Dealing with constantly changing goal posts is a fine line between challenging your creative talent and knowing when and how to say ‘no’ to last minute demands.

Have you ever experienced a situation where you give someone an inch and they take a mile? Surely you have come across or can expect to come across such clients that clearly think you can perform miracles, have no idea that there is a limit for what their budget will cover or are made of money and believe they own you. These are the bridzillas of the events world and believe me when I say that these character types do not just haunt the Wedding Planners. Men too can turn into divas, so always expect the unexpected and whatever happens, do not let them intimidate you.

The question is do you really want to work like this? No? Well, there are ways to curb such behaviour and here is how:

Define Your Boundaries

It is important to establish some limitations. There has to be a clearly defined line where last minute changes are just not acceptable. Much of this will come down to your own personal decision, however, it is advisable to predetermine a certain amount of time, after which, changes can not be made and cancelations of services will only be part refunded. It is important to try and make your clients as happy as feasibly possibly but it is also all part and parcel of being in business to make sure that you will not jeopardize your finances at the end of the day. It is therefore even more important, that once your boundary has been established, you stick to it or you will forever be given the endless run around, your time and expenses will be taken for granted and you and your team will be not always be well reciprocated financially for the extra effort.

Nothing says it like a signature!

In your client event brief, I would most definitely include a short paragraph or a couple of sentences that clearly state, that once a certain amount of weeks prior to the event-in-question have passed, no changes can be made and deposits will be not be returned for cancellation of services. Once the client has signed off on the brief, they will not be able to dispute this fact. Small changes are not often an issue but as soon as payments have been made, it is a whole load of hassle to keep changing guest numbers on vendors, entertainment set-ups on technicians, music play lists on DJs and menu changes on the chefs. Remember that while you are the middleman in all this, your vendors also have their own schedules and have to make arrangements for all their provisions in advance. Changing even the smallest of detail on them can upset their pricing, their suppliers and they could ultimately loose out financially. The last thing you want to do is a loose a good, reliable vendor for the sake of an indecisive client.

Take the Bull By the Horns

The rule of customer service often has that the client is always right even when they are not. The basis for such a statement that often sees clients and customers behave downright atrociously while making outlandish claims, is that they are in essence paying you to be wrong. While I agree that it is more often than not good customer service policy to side with the client, there does have to be a reasonable line as to how much you can do without advance notice. You are human after all and last minute changes are just not always possible with the time and budget provided. Do not succumb to the bribery methods of more money, extra tips, loss of business and/or bad recommendations. You have to ultimately think about your own business at hand and what will or won’t compromise your own sanity, stretch the patience of your events team and possibly compromise the smooth running and quality of the event. Set your standards high and don’t risk ruining the reputation you have built for yourself with a single half assed attempt to please a client; if there just isn’t time or it just isn’t possible, then don’t do it. Sometimes, it is simply too late to make changes and you will have to stand your ground. It might be easier at the time to say yes in order to avoid an argument or the wrath of a client but your team and vendors will respect you for not taking their time and hard work ethic for granted and it will be well worth it in the long run. How many times have you told yourself that hindsight is a beautiful thing!

Don’t Promise What You Can’t Provide

Being an Events Manager, you can’t be a “can’t say no” person. If the little two-letter word “no” is an issue, then you have some serious personal introspection to do to overcome this. Remember that some people will push you just to see how far you will go with the belief that they as well ask and the worst thing you can say is “no”. They won’t let you in on their secret that they don’t always really expect you to give in but they will play on your genuine kindness and compassion…be careful. Promising something that you know at the time that you just will not be able to deliver as well as you could actually puts you, your business and your event in more jeopardy than turning the client down and politely explaining why their demand just can’t be met. If you decide to try and help your client out, go as far as promising to ask the vendor in question if changes are possible but NEVER promise.

Patterns and Habits

Some people are just naturally indecisive so don’t be afraid to be firm with them. Take each demand as it comes and review it carefully to see how much time, money and stress it will cause you and your team to meet expectations. If a client is particularly picky and/or demanding, ensure that you back yourself up with a final confirmation letter that states everything they are paying for and get them sign and return it to you within one working day following which, no further changes can be made. Having this letter will be your saving grace in case they decide to create a fuss either right before or right after the event. If you see an indecisive trend emerging get the final confirmation letter signed a little earlier than usual and ensure that you, the client and the relevant vendors each have a copy. Insist that deposits are paid on time and vendor services paid in full once the final confirmation letter has been signed. Until payment has been handed over, many people think that it is still ok to change their minds. While there can sometimes be very good reason for last minute alterations, time is of the essence to get vendor supplies confirmed before you are faced with late service charges that you may even have to foot from your own profit margin.

The Why and How

There are several aspects that you need to take into consideration when setting limitations to client demands:

1. Budget – how far can their budget go, is there any room to make the changes or meet the requirements that they are setting for you. Look at where you can make cuts and suggest this to the client. Sometimes they will just have to learn to compromise either on quality or quantity. It is a tough choice to make and this is where your expertise comes in. Gently let them in on your recommendations.

2. It is just too late – you will not be able to meet expectations in the time frame given. Either keep firm to your advance notice agreement or suggest alternatives that you know you can offer. Don’t push yourself too far or let yourself be bullied into saying yes. While client happiness if of paramount importance, the success of the overall event is under your reputation and if your attention of the long list of small details to take care of in the final run up to the event will be compromised by now having to add or change something, then don’t risk it. If this change will also upset your vendor and change the payment by involving additional charges or refunds, then don’t do it if significant notice hasn’t been given and you could run the risk of ending up out of pocket.

Challenge your creativity but don’t compromise it is the motto that is key to running a successful business. As I mentioned before, there is a distinct although very fine line between keeping a client happy, enslaving yourself to a last minute panic attack and isolating yourself from your events team and your vendors. There is a way of being tough and if you have to be cruel to be kind, don’t think twice about it. Remember that it isn’t what you say but how you say it! Be nice about it but don’t feel bad if you have to play the “no” means “no” card.

Fiona

Following a University degree and a drastic career move, Fiona Warren-Bassett soon found herself rapidly moving forward in the events and PR world. Enjoying the change of direction, Fiona went on to further her Event Management experience, spending 6 years working for a renowned cruise line company. Having travelled extensively and been actively involved in many events and weddings, Fiona has since returned to land and has successfully launched her freelance writing and PR career.
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