How to Find and Hire the Best Event Planner

Businesswoman using tablet computer in dining room
Jetta Productions / Getty Images

Hiring an outside event planner doesn't have to be a daunting task. You need to source the best event planners for your needs and screen them carefully before committing to one. But first, you should know exactly what you're asking the event planner to do.

Determine Your Objective

Before you start your search, you need to work out the event's objective, the budget you're working with, and your reason for hiring externally.

You want to be in a position to communicate the broad outline of the event and its most important goals.

Once you've defined your objectives, a few clear ideas will begin to emerge about the theme and message you want to convey.

Now you'll want to determine the budget you have for a planner and what they will be expected to do. An event planner can select the venue, recommend food and beverage options, source speakers and entertainment, be on-site for day-of production needs, and create the invitations.

If you can't handle all of the above on your own, you need to start your search for an event planner.

Find Your Event Planner

Regardless of whether it's a social event or a corporate meeting, the rules of hiring an event planner or caterer remain the same: You want to hire someone who has expertise in creating your type of event.

Word of mouth is one way to find an event planner, whether it's an anniversary party, breakfast business meeting, weekend retreat, or any other type of event. But it's not always the most effective approach.

If you're trying to find the best event planner for your affair, look for a company with experience and a strong reputation within the community of event planners. Peer reputation may be a stronger indicator than references from friends.

Check with the national or local chapter of Meeting Professionals International, the International Special Events Society, or the National Association of Catering Executives.

If you want to know who has a good reputation in your area, check with the local convention and visitors bureau or chamber of commerce. You might also reach out to a hotel's convention sales department.

Interview Applicants

Most event planners will be eager to hear about your event. Give them brief details at first, and focus on their expertise in the initial round of interviews.

Reduce your list of candidates to the three strongest applicants.

You should then ask each finalist or firm about their business, their experience with past events, and how they plan for contingencies. A good planner will walk you through a discussion about your event's overall objectives, timeline, budget, guest count, and personal preferences, and also ask questions about your organization. The one who is eager to learn about your objectives and your event will stand out from the rest.

Although it's not always possible to meet an applicant in person during the first round of interviews, especially if your program is out of town, this can be a critical step in choosing the right planner. You'll want the candidate who has a real rapport with you.

The final step is to check your candidates' references, too. Contact former clients and make sure there aren't any badly botched events in his or her past.

Make Your Selection

Now it's time to narrow down your selection to one.

Once you've made the hire, the event planner should be able to share a detailed plan for the event with you. It's the time to toss around creative ideas and toss out the ideas that don't work.

Hammer Out the Budget

Many people who organize an event for the first time want a champagne event on a beer budget. Your event planner can make the most of your budget but may have to bring your vision down to earth a bit.

You need to work together to come up with a realistic budget. And don't forget to find out about the fees that will be charged by the event planner, and how they will be incorporated into the budget. Event planner fees and how they are charged vary widely.

You will be asked to provide deposits, paperwork, and contracts to the event planner as well as the event venues and the services they offer. As always, you should have an attorney review any contracts before you sign them.

Follow Up

Most bad things that happen related to event planning are a result of a lack of follow-through. Event planning requires the effective coordination of logistics. In other words, stay on top of the project and don't force the event planner to make major decisions without your input.

If everything goes as planned, the event planning process will go off without a hitch and you'll have added an excellent event planner to your network for future needs.

If the process hits a snag before the big day, step in and work to correct it. Misunderstandings can be worked out. Unexpected problems can be fixed.

But be prepared, if all else fails, to fire your event planner and go to a backup.