Many of us aren’t used to hearing this, but it’s okay to turn down an event. Ask yourself, would it be better to turn down an event or to damage your event company’s reputation? New events will pop up, but a damaged reputation can be difficult to recover from. As the pros say, “You’re only as good as your most recent event.” If you know that you cannot meet a client’s needs, or if an event gives you a bad feeling in your gut, then it is best to pass and let someone else take on that event.
I want to take a moment to point out that there’s a big difference between taking on a challenging event and taking on an event that’s a bad idea. Challenging events are still within your ability to carry out, they simply have something new; maybe it’s bigger than you’re used to or a different type of event than you've done before. An event that’s a bad idea is one that you’re pretty sure is going to go off the rails, fast. Trust your instincts, as you’ll generally know a bad idea when you encounter it.
The job you know you can’t do
This may go without saying, but we’re going to say it anyway: there are some jobs that are simply outside of what you can manage. Whether it be the size of the event, the type of inventory required, or a full calendar, don’t take jobs that you know you cannot do. It will only damage your company’s reputation.
Scenario: Let’s say a venue contacts you about a huge corporate event. You accept the project, and manage to acquire enough tables, chairs, linens, etc. to cover the event. However, your team consists of three people, and the venue for the event has a limited set-up window. Half-way through the set up, it becomes apparent that your team won’t be able to set everything up before the guests begin to arrive, so the venue’s staff graciously pitch in. You manage to get everything finished half an hour late. Even though the event went well, the client is not happy that guests had to wait for the set up to be completed and ask for a partial refund— and they plan to leave a review of their experience. The venue also decides that your company can’t cut it, and they don’t contact you about events in the future.
The job that gives you a bad feeling
Always listen to your gut. The human brain processes far more information than we’re aware of, so if a job is giving you a bad feeling, pass on the job. You probably noticed something that you’re not aware of yet. That gut feeling may just save you from disaster!
Scenario: A father comes in looking to create the perfect event for his 8 year old child. After talking to him for a few minutes, you get a bad feeling about the situation. Still, finances are tight and you decide to take the event anyway. As it turns out, the client is a perfectionist and calls you five times a day the week leading up to the event (interrupting you and your team during other events), second guesses your every decision, and makes changes against your recommendations. The party does not go off without a hitch due to all of his changes and because he ignored your recommendations. The client blames you for the event flop (of course!), demands a refund, and writes bad reviews on every review site they can find. Your business influx then suffers for months due to this client.
The job with an unbearable client
Some personalities are like oil and water, they’re just never going to blend. If you discover a client whose presence is like nails on a chalkboard for you, consider passing on the event, especially if you’re a solo event professional. It’s unlikely things will go well if you are constantly disagreeing and both hating every minute of working together for an event.
Scenario: A mother-of-the-bride hires you to plan and provide inventory for her daughter’s wedding. The family is very well known and influential, and a successful event could give your business a huge boost. But the mother is very non-committal about choices, but at the same time impossible to please. She doesn’t give straight answers to questions, leaving you to decipher vague requests and hope for the best. The entire planning process is like pulling teeth, and you are anxious about the event every day until the event happens. Thankfully, you’re good at what you do and the bride loved the final product. Every day that you worked on planning that wedding you needed a pint of ice cream and a bottle of wine by the end of the day. You also have a few new grey hairs.
The last minute job during your busy season
If you’re booked pretty solid, it’s a smart move to pass on taking on that last minute event. It’s not worth the risk of disappointing multiple clients if something goes wrong. Remember, you can only be in one place at once, and you do need to sleep!
Scenario: You’re already booked up, but a client comes in and hopes you can help them at the last minute. You take the job and put together a rushed event. The day of the event, you also have 3 other events to deliver to, and they are all back-to-back. You had originally planned more padding time between the events, but decided your team could make it work. Unfortunately, your second event of the day had some parking and unloading challenges, which set you team back an hour, and the two other events you have that day will be delivered late. Your clients are not happy, and you end up waiving the delivery fees and giving them a discount in hopes that they will not post bad reviews online. Between the waived delivery fees and the discounts, you didn’t make any money on that last minute event...in fact, you may have lost money.
If you talk to experienced event pros, you’ll hear horror stories about them taking events they knew they shouldn’t. Often, the motivation was just to take on a job— any job. While we totally understand that reasoning, we recommend against it. Owning a company is a marathon, not a sprint. If an event doesn’t fit with your company, it just doesn’t fit. That’s okay, there will be other events!