How To Set Up An Event Planning Business

10 January 2018

The special events industry has grown enormously in the past decade and looks only set to grow further. According to the 2018 Meetings and Events Future Trends report, the overall cost per attendee per day for meetings and events around the globe increased in 2017 and is expected to continue to rise in 2018. This means that, if you’re considering setting up an event planning business, the future looks bright for your services.

But what are the steps that you need to take?

Ask yourself if you have what it takes

Event planners are normally involved in all aspects of an event, from researching and designing an event, to organising and coordinating location, food, decoration, and entertainment, to supervising at the site on the day itself. They step in when individuals or companies lack the expertise and time to plan events themselves.

Those who go into business for themselves often started out in one aspect of special events or planning events for other companies. If your inner entrepreneur is calling you in this direction, you might also consider gaining a degree or certificate from a local university in event planning or management, for example working to become a CSEP (Certified Special Events Professional) or CMP (Certified Meeting Planner), as many corporations, and some members of the general public, look for these designations when hiring planners.

You should also realise that event planning doesn’t tend to be a 9-to-5 job. While the planning itself will be done mostly during business hours, the very nature of the job means that you can count on working at least some evenings, weekends, holidays and sometimes even specific seasons as you coordinate and supervise events - depending, of course, on the specialisation you choose.

Know who your target market is

Broadly speaking, there are two markets for event planning services: corporate and social, and within these there are many types of specialist events, with the needs of clients varying across multiple factors.

The term "corporate" refers to companies, charities and nonprofit organisations. This means that the events you're hired to plan can vary across trade shows, conventions, company picnics, holiday parties, meetings for staff members, board members or stockholders, gala fundraisers, receptions and athletic competitions to expand a public support base and raise funds. On the other hand, social events include weddings, birthdays, anniversary parties, bar and bat mitzvahs, children's parties, reunions and so on - and the market is expected to continue to increase over the next few years, as baby boomers mature.

How many of these activities your business engages in will depend on the size and type of a particular event, which will, in turn, depend on the specialisation you choose. You may decide to handle all these events or just specialise in one or more of them.

Put together a marketing strategy

Like with any entrepreneurial pursuit, you need to market your event planning business effectively. Before they choose you, customers need to see what you do, which is why networking and making friends in the industry is vital so that people can refer business to you or use your service themselves. Furthermore, networking with hotels, caterers and so on will give you a chance to meet some of the people whose services you may need as you plan events.

Although networking and word-of-mouth are the most common industry strategies for acquiring clients, traditional forms of advertising do have their uses. Even in today’s online era, most planners agree that an ad in the Yellow Pages makes good business sense, or you may also want to consider advertising in your local newspaper or business magazine. A distinctive card or brochure sent to a mailing list or to local businesses may attract new clients, and a website may allow you to attract customers unresponsive to other forms of media.

Be realistic about what your day-to-day life will be like

While researching and designing your event, makes sure to anchor your creativity with regard to your client’s needs, especially regarding budget, to ascertain feasibility before you finalise your proposal. Also be aware that the production of a proposal is time-consuming and potentially expensive, so you should avoid providing this for free.

Once your client is happy with your proposal, confirm with them a clearly designated contact person whom you can liaise with while making decisions about countless details such as the renting of the site or hiring of vendors. Generally speaking, the bigger the event, the more lead time that's required to plan it. Major conventions are planned years in advance, while corporate picnics, reunions or large parties will need at least a few months of planning. You can then turn your attention to coordinating each of the activities that form a part of the overall event. Be sure to also confirm that all your staff members know their roles and make sure all vendors have at least a general idea of the overall event schedule and are clear about what's expected of them... and when!

Know your worth and charge accordingly

The goal of pricing a service is to mark up your labour and material costs sufficiently to cover overhead expenses and generate an acceptable profit. First-time business owners often fail because they price their services too low.

Fees can be determined by the market segment that you are providing services to. For example, social events have a different fee structure than corporate events. Fees may also vary according to geographic location as a reflection of the cost of living e.g. they may be higher in London than other certain parts of the UK. In addition, areas of the country that have well-defined on- and off-seasons base their prices partly on which season they're in.

Moreover, when deciding on how much to charge your clients, take into account your experience and reputation. If you're just starting out in the industry, it's reasonable to charge less for your planning services while you gain expertise. A good way to ascertain your worth is to get feedback on each event you plan by surveying guests after the event; planning a roundtable post-event discussion with your employees; obtaining feedback from other industry professionals working at the event; or even hiring an event planning consultant. Whether still growing a name for yourself or not, the goal is to end up with a client who will hire you again, and who will provide that famous word-of-mouth advertising for you.

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