Worth $2bn in annual revenues Canada’s trade show and events planning sector is rewarding for those with strong communication, organisational and problem-solving skills.
Whether you specialise in weddings, conferences or children’s entertainment, your chosen field’s success factors also depend on the arena in question.
Transition: listening and learning
If you’ve just acquired your events business or are still browsing event businesses for sale, then it’s worth planning for your first few weeks in business.
This transition phase is potentially dangerous, especially if the outgoing owner was hands-on in day-to-day operations.
You can mitigate your risks here by convincing the vendor, through your business broker, to stay on in a consultative capacity after the sale of the business. However, make sure this role is clearly defined and time-limited.
Beware of changing too much, too soon. It’s all about familiarising yourself with the business as well as listening to, and learning from, staff and customer feedback.
Through surveys, interviews, focus groups and your own independent reading, become an expert on your business, its customers and suppliers and the sector in which it operates.
Making worthwhile changes
As you become accustomed to running the business you can start acting on your findings. Mitigate your weaknesses and leverage your advantages over competitors – whether that’s your long pedigree, your technology, your economies of scale, or the talents within your team.
Worthwhile changes could boost revenues or, without undermining service delivery, cut costs – either way boosting the bottom line.
For instance, you might downsize your office or relocate to a cheaper location and reinvest the savings in additional staff, a website upgrade and new project management software. Be mindful, however, that you will find it harder to lure talent to less appealing, more remote locations.
Maybe you don’t replace departing clerical staff and invest more in your core business if, say, you’re over-resourced clerically but understaffed for the events themselves.
Depending on your level of experience – and you might be entirely new to the events world – you should fill any key knowledge gaps you have. You might undertake a degree or training in event planning or management, as well as learning from the experience of your staff.
You also need to consider whether your existing employees have the right balance of skills and make new hires, or retrain existing staff, accordingly.
Planning and pricing
Ranging from weeks to months, perhaps even years, the lead time for planning mostly depends on the event’s size and complexity.
Events management typically involves some or all of these steps:
- Conducting research
- Creating an event design, perhaps based on a customers’ brief
- Finding a site
- Arranging food, decor and entertainment
- Planning transportation to and from the event
- Sending invitations to attendees
- Arranging attendees’ accommodation
- Coordinating event staff
- Supervising on site
- Conducting post-event reviews
Unfolding unpredictably with myriad moving parts, events are notoriously difficult to budget accurately for. As such, many business owners set prices too low.
Events industry expert Dr Joe Goldblatt has suggested that fees are typically determined by three factors: the market segment, geographic location (depending largely on the cost of living) and the event planner’s pedigree.
Event management companies typically charge a service fee of about 10-20% of the total cost of the event.
A customer-driven process
An obvious point that nevertheless requires stating: the customer must be the prime reference point throughout the planning process.
This means listening to and understanding what they want from an event plus – if they’ve commissioned you to put on the event – managing their expectations according to budgetary limitations yet thinking creatively to maximise their value for money.
Communication channels must be open throughout the process, as plans will evolve depending on circumstances and their evolving needs.
Ensure that all stakeholders – vendors, suppliers, customers and your own staff – are aware of the overall event schedule, and their roles within it, on an ongoing basis.
If customers feel they’ve been listened to, they’ll be all the more likely to provide glowing testimonials and case studies to support your marketing efforts.
Online marketing and social media are crucial in the events sector and demand investment. That said, old fashioned networking is still hugely helpful – in B2B especially – in meeting potential suppliers, partners and customers.
Learning the lessons of the event – encompassing both what went well and what fell short – is critical to continual improvement. Specialist consultancies along with post-event customer surveys and discussions with staff are useful in this regard.