Ahh, the life of the self-employed. No punching a time card. No asking off for vacations. The dress code is casual. And the boss? Well, let’s just say you couldn’t have asked for a nicer employer. But before you start typing up that letter of resignation, make sure you know what you’re getting in to. (Hint: There is no time card to punch because your workday never truly ends.)
Whether you have already decided to take the leap into owning your own event-planning business or are still contemplating the plunge, here are some things to consider.
DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB—YET.
Wait until you’ve lined up some clients and projects before you hang out your shingle full-time. “As with all startup businesses, the timing needs to be right. Having my first client lined up before I resigned my job meant I had revenue right off the bat,” says Shelly Tolo, who decided to launch Tolo Events after several years of planning successful fundraisers for the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh as its director of development and major events.
The risk paid off. That first year, Tolo netted $250,000 more than her new client’s fundraising goals, ensuring the event would take place the following year and creating a loyal customer that is still with her today, some 13 years later.
TWO WORDS: ACCOUNTANT AND ATTORNEY.
Tolo, who has since expanded her business to Seattle and manages a team of five employees, suggests new entrepreneurs hire an accountant and an attorney to set up their business properly.
“These professionals will be able to advise you on the type of business that would be best for you: LLC, S corp, C corp and sole proprietor—all of the options on a W 9,” Tolo says. “Event planning is the business of live productions, and anything can happen. So, protect your personal assets from your business by doing things correctly. Also, the busier you get, the harder it is to keep up with all of the tax filings, etc. If you are serious about your business, don’t skip the really important things.”
CHOOSE YOUR FORTE AND STICK WITH IT.
Tolo’s initial success with nonprofits inspired her to want to help similar organizations raise money through events. Today, Tolo Events continues to craft experiences that create an atmosphere of giving and promote her nonprofit clients’ missions. Last year, she and her team produced five galas that netted more than $1 million each.
There’s no doubt that, as an event planner, you are passionate about bringing people together, but events can entail anything from corporate training functions and fundraisers to product-launch parties and destination family reunions. Ask yourself: What type of events/clients inspire me and will keep me going into the long hours? Narrow your passion and focus your business on that audience.
DEVELOP A BRAND AND HIRE PEOPLE WHO SHARE YOUR VISION.
David Doxtater built his company, The Workshop, to specialize in events that focus on community. Based in Seattle, The Workshop is known for designing marketing launches, campaigns, theatrical experiences, social events and celebrations that are unconventionally wonderful.
According to Doxtater, a brand is not only essential to the growth of your business, but also in the development of your talented staff which will help facilitate company growth. “You can’t really begin to thoroughly train your staff until you’ve established an honest brand identity that matches your vision and work,” Doxtater says.
DON’T SKIMP ON MARKETING.
How are you represented online and through outward-facing communications? What are your potential clients’ first impressions? Does your marketing truly represent the brand you want to present?
“If I had a do-over,” says Doxtater, “I would have brought in a marketing partner to balance my expertise with how The Workshop communicated to our clients and peers.” Communicate your business focus, brand more strategically to potential clients, and grow your business by producing the events that you are passionate about. Marketing experts can help you create a blueprint of this strategy, while using technology and media to successfully implement your plan.
ASK YOUR CLIENTS FOR FEEDBACK.
Your clients have been a part of your event-planning process and have experienced your expertise firsthand, but every business offers opportunities for improvement. Make it a priority to seek—and listen to—honest feedback from your customers. “Take what you’ve learned and invest it back into your company, so that you are always improving and refining,” Doxtater says. “Don’t ever repeat failed strategies.”
GET ORGANIZED ONE WAY OR ANOTHER.
If you’re coming from an agency background or were a member of a team of event planners in a large company, you may have been shielded from all the administrative tasks that come with having or growing a business. These responsibilities will likely fall to you in establishing your business. Understand that these details are just as important as those you incorporate into the events you plan.
“The amount of administrative work is still way more than I’d like it to be,” admits Tolo, who also understands that hours spent behind the desk pay off in event successes down the road. If you simply do not have the skills necessary to be an efficient administrator, “admit your weakness and hire people with those strengths,” Doxtater says.
MIND YOUR MENTOR.
As an experienced event planner, you’ve come to expect the many curve balls that planning an event can throw your way. Running a business is no different. The best advice often comes from someone who, at one time or another, has been in your same position.
“Find a mentor who can teach you the fundamentals of business,” says Doxtater, and consult them often. Ask them to assess your company from a critical standpoint and to identify those areas needing improvement.
Follow these eight tips and before you know it, you’ll be on your way to joining the ranks of the gainfully self-employed.