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Online Venue Finding: A step too far?

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: January 23, 2017

I am really excited to start a new series of guest posts. I have invited some colleagues from the events industry and language industries to tell me about the tools, apps and software that they couldn’t run their businesses without. But to kick-off the series, there is a warning. As the Managing Director of Clearwater Events, Stephen Morton-Prior knows a thing or two about saving time and keeping organised. In this post, however, he asks whether recent shifts in Venue Finding have gone too far.

Technology is always developing. I now have a lady called Alexa who can switch on and off my lights, change the temperature in my house when I ask and write my shopping list. I am a technology geek….. But with events, I do have a sceptical eye for technology.

 

Technology that helps improve customer experiences or helps us become more efficient is always a good thing. Our solutions are always technology rich but only when they provide value and positive experiences to our clients and delegates.

 

With that said, there is one area of technology that I find hard to fully embrace, and this is online venue finding tools.

 

I understand the need for online venue finding and in theory its genius. A database of thousands of properties that can be accessed with a simple click. RFP’s sent through to selected hotels quickly. And responses pre-populated into templates ready for client submission. What’s not to love about that?

 

There are many large agencies using these tools. Contentiously, you often get an ‘official’ and an ‘off the record response’. Officially, the tools are a procurement dream. Pre-negotiated rates can be loaded for venues and preferred venues and suppliers can be accessed. They provide data, reporting and a quick and simple solution for teams with multiple events to source. However, the systems are typically only as good as the users operating them and their success relies on compliance from all.

 

The off the record response is often rather different. With the systems only being as good as the users, there is an assumption that everyone has an understanding of what to do. There are many examples where enquiries have not been responded to or RFP’s sent to the wrong venues or wrong clients.

 

I can forgive all this. Training offers compliance. Where I struggle is the personal experience. I find the best rates and deals come from picking up the phone and talking. Building a relationship between the venue and the Event Manager is key in finding the right solution. What might not work on paper, might work once a conversation takes place.

 

Events are highly personal. And this experience starts with venue finding. Picking up the phone helps allows me to discuss out of the box solutions, negotiate and discuss the best way to deliver a client experience that goes above and beyond. Albeit a small event for 10 guests or a large conference for 500.

 

Of course, we use technology, the wonderful world wide web is a fabulous tool for sourcing new and exciting venues. My fear with online sourcing tools is that they are only as good as the information inputted and I wonder if the client comes away with the best venue for their event?

 

I think there is a need and a requirement for online venue finding, especially in procurement driven scenarios. But I would suggest combining these tools with my top tips:

 

  1. Do your research. Use your tool but, explore your options. Industry magazines, the web and recommendations will give you an edge.
  2. Remember that your competitors are likely to use the similar online tools with access to the same venues.
  3. When venues get multiple briefs for the same event, you don’t see the rates go down. You see a rate go up, locked in for all agencies.
  4. Ironically, the client might therefore select an agency based on their relationship (relationships are key).
  5. Build relationships. Online tools and email are easy but they don’t promote interaction. Pick up the phone and build a relationship.
  6. In a pitch with multiple agencies, try and find at least one unique option.
  7. A good relationship will lead to lower rates and an overall better option. It will allow you to access value adds and options perhaps not considered by competitors.
  8. Don’t be afraid to negotiate. It is expected. Be prepared to walk away and look for other venue options.

How to be More Successful in 2017

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: January 6, 2017

Happy New Year!

 

After an exhausting 2016, many business leaders are excited and anxious about what this year may bring. All of us hope to do better this year than last year but, despite all the tips and tricks we might read about online, we might now know how. Here are three strategies I have found to be indispensable.

 

Key 1: Define Your Own Success

 

As both a business owner and a dad, I have no shortage of people offering me their tricks and tips and must-dos. Yet what is glaringly obvious is that most people will give you advice after making the assumption that you want the same things out of life that they do.

 

If I am going to be any more successful this year than I was last year, it will mean being clear about what I mean by “successful”.  More than that, with all of us under continual time pressure, actually knowing what success looks like makes it much easier to say ‘yes’ to the right things and ‘no’ to the wrong things.

 

Since I know the types of clients I want and the kinds of marketing that seem to work for me, I know to ignore anyone selling their latest gimmick. Since I know my priorities, I can also confidently ignore anyone who says that you can’t be a success unless you work 25 hours a day and wake up at 4am, having gone to bed at 5.

 

Key 2: Prioritise Personal Growth

 

In the translation and interpreting community, 2016 was a year where there seemed to be more courses and classes and conferences on offer than ever before. In the events industry too, it seems that people are more aware of the need for Continued Professional Development than ever.

 

The simple reason for this is that every penny invested in a good source of personal and professional growth pays off. I recently read two papers where it was found that the best way to improve sales performance was to set both sales targets and targets for what you wanted to learn.

 

Given how fast technology and business practice is moving, those businesses that sell more will be those where everyone is committed to staying consistently at the top of their game.

 

For event managers, that will mean staying up to date with changes in marketing and shifts in delegate expectations while learning how to integrate new technology. For interpreters, that will mean clocking up the practice hours, diving into specialist subjects and continually honing our approaches to clients.

 

Key 3: Find a Community

 

This last one is by far the most important. Remember how people go on about SMART goals? Well it turns out that the only way they actually have a real effect is when you mix them with regular accountability.

 

In fact, the more research I read, the more important I realise that it is to make sure that you are in a community where you can be supported to grow. No matter how senior you are in your company, you will need someone to listen when times are tough … and a little push when you have started coasting.

 

No-one grows consistently on their own. This year, perhaps the greatest gift you could give your own success would be to find a group of people who are trying to be more successful too.

The Business Clients Call for the Hard Stuff

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: December 9, 2016

What type of interpreter or events manager are you? Do you get the run of the mill, straightforward stuff or are you called in when it is tricky?

There will always be simple work in every field and tons of people to do it. If you locate yourself at the high volume end of the market, there will be lots of opportunities but just as much competition. There both service and rates matter. With the importance of each of those dependent on the client and assignment.

At the tricky end, there is less work but much less competition. Some of your colleagues won’t want to even touch those projects. If you deliver on them, you win yourself not just praise but great respect and more negotiating power.

How many interpreters can confidently deal with live media work? How many event managers can deal with a multilingual, multi-strand, multi-site conference?

The people who get called for the hard stuff will always be in demand. Are you one of them?

By the way, if you are looking for interpreters who can deliver challenging assignments with aplomb, let’s talk.

Keep the Lines of Communication Short

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: October 26, 2016

It was, on the face of it, a straightforward event. A brief evening AGM followed by an informative technical conference. Easy. Except for one factor that nearly scuppered the whole thing.

 

How to Mess up Communication with Interpreters

 

All the job needed was two interpreters and a bit of equipment called a Tour Guide Interpreting System (or bidule for those in the business). But the agency had quoted low and, to maintain margins, they deleted the second interpreter and the equipment without telling anyone.

 

Cue a confused client, a single exhausted interpreter and an event that ran on sweat and desperate creativity. The problem here wasn’t the fact that an agency was involved, nor was it budgets, but simply that there were more layers than necessary.

 

Find the Simplest Interpreting Solution

 

The more layers between you and your conference interpreters, the more there is potential for information to go missing. For simple jobs with just one additional language, often it is simply easier to hire direct. Conversely, you see the benefits of bringing in an agency precisely when the job needs a calm hand at the wheel of a huge ship.

 

What happened in that particular job was that information about equipment and requirements simply got lost somewhere along the chain. The addition of an only marginally necessary middleman added unnecessary complexity. Take away the middle and you reduce the muddle.

 

If the client had hired directly, an experienced interpreter could have guided them through the process and made sure everything was in place for a superb event. In fact, a good consultant interpreter might even have been able to give them advice on seating plans to reduce the amount of sound heard by those not needing interpreting.

 

But they weren’t and they couldn’t.

 

The Moral?

 

As with every events service you can purchase, interpreting thrives when those providing it have the same amount of knowledge about the event as you do. That means right-sizing how you hire interpreters and knowing exactly when to bring in an agency and when to go direct. And there’s a good guide to doing just that.

Competition doesn’t always matter

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: October 17, 2016

If you are an events company covering conferences, parties, weddings and product launches, you will always need to be on the alert for new companies coming in. If you are the recognised expert in managing European Works Councils for heavy industry, you won’t care. If you are a conference interpreter covering every field for every kind of client anywhere you can get by plane, you will always need to watch your back. If you get a reputation for handling the assignments that scare the lag out of your colleagues, you will never have to worry.

 

Market size and competition

The amount of competition in any given market is usually just a measure of how big people think the market itself is. When people think there is a big market, there will likely be tons of competitors and with them, the added complexity of fragmentation. Interpreting is a multi-billion dollar industry but no single player controls anything more than a tiny sliver of it at any one time. Sure, big multinationals might mop up government contracts but that leaves the far larger private markets (and there are several of them in each country) for anyone who can jump in.

 

The size of the market you need to be in is purely and simply a matter of strategy. If you want to be pulling in tens of millions of any currency a year, you will need to swim in the oceanic markets and deal with the resulting competition. If, however, you just want to master one particular area, you will limit your growth to the size of that market but you can, and just might, achieve your goal with fewer headaches and fear of competition.

 

Making Interpreting Irreplaceable

Competition only matters to the extent that you have allowed yourself to be seen as replaceable. When you’re the go-to person for that particular client and you got there by delivering results, you don’t need to worry too much about competitors coming in with price cuts, unless the results you were delivering actually weren’t as flashy and unique as they looked.

 

A smooth conference, rightly or wrongly, will be seen as good, but fairly easy to achieve. A conference that covers six languages, leads to a 500% increase in sales leads and bags the client hundreds of press spots will win you them for life. Accurate interpreting is pretty much a given; interpreting that sorts out a tricky cultural issue and qualifies the client for a multi-million pound deal (true story from my own experience!) will have the client coming back for more.

 

If you deliver what your clients think anyone else can deliver, prepare for vicious competition. If you can strike gold when everyone else is striking out, the competition just became irrelevant. It’s simply a choice of where you want live.

Why Value-Based Pricing is Good for Business

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: July 26, 2016

We all know the feeling: we are talking to a client and its gets to that magic moment when they ask for a price. In a split-second, there are several questions going round your head:

 

  • Do I give them my standard price or offer a discount or even take the opportunity to raise my rates?
  • Do I charge hourly or daily or by some other measure?
  • What should I include?
  • Will someone underbid me?
  • How quickly should I send the quote?
  • How much room for negotiation should I leave?

 

Unless we have become too experienced or blasé that each individual assignment means little to us, that vital quoting stage can become a site of real mental effort. But there is another way.

 

It’s a way I first heard about in Warsaw at TLC 2015 when Alessandra Martelli of MTM Translations talked about negotiation. Rather than sending a price straightaway, she makes sure that she knows exactly what the client wants and then sends a price that details exactly how it will fulfil their needs.

 

She told us that making that one change meant that she now wins 80% of the projects she bids for. That is pretty amazing given what many of us in interpreting or the events sector might experience. That one figure alone got me thinking about how I relate to clients.

 

The next step in the journey was finishing writing my first book, Being a Successful Interpreter: Adding Value and Delivering Excellence. The key message of the whole book is that interpreters need to concentrate on the value they add to clients, over any other measure. The logical outcome is that we need to stop using “market rates” and a start pricing interpreting according to the value it has for each client.

 

Then today, the last piece of the puzzle fell into place. There was a discussion about pricing models in a Facebook group for professional speakers that I am a part of. Alan Stevens, an experienced speaker and media trainer in his own right, mentioned that instead of pricing according to hours spent or service, he talks to the client about what they want to gain from his work and prices accordingly!

 

Bingo!

 

While “market rates” seem to take away any need to make pricing decisions, they actually take away a vital point of connection with clients. Instead of finding out exactly what they need, we just slap a price on each day and waddle off.

 

Value-based pricing forces us to really think about how our clients are benefiting from our services and encourages us to be more transparent with the difference that we can make for their business. So the next time you are asked for a quote, take the opportunity to slow things down a little. Email (or even phone!) the client and talk to them about the value of the event for them. Start a dialogue about what success looks like for them and how much they stand to make from it.

 

Armed with that information, send them a custom-made quote that shows that you really understand what they are trying to achieve. Show clearly how you will deliver the service that your client needs and wants and price accordingly.

 

And, if you need an experienced French to English and English to French interpreter to help you deliver the goods, drop me a line.

The Power of Custom-Builds

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: July 14, 2016

customised

After a clean run of a few years, my trusty laptop is beginning to show its age. While the machine itself is still holding up well enough, I have started pricing up its successor and I am beginning to be attracted by the lure of custom-builds.

 

We all know the deal. With a custom-build, you only pay for what you actually need and, if you have the right expertise, you can make sure that you get exactly what you want, at a price you can afford. It works well for computers and it works even better in events management and interpreting.

 

Work on planning a wedding and you will know that off-the-shelf doesn’t work. Who wants a package with exactly the same dress, flowers, cake and ceremony as someone else? Of course, each wedding has to be planned from scratch, even if some common features will be there.

 

What about a conference? Here, there is always more temptation to go for an off-the-shelf solution. We all know the drill. You’re going to have: at least one PowerPoint malfunction, a President’s address that mentions local cuisine (hooray for haggis and whisky!), someone proclaiming that the future is bright for those who dare to dream, and a few presentations that become a cure for insomnia.

 

Yet, even with common features, each conference exists for a slightly different reason and needs a different approach. One conference might be all about sharing best practice, while another might be simply about pushing sales. One might be about coming to consensus on key decisions, while another might prioritise networking.

 

The difference in purpose between one conference and another leads to the need for event managers to approach each differently. Gathering client requirements is more than just a tick-box exercise; it’s about getting under the skin of the event and really understanding what would make it a success. (Protip: reducing the number of boring presenters is a great place to start!)

 

That same need for customised service applies to interpreting too. Since no two conferences are the same, it makes sense that we never treat any two assignments the same. Our approach to preparation, delivery and follow-up needs to be modified to fit the needs of each individual client and each event. Basic changes such as spending slightly less time on terminology and more on the style of each speaker, researching press quotations to see what sticks and asking the right follow-up questions, instead of broad nonsense like “was the interpreting good?” will all go a long way.

 

Today, when competition is fierce and budgets can often be tight, it makes sense to show that you have a better handle on your client’s needs than your competitors. The best way to do that is by offering custom solutions.

Learning from the Translation and Localization Conference 2016

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: March 14, 2016

(c) Translation and Localization conference. Used with permission. (c) Translation and Localization conference. Used with permission.

All events organisers know that the world is full of conferences. If you want people to attend, it takes more than a slick social media campaign, interesting speakers and a good location. All of them are ten a penny.

So what makes an event stand out? How about a keynote address from the world’s leading (and only!) professional language creator? How about rival software vendors strutting their stuff?

No, that’s not enough, either! Well, what about talks that deal with practical professional challenges and send you home with brand new skills? How about one of the most responsive and interactive crowds in Europe and an organising team that includes a world-leading expert in the business end of the industry?

Now we are getting somewhere. As a second-time TLCer (as I think we should christen people who go to the Translation and Localisation conference), I knew what to expect: the understated musical comfort of the Sound Garden Hotel in Warsaw, Poland; challenging and entertaining content; a lively livetweeting community (#tlconference)… What I didn’t expect was a networking dinner full of translators jiving and jigging on the dance floor, and the privilege of an ‘Experts Café’ that pushed me to the limits of my knowledge, in a good way.

But the memory that will stay with me for life is seeing thirty or so experienced interpreters publicly giving each other and themselves the gift of honesty. I don’t think anyone will forget that moment.

If you are an events manager, go to the Translation and Localisation Conference to learn what an industry event should look like and how to balance learning, networking, and emotional connection. If you are in the Translation and Interpreting industries, go there to be informed and challenged.

Would I change anything? Perhaps the odd presentation was poorly targeted, perhaps there could have been more content that didn’t involve CAT tools or technical software. But what really makes a conference is the people and those who were in Warsaw will tell you that TLCers are a friendly, open, inspirational bunch. And that is why it works so well every year.