In last month's column, I discussed how to set up basic meeting planning technology on a budget. Next, planners will need to consider tools for database management and accounting. The specifics will vary, depending on whether a planner works within an organization or is independent, but the basic needs are the same.
A number of reasonably priced database solutions are available, or you can create your own using Microsoft Access or similar utilities. Because meeting management is all about the details, you need to keep track of a wide range of people -- prospective clients, vendors, attendees -- and be able to perform some basic functions with that data as they apply to the following.
Marketing. Whether for contacting potential clients or notifying attendees, you need to be able to reach out to companies and people. Make sure the tool you select works with your e-mail application. The ability to send broadcast messages for meeting announcements, confirmation letters, or contracts and banquet orders without having to rekey information is critical.
Vendors. Compile a list of the suppliers in your area, from properties and venues to providers of audiovisual, catering, entertainment, decorating and transportation. Find a tool you like, then refine and save your research.
Attendees. You need to manage the basic information (name, address, badge name, demographic profile, e-mail address) and be able to generate some reports, such as for name badges, confirmation letters, alerts, rosters, sign-in sheets and mailing lists.
Many database solutions have been built specifically for meeting planners and can be found by searching online for "meeting registration management." A popular and complete listing of meetings-related technology can be found at consultant Corbin Ball's website: corbinball.com/bookmarks.
Software such as ACT! (act.com), QuickBooks (quickbooks.com) and SalesForce.com have customer profile tables that you can tailor to meet your needs, along with report templates you can manipulate.
Tracking revenue and expenses for the meetings you manage is critical in establishing return on investment. Make sure you have information that can help justify your role in the organization and/or your value to your client.
For independent planners, I would recommend investing in an accounting package like QuickBooks. The software is affordably priced and has a broad feature set, robust user community and the flexibility of a complete solution (accounts payable, receivables, invoices and P&L statements). The software can generate detailed reports for distribution to each of your clients, in addition to summary reports of your overall performance.
If you don't need the features of a full accounting system, you can either create or download Microsoft Excel templates and track your revenue and expenses using spreadsheets. Excel lets you view, sort and report the same information in any number of ways. You also can use the data for charts and reports in Word documents. Write Express (writeexpress.com) sells an OfficeReady package for less than $100, which includes templates for all Microsoft Office products. Meeting templates are included for badges, agendas, reminders and more.
Effectively managing a meeting is crucial, but you need also to show how you help save money with your negotiating and management skills. Make sure to track the non-negotiated rack rate or list price for items. When you present an invoice or accounting report, include a detailed "you saved" section that quantifies savings.
Bob Walters, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., is founder of Phoenix Solutions and developer of MeetingTrak Software.