event planning client consultations are tough but not impossible

Client Consultation Questions: Creating the Concept

Picture this: you’re meeting with potential clients for the first time. They want you to plan an event, and they’re very enthusiastic about hiring you. A few minutes into the meeting, however, you realize that they don’t really know what they want! They’re having trouble choosing a theme, dinner options, and elements they want the party to have. How do you handle the situation?

Before the meeting

You’ll encounter many indecisive clients throughout your event planning career. Sometimes, they’ll even come to the consultation with zero ideas for how they want the event to go at all. Not to worry! You can still hold a consultation meeting that’s productive for everyone. If you took a wedding planner and event management course, you’ve probably learned all about navigating tough scenarios. Recall what you’ve learned and find your consultation outline.

Event planner jobs- event client consultation with confused clients

Find the scenario that most resembles yours and ready yourself to guide them through the process. Some people just need someone to hold their hand, tell them it’ll be all right, and help them figure out what they want! The key is to write up a list of questions that expertly guide them through the consultation. You just need to assemble a document once, and then you’ll be able to use it for consultations to come.

When you’re speaking with them on the phone, ask a few prodding questions to figure out the goal of the event. Don’t just ask about the logistics! Even if you just knew that they wanted to plan an anniversary party, you can surmise that they want the event to be sentimental. From there, you’ll develop a list of questions to clarify their ideas during the consultation.

  • Is the event celebrating something? Is it for a specific person or group?
  • The expected age of the guests, based on what the event is for
  • Any likes or dislikes they’ve mentioned
  • Whether the event is taking place in their home or elsewhere

Gathering details you already have gives you something to work with in case the potential clients have no idea what they expect from you.

Quote a price

Most event client consultation meetings range between an hour and two hours in length. Clients are charged by the hour, but you should give them an idea beforehand of how long the meeting should take. If the event is simple and small, allot an hour and quote them the price. If the event is large, complicated, or they want you to plan a series of events, quote the client two hours. But let them know that additional fees will apply if they go overtime with you! Nobody likes being surprised by a bill, and you don’t want to start off your working relationship on the wrong foot.

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Career in event planning: event planner preparing for client consultation

During the consultation

Event planning consultations are an opportunity to exchange information. Some planners conduct consultations at their office and set up a separate time to view venues and visit vendors, particularly if their clients aren’t sure what they want.

For planners whose clients already have an ideal venue in mind, the consultation could take place during a venue walk-through. Viewing their ideal venue early gives you a sense of whether the event is within your scope. It also helps the clients visualize your suggestions in the space, especially if they’re still undecided about the rest of the details.

Ask clear, constructive questions

Asking questions that are direct and to-the-point help clients focus on their wants and needs rather than just agreeing with your suggestions. They might be nodding now, but if the final event is unsatisfactory, they can easily place the blame on you! Keep your questions friendly and concise, and, most of all, make it about them. After all, this is their event!

Ask questions about:

  • Whether there’s a guest of honor
  • What the guest of honor likes and dislikes in color, food, music, activities, etc.
  • Elements from other events they’ve been to that they liked or disliked
  • Even if they’re not sure what they do want, is there anything they absolutely don’t want?

Among the top questions you’ll need to ask, you should inquire about their budget. You won’t be able to move forward with any ideas at all if you don’t know what the clients can afford.

When money is involved, you always want to ensure that your clients are getting exactly what they want. Ask questions that address their needs and preferences. This way, they’ll always feel like they have a voice in the planning process. Keep in mind that learning about their dislikes and things they don’t need can be almost as useful as learning about the things they do like or need, especially if they’re unsure of what they want.

Give inspiration and make creative suggestions

As you learn more about the clients, let their details get your creativity flowing. You may also wish to bring a tablet with you for visual aids. Pinterest is a mecca for wedding planning decor and theme inspiration. When you have photos to show them, you’ll help clients communicate ideas and thoughts they may have had trouble describing. Show them your portfolio or pull up images from events they’ve attended. Show them a mix of trends and styles and make note of what catches their eye. Sometimes that’s all it takes to trigger inspiration!

Event Planner job: client consultation with a family

Try not to throw out random suggestions without thinking them through. Be comfortable bringing up ideas during the meeting, but try to relate it to what they’ve previously said. For example, if your clients want to throw a spring wedding to save some money, you could suggest using locally-sourced flowers. Not only will the flowers be spring-theme appropriate, but locally-sourced varieties will be much cheaper than out-of-season ones that must be flown in. Clients will appreciate your suggestions if they’re feeling stuck. Your ideas might help them with making decisions and suggestions of their own.

Track of progress made throughout the meeting. Make lists detailing their must-have elements and elements they absolutely don’t want or can’t have. You may also wish to jot down any potential ideas you develop throughout the meeting. For now, don’t worry if the ideas are vague. It’s all an improvement of what you had before the meeting! You’ll define ideas further if you choose to work together.

After the meeting

Ideally, you should have all the information you need to move forward by the end of the consultation meeting. You should have an idea of what the clients are like. Their preferences, needs, and dislikes should all inform the kinds of ideas you bring forward to them in subsequent meetings.

Analyze the information you have and consider the budget. Think about your experience with the clients in the meeting. Ask yourself:

  • Is the event within the scope of your skills and services?
  • Do the clients seem ready to move forward following your meeting?
  • Did you feel like you could communicate easily and effectively with them?
  • Did they take your advice into consideration?
  • Did they provide you with the information you needed and cooperate with your consultation process, answering your questions to the best of their ability?
  • Can you see any potential problems or roadblocks to working with these clients?
  • Do you feel like you and the clients meshed well enough to complete an event together?

When you’ve come to a decision about whether you want to work with these clients, contact them. A phone call is best unless they tell you they prefer email. If they’d also like to move forward, set up another meeting time to discuss the terms of your contract and sign it.

Career in event planning- signing contract with client

If you decide that working together isn’t the best idea, kindly explain that their event is not within your scope and wish them the best of luck. If you know another event planner who you think might be a better fit, speak to that planner about the project. If your colleague is open to meeting with the clients, recommend them to the clients in your phone call or email.

Trust your instincts

When it comes to both making event planning suggestions and choosing whether to work with a client after the consultation, trust your gut feeling. The more experience you gain, the easier you’ll be able to read what people want based on facts and planner’s intuition. Imagine how impressed clients will be if you propose the perfect idea before they’ve even realized that’s what they want!

Have you ever had a bad consultation? Tell us how you learned from it!

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7 responses to “Client Consultation Questions: Creating the Concept”

    Shannette freeman says:

    Enjoy and understand clearly

    Victorine McDaniel Petrekin says:

    The article on “CLIENT CONSULTATION QUESTIONS: CREATING THE CONCEPT” was extremely helpful, very detailed. thanks

    Nicole says:

    Great information! I especially agree that it is important for the planner and the client to get a feel for each other and see if they mesh well during the consultation! It is so important to follow your gut and not take on a client that you don’t feel comfortable with. I loved the pointers on what questions to ask as well. My QC course also helped me to develop my own client questionnaire for my own business.

    Sarah-Lynn Seguin says:

    Hi Nicole,

    We couldn’t have said it any better ourselves! Thank you for taking the time to comment and provide such an excellent perspective. We’re glad to hear that your QC training helped you learn how to develop your own client questionnaires. It’s such a helpful tool to have for your business! 🙂

    All the best,
    The QC Team

    Shawniece says:

    Great read! Your client consultation is very important and sets the tone for your working relationship moving forward (or the reason a potential client decides not to move forward with working with you).

    Unit A of the Event and Wedding Planning course jumps right into client consultations and planning events with themes. This unit provided me with the tools to ask open ended questions so that I have all of the tools that I need to send the client a follow-up proposal. This unit also provides many ideas of how you can use the theme of the event in each and every event detail.

    Sarah-Lynn Seguin says:

    Thanks so much for the insightful comment, Shawniece! We love hearing how your Event and Wedding Planning Course has been teaching you more about the client consultation process. It’s definitely one of the most important parts of the job, as you pointed out. 🙂

    All the best,

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