Time Management – Tips From a Wedding Planner
Today, I want to share with you something that has changed my business. But before I do that, let me give you some background that led to this big change. About a year ago, I was finding myself at a turning point. With five years under my belt as a business owner I was proud of what I had achieved and the reputation for which I had worked so hard. I really felt that my clients were receiving the highest level of support that I could give and the feedback I got from my couples was amazing and very gratifying. But it was also at this five year mark that I was experiencing feelings of burnout. I had been in the business for 10 years, and working 12-14 hour days had clearly paid its toll. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do and would never change careers. But I couldn’t continue focusing on making everyone else’s lives perfect at the expense of my own. Something had to give!
This feeling of frustration didn’t come over me all of a sudden. It had been brewing for some time, and in talking to other planners I found I was not alone. It was time to stop whining about our lost lives and do something to fix them. I had already re-branded a year back and eliminated day-of management services in an attempt to reduce the number of weddings I had each year. By committing myself solely to full planning contracts, it meant less weddings but greater earnings: more bang for your buck, as some might say! This decision made a huge difference since the workload associated with 10 full planning contracts each year was more manageable than planning and coordinating 30. But even with that, I was still working longer hours than I should have been. It was time to find a way to work smarter than I had been, and this has remained my focus over the past several months.
I began investigating options. I had conversations with other professionals and planners to learn what could help. One of my efforts was to hire a successful planner to mentor me. This mentor helped me outline my personal and professional goals and guided me toward achieving them. I also wanted to learn from my mentor’s experience so I could benefit from the systems that she had already put into place to help with her own business. It was within this relationship that I discovered a tool she had been using as a possible solution for some of my efficiency problems. This tool had revolutionized the way she did things and was something that I needed to consider for Weddings Unveiled. The tool is a project management software called Basecamp.
Basecamp is just one of many project management programs available. It enables groups of people (teams) to work collectively on a given project to see it through to completion. Although not specifically designed for event planning, it certainly lends itself very well. In researching, I found several planners were touting its benefits to their own clients. Here’s how it works.
Prior to Basecamp, the majority of my correspondence with clients was via email. Consequently, I received tons of emails every day regarding the most minute details. Something as simple as choosing a table linen evolved into a solid string of emails back and forth debating texture, color, and size. Each email had to be saved to file so I could keep a record of our discussion. Every time I needed to refer to that discussion, I had to go back to that folder of emails to review what had been discussed to date. My clients had to do the same, which I’m sure was just as daunting to them, if not more so! Add to that all the saved documents that accumulated during the planning process, everything from contracts to inspiration pictures to vendor receipts. I had them all on file, and although my files and folders were pretty meticulously kept, it was I who possessed the records. I don’t think my clients ever felt completely in the loop since all those documents were not as readily available on their end. That is, unless they also kept the level of records that I did.
Basecamp solves these issues by providing each client with a workroom. Everything pertaining to their event happens within that workroom. I’ve included a few screen shots of one of my client’s workrooms here so you can see how it’s structured. In the example to the below, you’ll see our event planning critical path. Each “to do” has a date assigned and the person to whom it’s assigned. We have it set up so that the assigned person receives an email reminder when their task comes due, so nothing falls between the cracks. The critical path can be edited at any time with tasks added, deleted, and modified. At any given moment, any member of our team (both planner and client) can see where we stand in the planning process. I am no longer the sole monitor of the project; it has become a team effort, which is a very good thing!
This screen shot shows another part of the client workroom: files. Here we are able to keep all the files associated with the event/wedding. You’ll see a contract, quote, and spreadsheet listed. You’ll also see our storyboard and inspiration picture. Basecamp just added a new feature a few months ago where the team can categorize each file with a label. This allows us to use the search tool on the right hand side of the screen to find a certain file. It comes in handy when the number of files uploaded gets pretty big!
Here is a shot of my Basecamp calendar. This complete calendar is only viewable by me while clients only have access to their own. Each project is color coded so I can look at any date and see that anything in blue, for example, belongs to Ashleigh & Mark’s wedding. I also input client/vendor meetings here and a handy-dandy email reminder lets us know a half hour prior that our meeting is shortly ahead. I still use my Outlook calendar to track my own appointments and to dos, but this calendar is an excellent complement!
I can go into Basecamp and view the status of all my projects with one click of the mouse. This is great if you’ve been on vacation, or maybe in meetings all day, and you want to see what all of your clients have been up to while you’ve been absent. Instead of having to go into each separate workroom, you can just view this page to see all of the recent activity.
As I’m sure you can imagine, these screen shots only zero in on some of the features offered by Basecamp. You can also live chat with your clients through their “discussion” feature. Any team member can create text documents where thoughts, reminders, strategies, you-name-it can be logged so they aren’t forgotten. It allows the entire team to access all of the information pertaining to their event in one place so everyone is in the loop and be active participants. No more searching through files for discussions and records. Everything is together and visible, making for a much more efficient planning process for your clients and for the team leader – you!
Basecamp is not perfect. There are things I wish it could do that it doesn’t. But they seem to be open to suggestions from their clients and are constantly adding features and making improvements. Seven months in, I’m very impressed, and most of my clients love it. Working through Basecamp has definitely improved my efficiency. I’m now taking fewer steps to complete a given task than I had previously. It’s still a work in progress while I continue to teach myself ways to effectively juggle professional and personal life, and I’m constantly learning new tricks and shortcuts within the software program. But a year later, I feel refreshed and refocused and that is in large part due to Basecamp. I encourage you to check it out!
Till next time, happy planning!
Written by Lynn Lee
Lynn Lee has over 10 years experience in the event and wedding planning industry. These days, she’s focusing her attention on her growing wedding planning business, Weddings Unveiled. Her weekly blog posts include business tips, wedding trends, and expert advice.