Janene Laird: Passing on the knowledge

Once a school teacher for almost 20 years and now head of the International Feng Shui Association – Australia Chapter, Janene Laird still holds education in high regard and believes that her association needs to actively conduct events to raise the standards and awareness of professional feng shui practice among members and the public

Janene Laird

Congratulations on your hosting this year’s International Feng Shui Convention (IFSC). Is this the first IFSC for Australia?
It will be the first IFSC to be held in Australia. In fact, it will be the first IFSC to be held outside of Singapore, where the past 10 editions were hosted. It is a great honour, and a great responsibility.

So how did IFSC fall into the hands of the Australia Chapter?
We were invited to host this year’s convention by the International Feng Shui Association (IFSA), and we accepted it.

Janene Laird

The convention is being handled entirely by my team and I, and this is the first time that we are managing an event of such scale. Every year we have a meeting for the Australia Chapter and it is attended by 50 to 60 people. For the convention, we expect to have around 200 attendees from all over the world. They will be coming from countries like Holland, Romania, Japan, India, Indonesia, Canada, Brunei, and China.

Did you get any help from the Melbourne Convention Bureau (MCB) in the execution of the convention?
Oh yes! The MCB scouted potential venues and made a shortlist for us. It even helped me put together a formal proposal which I submitted to the executive committee at IFSA just to reassure them that we were able to commit fully to an event of such scope. A representative of MCB came with me to help inspect the venue. The bureau printed marketing materials for us and referred us to suppliers. MCB basically helped us lay the groundwork for the convention.

We also had great help from Novotel Melbourne St Kilda which is used to running events. We’ve done smaller events before, so we know what we will need from a venue. We were able to pass on our requirements to the Novotel Melbourne St Kilda and it is handling everything for us.

Plus, the executive committee at IFSA has been a great help. Stephen Skinner, for instance, is helping us with all our printing needs.

Organising the convention is like a community project for us, where everyone comes in to help with different things.

What will be the highlights at this year’s convention?
We are running two lecture rooms concurrently. We’ve got 25 speakers. And we are offering a much more diverse range of topics to attract and appeal to a wider audience. Not only are we catering to the feng shui industry, we also want to attract representatives from other businesses, such as architects, interior designers, and real estate agents.

In Australia, the real estate market has just boomed again. The most prolific clients are Asians and Chinese, so more and more real estate agents need to learn how to cater to Asian and Chinese clients. We will have presentations on feng shui and its influence on real estate. We think (that offering a more diverse range of topics) is a great way to attract more delegates and educate them on feng shui. That, in turn, creates demand for our members’ expertise.

In lecture room one, we will have a 50-minute presentation by a grand master and sessions on traditional practices for serious-minded attendees. In lecture room two, we will have presentations on palm-reading, tarot, face-reading, Chinese astrology and health, and even yoga – a more eclectic mix.

You can see that we are keeping one stream of lectures on classical feng shui for the purists because essentially this is a feng shui convention, and offering more diverse coverage in the other stream to give us access to a broader group of people.
On Sunday, we will have a Super Real Estate Sunday with presentations on feng shui’s impact on real estate, architecture, and sustainable design.

In addition to all that, we will have industry table meetings, private readings with the masters, etc.

We want to create a robust programme that isn’t just all academic presentations that appeal only to my colleagues, but one that encourages the public to come and learn more about feng shui, and how it can help their business and support their clients.

I suppose this convention will be one of the main revenue sources for the Australia Chapter then?
Absolutely. By attracting a more diverse audience, not just our members, we will make more in registration fees.

Also, by educating the public, it supports the local feng shui industry. Most people in Australia (offer feng shui consultation) on a part-time basis or as a hobby. There’s not much demand (for feng shui consultation) yet. It is increasing quickly though. So the best way to support our members is to increase awareness of feng shui.

So have preparations for IFSC been smooth so far?
Well yes, but it’s time consuming. I do have a management committee which is the most wonderful, most supportive team around. But the bulk of responsibilities falls on my shoulders simply because I have the contacts and the vision (for the event). It is far easier for me to pick up the phone or fire off an email than to explain what needs to be done and how to someone else.

So are you game to host next year’s IFSC then?

That was a quick answer!
(Laughs) As much as I am looking forward to IFSC 2014, I’ve been having dreams about the convention not going right.

We are doing some pre-convention workshops, an annual general meeting, and a barbecue reception for all IFSA members and IFSC speakers on top of the convention over the weekend. On Saturday night we will have a delegate dinner. After the convention, we will have (more workshops until Wednesday). On Thursday, I think that’s when I will have my nervous breakdown.

Having said that, should the event rotate to us again and we are invited by the executive committee to host the convention, we will certainly do it. Just not next year.

Can you tell me more about your online magazine, Feng Shui Today? How does it relate to the Australia Chapter?
Feng Shui Today has been a great mouthpiece for the industry. It is tied to the IFSA Australia Chapter and is a great way to reach out to everybody, not just to educate them through our wonderful articles (many of which are contributed by grand masters) but also to tell them what’s happening. We have readers from all over the world. We have reached 180 visits per day. When we did our special Chinese New Year edition, the site crashed from heavy traffic.

Feng Shui Today is free and it is online, so it works well as a means to educate the public about feng shui.

So Feng Shui Today makes its money through ads then?
That’s correct. And the money goes back into the Australia Chapter for use on our activities.

Since we are on the topic of money, does the Australia Chapter seek sponsorships for its activities and events, such as the coming IFSC?
Yes we do, but we do not ask for the same level of sponsorship as other industry events which may range between A$5,000 (US$4,659) and A$10,000 per sponsor each time. Our sponsorship model is a lot more modest, and we offer different benefits for different levels of sponsorships.

For instance, at IFSC 2014, the lowest level of sponsorship allows sponsors to place their brochures in delegate goody bags, and the next level gets them a product table, a logo placement on the sponsors page and brochure insert in delegate goody bags. Another level up grants sponsors all three benefits plus a free ticket to IFSC and an option to purchase the next ticket at a lower price.

Because of that we get good responses from sponsors inside the industry and outside.
Our industry-related sponsors include Sacred Keys, World of Feng Shui in Melbourne, doTERRA Essential Oils, and the Ministry of Feng Shui in Australia which teaches courses. There is no shortage of sponsors for us.

We’ve found that rather than rely on a few big sponsors, we get better results from asking for modest amounts from several small sponsors.

Our association is not-for-profit but we need to survive and to cover our expenses, so we do have to look for the best ways to make money. That money goes back to the chapter to fund membership benefits at the end of the day. For example, the barbecue reception (held a day before the start of IFSC 2014) is offered complimentary as a way of saying thank you to our association members.

The money is also used to fly international speakers in for our events to give our Australian members access to global expertise.

Before we sat down for this interview, you expressed your belief that associations need to hold regular events to engage their members and improve members’ professional capabilities. So how often does the Australia Chapter conduct member events?
We host an annual Chinese New Year luncheon that has become a firm favourite in Melbourne. When it was launched in 2011, it drew 40 participants. Next year, we expect numbers to grow to at least 100.

The programme usually features three valued speakers who will present two streams of lectures, one for experts and another for the general public who has an interest in feng shui. It will also have various feng shui products on sale, with most of these products donated by grand masters and masters. Money made from the sale of these products are channelled back to the chapter. We need all sorts of revenue streams!

We also hold numerous seminars and workshops throughout the year, as well as regular member meetings.

Are activity fees priced differently for members and the general public to ensure that members feel they are getting value for paying a regular membership fee?
There are many benefits for an IFSA Australia Chapter member, which does indeed include a discounted price for any events we run. Other member benefits include the use of the chapter’s logo in their advertising, priority inclusion in any workshops or courses run by the chapter, and free listing on the IFSA Australia Chapter website.

What would you say are challenges to the well-being and survival of your association?
We see industry standards as the greatest long-term threat to the well-being of the feng shui industry, and that is why IFSA and its chapters are so important.

Consumers should never engage a master builder if he is not certified or a member of a building association. The same goes for feng shui consultants. We always encourage the public to ask their consultants if they are a member of the IFSA and what level of membership they hold, what their qualifications are, who they trained with, and how many years of experience they possess. We advise the public to never engage someone until they have asked these questions.

Feng shui masters hold great power to change people’s life. Their words can lead people to sell their house, tear down walls, change their career. It may not always be accurate (because they may be cowboy consultants).

So the association and its chapters strive to set proper industry standards, educate the public on feng shui and how to identify trusted consultants, and play the role of the educator to continuously enhance the expertise of members by giving them access to valued international masters and grand masters.

If you had all the resources in hand, what would you like most to do to/for the Australia Chapter?
I’d love to have a TV programme for the association. I did a pilot programme years ago, called Feng Shui Angels, which featured three girls, including me. Just like Charlie’s Angels.
We sought out a (troubled) family and used feng shui to improve its environment and had a post interview to show how the family’s life had indeed improved.

We promoted it to (a production company) in Australia but it turned us down. I think we were ahead of our time then! The show was eventually used to market our own business.
So if I had my way, I’d love to do this again, but this time using younger ladies. It’d be fun and informative!