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Today I want to share with you 9 of the biggest lessons that I have learned in hosting a successful workshop. For those of you have followed for me or followed my business for quite some time, you might already know that I founded The Fount Collective about 6 years ago.
And every year, Fount hosts a luxury all-inclusive workshop for motherhood photographers.
This coming November we will be hosting The Fount Workshop going on year number 5, and every year I learn a little bit more about how to put on a successful workshop. I find myself thinking back to that first year- where I literally had ZERO idea what I was doing- and maybe you’ve thought about planning your first workshop and you feel the same way!
I get it, I’ve been there, and so I want to share with you these 9 lessons that I have learned over these last 5 years when it comes to hosting a successful workshop. I think these lessons learned by experience will really help you whether you are planning a workshop, conference, summit, or helping with an event.
LESSON 1: Not. Doing. It. Alone.
This was the biggest lesson I learned- the importance of your team. I very quickly realized that *I* could not take on absolutely every task entirely by myself. That it was a recipe to burn out, and I had to outsource, delegate, and ask for help.
The first year of The Fount Workshop I was running around- trying to keep the group on schedule, taking phone calls with vendors, setting up the room for different activities, handling all the reservations, AND trying to be a host that was present with my attendees. I took on too much and learned the repercussions of that endeavor the hard way.
So- Hands down. The biggest lesson I have learned is to have help. Whether it’s one person or ten- the size of your event will determine the size of the team you need.
Which then brings me to lesson number two which is who you choose to be on your team FREAKING matters.
I am so blessed to have a TOP notch creative team for The Fount Workshop. You want people on your team that share your core values, and who you work well with. One of the biggest things that I have learned when it comes to WHO is on my workshop team- is choosing people who have different strengths than I do.
I need team members who can step in and help pick up the slack when my mental energy has depleted. As a big-picture person, I need someone who is SUPER organized and who can help keep track of all the little details that can’t fall through the cracks.
One of the roles that we added starting year two of the workshop was a logistics coordinator. And oh my heavens, I absolutely cannot imagine planning and hosting the workshop without this person and the tasks that they help with. My logistics coordinator helps me ahead of time by helping me communicate with our vendors- like our shuttle service, our catering, our venue, things like that. She helps me think through the details of the schedule and gives me a second eye to ensure that we aren’t overscheduling any area of time and that we are realistic with how long certain things actually take.
Then- during the workshop, she handles everything that has to do with organization and the behind the scenes operation. She helps me to communicate the schedule with the attendees, keeps us on track for where we need to be and when makes sure hair and makeup are running smoothly for our models and that they have arrived as planned, has coffee and snacks out for the breaks and helps set up lunch.
She makes sure that *I* have taken time to eat and overall really just guards me against burning out. She knows me really well now and we work so good together because she knows what I need to be reminded about- like making sure I remember to eat and making sure that I know all details for the next day are take care of so that I get a good night’s sleep before the next day, and so on.
Basically- all of the things that were keeping me from being present with my attendees, she now takes off my plate for me. I don’t have to busy my thoughts with the schedule and where we are supposed to be next and how much time we have and did I call the café and confirm our lunch orders and our pick up time and meet the models and are they here yet?
She is my literal lifesaver and it is worth every penny of our event budget so that I can be a better workshop host without trying to take it all on myself- which absolutely directly affects the experience of our attendees- which is a priority for us.
Everyone who joins me at the Workshop has my shared values and believes in the mission of what we are doing. We spend a lot of time together that week and I don’t just ask anyone. I have been beyond blessed with every single guest teacher we have had joined us at The Fount Workshop over the years.
Ok so- Lesson Number 3. Clear communication is EVERYTHING. Communication between your team. Communication with your attendees. And Communication with your vendors.
(this my friend, is just a life lesson in general. When there is no communication, everything falls apart, and everyone feels frustrated, all because they just didn’t know something.)
You can have the dreamiest workshop planned for your attendees- with a perfect venue, and amazing food and swag bags with custom gifts- but if your attendees feel like they don’t know what’s going on or where they need to be or where they need to go or how they can be prepared or what to expect- or just IN GENERAL can say about anything “If I had just known” or “Can somebody please just tell me….” that’s what you want to prevent to the best of your ability.
We do everything in our power to have clear communication with our attendees. The Fount Workshop is all-inclusive- and I truly want them to feel like every detail is taken care of for them.
Our attendees are business owners and moms and they sacrifice to join us- and man, I just love seeing them be able to breathe and relax for the first time in maybe a long time, and feel excited to have this opportunity to just totally focus in on what they want in their brand and how they want to grow in their craft as an artist. It’s so special….And that kind of relaxation and that feeling that everything is taken care of…happens with clear communication.
But even if you aren’t doing an all-inclusive workshop- you still need to go above and beyond in your communication.
Just to provide you with some practical tips here, we have found the following things really beneficial for communicating with our attendees:
The first is email communication ahead of time. We started using Honeybook to communicate with all our workshop attendees this year and oh my goodness WHAT a game-changer.
You know I love Honeybook– but I never thought of using it for the Fount Workshop until this year- when they added the feature of being able to have a second business under your one account. We chose to use it for other reasons as well which I will share more about. But for emails- it just keeps all of my conversations with attendees in one easy to reference place.
In addition to email communication, we have a private Facebook group that they join once they register. This allows us to make quick announcements, and they get to connect with other attendees ahead of time.
A few weeks before the workshop, we send them a branded PDF that we call their “Travel Pack.” The goal of this PDF is to provide each attendee with every detail they need to know to plan their trip to the workshop. We include a packing list- and general details about the schedule, and what kind of outfits and shows they want to pack. We remind them of the venue address, the shuttle schedule to and from the airport, an emergency contact number, and more.
We sat down and tried to think of any piece of information that would be helpful for our attendees to know ahead of time that would better their experience with us, and we included it all in this PDF.
Then starting before the workshop, we use EZ text to text our attendees 1-2 times a day for any schedule reminders, etc. This is also helpful if there are any last-minute changes or if we need to get an announcement or reminder to our attendees quickly and efficiently. So lesson number 3- clear communication is the bee’s knees.
The fourth lesson I have learned in hosting a successful workshop is being intentional in getting as much as you possibly can- done ahead of time– and not last minute- so that you start the workshop feeling rested and the best version of yourself.
Staying up until 2am assembling swag bags the night before the workshop starts- when you COULD have done it a week prior but chose not to- is a Dumb idea. Printing schedules an hour before attendees arrive? You’ll regret it. ANY task that CAN be done well in advance- should be. And you will thank me later. I love starting the workshop feeling ahead and not rushing to catch up and get ready on time.
Our team arrives a whole day before our attendees. Some of us drive in, and most of us fly in. So by arriving earlier, we are all unpacked, settled, the errands have been completed, the shopping is done, and we can start the workshop feeling READY and RESTED. There is ZERO reasons to procrastinate on tasks. Zero. And if doing so much last minute is a stressor- doesn’t it make sense to change that? So our rule of thumb- if a team member can do it ahead of time, it gets done ahead of time. Nothing last minute if we can help it.
And it’s also important to note that something could change last minute, something unexpected could come up that we need to take care of- and by having as much as possible already done way in advance, we aren’t scrambling to handle any unexpected scenarios because we actually DO have the time to handle it.
Lesson Number 5. I highly recommend offering payment plans where it makes sense.
For us, offering a luxurious all-inclusive workshop experience for motherhood photographers that is unlike any other workshop in the creative industry? Yeah- It’s not cheap. But you definitely get what you pay for.
So we always offer a pay in full option or a payment plan. And in order to offer a reasonable payment plan, we have to open registration well in advance. If I open registration just two months prior, that doesn’t give me time to offer a spread out payment plan that is helpful for our attendee’s budgets.
This was a lesson learned when I wanted to offer payment plans but didn’t give myself enough time to offer them in a way that truly helped people spread out those payments. And because we are using Honeybook for The Fount Workshop this year, it made payment plans SUCH a breeze in comparison to year’s past.
Lesson number 6- a pretty simple one- but DEFINITELY a game-changer- was outsourcing what you can. And so yes you want a team to delegate and share responsibilities with- but you also need to think about- “How can we do this more efficiently?”
And this lesson comes from Tiffany running to Walmart and trying to pull two shopping carts overflowing with bottles of water and trash bags and soda cans and chips and granola bars and paper plates and just oh my goodness ALL the things. Even going in with a really specific list- this a couple of hours. By the time I got everything on the list, triple checked the amount, dragged the carts to check out, packed the car, unpacked the car…it took too long!
And here’s the thing. It’s 2019. They have this wonderful little service called online pickup. They have this wonderful little service called Instacart. WHY WOULD I or any other valuable member of my team- spend hours doing what I could order in minutes online and have delivered or even just pick up all ready to go.
Lessons learned my friend. Lessons learned. You. Are. Welcome.
Lesson number 7- is utilizing a budget spreadsheet. The Workshop is a huge event, and there are a lot of purchases and contracts and payments that we need to keep track of. Every year of this workshop I have been using one spreadsheet that tracks everything coming in, and everything going out.
Every category of expenses has either cost, such as paying one of our guest speakers, or it has an umbrella budget where we have so much allotted for food and we need to stay under that amount. So we plan accordingly, and just stay aware of what’s being spent on food. We also make sure that we set aside an emergency fund just in case anything crazy happens. That gives us the peace of mind that we know where every dollar is going and making sure every vendor and team member working the event is paid on time and what’s owed them.
Lesson number 8 that I have learned in hosting a successful workshop that sort of falls in alignment with the budget spreadsheet is we use a business credit card that has great points– and we use this ONE card for everything for this Workshop. That makes it easier for my accountant, this also just helps add to the budget when we can redeem points towards our rental car or flight. The card gets completely paid off in full so there’s no interest accumulated, and it just helps us to cover our costs with a bit of extra point redemption.
And lesson 9- is the power of the debrief. This is something that HAS to happen right after the workshop. Because you will go home. You will forget. You will think you won’t forget, but you will. We host this workshop once a year. And this year we changed the workshop to be in the fall instead of the Spring, so it’s been a year and half since our last one and it’s easy to forget little things like-
…we ran out of trash bags we need to buy more next time or that salad we had catered wasn’t as good as we thought it was going to be let’s change that one next time or the schedule felt really tight around this time I want to make some adjustments to that. I have my logistics coordinator keep a running note during the week of anything that comes up that needs to be added to this debrief. I want to know what happened behind the scenes that I never saw that shouldn’t happen again, I want to know was anything frustrating for you or anyone else, I want to know how we did on supplies and orders and vendors and what should we make better next time.
And then, of course, we always send a questionnaire to our attendees because our workshop today is built off of the quality feedback that we have gotten over the years. We learned that this many styled shoots wasn’t enough, but that number was many, so now we have a sweet spot. We learned what was most important to them and if their expectations were met. It’s also a great time to collect reviews and testimonies while it’s all fresh in their mind so that you have them when you are ready to host your next workshop of event because there is nothing as powerful as word of mouth and hearing how this workshop changed someone’s business for the better in ways they never expected.
So there you have it. 9 of the biggest lessons I have learned in hosting a successful workshop- every single year we learn more about how to make it better- but man- I look back to year one and I WISH I had a better understanding of these, so I hope it really helps you- whether you help with events are your business or church or are thinking of hosting your own workshop soon.
Thanks so much for listening- it really means the world!
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