Well, another techsytalk LIVE has come and gone, and I have to say, this may have been the best one so far… that is, I think so. I actually spent much of the day in the Convene boardroom, interviewing nearly a dozen of the presenters and exhibitors who attended that day.
Liz King Events has made it their business to gather some of the more forward thinking people in the event/tech worlds, and this year was no exception. Jill Taub Drury, founder of Drury Design Dynamics, kicked off the morning with a look at surviving the next evolution of the meetings and events industry, based on her firm’s core values of maintaining excellence, working with the best people who are committed to innovation, education, and a practice of road testing new ideas. I later spoke to Jill to find out a little more of what makes her tick.
Deborah – Jill, tell us a little about Drury Design Dynamics.
Jill – Drury Design was founded in 1981. We are a fully integrated communications agency. We work with clients to support their brands across the board via meetings, learning and performance, entertainment, social and communications. We’re a very diversified company. It’s exciting, because we get to work with our clients across their different types of projects, and that makes it fun.
And by clients, she means folks like IBM, Walmart, Deloitte, Johnson & Johnson… Says Jill, “It’s exciting that they trust us to communicate their message.”
Deborah – What do you find most exciting about your work?
Jill – I love the people I’m surrounded by, they’re really amazing – it’s always exciting to be around a group of people who are so creative and so innovative, and smart, really smart. We do a lot of content. A lot of companies who do production, do [only] production, but we’re doing the strategy and the messaging and the content and the building out the architecture of the event, so that’s exciting… and then it’s the clients we’re working with and the subject matter and to see the changes going on within their companies, as well as the world, is really interesting.
Deborah – What kind of changes are you seeing?
Jill – Well, IBM is a client of ours, and so if you look at Cloud and technology and social and servers and all those things… There are other examples of companies we’re working with where maybe they have internal things going on. Maybe they’re being split or bought out, and we help with that messaging, how they communicate with their people and train their people to handle it and the expectations and prepare them for the future, so that’s a whole other side of it, which is very strategic oriented. I know that we’re known for these very large 20,000, 15,000 people conferences, but there’s this very important part of our business that has to do with strategic leadership, and how we can help them communicate.
Deborah – A little more quiet, behind the scenes, but no less exciting because the dynamics are so impactful…
Jill – Absolutely, on such a big scale, and to see it rolled out. Whether we roll it out or somebody else does, I love seeing that. What’s MPI’s thing? “Great things happen when you bring people together.”
Deborah – Is there any other place you’d like to go?
Jill – One of the things that’s interesting that I talked about today, is that you have to evolve, and over three decades, we’ve done a lot of that. The thing that’s done for us has been to grow our capabilities, which enables us to go into all these different areas now…. I think if there was one area that I wish we did more of, it’s experiential events, which is not so much about the content, it’s more about the fun and engagement. We do a lot of that, and we bring it into our events, but to just do events like that would be a lot of fun… We certainly have the capability to do it. I find that there are many companies who do that who are trying to get into doing the content end, and they’re finding it very hard to go that way, whereas we already do all of those things, we just haven’t been going after that business.
Drury Mash [the firm’s yearly professional education event] is something along those lines, particularly this year. It was really fun and everyone was “Oh, what a great party!” and I’m like, “I’m so glad you’re having a great time at our great party! Let me tell you what you learned!” Because we’re creating an experience – that’s exactly what I wanted them to walk away with.
I really think a lot about onboarding at events. I happen to be shy. When you go to an event where you don’t know anybody… if there’s 200 or 300 people, it’s really clear that you feel separated from everybody else. When you have 10, 15, 20,000 people, it’s overwhelming, and so where do you start? So creating experiences where people can easily turn to the guy next to them, and it makes sense, and it’s not awkward, and make a comment that a conversation can come from, it speaks volumes. And it’s equally as important as anything else you do, because… When you go to a conference, the information, 98% of it is online. It’s the experience, it’s networking, it’s the people and the business that you’re doing, particularly as you look at millennials… The millennials made us acknowledge and put it into play, but we’ve always wanted this. Because who really wants to sit in a room and be talked at for five days?
Deborah – I’m so glad these types of conferences are winding down, because they’re so deadening.
Jill – Yes, they are. Even when we’re in an arena situation for our general sessions, we have second screen, so that if you’re going to be sitting there on your computer, your tablet and your phone, and your head down, you’re listening but you’re doing other things, I’d rather have you go to content that’s about the speaker or the conference or the subject matter. So we provide second screen information.
Deborah – In your presentation, you said, “Tell a story – look to technology to support it.”
Jill – It’s really about putting the information up there, and having a link for somebody to go to…that’s what it comes down to… What’s the link and how are they getting to it?
Deborah – So rather than fighting the trend of people being hooked in all the time, you are using it to advantage – if they’re going to be on, give them something that will connect them back to the subject at hand.
Jill – It’s an example of looking at emerging technologies and concepts and adapting them to work for us. Where did second screen come from? They’re doing it on TV! Follow the hashtag, tell us what you think, friends watching TV in different locations talking to each other through it… So that’s really the idea, it’s just adapting what’s being done… you always need to drive the mission and the messaging and the brand, and so any opportunity you can do that in a way that doesn’t feel intrusive…
Deborah – That’s the key, to make it organic to what is going on.
Jill – Right, because when they call them marketing events, you can’t be marketing all the time.
Deborah – No, nobody wants to be marketed to… in fact, I wrote an article for lLz once called Quit Marketing at Me. I got it, enough already!
Jill – I read it, I heard it, I’m there… On the second screen, the other thing is we use it for polling, right there… I’m waiting for the day when we have something like Yelp for speakers, and people are rating them as they’re speaking, and it comes up on the screen. How will speakers change their presentation? I mean I would have a heart attack.
Deborah – Me too, wait, I’m failing, I’m failing, no it’s going up, wait, no, it’s going down, pivot, pivot! Hahaha…
Jill – But people will be doing that and sharing and then making recommendations, “Go see this guy, don’t see this guy,”
Deborah – Oh my…
Jill – In real time it would really be tough, but I do think it would do a couple of things. It would hold speakers accountable, to make sure that they’ve rehearsed, to make sure that their content is really good. I have clients who, you’re getting up on an arena stage in front of 18,000 people – I don’t care how often you speak, rehearse! If not for you, for the technical team, so they can set your levels and see where you’re going to pace to, get your rhythm down for changing your visuals, so it’s really important. I also think that it will help drive pre-conference conversation along with post, which is really important. You know, you look at social during events, so social can go up – it spikes for the four days during the event, and then it goes down. So, if you can start that conversation before and then keep it going, that’s what you want.
Deborah – Tell me, do you have any big mistakes that you’ve made that you’ve really learned from that you would not be too embarrassed to share?
Jill – Let’s see. This is a big one to put out there. Holding onto people too long, because you think you’re being nice. And you’re not doing anyone a favor by that. You’re not helping your company, your brand, but you’re not helping them, because the longer you keep someone who isn’t doing a good job and they’re clearly not happy, you’re making them less marketable in the job market after they leave. I think that we’re very culture driven at Drury and very family oriented. It doesn’t meant that we’re family, we’re a business, but we really care, and sometimes we do that and it’s not a good thing.
Deborah – Thank you, that’s a good one. I love that you’ve said it, and I hope that you don’t call me tomorrow and say, “Don’t say it” because I’m a big fan of humility and pulling back the curtain and showing process. Making mistakes is where we learn.
Jill – Didn’t I say that? Don’t be afraid to fail. And share those lessons.
Deborah – I think we culturally need to get past the shame of making mistakes and this insistence that we’re constantly being judged, that there’s some kind of judgment that’s permanent and unforgivable. Because it’s not like a fall from grace situation here. We’re not going to hell if we make a mistake.
At under30CEO, many of the entrepreneurs I interviewed there said, “Make lots of mistakes, it’s the only way you learn.” How do you know unless you push into something new? Oh well, that didn’t work, and then you learn. Otherwise, you don’t know if maybe you’re just being lucky.
Jill – And that’s why I talk a lot about how it’s not just educating people about the technology, or an idea or a process, they have to road test it, they have to experience it hands on, and you get two things from that. First of all, they get to experience it so they understand what it’s like. They understand if the technology will work, or the philosophy behind the activation will work, but we also see how people interact so we can think about, should we adapt this and then include it into our client driven events? Maybe we shouldn’t. Maybe there’s not a place for it. Maybe we just need to wait for the right opportunity. But I hate technology for technology’s sake. I hate kitch, trendy stuff – what’s it going to do? What’s the purpose?
And one last comment re: holding onto people too long. It’s not a decision that you make willy nilly. It’s a really thoughtful process, and it’s stages. You have to work with people, see their potential, so it’s not just about having the right people in the seats, it’s about having the right people in the right seats. And so there are times that we’ll see that a person might be more passionate about, or have more of a sensibility for another area, and we love this person, we don’t want to lose them, just because they’re not doing this job correctly. They might be better over here, let’s give it a try. And it’s not all about us. It can’t be all about us. It has to be about them as well. If I cared enough to bring them on, I need to care enough about what their next step will be.
Deborah – I think that speaks to a really great philosophy of valuing relationships in all their dimensions and really understanding all those dynamics between balancing out your needs, the needs of your employees, your consultants, whoever, so that you’re really taking all these needs into consideration. That speaks volumes of you as a business person, and an employer and an innovator, too, because I don’t find everyone to be that forward thinking. I don’t think everyone thinks that way.
Jill – I have to say, Deborah that I was really lucky to start when we started in the 80’s. It’s a lot harder now, because everything’s faster, cycles of engagement, what does that mean, and the pressure that always is, and even how the opportunities that come to us and the expectations right out of the gate, and you hear you’re not even as good as your last show. It’s really hard today, whereas if I think back, I had handwritten, full page double sided letters of thank you. Now, it’s a different world, and you have to go with that. But it gave us time to really understand who we were, what we wanted to be and the importance to us of the role of culture within the company, because I want to be able to go to work every day and be happy and I wanted to be surrounded by people who are happy.
Deborah – Absolutely, and I’d like to think that the process you’re talking about, sort of broadening the level of internal engagement is something that we can foster. One of the things I’m hoping to do with this series of interviews is tease out some best practices and philosophies and some values that I think are significant as trends I’m seeing amongst this little subset of thought leaders. Because I really think that’s what techsytalk is about. techsytalk is not just about the latest gadgets, there are so many more dimensions to it.
Jill – Liz has really couched it well. She’s really terrific.
Deborah – I agree.
We’ve all heard the familiar time management tips, productivity tips, tips on how to focus and tips on tapping into creativity. But what some of us need is serious practice in bringing balance to our lives.
We freelancers are a motivated bunch. We take the time to learn the greatest technologies and stay on top of industry standards. We work hard on behalf of our clients, better known as our bosses. (And I’ll bet you thought being a freelancer meant you were going to be your own boss…)
Here are a couple things I’ve learned over the years about keeping balance in your life as you manage your own business.
Self-Care is Key
I don’t think I can stress this one enough. You have got to take this seriously, especially as you get older. How many times have you pushed yourself to your absolute limits leading up to an important event, opening, launch, etc.? You barely sleep, eat terribly, stress yourself to the max, and finally, it’s over! Then you crash. You come down with a huge cold, the flu, a stomach virus, whatever. It’s your body’s way of telling you, OK, I held it together when I needed to, but now you better pay attention to me.
This is really not the most practical way of doing things (overstating the obvious). If you must push yourself past your normal limits of endurance, then at least try to get enough sleep, minimize your coffee intake (at a certain point, it taps into non-existent resources and just drains your vital energy), and eat nourishing food. Fresh fruits and veggies are great, and not too many sugary, fried things. So yeah, the cronut and latte diet you had in mind is not going to be your best bet.
And don’t forget to exercise. Now don’t look at me like that – exercise is not a punishment. In fact, anything that involves working up a sweat by using different parts of your body will do. Getting your bones and muscles working keeps your heart pumping and your lungs nice and strong. Stretching on a regular basis (yoga!!) helps keep you from developing low back pain and other chronic muscle aches and spasms. Playing sports, going for long walks, having sex – these are all fun activities that will help you stay fit and relieve stress… yes indeed…
Make Time for Yourself and Your Family
Another vital piece in maintaining balance is making sure that you spend enough time doing fun things by yourself and with your loved ones. There’s a reason why we have weekends. There’s also a reason why we have vacations. You can’t just keep going without a break and not expect to lose your mind.
If you are worried about your level of productivity, then you should also want to program in time for relaxation and fun. You know as well as I do that there are times when you’d do better taking an extra-long lunch break than forcing yourself to sit at your desk, when all you’re doing is anxiously looking at the screen, or worse, relieving your anxiety by flitting all over Facebook or Twitter.
Remember the yin/yang symbol? That equal mix of black and white? It’s the symbol for duality in the universe. We have to give ourselves downtime to balance out the uptime. You might be tempted, but don’t feel guilty about needing to veg out in front of the TV at night, or indulging in other “time wasting” activities. Spend some time with your kids doing silly things, whenever possible… or your pets, or your nieces and nephews, or yourself. Read a book, write a poem, bake some quiche, knit something. Ride your bike. Go out to the movies. Have fun. You won’t regret it.
Aaaah, the freelance life. It sounds so leisurely, doesn’t it? The reality is that we freelancers are working hard to hustle up an income. Sure, we get to make our own hours and choose our clients, but we don’t have the luxury of a regular paycheck and a list of assignments handed to us by a boss. We must not only generate the work, but organize our time to make sure that we manage all the details properly. It can be a lot to handle.
Those of you who are already working as freelancers will be familiar with these basics. If you’re considering becoming a freelancer, here are a few essentials that you better make sure you have in your toolkit:
1) Good Internet Service
Honestly, this is the foundation of everything. I almost hate to say it, because I don’t love the idea that my livelihood depends on access to electricity and WiFi service. However, it’s true. Our business, especially in the events industry, depends on connectivity. If you work out of your home, invest the few extra dollars in high speed service. It makes a difference. Hopefully, you have a reliable carrier. Investigate all of your options and go with the one that offers the most consistent availability and highest quality service. This is a basic tool, so it’s worth the investment. Don’t skimp here!
If you work outside of your home, make sure you have a few good options. Honestly, regardless of where you work, it’s always good to have a back-up plan. Most good coffee shops have excellent WiFi – the two usually go hand in hand. If you have a favorite hangout in your neighborhood, great.
If you get sick of spending money on caffeinated beverages, consider finding a public library. Most branches have reliable, free service, and offer a quiet working environment. You may even decide to invest in a spot at a co-working space. Good internet service is a key feature in all shared work spaces, as they are typically designed by and for entrepreneurs.
2) Scheduling Software
Organizing your workflow is one of the most important aspects of working for yourself. Personally, I find it helpful to write myself a list by hand at the beginning of the week, including the amount of time it’s going to take to do each thing on the list, and then the day and time I’m blocking out for that task. This can work for a while if you are a one-person operation. However, it can get messy if you aren’t good at crossing things out and throwing away the old lists.
A good alternative, especially if you have any assistants or collaborators, is a program such as Asana or even Google Calendar. These are both online platforms that allow multiple users to share and edit information. Google Calendar offers a basic task tracking function, while Asana allows more granularity in categorizing different projects and saving related data.
3) A Good Bookkeeping System
It’s important to track your income and expenses. For many of you, this might seem like a thankless task. Believe me, I know. My first temp bookkeeping assignment out of college consisted of me taking a shoebox full of receipts and entering them into a spreadsheet. By hand.
Fortunately, nowadays we have a few good tools that can help streamline this activity. If you are handy with an Excel spreadsheet, you can certainly use that basic tool to record all your financial data. However, you may want to consider something even more automated, such as Quickbooks, which can easily sync up to your online bank statement. This go-to accounting program offers several affordable versions well suited to freelancers. Not sure what finance management tool is right for you? Check out this handy tool from Cloudwards!
You’re an event planner, a designer, or another type of solo practitioner. You’ve developed a good list of clients, but now you’re at capacity. The problem is, you have no margin of earnings to cover your budget if you lose one or more of your projects. And in the freelance world, this is ALWAYS a possibility. Perhaps you could handle more business if you had some assistance, but you’re not yet earning enough to pay someone else.
You need an intern.
“That’s it!” you cry…
But before you get too excited, there are a few things you need to know. Bringing on an intern may not be the answer to all your prayers, but it certainly can be a great way of getting you through the transition from a one-person show to a company capable of significant growth and development. The right kind of assistance can help you become more organized and capable of increasing your revenues.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind if you think having an intern will be helpful to you.
Interns Are People, Too
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that an intern is little more than a servant, or worse yet, a slave. You will get the most out of this arrangement if you treat it like you would any working relationship – as an opportunity to create a mutually beneficial exchange.
Think about what you have to offer, besides money, to someone who is giving their time and energy to you on a regular basis. Your industry experience, your day to day knowledge of running a business in the real world, your connections – these are all valuable resources you can share with someone who is motivated to learn from you and contribute to your success.
Create a pleasant environment for your intern. Little things like snacks and beverages can make a difference – maybe pick up an extra latte when you take a coffee break. Think about how you’d like to be treated, and do the same for your intern. You have the power to foster a positive vibe that will motivate your intern to work hard on your behalf. Don’t waste this opportunity!
A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste
Colleges are a great source of talent when it comes to finding a qualified intern. If you are lucky enough to be located close to an institution of higher learning, investigate their internship program. Most colleges and universities will offer their students academic credit for putting in a certain number of hours towards the fulfillment of a specific internship based project. Check out the requirements of the schools in your area. You may be surprised to learn about the possibilities.
Keep in mind, some colleges prefer that their interns work in more traditional businesses, with offices. If you’re like most nascent entrepreneurs, you may not yet be able to afford an office, let alone a spot in a co-working space, if there’s even one near you. You may, in fact, do most of your work in your living room, your bedroom or your local Starbucks.
If you don’t have access to a designated business location through a friend or colleague, consider proposing an alternate arrangement to the institution with whom you are attempting to build a relationship. If your work can be done remotely, why not suggest working with the student at a campus library, student center or other public meeting area such as a local coffee shop or other mutually convenient and safe location.
It’s understandable why schools would not be comfortable sending one of their students to someone’s home. However, the reality is that most new businesses, even the ones that become the most successful multi-million dollar operations, start from very humble beginnings. Any college or university that is serious about training their students to become entrepreneurs should understand the changing nature of the employment landscape and be willing to evolve their thinking in this matter.
Today’s Intern Could be Tomorrow’s Employee
If you are diligent in your screening and interviewing process, you should be able to find someone who is motivated, talented and able to learn how to best serve your needs as a business owner. If you give them appropriate guidance, your intern may grow naturally into the role of paid consultant or employee.
Make sure you have clear goals for what you want your intern to accomplish in the time he or she is working with you. It helps if you specify not only the daily tasks you require them to perform, but understand how you can use their time to help make your business more efficient and capable of handling additional work going forward.
Having an intern gives you the opportunity to start thinking like a business manager. You must be ready to delegate specific responsibilities to someone else, in service of your larger goals. Make sure you build in time for regular communication and exchange of feedback. If your intern is doing a good job, let them know. If not, be clear about what you would like done differently. Give them an opportunity to make adjustments, learn from their mistakes. At the end of your time together, you should have a good idea as to whether or not this person would make a good long-term addition to your company.
When managing a collaborative team, whether you’re producing an event, building a website or directing a promotional campaign, it’s important to know how to get the best out of everyone while meeting the goals of the operation.
This can be a tricky balance to achieve when dealing with an established brand, and the more money and corporate firepower is behind the project, the harder it may be to achieve any autonomy. However, creativity and originality are valuable commodities in today’s marketplace. When you bring people with fresh ideas onto your team, the best strategy may be to encourage them to go all out.
Let’s look at some ways you can make this happen.
Good casting is 90% of the game.
When scouting for talent, the smartest directors know to cast actors with just the right stuff and then let them loose to do what they do best. The same holds true when putting together a collaborative team. When choosing creative partners, whether they are designers, writers, social media strategists or event producers, look for people who bring something special to the table. Then, let them do what they do!
Learn the skill of constructive criticism.
No one says you have to say yes to everything, or that you can’t be critical. But there’s a difference between telling someone, “Nope, that doesn’t work,” and saying, “Listen, this part is OK, but this part is not really what I’m looking for… and let me tell you why.”
This does not mean an endless litany of things you hate about the work your collaborator has delivered. Instead, try to build on the things that work. Explain what you like about it, and how it can be expanded or altered to be closer to your vision. Ask questions. Find out why he or she made the choices they did. This may go a long way towards understanding how to get from what they’ve delivered to what you ultimately want and expect.
Regular communication is essential.
Particularly in new collaborations, it’s really important to have regular communication. As you are getting to know one another, you’ll each have a need for clarification and feedback at every step along the way. These early interactions are the fundamental building blocks of what you hope will become an ongoing relationship, or at least a successful partnership for the duration of your project. If you don’t put the time in to get clarity up front, you will never really give the relationship a fair shot at meeting its potential.
This one can be tricky, especially if your personal brand is on the line. It can be really tempting to walk into a collaboration with a set idea of what you expect, looking for your creative partners to just deliver what already exists in your brain. The bad news is, this probably won’t happen, and if it does, you have most likely squeezed the creativity and enthusiasm out of your team members. If this is your way of working, then you would do better to bring on some interns or some entry level administrative assistants, and groom them to suit your needs. But if you are working with other professionals, you need to make some space for them to bring their own personal touch to the table. The chances are very good that the final product will be more interesting than the thing you imagined.
Remember the old saying, “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts?” I believe this is true, more often than not. We just have to make the space to allow each part to contribute its unique resources to the whole.
You’re a freelancer and you’re a parent. Me, too. Can we talk for a minute? I mean, I love my son more than anything in the world. And yes, I enjoy being flexible with my time. Isn’t that what freelancing is supposed to be about? All that independence giving us the freedom to work when it’s most convenient for us…
So why do I feel like I have no time, I’m up every night until two in the morning completing my assignments, and my to-do list is still a mile long?
Because it’s summer. And there’s no school. You don’t realize how much you value all that delicious, quiet, alone time, until it’s ripped out from under you.
So here are a few of my survival tips. If I don’t make it through to September, please make sure you tell everyone still waiting for work from me that it was on my to-do list.
1) Keep your house clean.
When times are tough, it’s time to go back to basics. When your kids are not in school, they are probably under the impression that all bets are off. No getting dressed, no making their beds, no going to sleep or waking up on time. And they’re probably right. But if your kids aren’t in camp or some other organized activity, the creeping disorder of their mess is going to make it into your work space sooner or later. Stop that in its tracks. At the very least, keep your kitchen and bathroom clean, because those are the real sanity busters. Make them help, the lazy slobs.
2) Make your lists.
More important than ever, is to have a clear idea of what you need to accomplish in a given day, and when. Deadlines don’t stop just because school is out. Figure out which blocks of time are non-negotiable and let your kids know you are off limits during those times. Bargain if you must. Let them watch extra TV or video games. Grit your teeth, and schedule some quality time in the evening or the weekend, when you can all go swimming or to the park or a museum together.
3) Get some adult support.
If you are part of a two-parent or better yet, multi-generational household, you may be in luck. Coordinate with your spouse wherever possible to gain some relief time from the long days. Single parent addendum. There’s no one to hand-off to… Arrange trades with your kids’ friends’ parents – one day the kids are at your house, one day they all go over to their place. Depending on your kid’s age (mine’s 12), they often do better in pairs, so they can occupy each other. Hanging out with their friends as often as possible is key.
4) Beware of the patience testers.
These are the conversations that are designed to see how well you are at putting all of your theories about non-violence into practice. Here’s an example:
My son: Mom, I’m hungry.
Me: OK, just a minute.
Fifteen minutes go by.
My son: I’m starving!
Me: OK, I’ll make you a sandwich.
Forty five minutes later, after I’ve ripped myself away from the computer and am preparing something in the kitchen.
My son: Is that the only bread we have?
This is the moment where you get to show off all that deep breathing and serenity work you’ve been practicing in yoga class. Go on. Make me proud. Don’t yell…
5) Enjoy your education in special subjects.
Having you around all day is an open invitation to your child to share with you everything about his latest obsession. My son’s is Mortal Kombat. Apparently I’m the good luck charm. He comes and sits next to me when he’s downloading new bonus features. He tells me all about the characters and their powers, their moves and their fatalities (lethal moves). There’s more, but honestly, a lot of the time when he’s going on and on about the game, I can see that his mouth is moving, and words are coming out, but I’m not really hearing anything.
If I sound kind of cranky, it’s because I am. My house is a mess, I haven’t eaten yet today, and I know I’m going to be up until the wee hours again tonight. Maybe a sandwich. I’ll check and see what kind of bread we’ve got…
Event planners need to have excellent time management skills. When mapping out your time, you need to pay attention to specific event dates, ordering & confirmation deadlines and production timetables. Well, in the same way that you book out your calendar over the course of days, months and in some cases, years, you also need to pay attention to how you schedule your time within any given day.
During an event, your clients, sponsors, vendors and guests are all expecting you to run on schedule. In your work outside the event venue, you should be expecting the same of yourself. Managing your time in your daily work life will make you more efficient and productive, and leave you feeling more satisfied all around. Here are some basics to help keep you on track:
1) Be realistic.
We all have a to-do list a mile long. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started out my morning with the highest of hopes, only to end my day crying in frustration at all the things that didn’t get done. C’mon now… there’s only so much you can do in a given day. The reality is, some days are going to be more productive than others, and things usually take longer than you think. So why not take all of this into consideration and create a daily plan for yourself that doesn’t set you up for failure.
Start with the most important thing first. This may seem obvious, but the fact is, the most important thing is often the most daunting, the thing that takes the longest and the thing that causes us the most anxiety. It’s very easy to put it off and busy yourself with a lot of little tasks, saying, “Oh, I’ll just do this one little thing first.” Then, the next thing you know, the day is half over, you spent the morning on a bunch of little things that really could have waited, unexpected surprises crowd out your afternoon, and before you know it, your day is over and your most important task has gone undone.
Just do it. Do whatever you have to do to make yourself get it done. Afterwards, you will feel so relieved, it will make the rest of your day seem 100% lighter. I promise you, you’ll be so much more productive after that.
3) Schedule your day with time slots.
Once you have decided on your most important task of the day, give it more time than you think it requires. If you think it will take two hours, give it three. If you end up getting done early, great! We should all have such problems. When you schedule your day in this way, you’ll begin to see that your time is more limited than you thought. This will allow you to have more realistic expectations for your day and prevent the kind of frustration I described above.
4) Schedule your appointments in the field in bundles.
If you have to conduct site tours, meet with clients, caterers or tech people, try and limit all of these appointments to as few days in the week as possible. If they can all happen on one day, great! If not, try and schedule them close to each other so that you minimize your travel time as well as the interruptions to the other important work you need to do in the office.
5) Allow for personal time.
Remember, a happy event planner is a better event planner. Don’t forget to program in some time for self-care, family and friends. This is not optional! It’s essential to your mental and emotional health. By taking care of yourself and your loved ones, you are protecting your ability to successfully navigate through the inevitable unpredictability (can you say controlled chaos?) of this exciting life you have chosen.
Got any great time management tips you want to share? Let’s hear em!
Dear Event Vendors,
How well do you work under pressure?
So far, you’ve done really great. You’ve delivered on schedule and under budget. We’ve had clear communication, you’ve been fun to work with… my clients are happy and so am I. But how are you going to hold up under pressure? How do you handle unexpected problems and circumstances? Here are some things I hope you know how to do…
1) Keep calm and carry on.
We’ve covered this territory already in an earlier post: What to Do When Things Go Wrong at Your Event. Everything I expect of myself and my team with regard to managing challenging circumstances, I expect of you and yours. We are all professionals. We should be able to manage obstacles when they arise. If we can’t, then we are in the wrong business.
2) Prioritize the success of the event.
When things go wrong, we often revert to basic survival instincts. Of course, we have to take care of ourselves in any situation, but it’s important to me that you remember to support the success of the event. As far as my client is concerned, my team consists not only of my own company’s staff, but all of the vendors I’ve hired. My team must work together seamlessly, in order to create a sense of coherence and continuity in the final product, which is a successful event. When things go wrong, we all have to pitch in and do what we have to do to make things work. This may involve extra time or expense. Short term sacrifice is often a pathway to long-term reward. It also goes a long way to build loyalty, which goes both ways.
3) Maintain focus on the needs of the event attendees.
This one is a little less intuitive, and requires a bit more thought than just taking orders from the event planning team. Ultimately, the success of my event is going to be judged by the value of the experience had by the attendees. Depending on how chaotic things get, you may have to think on your feet and respond to what you observe around you. In other words, you might have to go off book and improvise a bit. Be proactive, and do what you need to do to ensure that guests are comfortable and happy. In the same way that one guest’s positive experience can make a world of difference in the perception of the client as to the success of the event, one person’s complaint can also take the whole thing down a few notches. Err on the side of attentiveness and generosity. Not only will it help to make a more pleasant time for everyone, it will help to solidify the foundation of a successful, long-term relationship.
Aaah, the freelance life. Isn’t this every cubicle dweller’s dream? You make your own hours, set your own agenda, work wherever you feel like working…
And then you wake up.
Being a freelancer is not all about being “free.” Certainly there is a ton of flexibility and independence, but along with this comes the need to be very organized and self-driven. And in the absence of having a regular office to report to every day, one of the most important things a freelancer needs to do is create an optimum work environment.
Like many of you, I spend considerable periods of time sitting at my keyboard. Although working on a lightweight laptop allows me great mobility, I do have a few requirements for a productive work environment that I’m happy to share with you.
1) Find a space that allows you to focus.
Like many of you, I mostly work at home. I need to have a clean desk or table area, without too many piles of paper or unfinished business. I like to have the dishes clean. Even though I don’t work in my kitchen, I can tell they’re in there. Just knowing that my kitchen is clean (and for that matter, my bathroom), allows me to breathe a little easier and focus on my to-do list.
I live in a small apartment with an adolescent child. When he’s home, it can be very difficult to stay focused on my work. For this reason, the WHEN becomes just as important to me as the WHERE in creating my optimum work environment. When my son is at school, I feel freer to spread out on the dining room table. After school when he needs the table to do his homework, I’m more inclined to move to the desk in the corner office of my bedroom.
Sometimes, when I’ve got time to kill during one of my son’s out of the house activities, I’ll find a nearby coffee shop with Wi-Fi to sit for an hour or two until he’s done. I look for places that are relatively quiet, where no one will bother me as I work on my computer. I find working in a fresh space every once in a while to be kind of invigorating.
2) Figure out a way to cut out social media distractions.
Your desktop environment is as important as the space where you are sitting. Like many of you, I can succumb to the rabbit hole of Facebook in a heartbeat. It’s one thing when I’m working in that platform on behalf of one of my clients. It’s another thing when I’m getting distracted by messages, new posts on my home page or likes and comments on my timeline. Now, I give myself long chunks of time when I don’t even have the Facebook tab (nor Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc.) open on my browser. I have to unplug from the ever flowing, cosmic conversation, or I’m not getting anything done.
3) Pick an environment that allows you to periodically move around.
Please, give your body a rest. It’s important. You may be young and supple now, but you won’t always be… and without realizing it, you can develop carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic low back pain and headaches, or a stiff neck, to name a few physical ailments. Besides, it’s good for your mind and your eyes to have a break from the screen every once in a while.
When possible, I like to periodically stretch out a little, do a few yoga poses, or just put on a good song and dance around a bit. In addition to keeping me from getting stiff, it helps shake the cobwebs out of my brain. I remember things I meant to do and get fresh ideas for writing and correspondence. I’m pretty sure being able to dance around my house whenever I want to is the best thing about being a freelancer!
What are some ways you create your optimum working environment? If you have some other advice for your fellow freelancers, do share!!
This is the second of a multiple part series. Click here for part 1.
Dear Event Vendors,
Here’s how to work with me on a job…
So you got my business. But that’s only the first step. Now it’s time to show me what you got. I’m going to be frank with you. It’s a crowded field out there, and I’ve got at least five more vendors standing in line, waiting to take your place. But I like you. So I’m going to give you a few tips on the best way to build and maintain a good relationship with me.
1) Be up front with me.
Please, don’t tell me what you think I want to hear. Give me the truth, even if you think I’m not going to be happy. If we’re in the middle of an event, and you’re experiencing an equipment malfunction or some other kind of problem, I’d much rather know exactly what’s going on, so we can troubleshoot together, than to have you make things up, only to have it blow up in both of our faces later on. Besides, remember the story about The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf? You want me to trust you, right? We are building what could become a long term partnership, but it won’t go anywhere if I can’t believe the things you say.
2) Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
I’m relying on you to give me realistic estimates of production, delivery & installation time. I would suggest always factor in what I lovingly refer to as “crap time.” That would be the margin of error you build into how long it takes to do things like mix sound, edit pictures or video, hang artwork, hang lights, or deliver printed material. We all know that “shit happens.” Please build this into your schedule of deliverables. If you end up being early, it will be a happy surprise for both of us.
3) Make realistic estimates.
Both for the sake of cost and to ensure a proper outcome, be as accurate as you can regarding quantities of food, drink or other supplies required as well as all associated labor. Just as I need to know that you will support my time frame, I also need to know that you are calculating realistically. I have budgeted a certain amount of money for your goods and services. I need to know that I’m going to get what I require for the amount I’m expecting to spend.
4) Educate me about your process.
Help me understand the way you work and what you will need from me in order to facilitate your process. We are both learning about each other and the way we run our businesses. We need to learn one another’s priorities so that we can help one another. At least for the sake of this event, we need to think of ourselves as a team and work together.
5) Communicate with me clearly and accurately.
Remember that you are one of many vendors with whom I’m communicating for this event. I may also be juggling multiple events, so the need for absolute clarity is great. Make sure that all terms and costs are spelled out specifically in writing, via hard copy or email. Confirm that I have received all important documents such as proposals, contracts, timetables and other schedules of deliverables. Please communicate any changes in a timely fashion, and make sure that all appropriate members of my team have been included in emails. If you think that there has been any miscommunication, speak to me directly. Sometimes, subtle meanings or intentions can get lost in texts or emails, and voice to voice or in person contact is the only way to make sure everyone is on the same page. This is especially important at the beginning of our relationship.
Of course, things sometimes go awry, and I’ll be looking to see how you operate under pressure. Stay tuned for Part 3, where I share some best practices for dealing with the worst of times.