One of the first places business owners look to cut costs is in their budget for meetings, conferences and events. It’s obviously less painful than laying people off.
But sometimes, it’s important to find a way to get some “face time” with key clients, far flung members of your team, or leading players in your industry. Even if you talk by phone a lot, you may feel like you’re not as connected as you need to be.
Here are five increasingly popular approaches to consider if your meeting budget is tight.
1. Video calling
If you work with a virtual team or remote partner on some of your projects, consider holding an occasional meeting on Skype or Oovoo. To use Skype, for instance, you and the other participants simply need to set up a free account and log in via computers that have HD quality webcams (or who have an inexpensive plug-in webcam). You can also do video calls from smartphones and, in the case of Skype, an iPad. A number of small business owners have told me recently that they have begun serving clients in other cities or countries by offering their advice, coaching or training via video calls. If you’re eager to break into a growing market like India, now’s your chance.
2. “Hybrid” meetings
Some companies are limiting attendance at their annual meeting to key players, but you should include other employees who want to join through videoconferencing. Or, in lieu of one big splashy annual company meeting, they will save on travel costs by holding several smaller regional meetings and bringing everyone together at one point in the day on a live webcast with an interesting keynote speaker. “It’s an increasing trend,” says Brad Goodsell, president of Executive Travel Directors, a Chicago-based company that provides professional travel directors to meeting planning organizations.
And it’s a phenomenon that’s likely to continue. Unisfair, a provider of virtual events, found in a recent survey of 550 U.S. marketers outside its customer base, that 60 percent plan to increase spending on virtual events this year, while 42 percent will cut spending at live conferences and trade shows. And 87 percent of respondents believe that hybrid events will make up at least half of all events in the next five years.
Bear in mind that those who attend an event via videoconference probably won’t get the same networking benefits as the live participants. “As much as the cost savings are there, the fun factor is not,” says Goodsell. Then again, you won’t have to worry as much about how you’ll pay the bill.
3. Look at less expensive destinations
Smaller cities often have wonderful hotels and attractions at much lower prices than cities like New York and Los Angeles. “Start with less obvious convention cities,” advises Mandi Kobaisic, vice president of global accounts at Hospitality Performance Network Global, a strategic meetings management company that helps clients find meeting sites and suppliers. “Be open to destinations you might not have considered before.” Among the “value cities” she recommends right now: Denver, Colorado; Jacksonville, Florida; New Orleans, Louisiana; and San Antonio, Texas.
Once you’ve narrowed down your choices to a few cities, Cvent’s free U.S. Cities Comparison chart cab help you to make ballpark comparisons between them on room rates, daily food costs, taxi fare and other typical event-related expenses.
4. Try a new hotel or one that’s just been renovated
New and recently re-done properties often offer “get-acquainted” deals. For instance, in Chicago, the Ambassdor East Hotel is being redesigned by entrepreneur Ian Schrager into a new hotel called Public Chicago. “They are offering a lot of meeting packages,” says Kobaisic, whose company keeps tabs on planned hotel openings, so it can advise meeting planners. “They want people to see it.” If you are planning a meeting without the help of a professional planner, set up Google alerts for “new hotel” in some of your target cities for ideas on properties to try.
5. Opt for a local attraction
Consider hosting an event for employees at a popular draw in your target city, such as the New York Aquarium or Hershey Park in Pennsylvania. It may be more cost effective than opting for a traditional conference setting—and will certainly be a morale booster.