11 Mar

Perspectives from the Other Side

Pick a Planning Partner (Say THAT 3 times fast!)

If I had to choose one piece of advice to pass along to club managers about long-term planning, it would have to be this: Start building relationships with planning firms long before you need them.

You may not be thinking of doing any planning or improvements right now, but I can assure you — you will. And having the right partner is absolutely critical to your own success in driving this process, when the time comes. (As a former club manager, myself, I can also attest to the fact that many of us tend not to start planning soon enough. So when the time does come, you want to be ready — quickly!)

Now the first question I typically hear from club managers: “How do I go about finding a potential planning partner?” It’s not that difficult, frankly. First, there simply aren’t that many planning and consulting firms that specialize in working with private clubs.

  • Start with CMAA; they know all the players in the field
  • Use your own networks of club managers and colleagues to collect the names of reputable firms and contacts
  • Tap your other vendors — from food and liquor distributors to equipment providers and kitchen designers. They don’t work in a vacuum and can typically provide lots of valuable information
  • If you go to any of the major industry conferences, introduce yourself to people from planning firms. Get to know them. (And believe me, any of these folks will be happy to talk to you about their companies and services)

What you’re ultimately looking for is the firm best suited to work with you and within your club’s culture. Do I trust their expertise and guidance? Will they communicate well with my members? Do they have a clear process, approach and even demeanor that will enable them get member buy-in for plans and projects? Do I like them?

In the early stages of your relationship, you want someone/s you can simply talk things through with, turn to for advice, engage for counsel. As a lot, we club managers aren’t always good at asking for outside help. This “dating” phase is a good way and time to ease yourself into communicating with and turning to a planning partner.

And certainly, once you’ve decided that there is a firm or firms you think you’d like to work with, check them out. Get references, visit several of their project sites, talk to other club managers, board members, staffers and even members to find out how they feel about the experience of working with the planning firm in question. Go back to your networks. Use the tools at your disposal, like Dun & Bradstreet, to ensure you’re choosing a stable and reputable planning firm.

At the end of the day, you’re not just picking out a company to help you with one specific, short-term project. You’re choosing a long-term partner to help you with strategic planning, capital planning, and other important steps in providing your club members with the best experience possible. Choose wisely.

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