Event Planning 101: Client Expectations At The First Event Planning Meeting

June 29, 2020  |  by:

In our event planning 101 series of videos, Jenna Phillips shares her event planning experience. Today, she talks about the first event planning meeting. Below each video is the full transcript.

About Jenna

Jenna Phillips is our in-house hero, the Chief Event Planner at ThymeBase Event Planning Software, and all-round event expert. But she’s also the Director of Private Events for 16 on Center, a collective of Chicago venues. In her position, Jenna oversees hundreds of events each year all across the city, and she manages a team of planners. 

You can read more of Jenna’s event planning tips in Event Planning 101: A Guide For New Event Planners in 2020

The First Question To Ask A Client When Planning An Event

Understanding Your Client At The First Event Planning Meeting

The Visualization stage of event planning is really when you’re setting the expectations, you’re learning from your client. And you’re kind of understanding what they want out of their guests experience. It’s your best chance to really understand your client’s wants and needs for the look and feel of their event.

You’re here to help them.

And it’s also your chance to really get them to trust you and to make them know that you’re here to serve them. You’re here to help them. And you’re here to ask all the right questions that they might not necessarily have thought of. When I set up a meeting to meet a client for the first time, there are some general expectations that we have for each other.

The Questions To Ask At The First Event Planning Meeting

I’m expecting a client to show up to our first event planning meeting with, you know, at least a vague or general idea of how they want their event to go. How do they want it to look and feel? How do they want their guests to feel when they arrive? What types of things do they want to provide to their guests? They don’t necessarily need to have all the details, but I do like to walk away with a general understanding of the scope of the event.

What is their budget? How much time do they want to spend on site at the event? How much preparation is this going to take and how many vendors are they hoping to pull in to work with for this particular event?

Describe Your Event In Three Words

When I first meet a client, the first question I ask is. Can you give me three words to describe your event?

When I first meet a client, the first question I ask is. Can you give me three words to describe your event?

It’s just a really nice way of breaking the ice, getting even just the tiniest little example or detail from a client, and then taking that and building upon that. An important question to ask any new client is what they want their guests’ experience to be. And this is really just the overall general vibe of the event.

And it’s also kind of the flow of the event. How does my host want their guests to feel when they walk in the room? How are they setting the mood? Is there a specific playlist? Are there specific appetizers? Is there a theme? What should guests be doing when they get there? Is this a dancing heavy event? Is this a very somber and important event?

It all comes down to having those important conversations with the client early on and really understanding and extracting from them, how they want their guests to feel upon arrival.

It All Starts With A Question

As an event planner, I want nothing more than to execute the event just right. I want my clients to walk away at the end of an event, so happy that, you know, everything went well, all their vendors that they chose, including myself were worth it. And, all of that starts with just a simple question of asking the client how they want it to feel.

What I’m taking down in writing and what I’m going to carry with me until perhaps the client changes their mind or tells me otherwise are things like preferred guest count preferred dates. What is the budget that you want to stay within? What type of food and beverage are you hoping to have at this event? And what are the missing pieces in terms of vendors? Who do I need to help you find who do we need to reach out to? And what are the things that need to come together in order to get you what you want?

All those other little extra details, like menu items and playlists and guest lists and things like that, those can always come later.

Setting Client Expectations During The Event Planning Stage

In the initial planning stages, it’s really important to set expectations with your client. After the first event planning meeting, I want to know what I can expect from my client in terms of how hands on they want to be during the process, whether it’s a lot or a little. And I need them to know exactly what it is that I’m going to do on their behalf.

What is their money going towards? What is their time spent planning this event? How is it going to be worth it? I’m doing my best to articulate how my health and my presence during this process is going to make this event better than it would be without.

The Scope Of Work

It’s very important that the client walks away from an initial contracting meeting really understanding the scope of what work I’m going to do and also how much it’s going to cost. I never want anybody wondering whether or not they can, at the end of the day, afford an event planner. I want it to be up front and I want costs to be very transparent. And I want to be able to make my clients understand why really good professional event planning does sometimes come at a premium.

When I have a conversation with the client about what their expectations should be from me, I am very transparent and very open with them about, number one, what my levels of coordination services are. What does each level cost and what do you get from, from each level? Every event is different. Some events will take full-service planning, some events we’ll take just a coordinator on site for one day.

I want my client to know what they need, what services they’re going to get for which level. And also I’m going to be very honest and let them know that you don’t really need full event planning for this type of event. We can do this for a lower budget.

Set The Client’s Expectations And Boundaries

All clients are different. Some need, a little bit more handholding, some are able to really just kind of trust you and go with it. And so to me, when first meeting a potential or new client to really set the standard for what they should expect from me in terms of communication,

It’s really important to let a client know that you’re accessible and available, but you also need to set boundaries.

How many times should they expect me to be emailing them? When are my office hours? When can they expect me to pick up the phone? Am I on during the weekends? Things like that. It’s really important to let a client know that you’re accessible and available, but you also need to set boundaries.

Start Your Client Relationship Right

When a new client comes to me in the first event planning meeting and tells me that they don’t really know exactly what they want, they don’t really have any ideas, but they just want me to run with it, take it and go. That to me as a creative person is very exciting, but it can also be a little daunting. I liked to still kind of draw out and extract as many questions and details and opinions and preferences from the client that I can. However, sometimes you’re just going to have somebody that’s like, I just need to get this done. Can you do it?

In that case, what I would do, and what I love to do is to wrangle up all my favorite vendors that I love to work with in Chicago or wherever it is that I’m working. That’s another one of the ways that a good professional event planner does come in very handy and can be very important. If you’re new to the city or you’re, you know, just simply never thrown any event before it’s going to be really hard to weed out those vendors that aren’t going to really actually do the excellent job that you’re expecting.

I know those people. Let me help you find them.

Not Every Client Is The Right Fit

From time to time there will be clients who perhaps reach out to you and want to work with you, and it just might not be the right fit. Maybe you can’t provide all of the services that they need. Maybe your prices are just a little too out of their reach, or perhaps you’re just unavailable. You can’t. You’re too booked.

The important thing is to still be a positive influence on this potential client.

My rule of thumb is always try and connect a client or a potential client with another planner who does have the ability to take this on. I never like saying no to anybody. It would never truly be a flat out no. But there are times when it’s just not going to work and that’s okay. The important thing is to still be a positive influence on this potential client. And hopefully they’ll call you up for the next party.

Get To Know Your Client At The First Event Planning Meeting

In this visualization stage with a client, when I’m first meeting them, especially if I know that I’m going to be working with them for upwards of a year, maybe more. I want to take the time to get to know them. I want to find out what their likes and dislikes are – things they like to do on the weekends? What are their favorite cuisines? What is the last big vacation they went on?

Things like that, that can help me, you know, at least have a little bit of a personal touch when it comes to communicating with them later on. But also maybe even being able to infuse some of those little details into their event.

That’s what’s fun for me. This is especially true with wedding clients that I know that I’ll be working with for months and months and months. I want to know what their family’s like. I want to know what kinds of pets they have. What would be their first dance song.

Those are really, really important when it comes to understanding the vibe that you want to set for this event and those extra things that you know about that your client might not know about, that you can include and really, really just blow them away.

My intention is for a client to walk away feeling that they’re so happy that they worked with me and they want to work with me on the next one.

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