There is no handbook on how we -- as owners, directors, box office managers and staff for event businesses -- should operate in a world where the very essence of what we do, that is, bringing people together, has been banned throughout the world. These circumstances have imposed on all of us a true fight for survival. For that reason, we've created this survival guide for event businesses to address immediate concerns of the day, to give ideas that raise revenues for an opening 3-6 months from now, or in a worst-case scenario, to plan for the scary possibility that 18 months will pass before we are fully operational.
Here are ten tactical steps to take to ensure the survival of your event business:
- Conserve cash
- Slash expenses
- Stay engaged with your audience
- Provide virtual events or meet-and-greets
- Use pay-what-you-can ticket pricing
- Turn on round-up donations
- Sell season passes at reduced prices
- Create fundraising campaigns
- Consider site-specific performance
- Allay fears about a return to an "old normal"
A guide to survival as an event professional
- Conserve cash.
The number one rule in challenging times is to hold onto your cash. Cash on hand -- more than any other factor -- will ensure your immediate survival, and prudent planning now will be the difference on whether or not you re-open your event business in 12 months. The goal is to remain "cash neutral". That is, make sure that what goes out each month is equal to what comes in. If you can prevent the drawing down of cash reserves for a year or more with tactics that keep you cash neutral, you will survive! Here are a few ideas to implement to help you hang onto cash:
- Forgo savings on annual contracts and use month-to-month payments. You'll pay a little more over time, but monthly payments conserve cash for the future.
- For postponed or canceled events, ask patrons if they will accept a gift card in place of a refund using our "Refund to Gift Card" option.
- If you must refund, consider retaining any ticket fees you may have added to the price.
- This is an extremely tough time for landlords to find new tenants. Many will forgo rental income completely to ensure their own survival when economies improve. Ask them what options they can offer.
- Cut staff salaries. Owners should try to cut salaries to zero. Consider asking executives to give up more. Furlough all staff except those critical to survival and encourage them to apply for unemployment. And please, cut "C" players. As small business owners, our tendency is to retain lower-paid staff to reduce expenses. But this is a time you need "A" players who can think and do without day-to-day handholding. You need staff that work smart and rise above their pay grade, and "C" players never will.
- Review credit cards. Ask credit card issuers to waive annual fees. Transfer credit card balances to lower interest rate cards. Use credit when rates are low enough to justify it -- especially those with low introductory rates for 3-12 months.
- See if you can withhold timed payments for services for a 90-day period, then revisit those with your creditors at the end of the period.
- Seek out more competitive alternatives for all services. When was the last time you reviewed your phone service? I'd wager that a quarter of our clients can find savings in a phone bill alone. Are you paying per-user pricing on your Salesforce account, email accounts, or other online services for staff that are no longer with you? Analyze every invoice for additional or hidden charges that are unnecessary. If you find errors, ask for credit towards future invoices. (We can assure you that ThunderTix offers the most comprehensive box office software at the most competitive price, so you can save time searching for alternatives there! :-)
- Cut every expense.
No expense is too small! Plans for your seasonal brochures are off the table. The Spotify account to stream Muzak to bathrooms -- gone! Diligently go through every single expense in your accounting software. If it is not critical to the survival of your event business, it needs to be cut. Review your usages for monthly services both online and off. If usage has decreased, ask vendors to reduce your plan. If your quarterly delivery of paper products is upcoming, cancel it. If you collected donations for a specific fundraising purpose -- new seat upholstery, postpone it. Absolute adherence to daily reviews of expenses will reveal items you didn't even know were on the books. In your accounting software expense breakdown, don't forget to review what you spent at this time last year, last quarter or last month to prevent unexpected, automatic payments from recurring.
- Stay engaged with your audience.
It's important to share what you are doing and even how you are doing with customers. Loyal customers care about the survival of your organization, and they are as eager to see your doors open as you are. Send bi-weekly newsletters sharing the plans you've made for the future. Share photos and short biographies of the staff that patrons have come to know and appreciate. Include surveys or add links to "contact us" pages to invite feedback or invite them to follow you on social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tik Tok.
- Provide virtual events or meet-and-greets.
What content can you deliver virtually either free or for a charge? Many of our clients are experimenting with one-acts, streaming comedy, and magic shows, and even virtual "walking" tours. My own community theatre has been sending out videos of past performances stored on YouTube. Meet-and-greets, “happy hours” and “coffee klatches” provide entertainment while fostering social connections, and for many retirees, these can offer a wonderful diversion to sometimes long days. Pick an easy-to-use platform such as Zoom, Facebook Live, or even Google Hangouts. Remember, we are all bored at home, and these informal gatherings can be a wonderful way to connect and enjoy socializing. Use our beginners guide to video streaming for live events to get you started and enjoy the learning process to engage with your customers!
- Use pay-what-you-can pricing.
This is one of the newest features we've launched as COVID bore down on us, and the success our clients have had with it has been amazing! Pay-what-you-can pricing allows you to set a minimum ticket price -- even $0 -- for your events, yet it allows your patrons to respond generously by paying a price that reflects their perceived value. In every case where PWYC pricing was used, our clients earned more than the minimum asking price. In one virtual event, our client set a $5 minimum ticket price, yet they earned an average of $14.45 per ticket! That is nearly three times the asking price. We urge you to try PWYC ticket pricing for your events.
- Turn on round-up donations.
Round-up donations allow customers to round up their purchases to the nearest $5 providing an easy and inexpensive way for patrons to provide a little extra support. In addition to the round-up option, enable donations across all events, and if you are a Stripe gateway user, you can even make those donations monthly recurring. In our PWYC explanation, we mentioned a client having success with the new pricing. In addition to the extra money collected with PWYC, that same client had 32% of all clients adding a donation with their ticket purchase. The average donation amounted to $11 per order. Take advantage of the tools we have for securing donations with purchases to add to the cash reserves that help you survive.
- Sell season passes at a discount.
Our newest package option, Pick Any, let's you package any number of events at a discount. Whether you let patrons pick three out of any six events, for example, or you use our Defined Date Packages (think "First Thursday" or "Sunday Matinee"), create fantastic discounts to compel patrons to buy their packages now. Use ThunderTix's built-in email tool (under the Customers tab), or search and export results to your favorite mass email tool, and provide patrons a link to purchase today. Be sure to clearly indicate the savings offered to early purchasers, and use words that express urgency, action, and immediacy to impel customers to click.
- Create fundraising campaigns for small yet specific goals.
We offer fundraising campaigns to set specific campaign goals and track every donor to those programs automatically. For example, you might create individual campaigns to help pay staff costs, or ask patrons to take on some monthly fees with tongue-in-cheek campaign titles such as, "We'll leave the light on for you!" or "We sure could use toilet paper around here!" Small fundraising campaigns allow patrons to give in ways that makes even small donations feel valued. Use your imagination in labeling and describing fundraising goals, then send out your mass emails and ask patrons to take on ownership of these minor but important expenses with small, monthly, recurring set-asides. I mean, who wouldn't want to return in September saying, "I'm the one that sent in your toilet paper!"
- Consider site-specific performance.
If you're unfamiliar with the concept of site-specific performance, please read our guide. Site-specific performances provide an opportunity to safely invite attendees back to an out-of-doors and socially distanced event. It's a great way to help bring patrons back and re-accustom them to event attendance in a safe environment. We believe every event can be performed -- after shelter in place orders are removed -- safely outdoors that helps everyone feel excited about a future behind theatre doors or under the roof of an indoor concert.
- Prepare to allay fears for the future.
As our world begins to resemble the one we've temporarily been forced to abandon, we'll need to be prepared for the rush of people that are incredibly eager to return. I'll admit that I had been experiencing my own complacency towards my local community theatre -- one to which I've belonged for more than a decade. I realize now how much that little theatre means to me, and I cannot wait to be part of the returning crowd on opening night. I'll feel better when they share the steps they are taking to ensure the safety of my family such as ensuring that there are seat separations between parties or that alternate rows are blocked off. Talk about what you are doing to allow customers to confidently attend opening night. And don't forget the champagne!
This is a very scary time for all businesses but especially those that rely on large numbers of strangers gathering indoors. With extreme diligence and careful planning, with tools that help foster engagement and challenge patrons to give, you will survive. I truly believe all of us can do it. Use every staff member and volunteer, and then take this survival guide for event businesses as a tactical checklist. Remember, nothing should be off the table. Every line item, every invoice, every expense must be weighed for criticality. The last thing you want to say 6 months from now is, "I wish I had only..."
At ThunderTix, we're here to help. As a small business just like yours, we understand your fears, and we know that a sense of community can help us feel less alone. Please join our ThunderTix Users group on Facebook to seek advice from others while sharing your own experiences (good and not so good) during this difficult time. And if you need help -- whether through new features or simply an empathetic ear -- please reach out to us through the Facebook Group or through our support forum. We may be able to offer some insight to help you get started or to simply assure you that you are not alone.