how to build your own party plan biz

from a wikepedia search for ‘party plan’ (or ‘direct sales’ as it is also sometimes called): 

The party plan is a method of marketing products by hosting a social event, using the event to display and demonstrate the product or products to those gathered, and then to take orders for the products before the gathering ends. The primary lead generation system for home party plan sales is through the home party itself. The sales professional uses the home party business model as a source for future business

we all know examples of party plan type businesses, in fact i am sure most of us have been to a party: in the last few months i have attended bra parties, candle parties, handbag parties and jewlery parties, and have been invited to parties for tupperware, toys & puzzles, scrapbooking and make up & skin care. 

before i started my photography biz i sold children’s clothes with a party plan company called wikidz. being a consultant for a party plan company is a good gig – the products, marketing materials and brand recognition/reputation are already established when you begin and you generally have a support network in place of other sellers and leaders to guide you.

but if you are building your own little biz, DIY style like i am, then you can still make use of the party plan method of sales. you might be thinking: what i do/make/sell/offer does not work in a party plan format! well i encourage you to think outside the box, to question the rules: who says it won’t work? in fact if no one else is doing it that way it might be a niche primed and ready just waiting for you to show up.

WHY do your biz party plan style?

  • it is a way to reach a group of potential clients at once, increasing the visibility of your brand in your community
  • it is a way for the clients and customers you already have, who already love what you do, to easily promote your product and services to their friends
  • it is an additional way to market your product or service and generate more sales. why only sell your stuff on etsy/craiglist/facebook/website when you can add another avenue?
  • you can offer to customize and personalize your product or service to suit each guest – people love to feel they get something made for them
  • you can offer discounts, bonuses, special deals, one time offers etc. – people love to feel they are getting a great deal on something
  • you don’t need to set it up with multiple consultants working under you (which is the typical multi-level marketing method of party plan businesses) – just do it by yourself, or maybe with a friend or partner to help you. but if your biz grows you can add more consultants using the set-up you have already established. isn’t it nice to know you can expand if you want to?

WHAT can you sell?

products are an obvious choice:

  • any handmade item (jewlery, cards, baby gifts, scarves, hair accessories etc.) would work well in a party plan format, particulary if you are willing to customize colour choices, sizes etc to taste. people can see your products and order one custom made for them.
  • perhaps you buy and resell popular items online (jewlery, handbags, shoes, clothes, collectors items etc.) – why not try it party plan style? if someone wants something you don’t have on display and you find it for them, you will have a loyal customer for life!

services can work too:

  • do you offer a service like massage, facials, pedicures or manicures, personal styling, hairstyling etc.  – why not offer mini versions of your regular service? 15 minute massages or pedicures for 6 ladies at a discounted price, instead of your regular 1 hr session, might give you 6 new clients!
  • perhaps you offer a service like fitness or yoga instruction, art or music lessons – why not offer a group session at someone’s home? perhaps a modified version of your regular service to give people a taste of what you offer, and then sign them up for more group or one-on-one sessions.
  • services like photography work too – think of doing many mini-sessions perhaps centred around a theme or event.

even better – find a way to do both:

  • a jewlery party where people can purchase made items from you OR a party where you bring the supplies and teach everyone how to make the jewlery. or cards. or scrapbooks. or quilts. or candles.
  • a massage party where you give mini-massages AND people can purchase the organic, locally made massages oils you use.

HOW to sell something party plan style:

here is the basic idea of party plan: the host books a party. host invites guests. you do your spiel and show your stuff. guests buy stuff. guests book more parties. host gets something good for having party. the more parties you book the more your biz grows. simple right? here are some tips:

1.  make it EASY FOR THE HOST to have a party. give them something to hand out as invites and something to show to their friends to get them to come to the party including a range of costs along with what will be offered. the host needs to easily tell people what the party is and what to expect from it.

you don’t have to have printed catalogues and post cards to do this. be creative. a framed 8x12 photo or a 4x6 album showcasing your products and prices would make a professional looking catalogue. more 4x6 photos with your logo & website or your business cards with the date and time of the party on the back would make invites. forward an email with your logo and website information so that people can email their friends. or help the host create an event on facebook. think outside the box!

2. make it WORTHWHILE FOR THE HOST to have a party by giving some sort of incentive or discount. generally if people feel that the host gets something good for having a party they will book a party too. the discount can include a percentage off of their order based on total sales, bonuses for attendance, bonuses for people booking parties and more, special one-time offers that other customers don’t receive. again be creative. what can you offer the host that is going to make them book a party each season?

the best party i hosted gave me a half price item for booking a party, a half price item for every party booked by my guests and a discount on the total based on sales. i felt like i had received a really good deal. other formats (say just a percentage off based on sales) might have given me the same total in the end, but i might not have felt like it was as good of a deal.

3.  make it EASY FOR THE GUESTS to order. don’t overwhelm people with a long spiel and a hundred examples of your product or a hundred reasons why they should purchase your service. share with them the main things that you offer, let them know your prices and the ways you can customize your product or service to them and then let them relax, enjoy the night and ask you questions if they wish.

4.  make it WORTHWHILE FOR THE GUESTS to book another party with you. this is pretty important: one booking from one party means your biz stays the same, no bookings mean your biz peters out, 2 or more bookings means your biz grows. simple right? so make it worthwhile. offer them something for free, or for half-price or at a discount when they book their party if they book one now. and don’t make that booking too far away on the calendar, people get busy and people forget or lose interest.

5.  make it FUN! picture this in your mind: who is your ideal client? who do you want to fill that living room? what kind of night would those folks expect? any party for me is a night out with my friends without kids or husbands. a pedicure party for me has got to involve wine and a lot of laughing. a yoga party better be a safe place to feel a little silly learning the moves. a jewlery party is going to be a fun, personalized shopping experience where i can finally get the items i want in the size and colour that are right for me. but i might not be your ideal customer so figure out what they want.

practice and test out the waters. ask a friend to host your first party, and only invite people who already support what you are doing. try out some different discount/bonus situations to see what is easy to apply and makes the host feel happy to have had a party. the first time i did a portrait party it was only for a group of my friends for some father’s day portraits. i learnt more in that one day than i had from any planning or research i had done about what i needed to do as far as my timing, ordering system, pricing, samples, and the marketing materials i needed.

after you have practiced with your friends or family it is time to get serious about building your party plan 'plan'. you are going to need to consider: 

  • getting word out about your biz and getting some bookings
  • what you will provide the host – invites, email templates, catalogues etc.
  • what you will bring to the party, do at the party and say at the party 
  • the timing and plan for the party itself – do you need someone to help, is there something you need to set up etc.
  • how you will take orders & payments for your products and/or bookings for your services
  • how you will get your ‘stuff’ to the folks who buy
  • the type of ‘reward’ you will give to the host
  • the type of ‘incentive’ you will give to people who book parties 

if you are building your biz on your own, you don’t have a marketing department and a pile of marketing materials or a set outline of your prices, discounts, and minimum requirements. it means you have to do it all yourself but it also means you GET to do it all yourself. remember: think outside the box. you aren’t limited to what the ‘other’ party plan people in your field are selling or doing (they are limited by the rules of the companies they work for) so offer something different, something new, something that is going to create long-lasting clients out of those party guests.

feel free to email me if you would like some help brainstorming ideas for your party plan 'plan'. and if you are selling your thing party plan style, please add some advice, ideas or inspiration in the comments! =)