by Howard Givner |
It's easier than ever to start your own event business. Interest rates are at near-historic lows, making loans relatively cheap. There are inexpensive online solutions for virtually every operational need you may have, from sales to designing a logo. 

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.
1. Budget time to manage the business. 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, LLC.

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 peak seasons. 

"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 to experts."

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.