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September 5, 2011 | last updated January 17, 2012 1:22 pm
Advice squad

Event planning | Follow a few simple steps to make your fundraiser or company reception a hit

Advice Squad is written by members of the Maine chapter of the Association for Consulting Expertise, a trade organization of 88 consultants around the state. This issue's column is written by Martha Bradley, president at Project Solutions LLC in Portland.

Perhaps you have a company outing, a fundraiser or other business event on the horizon. Pulling together an event can be exciting and overwhelming. Don't panic.

Here's what simple planning can do. The Institute for Family-Owned Business wanted to make its annual awards event more successful and profitable. So I helped to manage the event, the Maine Family Business Awards, where the institute honors three or more family-owned businesses. Planning meetings began eight months before the targeted event date. That meant reaching out statewide for award nominations, requesting and following through on submissions, recruiting and managing the judging process, and producing the custom awards. We also developed a budget, an invoicing and payment process, and a database to track businesses. After deciding on marketing, sponsorships, speakers, a venue and printed programs, the event came together. The result was attendance that increased more than 200%, new sponsorships and highly favorable feedback through surveys.

Getting started

First and foremost, pick a date. Research other relevant events happening in the same timeframe. Do you want to have your event on a weekend (perhaps a holiday weekend) or mid-week?

Second, pick a place. How big a space do you need? What kind of setting do you want? What geographic area do you want to host your event? Do you want your event outside or inside? Do you want food catered by the facility or by an outside caterer? Is there parking? Do you need to have your event site handicapped-accessible? Do they have an event planner on site?

You may need to contract for a tent and rentals (tables, chairs, dance floor, catering). Rental companies can assist you with determining tent size and the rentals you'll need. You may also need to consider portable toilets, trash cans, bar setup and licensing, decorations and a band. If all the details overwhelm you, consider hiring an event planner, so you can just be the host and enjoy your event.

Next, set a budget. Do you have a specific amount to work with? Make a list of all the anticipated expenses. If your event is price-sensitive, consider hosting it on a Monday, Tuesday or Sunday, which generally are less busy days.

Develop a timeline. In order to ensure a smooth event, prepare a timeline of tasks that need to be accomplished and when. Take catering, for example. If you are serving food, research and determine which caterer and menu items you'd like. To put this into a timeline, identify each task within "catering" and assign a date.

  • Research caterers, getting proposals or menus
  • Contract with a caterer
  • Pay deposit
  • Work on menu selection and tasting, if appropriate
  • Send final budget numbers to the caterer
  • Submit final payment to caterer

Do the same exercise with each area, such as location and site logistics, invitations and rentals. You may also need to consider timelines for parking, staffing, an emcee and lodging. Then compile all of the tasks and dates in to a master timeline, to have a tool to refer back to.

Plan B

I recall an outdoor wedding where a Nor'easter decided to stall on top of Maine, dropping over 11 inches of rain on to our multi-tented wedding site. Commercial pumps were brought in, pumping the water into the ocean; the parking plan was revised; an aisle was built with plywood and covered with grass cloth; and guests were treated to a pair of rain boots when they arrived. The bride commented afterwards, "It was a memorable wedding and I wouldn't have wanted it any other way."

Words of wisdom from an event planner: Always have a Plan B. We all want sunshine for our event, but sometimes Mother Nature feels differently. If it's raining, consider:

  • Will we need alternative parking?
  • How will we keep our guests dry?
  • Will the caterer need an indoor area for cooking?
  • When and where will photos be taken?
  • What else will be impacted if it's raining?

Professional event planners have experience with rain, as well as other situations that could affect your event. They have a wealth of resources, from rental companies to caterers, bands, fundraising auctions and more. Be sure to find an event planner who can match your expectations. Some specialize in corporate events, while others feature fundraisers.

Martha Bradley can be reached at martha@projectsolutionsllc.biz. Read more Advice Squad here.

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