As part of the research for "The Launching Pad: Starting Your
Own Event Company," a six-week online course I'm teaching
starting Sept. 9, I checked in with several owners of event
planning companies to see what advice they'd give to someone
starting a business today. Here are some common threads.
This includes things like
bookkeeping and finances, marketing, networking, and any other
activity that is not directly related to a client project.
That's important to remember when budgeting your time, and
forecasting how many events you can do a year.
"I spend 40 percent of my time running the business, 60 percent
on clients," says Merryl Brown of Merryl Brown Events in Santa
Barbara, CA. "It can be hard to lead a balanced life when you
own your own business."
2. Don't try to forecast too much.
Forecasting sales is like
trying to nail Jell-o to a tree. "It can be difficult being
able to forecast the future, even if you get great client
feedback, because there's no guaranteed business in the
future," says Jed Weinstein, principal of New York-based WCMG,
3. Seek out new business.
New clients can bring their own
challenges, particularly with regard to staffing. Event and
meeting planning is a labor-intensive service, and it can be
tricky finding the right staff to support a given project,
particularly since so many events tend to take place in certain
"In order to grow we have to make sure we have enough resources
to respond to new proposals," says Adam Sloyer, managing
director of Sequence Events in New York. "It's easy to know
whether you're stretched too thin or overstaffed in the
present, but forecasting for the future is quite challenging."
4. Demonstrate your commitment.
A lot of the competition right
now is "temporary" freelancers. "Many [planners] are doing
independent work while still looking for a full-time job with
benefits," says Dawn Penfold of MeetingJobs.com. If you're one
of those people, be prepared to demonstrate that you're in it
for the long term and won't drop a client's big project midway
through if you get a full-time job.
5. Prepare for a steep learning curve.
"The effort to get
Sequence launched was far greater than I anticipated, including
the formation of the company, the operating agreement, securing
insurance, establishing operations, IT, marketing, website, PR,
etc.," says Sloyer.
"There is quite a lot that you learn as you go," adds Maureen
Ryan-Fable, president and COO of First Protocol. "There are
core fundamentals that I have learned along the way by talking
6. Seek out external advisors.
Both First Protocol and WCMG have
formal boards of directors, which include outside advisors not
working at the company. "I think WCMG is on the right path,"
says Weinstein, "but we need a board of directors we can lean
on for advice."
One benefit of such a board is it forces the owners to be
accountable on a regular basis for the company's performance.
Another benefit cited is the importance of having someone
challenge an owner's assumptions about the business.
Howard Givner is the founder and executive director of the Event Leadership Institute. Prior to that he was the founder and president of a leading event management firm for 20 years. Visit learn.eventleadershipinstitute.com/launching-pad/ for more information.