptance speech, remember to include all those inspirational bloggers that encouraged you along the way!

The Power of “Sorry”

Posted May 10, 2010

The client’s not happy.

Four words that send a shiver down the spine of anyone in the event or hospitality business.  Of course “not happy” in our world is customer service code for “furiously angry”.  The event can be spectacular, but if the client’s not happy, we are dead in the water.   Likewise, the event can be a train wreck, but if your client looks at you from across the room with unbridled joy and appreciation as he raises a shot of Patron toward you, all is good in the world.

Whether you’re a vendor or agency servicing a paying client, or an in-house planner dealing with an internal client, none of us are paying for our own personal events; we’re all accountable to someone.  And unlike most other service businesses, if a screw-up occurs during an event, there’s no pause button; you’ve got to roll with it.  When the CEO comes to the podium and the sound craps out, it’s hide-under-the-table time.  There’s often very little you can do.

One thing you can do, however, is not make things worse by blaming someone else.  When your CEO walks backstage, he does not care that the audio tech missed his cue.  He wants someone to be sorry, and since you’re his point person, that means you.

sorry mouse

Too often our initial reaction is to deflect blame onto someone else, so we don’t look bad.  Or worse, we push back, reminding the client that he signed off on the script change he insists you butchered.  All this serves to inflame the client further.  For now the discussion is no longer about xyz problem; now it’s about his frustration that you are challenging his need to vent and be heard.  And the anger he may have over the event mistake is nowhere near how angry he’ll be if someone doesn’t step forward and take responsibility.

Nothing takes the air out of an angry client faster than a sincere apology.  Once you accept responsibility for a miscue, there’s simply nowhere for him to go in the argument.  By not providing  resistance, he has no one to argue with, and it’s only a matter of time before he gets it out of his system.  Show your empathy, say what you’ll do to fix the problem moving forward if possible, and move on.

Try practicing this in front of the mirror, That should not have happened, and I take full responsibility for it happening on my watch.  Let me get to the bottom of why this occurred and I’ll debrief with you when the event is over.” Doesn’t exactly flow off your tongue, does it?  But said with the right combination of understanding and resolve, it comes off as extremely professional after a major gaffe.

Now, if event screw ups keep happening, eventually you’ll be out of a job, whether you become the ultimate apologist or not, as well you should be.  Otherwise, never underestimate the power of an apology.   Unfortunately we live in a culture where people don’t apologize until it’s too late.

Look at Tiger Woods.  His episode was front page news until, and only until, he issued a formal mea culpa.  On the flip side, when the Yankees’ Andy Pettite was found to have used steroids last year, he immediately fessed up and profusely apologized, and was instantly accepted back into Yankee fans warm embraces.

Yes, we live in a culture where nobody thinks to apologize.  The great irony of this, of course, is that we are an incredibly forgiving people once we hear one.

Where Our Big Ideas Go to Die. Part 2, Solutions

Posted April 28, 2010

In Part 1 of this post, I talked about the big ideas we have for improving our businesses and why we rarely get to them. They fall into Quadrant 2 of our four-quadrant grid (see previous post for actual grid), which is reserved for items that are important, but not urgent, meaning they do not appear time-sensitive and typically get postponed for another time. We instead spend our time on Quadrant 3 items, which are not important, but are urgent. In this post, I’ll review some strategies for making sure those big ideas actually see the light of day.

1. The first step is make them urgent, by giving them a deadline. You do this by breaking your big idea into smaller action steps, and then scheduling the time to work on them. And I mean really, actually putting them in your calendar, setting alarms for them and making darn sure, come hell or high water, that you follow through and do them. Think of this as scheduling your priorities, instead of prioritizing your schedule.

2. If you’re like me, that’s often not enough. Because deep down, you know they’re not really urgent; they’re kinda sorta urgent, but not truly. So you do the equivalent of hitting the snooze button and move on. One solution to this is to create a weekly chart each Monday morning listing everything you want to accomplish that week, which should theoretically only include items in quadrants 1 and 2. Then the following Monday you have a yardstick by which to measure your progress.

3. But perhaps you’re one of those people that can’t help but pick up the phone when it rings, or look at your email every time you get a new one. Normally such responsiveness is a good trait, but it’s a killer for quadrant 2 activities. A great tactic is to do your quadrant 2 activities in a different location. Often simply changing your environment can make it easier to focus differently. I found it hugely helpful to go into my conference room with my laptop and do my quadrant 2 work. In addition to helping me clear my head, my staff had an easier time leaving me alone when I was in there; they knew it was creative thinking time and respected my need for it.

4. If you’re still struggling, you need someone else to hold you accountable for progress in this area. It can be a paid business coach or an informal mentor, but it must be someone who is comfortable calling you out on your bullshit excuses when you raise them. A good business coach is worth their weight in gold if they can help keep you focused on your big picture tasks.

If you have solutions or tactics that have worked for you, please share them by posting a comment at the bottom of this post. For additional tips on getting your big ideas accomplished, take a look at Preston Bailey’s recent post on Procrastination.

There was a great movie a few years ago called Memento, about a guy with no short term memory looking for his wife’s killer. Every time he uncovers a clue, he has it tattooed on a part of his body so he will remember it when he inevitably forgets. It’s based on a clever short story by Jonathan Nolan, which I find very inspiring as it relates to this topic. I’ve included the key excerpt below if you’re interested.

Excerpt from Memento Mori, by Jonathan Nolan

Here’s the truth: People, even regular people, are never just any one person with one set of attributes. It’s not that simple. We’re all at the mercy of the limbic system, clouds of electricity drifting through the brain. Every man is broken into twenty-four-hour fractions, and then again within those twenty-four hours. It’s a daily pantomime, one man yielding control to the next: a backstage crowded with old hacks clamoring for their turn in the spotlight. Every week, every day. The angry man hands the baton over to the sulking man, and in turn to the sex addict, the introvert, the conversationalist. Every man is a mob, a chain gang of idiots.

This is the tragedy of life. Because for a few minutes of every day, every man becomes a genius. Moments of clarity, insight, whatever you want to call them. The clouds part, the planets get in a neat little line, and everything becomes obvious. I should quit smoking, maybe, or here’s how I could make a fast million, or such and such is the key to eternal happiness. That’s the miserable truth. For a few moments, the secrets of the universe are opened to us. Life is a cheap parlor trick.

But then the genius, the savant, has to hand over the controls to the next guy down the pike, most likely the guy who just wants to eat potato chips, and insight and brilliance and salvation are all entrusted to a moron or a hedonist or a narcoleptic.

The only way out of this mess, of course, is to take steps to ensure that you control the idiots that you become. To take your chain gang, hand in hand, and lead them. The best way to do this is with a list.

It’s like a letter you write to yourself. A master plan, drafted by the guy who can see the light, made with steps simple enough for the rest of the idiots to understand. Follow steps one through one hundred. Repeat as necessary.

Where Our Big Ideas Go to Die. Part 1 of 2: The Key to Why We Don’t Get Things Done.

Posted April 26, 2010


For anyone out there who, like me, constantly wonders why it takes so long to accomplish those big business-changing ideas, this grid is the key to understanding what’s getting in your way.  Let me explain.

Task Quadrants

Every year I’d go to at least 2 or 3 major industry conferences, the kind where I get on a plane, stay at a hotel, and immerse myself in new ideas.  These were my moments of inspiration & creativity, where I could get away from the day-to-day grind, get away from the clients, employees and vendors, and really clear my head to be open to new ideas.

I’d get on the plane home having figured so many things out to fix my event business, learned new ideas to pitch to clients, etc.  It was like when you returned from Club Med (do people still go there?) or some other really fun resort; you come back a changed person.  You’re going to exercise, eat right, whatever.  The clouds parted and you saw the light.

If you’re like me, those moments of clarity and inspiration would last, oh, maybe three days.  Then the notes, brochures and brainstorms go into “that place” where new ideas go to die.   For some people it’s a drawer that never sees the light of day.  For me, it was a round wicker basket I would place right in front of my desk so I could have daily reminders of my perpetual under-achievement.

These ideas all had two things in common: they were all things that would really help my business, and they were all things without any kind of deadline.  Eventually I got so frustrated that a friend recommended a great book called, “First Things First”, by Stephen R. Covey, who also wrote the more popular “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”  I’ll save you the trouble of reading it and share what to me was the most compelling nugget of wisdom: the grid at the top of this post.

The idea is to take all your tasks and put each one in one of these 4 boxes.  Easy enough, right?  The hard part comes next, when you have to discipline yourself to spend your time in the following order of priorities: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Everyone can agree on what goes into box #1: something very important and very time sensitive.  Everyone can also agree on box #4: utter wastes of time that are neither important nor urgent.

Where most people get tripped up, however, is boxes 2 and 3.  Theoretically, you should do your box #2 task before box #3, but we usually don’t.  Why?  Because box #3 items are constantly in your face, and are deadline-driven.  They’re urgent, but not necessarily important.  E-mails are a major culprit.  We all get bombarded with e-mails that are not mission-critical, but where we feel compelled to respond in some timely fashion.

By contrast, getting your website redesigned, which is of HUGE importance to your business, has no deadline.  It’s a typical box #2 item.  Meeting with your accountant, developing new leads, properly training your new assistant (so she can start taking box #3 items off your plate); these are all the things that get put on the back-burner, but shouldn’t.

How do you do all that?  In my next post I’ll review two strategies I’ve seen people use successfully.


61% of Planners Charge Flat Fee. See Rest of Survey Results.

Posted April 19, 2010

The results are in.  In preparation for a seminar I gave at Event Solutions in March in Las Vegas on pricing (“The Elephant in the Room: How, and How Much, To Charge”), I conducted a survey of 102 event planners from around the country.  Word spread that I was going to share the results, and I was quickly overwhelmed with requests.  Apparently there is a tremendous thirst for information on this topic, which prompted me to do two additional things, both of which are the reason I’ve had to wait a month before disseminating the results to everyone.

1)   I personally called around two dozen planners who completed the survey, to get further detail on some of the questions.

2)   I took the time to further analyze the information and wrote a comprehensive White Paper on the subject.  For who just want the raw data, you can download the pdf of the results here for free.  However some people wanted much more in depth information on the subject, and wanted to see a greater discussion on what the numbers mean.  If you’re one of those people, I encourage you to buy the White Paper, which at 20 pages is a pretty deep dive into this topic.

Survey question 1

What is your primary pricing model?

The question I was most interested in finding out was how planners made money.  I asked what the primary way of charging was, and the vast majority, 61%, said it was a flat / project fee.  Let me say here that there is no right way to charge; each has pros and cons, and provided the client is on board, it doesn’t matter how you do it.  However, my personal recommendation is in fact a flat or hourly fee, for a number of reasons, so I was pleased, though quite surprised, the number was so high.

On the question of commissions, 31% said they usually do accept them from vendors & venues.  If we scrutinize the numbers, however, this means that a decent chunk of planners whose main way of charging is with fees also takes commissions on the side.  (This analysis is explained in more detail in the white paper.)  Of the group that does take commissions, only 49% of them disclose this to their clients.  Personally, I think that number is really lower, as I think this is the kind of question that people tend to fudge on surveys.

I’ve become a big fan of transparency when it comes to pricing.  The main reason is it forces you to focus on the value you bring to the client, which is the holy grail of the entire equation.  So while it’s great to see that the majority of planners surveyed use some kind of disclosed fee, the commissions on the side is a potential hazard.

Hourly rate graph

What is your hourly rate?

In terms of hourly rates, 40% charge $50-99 / hour, with another 25% charging $100-149 / hour.  So two thirds are in this sweet spot of $50-150.  Most planners do not charge by the hour, and I asked those people to estimate what they would charge hourly if they had to, just to get a proper sampling.  There are numerous factors to take into consideration about these numbers, not the least of which is that they do not take into account regional cost differences, nor do they factor in differences in experience levels.  (More on these in the white paper), but it should give you a reasonable point of reference.

Again, please download a free pdf of the complete survey results below, and if you’d like more analysis, pros & cons of the different rates, etc. you can purchase the white paper.  Either way, this is a topic I’ll be blogging more about, so I’d welcome feedback from all of you on this subject, either directly on the blog as comments, or by emailing me offline with your thoughts.

Click Here for Full Survey Results

Click Here to Learn About the White Paper on Planner Pricing

Are There Too Many Event Planners Out There? If so, What Does it Mean for You?

Posted April 15, 2010

Is the Market Over-Saturated?

“Uggh.  Everyone’s an event planner now.” 20 year planner in Chicago.

“My event department got cut in half, and they’re giving some of my events to admins.  Can you believe it?  Admins!” 12 year corp. planner in NYC.

“Just lost a wedding client who’s hiring a friend (with no experience) to help her.  She wants to hire me for day-of only.” 7 year wedding planner in Dallas.

“They’re like mushrooms.  You go outside after it rains and it seems a dozen more planners have sprouted under a tree. They’re popping up everywhere.” 15 year event designer in LA.

Can we talk about this now?  Is it heresy to say there are too many event planners out there?  The quotes above were all given to me within the last month by frustrated, no, incredibly frustrated, event planners.  They are pulling their hair out.

What I want to know, however, is why anyone is surprised.  It seems like only yesterday when practically every planner I knew was complaining they were not getting enough recognition as professionals.  They wanted to be taken more seriously.  Well, they’re taken more seriously now.

Event planners appear, as professionals, in dozens of tv shows and movies.  The number of colleges offering courses in event management grows every year.  Trade organizations continue to develop best practices & industry standards.   New conferences and seminars are developed every year.  And, most importantly, it is now widely accepted that you need to have professionals manage social and corporate events.  In short, everyone’s wishes have been granted.

Is it no surprise then, that all this advancement and publicity have attracted gazillions of people to enter the industry?  This is the logical consequence of everything we all wanted, isn’t it?  What did we think, that the industry would take giant strides forward but that we’d keep it all to ourselves?

Welcome to a maturing industry, and get used to it.  Yes, our industry has grown, dramatically.  It’s not necessarily that are more events out there, but that more of the events are looking for dedicated event pros to handle them.  This is a good thing.

But we are also in an industry with no barriers to entry.  That means anyone can jump in and call themselves an event planner.  Get used to that too.  No licenses required (like having to pass the bar before you can practice law).  No equipment to buy.  Just some creativity, good organizational skills, and a client.

Years ago, the PR profession didn’t exist.  You had advertising, and that was it.  It’s only in the last 40 years or so that a dedicated profession developed to mange the media.  And now, it’s part of the landscape.  Well, the event industry has just gone through the same evolution.  And like PR, anyone can enter it, but not anyone can be good at it.

So complaining about all the planners “out there” is like trying to hold back the tide.  Hey, you want someone to have a cocktail with and commiserate about all the new competition, you’ll have a lot of company.  Count me in too, cause that’s a fun bitch-fest.  But when you wake up the next morning, it’s time to go to work on identifying what it is that separates you from the newbies.  (And by the way, we were all newbies once; let’s not get too full of ourselves.)  And if you’re a newbie, get ready to explain why you deserve a client’s business over a more experienced planner.   And it can’t just be that your price is lower, because there’s another newbie around the corner whose price will be lower than yours.

One of the smartest people in the NYC hospitality industry is Walter Rauscher, who was the Director of Catering at Tavern on the Green for many years (before moving on to Ark Restaurants).  He’s someone I look up to, who’s not afraid to speak his mind.  Many years ago when he was still at Tavern he said to me, “Back in the day I only had two competitors: the Plaza and the Waldorf.  It didn’t matter what kind of food we all served, if you had a big event you had to go to one of us, and we all made a ton of money.  Now, there’s a boatload of competition out there; libraries, museums, exclusive clubs; they’re all taking events.  Would I love to turn back the clock?  You bet.  Do I waste a single minute complaining about it?  No.  We roll up our sleeves and my team goes to work”