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I find that I am still surprised that more direct sellers do not think of themselves as running a small business.  Yes most of them only sell on a part time basis and yes, they usually work from home, even when they build multimillion dollar businesses.  But too often even with significant financial success they still do not think of themselves as managing a business.  So, when you are running a small business as a direct seller here are some business things to think about:

  • Do you keep a mileage log for tracking the miles you drive in pursuit of your direct selling business activities?  If not, you should.  You may be able to have a tax deduction or credit for these miles.
  • Do you keep track of your purchases of office supplies?  Those costs may also be a deduction against the income you make from your business.
  • How about computers that you use for the business to place orders and communicate?  You may be able to deduct all or a portion of the cost of the computer, security software for it, repairs, upgrades, travel cases, etc.
  • What about staplers, pens, copy paper, internet service, paper clips, envelopes, postage, cost of tax preparation and other services that you use all or in part for your business?

Chances are if you had opened a store or a service business in a rented office or store front someone in the family would have pointed you in the direction of keeping your expense records and getting business tax advice.  But too often we start our direct selling business in an offhand, casual way as just something we are giving a try on a part time basis.   As such, we don’t think of it as a business or treat the activity as a business activity.  And for some, who work hard and find they have a talent for it, this part time thing becomes a significant contributor to personal or family finances and we still do not treat it as a business.

How about this:   If your UPS guy is delivering a package you need for your business and slips and falls on your porch steps will your home owners’ policy cover it? Chances are your home owner’s policy does not cover business related activities on the premises.  What if you damage a customer’s property on a sales call or worse yet injure your customer?  Are you protected?  Probably not.  When you want to take a booth at a fair or bazaar are you able to easily produce the liability insurance coverage the event organizers require or do you have to go out and buy a temporary bond to get coverage for each event?

Help is available.

We direct sellers are small business people and we should take all the steps necessary to both maximize our business profits by keeping good business expense records and taking allowed deductions.  More importantly as small business people, we should also take steps to protect our personal finances and assets from possible liability claims that can arise in the ordinary course of conducting business.  Fortunately now there is an excellent source of insurance and business services that are specifically designed to support small business direct sellers.  Go to www IDS.com to learn more about how you can take advantage of the services offered on the Independent Direct Sellers web site.  You can also access specific insurance services at www.dscoverage.com

For years direct sellers have struggled to find affordable business services and insurance that were both affordable and designed to cover the nuances of their businesses.  Now it is here at these two sites.  Take advantage and help yourself now!

Alan Luce Managing Principal Luce, Murpny, Fong and Associates

Alan Luce
Managing Principal
Luce, Murpny, Fong and Associates

Few people in the direct sales industry can match the experience, expertise and successes of Alan Luce. With over 25 years in senior management, guiding start-ups and established companies alike, Alan has met virtually every challenge a direct sales executive can face.  Learn more about how Alan can help your company at http://www.lucemurphyfong.com/Alan-Luce.html. – See more at: http://lucemurphyfong.com/blog/#sthash.At2W3qNo.dpuf

Best Practices for Virtual Parties by Jennifer Fong from http://lucemurphyfong.comLast week I conducted an online, virtual roundtable of 8 party plan companies, inviting them to share their thoughts, experiences, and learnings about the concept of virtual parties. It was a fabulous discussion, and I think we all walked away with some ah-ha! moments that will help us as we work towards creating a duplicatable model for virtual parties.

I share some of the best practices we discussed in today’s post on my blog: http://www.jenfongspeaks.com/best-practices-for-online-virtual-parties/

Does your company do virtual parties? What have you learned? Would love to read your experiences in the comments below.

Jennifer Fong is a Managing Principal of Luce, Murphy, Fong and Associates. She helps party plan and network marketing companies throughout the direct selling industry embrace new technologies and adapt to the rapidly changing sales environment that we face today.

Time is Running Out for Your 2012 Event!

No, that’s not a typo in the headline. If your company is like most, you just held your annual event in August or July.  The memories are still fresh, but won’t be for much longer.  Which means now is the time to actively collect the quotes, impressions and testimonials from your 2011 attendees that will help you sell next year’s event. Here’s how:

ASK– Reach out to attendees via whatever channels you can… email, Facebook, newsletters, conference calls and whatever else will effectively reach those who attended. Tell them the truth—you want to hear, in their own words, what they liked best about this year’s event.

HELP THEM RESPOND—Remind them of key announcements, guest speakers, training topics. Then ask them to write down what they liked and why.  How they’ve put what they learned to use since returning home.  And what kinds of positive results they’ve observed.

GO FOR SPECIFICS— Comments like “Best conference ever!” or “I had fun” are nice… and totally useless promotionally.  Ask for focused comments about specific topics or events.  Examples:

“After seeing Mary Smith train on recruiting, I had got a new attitude.  I also got 2 new recruits in my first month following conference.”

“I made at least 6 new friends at the first evening reception, and learned some great sales tips at the same time. You can’t do that on a webinar!”

“Hearing Leslie Stone’s testimonial moved me to tears.  I was not only moved, I was motivated to action.  I’ll promote out to Leader next month.”

Ask attendees to reply back via email by a specific date within the next couple of weeks. I suggest you also ask responders to include subject lines that will help you organize the responses, such as “2011 Conference Feedback-Training”.

Building attendance at conferences is likely to remain a challenge for many companies in 2012 and beyond.  The most powerful tools you have to accomplish that goal are positive and enthusiastic comments from this year’s attendees.  Get ‘em while they’re hot!

Writer/Events Producer Dick Wilson has been managing budget events, schedules and themes– plus all the other elements of direct sales conventions, for over 20 years. Learn more how Dick can help you at http://luceandassociates.com/02_About-Dick.php

 

How to Create an Event Schedule, Part 1

Back in January I wrote about your “The Big 3,” the trio of basic commitments that are the starting points for virtually all of your conference planning.  The Big 3 are your theme, budget and schedule.  And of those 3, your schedule is the one component that will require the most ongoing time and attention.

Event schedules will be updated and revised constantly, circulated widely and universally depended on as projects move forward and your event unfolds.  Since this is the time of year when most direct sales companies are planning their national conventions in earnest, I’d like to delve a little more deeply into the process of creating and maintaining a good workable schedule. It’s not as easy as you might think!

For starters, I’d like to focus on 3 general practices pertaining to schedule creation.  In subsequent blogs we’ll get more detailed about the actual physical process of putting together a schedule.  Note–by “schedule” I’m referring to the internal document that will be used by people involved in putting on the event, not the general outline attendees might receive.

My first recommendation is be very critical of what makes it into your schedule.  The biggest mistake I see most often is trying to make a schedule do too much.  A good schedule should be a very narrowly focused list of activities, presentations and timings. What it shouldn’t be is an all-encompassing document that answers all possible questions and lists every possible event, regardless of their importance. Keep the contents of your schedule simple, focused and limited.

In my opinion, the only things that should make it into a general schedule are actual presentations, activities and events that lots of people need to be aware of.  For example, “Opening Presentation” is a pretty important occurrence; everyone needs to know when that’s going to happen.  Events like “Flower Committee Meets” or “Announce program will begin in 10 minutes” are really of interest to a very few people, and don’t deserve to be separate line items on your general schedule.

My second recommendation is to create your schedule in a spreadsheet program like Excel, not a word processing program like Word.  That’s because Excel can calculate time.  So as event timings or sequences change, updating
your schedule is quick and easy. Change one timing and all other timings change automatically! I’ll talk about how this is done in an upcoming post.

My third recommendation is to designate one person and one person only to be the official “keeper of the schedule.” Pursuant to recommendation #2 above, your “keeper” should be at least an intermediate level Excel user.  Just as important, he/she should be the only person who changes the schedule and circulates revisions, preferably in a non-editable (.pdf) format. If the schedule is editable and available on a common drive for anyone to change, you will almost certainly encounter problems with version control.

Everyone involved in an event- company staff, vendors, production people, hotel and audio visual people—will live by your schedule.  How you create your schedule can have a big impact on how smoothly the planning & production process goes!

 

Writer/Events Producer Dick Wilson has been managing budget events, schedules and themes– plus all the other elements of direct sales conventions– for over 20 years. Learn more how Dick can help you at http://luceandassociates.com/Dick-Wilson.html.

 

In my last blog we explored the reasons for considering an outside a/v company vs. an in-house supplier.  Now it’s time to deal with the RFP (Request for Proposal) document itself.

 BEGIN WITH A BRIEF OVERVIEW

I like to begin with a very brief overview of the event, its “who, what, where & when.”  Be specific as to dates, location and attendance.  Here’s a typical overview:

  • Typical Home Parties, the direct sales division of Typical International, is having its 2011 “Believe It” National Convention at the Mammoth Hotel, in Mammoth, New Jersey, July 22-24, 2011. The event will be held in the Bodacious Ballroom, which has approximately 12,500 square feet of space.  The program will consist of equal parts promotional announcements, recognition and training for a largely female audience of approximately 500. Seating will be at rounds. 

I usually end the paragraph with a link to the room diagram of the space, which most hotels and convention centers are likely to have on their websites.  It’s also helpful to include a link to your own company’s website.  Other than that, you don’t need to go into detail about your company.

SCHEDULE

Next, I’m likely to include a brief schedule that shows what will be going on and when.  Don’t bother with a detailed presentation by presentation schedule.  Instead, offer a “glance-able” calendar-type schedule, something like this:

 

 

 

STATE YOUR NEEDS

Don’t try to get technical, just describe what you need equipment to do from your perspective. If you can be more specific, that’s great.  Definitely include basic dimensions, such as the approximate size of your stage and the number and size of your projection screens.  Here are some examples:

  • Lighting package & crew:
    • Stage will often be full of people for recognition, so we need enough general stage lighting to fully illuminate the stage. Most other presentations will simply be an MC speaking from the lectern. No spotlights needed, just general stage lighting.
    • Appropriate crew for install, show, and strike.  
  • Sound package & crew:
    • Sound system to fill room.  Music is a big part of our meeting, so we need speakers with good bass qualities.
    • One lectern microphone plus 2 wireless hand-helds or lavalieres. 
    • Onstage and backstage audio monitors.  
    • Audio mixing board with 6-8 inputs, including one dedicated to laptop for music playback.  We will supply laptop and operator.
    • Appropriate crew for install, show, and strike.  
  • Projection package & crew:
    • Two off-the-stage side screens, 10 ½ x 14’ or possibly 9 x 12. 
    • Projection equipment for Mac supported visuals (Keynote with embedded videos).   Client will provide laptops and operator
    • Appropriate crew for install, show, and strike.  
  • Staging:
    •  Hotel risers to create stage area approximately 40’ wide, 20’ deep, and 24” -32” high (depending on height of hotel risers). 
    • Pipe and drape to cover back of stage, and create wings and close in area between screens and upstage drape.
    • One lectern at stage right or stage left.  
    • Appropriate crew for install, show, and strike.  

Most important, tell them what total a/v your budget is, labor, gear, everything.  In short, what do you have to spend?  A/V companies are accustomed to working with all ranges of needs, but they have to have that dollar figure to give you an informed bid.  And often, they can be pretty flexible when it comes to gear, even if your budget falls short of what that gear might actually cost. 

INCLUDE PHOTOS & DIAGRAMS

If you have stage photos or room/stage diagrams from past events, include them.  Wide stage shots showing the entire stage and screen area are best.  These will go a long way in helping the a/v company understand how best to fill your needs.

YOUR CLOSING

Be sure to give the name and contact information for the person who should receive the bid.  And ask for a bid that spells out the details, otherwise you may get a bunch of lump sums like “Lighting Package- $3,500.”  I usually end my RFP’s with a paragraph like this one:

  • Please submit proposals by email (Word, Excel or PDF files only) by Monday, May 9, 2011 to (your email).  Questions may be directed to this email, or phone number ________. Also, please show us how you arrived at your pricing, i.e., daily rental times so many days, labor hourly rate times so many hours, etc.

Creating a good Request for Proposal is a big part of the convention production process.  It’s also your introduction to the people who will be partnering with you create a successful event.  Make sure the RPF you send makes it easy for a/v companies to understand and respond to your needs.

Writer/Events Producer Dick Wilson has worked on meetings as small as 50 and as large as 7,500.  He’s learned that dealing with an event’s audio/visual needs can be demanding regardless of the size of the audience.  Learn more about what Dick can do for you at http://luceandassociates.com/Dick-Wilson.html.

Let Word do Your Work

We spend literally hundreds of hours a year sitting in front of our computers. And for many if not most, much of that time is spent writing, reading or reviewing Word documents. So this week I’d like to explore the 3 features of Microsoft Word that I think you’ll find most useful in the weeks and months leading up to your national event.  These features are page numbering, line numbering and macros.  Let’s briefly examine each in ascending order of complexity.

Page Numbering:  I would guess most users know this feature is there.  But I’m amazed how many multi-page documents I see that have no page numbers.  Fortunately, the procedure for adding automatic page numbering is simple and hasn’t changed significantly over the past few years.  In Word 2003, 2007 and 2010 simply choose “Insert” and then “Page Number” (“Page Numbers” in Word 2003).

Line Numbering:  This feature is indispensable if a number of people need to collaborate on or review a document before it’s finalized.  With line numbering turned on, there’s no more having to describe where a certain sentence is (“Page 4, second paragraph, about halfway down…”).   Instead, Word automatically adds a number in front of each sentence so you can identify which sentence you’re talking about instantly (“Let’s go to line 342…”).  In Word 2003, click File/Page Setup/Layout/Line Numbers and check “add line numbering.”  For Word 2007 and 2010, click Page Layout/Line Numbers, then chose from the options shown.  I prefer continuous line numbers.  Once you no longer need the line numbers, repeat the process and uncheck the line numbering box or choose “none.”

Macros:  This one scares people because it sounds technical, but Word makes it a fairly easy process.  The ability to record macros has been part of Microsoft Word for a long time, and is now included in the latest version of Word for Mac as well. 

Basically, a macro turns a lot of keystrokes into just 2 or 3 keystrokes.  Macros are great time savers, which is why I turn any word or phrase I need to type repeatedly into a macro.  I mean, why type “2011 Imagine Excellence National Sales Conference” over and over again, when you can reduce it to “Control + N” or whatever keystroke combination you choose?  Macros are especially handy when writing scripts in which company & product names, technical cues and other words are used over and over again.  They also capture formatting commands like center, bold, underline, etc.

Creating a macro does require several keystrokes, and those keystrokes vary among the 3 current versions of Word that are most commonly in use.  So to find the steps that work for your version of Word, hit the F1 Help key and type “record macro” into the window that appears.  Also, there are excellent tutorials available on YouTube and elsewhere online.  Here are a few I found:

Word 2003: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9C75HdmpvkI&feature=related

Word 2007: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5hIu9lBjWg&feature=related

Word 2010: http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/how-to-make-a-macro-in-word-2010.html

Learning to record a macro may take a few minutes the first time you do it.  But believe me, once you know how, you’ll love how quickly you can accomplish those formerly repetitive typing tasks!

Writer/Events Producer Dick Wilson has used Word to create thousands of scripts, speeches and other event and promotional documents over the past 20+ years.  In the process he’s learned many shortcuts that save time and work.  Dick invites you to learn more about what he can do for you at http://luceandassociates.com/Dick-Wilson.html.

Every direct seller knows the key to success is recognition.  That recognition often takes place onstage at a Leadership Conference and/or National Convention.  However, while most agree that doing recognition is important, not everyone understands how to do recognition well.  It all begins with good organization and preparation.

Here’s a checklist I often use to help make sure everything goes smoothly and nothing “slips through the cracks.”

Offstage:

  • Compile and finalize all recognition at the office prior to departure
  • Triple check everything (using three different people)
  • Create a recognition (reader) list for each recognition.  Make sure pages are numbered, the name of the recognition is clearly spelled out at the top of the page, and pronunciations of all names are checked.
  • If it’s numbered recognition, the list should be highest number (10) with a build to lowest (1)
  • The lists should be prepared in large type so it is easy to read under bright lights and other possible distractions
  • Have lists in order of the conference schedule

Onstage:

  • Once on location, rehearse each recognition.  Make sure you address each of these issues:
    • How the recipients come onto the stage.  “Up the side steps, down the center steps” is probably the most common path, since this allows those being recognized to keep their front and sides to audience.
    • Where the recipients will be and who will place them.
    • How the awards will be presented.  Usually one person (behind the scenes) sets up the awards and gives them to a corporate person, usually the sales leader, who then hands the award to the presenter (Founder, CEO, etc.)
    • Where #1 will be placed, usually center stage.
    • Will a photo be taken?  If so, who will be included in photo, and where will they stand?
    • How will the recipients leave the stage
    • If parade recognition (up one way and down another way)
      • All of the above plus:
        • Have a skirted rolling table to distribute the award or have trays (black, silver, acrylic) with the items ready for presentation
        • Set your rolling table backstage, or if that’s impractical, cover it and set it onstage.  Awards should be arranged in order of presentation.

 The absolute worst thing that can happen at any direct sales event is recognition that goes wrong.  Preparation and organization are the best ways to ensure that doesn’t happen to you!

Chris Clark

Chris Clark is consistently dedicated to the success of our business.  No project is too big or small for her to tackle and she completes each with professionalism, timeliness, and enthusiasm.    We always enjoy working with Chris.

luceandassociates.com

There are an infinite number of ways to create an invitation.  But regardless of what format, size, approach or mode of delivery you use, your national conference invitation should contain these basic elements. 

1-    An attention-grabbing opening, headline or front cover. The best headline is one that promises or refers to a benefit of attending.  The creative approaches you can use are many, depending on what you have to work with.  For instance, you could build your cover/headline around:

  • A quote from a previous attendee, for instance, “I never had so much fun learning so much!” or “National Conference is where I learned how to double my income!” You could also use a group of quotes that reference different aspects of the event—the fun, the training, the new products.
  • One dynamic photo from your previous year’s event, something that shows fun, emotion and/or excitement.  The copy that accompanies the photo should tie into what’s pictured, but still bridge us to your upcoming event.  For example, let’s say you have a great photo of someone receiving onstage recognition.  Your headline could be something like “There’s no feeling better than on-stage recognition.  Come see for yourself at (company’s) 2011 National Conference.”
  • A picture that creates anticipation, with the payoff to come at the conference.  This works especially well if your conference will reveal a major announcement or new product introduction.  Let’s say you want to tease your big new product.  You could show a photo of a wrapped gift, with the headline “What’s in the box? Come to your 2011 National Conference and find out!”

 2-    Detailed information that offers attendees plenty of reasons to come. These are the “starring moments” of your convention mentioned in my previous blog.  Obviously, some things you can reveal and others you can’t.   So hint at the things you can’t reveal (“Discover our 2012 incentive trip location”, “Be there for the reveal of not one, not two, but FIVE exciting new products!”), and then promote the specifics of what you can talk about.  This is especially true when it comes to training.  “Great training for one and all” isn’t going to convince anyone to book their flight now. But “10 Can’t Fail Tips for Recruiting at Every Party from (#1 Leader)” very well might.

 3-    Don’t Forget the Basics.  In addition to giving information about the reasons to come, don’t forget to include the basics– where and when the event is happening, the cost of registration and hotel rooms, etc.  Believe it or not, I’ve seen invitations that omitted that sort of basic information. Include photos of the hotel or convention center, plus a shot of the city if it’s an attractive or interesting destination.  And be sure to include a basic schedule that shows start/end times for each day, and what meals will be included.

 4-    Invite a response.  Ask for action and make it easy for your sales people to take action—“Register today!  Here’s how!”  Give clear instructions for registering online and offer alternatives for those who don’t have convenient internet access.  And if you choose to offer reduced early bird registration (which you should) be sure to promote that as well.

More ideas to keep in mind:

  • Regardless of whether you chose to print it or send it via email, hire a professional graphic designer to create your invitation. 
  • When writing copy, keep the perspective of the attendee in mind.  “The biggest event in our company’s history” offers no benefit to an attendee.  “Over $100 in free product samples” does.
  • Remember to emphasize the benefits that can only be derived by attending in person—making new friends, walking across the stage for recognition, meeting the best sales leaders face-to-face.
  • If you chose to deliver your invitation by email, keep its design simple, almost stark, so it can be printed easily.  That means no shaded backgrounds or fancy borders that suck up ink.
  • If you’re planning on having giveaways of any sort, especially a grand prize drawing, announce it in your invitation, and keep promoting it.  A drawing that no one knows about until they arrive at your conference is throwing your money away.

A good invitation sets the tone for your national conference.  It not only conveys the pride you take in your event, it also reflects the respect and esteem you have for your sales force.  In short, it’s a powerful tool that’s yours to leverage.

Writer/Events Producer Dick Wilson has created hundreds of events and event invitations.  Dick invites you to learn more about what he can do for you at http://luceandassociates.com/Dick-Wilson.html.

Creating a good event invitation is not that easy.  So many companies treat their national conference invitation like a press release.  They put “who, when, where” out there and that’s it.  In truth, an invitation to a national conference, or any other important event for that matter, should be more like an advertisement.  It should attract our attention, present its benefits, and then ask us to take action.  

With that approach in mind, let’s begin construction on the invitation for your 2011 national conference.  The actual writing and design process comes later; first it’s time to do a little prep work.  

In previous posts I talked about the importance of harvesting quotes from national conference attendees, and taking lots of good pictures during the event.  Well now is when that preparation begins to pay off!

Quotes– Go through the quotes and testimonials you collected and choose the best ones, about 10 or 12 total.  Try to get comments on a variety of topics: the training, the excitement, the fun of the event.  What’s that?  You never got around to getting these quotes?  Contact attendees and get them now!

Photos— Review your event photos and pick out about a dozen of your favorites.  This is where it really pays to have had a good event photographer.  I personally recommend choosing shots that focus with just a few people, not large groups. In addition to a few stage presentation and training shots, you’ll want shots that show emotion—laughing, hugging, surprise, having fun, etc.  Avoid posed shots where people are simply staring into the camera.  And if you’re coming up short on good photos, again, reach out to attendees and see what photos they may have that you can use. 

Don’t forget to sell the convention site and the city.  The hotel or convention center should be able to supply you with photographs of their facility or property.  And if your event is taking place in a city with a convention/visitors bureau, contact people there for photos and any other promotional materials they can supply.  The goal is to get what you need to make your conference location look like a great place to visit.

Determine what the starring moments of your 2011 convention will be, or what you’d like them to be.  Got a great product coming out?  Have a super speaker on tap?  An exciting new promotion or incentive trip? Identify the biggest and best moments in your schedule, the things your sales force will most remember about your event. 

Now is also the time to decide what form your invitation will take.  Will it be a traditional printed & mailed invitation?  Perhaps you’re considering an email-based invitation of some sort?  Personally, I feel printed invitations are more special and make the recipient feel more special as well.  A printed invitation makes a statement about they esteem you hold for both your event and the people who will be coming.  My recommendation is print and mail the “real” invitation, and then use email or the internet to promote the event afterward.

Creating a good invitation takes a lot preparation and decision making.  But the result can be a key factor in building anticipation and ultimately, attendance at your event.  The steps we talked about today are your starting points.  Next time we’ll delve more into the actual writing and design process.  

Writer/Events Producer Dick Wilson has created hundreds of events and event invitations.  Dick invites you to learn more about what he can do for you at http://luceandassociates.com/Dick-Wilson.html.

Recently I photographed an event for a client that totally “gets it” when it comes to social media. They had a home office employee dedicated to posting pictures immediately after I took them. At first I thought this was going to be a huge pain in my backside. But it didn’t take long for me to get caught up in the excitement. Within minutes, the sales consultants at this event were checking Facebook and tagging themselves in the photos. They would then update their status with something exciting that was happening at the meeting. There was a buzz all during the conference among the consultants but more important was the affect it was having all over the country. Hundreds and eventually thousands of friends had become fans of this company. I was so intrigued by what was happening that I asked several people how they were liking it. They shared that posting all these pictures during the conference opened up many conversations about the product and career opportunity that probably would have never happened.

Mark Taulbee is a professional event photographer and commercial product photographer with over 25 years experience in the direct selling industry. Learn more about Mark and how he can help your company with photography at http://www.luceandassociates.com/Mark-Taulbee.html. To view some of his work visit http://www.proshotsevent.com and http://www.taulbeephoto.com.