Whether you plan weddings, reunions, fundraising galas or corporate conventions, there’s probably one time of year that’s busiest for you. For wedding planners, it’s often summer going into early fall. For corporate event planners, it may be the first quarter, after the year-end results have been tallied. No matter when your busy season is, these tips will help you do more in less time.
Automate your own planning
There’s a reason that what you do is called event planning. You need to plan ahead and plan for every possibility.
Developing a process for each type of event can help. Take the list of questions you ask a new client and beef it up. Include items that are specific to that type of event, like the list of speakers for a corporate meeting or a slideshow of yearbook photos for a reunion. Then drill down to the most minute details, like that one song the mother of the bride simply cannot stand, or the best way to get the CMO off the stage when his time is up.
Next, make a flow chart that shows the process for each aspect of the event. Depending on the complexity of the event, you may want separate charts for the venue, food, entertainment or speakers, and so on. Each chart should show what needs to happen at what point in time for each aspect. Include a designation for who can be responsible for each item, so you’ll know what you can delegate.
If you’d rather automate the process, you can use a Customer Relationship Management, or CRM, software program that you can customize to your business. Or, you can try a specialized event management software like PlanningPod, which is designed specifically for event planners. If you currently use a spreadsheet and just want to bring it to the next level, try SmartSheet, which has been described as a ‘spreadsheet on steroids.’
Two things to keep in mind when automating your event planning business. First, be sure to choose a program that works the way you work. Don’t change your processes to fit the program—it should work the way you do, not the other way around. Second, remember that event planning is, first and foremost, a personal business, so automate the behind-the-scenes stuff all you want, but make sure you never lose that personal touch.
Protect your business
The busiest season for your business is also the busiest season for mistakes. Protect all you’ve worked for with event planner insurance. It can protect your business from a claim or lawsuit based on something you or your staff did or didn’t do. It even protects you if you didn’t make a mistake, and it covers temporary staff as well.
Consider this: You’ve planned the gala of the season for your non-profit client at your city’s most prestigious museum. This is their major fundraiser and the source of the lion’s share of their annual donations. At the last minute, you learn the museum has accidentally double-booked for that date. You have to change the date, the charity brings in significantly less money than they anticipated because of the mix-up, and they sue you for negligence. A professional liability insurance policy could protect you, covering your legal costs as well as any settlement or judgment.
Ask if the subcontractors you use, like photographers and DJs, have their own liability insurance as well. Even though your coverage may protect you for the actions (or inactions) of sub-contractors, having their own coverage shows they take their business as seriously as you do.
The hardest part of owning your own business is turning down work. As you work to build your business, it’s natural to want to take on every client that comes along. But if you overbook, you won’t be able to do your best work for any client and you’ll end up losing future business and referrals.
Be realistic about the number of events you can accommodate and stick to it. If you have someone you can trust to manage an event while you are unavailable, you may be able to book two events on the same day. Just remember that no one has as much interest in seeing your business succeed as you do, so be involved in every event in some way.
Make sure your business is adequately staffed for the busy season. Cast a wide net, early on, to find people you can call on as business picks up. Like your clients, your staff will appreciate your advance planning skills so that you’re not frantically calling them at the last minute to fill a spot.
Understand the strengths of your regular help so you’ll know what tasks you can delegate. Use your CRM, if you have one, to keep track of people you’ve used and what they’re good at. Once you find people you can rely on, use them often and pay them well.
Eventually, your business may grow to the point where you can bring on staff full time. This will give you year round help so that you can devote more of your time to getting new business and strategic planning.
Budget for the down times
During your busy season when the money’s rolling in it can be tempting to make purchases and commitments that you may regret when things slow down again. If your business is truly seasonal, make sure you put some money aside to pay your bills—and yourself—during the lean months.
When you’re busy, it’s easy to let your invoicing slide. Be mindful of this, since staying on top of billing clients is the only way to make sure you bring in the money you’re expecting. Timely invoicing makes your business look organized and professional, too.
Once the last bouquet of the season has been thrown or the fundraising records have been broken, celebrate all you’ve accomplished during this busy time. Then, take note of what worked well for you, and where you can improve for next year. Put in place the processes and procedures you need to be more efficient when next year’s busy season rolls around.
How do you handle your busiest season? Tell us in the comments below.