Planning events, whether large or small, business or personal, can be one of the most stressful things you’ll do. Take a look at any holiday dinner party, and you’ll find the host or hostess undoubtedly frazzled, as months of preparation finally boil down to the main event.
Now imagine doing that for 100 of your business colleagues or your most important clients or investors. It’s easy to see why, when faced with the challenge of organizing an event, many companies and entrepreneurs hire an event planner.
What Is an Event Planner?
In short, a good event planner is a logistical guru. They will keep your event organized, on budget and running smoothly. They should also be business-savvy, a shrewd negotiator and a bit of a social butterfly.
Choosing a qualified event planner can be a real challenge, as there are few qualifications one needs to declare themselves a professional. Let’s examine the steps you should take to find a qualified event planner that’s perfect for you and your event.
Step 1: Find qualified candidates.
There are generally two ways you can find possible planners:
1. Conduct an online search.
There are a few professional organizations that keep listings of registered event planners.
- International Special Events Society and National Association for Catering and Events offer free searches to non-members looking for event professionals.
- There are also independent sites like GigSalad that offer a searchable database of event planners in your area.
2. Ask colleagues, peers or friends for recommendations.
This is probably your best option for finding a qualified event planner. You can also use local resources like your chamber of commerce, visitors and conventions bureau and hotels.
Step 2: Ask for client testimonials.
Once you’ve identified a few possible candidates, ask for names and numbers of previous clients who can give you an overview of how the planner works and any challenges they may have faced. You may also want to ask the planner if you can attend an upcoming event they’re planning. This will give you a very clear idea of how the planner works, what their vendors are like and how smoothly things will run during your event.
Step 3: Meet with your identified candidates.
You’ll want to set up a meeting with each of your candidates. If time is a factor, you can set up phone interviews, but it’s really best to meet each one in person. Here are some of the questions you’ll want to ask:
- How many events like mine have you planned?
- What challenges did you encounter previously when planning a similar event?
- What type of checks do you have in place to ensure you stay within the assigned budget?
- What system do you use for managing reservations?
- How quickly will you need me to respond to questions?
- How much lead time will you be able to give me if we’re going to look at venues or do tastings?
Your list of questions will undoubtedly be longer and more detailed to your specific event. But these are some of the initial questions that you’ll probably want to talk through with every candidate. For the last two, you can of course set your own parameters around your time and deadlines; however, it might be a good idea to get a feel from the planner on how quickly they anticipate hearing from you. Making sure you’re both on the same page in regard to responsiveness can greatly reduce stress during the planning process.
Step 4: Ask your top candidate(s) to submit a plan and budget.
During the interview, the planners should have had time to ask you questions regarding your event. With this information, they can prepare an event plan and projected budget for your review. A few things to look for include:
- Budget: Is it within the range you initially shared with the planner? Why or why not?
- Hidden Fees: Make sure the planner has accounted for “incidental” fees, such as tips for wait staff, insurance coverage and event cleanup.
- Vendors: The planner may not have a complete list of vendors in their initial proposal, but be sure that they have accounted for each vendor you’ll need in the budget. This includes catering, table/chair rentals, decoration, audio/visual equipment, entertainment and the venue.
Step 5: Select your planner, and have a planning meeting.
Now, the fun begins. Once you’ve chosen a planner, you’ll want to set up a meeting pretty quickly to discuss the finer points of your event and the accompanying details. Depending on the type of event you’re throwing, the size and time of year, securing a venue may be a somewhat daunting task, so you don’t want to let too much time go by. The venue selection will also shape many of the other specifics of the event, including look and feel, required equipment, catering options and entertainment.
During this setup meeting, your planner will have you sign an agreement that outlines the terms of payment, responsibilities, etc. Read this document carefully, and make sure you fully agree to all of the terms. Even better, ask your lawyer or attorney to review it as well. Do not be afraid to make slight changes based on your needs or the needs of your event. Also, look to see what provisions—if any—are in place in case you feel you and your planner need to part ways before the event itself.
Keep in mind that some conditions, such as deposit amounts and payment terms, may not actually be at the discretion of the planner but the discretion of the vendor. Ask the planner for a signed copy of all agreements with vendors, caterers and venue managers once he or she has them.
Step 6: Confirm details, and double-check with vendors.
You hired your event planner to handle the finer points of planning for you, but it’s still a good idea to check in throughout the process with the vendors or suppliers directly to be sure payments have been received and everything is going as planned.
You might also want to set up a weekly meeting or call with your event planner for the months leading up to your event to check in and ensure everything is on track. As you move closer to your event date, it might be necessary to increase these calls to twice a week to be sure all of the details are being handled efficiently.
Step 7: Be reachable and responsive.
During the course of planning, the event planner will need your input. While you have probably outlined timelines and deadlines in your agreement, be sure that you are responsive to reasonable requests from your event planner throughout the process. Remember that the planner has vendors to answer to as well, and you don’t want to miss out on the best DJ in town because you weren’t able to get back to him or her on time.
Step 8: Have a great event!
If everything goes as planned, you’ll have a spectacular event that will be the talk of your social circles.
You might decide that you’re ready and willing to tackle the event planning yourself, and that’s okay. Online courses and resources can help prepare you to be your own logistical mastermind.
Hiring an event planner can ease your mind and lift the burden of planning a large or small event. He or she should be well-versed in making the best of tight deadlines, minute details and your location’s hidden traits. By hiring a qualified event planner, your next event should be nothing short of impressive.
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