Time and Money Saving Tips
Budgets are getting tighter, timelines are getting shorter and yet you still need to provide educational programs or hold meetings. To make it even more challenging, the responsibility falls on you and your limited staff who already has a full workload. The following are some resources available to you to help make your job easier, and potentially save you money in regard to planning a program.
Request for Proposals
When planning any event, it is important to establish the mission, a budget, and an attendee profile. This is easily done by completing a request for proposal (RFP). By filling out a RFP, you not only make sure that your organization and committee are on the same page, but you also send consistent information to prospective facilities, destination management companies and convention and visitor bureaus. A detailed RFP document saves you the time of having to repeat the same information, over and over to all prospective parties. Some properties provide “packages” which can include meals, meeting rooms, setup, furniture and audio-visual equipment, for a per person price. Make sure you indicate on your RFP how you want the pricing quoted. This will save you time in having to manipulate the proposals, in order to compare them.
Convention and Visitors' Bureaus
Typically a free service, the Convention and Visitors’ Bureaus (CVB) can help receive bids from their respective properties. Many CVBs will be the point of contact, collect the bids and then summarize them for you. This service can save you time from having to answer any questions. Your CVB can arrange for site visits with the properties that fit the parameters of your RFP details. If you have to plan evening entertainment or spouse tours, the CVB can provide you with suggestions and make the arrangements for you with the venues.
Ask the CVB if they have promotional materials such as postcards or brochures of the area that you can send in advance to your attendees. Generally they will have a four-color piece or template that you can print on, saving you the cost of producing a multi-color print job. They can also provide information for your attendees “welcome packets”, such as bags, maps, and coupons for local attractions and restaurants. Another important service they may provide is registration help or people to serve as information guides, reducing the number of volunteers you’ll need. Not all services may be free, so make sure that you confirm with the CVB what services may have a cost attached to them. Minimal charges could be passed to the attendee through their registration fee.
It is recommended that you conduct a site visit prior to holding your event. When touring the facility, remember there is more to the location than just the physical appearance. Inquire as to the services the property can provide and the cost that may be associated with the services. For example, you may want registration services, which will allow the attendee to register online, collect the money, and answer any questions in regard to their registration; this may be a service the facility can provide or make recommendations. Although paying for a service may sound like it wouldn’t fit in your budget, beware that time is money, and you could be costing your program money. Also, be sure to inquire about additional costs such as service charges, sales tax and equipment charges.
The learning environment is important for your program. You want to provide the correct lighting, room setup and menu, so that your attendees will get the most out of their experience. One of your greatest resources is the venue’s staff. Many of the conference service planners and audio-visual technicians have had extensive training and can help you to provide the ultimate learning environment. Ask them questions, or based on the information provided in the RFP, ask them if they have any suggestions on how they would setup the program, and if they see any limitations with your program in their facility. Most facilities have an information packet that you can obtain that will include room sizes, occupancy maximums, as well as services that they provide. Be sure to request a packet for your future planning.
Reading the Fine Print
Although this may seem quite cliché, it is important to read the fine print. A time may arise that you need to reschedule or cancel your event, due to low registrations, etc. Make sure you know the cancellation and attrition clauses. Maybe there are limitations on bringing in your own audio-visual equipment, or you have to use certain services of the facility. You want to make sure that you are aware of all potential things that could affect your budget, or how you conduct your conference. If you have legal council available to you, ask them to look over the contract. At the beginning this may seem like more work, however, in the end it may eliminate some budget surprises.
Although it may be fun to plan the menus for your event, it takes time. Ask the caterer to make two or three suggestions for each meal. Remind them of any themes and your budget and that all suggestions must fall within the said budget. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for substitutions. For example, if you’d like to offer a dessert with your meal, maybe you could exchange it for the salad, without affecting the price.
Build on a Relationship
Get to know the staff you’ll be working with on your conference or event. Tell them what your expectations are in regard to their facility and service. The more you share the greater chance they have of being in a position to offer suggestions, be on the lookout for items that you’re in need of and will help to take ownership in the event you’re planning. Your service provider has a vested interest in you and it’s not only because of their bottom line. If you’re not already doing it, start a conversation with them today.
There are ways to promote your events that don’t cost a lot of money. With the age of technology the Web has allowed planners to put information about their conference on the website, saving printing costs. Consider sending a teaser brochure or a postcard with the program highlights and the conference website. Make sure to announce any early registration deadlines. You may want to find similar organizations that would be willing to promote your event on their website, social media or in their newsletter.
If your program will have more than 50 people, consider using an online registration system. The attendees will enter all their contact information and the data will transfer into your designated database. This eliminates multiple entrees of the same information and errors. You’ll be able to generate nametags, meal tickets, labels, etc. with programs such as Microsoft Word and WordPerfect. If your budget can afford it, you may want to hire a registration service, saving you time to work on the more important things. Have your attendees pre-register for any breakout sessions you may be offering, this allows you to schedule the rooms appropriately at the facility. This could eliminate overcrowded rooms and possible room reset fees.