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Independent Meeting Planners

Five tips to help you be the best indie meeting planner you can be

Independent (aka: indie) meeting planners are doing it all on a daily basis: managing massive budgets, sourcing spot-on properties, negotiating contracts, balancing the books and juggling a million logistical challenges. But to survive, the best indies are committed to constant improvement. Here are five ways to make your business even better.

1. Be a trend sleuth. In this fast-paced information age, learn how to drill down to what you need to know. “Read everything,” says Sandy Biback, CMP, CMM and owner of Imagination + Meeting Planners Inc. in Toronto. Biback, a veteran indie planner and award-winning instructor at Centennial College in Toronto, executes conferences, meetings and events, and has honed her ability to bulldoze through daily online listservs, blogs and e-mails with a hawk-eye for what’s relevant. She also catches up on hard-copy reading when she travels, “I rip out pages from magazines and newsletters and read them on the go, then I throw them in the recycling bin when I get to my destination.” Kitchener, Ont.-based Mariette Haras, CMP, owner of Big Events, also trendspots in the entertainment industry. “Broadway shows such as Mama Mia’s 70s disco flash, often turn into hot trends,” she says.

2. Niche-it if you need to. Haras, whose 15-year-old company has built its brand on stellar large-scale events, feels strongly that an indie planning company needs to know what it excels in. “I think it’s better to specialize than be a generalist because you get known for your niche,” she says. Toronto-based Rita Plaskett, CMP, CMM, owner of AGENDUM Inc., and award-winning instructor at George Brown College in the Hospitality and Meeting Management Program, says knowing what you want to achieve can help guide your focus. “It comes down to personal preference and style,” she says. “Do you thrive on mixing it up or do you flourish by building upon the same foundation?” Biback says being strong in many areas can help make ends meet through the bad times. “It’s a good safety net for tough economic times,” she says. “My business has survived the recession in part because I haven’t put all my eggs in one basket.”

3. Build your smarts. Biback says the Canadian Society of Professional Event Planners (CanSPEP) and other industry associations offer excellent courses on a huge range of topics that cover avoiding pitfalls, pricing and recession protection. Although Biback doesn’t belong to her local chamber of commerce, she says seeking education beyond the planning industry is worthwhile for knowledge and networking. Plaskett says she’s considering joining the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB), and has already enrolled in a Queen’s University management/leadership course. “It was refreshing to sit with a diverse group of people and be completely out of my element and comfort zone,” she says. “The experience opened the door to meeting human resource executives from Bell and some major banks.”

4. The big “B” word. “Whatever your brand, stick to it,” says Haras, who subscribes to the philosophy of building by blitzing. “Get your logo everywhere!” she says. “And hold your own annual event because it’s a great way to celebrate milestones and showcase your talent.” Both Plaskett and Biback strongly believe the best brand building happens face to face. “Find ways of getting out in the community because those who meet and greet get remembered,” says Plaskett, who makes a point of allocating time to attend weekly networking events. “Don’t tack it on,” she warns. “Make it a priority and treat it like you would a meeting with a client. But don’t stop there. Follow up with certain people you’ve met and ask them to meet for breakfast or lunch.”

5. Springboard from social media. The consensus among our experts is that social media is a useful tool for indies, although the time commitment is a concern. But Plaskett says it can save time, too. “I was going to be in New York for a one-day program and rather than spend time researching, I asked for suggestions from a New York-based LinkedIn connection. It saved a tremendous amount of time.”  Social media, Haras adds, is well suited to indie meeting planners, rather than corporate event planners, whose company policies often forbid accessing Twitter, Eventpeeps and other networking sites.

by Sherryll Sobie

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