Back to School Shopping … for Events

Can I let you in on a little secret? Back to school shopping isn’t just for kids returning to school! It’s a great time for you, an event planner, to stock up on basic supplies and necessities you may need for upcoming events, especially if you are not part of a larger organization able to order in bulk from office supply companies.

In addition to great back to school prices on office supplies, many states offer tax-free weekends where you can save additional money on school necessities and computers.

Here is a list of items you can typically find discounted during back to school sale events that you may want to stock up on for future events:

  • Pocket folders
  • Binders
  • Pens
  • Pencils
  • File folders
  • Spiral notebooks
  • Sharpies
  • Binder clips
  • Copy paper
  • Dry erase markers
  • Staplers
  • Staples
  • Paper clips
  • Post-it notes
  • Highlighters
  • Markers
  • Index cards
  • Scissors
  • USB sticks
  • Tape
  • Office storage supplies

Even if your event isn’t for a while, stocking up early is a great way to save a little extra money. For some event planners, saving a hundred dollars here and there isn’t really a necessity. For others, it can be the difference between providing something extra for your attendees or not. I’ve programmed events where literally every penny mattered, so finding simple ways to save money was vital.

Back to school sales aren’t the only times to look for items you can find at discounted prices, however. Sales around Thanksgiving and Christmas (specifically Black Friday and Cyber Monday) typically offer excellent deals on things such as board games. This can be a great time to pick up extra items to have available for guests during afternoon free time or evenings sitting in hotel lobbies.

With a little forethought and a willingness to brave the sometimes crowded stores offering deals, you can save money in your planning process.

What about you? What do you like to stock up on before an event? Comment below!

Benefits of a Conference/Retreat Center

Determining a venue for an event is one of the foundational elements of event planning. Where will your event take place? What are your facility needs? Where will attendees travel from to attend your event? These are just a few of the questions you will have to answer as you begin to find an event location.

Some events are best suited for large cities with many hotel choices, easy airport access, diverse restaurants, and highly-anticipated tourist stops. Others are more suited for “off the beaten path” type venues. Regardless of your event type, knowing your planning team and guests’ expectations and your venue’s ability to fulfill those are both equal parts of the formula for a successful event. Have you considered a conference/retreat center to be your one stop shop for your next event?

Here are a few benefits of choosing a conference/retreat center:

  • Everything is in one location. Housing, food service, and conference spaces are all centrally located. Typically, all are in easy walking distance for guests. Attendees can return to their rooms without the hassle of needing a car (which inevitably leads to the dreaded finding your car, paying parking fees, and then searching for a parking space upon your return).
  • Conference centers foster community. With your guests in one location, there are enhanced opportunities for conversations to take place and relationships to form. Walking to and from various facilities, eating meals together, and conversing in common areas after evening sessions are just a few of the ways conference centers can provide outlets for community and networking.
  • Transportation is a little less complicated. This is a twofold benefit of a conference center. First, if guests or event staff are flying to the destination, they can be shuttled in groups to the conference center. Because transportation most likely won’t be needed while on property during the event, this will eliminate the need for rental cars, thus saving money. Second, once guests arrive, if they drove, they can leave their vehicles parked throughout the event, thus avoiding parking fees and the stress of trying to find parking spaces in crowded lots or streets.
  • Equipment is often readily available without a rental company. While this isn’t always the case with every need, conference centers will often include equipment in the price or at a discounted rate. For example, at Ridgecrest Conference Center, use of the large auditorium includes audiovisual equipment such a full range PA and sound board, lighting, and projection. What could cost you up to $10,000 per weekend from a rental company is included at no additional charge if your group meets requirements for this facility. Fees from rental companies do not include the labor to run it, and most conference centers have staff on hand to run these at minimal or no additional cost.
  • On-site recreation and other activities can enhance free-time. Many conference centers have recreational activities on site. These often include high ropes courses, team building elements, hiking trails, disc golf, and basketball/volleyball courts. In addition to recreation, conference centers often have gathering places like coffee shops and other purposed locations to get away, reflect, and relax.

Conference/retreat centers aren’t for every event, but they provide the perfect location for many. If you’re looking for a conference/retreat center, check out ccca.org or iacca.org.

 

Event Planning 101: Budgeting

Budgeting is an integral part of the event planning process. In fact, creating a budget is one of the foundational steps to developing your event logistics. While there can be an element of “guesswork” in budgeting, it is vital to your event’s success. If creating a budget seems a bit daunting, consider this basic premise: don’t spend more than you have! Here are a few helpful hints as you begin your event budgeting process:

  1. Know what you need. Make a list of everything you need for your event. Marketing, speakers, worship leaders, audiovisual rentals, travel, printing, venue, caterings, office supplies—be thorough as you brainstorm. As you develop your list, include subcategories for broader items. For example, “office supplies” might encompass everything from name tags and Sharpies to large post-it pads and dry-erase markers. While you don’t have to list basic supplies such as paper clips and staples, be on the lookout for more “out of the ordinary” items that you don’t have on hand and will have to purchase. In addition, create an “emergency” category for all of the unexpected expenses that will undoubtedly arise (and often break your budget).
  2. Know what it will cost. Once you have your list of items, determine cost estimates for each of them. This will take time, but meticulous research will only benefit you in the long run. Separate expenses into two categories: fixed and variable. Fixed items are those that will be the same price regardless of how many attendees you have. These include costs such as speaker fees, audiovisual rentals, venue expenses, and pre-event marketing. Variable costs are those that fluctuate based on the number of guests attending and can include catering, housing, printing costs, event supplies, etc. As you record costs, err on the side of higher amounts. This will give you a greater financial cushion.
  3. Know your bottom line. Consider these two factors when determining your bottom line: will your organization be supplementing any costs and what will your program fee be? In order to determine a program fee, it’s important to know your financial purpose. Are you just trying to break even for your event, or are you trying to make money? In order to budget for a break-even event, determine a realistic number of guests you expect to attend. Be conservative! Divide your expenses (determined in step 2) by the number of attendees expected. This will give you an estimated program fee. If your organization will be supplementing any costs, factor this amount into your expenses prior to developing your program fee. As you analyze this fee, think about what your attendees can realistically pay. You can create a great event, but if the fee is too high, your attendance will be limited. If you hope to make money, set your program fee at a higher rate than needed to simply break even.

Budgeting is a tedious process, but careful planning can allow you to create the best “bang for your buck.” Budgeting conservatively can also give you the freedom to have a few extras if your event registration comes in at higher numbers than originally planned.

 

Contracts 101

 

Event planning and contracts … the two go hand in hand. For seasoned event planners, contracts are often second nature. For new event planners, contracts can seem daunting with the legal jargon. This blog post is here to help.

What is a contract?
A contract is simply defined as an agreement between two or more parties. It is legally binding in a court of law. Contracts are in place to protect both parties.

Do I have to sign a contract?
Yes! If a company doesn’t offer you a contract, request one. This is your safety net when it comes to executing your event.

Who signs the contract?
This can be a little harder to clearly define since your church or organization might have rules set in place. Make sure to contact those in leadership positions within your organization prior to signing a contract. The person signing may be held financially responsible.

What should event contracts include?
It is not uncommon to have contracts with multiple entities. Depending on your event logistics, you may have contracts with a venue, hotel, guest speaker, worship band, rental companies, catering companies, etc.

Every contract should include dates and rates. Dates can include the actual event date plus any type of cancellation policies. For contracts with speakers or bands, clearly defined travel arrangements should be included. Contracts with musicians and some speakers also come with riders, documents explaining technical and hospitality needs. Rental and catering companies should include specific items requested and set-up/tear-down times, as well as dates to give a final guest guarantee. Housing contracts should include room types and dates pertaining to when and how room blocks can be adjusted (and any related financial impact).

In addition, all contracts should have an “Acts of God” or “force majeure” clause in the event a natural occurrence cancels or significantly alters an event.

What makes a contract binding?
In the past, verbal contracts were solidified by a handshake, or, if the parties really wanted to reach an agreement, the handshake might include spitting on the hand prior to the shake. Thankfully, spitting on hands isn’t a common practice today. Contracts are fully executed once signed by both parties. In some cases, a deposit might be required, as well.

What should I do before I sign a contract?
READ IT. All OF IT. And read it again. Know what you are committing yourself to before signing the agreement. Be detailed as you go through each section. Have another person read it, as well. As you work with contracts from different entities, cross reference them to make sure there are no discrepancies. For example, if your venue states you cannot bring in outside food, yet your worship band requires a certain type of food in their green room, you’ll need to make sure the catering company through the venue will be able to provide that and at what cost. Read it … and read it again!

What should I do after I sign a contract?
Keep a copy on file to refer to as needed. Also, go through each contract and note deadlines for various tasks. Schedule these on your calendar a week prior to when they are due in case you need to complete any additional work to meet that deadline. Deadlines could include room block adjustment dates, guarantees for catering, housing lists and room set-up forms turned in, and so on.

Event planners, don’t be afraid of contracts. Contracts are put in place to protect both you, your participants, and those you are working with. Realize they are legally binding, and you will be held to the terms of the agreement. Read them carefully. If you don’t understand something in the contract, ask prior to signing. Understand what you are committing to before you commit to it.

 

Ideas for Planning Unplanned Free Time

Free time can be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, you want to give your participants time to rest and relax. On the other hand, downtime can lead some guests to ask, “What can I do now?”

Oftentimes, free time in an event schedule is intentional. This could take place in the afternoon after a morning of workshops or in the evening after the main session. As an event planner, it can be a challenge to know how much to plan or how much to “let happen” on its own.

Sometimes, however, downtime at a conference happens unexpectedly. Perhaps the hotel accommodations are not ready upon check-in. An activity may be rained out without an indoor alternative. Your main sessions may dismiss much sooner than expected.

A great option to have on hand for free time (both planned and unplanned) is an assortment of games to play. These can include board games or simply decks of cards. If you regularly host events, you might consider investing in a supply of games. Otherwise, you can ask some of your event team if they are willing to bring games from home or invite your guests to bring their favorites. If you are in need of ideas, here is a list of great group games that are easy to learn, easy to set-up, and easy to engage others:

  • Apples to Apples
  • 5 Second Rule
  • Bananagrams
  • Catch Phrase
  • Spot It
  • Decks of cards (Spoons, Hand and Foot, Crazy Eights, etc.)
  • Uno
  • Phase 10
  • Jenga
  • Blokus
  • Mexican Train Dominoes
  • Scattegories
  • Balderdash
  • A to Z
  • Rummikub

Some of your guests’ greatest memories may come from time spent around tables playing games after a day of teaching sessions. In the midst of the laughter and a little friendly competition, your guests can experience fellowship in a relaxed environment.

What are some of your favorite board games to play with a group of friends? Share them in the comment section below.

 

20 Ideas for Facebook Live

You’ve decided to utilize Facebook Live in order to market your upcoming event. Where do you go from here? Before making your first live stream, invite your team to a brainstorming session for content ideas. Determine how often and when you want to “go live.” Some videos might involve traveling to a particular location or meeting with a specific person, so developing a master plan will help you map out your marketing strategy.

Make your Facebook Live streams fun and inviting, yet informational and professional. These videos have the potential to draw prospective attendees to your event and enhance the excitement of those already registered.

If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas for live stream content, here are 20 to help you in the brainstorming process:

  1. Take your viewers on a tour of the venue, emphasizing a few of the main event spaces.
  2. Go live in the lobby of the hotel or other housing accommodations you will be using. If possible, interview a general manager or event host at the site for more information about the lodging.
  3. Find a local coffee shop your guests may want to visit and do a live feed onsite.
  4. Interview your keynote speaker about the upcoming event and answer questions live.
  5. Explore different workshops you will offer, providing a short description of each one.
  6. Talk to various workshop teachers about the content they will discuss during their sessions.
  7. Interview your worship leader. As a bonus, see if he or she will perform a song during your live feed.
  8. Showcase merchandise that will be available for sale at your event.
  9. Highlight an activity your group may participate in during the event.
  10. If your event will have a special themed night where participants can dress up, emphasize that by wearing an appropriate costume while discussing your themed night. This will give attendees an idea of what to wear.
  11. Do a “behind the scenes” video while setting up for your event at the venue.
  12. Offer a challenge for your attendees prior to the conference via Facebook Live. Have a special prize for those who complete the challenge.
  13. Highlight someone packing for your conference to help attendees know what to bring.
  14. Introduce your event team.
  15. Interview someone who has been to the event before.
  16. Host a live Q & A session about your upcoming event.
  17. Walk viewers through your event schedule.
  18. Let viewers know the heart behind your event. What makes it special to you?
  19. Showcase a special cause your event supports.
  20. Show viewers how to register for your event.

What ideas do you have for Facebook Live content? Share in the comments section below!

 

Tips for Using Facebook Live to Market Your Event

 

Social media is a great way to market an upcoming event. While there are seemingly countless ways to utilize Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, one of the easiest ways to reach your audience is through live video feed with Facebook Live.

Facebook Live is simple to use. After logging in to Facebook, click on “what’s on your mind” (where you would typically update your status). Click on “Live Video,” type a description, and, when you are ready, “Go Live!”

Facebook offers a few tips on its website when using Facebook Live. These tips are shared below, along with a few comments about how these can enhance your event marketing.

  1. Tell fans when you’re broadcasting ahead of time. Facebook recommends one day’s notice. This is a simple practice to put in place. The day prior, post when you will go live and include a teaser for what you will share.
  2. Go live when you have a strong connection. According to Facebook, Wi-Fi usually works best, but if this isn’t available, a 4G connection will be necessary. If your connection isn’t strong enough, you won’t be able to go live. Test your connection prior to going live, leaving enough time to find a new location if necessary.
  3. Write a catchy description before going live. Grab your audience’s attention by writing a catchy heading. This will appear in the news feed above the video.
  4. Ask viewers to subscribe to Live notifications. They can do this by tapping on the “Follow” button on current live videos or videos that have been live.
  5. Say hello to commentators by name; respond to their comments live. This tip is self-explanatory. If you are taking questions during a Facebook Live event, respond and use the commentator’s name. For example, if “Joe” asks a question, respond with, “Thanks for the question, Joe…”
  6. Broadcast for longer periods of time to reach more people. Facebook recommends at least 10 minutes. While this allows more viewers the chance to tune in live, as a viewer myself, I don’t always have this amount of time when the video is live. If using Facebook Live to market, vary the times, depending on the topic you are discussing. A few minutes could suffice.
  7. Use a closing line to signal the end of the broadcast. For example, you could close with, “Thanks for watching, and we’ll see you at ‘X’ event in ‘x’ days.” Include the event name and the latest countdown.
  8. Be creative and go live often. The possibilities are endless when it comes to content you can use to market an event on Facebook Live. If you plan to go live once a week for a few months prior to the event, you can build momentum and share quality information about your upcoming event.

In addition to these tips, here are a few of my own:

  1. Do a quick run through of your video before you hit “go live.” Live means live. Though you can delete a video after it is posted, you will lose the value of the live video and comments made.
  2. Use a tripod if available. No one wants to watch a shaky video.
  3. Choose a location free from distraction. Make sure the lighting is good. Record a brief video prior to going live. Review the video to see if the location chosen will work well for your Live event.

Stay tuned for our next blog post showcasing content ideas you can use for Facebook Live event marketing.

Ask the Expert: Creating an Event Website

I’m excited to share another installment of our “Ask the Expert” blog series. This week, we will dive into the world of website design. Jess Freeman is an Atlanta-based freelance graphic and web designer. She was named 2015 Gwinnett Chamber Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Jess is a great resource for designing event websites.

  1. I’m planning a retreat for the first time. I want to have a website to share with those who are interested. Where do I start?
    First, you’ll want to decide if you want to use Squarespace or WordPress for your website – there are other platforms, but these two are the most reputable and the easiest to use. Squarespace comes pre-loaded with themes you can choose; you would need to buy a WordPress theme. Then, you’ll need to choose a domain name. This should be no more than 15 characters long.

    The content of your website needs to be organized and flow in a way that makes sense. I always recommend having one to two buttons on each page that will direct the user to the next right step. The buttons will save users from having to scroll back to the top of the page and guide them through your content.

  1. I don’t have pictures from previous events, but I think pictures are important. Where can I find quality stock images at a moderate price?
    Images are indeed very important because they help convey emotion and connect with the viewers. One of the most popular stock photo websites is istockphoto.com, but you will have to do some searching to find photos that aren’t too cliché. CreativeMarket is also a popular resource with more affordable photos but less selection.

    Depending on the type of retreat, you may be able to use free stock photos. Now, to be clear, this does not mean going to Google Images and grabbing pictures – that could get you in a lot of legal trouble. However, there are royalty-free websites like Unsplash.com that have hundreds of great photos that are totally free to use.

    You could also try to work with a local photographer and do a little photo shoot for your website. It’s unlikely they would be able to (or want to) do it for free, but they may be up for a trade! For example, maybe you could list them as a sponsor and put their business card in a swag bag in exchange for some discounted services.

  1. What tips can you give when creating a website name?
    Names can be tricky because it can really set the tone for the event. It’s always best to keep it clear and simple rather than trying to be cute and clever. For example, my church has a “Walking Wisely Weekend” for middle school students. The alliteration makes it fun but still easy to remember. If they ever wanted to create a separate website, it would be easy to leave off “weekend” for a shorter domain.
  1. Is it possible for guests to register and pay online for the event? Any tips on how to do that?
    Thankfully, it is easy to have people register for events right on your website! For Squarespace users, you can set up a “product” as the event registration and get the names and emails of all customers. For WordPress, there are many plugins that can handle this – Event Registration, Event Espresso, Events Manager and many more.

    Another option is to use Eventbrite, a third-party platform. Some prefer Eventbrite because you can send “invitations” to people, you can enable specific seating at your event (like concert seats) and you can integrate it with Facebook. But, of course, they do take a percentage of your sales.

  1. How can I link Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media to my page?
    Squarespace lets you connect your social media profiles and pages seamlessly. You’ll just need to “login” through Squarespace and an icon will appear on your website. For WordPress, it’s also very easy to integrate your social media with the help of plugins. Most of the time, however, your theme will have a spot for you to put links to your social media.

    I don’t recommend displaying social media feeds (like Facebook and Twitter) on your website. This was a popular thing to do many years ago, but it generally makes your site look cluttered and dated. Instagram is one exception, since it is pictures only – but this should be considered carefully, as you want to make sure the photos don’t clash with your website.

    Something I do recommend is having share buttons on your website. This enables people to share your site or your blog posts with just a click of a button. SumoMe and ShareThis are popular plugins that I use with most of my clients.

  1. What are some of your best tips when creating a website?
    One of my favorite tips to tell people is to limit yourself to three colors and three fonts. That doesn’t mean you have to use all three of either, but limit yourself! This will truly help your site feel more cohesive and look professional. Having fewer choices will also speed up the design process because you won’t feel as overwhelmed with options.

    As far as events and ministries go, it’s always important to make sure you’re not too insider-focused. Even if it’s a women’s retreat that you think only current members will want to come to, what if they decided to share it on Facebook and invite friends? The messaging is going to influence whether or not they feel welcome at the event.

A big thank you to Jess for sharing some great information about event website design. You can learn more about Jess and gain even more graphic design wisdom at jesscreatives.com.

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