In today’s market, meeting-planning companies are asked to do more for their clients with less. The post-pandemic surge in meetings coupled with concerns around inflation and a labor shortage have all contributed to an environment where independent planners have to operate at their best but with fewer resources, including smaller budgets.
Leading a successful meetings business and running outstanding events are possible with less-than-generous funding but require a focus on the fundamentals of finances—which aren’t entirely about numbers.
Step 1: Know Your Numbers
This sounds basic; of course you know your budget. But do you understand what’s driving the numbers? How much do you need to spend on marketing and sales to keep a full book of business? What resources will you put behind that effort?
You might be tempted to cut the budget for sales and marketing if your calendar is full for the year ahead. Why market when you don’t have capacity? But sales and marketing are like daytime running lights on your car: Even when you can’t clearly see them, they’re helpful. When you keep sales and marketing running in the background at all times, you can plan ahead and also be ready to fill any vacancies if a client falls through.
Also keep in mind that marketing isn’t always about fancy (and expensive) campaigns. Think about investing time in marketing by building and maintaining strong relationships with your existing clients. The closer you are to their goals, the more you can be prepared to support new opportunities. Organic growth is not only less expensive (in money if not in time), but it has a self-sustaining flywheel effect, generating an ongoing stream of business.
Step 2: Focus Forward
Forecasting is key. Talk to the people in your organization who are closest to the clients. Ask them what the forecast for new meeting bookings looks like from what they know. What is the potential upside? What are the potential risks to that number? Do you have the right resources—not just numbers, but key competencies—to support the business?
The more you can help your team think ahead and understand the key elements of success, the better.
Step 3: Pass the Power
By actively involving staff in forecasting and understanding the financial side of the business, you’ll be better prepared to let them make key decisions instead of having one decision-maker at the top. The more that people feel actively involved in the business, the more accountability they’ll place upon themselves. And that’s an engine for growth.
Step 4: Successful Sales Starts with Process
When budgets are tight, you may be tempted to reach for more business. While that’s understandable, the best kind of growth is controlled growth. You don’t want new business to compromise your existing clients. And you definitely don’t want to upset the balance between the work to be done and the people who do the work.
Beyond pure volume (too much new business, not enough staff), if you aren’t evaluating new business, some future clients might not be the right fit. Just like one overturned glass of red wine can ruin an entire tablecloth, a difficult new client can affect the culture of your company.
The way to avoid both of those pitfalls—too much new business or not the right kind of business—is to build filters into your sales process that look beyond revenue. This includes making sure the new business aligns with your core competencies, has a strong cultural fit with your current team, and has the potential to be a long-term relationship.
Step 5: The Happy Human Equation
When you work on your budget, think about your people in two ways. In one way, they’re employees: Do you have the resources to do what’s right for your clients? How billable do they need to be?
Then flip it around and think about your people not just in terms of volume (having enough people to do the work and make a profit) but also in terms of their health and wellness, and their happiness. All the evidence shows that making a good salary isn’t what drives most employees. Rather, it’s feeling valued and doing valuable work. Including staff in decisions, designing recognition programs, creating flexibility: These factors should be in your budget, too.
Just like most other aspects of the event industry, finances are mainly about people. Involve your team, nurture your clients, ask questions, and listen. The keys to business success are also the keys to financial stability.
Rob Adams is president and owner of Bishop-McCann, an award-winning, full-service event management partner that helps innovative companies elevate their events and increase attendee engagement by connecting audiences with their brand in a passionate, strategic way. With more than 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur and proven leader, Adams is helping his team live its mission “To Create JOY” through various wellness initiatives, including participation in the “Search Inside Yourself” training that leads to a mindfulness certification.