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Lonely Business Owner Looking for Partnership

July 31, 2006

By Daphne J. Meyers

This week, I am going to discuss partnerships and how they can help any business succeed.  I will explore (through my own journey) the different types of partnerships you might encounter and decide what might work best for you.  I will focus on my experiences as a relatively new business owner, but many of my experiences are not exclusive to small, new businesses.  I hope you will stick with me this week as the story unfolds!

The other slant that will come through this week is women as business owners.  This is not a slight to men in anyway.  It is the only slant I know – female, small business owner.  I do know that I’m not alone in this venture - according to Forbes, (6/27/06) “women’s companies now employ more people than America’s largest 500 companies combined…and women now own 46% of the private businesses in the U.S.”  I believe this is a major market shift in how businesses will be managed in the future.  As with any major shift in “players” it causes major shifts in how business gets done.  I think more strategic partnerships are going to be just one outcropping of this trend.

All about me - I started my business, Red Barn Group, in January 2005.  I was a recent refuge of corporate America (Microsoft – the big M as one of my partners calls it), and still consider myself a recovering corporate planner.  You really never recover – just always in the process.  Not long after I started my own business, I made contact with some acquaintances that were in a similar position in their own business.  Both lucky timing and strategic planning have resulted in the formation of a partnership called The Mavens Network.  It is that Mavens’ story from its starts as a hallway conversation to serving actual clients that tells the story best.  Forging partnerships is a process and a journey – I’m going to share the highlights of this one with you in the spirit of Bridget Jones looking for love!

A Maven’s Diary

Dear Diary –

January 2005 - I am feeling really alone today.  I’ve only escaped the corporate world by a few months to do this “thing” called running my own business.  I find myself overwhelmed with things to do that aren’t fun, like bookkeeping, invoicing and booking my travel and no time to chase down those fun leads.  I also keep wondering when someone will figure out I have no idea on how to run a business.  I am pretty sure the government agency that issued my business license is going to show up any minute and take it away.  I’m sure they will figure out that what I’m doing is only a poorly veiled attempt to write off my addiction to office supplies.
Next week, I will be in San Diego for a conference.  I can only hope that being among my own “kind” will assure me that I’m not just playing office!

Here is my list of things that I want to accomplish this year:

-          clean off my desk
-          renew some contact with people I haven’t seen in awhile
-          be able to describe my business in less than 15 minutes (goal: is 2 at most)
-          find assurance that NOT going back to the “grind” is the right thing for me
-          meet someone in San Diego that tells me that I’m not crazy!

Now, I’m off to find green colored paper-clips to round out my collection

XX00 – Daphne

Office Etiquette

July 28, 2006

By Colleen A. Rickenbacher, CMP, CSEP

Many people are now working from a home or satellite office but the majority of workers are still in the traditional office that they drive or ride a mode of transportation to and from each working day. With that comes the challenge of being the perfect co-worker or a friendly neighbor in the next cubicle. Office invasion or bad office habits can wear you down day after day and year after year. Since we tend to spend more time in the office with co-workers than with our families, we need to make it a happy and enjoyable environment. It really can be a lot easier to work side-by-side with just a little office etiquette. 

I interviewed a lot of office workers and these were top office “complaints” that could be easily fixed to provide a much better working environment for everyone:

  1. Respect your neighbor’s space and privacy. Don’t be hanging out at their door or peering over the top of their cubicle. This is their workspace and should be treated as such. Avoid strolling into their office and stepping behind their computer to see what they may be working on or typing. Leave the pens, stapler, paper clips and any other materials on their desk. If you need office supplies I am sure you can order them and get your own. Or even worse, just coming into their office and sitting down with a cup of coffee and staying. 
  2. Start on time: Arrive on time. But arrive on time and ready for work. It doesn’t mean you can come in on time and then spend the next 15-30 minutes eating breakfast and chatting about the television show from the night before.
  3. Use a conference room for a conference call. Do you think that is why they call them “conference” calls? Don’t be screaming into a phone next door to people that are trying to conduct business in the offices.
  4. Don’t yell to your neighbor or even worse a neighbor about three doors down. Either get up and walk to their office (look at this as your daily exercise) or e-mail or call them on the phone to ask a question or what they plan to do for lunch.
  5. Don’t complain and don’t gossip. Both get old real fast and you have too much time on your hands to do both or either. Find a solution or find another job. Voice your opinions but have a solution to the challenge so people will listen to you. 

Pay attention to your office environment, your neighbors and how you can make your day in the office enjoyable but yet completing tasks and handling business.

Colleen A. Rickenbacher, CMP, CSEP

Author of Be On Your Best Business Behavior


Etiquette Through the Generations

July 28, 2006

By Colleen A. Rickenbacher, CMP, CSEP

Etiquette is making a comeback but it is a little slow. In about the 1960’s etiquette was beginning to take a backseat and kept getting further and further back in the 70’s and 80’s. But now corporations are seeing the importance of business protocol. This includes the appearance of their employees, the way they close a deal over a business meal by not talking with their mouth full of food, and if they are properly conducting a business meeting. Are you also providing the best customer service and retaining your customers and clients? It all comes down to civility and just plain day-to-day etiquette. But what about our younger generations and their style of work? The look in the office place has changed, the equipment to get the work done has changed, the level of education has changed and their style of work has changed. Change is good and it will continue to change year after year after year. But with the change are we forgetting about etiquette? Rarely is it taught any more in the public schools but some colleges are now offering etiquette classes. For some it could be a challenge by the time they reach graduation. They could be totally lost when they enter the workforce or confronted with their first meetings or first corporate dinner that has more than one fork and one knife. 

Just some helpful hints. But remember this is not limited to the younger generations:

  1. Dress appropriately: If it calls for business or business casual then be safe and pull out that coat and tie, a sports jacket or a nice pair of slacks and shirt for the business casual. Always better to be overdressed than underdressed. To the women open toed shoes definitely present a less formal look, but can be dressed up with a higher heel, leather and straps. Low and rubber just don’t make it.
  2. Punctuality and preparedness: Come on time and be ready. Do your research, check the Web site, know your audience and be prepared. Never apologize for being late or not prepared. First impressions will last forever. 
  3. A good handshake and a smile. Doesn’t really get too much easier than this but a wimpy, wet or limp handshake could turn someone off instantly. They will not even hear anything you may say to them because they are just trying to recover from another bad first impression. Use good eye contact.
  4. Follow-through on all projects. If you say you are going to do something, send something, research something or get them an answer, then do it. 
  5. Follow-up with a thank-you note. As soon as you finish that meeting or dinner meal, drop that person a brief but effective thank-you note. It makes a statement and shows you are completing the process.

Get into a good habit and look and act professionally. You will be remembered and will advance.

Colleen A. Rickenbacher, CMP, CSEP

Author of Be On Your Best Business Behavior


E-mail Etiquette

July 26, 2006

By Colleen A. Rickenbacher, CMP, CSEP

Quick, immediate, now, instant.  This is what is expected or demanded in our day-to-day business response time.  No longer can we say “I’ll be back to you with that answer in a few days.”  By then ten other competitors would have filled that order, book the convention, completed the RFP and moved on to other deals.

No matter where you are, what time zone you may be in, day of the week or hour of the night, people e-mail and they expect an immediate response.  I am truly wondering if people sleep at all let alone the recommended seven to eight hours.  We have evolved into a fast-paced, no downtime society.  We must be better, provide ROI (return on investment) instantly, reach that competitive edge, and be a step ahead and all of those terms that move us up the ladder of success or to stay ahead of the game.  With that comes checking our e-mails constantly.  We do not want to miss anything.  But with that also comes rudeness to the person beside us during a meeting, a meal, on a plane or during a conversation.  Is it so bad to respond a few hours later?  I agree in a less than 24-hour response time but we don’t have to be addicted to our electronic devices especially when we should be watching our child’s soccer game or visiting with our family over a meal. 

Some e-mail guidelines:

  1. Watch the length. It is said that if your message is more than 2/3 of the computer screen it needs to go into an attachment. Also watch your attachments. Think of sending several attachments if they contain a lot of material.
  2. Watch those emotional signs. I love to receive a happy face to make me smile but would you send out a formal letter and then put emotional signs throughout the letter. I hope not. If the e-mail is to a friend and you are just chatting, then go with all the signs you want. You can even have them dancing across the bottom of your screen.
  3. Watch colors and diagrams or logos on your e-mails. You are wasting the receiver’s time, ink and energy to download a six-color logo at the bottom of each of your e-mails. 
  4. Provide a “grabber” for the subject line. With all the virus problems and people receiving hundreds of e-mails daily, you want your e-mail subject line to catch their attention so they open it. Now, the body of your letter needs to be related to the subject line. You just can’t get their attention so they open your message and the body of the letter is totally different or not even slightly related.
  5. Bullet points: Get to the point. Put the most important point right in the start of your e-mail. Don’t make them read and read to get to the bulk of important points. They may miss them or delete before they ever get there. Keep your points short and direct.
  6. Respond to only the necessary people: If you receive a question or a statement to you and 20 other people do not respond back to all of those people. If the person would like a response than only go back to that one person. Don’t tie up the e-mail with useless responses or material to everyone on the list. Better to send all the names in the bcc format so you are not releasing e-mail addresses to everyone. 
  7. Read through all e-mails from the same person. Check all your e-mails before going back to the person to ask questions after you read only one of his e-mails. 
  8. When you send out an e-mail is this something that could be sent on a postcard? E-mails can be viewed, sent, and resent to the world. Make sure your message was not personal or confidential in nature that could be viewed by the wrong people. 
  9. Signature line: Always provide a signature line. I don’t mean your name in cursive. But provide your name, title, company, address, phone, fax, e-mail and Web site. Don’t make people have to search to respond. Make it easy to work with you.

Happy e-mails.

Sharing Some Trade Secrets…

July 21, 2006

By Arlene Sheff, CMP

Today’s column brings comments from our supplier partners…a Senior Director of Catering and Convention Services, an Associate Director of Catering & Conference Services, Director of Event Catering, Catering Sales Manager and a special event company owner. Since they continually deal with meeting managers planning food and beverage functions, their insight can teach us some valuable lessons.

Each was asked to complete two sentences – and/or offer additional advice on how meeting planners can save money on F&B.

Here’s how our supplier partners completed the first sentence…If meeting planners only did/knew _______, they could save money on F&B.

  • If meeting planners only knew how hotels make a profit and what they can provide at least cost with most benefit (‘bang for their client’s buck’), planners could request benefits and cost savings of less impact to the hotel.
  • If meeting planners only knew to order their Continental Breakfast a la carte (dozens of bagels, gallons of coffee, etc.) rather than the full Continental Breakfast, they could save money on F&B.
  • If meeting planners only knew exact numbers, they could save money on F&B.
  • If meeting planners only knew more about their groups’ needs and objectives, they could save money on F&B.
  • If meeting planners only knew actual consumption history for the last 3 years, they could save money on F&B. I find meeting planners have detailed room history and copies of event orders and banquet checks, but rarely do they have the ACTUAL consumption of hors d’oeuvres, liquor etc. or the ACTUAL numbers of meals served. They either order too much or not enough. If they short order, they are forced to add more during the event and can’t negotiate the same price, but have to take whatever is available.

Here’s how our supplier partners completed the second sentence…Meeting planners are overspending on _______ because ___________.

  • Meeting planners are overspending on their guarantees (case in point, breakfast items) because they are afraid of ‘running out.’ Select items that can be easily and quickly replenished if it looks like its going to run out (pastries, yogurt, or packaged items)
  • Meeting planners are overspending on bottled waters, soft drinks, and coffee (for refreshes) because they don’t indicate specific amounts to the hotel on their f&b specs.
  • Meeting planners are overspending on themed lunch buffets, because people aren’t into eating hot lunch items on 95 degree days.
  • Meeting planners are overspending on DMCs because they charge so much more than if they worked with the hotel CSM staff directly.
  • Meeting planners are overspending on linens, flowers, décor, entertainment, etc. because they don’t try to use resources and/or contacts through hotel catering departments. They hire third party vendors who hire others and add layer upon layer of additional expenses.
  • Meeting planners can also save if they start the planning process 6-9 months out. Most catering departments will give them the existing menus with the existing prices. If they wait too long, the hotel may have changed menu pricing.
  • Also, a good relationship with the Chef and CSM will always go a long way to great teamwork and a mutual understanding of your event. Chefs will work with you a lot more when there is a personal relationship attached.

This concludes my column and it’s time for me to say goodbye. Many thanks to my supplier partners who participated in my questionnaire.

I know it will be hard for me to give up my Jeweled Guru Crown, but they warned me it will turn to straw when Friday draws to a close. It’s been a pleasure writing about Food and Beverage Cost Saving Tips. I still have many more up my sleeve, so please catch up with me another time. Hope you’ll stay tuned for other interesting topics.

What Happened to Public Etiquette?

July 20, 2006

By Colleen Rickenbacher

What has happened to our day-to-day manners, civility and consideration for others?  They are gone.  Of course this does not apply to everyone but a large majority have either forgotten deeds of kindness that their mothers have taught them, or possibly they were never taught.  We need to pick our heads up from our electronic devices and go back to face-to-face communication and to remember the simple "thank you" and "you're welcome."  Our society has made a huge shift in the past decade to make us all work longer hours, concentrate on the bottom line, and to push the ROI.  This focus is good but with it comes less time for our personal life and family.  I have gone to a million time management courses and I am still trying to balance and figure out how I can put more hours in a day.  What we do need to manage to include in our day are those little acts of kindness to our co-workers, family and even total strangers that we pass on the street, sit next to in airports or pass on the highway.  Etiquette is a part of everything we do from the way we look and dress, our handshake the way we exchange a business card, through our e-mails, cell phones and electronic etiquette to how we eat.  We can turn off a person instantly by talking to them after you just took a bite of food and showing them everything in your mouth.  You get approximately 3-5 seconds to make a first impression and months and even years to take it back.  I compare your first impression to your television remote control.  Many of you even take less that 3-5 seconds before you swith the channel.  Out of 86,400 seconds that you have everyday, you surely can stop for 3-5 seconds for eye contact with someone or 3-5 seconds to allow a car trying to get into traffic without honking to them, or even just to hold a door for the person coming behind you.  Let's talk public etiquette.

1.  Hold the door:  Before you let the door shut behind you just take a quick glance to see if anyone is walking toward you.  If so just take a few seconds and hold the door for them.  It doesn't matter what the age or gender just get into the habit and hold the door.  Hopefully that person will return a smile to you and a kind thank you. 

2.  Cell phones:  Just remember who is more important --The person sitting next to you or the person on the phone?  This speaks volumes about your etiqette skills.  I promise it won't be the end of the world if you get back to that person 15-20 minutes later. 

3.  Dining etiqette:  Talking and eating are two totally separate acts and never to be combined.

4.  Elevators:  Let the people get off before you even think of getting into an elevator.   When the door opens you could hold it to let them exit and then allow elderly and parents with small children get on first. 

5.  The highway:  Use your turn signals, allow people to pull on from the entrance ramp and be kind as a driver.  Road rage is way out of control so these little acts of kindness will totally confuse people and might even create a small smile and a wave as a thank you.

6.  Invited to someone's home:  Bring a gift and arrive on time.  Don't go empty handed to a dinner or a party.  If it with friends then help with the food with a dessert or appetizer. Either bring a small gift as a bottle of wine or a candle or something that would enjoy after the party.  Don't bring flowers or any gift that would cause them to stop and have to be away from their guests.  Flowers the next day would be great. 

7.  Thank you notes:  People still love to receive a thank you note and should be sent to thank a person for a job well done, a meal, a gift or something they did for you or your company.  An e-mail thank you can be sent initially and then follow-up wth a handwritten note. 

8.  R.s.v.p.:  You need to respond yes or no for all invitations.  You can have a change of plans but let people know if you are attending.  As we know all events, meetings and meal functions cost money especially if extra plans need to be handled for no-shows or 20 people that just showed up.

9.  E-mails:  Remember it is a business communication.  Before you hit that send button just ask yourself the question "Would you send this e-mail out it a letter format?"  If not, you might want to check your spelling, grammar and subject line.

10. Buffets:  A buffet is not your last meal. 

Colleen A. Rickenbacher, CMP, CSEP


What Does Maintaining History Have To Do With Cutting F&B Costs?

July 20, 2006

By Arlene Sheff, CMP

It really has a lot to do with saving costs. Here is some historical data you might want to start tracking, if you don’t already. You decide which ones are the most useful for your group – some pertain more to plated meals than buffets or receptions. Then, the next time you have a similar function, you’ll have historical data to guide you through location selection, menu selection, ordering method selection, service style selection and amount to guarantee.

  1. Demographics of group
  2. Day of week, date and time of event
  3. Location/room set-up/staging of event
  4. Size of ballroom (the more crowded the reception, the less food/drink consumed – or the more crowded, the larger the number who won’t stay and eat).
  5. Theme/entertainment/décor/linens
  6. Type of food served (some may not stay due to menu selection)
  7. Number of guests invited
  8. Number of RSVPs – whether YES or NO
  9. Number who actually showed up
  10. Number of on-site registrants (those who didn’t RSVP)
  11. Number of ‘no shows’ –I’ve noticed more ‘no shows’ on the west coast, than the east coast - perhaps weather is a factor in this.
  12. Number of guests guaranteed
  13. Number of places set
  14. Number of guests served - if the group is less than 400, it’s easy to count empty chairs– identified by unused napkins.
  15. Type of beverage service
  16. Number of drinks consumed per person (split by type of beverage)
  17. Reception prior to dinner and/or wine with dinner
  18. Was there enough food at the function – or was buffet or chafing dishes empty?
  19. Any complaints you may have heard or read in evaluations about the food.
  20. Final budget

Do you have any examples to share about how historical data related to the amount of money you saved on food and beverage?

Are Your Guarantees Wasting Money?

July 19, 2006

By Arlene Sheff,CMP

Do you waste $$$ when you give your food guarantee?
Are you embarassed by too many empty seats?
Are you paying for ‘no shows’ at meal functions?

If you answered YES to any of the above, read on. And, even if you answered NO, don’t quit now. Read on, then send me a note with your suggestions.

Here are some guidelines to help you determine correct guarantees…

1. If ‘night before’ was a late night, breakfast attendance might go down.
2. Breakfast counts go down each day of the meeting, unless there is a prominent breakfast speaker (i.e. the company president).
3. If the kitchen is far from your ballroom (or suite), consider giving a higher guarantee, as it would take too long for last minute reorders.
4. Consider what distractions are close by and whether your attendees might pass up a meal function to do something else…i.e. close by shopping.
5. Ask re food function attendance on registration form
6. Verify attendance at food functions with local attendees. Many may not arrive in time for breakfast or stay for the evening reception or dinner.
7. Verify speakers’ participation in food functions. Some may use the time to rehearse or set-up equipment.

Please reply with additional guidelines for giving accurate guarantees or questions.

Is Drinking Responsibly a New Trend?

July 18, 2006

By Arlene Sheff

Many years ago, I attended an attorney’s presentation. His message left a lasting impression on me and I try to incorporate it into my ‘Food and Beverage’ or ‘Problem-free Meetings’ presentations. He asked the meeting planners in the audience…’when your organization is being sued and they put you on the stand, will you be able to prove that you did everything in your power to protect your organization and your attendees?’ Sounds scary, doesn’t it…but oh, so true.

What effort are you putting forth to protect your attendees and limit the liability of your organization?

Here are 10 steps you might take when serving alcoholic beverages. Some of these suggestions might even save you money.

1. Provide pre-meeting information outlining guidelines for drinking responsibly.
2. Serve only beer and wine.
3. Provide sufficient food (avoid salty snacks) and complimentary non-alcoholic beverages.
4. Provide drink tickets to control consumption.
5. Include a dual indemnification clause in your contract.
6. Instruct bartenders not to serve anyone who appears to be intoxicated
7. No self-service - ALWAYS hire a bartender, even in hospitality suites. 
8. Cut 15 minutes off your cocktail party – no one will notice and you’ll even save $$$.
9. Close bars prior to the end of the event. Do not announce a ‘last call.’
10. As a precaution, pre-arrange taxi service and hotel accommodations.

What steps have you taken lately on this subject?

Is Breakfast Breaking Your Budget?

July 17, 2006

By Arlene Sheff

To those of you who haven’t decided to add protein at breakfast, have you heard complaints? Is it a budget issue? Is it a time issue? Or, is it something you just haven’t thought about?

Breakfast is costing you more than it used to, if you’ve switched from serving a basic continental breakfast to a breakfast that includes protein.

Protein in the morning keeps your attendees alert and awake, at least through the morning. Where is the protein in coffee, juice, fruit or Danish/bagels? You’re right, there isn’t any.

Here’s a great way to add protein to your breakfast without breaking your budget.

If the menu states:
#1 - Basic continental breakfast (coffee, juice, fruit, and Danish/bagels) - $16
#2 – Basic continental breakfast above with yogurt and individual cereals - $19

TO SAVE $$$: Instead of ordering #2, just to serve protein, order the #1 continental breakfast and add on yogurt and individual cereals ‘on consumption’ (which means you are charged for the yogurt (individual cartons) and cereal that is consumed.) That way, you don’t have to pay the additional amount for EVERYONE.

NOTE: A side order of hard boiled eggs also is a good addition – at a price tag of between $1 to $2 per egg. NON-shelled eggs don’t smell. Even a platter of thin cheese slices (about 1 inch square) goes over well.

Let me know what you’re doing to add protein to your breakfasts…

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