Every successful corporate event relies on a combination of trusted vendors. It can be difficult to find the right vendor you need for each element of the event you’re planning. If a vendor makes a mistake, it could reflect on you and damage your relationship with a client or other vendors. That’s why vetting vendors and knowing exactly how to negotiate with them is such an important part of the event planning process. Here are 6 tips for choosing the best event vendors:
Determine your needs
First, brainstorm and come up with what you want each vendor to bring on the day of the event. Sometimes it’s as simple as one individual performing an activation; other times, it’s an entire team armed with theming trucks or audio-visual equipment to transform an entire venue. If you have a solid list of things you want the vendor to do and deliver, it will be easier to judge their proposal.
It is quite risky not to think about your needs in advance. These vendors will make sure your program goes exactly right, so making the requirements easy to understand will help them understand.
Tip – sometimes vendors will know what you need better than you do. To get the most out of both worlds, ask for recommendations along the way and combine them with your own expertise and list of requirements. Recommendations given to you by vendors will tell you a lot about their experience and skills, so be sure to take note.
Google is not your only resource
When you search Google, don’t be surprised if some vendors’ sites aren’t very stylish or responsive. You’re looking for an industry expert, sometimes a one-man band, who may or may not have the resources to keep a nice website up to date. The best way to get the information you need from the provider is simply to contact them directly to find out what their capabilities are. Of course, reaching out to tons of individual vendors can be a daunting task… and really, who has that much time? Event planners certainly don’t. To narrow down your options, try familiarizing yourself with Yelp, event industry blogs and other event-related sites to help you find the perfect vendor for your event.
Talking to colleagues, existing vendors and people in the event industry can also help you narrow down your options. You will likely find that people in the hospitality and event industry are incredibly friendly and helpful in recommending companies to their trusted vendors. They will also most likely have a reputable and preferred vendor for the service you need.
Make a connection
When approaching a vendor for the first time, make sure they meet your predetermined requirements and first check to see if they are available for the day(s) of the event you are planning. There is no point in wasting anyone’s time, and if they are not available, they can probably give you suggestions for other vendors. Here are some examples of the types of information you should get in that first conversation with a vendor:
- Can they do all their own tours?
Some providers don’t own their own equipment or have their own in-house staff. This means that if they need additional equipment or additional staff, they will likely mark up their costs to keep making money on all services. This isn’t always a problem, but if it is, you may be losing money by using this provider.
- How reliable is their team?
While email is a great way to clarify information, a phone call or face-to-face meeting can give you a much better idea of the type of people you will potentially be working with. Take the time to ask questions about the crew that will be on site at the event. Are they punctual? Do they clean up after themselves? You’ll want to make sure you’re talking to the people who will actually be working with you, not just the vendor. There’s nothing worse than being sold by someone charismatic and knowledgeable about your event, but then passed on to someone else who doesn’t maintain that impression.
- What kind of work can they produce?
Avoid simply relying on glossy brochures or website information. When talking with a vendor, try to find out what types of events they have done in the past or recently. Find out what types of clients they typically work with. If they have experience working in your industry, that’s always a plus. Ask for client references to validate the information they provide. If the information they give is verified, then you have begun to build trust with them and if it is not, you know you can move on.
It’s also a good idea to start a real relationship with the vendor from day one. After all, they’re helping you put everything together, so the stronger the relationship you have with them, the more likely they’ll bend over backwards to make sure everything goes smoothly.
Get multiple quotes
Don’t get quotes from just one supplier. Even if you’re sure you’re going to use a specific supplier, getting multiple quotes is a great best practice. These quotes will serve as a reference for comparing current and future vendors. You will also have a chance to see what the industry pricing standards are by looking at multiple vendors. A quote from a vendor you may not like may contain some inclusions that your preferred vendor ignored.
Don’t make costs your bottom line
As a seasoned event professional, one of the biggest pieces of advice I can give you is not to choose a vendor solely on price. If your budget is a real problem, find other areas to cut back and only hire the vendors you absolutely need. Ultimately, the value of the vendor will be determined by their performance, not just their costs.
Now, this doesn’t mean you should be pushed around by exorbitant companies. Keep in mind that while you may save a few hundred dollars, you may also suffer a mini heart attack when the vendor you choose makes a mistake.
Finally, be sure to check that the prices listed include everything and that there are no additional fees. The last thing you want is to go with the event (and the event budget) and ask a vendor to send you additional invoices that were not anticipated.
Follow your instincts
Evaluate all your options, create a master spreadsheet, if that’s your thing, and choose a vendor that fits your needs and who you feel most confident in for the actual event.
If you don’t feel comfortable with all your options, ask for more information or go back to the drawing board and get a quote or two from other vendors. When you do find the best choice, things should just “feel” right. The way they talk about the event makes sense, their advice is helpful and the vendor is happy to make the event a success.