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Getting Started in Event Planning

For the person with a knack for throwing great parties, event planning provides a natural fit. When you’re an event planner, you’re basically throwing a party for a living, be it a laid-back business conference or a wild wedding reception.

How to start planning events

As an event planner, you will be planning diverse events. Some common events people hire planners for include:

  • Commemorative events such as civic holidays or memorials.
  • Celebratory events like parades, birthdays, weddings, fairs, anniversaries and family and high school reunions.
  • Educational events, for example, graduations, conferences, seminars, and meetings.
  • Promotional events such as fashion shows, political rallies, fundraisers and product debuts.

One day you could be planning a raucous fraternity reunion, while the next day you’re throwing together a far more austere business event. Part of the beauty of having your own event planning service is the diversity of your work. No two days will ever be alike.

What Event Planners Do

Event planners plan events, but this simple job description includes a wide array of tasks, including knowing which ones to do for a specific event. Some things your event-planning service will be in charge of include:

  • Finding the right venue for the event.
  • Acting as “showrunner” or “stage manager” for the event.
  • Designing the fliers, invitations and other printed material.
  • Mailing out all invitations.
  • Decorating the event hall.
  • Catering the event or finding a caterer.
  • Finding entertainment or acting as a liaison between the entertainment and your client.
  • Getting everyone to and from the event.
  • Evaluating the relative success or failure of the event after it’s over.

People and organizations hire event planners because they don’t want to have to deal with any of this — they just want to sit back and enjoy the event. It’s your job to make the event as problem-free as possible.

Education and Certification

Some colleges offer programs in the event and party planning. If you don’t live near such a college, however, basic business classes, plus your natural abilities at planning parties can be enough to get your foot in the door. Working for another person’s event service can provide you with the necessary hands-on experience — and contacts — to start your own event-planning service when the time is right.

The International Special Events Society (ISES) and Meeting Professionals International (MPI) provide professional certification for event planners. Getting credentialed as a Certified Meeting Planner (CMP) Certified Special Events Professional (CSEP) can mean all the difference in the world when it comes to sealing the deal with your client base.

Beyond professional certification, to run your own event planning service, the following skills are essential:

  • High energy levels and the ability to keep going even when everyone else is fading.
  • Strong organizational skills and attention to detail.
  • Ability to delegate and balance the relative importance of tasks against one another.
  • Extroverted with highly effective communication skills and a genuine passion for working with people.
  • Problem-solving and time-management skills of the highest order.

Now that you know what’s involved in running an event-planning service, you’ll want to know how to get started. Before you can truly call yourself an event planner, you’re going to need clients.

Getting Clients

While you aren’t limited to what types of events you can plan, most event planners specialize in one area or another. The two main fields of event planning are:

  • Business Events: This doesn’t just include for-profit enterprises. It also includes non-profits and charity events. When you plan business events you will most often plan fundraisers, conventions, trade shows and corporate meetings.
  • Social Events: Of course everything you do will be a social event, but this is also a catchall term for all other kinds of events. Most social event planners work with private parties ranging from children’s birthday parties to anniversaries and reunions.

Again, if you decide you prefer working with social events, you won’t exclude yourself from business events. Picking a field does, however, provide you with the ability to target your client search.

To get clients, you can try a number of approaches:

  • Utilize contacts from your former career. All kinds of people and organizations need clients. Your contacts are no exception. Start with the people closest to you.
  • Cold call on businesses. Many companies are either frustrated with planning their own events or are actively looking for a new event planner. Calling businesses, locating the person in charge of choosing event planners and presenting a case for why you’d make an excellent choice will go further than you might think, and certainly further than not calling at all.
  • Do some marketing. You can market your event-planning business using traditional outlets like targeted print advertising in trade magazines or mass media like radio. The Internet allows you to advertise for free under the auspices of your own website or blog. Banner ad and pay-per-click ad rates are surprisingly reasonable. In a pinch, some professional-looking fliers posted in strategic areas of town, such as the business district, will get the word out.
  • Once you have a client or two, urge them to tell their friends, family, and acquaintances about your business. The best marketing you can get is the good word for a satisfied client. Handing out comment cards at the end of an evening can help you get blurbs for future marketing efforts, even if your client doesn’t actively tell people about your business.

Keeping Clients

Some clients will only need a single event planned. Others are potential goldmines who need large events planned on a regular basis. For the former you can’t do much to keep them as a customer — they’ll call you again when they need you. For the latter, there are some crucial ways to keep their repeat business:

  • Be a problem solver. You’ve been hired to ensure everything runs smoothly. Don’t make excuses. Anticipate problems before they happen and fix them after they do.
  • An apology always goes a long way when things are less than perfect.
  • Go that extra mile to give your customers things they wanted but didn’t think to ask for.
  • Be available but scarce. Your clients want to forget they hired an event planner until they decide they need one. Keep yourself busy and out of their hair, checking in occasionally to ensure that everything is going well.

You’ll Need Help

Event planners can do a lot by themselves, but they can’t do everything. In the next segment of this series, we’ll talk about the best ways to hire help, as well as legal issues pertinent to an event-planning business.

You know what you need to become an event planner and you know how to get and keep clients. But who’s going to help you run your business? And what legal issues does planning events for other people involve?

Event Planning Service Staff

When you first start your event-planning service you’ll probably be working all on your lonesome. As you gain more business, however, not only will you be able to afford some help, you probably won’t be able to run your business without it. Some people who work for event-planning services include:

  • Other Event Planners: It’s a no-brainer that once your event-planning business gets big enough, you won’t be able to personally manage all client events. Having other event planners on staff will allow you to manage event planning in the way a football coach runs a team, rather than quarterbacking every move.
  • Managers: It is common for event-planning services to have managers who oversee specific areas of a business. For example, you could have a manager who does nothing but location scouting, another who looks for caterers and a third whose job is to find entertainment. This allows you to delegate tasks to people who
  • Sales Reps: When you’re busy running your event-planning business you won’t have a lot of time to scout new clients or hammer out the details of a contract. Having sales reps will take the pressure off of you, leaving closing deals to qualified professionals and leaving you more time to oversee events.

Legal Concerns

In addition to state and local business licenses, you will need insurance. Business insurance isn’t an option for event planners. Even at the most conservative business event, something can go wrong and you might be left holding the bag. This is especially true when you run wilder social events where alcohol is being served. Include business insurance in your startup costs. Talk frankly with your agent about what type of business you own and what your customers might potentially be like. This will help him to find the best plan for you that will provide adequate coverage for your business. Accountants are also worthwhile expenses to help you manage the money coming in and make sure the IRS gets paid in a timely fashion. If you aren’t good with numbers, outsourcing your financial concerns is the best way to make sure your business operates within the boundaries of the law.

Starting Your Event-Planning Service

Starting an event-planning service might sound like a lot of headaches. No matter how much you like planning social events, there is a lot of legwork involved in getting your business up and running. Still, once the bulk of the startup is behind you, you will be able to immerse yourself in the pleasures of running your own business. For the person who loves seeing an event come together, the joy that comes from seeing it all gel is quite a reward — to say nothing of when you cash your first check.

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