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April 28, 2020

Business Of Meetings Podcast with Eric Rozenberg

I’m speaking to an amazing entrepreneur today! Greg Habstritt knows what it takes to organize extraordinary events. He has been one of the top entrepreneurs in Canada for many years. He has built several businesses, two of which were in the top 100 fast-growing companies in Canada.

Greg does many different types of businesses. He is a speaker, he has done training, and he’s in real estate. He is always ready and willing to share his knowledge, and help people. When the Covid crisis started, and we needed to react quickly, Greg was willing to participate in our popular Independent Business Owners: You’re Not Alone webinars. He has many gold nuggets of information to share in today’s show.

Greg dropped out of university when he was twenty-one, to start his first business. Since then, he has been in a wide range of different industries. As live events have always been a big part of what he has been doing, he became a professional speaker. He traveled a lot, speaking on different stages, and he started doing his own live events in 2000.

Greg’s challenges with events during past crises

Over the last twenty years, Greg has seen many significant happenings that have had massive consequents for the world of live events.

The first big event that he did was in 2001. He wanted to do an event that was big enough to put the city of Calgary, in Alberta Canada, on the map as an international destination. President Bill Clinton just left office at the time, and he was available, so Greg decided to ask him to speak at his corporate event, which would be taking place in November 2001.

By June of 2001, Greg’s first event was planned. After they had secured Bill Clinton as a speaker, they announced the event to the public and began selling tickets in July. Enough money was generated from the ticket sales to cover Bill Clinton’s six-figure deposit, which was paid over in August.

Calgary is an oil and energy-driven marketplace and it is also a Conservative jurisdiction. Clinton is a Democrat, so there was a lot of political pushing back and forth but the tickets kept selling.

Then, in September, 9/11 occurred.

After that, Greg realized that there was no possibility that President Clinton would still be coming to speak at his event. At the time, no one could even imagine commercial airlines ever coming back. Then, after about a week of communications with Bill Clinton’s office, Greg was informed that Clinton would still be coming to speak at his event!

Greg did a press release and he got a lot of coverage locally, saying that the President Clinton event was still scheduled for November and that 20% more seating had been made available at the venue because what President Clinton, as the former leader of the free world, had to say was the most important thing for everyone to hear.

The event took place in November.

What Greg took away from the event was the value of having dared to step forward, despite the short-term fear and anxiety that was happening.

Canceling future events 

In our current situation, many people are canceling events that are scheduled to take place four to eight months from now. In light of what he has experienced, Greg thinks that could be a little premature. He thinks that it could be a smart idea to cancel any events for the next ninety days, however.

A rise in upcoming live events

Greg believes that when we get through this thing, and life begins to slowly return to some sort of normal, there will be a pent-up demand for people who really want to connect eyeball to eyeball. So we’re going to see a rise in live events.  And although there’s a place for virtual, online, or remote events, we’re likely to see future events becoming a hybrid of the two. So he thinks that what we might see in the future, is that people will be allowed to connect before the event and share the content over a longer period before the event, rather than at the event.

Greg’s thoughts about future events

Greg believes that our current situation will force event planners, and those who put together conferences and meetings, to question whether or not there really is a need for many hours of stage content. He thinks that much of the content could rather be delivered over a longer period and then the focus on the community, connecting, and networking could happen while people are in the same room. Because he thinks we will be putting a much higher value on people being in the same room as others, in the future.

Greg does not advise anyone to make future decisions right now. As an event organizer, he would rather be trying to figure out how to deliver maximum value between now and the time that the event takes place.

Speakers could also be considering ways to provide more value, and thinking of ways to better connect with the community at the conference or event.

The unique event that Greg did with His Holiness the Dalai Lama

In 2009 the world was in the grip of a slow-motion crisis due to the credit meltdown. Greg was invited to a mastermind on Richard Branson’s private Necker Island that year.

A month before the mastermind, Greg saw a local newspaper article saying that the University of Calgary was sponsoring His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, to come to Calgary. Greg thought it could be a great opportunity to get the Dalai Lama to share his message with a more business and corporate enterprise-oriented community. So he reached out and asked if they would be interested in having him build a business conference around the Dalai Lama’s visit, and they agreed.

When Greg went to Necker Island, he asked Richard Branson if he would be willing to go to Calgary to participate in the event. He was, and that’s how Greg’s event came about.

The speaker list for the event was extraordinary. Aside from the Dalai Lama and Richard Branson, they had Stephen R. Covey, F.W. De Klerk, the former President of South Africa, Brendon Burchard, Garrett Gunderson, and many more.

Greg managed to organize one of the biggest events in the industry in ninety days. It was harrowing but incredible!

The lesson that he learned was that with live events, it’s not enough to just have a big name appearing. People have access to so much content and material elsewhere, so they won’t be willing to pay $200 or $300 just to listen to a particular speaker for an hour. So the event has to provide a lot more value for the community.

Zoom meetings

Over the last few months, Zoom meetings have been exploding all over the internet. People are really enjoying connecting with other human beings. Gregg sees Zoom as a very powerful tool for business owners, going forward.

Times of crisis

Land is the worst thing to own in a downturn if you have debt. If you own it outright, however, you could just ride it out.

During the downturn of 2008, Greg and his partners had about $100 000 000 of real estate that they owned and managed. And they had just raised the capital to buy some land in Alberta for development when the banks started to fail.

The banks were not trusting each other at the time and so the Federal Bank had to step in and pour tons of money into the system to try to create some liquidity.

Greg’s saving grace was that he had a cash-generating business to sustain him through that period. Even so, he barely made it through and he also had to lay some people off.

What Greg learned was that debt can crush you in a downturn.

The scale of what’s going on right now

The US administration has done more financially in the last two weeks than they did for the entire time of the 2008 crisis, over two or three years.

The scale of what’s going on right now is unprecedented.  And people can feel the wave of what’s still to come.

The hard part about this particular downturn is that it’s all by chance whether or not your business is facing critically severe issues, minor issues, no issues at all, or even some improvement. And none of this has anything to do with bad business planning or management. Nobody could have predicted that it would happen the way that it is happening.

Debt

Debt becomes the biggest problem in the downturn. It could be a big problem for business owners who have allowed their debt levels to rise substantially.

You have to look at your debt levels during a downturn. If you have credit cards with balances on them, especially if they are high interest, you need to focus on them.

Gregg believes that we’re going to see a massive contraction of credit and lending facilities at banks. Interest rates are low right now, so he advises people with lines of credit available to them to take as much cash as possible out of that line, in debt, and put it away in a place where it will not be spent.

He also advises people to manage their money carefully and move any cash out of the reach of a bank that has a debt covenant on them.

Banks will not give any warning if they decide to remove a line of credit from someone.

In this kind of crisis, cash is king.

How Greg managed his businesses during the 2008 downturn

Greg had two primary businesses in the world of training and speaking. In one of them, he did public live events around specific topics. And with the other one, he offered different layers of training events and coaching programs. So the one side of his business was a lead generator for the other side. He also did a lot of affiliate marketing for other people.

He developed a series of different training programs with a lot of video content, which he then sold online. He also did partnerships with some of the bigger names in the industry, and they promoted Greg’s training to their audiences for a commission.

An online launch of a training program could generate one or two million dollars in sales, and during the training programs, they would offer live events where what had been learned in the training could be applied, while the trainers were around to offer assistance.

Greg also offered high-level masterminds where ten or twelve people would meet with him every ninety days.

Greg had a huge and responsive email list, which he used effectively to drive sales because people trusted him.

Things got more difficult in 2010-2011

Things started to get more difficult in 2010/2011. Greg’s businesses were still growing but things were getting more difficult. It started becoming hard to get people to go to live events, mostly due to the expense of traveling to events. Also, credit processing online became very difficult at the time, so the credit card merchant companies and the processors started blacklisting entire swaths of industries.

The credit card processing companies also started banding together and they would only allow businesses to keep one merchant account. And, with the prevalence of technology, many people started offering training programs with very similar products to Greg’s ones. And Greg’s son was born in 2008, and Greg didn’t want to be on the road while he was growing up.

In hindsight, if all of that had happened to Greg today, he probably would have pivoted his business, and moved to much more online delivery.

Moving online

Moving online is the way to go for anyone in the event business. The footprint that is left behind after this crisis, in the events space, will be the hidden value in meetings, conferences, and workshops.

The mental health tools which are necessary for surviving this crisis

Greg believes that at the end of the day, the purpose of life is to love and be loved. Today, we are seeing an incredible blossoming of humanity, with a lot less judgment of others.

Much of the training that Greg does deals with the fundamental issue of staying true to one’s own heart and soul.

As children, we soon learn that we have to behave in a certain way and hide certain things to gain acceptance. Throughout our lives, we’re constantly asking ourselves subconsciously if we’re going to be ourselves, or if we’re going to be accepted. A lot of the work that he does is based around that question. Greg believes that answering that question gives us a choice and sets us on a very specific path forward.

The #1 focus for a business

The number one focus for any business needs to be cash. So if business cuts are necessary, they need to be made hard and deep so that they don’t have to be done over again.

The best thing to do right now

The greatest thing that anyone can do right now is to look outward and try to add as much value to the other people in your sphere of influence as you possibly can.

We all need true connections. Invest in your relationships, become a helper, and focus on how you can help other people get through this difficult time.

Resources:

Greg on LinkedIn – https://ca.linkedin.com/in/greghabstritt 

Previous Episodes Mentioned:

You Are Not Alone, Pt 1

You Are Not Alone, Pt 2

You Are Not Alone, Pt 3

About the author 

Eric Rozenberg

For two decades, Eric Rozenberg has consulted with Fortune 500 companies and produced conferences in more than 50 countries across diverse industries. His focus is creating meetings that are not only breathtakingly memorable but which bring corporate strategies to life and amplify team motivation/performance.

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