by Sarah J.F. Braley | January 01, 2012

What do you wish someone had told you when you started in the meetings business? In a recent post on our planner blog, "Liz on the Biz," author Elizabeth Zielinski, CMM, outlined the basic advice she would give to her younger self. Her tips are below, followed by more words of wisdom from highly experienced professionals in various meetings industry segments.

Chantilly, Va.

Realize the opportunities you have been given. Work will always be work, but I have had the opportunity to do my work in places I might never have seen otherwise. Sometimes they were five-star resorts, and other times they were humbler places that I would not have chosen to go to on my own time. I found so many of them to contain beauty and culture beyond anything I had anticipated. Work travel is never glamorous, but see it as a chance to experience everything you can.

Don't relate your personal value to your buying power. When I started my career, I was given a lot of autonomy. Because of that, suppliers recognized that I represented decision-making power beyond that of my typical peer group, and I was courted, appeased, sought after. By contrast, years later when I became an independent planner, the approach I received from many of the same people was much less responsive. It wasn't personal; it was an appropriate use of their business resources. I know the same thing happens to people who start their careers working for a Fortune 100 company and later go to work for a small association.

Understand the business you are in. Service providers study their customers to learn how and why they work the way they do, in order to better meet their buying needs. Planners should do the same. Study your supplier partners and vendors just as you do your peers and your attendees. You can learn powerful and effective work strategies by better understanding what your partners prioritize.

Meetings Industry Consultant
Encinitas, Calif.

Hold yourself to a high standard. Conduct yourself with humility and honor, and you will be OK in the long run. It might take a while longer to achieve success, but what you do achieve will be much more sustainable if you don't sell your soul to get it.

Keep learning. One of the great things about the meetings industry is that there is always something new. So even when you get lots of experience under your belt, look at every new project with fresh eyes and enthusiasm. When your enthusiasm runs out, look for something else to do -- whether it's learning new skills or taking on new responsibilities or even moving to a new organization. Life is way too short and far too interesting to get stuck doing the very same thing you've always done.

Share what you know. We will never be diminished by giving away what we've learned. I have served as a teacher to many and a mentor to some over the years. What I know for sure is that I am always enriched by sharing my experiences with others. And to watch someone I've taught go on to create their own success is an amazing experience not to be missed.

Irving (Texas) Convention & Visitors Bureau

Work hard at the job you have.
Every job you take may not necessarily be the one you were hoping for, but that doesn't mean there won't be valuable experience in it.

Take every opportunity presented. Take every single thing out of every opportunity that you can, and harness it to get you where you ultimately want to go.  

Go above and beyond.
Never hesitate to pick up a scrap of paper on the floor, or the messy work of a project that's floundering. Both show leadership, focus, attention to detail and commitment.

North Potomac, Md.

The other side's contract will always be biased to that party. Be diligent in reading the contract carefully and identifying where the advantages for the other side occur. And remember that a single word or number can change the entire clause, especially in the big four: attrition, cancellation, force majeure and dispute resolution. These are the most important clauses for both sides to draft correctly; they can make the difference between your organization paying damages or being able to cancel a contract if an "act of God" occurs and you cannot perform the agreement.

Keep it clean. Never send a final contract containing cross-outs or changes. The final contract should always be clean and free of anything that, three years later when the negotiating parties have moved on, could be misconstrued or end up causing problems. Many times, I have been the referee for a contract dispute and had to advise the parties to work something out simply because the contract was impossible to read or interpret because of handwritten changes. In this age of Microsoft Word, there really isn't a good excuse to sign a contract containing clauses with cross-outs.

Everything is negotiable.
Despite what might be said to the contrary, every contract clause is open to negotiation. The determining factor in most cases comes down to which party has the leverage during the negotiations. An old friend of mine had a saying that not only got many laughs but also always proved to be true: "Some days you are the bug, and other days you're the windshield."

Consider the salesperson's motivation. Is the sales goal based on annual, quarterly or trimester returns -- and how close is he or she to achieving it? In this case, knowledge is very powerful to crafting an optimum contract for your company or association (see the next point).

The best deals are found at the end of the quarter or the end of the year. As I mentioned above, make it part of your negotiating checklist to ask about timing. Most planners know to ask for everything on Dec. 29, but the same advantages might be found on March 30, June 30 and Sept. 30. I am perennially amazed how much a hotel will give at the end of a goal period. Make sure you ask for everything you want -- and even more. If you don't, you'll never know how much you left on the table.

Howe & Hutton
Chicago, Ill.

Avoid being too smart. The best thing to do is ask questions even thought you might think you know the answer. Never be afraid to ask a question in response to a question. When someone asks you about something, ask why they want to know. In other words respond to a question with a question.

Read the entire document before you sign it.
Too often planners and suppliers fail to do a basic fundamental requirement. How many of us have hit the "I agree" box on the Internet without having bothered to read all those terms and conditions that we have just agreed to abide by?

Find a mentor. Seek out someone who is prepared to spend some time with you to help you navigate both the smooth as well as the rough waters, because Murphy's Law is optimistic when it comes to this industry.

Be honest. When you know what it really is, tell it like it is. One of my admonitions is always that I cannot blame you for bad news, but I sure can blame you for not telling me. Similarly, when negotiating, your integrity is on the line. While the hospitality industry may seem large enough to disappear into, your reputation will follow you. Keep it honest, straightforward, civil and respectful.