Aaaah, the freelance life. It sounds so leisurely, doesn’t it? The reality is that we freelancers are working hard to hustle up an income. Sure, we get to make our own hours and choose our clients, but we don’t have the luxury of a regular paycheck and a list of assignments handed to us by a boss. We must not only generate the work, but organize our time to make sure that we manage all the details properly. It can be a lot to handle.
Those of you who are already working as freelancers will be familiar with these basics. If you’re considering becoming a freelancer, here are a few essentials that you better make sure you have in your toolkit:
1) Good Internet Service
Honestly, this is the foundation of everything. I almost hate to say it, because I don’t love the idea that my livelihood depends on access to electricity and WiFi service. However, it’s true. Our business, especially in the events industry, depends on connectivity. If you work out of your home, invest the few extra dollars in high speed service. It makes a difference. Hopefully, you have a reliable carrier. Investigate all of your options and go with the one that offers the most consistent availability and highest quality service. This is a basic tool, so it’s worth the investment. Don’t skimp here!
If you work outside of your home, make sure you have a few good options. Honestly, regardless of where you work, it’s always good to have a back-up plan. Most good coffee shops have excellent WiFi – the two usually go hand in hand. If you have a favorite hangout in your neighborhood, great.
If you get sick of spending money on caffeinated beverages, consider finding a public library. Most branches have reliable, free service, and offer a quiet working environment. You may even decide to invest in a spot at a co-working space. Good internet service is a key feature in all shared work spaces, as they are typically designed by and for entrepreneurs.
2) Scheduling Software
Organizing your workflow is one of the most important aspects of working for yourself. Personally, I find it helpful to write myself a list by hand at the beginning of the week, including the amount of time it’s going to take to do each thing on the list, and then the day and time I’m blocking out for that task. This can work for a while if you are a one-person operation. However, it can get messy if you aren’t good at crossing things out and throwing away the old lists.
A good alternative, especially if you have any assistants or collaborators, is a program such as Asana or even Google Calendar. These are both online platforms that allow multiple users to share and edit information. Google Calendar offers a basic task tracking function, while Asana allows more granularity in categorizing different projects and saving related data.
3) A Good Bookkeeping System
It’s important to track your income and expenses. For many of you, this might seem like a thankless task. Believe me, I know. My first temp bookkeeping assignment out of college consisted of me taking a shoebox full of receipts and entering them into a spreadsheet. By hand.
Fortunately, nowadays we have a few good tools that can help streamline this activity. If you are handy with an Excel spreadsheet, you can certainly use that basic tool to record all your financial data. However, you may want to consider something even more automated, such as Quickbooks, which can easily sync up to your online bank statement. This go-to accounting program offers several affordable versions well suited to freelancers. Not sure what finance management tool is right for you? Check out this handy tool from Cloudwards!
You’re an event planner, a designer, or another type of solo practitioner. You’ve developed a good list of clients, but now you’re at capacity. The problem is, you have no margin of earnings to cover your budget if you lose one or more of your projects. And in the freelance world, this is ALWAYS a possibility. Perhaps you could handle more business if you had some assistance, but you’re not yet earning enough to pay someone else.
You need an intern.
“That’s it!” you cry…
But before you get too excited, there are a few things you need to know. Bringing on an intern may not be the answer to all your prayers, but it certainly can be a great way of getting you through the transition from a one-person show to a company capable of significant growth and development. The right kind of assistance can help you become more organized and capable of increasing your revenues.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind if you think having an intern will be helpful to you.
Interns Are People, Too
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that an intern is little more than a servant, or worse yet, a slave. You will get the most out of this arrangement if you treat it like you would any working relationship – as an opportunity to create a mutually beneficial exchange.
Think about what you have to offer, besides money, to someone who is giving their time and energy to you on a regular basis. Your industry experience, your day to day knowledge of running a business in the real world, your connections – these are all valuable resources you can share with someone who is motivated to learn from you and contribute to your success.
Create a pleasant environment for your intern. Little things like snacks and beverages can make a difference – maybe pick up an extra latte when you take a coffee break. Think about how you’d like to be treated, and do the same for your intern. You have the power to foster a positive vibe that will motivate your intern to work hard on your behalf. Don’t waste this opportunity!
A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste
Colleges are a great source of talent when it comes to finding a qualified intern. If you are lucky enough to be located close to an institution of higher learning, investigate their internship program. Most colleges and universities will offer their students academic credit for putting in a certain number of hours towards the fulfillment of a specific internship based project. Check out the requirements of the schools in your area. You may be surprised to learn about the possibilities.
Keep in mind, some colleges prefer that their interns work in more traditional businesses, with offices. If you’re like most nascent entrepreneurs, you may not yet be able to afford an office, let alone a spot in a co-working space, if there’s even one near you. You may, in fact, do most of your work in your living room, your bedroom or your local Starbucks.
If you don’t have access to a designated business location through a friend or colleague, consider proposing an alternate arrangement to the institution with whom you are attempting to build a relationship. If your work can be done remotely, why not suggest working with the student at a campus library, student center or other public meeting area such as a local coffee shop or other mutually convenient and safe location.
It’s understandable why schools would not be comfortable sending one of their students to someone’s home. However, the reality is that most new businesses, even the ones that become the most successful multi-million dollar operations, start from very humble beginnings. Any college or university that is serious about training their students to become entrepreneurs should understand the changing nature of the employment landscape and be willing to evolve their thinking in this matter.
Today’s Intern Could be Tomorrow’s Employee
If you are diligent in your screening and interviewing process, you should be able to find someone who is motivated, talented and able to learn how to best serve your needs as a business owner. If you give them appropriate guidance, your intern may grow naturally into the role of paid consultant or employee.
Make sure you have clear goals for what you want your intern to accomplish in the time he or she is working with you. It helps if you specify not only the daily tasks you require them to perform, but understand how you can use their time to help make your business more efficient and capable of handling additional work going forward.
Having an intern gives you the opportunity to start thinking like a business manager. You must be ready to delegate specific responsibilities to someone else, in service of your larger goals. Make sure you build in time for regular communication and exchange of feedback. If your intern is doing a good job, let them know. If not, be clear about what you would like done differently. Give them an opportunity to make adjustments, learn from their mistakes. At the end of your time together, you should have a good idea as to whether or not this person would make a good long-term addition to your company.
When managing a collaborative team, whether you’re producing an event, building a website or directing a promotional campaign, it’s important to know how to get the best out of everyone while meeting the goals of the operation.
This can be a tricky balance to achieve when dealing with an established brand, and the more money and corporate firepower is behind the project, the harder it may be to achieve any autonomy. However, creativity and originality are valuable commodities in today’s marketplace. When you bring people with fresh ideas onto your team, the best strategy may be to encourage them to go all out.
Let’s look at some ways you can make this happen.
Good casting is 90% of the game.
When scouting for talent, the smartest directors know to cast actors with just the right stuff and then let them loose to do what they do best. The same holds true when putting together a collaborative team. When choosing creative partners, whether they are designers, writers, social media strategists or event producers, look for people who bring something special to the table. Then, let them do what they do!
Learn the skill of constructive criticism.
No one says you have to say yes to everything, or that you can’t be critical. But there’s a difference between telling someone, “Nope, that doesn’t work,” and saying, “Listen, this part is OK, but this part is not really what I’m looking for… and let me tell you why.”
This does not mean an endless litany of things you hate about the work your collaborator has delivered. Instead, try to build on the things that work. Explain what you like about it, and how it can be expanded or altered to be closer to your vision. Ask questions. Find out why he or she made the choices they did. This may go a long way towards understanding how to get from what they’ve delivered to what you ultimately want and expect.
Regular communication is essential.
Particularly in new collaborations, it’s really important to have regular communication. As you are getting to know one another, you’ll each have a need for clarification and feedback at every step along the way. These early interactions are the fundamental building blocks of what you hope will become an ongoing relationship, or at least a successful partnership for the duration of your project. If you don’t put the time in to get clarity up front, you will never really give the relationship a fair shot at meeting its potential.
This one can be tricky, especially if your personal brand is on the line. It can be really tempting to walk into a collaboration with a set idea of what you expect, looking for your creative partners to just deliver what already exists in your brain. The bad news is, this probably won’t happen, and if it does, you have most likely squeezed the creativity and enthusiasm out of your team members. If this is your way of working, then you would do better to bring on some interns or some entry level administrative assistants, and groom them to suit your needs. But if you are working with other professionals, you need to make some space for them to bring their own personal touch to the table. The chances are very good that the final product will be more interesting than the thing you imagined.
Remember the old saying, “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts?” I believe this is true, more often than not. We just have to make the space to allow each part to contribute its unique resources to the whole.
You’re a freelancer and you’re a parent. Me, too. Can we talk for a minute? I mean, I love my son more than anything in the world. And yes, I enjoy being flexible with my time. Isn’t that what freelancing is supposed to be about? All that independence giving us the freedom to work when it’s most convenient for us…
So why do I feel like I have no time, I’m up every night until two in the morning completing my assignments, and my to-do list is still a mile long?
Because it’s summer. And there’s no school. You don’t realize how much you value all that delicious, quiet, alone time, until it’s ripped out from under you.
So here are a few of my survival tips. If I don’t make it through to September, please make sure you tell everyone still waiting for work from me that it was on my to-do list.
1) Keep your house clean.
When times are tough, it’s time to go back to basics. When your kids are not in school, they are probably under the impression that all bets are off. No getting dressed, no making their beds, no going to sleep or waking up on time. And they’re probably right. But if your kids aren’t in camp or some other organized activity, the creeping disorder of their mess is going to make it into your work space sooner or later. Stop that in its tracks. At the very least, keep your kitchen and bathroom clean, because those are the real sanity busters. Make them help, the lazy slobs.
2) Make your lists.
More important than ever, is to have a clear idea of what you need to accomplish in a given day, and when. Deadlines don’t stop just because school is out. Figure out which blocks of time are non-negotiable and let your kids know you are off limits during those times. Bargain if you must. Let them watch extra TV or video games. Grit your teeth, and schedule some quality time in the evening or the weekend, when you can all go swimming or to the park or a museum together.
3) Get some adult support.
If you are part of a two-parent or better yet, multi-generational household, you may be in luck. Coordinate with your spouse wherever possible to gain some relief time from the long days. Single parent addendum. There’s no one to hand-off to… Arrange trades with your kids’ friends’ parents – one day the kids are at your house, one day they all go over to their place. Depending on your kid’s age (mine’s 12), they often do better in pairs, so they can occupy each other. Hanging out with their friends as often as possible is key.
4) Beware of the patience testers.
These are the conversations that are designed to see how well you are at putting all of your theories about non-violence into practice. Here’s an example:
My son: Mom, I’m hungry.
Me: OK, just a minute.
Fifteen minutes go by.
My son: I’m starving!
Me: OK, I’ll make you a sandwich.
Forty five minutes later, after I’ve ripped myself away from the computer and am preparing something in the kitchen.
My son: Is that the only bread we have?
This is the moment where you get to show off all that deep breathing and serenity work you’ve been practicing in yoga class. Go on. Make me proud. Don’t yell…
5) Enjoy your education in special subjects.
Having you around all day is an open invitation to your child to share with you everything about his latest obsession. My son’s is Mortal Kombat. Apparently I’m the good luck charm. He comes and sits next to me when he’s downloading new bonus features. He tells me all about the characters and their powers, their moves and their fatalities (lethal moves). There’s more, but honestly, a lot of the time when he’s going on and on about the game, I can see that his mouth is moving, and words are coming out, but I’m not really hearing anything.
If I sound kind of cranky, it’s because I am. My house is a mess, I haven’t eaten yet today, and I know I’m going to be up until the wee hours again tonight. Maybe a sandwich. I’ll check and see what kind of bread we’ve got…
Event planners need to have excellent time management skills. When mapping out your time, you need to pay attention to specific event dates, ordering & confirmation deadlines and production timetables. Well, in the same way that you book out your calendar over the course of days, months and in some cases, years, you also need to pay attention to how you schedule your time within any given day.
During an event, your clients, sponsors, vendors and guests are all expecting you to run on schedule. In your work outside the event venue, you should be expecting the same of yourself. Managing your time in your daily work life will make you more efficient and productive, and leave you feeling more satisfied all around. Here are some basics to help keep you on track:
1) Be realistic.
We all have a to-do list a mile long. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started out my morning with the highest of hopes, only to end my day crying in frustration at all the things that didn’t get done. C’mon now… there’s only so much you can do in a given day. The reality is, some days are going to be more productive than others, and things usually take longer than you think. So why not take all of this into consideration and create a daily plan for yourself that doesn’t set you up for failure.
Start with the most important thing first. This may seem obvious, but the fact is, the most important thing is often the most daunting, the thing that takes the longest and the thing that causes us the most anxiety. It’s very easy to put it off and busy yourself with a lot of little tasks, saying, “Oh, I’ll just do this one little thing first.” Then, the next thing you know, the day is half over, you spent the morning on a bunch of little things that really could have waited, unexpected surprises crowd out your afternoon, and before you know it, your day is over and your most important task has gone undone.
Just do it. Do whatever you have to do to make yourself get it done. Afterwards, you will feel so relieved, it will make the rest of your day seem 100% lighter. I promise you, you’ll be so much more productive after that.
3) Schedule your day with time slots.
Once you have decided on your most important task of the day, give it more time than you think it requires. If you think it will take two hours, give it three. If you end up getting done early, great! We should all have such problems. When you schedule your day in this way, you’ll begin to see that your time is more limited than you thought. This will allow you to have more realistic expectations for your day and prevent the kind of frustration I described above.
4) Schedule your appointments in the field in bundles.
If you have to conduct site tours, meet with clients, caterers or tech people, try and limit all of these appointments to as few days in the week as possible. If they can all happen on one day, great! If not, try and schedule them close to each other so that you minimize your travel time as well as the interruptions to the other important work you need to do in the office.
5) Allow for personal time.
Remember, a happy event planner is a better event planner. Don’t forget to program in some time for self-care, family and friends. This is not optional! It’s essential to your mental and emotional health. By taking care of yourself and your loved ones, you are protecting your ability to successfully navigate through the inevitable unpredictability (can you say controlled chaos?) of this exciting life you have chosen.
Got any great time management tips you want to share? Let’s hear em!
Dear Event Vendors,
How well do you work under pressure?
So far, you’ve done really great. You’ve delivered on schedule and under budget. We’ve had clear communication, you’ve been fun to work with… my clients are happy and so am I. But how are you going to hold up under pressure? How do you handle unexpected problems and circumstances? Here are some things I hope you know how to do…
1) Keep calm and carry on.
We’ve covered this territory already in an earlier post: What to Do When Things Go Wrong at Your Event. Everything I expect of myself and my team with regard to managing challenging circumstances, I expect of you and yours. We are all professionals. We should be able to manage obstacles when they arise. If we can’t, then we are in the wrong business.
2) Prioritize the success of the event.
When things go wrong, we often revert to basic survival instincts. Of course, we have to take care of ourselves in any situation, but it’s important to me that you remember to support the success of the event. As far as my client is concerned, my team consists not only of my own company’s staff, but all of the vendors I’ve hired. My team must work together seamlessly, in order to create a sense of coherence and continuity in the final product, which is a successful event. When things go wrong, we all have to pitch in and do what we have to do to make things work. This may involve extra time or expense. Short term sacrifice is often a pathway to long-term reward. It also goes a long way to build loyalty, which goes both ways.
3) Maintain focus on the needs of the event attendees.
This one is a little less intuitive, and requires a bit more thought than just taking orders from the event planning team. Ultimately, the success of my event is going to be judged by the value of the experience had by the attendees. Depending on how chaotic things get, you may have to think on your feet and respond to what you observe around you. In other words, you might have to go off book and improvise a bit. Be proactive, and do what you need to do to ensure that guests are comfortable and happy. In the same way that one guest’s positive experience can make a world of difference in the perception of the client as to the success of the event, one person’s complaint can also take the whole thing down a few notches. Err on the side of attentiveness and generosity. Not only will it help to make a more pleasant time for everyone, it will help to solidify the foundation of a successful, long-term relationship.
Aaah, the freelance life. Isn’t this every cubicle dweller’s dream? You make your own hours, set your own agenda, work wherever you feel like working…
And then you wake up.
Being a freelancer is not all about being “free.” Certainly there is a ton of flexibility and independence, but along with this comes the need to be very organized and self-driven. And in the absence of having a regular office to report to every day, one of the most important things a freelancer needs to do is create an optimum work environment.
Like many of you, I spend considerable periods of time sitting at my keyboard. Although working on a lightweight laptop allows me great mobility, I do have a few requirements for a productive work environment that I’m happy to share with you.
1) Find a space that allows you to focus.
Like many of you, I mostly work at home. I need to have a clean desk or table area, without too many piles of paper or unfinished business. I like to have the dishes clean. Even though I don’t work in my kitchen, I can tell they’re in there. Just knowing that my kitchen is clean (and for that matter, my bathroom), allows me to breathe a little easier and focus on my to-do list.
I live in a small apartment with an adolescent child. When he’s home, it can be very difficult to stay focused on my work. For this reason, the WHEN becomes just as important to me as the WHERE in creating my optimum work environment. When my son is at school, I feel freer to spread out on the dining room table. After school when he needs the table to do his homework, I’m more inclined to move to the desk in the corner office of my bedroom.
Sometimes, when I’ve got time to kill during one of my son’s out of the house activities, I’ll find a nearby coffee shop with Wi-Fi to sit for an hour or two until he’s done. I look for places that are relatively quiet, where no one will bother me as I work on my computer. I find working in a fresh space every once in a while to be kind of invigorating.
2) Figure out a way to cut out social media distractions.
Your desktop environment is as important as the space where you are sitting. Like many of you, I can succumb to the rabbit hole of Facebook in a heartbeat. It’s one thing when I’m working in that platform on behalf of one of my clients. It’s another thing when I’m getting distracted by messages, new posts on my home page or likes and comments on my timeline. Now, I give myself long chunks of time when I don’t even have the Facebook tab (nor Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc.) open on my browser. I have to unplug from the ever flowing, cosmic conversation, or I’m not getting anything done.
3) Pick an environment that allows you to periodically move around.
Please, give your body a rest. It’s important. You may be young and supple now, but you won’t always be… and without realizing it, you can develop carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic low back pain and headaches, or a stiff neck, to name a few physical ailments. Besides, it’s good for your mind and your eyes to have a break from the screen every once in a while.
When possible, I like to periodically stretch out a little, do a few yoga poses, or just put on a good song and dance around a bit. In addition to keeping me from getting stiff, it helps shake the cobwebs out of my brain. I remember things I meant to do and get fresh ideas for writing and correspondence. I’m pretty sure being able to dance around my house whenever I want to is the best thing about being a freelancer!
What are some ways you create your optimum working environment? If you have some other advice for your fellow freelancers, do share!!
This is the second of a multiple part series. Click here for part 1.
Dear Event Vendors,
Here’s how to work with me on a job…
So you got my business. But that’s only the first step. Now it’s time to show me what you got. I’m going to be frank with you. It’s a crowded field out there, and I’ve got at least five more vendors standing in line, waiting to take your place. But I like you. So I’m going to give you a few tips on the best way to build and maintain a good relationship with me.
1) Be up front with me.
Please, don’t tell me what you think I want to hear. Give me the truth, even if you think I’m not going to be happy. If we’re in the middle of an event, and you’re experiencing an equipment malfunction or some other kind of problem, I’d much rather know exactly what’s going on, so we can troubleshoot together, than to have you make things up, only to have it blow up in both of our faces later on. Besides, remember the story about The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf? You want me to trust you, right? We are building what could become a long term partnership, but it won’t go anywhere if I can’t believe the things you say.
2) Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
I’m relying on you to give me realistic estimates of production, delivery & installation time. I would suggest always factor in what I lovingly refer to as “crap time.” That would be the margin of error you build into how long it takes to do things like mix sound, edit pictures or video, hang artwork, hang lights, or deliver printed material. We all know that “shit happens.” Please build this into your schedule of deliverables. If you end up being early, it will be a happy surprise for both of us.
3) Make realistic estimates.
Both for the sake of cost and to ensure a proper outcome, be as accurate as you can regarding quantities of food, drink or other supplies required as well as all associated labor. Just as I need to know that you will support my time frame, I also need to know that you are calculating realistically. I have budgeted a certain amount of money for your goods and services. I need to know that I’m going to get what I require for the amount I’m expecting to spend.
4) Educate me about your process.
Help me understand the way you work and what you will need from me in order to facilitate your process. We are both learning about each other and the way we run our businesses. We need to learn one another’s priorities so that we can help one another. At least for the sake of this event, we need to think of ourselves as a team and work together.
5) Communicate with me clearly and accurately.
Remember that you are one of many vendors with whom I’m communicating for this event. I may also be juggling multiple events, so the need for absolute clarity is great. Make sure that all terms and costs are spelled out specifically in writing, via hard copy or email. Confirm that I have received all important documents such as proposals, contracts, timetables and other schedules of deliverables. Please communicate any changes in a timely fashion, and make sure that all appropriate members of my team have been included in emails. If you think that there has been any miscommunication, speak to me directly. Sometimes, subtle meanings or intentions can get lost in texts or emails, and voice to voice or in person contact is the only way to make sure everyone is on the same page. This is especially important at the beginning of our relationship.
Of course, things sometimes go awry, and I’ll be looking to see how you operate under pressure. Stay tuned for Part 3, where I share some best practices for dealing with the worst of times.
You’ve made all your plans, checked everything on your list, made all your confirmation calls, texts and emails. And still, things are not working the way you anticipated. Before you start to pull your hair out, remember that the most amazing events usually result from some form of controlled chaos. And of course, the bigger the event, the more moving parts… hence, the greater amount of chaos!
Still, it’s no fun when staff and supplies don’t show up on time, glasses break, fuses blow, you discover that an important sponsor’s name has been misspelled in the program, the Wi Fi won’t connect, the MC is barfing in the bathroom or nobody thought about what to do with all of those umbrellas.
Here are a few things to remember when you feel the ground dropping out from under you:
1) Don’t panic.
Seriously. If you need to, find someone to slap you across the face so you can snap out of it. Save for an actual emergency where life or limb is at stake, most problems you face during an event are not life threatening. Be grateful you’re not working a cocktail party on the Titanic. Get some perspective! Take a deep breath, count to ten and work the problem.
2) Keep your sense of humor.
I can’t stress this enough. We all know that expectations can be pretty high when you are planning an event. Reputations are on the line, budgets and timelines must be met, and everyone is looking for positive outcomes. But what good is making your bottom line if you’re making yourself and other people miserable along the way?
Instead of screaming, try to find something to laugh at in your situation. C’mon, you have to admit it’s a little ridiculous that the napkins were delivered GREEN instead of BLUE. And so what that the lighting designer blew out the DJ’s circuit? Now you can introduce that Irish spoon player who you’ve been promising a big break.
3) Communicate swiftly, accurately and honestly.
If the problem is something that your client is going to notice, address it immediately. Don’t try to cover it up. Be direct. With confidence. Understand? I’m not advocating that you run to your client with half the story. Yes, you need to let them know that the models are getting dizzy from the fumes from the not-quite-dry paint in the dressing room, but also that you’ve secured an office down the hallway, and the costume racks and make-up tables are being moved there as we speak.
4) Be flexible.
It sure would have been great to have the keynote speaker lead off the morning program. But who knew that he was going to miss his flight last night because his kid’s babysitter got stuck in emergency pothole repair traffic on the way to their house, and he would be forced to take a red-eye that was still circling above the airport while they de-iced the runway? Good thing your afternoon session leaders are all there and you can reschedule the breakouts for this morning and begin the after lunch program with a rousing presentation by your headliner. Repeat after me. I am bendy like an experienced yogi. I am bendy…
5) Remember, you are not alone.
If you are engaged in what seems like a disaster, then congratulations! You are now a real life event planner. If you really think you are losing it, please call one of your other event planner friends and cry on the phone to them. You will feel better – might even come away with an unexpected idea or two, and a good laugh. When all else fails, remember, unlike childbirth (which really does last forever, but that’s another post), this too shall pass…
One of the best things about our industry is the independent planner – someone who finds a passion in event planning and makes a career out of it. As one myself, I know that there are some great benefits to being an independent planner. We get to make our own schedules, we get to work with all different kinds of clients and we are in control of the direction our business goes. That being said, there’re also a lot of challenges. There isn’t a guide book on how to start and grow an event business. No one comes in and tells us the checklist of things that we have to do and there certainly isn’t a formula that works for every size and style of company. So far, we have been very lucky to be surrounded by great mentors and supporters in the industry who help me figure out what is needed along the way, but there are challenges around every corner. Here are a few red flags to watch out for to determine whether or not your business is on the right path or headed towards trouble.
Many event planners think that in order to be successful, they have to do everything. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked an event planner what their company focuses on, only to be told that they do special events, corporate meetings, trade shows and everything else under the sun. Many people think that they have to take every client and do every type of event to have enough money to sustain themselves. However, not having a defined niche means that you don’t have a defined market and you aren’t able to brand your business well. When a potential client is looking for the right event planning partner for their next party or meeting, they are looking for someone who matches with their needs. They identify companies and evaluate them for a mere few seconds before making a decision on the right fit for them. Your brand must be so focused and your niche must be so defined that you can share that with your potential clients in just a few seconds. Your client list, pictures from past events and experience should clearly line up with the type of event that your target market is looking to achieve. If you do take a vents outside of your niche in the beginning to get experience or meet the bills, recognize that they probably aren’t going to be great pictures for your website or brand building activities.
Lack of Focus
If you’re looking to create a business that will just add a little extra money in your pocket, then part-time effort is probably fine for you. But, if you’re looking to build a sizable business that can fully support you and your family and give you the time and space for things like vacations and sick time, you have to dive into your business deeper than you have ever done before. Running your own business is not the thing to do if you just want a cushy, flexible schedule. Running a successful event planning business takes an incredible amount of drive, dedication and focus. You have got to be focused on your goals because only you are in charge of achieving them. One of the biggest red flags for companies that will not make it the long distance is a lack of focus. If they are all over the place, there isn’t enough effort and inertia behind those goal-achieving initiatives.
One of the telltale signs of a failing business is a person who is constantly changing directions. We always see planners who are doing venue sourcing one month and then tradeshow planning and then a bit of social media consulting on the side. This lack of focus really signifies a lack of core mission. Rather than shifting with the wind every time you think there is money in a particular area, you must do your research and reflect on your skills. Once you’ve defined what you can offer the world that is unique to anyone else and done the research to prove there is a market for it, you’ve got to dig your heels in and stay focused. There will be plenty of people who try to distract you or tell you you’re wrong, but you’ve got to believe in yourself. Be open to change, but look for the red flag of constantly changing course. Tweaking your plan over time is natural, but going in a new direction every few months is not.
Lack of Education
One of the hardest things about our industry is that education is not as formalized as it is in other countries. You can study hospitality in college, but many people don’t enter the industry until after graduation. Education, however, is available all over. The industry associations offer certification programs, there are blogs with tons of great, free content and there are a plethora of industry events and conferences. The red flag is for people who don’t pursue this education. Even the most successful of event planning businesses will falter if they don’t actively pursue education. Being that our industry is so flexible, it changes rapidly. There isn’t a how-to guide on staying up-to-date so it’s on us to stay active and challenge our knowledge.