Every successful corporate event relies on a combination of trustworthy vendors. It can be a challenge finding the right vendor you need for each piece of the event you’re planning. If one vendor makes a mistake, it could reflect on you and damage the relationship you have with a client or other vendors. This is 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:
1. Determine your needs
First, have a brainstorming session and come up with what you want each vendor to provide on the day of the event. Sometimes, it’s as simple as an individual running an activation; other times, it’s an entire team armed with truckloads of theming or AV equipment to transform an entire venue. If you have a solid list of things you want the vendor to do and provide, it’ll be easier to judge their proposal.
It’s pretty risky not thinking about your requirements beforehand. These vendors will make sure your show comes together exactly the way it should, so making the requirements easy for them to understand will go a long way.
Tip – sometimes vendors will know what you need better than you do. To get the best of both worlds, ask for recommendations along the way and combine those with your own expertise and list of needs. The recommendations given to you by vendors will indicate a lot about how experienced and skilled they are, be sure to take note of it.
2. Google isn’t your only resource
When Googling, don’t be surprised if some vendors’ sites aren’t very stylized 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 vendor is to simply reach out to them directly to find out their capabilities. Of course, reaching out to tons of individual vendors can be a daunting task… and really, who has that much time? Event planners sure don’t. To narrow down your options, look into familiarizing yourself with Yelp, event industry blogs, and other sites related to events to help you find the perfect vendor for your event.
Talking to coworkers, existing vendors, and people in the event industry can also help narrow down your options. You’ll likely find that people in hospitality and event industries are incredibly friendly and helpful about referring businesses to their trusted vendors. They’ll also most likely have a reputable, preferred vendor for the service you’re needing.
3. Make a connection
When first approaching a vendor, make sure they meet your predetermined requirements and first see if they have availability for the day(s) of the event you’re planning. There’s no point in wasting anyone’s time, and if they aren’t available, they can probably give you suggestions for other vendors. Here are some examples of the types of information you should obtain when having this initial conversation with a vendor:
- Can they do all of their own tricks?
Some vendors don’t own their own equipment or have their own staff in house. This means that if they need extra equipment or extra personnel, they’ll most likely markup their costs to still make money on any services. This isn’t always an issue, but if it is, you might be losing money by going with this vendor.
- How reliable is their team?
While email is a great way to clarify information, a phone call or a face-to-face meeting can give you a much better sense of the kind of people you’ll potentially be working with. Take time to ask about the crew that will be onsite at the event. Are they punctual? Do they clean up after themselves? You’ll want to make sure that you talk to the people who will actually be working with you, not just the salesperson. There’s nothing worse than getting sold by somebody charismatic and knowledgeable about your event, but then passed on to someone else who doesn’t uphold 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 learn about the types of events they’ve 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 referrals to validate the information they provide. If the information they give checks out, then you’ve started to build trust with them and if it doesn’t, then you know you can move on.
It’s also good to start a genuine relationship with the vendor from day 1. After all, they’re helping you pull it all together so the stronger the relationship you have with them, the more likely it is that they will bend over backwards to make sure it all goes off without a hitch.
4. Request multiple quotes
Don’t get a quote from just one vendor. Even if you’re sure you’re going to use a specific vendor, getting more than one quote is a great best practice. These quotes will serve as a benchmark for comparing vendors now and in the future. You’ll also get to see what the industry price standards are by looking at multiple vendors. The quote from one vendor you may not like might have some inclusions that your preferred vendor overlooked.
5. Don’t make costs your bottom line
As a seasoned event professional, one of the biggest pieces of advice I can pass along is don’t choose a vendor purely on price. If your budget is a real problem, find other areas to trim it down and only hire the vendors you absolutely need. In the end, the value of the vendor will be determined by how well they performed, not just their costs.
Now, this doesn’t mean you should get hustled by some exorbitantly overpriced firms. Keep in mind that if you save a few hundred dollars, you might also gain a mini heart attack when your chosen vendor makes a mistake.
Lastly, be sure to check that the quoted prices include everything and there are no additional costs. The last thing you want is to be done with the event (and event budget) and have a vendor send you additional bills that were not anticipated.
6. Go with your gut feeling
Weigh out all of your options, make a master spreadsheet, if that’s your thing, and choose a vendor who aligns with your needs and who you feel the most confidence in for the actual event.
If you don’t feel confident with all of your options, ask for more information, or go back to the drawing board and get another 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 useful, and the vendor is excited about making the event a success.
Do you have other ways of selecting vendors that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear about them in the comments section below. It can be quite difficult to choose a vendor, so I’m really looking forward to hearing stories from others!