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Carrot Danglers

Earning your stripes and becoming a credible event management agency is a little like the chicken and the egg story. You need clients to showcase your event management skills, yet to showcase your event management skills you need clients. And, when you think you have cracked this conundrum, you have to ask, where do I actually get my clients from?

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Our own Olympics Legacy

The team at Clearwater Towers are feeling a little blue today… The withdrawal symptoms from the Olympics have already started and the office doesn’t feel the same without the background hum of crowds cheering as Team GB head for another victory on the television. We have been glued to the TV and have been rather surprised by the sports we have watched, from handball to BMX racing. In fact, Jonathan, our co director, phoned into LBC radio and ended up live on air to defend the opening ceremony – now that’s passion!

One month on and I have to eat my words a little bit. The Olympics have been an incredible boost to the country, we have shown the world how we as nation have the ability to deliver the extraordinary, on time and within budget. We have shown how to perfectly manage incredibly complex events whilst keeping a sense of humor and being realistic on what makes a wow factor event. So, perhaps it is this that will become our lasting legacy? Our legacy could be that finally a host country has shown how to really deliver a brilliant, wow-factor games that’s cost effective, yet successfully brings people together from all over the world.

My fear though is that this becomes only a London legacy. To make a real difference then, the legacy must be all inclusive of the entire UK and we as an industry have to identify the value and benefits to all as we move forward in promoting the UK, rather than just London, as a fab inbound destination. I do truly believe that the London 2012 Olympics will have a positive and significant impact to inward MICE business within the next year, but it’s important that we ensure the whole of the country gets a slice of the cake!

As a start up that’s almost a year old, we are keen to embrace this as a key area for growth as we continue to develop our own strategy in offering a competitive product at a realistic price to clients. This is a great opportunity for us smaller agencies to seize the moment and showcase our strength in delivering fab event solutions in tough economic times, usi back, pure hard work and determination will ensure success. So it’s this that will become Clearwater’s own Olympics legacy as we face a set of conundrums for growth that feel quite like the 100m hurdles or possibly even the triple jump (which I thought looked terribly difficult)

So, in response to my own comments last month, I am pleased to say that I have found my own legacy and I pretty sure the Olympics will create many more as people up and down the country reflect what the games meant to them.

The Cost of Industry Knowledge

Like many of my industry colleagues, I understand that venue and destination knowledge is a key foundation to our company and keeping up to date with the new ‘must see’ places is vital in ensuring we remain current with our proposals and event offering.

I have always said that until you have experienced something, it can be hard to passionately sell it and as such, I have made it my business to promote fam trips and hosted buyer experiences wherever possible within the team this year. I am always very gracious and thankful that these brilliant opportunities exist and we look forward to them greatly. My mum never quite understands why members of our team are often away and no matter how much I explain, she always sees them as a free holiday somewhere glam. But holidays they are not! In fact, they can be really hard work, but their benefit is incredible.

There are many industry trade shows and fam trips that occur throughout the year and we have been lucky enough to receive a number of invites, giving us the opportunity to experiencing hotels and destinations just as our delegates would. We are always surprised by the generosity offered and graciously embrace the often-tough sales environments experienced especially at trade shows.

I have until recently been frustrated by the associated costs in attending such trips. It pains me to be signing expenses for expensive hotel WIFI and airport car parking and have always questioned why we as hosted buyers or invited clients should be expected to pay? But, recently my light bulb came on and rationalized that for the cost of WIFI or car parking, we as a company are gaining levels of knowledge, which are almost priceless. I think many of us forget the costs and effort involved in creating these trips and are quick to complain about what expenses we do have to pay. Knowledge development does have a cost and it simply depends upon the level of investment the company is prepared to make.

It does pain me when I experience stories where industry colleagues stay up until 4am drinking and then can’t make it down for a coach transfer or a morning activity. Or when you hear complaints about having to meet suppliers after being flown for free to a destination!

Of course, like many, I have just come back from Imex. Over the two days, I heard so many people moan and groan about meeting suppliers and this troubled me. In accepting a hosted buyer place, these people know the deal. There is no such thing as a free lunch and if you’re being paid to go somewhere, you are going to have to accept the pressures of being sold to.

I found Imex to be brilliant. Why? Because I saw each appointment as an opportunity to network and sell my services whilst identifying ways in how we as suppliers could work together. I networked and chatted to anyone that was interested and the results were amazing. I met incredible people and have comeback to Clearwater Towers full of ideas and new contacts. Yes, the appointments are tough, but it’s the way you approach it. I did find the 350 emails in my inbox a little hard going, but we fixed that with a few spam filters!

So, please, lets stop the moans and groans and embrace these incredible opportunities as fantastic ways to learn, develop and network. OK, we might have to pay for a few things along the way and we may have some tough schedules in meeting suppliers. But, isn’t this a small price tag when you consider the real value they have to your business?

The Sales Train

I was sitting with my team this past week reviewing possible sales leads and the realistic possibility of these leads using Clearwater Events. Since opening the doors of Clearwater Towers, we have employed a variety of sales tools in an attempt to kick start the sales train, from using traditional telesales techniques to harnessing the potential power of social media. So what sales train is the best train to hop on board?

It seems that traditional methods of sales and lead generation such as telemarketing often lead to nothing more than a spreadsheet of contacts full of brochure requests. It’s money for old rope these days as a brochure request is absolutely not a sales lead in 2012! Any one who thinks otherwise is possibly still at the station waiting to catch the train. Cold calling or targeted telephone selling may work for some, but in this time of social media and technology reigning supreme, telesales – in my opinion – is lazy sales.

How many times have you been cold called and sold to? Whether or not you’re interested, out of pure politeness you will often ask for a brochure to be sent? Indeed, do potential clients now really welcome the intrusion of a phone call during their busy day to be sold a service or product they may or may not want? And do they read the brochure you have lovingly sent through? Possibly they do, but probably they do not. And this leads me to the big question, does cold calling cheapen a brand in 2012? It’s a hard question to answer.

Direct mailers are possibly effective and low cost compared to employing someone for the thankless task of cold calling a list of names. But, how can you ever guarantee that what your emailing ever reaches the required inbox? Does the mailer become nothing more than more landfill waist with little sales value?

For me, I don’t buy into telesales or direct marketing anymore. A sales strategy is now about using a clever combination of targeted social media strategies, specifically tailored to individual potential clients. It all starts with the team having a realistic approach on what companies could and would use the services your selling, understanding the complexities of client procurement and shareholder requirements. My dear grandma has always used the saying “reach for the stars and you might just catch one”. Great advice indeed, but you do need to be realistic on what companies could actually be permitted to use your services, otherwise you’re just wasting time. No egos here, just target where you have the best chance of winning.

It’s then a case of manipulating social media to best reach out to those that you have identified as potential sales opportunities. This could be by using Linkedin, searching for groups and discussion points to participate in or possibly writing a blog specific to the client industry your targeting. There are so many ways to manipulate social media and it’s up to you to find out what works best for you. However, what social media gurus agree as a great way to start is by offering something of value for free.

For example, what do you know that could help a possible client? (Think in terms of information you might normally attach a price to, not general information that can be picked up elsewhere). What insider knowledge have you developed that others haven’t grasped yet?  Or, have you developed a theory or strategy that would help your sales target be more effective in their role?

The scenarios are endless, however using social media as a targeted sales tool is absolutely, in my opinion, the way forward in helping to grow and develop. It’s smart selling and turns a slow train into a high-speed express.

The Social Media Question

So, it’s time to celebrate a little. Clearwater has just won an award for our C&IT Blog! The Blog Shop Best Blog Awards, awarded us second place in the Best Blog Content Category! As you can imagine, we are rather chuffed to have won this award so a little yippee is in order and of course a big thank you to C&IT.

This past month has seen our team here, there and everywhere and I am just back from GIBTM in Abu Dhabi as a Hosted Buyer. We visited some great properties, met brilliant characters and learnt a lot. However, I did struggle with the lack of free wi-fi, which caused more than one headache when we rely heavily on social media to interact and market.

There is so much talk about social media and its value as a marketing tool. It seems everyone has an opinion on how, what and when you use it. For me, it’s not a question of ‘doing’ social media, it’s a question of how well you use it. For a low cost startup, using social media as a key marketing platform has been an obvious choice but, without internet connectivity, this past week has been a challenge.

Connectivity aside, we have found social media to be an incredibly powerful and dynamic interface in building brand awareness and communicating to possible clients. Our C&IT blog is one example of how social media can work as an effective tool. The key in using social media is the ability to reach out and influence people, it’s about building relationships and that comes by understanding your audience.

There is no real science to using social media, rather using an element of common sense. For me, social media is a form of networking and is often far more effective than a 6am breakfast networking event at a local hotel. Blogging, Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter should become key networking tools – used to engage, educate and market.

A new member joins Linkedin (it is said) every second. Considering this, Linkedin has to be the most effective networking platform on the planet and by spending a little time every day building an effective profile, joining groups and actively taking part in discussions can really help your business grow, far more than a networking event serving soggy sausage rolls!

Facebook is another great tool. They say if Facebook were a country it would be the third largest in the world! With this in mind, using Facebook for business can be even more powerful than your website and creating a business page takes moments. What happens in Vegas stays on Facebook and considering this, can you imagine how Facebookers can influence your brand and reputation – both positively and negatively – with a simple click?

And of course there is Twitter. Consider Twitter as your online voice. Twitter well, and you become an influencer where followers re-tweet posts and new interest is sparked. Our aim is to post tweets, which generate interest and ideally a re-tweet, creating a marketing platform that beats any telesales or direct marketing campaign.

With social media, follow your instinct and consider it as your perfect networking platform, behaving as you would in real world sceneries. It’s networking, marketing and relationship building in the palm of your hand (held device).

The Five Month Itch

So, the sales itch has started. We are five months in and since we launched in September, time seems to have passed us with lightening speed and experiences with incredible highs and quite disheartening lows along the way. Our strategic marketing is strong, our brand powerful and now it’s time to focus on increase our sales.

I was lucky enough to have attended Conventa in Slovenia last month, which proved to be incredibly enlightening. The show was excellent and informative, but what enlightened me was the positive feedback and industry opinion on our brand and ideology! Our brand is generating good feedback so, how can we best harness this to generate more sales?

With this in mind, our focus is on bringing our brand, knowledge and product to market in a low cost yet effective way. For us we need a strong anti itch cream that will not only sooth the symptoms but, also get rid of the irritation once and for all.

It’s, time for a bit of sweat equity. Sweat equals effort and this costs nothing if you have the right energy and determination. I always say that a stick has more muscles than me, but until I go to the gym and pump the iron, I shall remain a stick man forever – so not point complaining. It’s the same with sales. Until we literally spend every waking hour in direct marketing campaigns, we simply wont grow fast enough!

So here lies my next question…. What is effective direct marketing? I wish there was a rulebook for this! Sure, there are books and courses one could go on, but do they offer unique, creative solutions? Are email campaigns the way forward? Is telephone researching an effective tool? Is ‘dreaded’ networking groups an ideal starting point? How much will all this cost? It seems like an investment gamble and I have never been good at the Las Vegas card games (UNO is about the only card game I can master).

In the spirit of our Clearwater Thinking, it seems to me that it’s a combination of all of these and more. The next big challenge for us is unquestionably sales and getting more confirmed events on the books. So, here starts the next challenge in the Clearwater story! With brand in tow, lets get sweating!

Networking Nightmares

Now here’s one to ponder. Like almost everyone on Linkedin and other social networking groups, I am keen to make new contacts and build relationships. I appreciate and value the importance of networking as a selling tool and as such it should form part of anyone’s sales strategy. Before starting Clearwater Events, I was lucky to work for a multi national events agency where the name said it all but, on starting my own company, I have been thrown to the networking sharks! And in the last four months, it’s been a networking nightmare!!

I was perhaps a little naive when it came to the networking scene, accepting every invitation and believing there was such thing as a free networking lunch! After spending many £10.00’s in unnecessary fees for a rubbish coffee and a sausage on a stick, I feel I need to vent!

I have found it almost scary at times to be thrown in a room full of strangers with nothing more than a weak coffee and a mini quiche for protection. What do I say? Who shall I talk to? Oh, I love those shoes, where are they from? I have loved the speed networking and really enjoyed breakfast sessions even though it means a 5am start, which is just wrong.

However, it’s the professional networking and referral groups that get me! I really don’t need a round of applause for referring a contact to someone. I don’t need to be filling out pieces of paper and popping them through a referral letterbox to be appreciated! I don’t appreciate a comedy horn being blown when someone makes a sale – my ears are still ringing from that ridiculous moment. And as a new company, I certainly don’t need to be spending £600 a year for the privilege!

The power of referral is a natural thing – it really should never be a forced thing…… 

There must be a way that in 2012, us new business owners and entrepreneurs can get together over a glass of wine or a pint of beer and just talk……. Talk about what we need, talk about the economy and just exchange views. Yes, its in the same spirit of perhaps the more professional networking groups but, surely cheaper and more productive?

A Story of David and Goliath

Well, we did it! First event is done and dusted and I have framed a copy of my first paid invoice on the wall for posterity. A proud moment and one that has cemented our belief that we have absolutely done the right thing! Seeing our company logo on the hospitality desk sent goose bumps up my back and for the first time in a long time, I was able to enjoy the fruits of our labour.

So today, I’m sitting here writing this blog having just returned from EIBTM. It seems somewhat strange to be talking about Clearwater’s aims and objectives, but within the unchartered sea that we navigating in, it was totally reassuring to see familiar faces and old friends. It sends a wave of confidence that we are doing the right thing.

However, right now I feel that we are following a similar journey to that of the old fable David and Goliath! Indeed, the Goliaths were out in force at EIBTM, strutting their stuff and holding court somewhat at the major hotel stands. But, it makes me chuckle and question our industry as it stands.

I was shocked, actually in fact appalled to hear a certain agency is now demanding 20% commission from all hotels they use! Have we as an industry gone entirely mad? I feel we are at a turning point with the Goliath’s of this world. Clients unknowingly in many cases are being channeled into hotels, not for their suitability of the brief, but rather the agencies own override and commission agreements. Surely the only person to suffer is the client? These demands in rate reduction and increased commission can only be met by own simple action…. Cutting quality.

At times it seem that events are no longer started with a blank canvas, rather a set of SLAs, SOPs and KPI where proposals are often molded from agencies own criteria.
Of course it doesn’t happen all the time and there are many, many creatives out there. But it does seem that the Goliaths are starting to lose touch with the very essence of why people meet. And it’s the Davids of this world that I truly believe will prevail at the end of the day. Small agencies can’t always compete with rates, but we can compete in overall value, quality and creativity. And, as small agencies have low operating costs, indeed we become more cost effective as reduced rates only form one part of the overall budget…

Marketing and Growth. Think Before you Spend……..

So, Clearwater Events is officially two months old today. Happy Birthday to us! What a strange two months it has been. Time has whizzed by with such lightening speed that days merge in weeks and weeks become a blur.

The agency has already had some exciting interest and we are quietly reassured everything’s on track. The team at Clearwater Towers is busy working on our first confirmed event operating in two weeks time (yay) and we are currently pitching for a mammoth 2,500-delegate sales event for next year (yikes).

The internet and social media tools have become our best friends. The website has become our shop window and with the support from our buddies at Bare Face Media, we have learnt how to use Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook as key marketing tools.

In starting Clearwater Events, we truly believed (perhaps naively) that we would have resources at our fingertips, especially in light of the governments focus in getting people like us to start up. Certainly, the team at Start Up Britain and the Business Growth Show, along with enterprise gurus such as Emma Jones, have been fantastic in their advice and encouragement. However, by and large it seems that support, advice and networking opportunities come at a price.

There are organisations (that will remain nameless) that promise amazing networking opportunities and possible keys to locked doors. In total we could have easily spent over £100,000 this month if we had joined all the organisations and associations that appear to help new businesses and promise networking.

However, my question is how can anyone think that charging £450 in membership fees to join an organisation is an acceptable figure for a small agency like ours? Breakfast and lunch networking are brilliant sales tools, if you have a spare £20 to hand. I have asked if I could bring a packed lunch for a cheaper price but sadly the answer is always no!

So, perhaps we need to rely on ourselves and the marketing and social media tools that are free, but require some sweat equity? It seems there are lot of people out to make money from offering small business growth opportunity and I for one, don’t buy it…