How a Client Made Me a Better Planner

You’re familiar with the saying: you learn from your mistakes. I like to take that a step further by saying if you don’t learn from your mistakes then you’re destined to fail. One of the top characteristics of great leaders is their ability to accept responsibility for their actions. I guess that’s why there are so few of these great leaders in politics today – they always seem to be passing the buck and blaming the other guy. A great meeting or event planner is someone who’s able to stand up and take responsibilities for his or her actions. Not blaming it on another team member (“It wasn’t me”).

Think about your career path. And, in particular, remember those moments where you made a terrible decision, or mistake, that you thought would be the end of your career. Only later to realize that it was, in fact, a moment that strengthened your career path.

An Event Planner Needs to Learn from Their Mistakes

Here’s a client situation that happened early on in my event planning career. Coming from an operational and budgeting background in hotels, it wasn’t second nature for me to sell (pitch a particular piece of business). It’s not that I was uncomfortable meeting and talking with people. Rather, I’ve always had a hard time closing the sale as it were. If I had to choose, I’d definitely say that I’m a soft seller. And not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The potential piece of business was a major airline. I’d spoken with my contact on the phone to get an outline of her expectations so that I could prepare a proposal. So I did my research, proposed several options, priced it out and prepared for my presentation. Then came the site visit. I spent the day with my contact and her supervisor showing them the venues that I had listed. Of course, like most potential clients, they were getting quotes from a couple of my competitors. Standard procedure.

They wanted to make a decision before they returned home to Asia. So a day or two later I received a call saying that they wanted to take me to lunch. Well, I remember thinking to myself, “I must have got the business because a client does not take a potential supplier to lunch to say no”.

Well, these guys did.

I remember leaving the lunch with mixed emotions. On one hand, I felt very bad that I didn’t get this rather large piece of business as they would have been one of my first clients. And I really liked them. On the other hand, I actually had a hard time feeling bad because of the way they broke the news to me. I have to say it was the best rejection meeting that I have ever attended. Their reasons? They could sense my lack of experience and, while they genuinely wanted to work with me, at the end of the day they had their company’s program to think about.

How could I argue with that? Especially with the way they “broke” the news to me.

Of course now that I have years of experience under my belt I can come up with 10 ways I would’ve handled that process. But being new to the event planning industry, I obviously was showing my lack of expertise. However, it was my personality, or the way that I interacted with them, which made the decision very difficult for them.

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I did, however, take away a very important lesson from that interaction. There were specifics in my proposal that raised red flags. They were nice enough to explain them to me so that I could learn from that experience and not repeat it in the future. Which I can assure you I did not. I did indeed learn from that experience. So much so that I’m writing about it today. So to all of you new and upcoming professional planners, know that you’re going to make mistakes. But it’s how you learn from those mistakes that will make you stand out in a very crowded meeting and event planner world.

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