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Celebrate Your Accomplishments!

April 30, 2007

By Bonnie Wallsh, CMP, CMM

“Growth depends on abandoning some lines and types of business in pursuit and acquisition of other more productive lines of business. Growth is not just financial. It includes broadening experiences, higher-level contacts, more sophisticated work, and an enhanced reputation.”
Million Dollar Consulting The Professional’s Guide to Growing a Practice
Alan Weiss, McGraw Hill

Congratulations! You’ve reached your one year anniversary as an entrepreneur. Celebrate your accomplishments and evaluate what factors contributed to your success. What unexpected challenges did you face? What changes would you like to make to take your business to the next step? Have you reached your projected goals in building your client base and meeting your financial target? Which clients are bringing in the most income? What opportunities are there to expand services to your best clients? Who is most demanding of your time? Which clients are toxic and would best be referred to your competitors? You must be profitable to continue in business. Increasing your revenue while cutting your overhead costs will improve your profit. When you start your business, you may be willing to take any piece of business that brings in money. As money comes in, you are in a better position to choose what clients you want to work with. Not all business is lucrative.

“Often the difference between a successful person and a failure is not the one that has better abilities or ideas, but the courage that one has to bet on one's ideas, to take a calculated risk - and to act."                                                                      
Psycho-Cybernetics, Dr. Maxwell Maltz

As I’ve grown my business, I learned how invaluable it is to have mentors and business coaches. Sometimes, we are so closely involved with our business that we need someone else to provide a clear perspective on what risks to take. I’ve worked with several coaches over the last years and each offered different perspectives. It is important that you seek someone who you trust implicitly. In addition, I’ve formed a business support group of five women entrepreneurs. We meet regularly as an advisory board for each other and three of us are collaborating as a joint venture on a conference that will be held in fall 2008. The group is invaluable in stepping back and analyzing the direction each of our business will take. We also evaluate the benefits of our association memberships, leadership opportunities, and educational programs to improve our skills.

My business has shifted to include more teaching and training compared to meeting management. I am learning that it is profitable to follow my passion.

"Life is full of insurmountable opportunities."

A Little Tap Can Reveal Your Big Break

April 27, 2007

By Joel Zuckerman

A writing colleague once disparaged another member of our profession as something of a hack.  I was confused, as the barb target had recently left his editor’s post at a high profile national magazine.  How could a guy in that lofty position be such a hack?  “You know, Joel,” explained my flame-throwing colleague condescendingly, “half of life is being on the right street corner at the right time.”

According to this seemingly embittered fellow, career success is predicated to a large extent on luck. But I don’t buy it, and have an illustrating anecdote to make my point.

The book I’m currently writing about famous golf architect Pete Dye could be one of the biggest golf books of 2008. Don’t think that the “golf” qualification minimizes the project; there are more than a hundred major golf tomes published annually. I got the job because I called Pete’s eldest son, Perry Dye, an acclaimed architect in his own right, to ask him for his opinion and assistance in another, totally unrelated writing matter. We got to chatting, and he asked me about my recent projects. I told him that his dad had been kind enough to contribute the foreword to my last book, which was about Charleston, South Carolina. Perry asked me to send him a copy, and called me a few weeks later to say he enjoyed the book. He then asked if I wanted to tackle the definitive book on his dad—a project that has become a New York-published, full-color, 300-page, expensive coffee-table book on Pete Dye’s greatest courses around the world. It was the offer of a lifetime (so far). And I accepted instantly.

When my aforementioned cynical colleague meanders into the local Barnes & Noble sometime in the autumn of 2008, sees this major book on display with my name on the cover, I suppose he’ll be thinking something to the effect of: “That Joel.  He must’ve been on the right street corner at the right time.” 

Well, I would say to him that I put myself on that street corner. I called Perry Dye looking for assistance in a separate matter. He noticed a spark, liked my attitude or whatever, and, based on a gut instinct, quite quickly offered me a project that any one of a thousand golf or sports writers in this country would love to have, many of them who have been writing for far longer than I.

It was the Roman philosopher Seneca who said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”  When my luck appeared, I was prepared for the opportunity; I wasn’t afraid to reach for the proverbial brass ring, just by striking up conversation beyond the immediate need I had.

Life is full of negative types like my writing colleague. These naysayers are at best complacent, often dissatisfied in their own life, and are happiest if everyone in their orbit fits neatly into their view of the world. Meeting planners, because of the dynamic nature of their profession, often deal with difficult people. It might be a planning colleague who, lacking his own ambition, cautions against pitching that major new account, or that Fortune 500 corporation. It’s often the impossible-to-please client, the unreachable hotel manager, the hard-to-pin-down restaurateur.

The important thing to remember is that you can do it. It’s part luck, but luck comes from pluck. The only person who can derail your ambition is you.

What is your definition of success?

April 25, 2007

By Joel Zuckerman

Monday’s post outlined the cornerstone of my personal philosophy as a corporate speaker. I’d now like to briefly discuss the concept of success, and my personal definition of what it means. 

When people ask me who I’ve written for, or when my next book will be out, they’ll invariably say something to the effect of, “Well, you must be a very good writer.” I respond with what’s become a stock line: “How good I am is a matter of debate, but at least I’m good enough to get published, anyway.”

So, what constitutes professional success? Is it how much money you make, the size of your office or perk package, how quickly your phone calls get returned, how many assistants and underlings are at your beck and call? None of these criteria apply to me personally. My office is in my home, with no regular associates whatsoever. Phone-call returns are a joke--it takes me half-dozen tries, on average, to get a meaningful call back. You can “Google” my name and find a ton of stuff, but by conventional standards, I’m not a famous or “successful” writer. My books have never sniffed any sort of best-seller list, my writing advances aren’t much, and my television appearances are on the local level. 

But here’s a crucial definition of success, and I latch onto it because it’s the only one that I feel applies to me. Here it is: Love what you do, and you’ll never work a day in your life. If you can see the logic in using that concept as a barometer of success, then yes, as a frequently-published author and speaker, I would definitely consider myself successful.

Meeting planners are, by nature, jugglers. They have to be. And many, if not most, thrive in the high-stress environment that defines their work. Most of the ones I’ve worked with love the job, and the whirlwind of activity that only intensifies as the big event grows near. They love the relationship-building that takes place between the client, the venue, and the vendors. They can get ultra-tense when the inevitable glitches occur, but putting out the fires efficiently is a central part of the job description. They also love the aftermath, the cleansing sigh of relief when all is said and done, when the attendees go home happy and satisfied. It’s not a job for everybody, but those who do it seem to love it.

And as stated above, if they don’t love what they do, it might make sense to look in another direction, employment-wise.  But only if you want to that type of “success.” I hope you do.

Never too late to be who you might have been

April 23, 2007

By Joel Zuckerman

That simple but provocative statement, credited to 18th-century novelist George Eliot, serves as the cornerstone of my personal metamorphosis from vending machine operator to freelance journalist, author, and speaker.

A decade ago I was filling vending machines for a living. I morphed from a regular Joe(l) hauling soda cases and candy bars from the back of a truck to someone whose books can be found in stores across the nation. I travel the world, writing about and reviewing golf courses and resorts, and profiling some of the biggest names in the game.

Golf is the thread, but not the fabric, of my remarks. My speaking presentations are anchored by a defining concept: Profound life change is possible. Anyone with sufficient conviction and desire can dramatically change the direction of their life and improve their circumstances. To make that first baby step from who you are now to who you want to be in the future, first one must overcome the fear of failure. After all, the status quo is easy: You have a job, it pays decently, and things are pretty good, so why rock the boat?

Well, you can’t grab the brass ring if you’re unwilling to stand up on the carousel, can you?

This doesn’t mean you need to turn your life upside down. If you’re a corporate lawyer who relaxes with yoga, it probably wouldn’t make much sense to give up your partnership and move to an ashram. If you’re a successful meeting planner whose true love is country music, you could quit your job and go beat the streets in Nashville, but there are intermediate steps that can help you discover if your passion can become your profession.

Think you love to teach kids? Volunteer for a few hours at a local day-care center, or enroll as an instructor in a literacy program. Want to care for the elderly? Help out at a nursing home. Love carpentry, sculpture, clothing design, nursing? One can dip a toe in the water in any and all activities, without diving headlong into the surf.

In short, see if it’s really for you. Make contacts with like-minded people, who might be able to steer you further down your path of choice. It can really happen, and I’m proof positive. 

And speaking of golf, let’s take world-renowned golf course architect Pete Dye. Pete was an insurance salesman until his late 30s, decided to change careers midstream, and is now credited with over a hundred different course designs, including a dozen of the world’s most celebrated courses. Pete Dye might never have heard of George Eliot, but he lives by the same creed.

Even a first or second failure need not deter you. Take Abraham Lincoln. He failed in business and farming. He had a nervous breakdown. When he entered politics, he lost every election he entered before 1860--for the House, twice for the Senate, and also the Vice-Presidency. But he believed in himself, realized it’s never too late to be who you might have been, and ended up as perhaps the greatest president in the nation’s history. 

Few of us will have the opportunity to change the world for the better like Lincoln.  But by applying these few tenets, at least we can change our own world for the better, and that’s something to be proud of.

The Job Search Economy

April 18, 2007

By Dawn Penfold

Market specialization is the key word in today's job market.  In reviewing our jobs for the past two years, I have seen more and more hiring officials looking for the perfect person.

20 years ago, even 10 years ago, the skill sets of a planner were transferable from industry to industry.  An association planner can do the work of a corporate planner - they just need to learn the nuances of the industry.  As well as a pharmaceutical planner  could do the work of a financial planner - again, just learn the buzz words of that industry.

Today, perhaps because everyone is stretched to the limit with work, or because the industries have become so litigious, hiring officials are hiring within their niche.  They want a person who is knowledgeable of their industries and have no need for training.

In the short run, this solves the immediate problem, someone to do the job with minimal training.

In the long run, this could have an impact on our industry.  Transferring of ideas could decrease, mentoring would go down the drain and each individual industry would start to just do the same thing with a slight twist here and there.

In a nutshell, things are looking great if you want to look in your own market segment.  The economy is good, jobs are there..however, be ready for rejection if you attempt to cross over into a new industry segment!

Will it Ever be About Me? Marketing Yourself Internally

April 15, 2007

By Dawn Penfold

Last week at an industry conference, I managed a round table discussion on "Marketing Yourself Internally".  The participants at these three round tables sessions were both supplier, planners  and independent business owners from entry level to senior 20+ year veterans.  The constant theme?  You can always learn how to better market yourself no matter where you are in your career and that it will always be an issue no matter where you are in your career.

The exchange of ideas brought about some helpful hints to assist you in getting noticed:

Make your self and expert and valuable. 
Your boss will do whatever it takes to keep you on board and protect you as long as you make him or her look good. Every single skill you learn, every single relationship you build makes you more valuable. 

Know how your boss evaluates success.
If your boss is a numbers cruncher, send them detailed reports showing your success in numbers.  If your boss is a relationship person, make sure your accomplishments are shown in the soft senses.

Ask for it.

Know what you want to do and ask your boss what it will take to get you there.  Then take action.

Understand Office Politics
No longer a white elephant in the office, it is real and should be watched.  Know who the movers and shakers are and watch them.  Find out why they are being successful and learn.

Perfect your partnership with suppliers

April 13, 2007

By Rob Schron

As important as it is to know who your audience is when formulating a plan for a meeting, it’s equally important for you to know who the people are who you’ll rely on to make everything happen the way you planned it, whether you’re dealing with a conference center, a hotel, or a DMC.

Everyone knows the usual cast of characters: the venue’s sales manager, the conference services or operations manager, the person who heads food and beverage, the AV guy or girl, the heads of housekeeping and security, even the finance person—they all have a stake in your program. And they almost always attend the so-called “pre-con” – that coffee and cookies “extravaganza” that usually takes place a day or so before your meeting where you get to meet them in person, and they show up to assure you everything is going to be just fine.

Assurances aside, however, you need to make sure everyone appreciates that while they’re only coming into contact with your guests for brief periods of time, your relationship with the group is ongoing and your reputation is on the line more than theirs. (It can’t hurt, by the way, to request that the venue’s general manager also be on hand for this get-together). 
When you do meet the people responsible for the logistics of your meeting, it’s always a good idea to exchange business cards so that they don’t forget who you are and, just as importantly, you don’t forget who they are. And it doesn’t hurt to review the plan you’ve put together so that everyone is on the same page and knows your meeting’s time line. In fact, to make sure everyone is on the same page, provide everyone with that “same page” (or pages) and avoid leaving anything to chance or open to question.
For instance, if your venue is a hotel, you might want to remind housekeeping that even though your meetings will start each day with breakfast at 7:30 a.m., they shouldn’t plan on making up rooms earlier than, say, 9:00 a.m. – and even later if the attendee is accompanied by his or her spouse who might have forgotten to put out the “Do Not Disturb” sign!
Other issues you might want to raise or review at the “pre-con” -- aside, obviously, of the banquet event orders -- include the exact time the room or rooms for the program will be set up, the exact location in each room of rheostats, thermostats, tale-phone extensions and emergency exits, and the person to contact at any time during your meeting if you need to change something or in the event of an emergency. 

You might also use the pre-con to take issue with something that has been a pet peeve of ours ever since we started our business event planning business 25 years ago: the so-called “tip cup” – that wine glass with a dollar or two in it that invariably shows up on bars as a reminder to “take care of the bartender.”  When you’re paying to cover gratuities and service charges that on F&B alone these days range in many places from 15-24%, we find this particularly egregious – and have taken to insist that venues we’re working with put it in writing – right there on the BEO -- that this display of greed won’t become an issue at any of our functions.      

Maybe we should drink to that!

Know your place in the meeting

April 11, 2007

By Rob Schron

Whether you’re a corporate, association, or independent meeting planner, you need to know one very important thing about the meeting you’ve undertaken to manage: Just exactly where you stand – or, for that matter, sit – when the actual event is taking place.

All too often, the meeting planner is left to fend for him or herself during business sessions, breakouts, and dining situations and without guidance from the top – from the people for whom you’re managing the program – and this can put you in somewhat of an awkward, or even untenable, position. 
As for business sessions, if you haven’t been advised where your company or client wants you to be, there’s no harm in asking. Should you be in the back of the conference room or immediately outside it? Do you need to be in close proximity to the event, or can you be a short distance away, checking on other rooms but within range of a walkie-talkie or cell phone? Is it necessary for you to be on site if you’re 100% -- repeat, 100% -- sure the venue itself can handle any problems that may arise? Knowing in advance where you’re expected to be can go a long way in eliminating any misunderstandings between you and the people responsible for the content of the meeting. And having it in writing isn’t a bad idea, either.

When it comes time to dine, whether it’s breakfast, lunch, a cocktail reception or dinner, here, too, you should ask for guidance. Are you on the scene in simply a supervisory capacity, or do you get to share in the experience with your group’s guests? While, in my view, you should always be on site when it comes to group dining – if nothing else than to make sure the setup is right, the wait staff is attentive and the food is what you ordered – the meeting’s hosts may feel otherwise. Know upfront what is expected of you, and if you’re not going to eat with the troops or be there to simply oversee F&B, make an arrangement with the kitchen to eat before or afterwards.

A word, or a few, about drinking: While in most cases, a company or association will assume all, or at least a share, of the responsibility for the consumption of alcohol with the venue serving it, the independent planner should always include a disclaimer in any contract drawn up for a client that acknowledges that (1) the planner be held harmless for any issues that might arise as a result of excessive alcohol consumption; and that (2) the planner not be responsible for any and all losses, damages, claims and expenses that may result from it.

And, if you’ve been invited to be on the scene during such a reception, make sure your glass contains nothing more than Poland Spring or Pelligrino!

Demographic considerations for food and fun

April 09, 2007

By Rob Schron

In the meeting planning business, when it comes to putting together an agenda, you need to recognize that all men – and women, as well -- are not created equal.

In short, you must know your audience. If you’re an internal corporate or association planner, chances are you know who you’re dealing with and the issues most important to them. But if you’re an independent planner, make sure your client provides you with a detailed profile that pinpoints the type of crowd you’re going to have to manage, and who among them may need “special handling.”

And remember that the site you choose for your meeting isn’t more important than what you plan to do once everyone gets there. In this vein, if everybody either works for the company holding the meeting or shares interest in a common subject matter, the agenda itself should be the least of your challenges. What you need to do is make sure the overall experience is, if not unforgettable, at the very least enjoyable.   

So the first thing you probably need to know is the age range of the participants. Young and old don’t always mix, or even want to try, so you might want to make sure you’ve selected a site for your program that has universal appeal and enough activities that all age groups can find something to enjoy. Not everybody plays golf, remember, and casinos and beaches are not everybody’s cup of tea, either.

Food, too, needs to be considered, since one person’s steak is often another’s
broccoli. Best bet here is to probably consider a buffet with a wide variety of choices, or a plated meal with options for appetizers and main courses.

Creativity can come into play here, of course. If you’re putting together a lunch or dinner for an international audience, consider food stations representative of the various countries from where the attendees come from. Or, if the company produces a product at various domestic or international locations, you could serve food known to be the specialties of these regions and thus create a theme.

In short, meeting planners need to give thought for food outside the meeting room, in addition to giving food for thought inside the meeting room.

Asking the Right Questions

April 04, 2007

By Joan Eisenstodt

Years ago, our MPI Chapter (the Potomac chapter) did a great skit for a monthly program.  In it, meeting planners called hotel sales people to book meetings.  The planners would start with “I want to book a meeting.”  The sales person would ask “For how many?” and the planner would respond “I don’t know – maybe 50 – maybe 500.”  The sales person would ask “When do you want to have the meeting?” and the planner would respond “My boss said sometime this year.” 

Finally, after the sales person asked more questions for which the planner had broad or no answers, the sales person would put the call on hold and pretend to check – but check what? 

In the very first case in which I testified as an expert witness, I was stunned that a corporate planner booked and canceled the same meeting three times – really! – because the planner kept forgetting to ask if the CEO’s schedule would accommodate participation at the meeting! 

How can anyone plan and book a meeting without specific information?  If your organization has not asked the right questions, how can you develop the information and provide the answers to the facility? to the participants? for the marketing pieces? to secure the speakers?  How can meetings be planned without getting to the deeper answers which can only come from asking all the questions?

For many of you, answers would be easier to develop than questions.  You want to get moving – you have deadlines to meet!  You’re used to the short answers.  When you ask “why are you considering holding a face to face meeting?” or “why are we having this meeting at all?”, you may be told “because” or “my boss said to plan this meeting” or my favorite, “because we’ve always had one at this time of year.”

Taking it the next step, you might then ask “Where do you want to hold the meeting?” and be told “Somewhere warm.”  Ah yes, that helps!  “Warm” narrows it down to … many places.  Without coming up with more questions, you won’t even be able to narrow it down to parts of the world or even to areas of one country.

If asked about the budget, the answer, before Q-storming™ may be “Don’t overspend.”  Overspend over what?  You have no numbers on which to base a preliminary budget!   

Your turn again.  Begin to think of questions that might impact meeting logistics –the when, where and budget and see how many you can generate – here, in the Miguru comments, or on your computer in a list, or if you think best with pen or pencil and paper, have at it.  Think about all the experiences you’ve had that would have had different outcomes if you’d just have asked the questions first.

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