Successful event planning requires a certain superstar individual who can think with both their right and left brain. It’s not easy being creative, organized, precise, practical, and adaptable at the same time, but these are essential skills for dealing with no-show vendors, catering disasters, weather issues, and all other unexpected crises that can occur before and during an event.
An event planner has to be somewhat of a soothsayer who foresees emergencies and prepares for them. The following tips identify some of the major issues that event planners need to be aware of and offers solutions to these common issues.
Identifying Cost and Quoting
Before you plan your next event, just sit down for a few hours and identify your basic expenditures. This may seem like an obvious exercise, but it’s something that every planner should get into the habit of doing, well before any event.
When you don’t have a cost “plan-of-action”, it’s all too easy to run over budget because you simply left a major cost out. The following checklist is an example of an event planners cost plan. Use this as a guide and create your own cost outline before every event.
- Venue Cost
- Musical acts
- Other entertainment
- Printing/Promotional costs
- Design costs for print and web assets
- Press pack and distribution
- Invitation printing
- Ticket/wristband printing
- Flyer printing
- Poster printing
- Site map/event calendar printing
- Print Distribution
- Distribution personnel (flyposting/handout)
- Direct mailing campaigns
- Ad/Web Space
- Design cost
- Newspapers ads/listings
- Magazine ads/listings
- Press release cost
- Internet banner ads/targeted web campaigns
- Any 3rd party social media marketing and other online marketing
- Staging and other build equipment
- Sound system
- Internet access
- Tables, Chairs, Bar, and Furnishings
- Decoration and Dressing
- Packing list
- Stationery, organizational materials
- Bar equipment
- Cleaning supplies
- Bathroom and sanitation supplies
- Catering company cost (including staff catering and act catering)
- Catering equipment
- Wet bar
- Management and organizational staff
- Service and catering staff
- Construction/build staff
- Security/door management staff
- Parking attendants
- Cleaning staff
- Portable bathrooms (if outdoor event)
The list could go on depending on the scale of your event, but even weddings and small business functions will likely require around 80% of the costs on this list.
Go through each of the items on this list that applies to you and get quotes or costs for each item. Don’t leave it to chance – be airtight with your cost analysis rather than cost guessing. You also need to add at least 10% onto the total estimated cost to account for breakages, no-shows, acts of God, and other unforeseen circumstances.
Identifying Your Cut
After calculating your basic expenditures, you will have a decent idea of your operating costs. In turn, you will be able to measure this cost against the ticket price, vendor, or client fee. When deciding on a price, you have to cover operating expenses but also make sure that you get paid! If you are planning a ticketed event, you will have the added challenge of making sure that the fee, vendor fee, or admission price maximizes attendance; charge too much and it may cost you fewer attendees.
Saving money is about being both creative and sensible. You can save money by being mindful of the following:
Event planners typically over plan catering and keep adding items to the bill through nervousness about food shortages. A good rule-of-thumb when setting your catering budget is to set an initial catering fee and then reduce it by 10%.
Don’t Stray From Your Cost Plan
It’s easy to get carried away by the excitement of an event and impulse purchase lavish decorations or gourmet food items but these costs add up and eat into your profit. Stick to your plan. And if your client asks for something extra, you need to be firm and make them very aware that they will be billed for these added additions.
Keep an Eye on Your Expenses
One of the most important jobs of any event planning professional is to be involved before, during, and after the event. You have to know exactly who’s in charge and what’s being purchased and sold. This means monitoring your staff regularly to ensure they are not going over budget in any aspect of the planning, and keeping a close eye on the ticketing, bar, and, other sales areas.
Overstaffing is Better than Understaffing
One area of event planning that you really can’t cut corners on is personnel. Not only is it vital to have enough people around you to make things work, but it’s also essential that you have experienced, knowledgeable, and trustworthy staff on hand.
When it comes to your waitstaff you need at least two per every ten guests for a hosted dinner. This is an industry standard and it’s generally excepted that overspending on staff and hiring additional workers is a sensible option because you won’t be able to remedy understaffing once the event gets going; not having enough help on event day is something you just can’t have. Plus, you can’t expect to do everything yourself if you are coordinating with staff, vendors, clients and guests.
Damage Control Managers
An event going wrong is a snowball effect, i.e., a catering disaster leads to angry guests that leads to security issues that leads to damaged property, etc. This is an extreme case but these situations occur and the best way to deal with them is by having smart and quick-thinking managers or supervisors on staff that have “mad” people skills.
Make sure you hire people that have the right certification and experience but more importantly, you have to know that they can manage risk and handle exceptional circumstances. If possible, you want to have people managing your events who are tried and tested by you personally.
Surround Yourself with Skillful People
Catering and service staff with the right skillsets are just as important as great supervising staff. Unreliable caterers, a couple of bad waitstaff, or security personnel that go missing in an emergency can ruin an event for guests and ruin your reputation. That’s why it’s important to build relationships with staff and staffing agencies in order to get the right people and to have confidence in your team.
Be extra vigilant in choosing your staff. Make sure you are carrying out detailed checks or hiring staffing agencies that are noted for their thoroughness. Most importantly, take the time to train, assess, and get to know your staff so that you are aware of their skill levels and abilities. Once you know everyone’s roles and capabilities, you will better understand how to allocate resources and plan an event.
Even in large event situations where you are using volunteer staff, you need to arrange training sessions to establish rules and roles, well before an event begins.
Everyone from the person at the ticket desk to the individual serving coffee should have basic answers when questioned by attendees. Everyone on your staff should be able to point someone in the right direction or find the appropriate person. Information such as where the toilets are, where to hang coats up, or the name of a supervising or coordinating manager should be known to all staff members.
Politeness, positivity, and an overall good attitude is maybe not something that can be considered “basic training” but this is possibly the most important quality to keep reaffirming within your team.
Smart and Recognizable
It’s always a good choice to have stylish and professional-looking event staff. Whether your event requires silver service tie and tux, or is a more relaxed affair with t-shirt and smart casual attire, you need something that distinguishes them from guests. Make sure you plan for badges, t-shirts, uniforms, or other recognizable features.
If it can go wrong, it probably will. This is not a pessimistic view, it’s a sensible and logical one that demands action and planning. Before any event you need to perform a detailed risk assessment to plan for problems and disasters. Involve all your team in a brainstorming session to figure out ways you can mitigate risk.
In these brainstorming sessions you can discuss issues of emergency, management, and timing (i.e., the careful timing of the service of courses.) Create a to-do list like the one below that covers many of the problems that could arise during your event:
- Weather Control Plan
- Reservation plans for tent, indoor facility, pavilion, etc.
- Supply plans for tarpaulins, umbrellas, rain ponchos, and other emergency equipment for guests and staff
- Supply plans for air conditioning and fan equipment
- Supply plans for wood chips and hay to cover pathways
- Equipment and Testing Plan
- Confirm city noise ordinances to ensure non-neighbor involvement and disruption
- Pretest all sound equipment and prepare backup equipment supply
- Pretesting of all ovens and catering equipment
- Emergency Plan
- Contract with an ambulance company
- Have staff on-hand with medical training
- Knowledge of the closest hospital or urgent care center
- Create a program of emergency training/certification for staff
- Practicing of panic attack, seizure, bad fall, and other scenarios
- Disabled access and evacuation
- Evacuation Plan
- Discuss and test evacuation scenarios
- Assign staff managers to evacuation roles
- Prep staff with all relevant emergency numbers and contacts
- Have stand-by and back-up options available
- Inform staffing agency of event dates as a precaution
- Time Management
- Ensure management staff have detailed knowledge of event runtime/calendar
- Ensure catering and wait staff have detailed knowledge of the meal and course timings
- Security Training Scenarios and Drills
- Parking Plan and Organization
- Additional Seating and Other Items
An agreed upon plan-of-action is an essential aspect of any event. This should be communicated to everyone involved at a higher level. This includes security, catering managers, event management staff, and also your vendors and clients.
Let Your Clients Know What to Expect
Careful communication with your clients and stakeholders is an essential part of an event planner’s role. Your client should be aware of any problems and changes such as lack of parking facilities, changes to décor, lack of bathroom facilities. These kinds of details open up discussion and allow solutions or compromises to be agreed upon. Do not keep them in the dark about any existing issues or necessary last-minute changes and make them aware of any emergencies that are happening during the event. Before the event, make sure you have met and have carried out a detailed walk-through of the event that includes knowledge of emergency exits.
A well-defined and agreed upon plan helps you execute tasks efficiently and heightens awareness of the event as a whole. Creating and repeating processes for scoping, scheduling, allocating resources, and communicating with everyone involved in the event eliminates a lot of the grey areas.
In conclusion, there’s no way to prepare for everything that could happen in the planning and execution of your event. However, if you are smart and leave as little as possible to chance, the likelihood of a successful event is much higher. Use these tips as your guide to planning an event and making it one to remember.