Event planning is more than tasting hors d’oeuvres and debating flower selections. Whether you specialize in social or corporate event planning, it could involve budgeting, scheduling, acquiring permits, coordinating transportation, courting and arranging speakers, lining up alternate speakers, arranging overnight accommodations, supervising personnel, configuring location support (i.e., electricity, wifi and other utilities), decor, emergency contingency plans and much, much more.
Starting your own event planning business won’t be easy, but it’s definitely possible to not only survive, but thrive, in the event planning industry — if you play your cards right. Here are five tips for success as an independent event planner:
Determine your niche.
You might be hesitant to pigeonhole yourself when you’re just starting out, but if you can build a reputation in an event planning category, it can help you to be the sought-after planner in that industry down the line. Events tend to include celebrations (weddings, anniversaries, Sweet 16s, etc.), business and education (conferences, meetings), promotions (trade shows, political events, product launches) or community-based programs (fairs, civic events, parades, music festivals, etc.). Use your niche to establish your reputation in your community and build a solid portfolio.
Create a reliable network of event personnel.
It might be your responsibility to hire personnel or coordinate volunteers. Some venues like hotels and convention centers have built-in staff, but if you’re coordinating something like a music festival or trade show, that might not be the case. Make sure that: (a) you’ve hired enough people for the scale of the event, and (b) the staff you’ve chosen will be reliable. There are companies that specialize in event staffing, and those might be a good place to start if you require a large volume of staff.
Also, get referrals from peers who have staffed similar events, or from planners whose events you’ve attended (that you know were well-staffed). Or find a venue with built-in staff, if possible. This will save you a lot of headaches in that the staff are there, they’ve already been screened and they know the lay of the land. Lastly, make sure the staff are well-trained.
The International Special Events Society and Meeting Professionals International offer event planning certifications. Some corporations, and sometimes private citizens, require a certification of any event planner whom they hire because it assures them that the person has the training to professionally plan an event.
Understand the event planning process.
There are six key components to planning an event: scope, design, proposal, coordination, execution, and evaluation. Here’s a quick look at each step:
(a) Scope: In your initial meeting with a client you want to determine the precise scope of the event. Understand what kind of event you’ll be planning and what’s involved. For example, what kind of event venue will you need? Will you be coordinating caterers? Setting up shuttle bus rentals? Celebrity guests? Audio, visual or other high-tech equipment? Hotel accommodations?
(b) Design: Once scope is established, it’s up to you to craft a design. Get creative and determine the overall personality of the event. Most importantly, communicate with the client so you’re sure your vision aligns with their goals because that will ensure the client’s satisfaction.
(c) Proposal: This should include a few options for designs, along with a few similar (though varying) budgets for the event. This way, the client can make an educated decision about the direction they want the event to take based on budget and other factors you’ve presented.
(d) Coordination: Break out the spreadsheets, folks. Here, all the parts of event planning come together. In this part of the process, you will set up venues, book accommodations, register guests, reserve equipment, arrange transportation, hire staff and do all of the other “little” things that are going to be essential in pulling off a great event.
(e) Execution: It’s the big day! If planning has been thorough and you’ve made arrangements, back-ups and contingency plans, everything should work out great. You’re likely to spend most of your time behind the scenes, but this is your chance to shine. There are bound to be small hiccups, but it is more important how you deal with them.
(f) Evaluation: This is the debriefing where you’ll recap what tricks or hacks are good to use moving forward, and pitfalls you need to avoid. Hopefully, your client was not just satisfied with the event, but thrilled. Whether that’s the case, or whether it flopped, this is your opportunity to improve your business plans moving forward.
You need to get your name out there. Building an event planning business by word-of-mouth referrals is best, but that takes time. Networking is also about your finding vendors and people with whom you’ll be working with in the future. The success of your events business is contingent upon securing relationships with vendors who will be reliable and provide high-quality services to your clients. You want to establish a network you can trust, who (you know) will take each event as seriously as you do. With time, skill, patience, organization and a little flair, your event planning business can be a huge success!
Glenn Orloff is the CEO Metropolitan Shuttle, a company that provides shuttle and charter bus services for every major metropolitan area in North America. Glenn has years of experience in the event planning industry in addition to coordinating the transportation for groups and events of all sizes through his extensive network of vendors.