Event Planners: Why Offering Hotel Options Is So Important

The eventmanagerblog.com staff identified the Top 10 Event Trends for 2014 and number two on the list was “Solve the Hotel Nightmare”.

“One of the outcomes of the research we made for the Good Event Registration Guide is that only 27% of registration providers offered live accommodation options upon ticket purchase.
However, we also discovered that hotel options are amongst the top 10 most requested features by event planners.”  Read more here.

Why would event planners want hotel options? Because their guests want it!  Remember back to your own experience as an event guest.  You’re hundreds, or maybe thousands of miles away from an event, booking your spot, making travel plans, and trying to cover your projects at work. The last thing you want to do is try to decide where you should stay in an unfamiliar city.  The complexity of a great event hotel reservation is created because an attendee not only wants a clean, safe room, they want one in close proximity to the event itself.  And if you’ve never visited a city before, you know it’s hard to identify that yourself, without a great deal of research.

When you are planning an event, don’t leave hotel options to last minute planning.  Reserve a large block of rooms at excellent hotels in close proximity to your event at a great rate, and then make it very clear to your guests what the options are.  Put these options right alongside the event registration; guests shouldn’t need to “go hunting” or “give you a call” to find out about their options.

I was recently looking at a conference in San Diego, and they did an excellent job of highlighting the hotel option they had created for their attendees.  I’ve found a sample, click here to see all the information they provide.

They’ve included enough information for me to make my choice- and a link I can follow to make a reservation with my credit card. Perfect.

How do you offer great accommodation options to your guests- and make sure they know about them?

How To Sell Recorded Content To Your Guests

What if you could provide a service your guests would love and appreciate, and use it to generate income too? Tell you more? Absolutely!

I’m talking about recording session content for your guests, packaging it up, and selling it to them.

But not tapes (do I really even need to mention tapes?) or CD’s or DVD’s- digital content, available for download online.  Guests love this option, especially for content rich conferences or seminars where they can’t take notes fast enough, and can’t be in every breakout session they want to attend.  If they can pay $25 or $35 to have access to all the sessions for a certain amount of time–they’re delighted!  They can go back and re-listen to points they want to review, and even listen to sessions they didn’t get to.

To be clear, this is not a snap-your-fingers-and-it’s-done undertaking. You’ll need to:

  • discuss this with the head of your IT and sound engineering departments
  • notify and gain permission to record each speaker
  • train volunteers, speakers or paid staff to start and stop session recordings
  • decide how to advertise the content sale
  • consider where and how to accept payment for recording access
  • collect recordings, upload and label them online
  • enter user information and assign access names and passwords
  • provide clear information on when the recordings will be available, how people will be notified of their username and password, and how long the recordings will stay on the site.

Setting something like this up for the first time can be a challenge, but it will become easier with time.  Try it out on a small scale before announcing it to an event involving thousands!  This is a wonderful service, and if you can keep man-hours in a reasonable range, it can also be a nice income generator. Have you ever done this? What worked? What would you do differently next time?

3 Things I Learned While Buying A Car For Your Next Event

My mom recently purchased a car.  Being the great son that I am, I went with her to purchase and negotiate the final sales price.  I have to say overall it was a fun experience that taught me a lot for the next time I purchase myself a car.

I learned three things in particular that I will for sure remember.

  1. Research.  I made a big mistake going in, and that was not to have researched the invoice price of the car.  Thankfully, with modern technology, I was able to search for that while sitting at the desk.  Once I knew that number, I used that as our base price to negotiate.  Had I been better prepared going in, I might have been able to get the price of the car down even lower.
  2. Know your budget.  Mom knew how much she wanted to spend for the car, so it was important for us to keep that number in mind.  We had the typical car salesman experience where he asked what she wanted for payments, wrote it down and made her sign.  But that wasn’t what we were going for.  We were looking for the lowest price that would fit in her budget.
  3. Be willing to walk out.  This is the toughest point.  We all fall in love with that something we want, and this car was no exception.  I loved it.  She loved it.  I think we both would have been disappointed to have to walk out, but if the dealership wasn’t willing to meet our price in our budget, we were leaving.  Matter of fact at one point, I had to tell the salesman that we were ready to leave.

I tell you this little story because I believe all of these points work for planning your event.  You have to do your research on all the various supplies you need.  Maybe you want X, but Y will work just as fine.

Even more important you have to keep your budget in mind when doing your research.  The last thing you want is to fall in love with something and learn you can’t afford it.  And lastly if it’s just not working out, be ready to hit the exits.

Negotiating can be fun.  Matter of fact, this was the most fun I’ve had in buying a car.  Knowing these now, I’ll be much better prepared for the future.

Working With An A/V Company

Every event has some sort of audio and visual (A/V) needs. Picking the right one can make or break your event.

Choosing the right one for your event can be a process. How do you do that?

  • Step one: Find a company that is close by your event. Working with one a few hundred miles could be your only option, but if it’s your primary, you will have transportation costs on top of standard rental fees.
  • Step two: Once you’ve found a company you’re ready to work with, ask for references. The last thing you want is for them to show up having over promised and under delivered. If they don’t have any references, they’re not a very reputable company. I would move on to another company.
  • Step three: Communicate ALL your needs up front. By this point, you have all the riders in front of you from bands and speakers. Hand those over to the A/V company as they’ll be able to interpret all the technical jargon for you. Don’t forget your needs for breakout sessions. And never assume the A/V company will have something on their truck.  They’re not mind readers. At this point in your communications, give the A/V company the events schedule. This will help them plan necessary equipment and technicians being in the right place at the right time.
    One other minor thought about communicating: if your event has a dress code and you would like the techs looking a certain way, be sure to mention that early on. Since these techs have to crawl and climb to setup lights and speakers, they may be dressed in shorts. That may or may not work for your closing banquet, for example.
  • Step four: Be ready to pay A/V company when they get on site. This varies from company to company, so be sure to have this coordinated early on.

A reputable company will know what they need to do to make sure your event comes off successfully. Trust them.

How do you work with your A/V company? Any hidden secrets you’ve discovered?

Taking Mobile Payments At Your Event

At past events taking credit cards was a little tricky. You either had one of those big bricks with carbon copies to swipe cards or used a fancy machine that cost a lot of money.

Now taking credit cards at your event has become very simple thanks to the introduction of several apps and card swipers that plug into your mobile device.

Here is a sampling of some credit card readers and their apps.

  1. Square is one of the most robust of these. The apps that work with Square includes being able to setup a register and keeping track of inventory for if you are selling shirts or other merch. Square is 2.75% per swipe with no additional fees. The card reader is free via their website (squareup.com) or $9.95 in stores.  That amount is later credited to your account to make the card reader free.
  2. PayPal is one of the most commonly used methods of taking payments. If you’ve purchased anything from eBay, you have a PayPal account. With the PayPal mobile app, you can take payments with a card reader or transferred from an attendee’s PayPal account. PayPal charges a fee of 2.7%, and you can have access to those funds the day you take payment.
  3. GoPayment is a great option if you use QuickBooks for your business books. GoPayment is also free, but working with QuickBooks is the major difference between this app and the others. Find out more info at GoPayment.com to see if this is the right card reader for your event.

All of these apps work with an Apple or Android device, and that’s great flexibility for whoever is helping take payments.

In the interest of fair disclosure, I’ve only worked with Square. It was quick to learn and easy to use, but what we found was it took longer to get our money. When we tried to contact them to ask about that, no one returned our email. When using an app like this, finding a company with the best customer service is very important.

Have you used an app and card reader to take payments at your event? What has been your experience?

Christian Meeting Planning Resources – November Update

Here are some great articles we’ve read in November, I hope you find something useful as your making plans for your upcoming meetings and events.

I hope you find these helpful and remember we have many more that might interest you  in the Meeting Planner Resources section of the blog.

 

When The Bottom Line Is The Bottom Line

As discussed in another post, an event’s financial outcome is only one factor to consider when assessing an event.  Today’s post takes a closer look at how to use Profit and Loss (P & L) statements to measure an event’s financial health.

  • Tie expenses to each specific occurrence of an event, even if the expenses occur in a different fiscal year than the event itself.  This allows you to assess each event occurrence on its own financial merits.
  • Code expenses to different categories to provide a better look at how you’re spending our money.  Category examples should fit your event and organization, but could include:
    • Office/Printing/Postage
    • Advertising and Marketing
    • Travel
    • Honorarium
    • Supplies
    • Miscellaneous (a catch-all category…don’t use it for too many items, but it’s usually helpful to have it for one-off expenses, etc.)
  • Separate program fee revenue from other revenue.  This allows you to determine how the event would fare on program fee revenue alone as well as reflect on what other supplemental revenue streams (ex: merchandise sales) you might want to consider.  When considering  supplemental revenue streams, remember:
    • Providing value for attendees is important.
    • Fostering a perception among your attendees that you are providing value is vital.  Beware of creating a “nickel-and-dime” culture.
    • Merchandise with event information (ex: t-shirts, bags) can provide a financial benefit of advertising as well as strengthen a connection between the participant and the event.  Perhaps these benefits even justify providing some items free of charge rather than selling them.
    • Include attendance figures.
    • P & Ls show each event’s margin (bottom line divided by revenue).
    • Keep historical data so you can view an event’s financial outcome in the larger context of how it’s done in other years and explore reasons for significant differences.

Update the P & L monthly, to track an event’s financial health both before and after it occurs.  Also take a more in-depth look in an annual “fully allocated” P & L in which you include the program revenues and expenses as well as estimates of labor costs within your office (based on how much time each individual spent on that event).  This provides a more detailed analysis of an event’s financial impact to your company and your stewardship of the resources required to plan and hold it.

So, how do you measure an event’s financial health?  What ideas can you share?

Go With The Flow

When budgeting an event, most of us think about revenues, expenses, and attendance.  We take it to a another level when we consider fixed expenses versus variable expenses, and plan how we might control the latter if attendance falls short of what we expect.  For the typical meeting planner, the financial planning process goes no deeper.  As a result, anxiety can increase significantly in the weeks leading up to the event as expenses begin to hit before the actual event even takes place.  If only such meeting planners would “go with the flow.”

What flow?  Cash flow.  In simple terms, planning cash flow is the “when” consideration in creating a budget.  A planner should consider not only what expenses will hit, and what the anticipated revenues will be, she should also reflect on when the expenses will hit and when she’ll have the cash necessary to pay for them.

Expenses hitting prior to an event often include:

  • Advertising and Marketing
  • Deposits/Appearance Fees: For speakers, music groups, and other performers
  • Deposits Owed to the Meeting Site/Facility: For meeting space, caterings, audiovisual rentals, and other items.  (NOTE: Some facilities will offer direct billing subject to the payer passing a credit check.  An event planner should discuss with potential host facilities early in the planning process.)
  • Travel Arrangements: For you as well as those who are part of the platform/program (if required by your contract with them).
  • Giveaway Items: Such as t-shirts, bags, binders, and flash drives.  These items not only provide a keepsake for attendees, they can also provide advertising benefits for future events.
  • Miscellaneous Expenses: Supplies, staging materials, decorations, programs, name tags, door signs for meeting rooms (What will the meeting facility provide, and what is your responsibility?).

How can an event planner have sufficient funds on hand to pay invoices as they arrive?  Here are some possible solutions:

  • Partner with an organization that agrees to provide the funds needed up front in exchange for a share of the revenues or profits when the event occurs.
  • Recruit companies to serve as sponsors for the event, and collect the sponsor fees early enough to use the funds to pay for expenses that hit prior to the event.  Many events offer various sponsorship levels to widen the circle of potential sponsors (and increase the amount of funds that can be raised).  Focus on companies that will benefit from being visible to attendees at the event.
  • Determine what deposit amount a registrant must pay when signing up for the event.  Not only does requiring a deposit encourage fewer cancellations because a registrant has “some skin in the game”, it will also provide funds for you to use as needed prior to the event.  In addition to deciding the amount of the deposit, you should also carefully think about your cancellation policy, including deadlines for cancelling and what portion of the deposit is refunded at those deadlines.
  • Encourage early registrations.  Offering a discount off the event fee might make financial sense if it incentivizes people to sign up and pay deposits earlier, thereby providing you with cash you can use as event expenses begin to occur.

Don’t get carried away by the current of expenses that can occur prior to an event…instead, think about cash flow during your planning process, and “go with the flow”!

Don’t “Take It to the Limit”, Maintain Margin!

Like the margins in a book provide space between the words and the page limits, maintaining margin as you plan and execute an event will provide a buffer to absorb challenges and issues prior to reaching the limits of your event and you!  Consider the following areas in which having margin can make a tremendous difference in the success of your event:

  • Time (Attendees’): Before finalizing the schedule for your event (onsite registration, large sessions, breakout meetings, meal-times, breaks, etc.), review it to ensure your schedule includes some margin.  What if a speaker runs over his allotted time?  What if a catered meal takes longer than expected?  What if there are audiovisual difficulties?  You want to offer your attendees the best experience possible, but keep in mind this includes providing opportunities to network with other attendees, take breaks to refresh their minds and reflect on what they’ve experienced, and not feel rushed throughout the event.
  • Time (Yours): What about your schedule during the event?  Even when things run smoothly it’s likely you’ll be quite busy during the event as you meet with attendees, communicate with the host staff, take care of your speakers, and handle the myriad of scenarios which come along with serving as an event planner.  Consider holding blocks of time on your schedule when you schedule nothing.  Doing so will provide sufficient time to take care of unexpected issues that arise as well as allowing you valuable moments to re-charge your batteries so you can lead your event more effectively.
  • Emotional: Prior to traveling to Africa to pick up the two children we adopted in 2010, my wife and I spent almost two months in a hospital several states away from our home as one of our other children dealt with some health issues.  Suffice to say, by the time we left for Africa we were spent, both emotionally and physically.  While not always possible, taking time to get away and recharge before an event occurs can help an event planner tremendously.
  • Physical: Rest well and eat well, both before and during the event.  Any event planner knows this isn’t always easy, but doing so will provide you with the physical margin you need to be at your best.
  • Financial: Margin is one financial measure of an event’s success.  In simple terms, it’s found by dividing an event’s profit by its revenue.   For example, an event with $10,000 in revenue and $3,500 in profit has a margin of 35%.  Careful budget planning can help ensure you’ll have the funds needed to cover planned expenses as well as those that pop up unexpectedly.  Planning your cash flow will help ensure you have the funds when you need them.
  • Spiritual: As in so many other ways, Jesus Himself served as a model for us in the area of margin by living in such a way that He always had time for what mattered most, the divine appointments with people that came His way each day.  Unfortunately, these unexpected meetings can often seem more like annoyances to a meeting planner low on margin.

If the idea of having margin appeals to you, consider the following resources which have been a great benefit to me in this area:

  • Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard A. Swenson, M.D.: This book is one of the most helpful I’ve ever read (on any topic).
  • Take It to the Limit by Andy Stanley: This six-part sermon series can be found online by searching for North Point Community Church.

Both of these resources will challenge you to live with margin and provide practical ways to help you do so.  Both you and those attending your event will benefit!

Top 10 Posts – 3rd Quarter 2012

Fall is here and I for one can’t wait for the changing leaves and cooler temperatures.   This means the 3rd quarter is behind us and it’s time to share our 10 most read posts over the past 3 months. Hopefully this will help you find a great post you might have missed…

  1. What’s A Hollow Square – As in any industry, hotels and conference centers sometimes have a language all their own. Here’s a little help in translating…
  2. Ridgecrest Recipe:  Rutland Chicken – Have you been looking for something new to do with chicken?  Enjoy and then let us know what you think!
  3. 5 Things To Do AFTER Your Meeting Is Over – Everyone has gone home and you want to relax but here are a few things that still need to be done and will definitely help you in planning future meetings and/or retreats.
  4. 8 Ideas For Promoting Your Church Retreat –  If you don’t also spend time on strategically promoting your retreat, you may end up with a great retreat that no one attends. With that in mind, here are 8 ideas for helping to promote your upcoming church retreat.
  5. 3 Steps To More Productive Brainstorming – Brainstorming with your planning team is a great way to ensure you provide an event your attendees will find engaging and worthwhile.  Here are 3 steps to take that will go a long way to making your next session more productive.
  6. 3 Tips To Creating An Unforgettable Event – Here are 3 tips on how to turn your event into an unforgettable experience.
  7. Creating A Standout Womens Retreat – A podcast interview with Chris Adams and Betsy Langmade, 2 of LifeWay’s long-time women’s leaders sharing what they’ve learned about planning women’s events.
  8. 5 Tips For Programming Effective Youth Camps – Brian Mills serves as student pastor Long Hollow Baptist Church and is passionate about reaching young people for Christ. Here are his thoughts on how to program your youth camp for maximum spiritual impact.
  9. 7 Tips For Getting The Most From A Site Visit – Once you decide to make a site visit, here are 7 tips to help you maximize your time.
  10. Meeting Planner Survival Kit – Many planners need to be prepared to address last minute needs and emergencies. Here is a starter list of items you need to have in your meeting planner survival kit to be prepared at your next event.

Which post have you found most helpful?