The Power of No: The Busy #Eventprofs Access to Profitability

As an event planner you are well aware just how much there is to do and handle. Have you noticed how life seems to get busier and busier?

Recently I have heard people complaining that they are working harder than ever before and yet money continues to be an issue. Why is that? It seems contradictory. Surely the harder we work the more money we will make? But for many of us that equation doesn’t seem to add up.

The Power of No_ The Busy Event Profs

In this article we look at an approach to breaking the cycle of escalating to-do lists and how you can leverage your strengths to create more profitable events by learning to say “no”.

Have you ever said “yes” to a contract and lived to regret it?

I once took on a contract to provide trade show software for a government organization. The money looked good and the client was very keen on working with us. In-spite of the fact that we didn’t have any experience working with trade shows or with government bodies, I was confident that my talented team could deliver.

We bent over backwards to meet their needs and with a lot of hard work we did it. However, it was a very expensive process. Not only did we lose money on the contract, we lost focus and momentum in other parts of our business.

It was a huge lesson in the cost of saying “yes” to events that are outside of our expertise. What I learnt was the power of saying “no”.

Event professionals (both planners and suppliers) are typically highly creative, smart, organized, entrepreneurial people who are able to turn their hand to just about anything. We are the swiss-army knives of getting things done.

There is a temptation to think that we can do-it-all. However, just because we can serve a wide diversity of events, it doesn’t mean that we should. Each type of event has its own very specific needs, requirements and challenges when it comes to marketing, programming, catering, venue selection and technology. The fact is, a 5,000 person trade show is a completely different animal to a celebrity fundraiser.

Jack of All Trades – Master of ?

If we are honest, most of us have at some point said “yes” to a contract that was outside our core area of expertise. Many of us are not even clear what our core expertise is and actively promote our services as a generalized solution for a broad range of events.

There are considerable downsides to being a Jack-of-all-trades:

1. Marketing
From a marketing perspective, the company that can do anything and everything does nothing. Your ideal client needs to see, hear and read that you are the perfect match for them. When you try to be all things to all people, no-one is really all that interested.

2. Opportunity Costs
When we say “yes” to one thing, we are implicitly saying “no” to something else. For everything we do there is an opportunity cost and we will never know exactly what that is because we will be too busy doing something else to find out.

3. Reputation
If you take on events and/or clients that aren’t really a match for who you are and what you do best you will inevitably make mistakes. These mistakes can cost you your reputation.

4. Profitability
All of this will impact your profitability. When your business model is based on being ‘all things for all people’ you dilute your resources. You end up being mediocre at a lot of things but truly great at nothing. You waste money researching and learning about new types of events, new needs, new tools, new technologies and new processes.

5. It’s hard work:
Being the jack-of-all trades inevitably leads to working really hard. Taking on a wider and more diverse range of clients increases your work-load because you have to keep on re-inventing the wheel, rather than building on and leveraging what you are already great at.

Find your Focus

The jack-of-all trades approach leaves you overworked, unfocused and ultimately unfulfilled. The solution is to create and define your niche, that is the particular type of event that you are truly expert in.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but the more clear and specific you can be about your niche the more successful you will be.

Your ideal niche is one that you already have experience and expertise in. This means that you can play to your existing strengths and credibility with that audience.

Here are some questions you can ask to discover your niche:

1. Currently, who are your best clients?

A great way to discover your niche is to review your current client list. What were your top 5 events or clients from 2014? What made them great?

Conversely what which were your worst events or clients from 2014? Knowing what to avoid can help you define what you want to create more of.

2. What types of events do you want to serve?

There are many types of events, including association conferences, corporate training sessions, fundraisers, conferences, trade-shows, stadium-level concerts, sporting events, networking meetings, training events, marathons, Christmas parties, weddings and outdoor festivals.

Which of these do you have the most experience in? Which types of events are most profitable? Do you prefer smaller or larger events? Which ones leave you and your team most fulfilled?

3. What is your preferred subject area?


Within every event type, there are hundreds of smaller niches based on genres or subject-areas. If you analyze your best clients, you may notice that they cluster around specific fields or topics. For example, you may find you have a speciality in health-care, golf or rock-music.

What’s important is that each of these subject-areas has a different culture and a way of speaking and interacting. If you are able to get really specific about your niche, you will literally be able to speak the language of your clients. You will also be able to fine tune your services to solve their specific requirements and challenges.

Play to Your Strengths

When you narrow down your niche your marketing, planning and business strategy switch from being open and generalized, to focused and highly specific. You will also find yourself excited, energized and inspired.

Image you decide that your target market is nursing conferences with 200-1000 attendees. How would that affect your marketing? What kind of pictures would you put on your website? What would you be doing on social media? Where would you advertise? How would it affect your planning? What kinds of technology would you focus on? What kinds of problems are specific to that niche?

Get together with your team and spend two hours brainstorming a business and marketing plan just for one niche.

What do you notice? If you are on the right track you will probably feel pumped-up, excited and inspired. There will be a sense of freedom, creativity and expansion.

In Conclusion: Learn to Say “No”

When you learn to say “no” to events that are outside of your niche and you start playing to your strengths you are on the pathway to profitability and a less stressful work life.

For many of us this is the hard part. While we may understand in principle that it is a good idea to have a focused niche that we serve and support, it can be difficult to put into practice. When cash flow is tight, the temptation to say “yes” to everything is high. So we continue the cycle of working hard and not getting the financial returns we really want.

If you have a hard time with “no” then at the very least take the step of defining your “yes”. Take the time to figure out your event niche and then plan your marketing, services and deliverables around that. Creating your “yes” will mean you attract more of the kinds of events that you really want.

About The Author
Cathy Key
Dr Cathy Key has been working in the event technology industry since 2002. During this time she worked side-by-side with meeting planners and built her own successful conference software platform. She is now an independent consultant and writer for Online Registration Review.
Comment Policy Comments
  • Brandt Krueger

    It’s amazing how many times I’ve heard these No/Yes stories over the years, and yet we all seem to struggle with it. I forget where I heard it, but there was a story of an event company that shut down, rebranded, and came back only accepting 3-4 events per year. Instead of making less, they made more, as exclusivity became part of their brand.

Julius Solaris
Editor, Julius Solaris

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