Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Takeaways from a First Time Company Retreat

If you are considering hosting a Company Retreat, the below article I wrote for a client's blog, may be of interest. Bringing your team together in a relaxed, casual atmosphere allows them to bond while continuing business conversations. If designed correctly, its a win-win and you'll see a stronger team post event. 

On November 16, 2017 Sonoma, California was greeted with 37 virtual CFOs, and accountants from all over the USA. They flew in from places like Casselberry, Florida and Fort Wayne, Indiana to spend four nights at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn with their fellow colleagues—whom they never met.   Over the course of the Retreat, which broke all the rules of typical events, the group bonded and became friends over DISC assessment sessions, group dinners, cooking class, and 2am swimming sessions. (Yes, plural.)

Designed by a seasoned experiential marketer, the agenda facilitated lots of learning in different environments. For example, the group spent time in compelling and engaging interactive main sessions, and then broke away to have casual smaller group conversations at the pool. They enjoyed old-fashioned ice cream floats during breaks, and then continued the conversations over small group dinners nightly, and capped off the retreat with a day of activities such as go kart racing, historic walking tours, cooking class, and a biking winery tour. The farewell group dinner was held in a wine cave—a first-time unique and memorable experience for most.

For a team that is 100% distributed, coming together and meeting colleagues for the first time in person vs over a video conference call was eye opening. Apparently, a few team members that came off as “shy” via video, really weren’t so timid in person.

When the group was asked to share memorable experience from the Retreat, overwhelmingly they responded that simply meeting colleagues in person was the coolest experience.  Someone shares they ate wine grapes for the first time. Now there’s an unforgettable experience! Others really enjoyed the day of activities and seeing the local area for the first time.

Having face-to-face time with the CEO and COO was also an important experience for some team members.

The company utilizes several innovative technology platforms to communicate. Many people noted that they were surprised how willing people were to enjoy the pool, as well as, have drinks after dinner.  Perhaps that speaks to how comfortable the team is with each other and how effective the technology platforms have been.

At the end of the day, everyone (hopefully) realized that they work for an amazing company that really cares for their employees. It was a truly rewarding experience to meet and mingle with everyone and get to know them even more.

It’s now nearly four weeks later and the group is still talking about the Retreat and are looking forward to the 2018 event. The destination is still TBD but if I had to guess, it’ll be on the East Coast.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Importance of Play (in Meetings)

It’s important that meeting professionals take ownership of how learning is delivered at events. Participants respond to events in different ways and there are many tools to improve these experiences. Incorporating play is one way to enhance your participants’ experiences, and
their learning.
After setting through hours of sessions for multiple days, incorporating a change of scenery and a change of focus, will help attendees continue to learn, but in a different way. Breaking a larger group into several smaller groups allows more sincere, honest conversations and a chance to connect on a different level. Add to that opportunity a relaxed, casual atmosphere where attendees are focusing on play and the fun—and learning--really begins!
The types of play I include at my clients’ meetings and events incorporates a local  experience. For example, when a group is in Sonoma, they may be engaged in a wine blending activity where they break into teams. The best tasting wine –as determined by a proper winemaker—wins and that blend is bottled and the group takes home bottles of the winning blend—complete with custom label. When a group is in Los Cabos, attendees are encouraged to break into smaller groups and choose a thrilling activity such as zip-lining, ATV, horseback, or to ride, feed, and kiss (yes!) a camel. (I know, not your usual first choice for an activity in Cabo, but a unique and memorable experience nonetheless.)
Just as there’s always room for dessert, there’s always time for play. It’s important to carve out time in every agenda for play to truly see results of the classroom learning. Play opens the minds of the young and old alike and brings theories and concepts to life through practical use. It also facilitates cross team/function relationships and team bonding that is priceless.

I’d love to hear how you incorporate play into your experiences.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Are you meeting the experiential needs of your attendees?

Ensuring terrific attendee experiences is an increased focus for meeting planners. It’s imperative to design an engaging experience for your attendees that aligns with their style of learning (during corporate retreats, for example, many companies implement a DISC assessments or similar personality test to assess employee personalities to facilitate a better working/learning environment.) The experience starts well before and extends until after the meeting, in addition to the on-site experience itself.

Traditional meeting formats --like a jammed packed agenda with a 10 min break and six one hour long Power point presentations—are super out-dated. Who can sit through that?  Attendees need the correct environment and space to digest and discuss the new ideas being presented.

A few strategies that I find successful include:
1. Distribute agenda and content ahead of the event. This allows attendees to have an idea on what will be discussed, and gives them some time to think about the topics prior to the meeting.  This allows the valuable face-to-face time to be used to discuss,
 debate, and evaluate what was presented.

2. Small breakout sessions help facilitate more meaningful, honest dialogue.  Attendees can choose the breakoutout topic that best resonates with them.

3. Group dinners in the evenings are a perfect venue for continuing the days conversations in a relaxed, casual atmosphere. The real team bonding and relationships are forged over food and drinks with 5-6 people.

4. Interesting snack breaks. Don’t just throw sodas and granola bars at your attendees. Customize the breaks to be memorable, and unique. Cool (or warm) lavendar scented towels coupled with a build your own old fashioned rootbeer float station.

5. Purpose-built networking activities. Trust falls and rope courses, move aside. Any activity—whether it be a wine blending, ziplining, or historical tour – can have great ROI. Providing a platform for attendees to continue the discussions, network, and forge relationships is priceless.  Giving attendees the opportunity to meet and talk with colleagues from other departments that they usually don’t have a chance to interact, helps promote cross functional learning and awareness.

How are you meeting the experiential needs of your attendees? I’d love to hear!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Freelancer Dream and Finances

Freelancing is the dream, right? You wake up when you want, work a little, go to the beach. MYTH. Freelancing is HARD. It’s can be challenging to be your own boss, be 100% responsible for you and your business. That’s a lot of pressure. Your job is to find clients, and keep them. And if you have a family -- work/life blending (not balancing) is an added obstacle. And what about the business side of the business—the finances. That alone can be scary and overwhelming. It’s important to know how to handle the money you’ll be making in your new freelancing career. And more importantly, to find a trusted accountant.

Several Accounts
Freelance = feast or famine. Either you are inundated with work,  or not working at all. For this reason, it’s important to always have a savings account to cover at least three months’ worth of expenses. In addition to a savings account, you should keep your banking accounts separate: for example, personal, business, and taxes. As a freelancer you are responsible for paying your own taxes. So when freelance checks comes in, approximately 40% should go straight into the tax savings account. 40%? Yep. You’re still responsible for your share of income (including state), Social Security, and Medicare taxes. Your accountant will advise you to pay quarterly taxes –and what that minimum amount is--to avoid end-of-year penalties. This really brings into account the importance of tax planning as many freelancers have other investments, so it is important to look at all your taxable sources to determine the proper tax savings amount. A good accountant is priceless as a freelancer.

If you are new to freelancing, the lack of benefits--like no health insurance or 401K—can be the scariest part of your new business.  It’s important to research individual health/vision/dental plans to determine which plans fit your needs and your budget. Health plans can be quite costly, and you must account for this added expense. Also, you should talk with your accountant regarding tax-advantaged saving options such as SEP IRA, SIMPLE IRA, self-employed 401(k), or an IRA. Saving for retirement is important.

Track Everything
Track every last penny. Keep all of your receipts. Use Excel, use a piece of notebook paper, or buy proper software. This will be key in helping you and your accountant determine your taxable income, and help support your deductions. Further, your accountant may find more tax deductions of which you weren’t aware. Additionally, you’ll want to keep these documents in the case of IRS audits.

Live Within Your Means
While working from home does have its advantages—more flexibility, more family time-- it’s still not all glitter and glam. You’ll still have to live on a budget, which you’ll be more vested because you are controlling every aspect of your income.  Finding new ways to live comfortable and within your means is part of being a freelancer. Perhaps, you’ll surprise yourself and discover ways to reduce your monthly expenses.  With a little leftover, perhaps you’ll be able to experience something you’ve always wanted, or put some away for retirement. Finding the right projects and right clients that will allow you to achieve your financial goals while also living the lifestyle you prefer –that is the freelance dream. 

I would love to hear what other freelancers are doing to manage their finances. Care to share?

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Home Office Setup Impacts Productivity

Your office space is very important. Heck, it’s where you spend a majority of your day. If your space isn’t conducive to working, you won’t be as productive.  And, when you work from home, it’s important to stay focused and have a positive work space that will attribute to an efficient work environment.  But let’s face it, when you work remote, your office could be your kitchen, closet, a nook in the bedroom, or a shed out back.  How do you make that space special and productive?

Several of my clients are 100% distributed, therefore, no one really “sees” the entire workspace of their colleagues. I thought it would be fun to poll one of the teams on the one change they have made to their physical office setup, and how it has positively impacted their work.

The answers I received fell everywhere from invest in a high quality office chair to throw out the printer (!!) I’m not one to argue a good chair with great ergonomics and lower back support. It certainly makes a big difference in how you feel at the end of the day.  However, throwing away a printer seems a bit drastic for me--I’m too old school.

One executive said he changed his background view to something interesting --the picture frame golf course view.  Apparently, he is asked if it is real in about 100% of the new calls he is on and people love it.  What a great conversational starter. 

Cleaning out, for most people, is quite therapeutic. I know I always feel better after I purge and re-organize.  One team member said she organized (cleaned) her office and has gone entirely paperless with her personal bills . The result is that she is more productive because she’s not distracted with disorganized paperwork. I may borrow this idea. There is way too much paper in my life. 

Stand up desks are all the rage these days—especially at tech companies.   One team member shared that she purchased an UPLIFT desk with her Tech stipend (another amazing benefits of working for some companies) and moved her new desk next to a window. She can adjust her desk to a stand up or sit down position and she likes the fact that she can see her back yard, flowers, and the bird bath.

A CEO mentioned the importance of having a door you can close while you are working and can open when you are not.

If you work remote, and are bored with your setup or struggling to stay focused and productive, a few small changes can certainly help.  I'd love to hear what changes you have recently made to your physical office setup, and how it has positively impacted your work.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Move Over Balance. It’s Blending Time.

Everyone talks about it, there are many debates on how best to achieve it, and many people say it’s a requirement of their employment. Many blog posts have been written on 42 tricks and tips to achieve it and the seven habits of the highly successful who have achieved it. What is it? Work life balance. I’m here to say that it is no longer about the balance. Balancing a busy personal life with a busy work life is stressful! You schedule time for family, you schedule time for yourself, you schedule time for work. Hello stress.

Since starting my firm less than one year ago, I have diligently practiced the concept of work life blending. (Yeah, kinda like a smoothie).  One of the reasons I left corporate America after a successful 17-year career was to have my cake and eat it too -- not to balance. I have a family (and want to keep it) and I have a life—a pretty exciting, adventurous one. (Well, as adventurous as a life can be with a newborn), and I love what I do for work and I am willing to go to the extreme to do it.

How do I work life blend?

1.     I treat everything—work, me time, family time, lifestyle/friend time—seriously. It’s on my calendar.  My daughter’s scheduled C-section was on a calendar meeting request to her father and my mother. Yep, that’s how serious I am.

2.     I use a lot of cool tech platforms and tools for communicating with clients. My favorites right now are Slack, a real-time messaging, archiving, and search tool that all the hip companies are using and Sococo, an online workplace that facilitates collaboration.

3.     I work off hours. There is no need for me to sit at a desk from 9-5pm local time. And who turns their phone off at 5pm anyways? I have clients all over the USA so working off hours is a necessity.  My Mondays start with a client’s executive team call at 7am. My other days usually start at 10am. I work at 8pm most nights (never Tuesdays—I have beach volleyball league). Bottom line, I do not need to be in my office physically for 8 hours straight to get my work done.

4.     I incorporate flexibility. I schedule my day around my commitments and accomplish my work. I may take a 9am Body Pump class or take my baby to a Music Together class at 4:30pm (and take a call enroute). Often, I work again at night after the baby goes to bed.

5.     I combine work travel with family/fun travel. I think the term they use for this is “bleisure”. I travel a lot for work.  It’s easier to tack on a family holiday or girls weekend when you’re blending work and life.

6.     I communicate. My family and my clients always know “what’s next?” Whether that be my next biz trip or our next deliverables or action items. See #1. 

My life has completely changed for the better in the past nine months and most of the credit goes to work life blending. I engage with life and work together.  Are you ready to drop the balancing act and start blending?  What are you doing to have a better blend of work and life?  Any other tips/tricks people out there have to blend your work and life better?

Monday, June 5, 2017

Company Retreats: Preventative Care for Distributed Companies

As I gear up for a client's inaugural all-hands company retreat in a few months, I've been reflecting back on a blog post I wrote back in February entitled, Trust Falls and Rope Courses.  It’s a great post mortem read about a successful leadership team retreat and how sometimes these retreats get a bad rep.
Like the interchangeable terms “remote work”, “co-located”, “working from home”, and “distributed team”, the term “company retreat” can be referred to as an “offsite”, “summit”, “camp”, or “meeting.” Company retreats are a strategy and running a company retreat is an expertise. They should not be looked at as a cookie cutter solution—your retreat should be customized to meet your team’s culture and your team’s goals and objectives.

Why host a company retreat if you’re a distributed company? Simply, it will create more opportunities for human connectedness and enhance seamless communications. Being physically together in the same room also builds trust. Retreats can help with the disconnectedness that virtual employees may feel.

Think of a company retreat as preventive care. If you nurture your employees in good times, they will be prepared for unexpected challenges in the future. With many companies, I’ve seen first hand the positive outcomes of a company retreat in the form of an “afterglow”—the magic that happens immediately after an event for a few months. Teams seem closer, more casual, more open, more communicative, and more productive.

Most of my clients host a company retreat once a year, and an executive/leadership team retreat once a year. There’s no right frequency—it’s what’s right for your needs and your culture…and your budget. Company retreats are not inexpensive. When you consider the lost client time (if you’re a services company), the resources needed, and the actual cost—it adds up. Many distributed companies take the (roughly 4% of overall revenue) funds they would use as office overhead (rent, facilities, etc) and put towards a line item called, “Employee Development.” Connectedness and culture are super important to any successful company, and especially to distributed teams.  The retreat can be the lifeblood of the company. Often employee retention and even client retention can be linked back to company retreats.

The planning and logistics of a company retreat are intensely complicated. Companies, a lot of times,  don’t realize what all is involved. They become frustrated and the event suffers. Often, it has the opposite effect of causing division. Full knowledge of what all is involved is imperative to a successful event. Finding the right venue is a big challenge: ensuring good wifi, proper meeting space, privacy, the list goes on. Sure, you can do it yourself, but why? Let a professional handle it for you and you’ll be amazed at the cost savings you receive through concessions and negotiating.

You have a friend in the business with andgreat. And we won’t even charge you to find a venue.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

How Does Your Distributed Company Incorporate CSR?

Corporate Social Responsibility is a management concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations. Many of us have likely participated in employers CSR programs—taking the afternoon off to clean up the local beach, volunteering at a soup kitchen or shelter. It feels good to help your local community and give back, and it’s certainly a team bonding experience. And from a public relations perspective, looks great.

But, what if your company is distributed. How do you get everyone involved in  CSR programs? Not everyone can fly to one location, for example, to build a house for Habitat for Humanity, or participate in an ASL Charity Walk.

According to Global Workplace Analytics, telecommuting and virtual work has grown by 102.1 percent between 2005 and 2014. With this change in the workforce, it’s imperative companies include and engage all employees from various locations across the world.

Summit CPA Group, a 100% distributed company with employees living all over the USA in cities like Orlando, Fort Wayne, Hermosa Beach, Colorado Springs, and Flint.  Being 100% distributed doesn’t stop Summit CPA Group from incorporating a strong corporate culture that includes a very personalized CSR program. Annually, Summit CPA Group provides each employee $100. Employees choose to donate to any local non-profit of their choice.
Summit CPA Group Co-Founder Jody Grunden says, “It’s important that each team member feels that they can contribute positively and do good in their local communities and support the specific cause(s) that are near and dear to their hearts.”

Some of the non-profits they choose to donate include: Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, St. Jude’s Hospital, Boys Scouts/Girl Scouts, Central Missouri Diabetic Children’s Camp, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Why is a customized CSR program important? One team member said, “CPA firms can become so focused on staff productivity that they forget we have lives outside of work.  This CSR program is reminder that Summit CPA Group cares about who we are outside of the office and supports our interests."

Another team member shared that, “Last year Summit CPA Group supported my daughter's Girl Scout troop. I was pleased to have my employer support the same efforts that my daughter and the rest of the family worked.  The funds went to the local troop and helped reached the troop's fundraising goal, and of course my daughter communicated to her friends that her mommy's work had contributed. My daughter asked why Summit CPA Group was contributing and I proudly responded that they support their employees in endeavors outside of work.  She replied, "If I ever have a business I am going to do the same."”

How does your distributed company incorporate CSR?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Secret Sauce for Running a Distributed Model Company: 6.5 Tips to Implement Now

Some call it “working remote,” some refer to it as  “having a virtual company”, but the cool kids call it a “running a distributed team.” Distributed companies are the way of the future.  The days of brick and mortar are quickly dying.  When set-up correctly a distributed company can be more successful and have much happier employees (and management).  My client, Summit CPA Group, said goodbye to the brick and mortar model over three years ago and hasn’t looked back. Not only is Summit CPA Group a disruptor in the accounting sector, they are an early adopter of the distributed model. Jody Grunden, Virtual CFO & Co-Founder of Summit CPA Group, shared with me his advice and secret sauce to making it work.

1. Schedule weekly meetings and with transparency
Weekly team meetings are crucial within a distributed company. Scheduling 30-60 minutes once a week—preferably Monday mornings—with the entire team is a great way to start off everyone’s week. It’s an opportunity for each team member to share something good and something bad about the past week, and what they are looking forward to the coming week.  Weekly team meetings keep the whole team in the loop and connected and allows management to keep a pulse on what’s really happening. The same goes for weekly one-on-ones with your direct reports. 

2. Host company retreatsCorporate. Leadership. Retreat. Are you cringing?  Do the words “trust fall” and "ropes course” come to mind? Are you having nightmares of a very cold (or very hot because someone is always complaining about the temperature) windowless hotel ballroom? Are you envisioning yourself staring at four walls for eight hours every day while being talked at by a lifeless presenter clicking through Powerpoint decks? Wake up. It’s 2017.  Corporate Retreats should incorporate compelling facilitators, interactive peer-to-peer learning, fun activities and relaxing downtime -- all at a refreshingly unique venue in an unforgettable destination. If you’re not planning at least one of these for the entire team annually, you need to start. Hosting a retreat for your leadership team in Q1 will help set the tone and objectives for the entire year, and you can then build upon those lessons and outcomes with an entire company retreat later in the year.

3. Offer awesome benefits
The traditional benefits of wages, health insurance, and 401Ks are not going to cut it. You need to offer benefits beyond the cookie-cutter givens. If flexibility isn’t included in your benefits package, add it now, and make it number one on the list. The benefits of flexible days, flexible location, flexible hours is absolutely imperative. Employees can work as needed to accomplish their job and goals in a timely manner.  Flexibiity allows your employees availability during the day to pick up kids, go to doctor appointments and allow them to work later at night if needed. And going back to the basic benefit of wages, be sure you’re paying your team based on national average.

4. Implement communication platforms
This perhaps should be number one on this list. It’s vital. The key is to remember that it is not “us vs them.” Everyone must be on the same playing field—whether you work in Hermosa Beach, California or Charleston, South Carolina, or in the Fort Wayne, Indiana. Everyone must use the same communication platform.  If you do have a few employees that do work in the same building, its imperative they use the same platforms to communicate as 40 people spread through the country. No one is “missing” anything by being distributed. Everyone is treated equal. Tools like Sococo video chat, and Slack offer employees opportunities to “chat” both formally and informally.  

5. Find the right partnersFlexible is the way of the future.  Flexible works as long as you have the right communication platforms in place and have access to quality people who are looking for flexible work. Partnering up with companies like FlexJobs,, Yonder, and Virtual Vocations will help with a more positive experience and allow companies to get ahead of the curve and reap the rewards of employing a talented, happy staff.  FlexJobs can help eliminate one of the risks for growth: finding talented people. And we all know that sifting through hundreds of resumes is time-consuming. With FlexJobs, you’ll spend less time managing resumes. is an excellent resource that provides expert insight, best practices, and valuable support for organizations exploring or already embracing the distributed model. Virtual Vocations is a great website where employers can post flexible jobs such as telecommuting, freelance, and part-time and flextime jobs. The Yonder podcast features interviews that discuss the advantages and also the difficulties of distributed teams.

6.     Set a cool company cultureWhen working with a distributed team, it may take an extra effort to keep people feeling like they are part of the team, and they are valuable to the overall success of the team. Using the communication channels we noted above, it’s important to include a non-work related communication channel. There’s no tangible “water cooler” when you’re distributed, therefore having  a “water cooler” channel on Slack where employees can share the photo of their new kitty, or ask for recommendations for dining in Colorado Springs during their next holiday brings that “water cooler”  feeling alive.  It’s also important for management to share the vision of the company. There’s no better way to get employees excited than to share your vision and how they are all part of and contribute to that vision. Involve everyone on the team in important projects or events. Perhaps someone on the team is really interested in helping with the company retreat (see #2)—let that person liaise directly with your marketing events director.  Develop a cool, unique, but meaningful way to recognize special occasions like birthdays and work anniversaries. It’s an easy (and fun) way to acknowledge employees, and goes a long way.

6.5  Have fun!Yep! You read that correctly. The last tip is to have fun. Life’s too short to not enjoy it. And besides, if your employees are having fun, they are going to work harder and smarter. They are going to stay at the company longer and help promote the awesomeness that sets your company a part from all the rest. Your best advertising is happy employees.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Site Selection Services Explained

Some companies organize their internal events like Company Retreats in-house. They usually assign employees such as the office manager, the executive assistant, or even the HR manager this massive task—on top of their normal daily job responsibilities.  While many of these employees often state they love working on company retreats and meetings, they do state it can be very time-consuming and overwhelming, especially on top of the daily responsibilities of their own jobs. And they are right. Meeting and event planning IS time consuming. And, unless you’re a seasoned certified planner, it’s stressful. And companies are leaving money—lots of it—on the table, by not using a certified planner who can always save them money in negotiations and concessions. There are tight deadlines and ever-changing budgets, managing expectations, and negotiating contracts, the list goes on. That’s not to say that the in-house “event team” cannot or should not be involved. They absolutely should. They know their company, their culture, their executive team’s idiosyncrasies.

What option do companies have? Utilize the complimentary (yes, that’s free!) services of a seasoned and certified planner. They can help you navigate the overwhelming and time consuming site selection process, and after the signed property contract they can assist with pre-planning, event management, and logistical services. And why should an internal employee have to manage the program onsite when they should be enjoying the event with their fellow team members? Let the certified planner manage the onsite logistics while you enjoy your company retreat or event.

So what does a planner actually do for a company as part of Site Selection Services?

Site selection is hard work. The amount of time and energy that goes into ONE program is weeks worth of time. The process involves four major steps: Discovery, RFP, Site Inspection, and Contract Negotiations.

Discovery is researching various venues—whether that be in different countries or different cities. Finding venues that meet the plethora of factors is a challenge.  Is the venue within the budget, it is aligned with your brand, it is located within the designated distance from airport, is the venue available during the preferred dates and pattern, can the venue accommodate the size of the program, and does the venue have the capabilities to address the “must haves”. It’s like a huge jigsaw puzzle where you need to fit all the pieces together.
Discovery: Estimate 20 hours total for one program (Assume three destinations and two properties in each destination)

Then the tedious RFP process starts. The smart planner will design a thorough, customized RFP for the program. It’s important the RFP is comprehensive and includes all the details of program: number of nights, number of people, pattern, dates, meeting space needs/setups, room rate min/max, F&B mins, AV needs, activities, and any important notes the property needs to be aware. The more time you spend putting all the details in the RFP, the less time you’ll spend going back and forth with the properties later down the road (that is if they actually carefully read your RFP). After the RFPs are sent to the properties, the waiting game begins. It’s important to be sure to include a proposal due date and a decision date in your RFP. This ensures both buyer and supplier are aware of deadlines.

Slowly, the planner will start receiving proposals, which often times are incomplete because the property didn’t take the time to read your customized notes. The planner will go back and forth via email and phone with the properties to highlight the “must haves” they missed when reading the proposal. Finally, after all the final proposals have been submitted the planner reviews the proposals to decide which ones are the best fit. Seldom, every property that sent a proposal will be a fit for one reason or another (for example, not available on the preferred dates, too expensive, not enough meeting space).

The planner presents the top properties (up to three) as potential options. That’s right, potential options. The planner ranks the top three based on many factors such as budget, travel distance, service-level, customer service, and adequate meeting space. A smart planner will never sign a contract (or advise her client to sign a contract) without first conducting a site inspection.
RFP Process: Estimate 10 hours total for one program (Assume six RFPs max)

Then there’s the site inspection. The planner flies (on her own dime) to the top ranking property for a thorough investigation of the property and surrounding areas. She meets not only with the hotel staff, but also local suppliers such as restaurants, off-site venues, and ground transportation companies.  A smart planner will also meet with a few additional “Plan B” properties in the area in case her first choice doesn’t work out. She surveys the local area to be sure she knows where the closest hospital, post office, Kinkos, and pharmacy are located. Some people think a site inspection is a vacation. It is not. Yeah, the planner may get a nice dinner and a spa treatment, but she’s working. She’s like a food critic—analyzing the food quality, the food service, the cleanliness, and the value. At the Spa she’s like an inspector—checking for cleanliness, the overall look of the facilities, asking questions of staff, and sizing up the overall service levels and customer service. She is not relaxing. During the entire inspection, she is constantly “on”-- scrutinizing the accommodations, inspecting meeting rooms and different set-ups, meeting with the Chef to discuss menus and capabilities, speaking with staff to understand how they operate and respond to guests, asking staff questions to ensure they are up to snuff on their knowledge of their department, and to be sure the service-level overall at the property is aligned with the property’s brand promise.
Site Inspection: Estimate 36 hours total for one program. (Assume two nights and three days—working 10-12 hours/day + travel/flight time + time away from other clients and family.)

If the site inspection pans out (which they usually do due to the meticulous research and work put in earlier in the process) the planner requests a formal contract from the property. This contract typically goes through several rounds of revisions where the smart planner continues to negotiate the most important hot buttons for the program and ensure maximum value is obtained. The planner reviews the contract to make sure all verbal and written promises are included in the contract. The property contract should always include a clause that states the planner’s name and that the planner will be granted the 10% commission. Planners must make sure that clause is included in the final signed contract. Once the contract is signed by the client, the planner provides a cost saving report to illustrate and highlight the massive amount of money she saved the client through smart, experienced, and shrewd negotiations. (Depending on the size of a program, a planner could save the client tens of thousands of dollars on a single event. I personally have saved clients an average of $24,000 on programs of 100 total rooms nights.)
Contract Negotiations: Estimate 8 hours total for one program. (Assume one contract.)

Did you add up all those hours? 74 hours—for one program. And that’s the time it takes someone with over 17 years experience. Imagine someone with no experience tackling this project. It will likely take much longer and not be as cost-effective.

The cost for all of this hard work and time? Complimentary. Yes, the planner doesn’t receive a dime. Only after the program is complete and usually 30 days after the client has paid their final invoice to the property does the planner get paid by the property a 10% commission on room nights before tax. The 10% commission, in theory, covers the planner’s time and any out of pocket expenses like the site inspection. The commission should cover the time spent or the planner is working for free. A smart planner will understand their time and expenses when writing a site selection services contract for their clients. For example, if the program is small (under 100 total room nights) the commission will not cover time and expenses, and the planner will usually charge a flat fee to supplement the commission. 

Do you have site selection questions? Let me know!