Charging your worth and getting remunerated for the service you provide can be a huge challenge for any PCO in South Africa these days, and being an events management professional can be a hair-raising experience lately. So many competitors, dwindling markets and client budgets that would be enough to make any seasoned professional want to throw in the towel.
As an industry professional with over 8 years’ experience I can honestly say that I have run the gamut of clients, local and international alike over the last year that have tested my mettle to the utmost. And herein lies the crux of the matter. How do you charge for your services, without being undercut and losing important clients to someone not only cheaper, but less experienced to boot?
When Haiku Events opened its doors just over 4 years ago – we took everything, every single job regardless of whether it fitted within our company policy or not – because business is business, right? Wrong. I slowly learnt how to select my clients on a number of items – track records, willingness to pay deposits etc. Some talk the talk, and others walk the walk. It’s the walk the walk ones I want in my stable, to be honest.
These days getting remunerated for your time, and the quality of the service you provide is vital. No small company has the time, resources or quite frankly the energy to work on a project that is not going to yield benefit for them, right?
How do you, as a respected PCO set down the rules and regulations for payment, when so many others are undercutting and charging rates that are not sustainable? I try to keep my clients best interests at heart, I know that budget is always a major concern so I try to first ascertain my clients end goal. What are they wanting to achieve, and sometimes understanding that can be a challenge in itself. I need to know exactly what their goal is for the end of the event, so that I can ensure that goal is met, and that myself and my team have a full understanding of the amount of time, effort and resources that are going to be required from our side to make it happen for them.
Never let your clients estimate the amount of hours that you will be needed on a project – often they either have no concept of the amount of administration and backend work that is required, or they are being very clever and watching their budget, knowing that they will lock you in to a signed contract and can then get double the time out of you.
As a company that is very brand conscious I have always believed in delivering a service that is over and above what the client asked for – and so many times I have come a cropper working three times over the agreed amount of hours to ensure the project is a success for my client – but to the detriment of my company, as that time needs to be remunerated – staff need to be paid, office expenses need to be covered etc. You cannot work for free and now I put my foot down. Yes I am quoting you 50 admin hours. That is what I know with my industry experience is going to be required on this project. If you are not happy with that, then you are welcome to look elsewhere. It’s been hard to do, very hard – but unless I am firm, we falter.
Another option is to charge a management percentage of the full project budget – a R 200 000 project finds you making R 20 000, although often I find clients disputing the value of service. You have to be very forthright and list exactly what it is that you provide – venue sourcing, contract finalization, all supplier management, crewing etc. This takes a certain amount of hours – would you rather do all of this yourself to save the money?
Sometimes I get the response: well, my PA can do that and she is cheaper than you. My response? Okay that’s great, but think of all the time she will spend on the phone and filling out contracts and organising suppliers and not doing the office work that you pay her to do. So, is it really cheaper?
I often get asked to do a lot of event promotion tasks, and I know without a doubt that this is not a realm I wish to dabble in. Events promotion, getting those all-important bums on seats is certainly a skill – and one that I do not wish to even attempt to engage in.
I have made sure I partner up with other companies that offer complimentary services to those that I offer, and companies I trust to work to the same standard that I do. When I get asked to do a job that includes services that I don’t specialize in – I prefer to rather out source. Yes, my sister company Joan Soap does that and we have used them on a number of productions locally and internationally.
Rather don’t try and offer a service you don’t specialize in, this can only backfire if you have never done it before. I have over the years forged relationships with a variety of complimentary services in the industry that I use regularly – floral decorators, shell scheme suppliers, printers, designers, promotions agents and so forth. Trying to tackle everything yourself to win a contract is in my mind like signing a death sentence. You cannot be a master of everything, or if you try, you may certainly drop a ball in one or more areas and that would not be the best reflection of your brand.
I have found, especially in South Africa, and not only in the events management space, that companies will take a contract, knowing that they cannot deliver, and that they won’t get that client again, but it don’t matter, as they will get paid once and that’s enough. I have been contacted by clients that have been badly burnt with companies that have been paid and then not delivered, or worse, just disappeared in to the ether, never to be seen again, and the cost to the client of now having to hire someone else to fix the mistakes has been astronomical on top of the financial loss they have just incurred.
Another hurdle can be being approached to assist on projects for a “profit share” at the end. Again, I advise to be cautious. Do your research on the company and its Directors. What is their track record on other projects? Phone other past suppliers of theirs if you can and get a feel for them. Anything that requires my time at no cost with a big end reward can either be a huge risk, or a very rewarding experience – but remember you have bills to pay and a roof to put over your head in the mean time until that payout. And what if they don’t keep their end of the bargain and the event makes no profit. Then what?
Retainers are always a winning formula. Clients that pay you a certain monthly amount for a certain service and specified hours, where there is a value exchange that makes both parties happy, is the top level in my books.
I have a few clients on retainer and as long as I deliver on expectations there has never been an issue. This has become the modus operandi for Haiku Events in the last few months, supplemented with other handpicked projects that help to build the type of brand that we are renowned for.
We believe in forging relationships that are mutually beneficial and have a long lasting result. I want to work with the same people over and over – not only does this gain you word of mouth recommendations, but also makes the job easier in the long run – as the client trusts you, works well with you, and you know how they prefer to operate, things they like and don’t like and after a few events you become part of the family. This is, in my opinion, what makes this career so rewarding. When my clients thank me from stage in front of a room filled with five thousand people, I know they mean it. I know we have supplied the very best service, and next week we will all sit down together and start the next project as a team.
I look forward to another four years in this industry, supplying quality service and with clients that resonant with who we are and what we stand for. Your brand and your integrity are the things that will keep your company head and shoulders above the rest.