Client Consultation Questions: Creating the Concept
Picture this: you are meeting with potential clients for the first time. They want you to plan an event and they’re very enthusiastic about hiring you. A few minutes into the meeting, however, you realize that they don’t really know what they want. They’re having trouble choosing a theme, they haven’t decided on a menu, and they’re not really sure what elements they actually want the party to have. How do you handle the situation?
Before the meeting
You can prepare beforehand for clients who don’t know exactly what they want. Enter the event client consultation meeting ready to guide clients through the process of choosing colors, themes, and menu items. This will help you stay calm and organized if you’re met with a blank stare.
Start by asking yourself a few questions:
- What do you already know about the clients?
- What do you know about the event?
- What can you ask to learn more about their tastes and needs?
- What can you ask to get the information you need to move forward?
- At the end of the meeting, do you think you can work well enough with those clients?
You’ll encounter many clients throughout your career who come to you with little or no ideas. The consultation meeting can still be productive for everyone. Use it as an opportunity to figure out what they like and what kind of event themes meet their needs.
Gather what you do know
Analyze what you already know about the clients. Even before the consultation, your initial interactions can inform which themes and concepts you propose first. Think about:
- The purpose of the event
- Is the event celebrating something? Is it for a specific person or group?
- The expected age of the guests, based on what the event is for
- Any likes or dislikes they’ve mentioned
- Whether the event is taking place in their home or elsewhere
Even basic details can set you on the right track for thinking of an event theme or concept. Gathering the details you already have gives you something to work with in case the potential clients have no idea what they expect from you.
Outline what you need to know
You can only go so far with basic details. The consultation meeting is your chance to learn what else you need to move forward. Before the meeting starts, think about the kind of information you’ll need to get from the client in order to consider entering a contract with them.
Quote a price
Most event client consultation meetings range between an hour and two hours in length. Clients are charged by the hour, but you should give them an idea beforehand of how long the meeting should take. If the event is simple and small, allot an hour and quote them the price but let them know that additional fees will apply if they go overtime with you. If the event is large, complicated, or they want you to plan a series of events, quote the client two hours.
During the consultation
Event planning consultations are an opportunity to exchange information. Some planners conduct consultations at their office and set up a separate time to view venues and visit vendors, particularly if their clients aren’t sure what they want.
For planners whose clients already have an ideal venue in mind, the consultation could take place during a venue walk-through. Viewing the ideal venue so early gives you a sense of whether the event is within your scope. It also helps the clients visualize your suggestions in the space, especially if they’re still undecided about the rest of the details.
Ask clear, constructive questions
Asking questions that are direct and to the point helps the clients focus on their wants and needs rather than just agreeing with your suggestions. You want to learn about them but you probably don’t have time to hear their life’s story, so keep your questions friendly and concise.
Find out the budget right away. You won’t be able to move forward with any ideas at all if you don’t know what the clients can afford.
Ask questions about:
- Whether there’s a guest of honor
- What colors the guest of honor like and dislikes
- What the guest of honor is passionate about or enjoys doing most
- Their favorite foods and music
- Whether anything has inspired ideas for them yet
- Elements from other events they’ve been to that they liked or disliked
- Even if they’re not sure what they do want, is there anything they absolutely don’t want?
Make sure the questions are about the clients and what they want. Keep in mind that learning about their dislikes and things they don’t need can be almost as useful as learning about the things they do like or need, especially if they’re unsure of what they want.
As you learn more about the clients, let the details get your creativity flowing. Help the clients get a clearer picture of what they like, or at least what they don’t like, by using pictures. Visual aids help clients communicate things they’re having trouble describing. Look at your portfolio or images from other events they’ve attended. Show them a mix of trends and styles and make note of what catches their eye.
Create lists to keep track of progress made throughout the meeting. Make them for:
- Things the clients absolutely want or need
- Things they absolutely don’t want or can’t have
- Potential ideas that develop throughout the meeting
For now, don’t worry if the ideas are vague. Any material is better than what you had when the meeting started! You’ll define ideas further if you choose to work together.
Special considerations can be anything your clients require that other clients might not. Inquire whether there are particular things the clients absolutely need so you can think about how to incorporate those into the event. For example, if they birthday girl has a life threatening peanut allergy, you’ll need to find a caterer that can guarantee you a nut-free menu.
Make suggestions with confidence
If you choose to work together, the clients have the final say about which event theme is chosen. That doesn’t mean, however, that you should sit quietly until they’ve made a decision. A large part of your job is anticipating what they’ll like based on what you know from the consultation meeting.
Try not to throw out random suggestions without thinking them through, but be comfortable bringing up ideas during the meeting. In fact, clients will appreciate your suggestions if they’re feeling stuck. Your ideas might help them with decisions and suggestions of their own.
After the meeting
Ideally, you should have all the information you need to move forward by the end of the consultation meeting. You should have an idea of:
- What the clients are like
- What they need
- What they want
- What they don’t like, want, or need.
Analyze the information you have and consider the budget. Think about your experience with the clients in the meeting. Ask yourself:
- Is this event feasible within their budget?
- Is the event within the scope of your skills and services?
- Do the clients seem ready to move forward following your meeting?
- Did you feel like you could communicate easily and effectively with them?
- Did they take your advice into consideration?
- Did they provide you with the information you needed and cooperate with your consultation process, answering your questions to the best of their ability?
- Can you see any potential problems or roadblocks to working with these clients?
- Do you feel like you and the clients meshed well enough to complete an event together?
When you’ve come to a decision about whether you’re ready work with these clients, contact them. A phone call is best unless they tell you they prefer email.
If you decide to work with them, let them know that you’d like to take on their event. If they would also like to move forward, set up another meeting time to discuss the terms of your contract and sign it.
If you decide that working together isn’t the best idea, kindly explain that their event is not within your scope and wish them the best of luck. If you know another event planner who you think might be a better fit, speak to that planner about the project. If your colleague is open to meeting with the clients, recommend them to the clients in your phone call or email.
Trust your instincts
When it comes to both making event planning suggestions and choosing whether to work with a client after the consultation, trust your gut feeling. The more experience you gain, the easier you’ll be able to read what people want based on facts and planner’s intuition. Imagine how impressed clients will be if you propose the perfect idea before they’ve even realized that’s what they want!