Starting an event business is a major endeavor and there are always going to be some growing pains associated, especially for first-timers. From marketing strategies to client experience, operating a successful business involves many gears turning in the right order.
Fortunately, the event industry is a tight-knit community of professionals that are ready to support their creative peers. Growing a business is a learning experience and any industry pro has their own lessons learned that they are ready to share with newbies.
We asked event pros from across the industry about the things they wish they knew before launching their companies and, together, they painted a picture that demonstrates the key considerations for new entrepreneurs that are ready to enter the event industry.
Take your time to learn and grow
It can be tempting to dive in headfirst, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the moving pieces. Jackie Watson, owner of Jaclyn Watson Events, understands, sharing her own experience: “If there is one piece of advice I would give incoming wedding professionals, it is to not jump in feet first. I would recommend looking for internships or temporary summer help positions. Join local or state event organizations, like NACE or ILEA, and attend their events, begin to network, take classes they offer, team up with vendors you connect with and experience their fields.”
Watson continues, stressing the importance of continued education: “The more you can learn while sitting in the passenger seat, the better you will do when handed the steering wheel. Spending time getting your feet wet will help a new event professional learn not just what field they’d like to pursue, but also what type of clients they’d like to work with.”
Running a business is a job in itself
Although you maybe supplying creative services or products, there’s far more to running a business than simply providing your craft. You’re responsible for your clients’ satisfaction, as well as leading your team, managing finances and payroll, marketing your brand, and much more.
Laura Maddox, owner of Magnolia Celebrates, elaborates: “I wish I’d been prepared for the amount of back of the house work a business takes and the amount of time one must dedicate to working IN your business or ON your business instead of the services you actually provide.” Select an area to comment on
JoAnn Gregoli, owner of Elegant Occasions by JoAnn Gregoli, agrees: “Running your business is your top priority. If you were starting an event business as a hobby, you must now take it seriously and develop that business plan and set goals. You must realize that you are going to spend a bulk of your time on developing business strategies, marketing, selling, interacting with customers, and doing administrative tasks like bookkeeping, invoicing, and payroll. The reality is that you’re a business owner first and then a planner, designer or photographer second.” Get clear with finances first.It’s easy to get lost in the many aspects of business operations, but the one thing a company can’t operate without is funding. Financial solvency should be the top priority for every business, but especially for those starting out in the industry.
“I wish I would have had a better plan on the financials by creating a business budget and tracking all the expenses,” shares Shannon Tarrant, founder of WeddingVenueMap.com. She continues, “I was so focused on enough in the bank, selling to cover costs, and not really following a budget that would have led to faster growth. I would have invested month one in a financial support team. I had a clear vision with a growth plan, but I never expected to get so bogged down with the day to day that my vision would get cloudy. Find a financial team including an accountant, bookkeeper, and profit coach.”
Hire the right people
Your team is your most valuable asset, whether you have a large staff of 25 people or you just decided to hire a virtual assistant to take on admin tasks. Regardless of how large you want to expand, make sure that every hire is a smart and profitable move.
“If you’re going to spend the same amount of money on something, find the best person for the job, not necessarily the people closest to you,” says Loren Petrowski, owner of Marry You in Hawaii. “In business, sometimes it’s not good to mix friendships with business. I would’ve completely vetted each vendor I hired to see that they actually have the business acumen/know-how to do the job I’m hiring them to do.”
Focus more on yourself, not your competitors
In the early stages of starting an event business, it’s natural to wonder what everyone else is doing. However, too much competitive research can hold you back from charting your own path and cause insecurities about where you currently stand.
“Don’t worry too much about what others are doing,” stresses Henry Chen, owner of Wedding Chat Marketing. “There will always be someone ‘ahead of you’ as there will always be someone that’s a few steps behind you. Remember that everyone started from the beginning and made mistakes. Focus more on where you are right now and where you can realistically get to in the near future. What’s most critical is to not lose sight of the bigger picture, and that is to have a clear idea of who your ideal client is and how you can help them obtain what they’re looking for with your expertise.”
Show up where it matters online
More important than what your competitors are doing is where you are reaching your ideal clients online. “Just because you have a website, doesn’t mean people will find you,” explains Matt Campbell, founder of My Wedding Songs. “Search engine optimization is crucial to business success. Not every SEO company is created equal. You must have basic knowledge of how to hold yourself or your SEO company accountable.”
Campbell continues, adding his take on engaging prospects on social media: “You cannot be great at every social media platform. You must concentrate on no more than 3 social media platforms and be great on them. However, they must be platforms where your customers live or your business associates. Create real connections with your followers.”
Your network means everything
Who you know is just as important as what you know, so it’s a smart move for new event pros to commit to expanding their network and meeting new people who can support their business (and vice versa). “The event community is small even though it’s mighty,” assures Kristin Wilson, owner and CEO of Our DJ Rocks. “I wish I knew how important authentic relationships are. When you are new to the event industry, you don’t have the portfolio or reputation that most do to leverage the events they secure.”
Wilson suggests new business owners focus on developing relationships: “It’s going to be key to start creating strategic alliances and build honest and authentic bonds. As you build these alliances, it’s going to be crucial in how you treat other event professionals in the industry. This includes peers, clients and other companies. Your character will show and it’s your character that will help you grow.”
Find a mentor
In addition to having an expansive network, finding a mentor can make all the difference in your business growth. It helps to have an experienced colleague who can dedicate one-on-one time to helping you learn and develop your company.
Nora Sheils, founder of Bridal Bliss and co-founder of Rock Paper Coin, shares her own regrets about missing out on a mentor: “I started as a wedding planner back in 2002, when wedding planners weren’t really a thing. I reached out to several with little to no response. I wish I would have tried harder and worked with a mentor. With little to no experience, I made it all up along the way and learned by trial and error. I wish I would have had a true mentor that could have guided me along, especially in the early years!”
It might feel like a lot to take in, but rest assured that starting (and operating) a successful event business is not a sprint, but a marathon. It will take time to reach your goals, but as long as you commit to taking small strides, you’re set. Progress is incremental, so stick with it and you’ll see your business grow and thrive.
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Feature Image by Julia Wade Photography