As a sole proprietor for more than 30 years, I’m intimately familiar with running a business; but taking on a civic leadership role was a new endeavor and a big stretch for me.
I’ve been a member of the Plainsboro Business Partnership (PBP) since its inception in 2009. This mini-Chamber, linked to the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce, has facilitated a local Business Showcase for the last two years. Previous events were “okay,” but they seemed a bit bland to me.
As the 2014-2015 Chair of the PBP, one of my responsibilities is to lead the committee that produces the Business Showcase. I was eager to share my ideas to add excitement and interest to the event; and was able to influence the group to move to a larger location, include a musical performance at no cost to attendees and provide access to a variety of food choices. The ideas were well received by most …until we learned the overall cost. We all experienced sticker shock and, though we had agreed on these upgrades, silence and leaking unrest permeated the group.
I never led a committee like this before and I felt vulnerable and enormously responsible for the outcome. Fortunately, I had a valuable team. A township partner stepped up and procured the band, arranged for food trucks and organized parking, traffic and bio facilities. Many team members focused on the sales of sponsorships and vendor tables; others put their primary efforts into marketing: social media, personal e-blasts, talking up the event at networking meetings, communicating to colleagues and friends by phone and door to door canvassing, requesting area businesses to post flyers. In addition, our parent organization, Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce, provided graphic design of flyers, website postings and prominent announcements at their networking programs and events.
On June 10, 2014 at 5:30PM, under a cloudy but rainless sky, we launched Beatles and Business! Our new and improved Third Annual PBP Business Showcase featured Beatles impersonators, the Mahoney Brothers, who entertained 500 delighted Plainsboro residents and other area attendees for ninety minutes. Forty-six local vendors set up tables to display their services…40% more than the previous year. Because of the support from these vendors, along with our sponsors’ participation, we exceeded our financial goals. It was a HUGE success all around!
While the result was super-positive, the process to get there was often quite bumpy for me. My “leadership-learning experience” in this new environment was riddled with moments of fear (We’re going to be in the red – we have only two weeks to bring on sponsors); differences, preferences and non-alignment among the team (Why do this on a Tuesday? Thursday or Friday is better); and frustration (with a 30% chance of thunderstorms do we go ahead as scheduled or change to the rain date?).
Here are some of the lessons I learned and will embrace as the leader of any group in the future:
1. It’s okay to be fearful as long as you don’t let fear interfere with taking action. Share your concerns with someone outside the team who will listen. Doing this facilitates moving through the fear and moving forward.
2. Though collaboration is my preference, at times a leader must make executive decisions.
3. Have a strong communication plan coordinating sales and marketing tactics. Make sure everyone knows who is doing what, when and how, and make sure the team touches base regularly. (Pounding the pavement to ask for support for the event can be fun and become natural, but if too many people approach the same businesses, you may defeat your purpose.)
4. Don’t conduct a meeting when you’re sick. If you’ve communicated a plan with the group’s buy-in, rather than being half present, take care of yourself and brief a team member to take over for you. You’re not indispensable. The group will pull through without you.
5. Believe in success and it will come! Visualizing a positive outcome felt odd and awkward to me, but it sure was better than focusing on the alternative.
6. Communicating with “higher powers” (asking for good weather) can (and did, I believe) prevent the rain from falling!
7. Document everything!!!
8. Asking a question is a better way to lead into requests for support, (Do you know about the free Business and Beatles event in Plainsboro next week?) instead of introducing yourself, your goals and your organization (Hi, I’m Eileen, etc, PBP, Beatles and Business, etc).
9. Reach out to your network of friends and colleagues and include them in your efforts. They will come through for you and help create a “win.”
10. Engage outside labor to handle set up and break down. Carting tables in humid, 90 degree temperatures is not a job for committee members who have already volunteered significant time and effort to the success of the event. Your team will be grateful, as will those you pay to do the job.
I hope this information will be helpful if you find yourself in similar circumstances. I learned so much about motivating a team, planning an event, delegating responsibility and, most important, developing a clear communication strategy. I’m looking forward to applying all I’ve learned to make next year‘s event even better…and with much less stress!