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Emily Sullivan

Building the Best Event Team: Part 2—Developing Your Vendor Partners

Like a good marriage, a strong vendor partnership will make your life better. Here's how to nurture those relationships.

In Part 1 of the Building the Best Event Team series, we covered the importance of surrounding yourself with the right staff. However, our industry is by its very nature collaborative, and our success is measured by how well all the contributors come together to create inspired and memorable experiences. Building a strong network of vendor partners therefore is critical.

Here are some best practices to help you build an epic vendor team!

1. Seek kindred spirits.
While there is definitely an element of trial and error that goes into meeting, vetting and partnering with fellow event creatives, you can be intentional about finding the types of professionals who you want clients and colleagues to associate with you. Look for vendors who make it evident through their marketing, job performance and communication that their business is their passion and their clients are their top priority.

2. Start with your best past events.
If you have been in business yourself for some time, you can reverse engineer your circle of vendor partners. Think of the best event experiences you’ve ever had – you know the ones when you’re exhausted, but a little bit sad that they have ended because you know you’ve just put on an incredible show? The ones where you linger just a bit longer saying goodbye to the phenomenal “team” you may have just met? The players involved in that kind of experience are the ones you want to work every event with if you can.

3. Stay top of mind with displays of gratitude.
Reach out to pros that you have loved working with and let them know that you would genuinely like to work with them again. Go the extra mile to keep yourself top of mind as they plan their next events.

We sometimes bring lunch to their offices or surprise them with a treat. You can put them on your card list for the next major holiday--or really stand out and drop something by on one of the many lesser known, but still delightfully hokey “Hallmark” holidays. (Nothing says "let’s work together" like a spa basket on national “Napping Day,” or a delicious burger on “Hamburger Day.”)

4. Make your vendors lives easier.
Another great way to solidify a mutually beneficial vendor relationship is to do your job really well. If you are a planner, meet with the essential team members before an event, but avoid unnecessary meetings. For instance, we will generally consult with the lead designer rather than each and every member of a design team. The contributors appreciate that we respect their time, and everyone is grateful to avoid micromanagement.

5. When something goes wrong, handle it right.
Handling miscommunications, misunderstandings or conflict constructively and up front is key not only to building a great vendor team, but also to developing your professional reputation. If you have an issue, be diplomatic, yet direct. Rather than being accusatory or defensive, be solution-oriented.

If you have the expertise, bring some thoughts to the table about how the snafu might be handled. Don’t jump to conclusions. Approach everyone with respect and begin each exchange with a genuine desire to find a resolution so you can all work together in the future.

We face so much uncertainty in the events industry, which has a million moving parts and the added layers of client personalities and expectations. Knowing that you are surrounded by good vendors can will give you the chance you need to bounce back from adversity, as well as to shine when it all goes right. Make the development of your vendor team a priority for your event business.

Emily Sullivan is the owner of Emily Sullivan Events, a full-service wedding planning company based in New Orleans and serving couples everywhere.

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