Hold the Line: 4 Billing Snafus and How to Avoid Them
When it comes to producing meetings and events, the old adage is true: it’s always something! As in no matter how perfect the planning and execution, there’s always some wildcard that pops up to remind one there’s always more to learn – and lessons to apply next time. Recently, I asked a few of my planner colleagues to share some of their hard-learned lessons, and not surprisingly, most were money-related. Here tips from the pros to keep in mind as you start your next assignment:
1) Don’t be afraid to talk insurance, perhaps more often than you might like.
The incident: At 4 p.m. on a steamy New York summer Friday, my venue called to demand an additional, significantly larger certificate of insurance by Monday morning for an event that evening, even though they’d already received the $2 million dollar COI they’d requested a week earlier.
After I scraped myself off the floor, I managed to locate an associate in our L.A. office who was able to produce it before West Coast closing time and overnight it to New York for Monday morning delivery. Problem solved, but it was a memorable venue-generated snafu I certainly could have done without. Now, to limit last-minute surprises, I triple check for potential insurance and COI changes at least two or 3 days before load-in.
2) Review a typical invoice, before you sign the contract.
In general, most venue invoices are fairly detailed, but not all of them are – and those are the ones that can really throw a wrench into a planner’s wrap-up. Recently, several of my colleagues and I have been take aback by a mostly overseas scourge – one we’ve jokingly dubbed Exceptionally Vague Billing Syndrome. “EVBS” refers to invoices so lacking in fiscal specifics that, at first glance, they’re almost laughable. That is until you realize it’s going to take weeks to extract enough line-item details needed to satisfy the compliance requirements of your U.S.-based accounting team.
A case in point: the overseas venue that presented my colleague with a final conference bill in the low six-figures, as contractually agreed and expected, but with lump sums provided for food & beverage, rooms and misc. After two weeks of almost daily calls, she was finally able to extract a more granular invoice that was acceptable to the Accounting Department and more accurately jibe with usual budget line items.
The take-away: to save time on the back-end, ask the venue to provide a typical invoice to review so you can identify potential line item billing issues up front. Oblige the venue to present a final bill with charges listed in detail and according to your specs. While you still have some leverage, come deposit time, make a detailed breakdown a condition of your contract and final payment. Another tip? Request it all in your native language, not theirs.
3) Discuss the all staffing charges up front, and agree to the body count.
Another planner pal shared with me one of his most initially perplexing and unexpected charges: the phantom staff fee. The first time he experienced it, he initially was confused, then mildly infuriated by an additional charge for a maitre d’ and wine steward who were neither requested, necessary or physically present at an alcohol-free, 30-person business breakfast. After several spirited post-event discussions with the venue’s banquet manager, the planner was ultimately able to get the charge removed from the bill. Phantoms need not apply.
Even though the venue eventually laid the blame at the feet of its back-office operations, the experience did leave the planner with a bad taste in his mouth, particularly as his client was a non-profit on a very tight budget. His advice? Agree on the exact number of staff you will pay for and get it in writing.
4) Your count really counts.
Private parties, cocktail gatherings or special events where numerous guests are all flowing in at roughly the same time pose any number of challenges at the door. One of the big ones is the head count. When your client is paying per head, the count has to be right. A case in point: when the venue told my planner pal that they’d counted 40 more guests than his staff had, he was able to produce two hand clickers with almost identical counts. Unbeknownst to the venue, he’d posted two of his own staff inside the entrance doors – and settled the issue immediately, on-site, instead of having to address it days later when the final invoice arrived.
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