Archive : April 2010

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”

Will Virtual Events Kill the Trade Show Industry?

Posted April 2, 2010

Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Intercontinental, The Barclay New York
111 East 48th St. (Between Park Ave. & Lexington Ave.)
New York City

I’ll be moderating an interesting and timely program in April that I wanted to share with you. It’s hosted by IAEE, the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, and the topic is when and how virtual meetings should be considered as part of an event strategy.

With events & trade show costs more scrutinized than ever before, many are being scaled back or eliminated altogether. Will Virtual Meetings replace them? Or will the virtual platform provide a cost-effective way to leverage existing events? Join us, as a panel of experts discuss a variety of scenarios on what the future holds for virtual programs, live shows, and hybrid events. You’ll come away empowered on how to be the point person in your organization to oversee this growing area, and know when, how and if it should be implemented.

To register, click here.