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Broadly speaking, there are two markets for event planning and management services: corporate and social. The term “corporate” includes not only companies but also charities and non-profit organizations. Charities and non-profit organizations host receptions and athletic competitions, among other events, to expand their public support base and raise funds. Thousands of these events occur each year, and although the large ones require specialized event planning and management experience, you may find smaller local events to start out with.

Companies host trade shows, conventions, company picnics, holiday parties, and meetings for staff members, board members, or stockholders. There is a huge market for these types of events.

The Social Market

Social events include weddings, birthdays, anniversary parties, children’s parties, reunions and so on. You may decide to handle all these events or just specialize in one or more of them.

The market for social events, especially birthdays and anniversaries, has increased over the years and is expected to continue to increase over the next few years, as the population mature.

Startup Costs

How much money will you need to start your event planning business? That will depend on the cost of living in the area your business serves and whether you work from home or rent office space. It will also depend, to a lesser degree, on your own taste and lifestyle choices.

Keep in mind that while working from home will keep your costs low, you can’t start any but the smallest of event planning business on a shoestring.

Operations

Few, if any, event planners and managers have 9-to-5 jobs. By its very nature, event planning and management tends to involve evenings, weekends, holidays and sometimes even specific seasons. How much time you must commit to working will depend, once again, on the specialization you choose.

As a general rule, social events involve more weekends and holidays than corporate events do. Some areas of the country and some types of events have “on” and “off” seasons. However, no matter what your specialization (with the exception of parties for young children), you can count on working at least some evenings as you coordinate and supervise events. The planning of those events, however, will be done mostly during business hours.

Here are the main tasks you’ll be completing as an event planner and manager:

  • Research. The best way to reduce risk (whatever the kind) is to do your homework. For large events, research may mean making sure there’s a demand for the event by conducting surveys, interviews or focus group research. If you’re new to the event planning industry, research may instead mean finding out all you can about vendors and suppliers. Research also may mean talking to other planners who have produced events similar to the one on which you’re working. Or you may find yourself reading up on issues of custom and etiquette, especially if you’re unfamiliar with a particular type of event.

Whatever kind of event you’re planning, research should include asking your client a lot of questions and writing down the answers. Interviewing a client may not be what you immediately think of as research. However, asking too few questions, or not listening adequately to a client’s answers, can compromise the success of the event you plan.

  • Design. Your creativity comes most into play in the design phase of event planning, during which you sketch out the overall “look” and “feel” of the event. This is the time to brainstorm, either by yourself or with your employees. It’s also the time to pull out and look through your idea file. (You do have one, don’t you? If not, read on and take notes.) Don’t forget to consult your notebook for the client’s answers to the questions you asked in the research phase. These responses, especially the one regarding the event budget, will help you thoroughly check each idea for feasibility, preferably before suggesting it to the client.
  • Proposal. Once you’ve interviewed the client and done some preliminary brainstorming, you should have enough information to prepare a proposal. Be aware that the production of a proposal is time-consuming and potentially expensive, especially if you include photographs or sketches. Note that only the larger companies producing high-end events can afford to provide clients with free proposals. You should receive a consultation fee (no matter how little), which can be applied toward a client’s event if he or she hires you.
  • Organization. During this decision-intensive phase, you’ll rent the site, hire vendors and take care of more details than you might believe possible. You’ll be on the phone until your ear is numb. But before you do any of this, make sure you have a contact person (either the client or someone acting on the client’s behalf) with whom you’ll discuss all major decisions. Having a designated individual helps ensure that communication lines are kept open. Also, social events in particular sometimes suffer from the “too many cooks” syndrome. Having one designated contact helps you avoid being caught in the middle of disagreements between event participants.

Generally speaking, the bigger the event, the more lead time that’s required to plan it. Major conventions are planned years in advance. Although you may not be arranging events on such a grand scale, you do need to allow at least a few months for events like corporate picnics, reunions or large parties.

  • Coordination. After you’ve made the initial plans, turn your attention to each of the activities that form a part of the overall event. At this point, your goal is to ensure that everyone is on the same page or wavelength. Good communication skills are important. Make sure all vendors have at least a general idea of the overall event schedule. Even more important, vendors should be clear about what’s expected of them, and when. Vendor arrival times should appear in the contracts but verify those times again and again. This is a “check and recheck” period. Make sure all your staff members know their roles too!
  • Evaluation. The obvious, and in one sense the most important, test of an event’s success is customer experience and satisfaction. The goal, of course, is to end up with a client who will sing your praises up and down the street, shouting it from rooftops. This is the client who will hire you again, and who will provide that famous positive word-of-mouth advertising for you.

There are several other ways to evaluate the success of an event. You can hire an event planning and management consultant; have someone who hosts extremely successful parties observe your event; plan a roundtable post-event discussion with your employees; obtain feedback from other industry professionals and vendors working at the event, like the caterer or bartender; or survey guests at or after the event.

Income & Billing

The goal in 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 unknowingly priced their services too low. Fees are typically determined by three factors:

  • Market segment served. Social events have a different fee structure than corporate events. In the social events industry, planners and managers typically receive a fee for their services, plus a percentage of some or all vendor fees. The two income streams produce enough revenue for a profit. In the corporate events industry, however, planners typically charge a fee for their services, plus a handling charge for each item they contract. For example, a planner buys flowers from a florist, marks them up and charges that amount to the client. Another possibility is a flat fee, or “project fee,” often used when the event is large, and the corporation wants to be given a “not to exceed” figure.
  • Geographic location. Fees are higher in some part of the country than the other. This difference reflects the variation in cost of living. In addition, areas of the country that have well-defined on- and off-seasons base their prices partly on which season they’re in.
  • Experience and reputation of the event planner and manager. If you’re just starting out in the industry, it’s reasonable to charge less for your planning services while you gain expertise.

How, you may ask, are the above-mentioned fees-for-service calculated? Most event planners and managers price their fees-for-service (the total cost to the client) using a “cost-plus” method. They contract out the labour, supplies and materials involved in producing an event and charge their clients a service fee of about 10 to 20 percent of the total cost of the event, with 15 percent being a rough average.

Marketing and Resources

Print advertising covers a broad range, from a free — or inexpensive — advertisement on some event sites to an ad in a glossy national publication or radio and TV costing tens of thousands sums of money. You may also want to consider advertising in your local newspaper. These are good vehicles for promoting your event planning business.

Networking is key and can help your business in two ways. If people have met you and know what services you offer, they may 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 and manage events.

Although networking and word-of-mouth are the most common industry strategies for acquiring clients, traditional forms of advertising do have their uses. A distinctive card or brochure sent to a mailing list or to local businesses may attract new clients. A small ad in a local business magazine can help build name recognition. A website on the internet may allow you to attract customers unresponsive to other forms of media.

Put your party experience to good use byplanning, designing and managing events for private and corporate clients! 

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