The global economic downturn caused by COVID-19 is far from over, but that by no means indicates that hospitality, meetings and events small business owners have sat by idly. Au contraire, if anything was notable during the June 29 ISBO CommuniTEA session, it is that these business owners have expanded their outreach and services. Titled Growth and Re-energizing Your Business Post COVID-19, the questions put before the Zoom participants revolved around three key elements. How are you communicating with your customers? Have you added any new partnerships to widen your offered services? What new ideas and services are you now able to offer?

ISBO CommuniTEA, a socially engaging casual chat for members of Meeting Professionals International (MPI) monthly addresses a topic of direct interest to Independent and Small Business Owners (ISBO) or those who wish to begin their own business. After individual brief introductions, the group is subdivided into small group breakouts, affording each person the opportunity to share or ask questions without judgement. Each small group discussion creates its own energy and direction. The answers are as diverse as the participants. Here are some of the responses.

Diversifying and expanding services elicited the largest responses. Sometimes it was not a cut-and-dried decision to create a new service as much as it was about responding to clients who asked for help in a different area from what might typically be your contracted responsibilities.

Reassessing clients’ needs have led to some expanded offerings. For instance, one staffing company owner realized that meeting planners may no longer have staff to manage a convention group’s travel. GAS (Group Air Travel) was thus formed to provide group air specialists to overtaxed meeting planners. The advantage is that an assigned travel professional can make reservations and be onsite to handle any last-minute changes. If additional hands-on assistance is needed (stuffing swag bags, for instance), that assigned pro is available to step up.

A meeting planner accustomed to having production company staff prep and run rehearsals for her meetings’ speakers, realized virtual and hybrid events don’t typically have a production staff to fulfill those tasks. Gradually, she assumed those functions. Her “expanded” services now include prepping and rehearsing speakers for a virtual platform presentation.

Yet another small business owner participant advised to take a fresh perspective, using as an example the way a virtual or hybrid event might ordinarily be produced. Instead of looking at it as an in-person event being streamed, produce it as a live TV program. TV production crews’ focus is more focused on engaging and maintaining the audience’s attention rather than a one-dimensional look-into-the-camera-and-talk approach.

While one person may not be able to do all the tasks necessary to plan and produce a large conference, a partnership with other professionals may solidify success. One Canadian meeting planner did just that. In communicating with another meeting and events professional whose background is managing entertainment, they realized if they had a partner with deep technology skills and another who is a creative marketer, then all of them had a better chance of attracting clients with larger events. They formed Experiential Experts, a company that is now drawing the client base for which they aimed.

OK, so now you have new services. Where do you find new clients?

*** Business owners need to strategize. Not everyone has that know-how, so connecting with others, reassessing your skills, and re-examining how to use those skills in a new way might be the

solution. One marketing pro saw that the depletion of hotel staff may result in new hires not possessing needed sales techniques. In response, she has developed sales training courses and is now connecting with hotel clients.
*** Stay in touch with previous clients.

*** Keep your CRM up to date.

*** Know where your key contacts have gone. Maybe their new “landing spot” will create new opportunities for your business.

One meeting planner said it is imperative to stay on top of local and state regulations, as well as the client’s wishes, when planning an event. An unexpected situation she faced was in setting up a room with distanced tables and seating, per local meetings regulations. At the event, attendees moved the tables and chairs to be nearer friends or teammates… violating the mandatory protocols. The challenge going forward is communicating with the client about regulations and agreeing how to resolve situations if attendees do not adhere to restrictions from  the client, hotel management or government rules.

The next ISBO CommuniTEA event is August 31. The topic is Managing Your Finances For Your Small Business.

Register here.