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Lessons Learned: 4 Mistakes Event Pros Made in 2023 + How to Avoid Them

For business owners, mistakes can feel like a part of daily life. From an innocuous typo in an email to a disastrous error in a contract, it’s hard not to associate such missteps with shame. However, there’s no reason to carry life’s mistakes with self-reproach. 

What sets great businesses apart is the ability to accept one’s mistakes and use them as a springboard for growth. Instead of letting shame steer them off track, strong leaders view their setbacks as opportunities to learn and improve in their work.

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Everyone slips up occasionally, from the new entrepreneur to the seasoned professional. So the next time you misjudge a situation or make a poor decision, rest assured that you are not alone! What matters most is how you handle the aftermath. 

When asked about their biggest ‘oops’ in 2023, here’s what a handful of experienced event professionals had to say (and what they’ve learned from their faults).

Hiring without an onboarding plan 

Expanding your team can elevate your business in every manner, from improving the client experience to preventing internal burnout. However, hiring can become a disappointing process for everyone involved if done without a plan.

That’s what Shannon Tarrant, co-founder of Wedding Venue Map, learned when hiring a new account manager during a particularly busy season. “We did some training but didn't have enough time to put aside to make sure they were set up for success,” she explains. “Of course, at the end of their first 90 days, they weren't achieving their KPIs.”

Looking back, Tarrant learned a crucial lesson: “Onboarding new employees can make or break their entire experience,” she says. “We didn't have the time to inspect what we expected on a regular basis to make sure they were hitting the checkmarks of success.”

For her team, timing was indeed of the essence. “In the future, we'll be mapping out new hires based on the season rather than just the need,” she shares. Rushing to fill a role does little good without time to train and onboard, so it’s better to hire at the right time, even if it means going without for a while.

Sticking to the “old-fashioned” way

Habits and routines are helpful mechanisms for saving time and maintaining consistency. However, just because something has always worked doesn’t mean it’s the best route. In some cases, sticking to the status quo can mean losing ground to competitors—especially when it comes to keeping your digital environment up-to-date.

“Avoiding tech doesn't make it go away; it makes you fall further behind your peers,” assures Nora Sheils, co-founder of Rock Paper Coin and founder of Bridal Bliss

Despite running a software business, Sheils is no stranger to tech hesitancy. “Be it intimidation, time, or nerves—there were certain platforms that I put off looking into this year,” she says. “When I did, they made such a significant difference (either personally or professionally), and I kicked myself for not giving it a go prior.”

Think about the many tasks on your plate. There’s likely a solution for each; you just need to find it. And when you do, take Sheils’ advice: “Try it! You have nothing to lose and so much to gain. Even the smallest changes can give you the biggest results.”

Some things become better with age: whiskey, cheese, blue jeans, and friendships. But old-school systems and outdated apps don’t fall in that category, so it’s time to let them go and give your business’s tech stack a fresh start to the new year.

Getting caught in the comparison trap

Looking around the marketplace, it’s easy to play the comparison game with other businesses. Are you measuring up to their perceived level of success? Does your content get the same engagement rate? Are you making as much money? While these questions are natural, they can quickly evolve into a full-blown case of imposter syndrome.

Jen Sulak, lead photographer for Weirdo Weddings, offers a reminder: “Pace is a very personal thing. Not every single thing in business has to be at a hyper-speed pace, nor does it have to be at a glacial pace.”

“Your flow will look completely different than someone else’s,” Sulak continues. “Stay true to YOU, not what everyone is telling you. Too many voices lead to indecision, confusion, and comparison.”

The offering you haven’t launched, the project you haven’t started, the follower count you haven’t reached—none of it matters if motivated by external influences. Building a successful business is not about besting the competition but finding a way to make a living doing what you love. So, instead of comparing your company to others, focus on your own growth and challenge yourself to outdo your past performance.

Wasting time on unproductive tasks

Marketing a new offer, interviewing job candidates, meeting with clients—there’s always something to do in an event business. Wasting time is not an option, so take some time to consider what moves the needle and eliminate everything else.

Elena Gera, owner of Focus on the Moment Photography, encourages event pros to  “cease activities that yield no results for your business.”

For example, if your social media efforts are unproductive, take a break and use that time on email marketing, networking, public relations, or education. You might discover untapped opportunities in another direction.

“I invested a significant amount of time and money in a renowned wedding marketing website for a year before realizing it didn't attract the right clientele,” she shares. “After discontinuing my subscription, I shifted focus to networking, witnessing a gradual positive change in the type of clients I attract.”

Gera’s key takeaway: “Don't hesitate to pivot from mainstream approaches if they prove ineffective for your specific business goals.”

Using your time and resources wisely in the new year will put you in a better position to reach your business goals, whether you’re aiming to hit a financial goal or launch a new branch of your company. There’s no need to let inefficiencies hold you back.

As you start 2024 and look ahead at your plans, don’t expect to avoid making mistakes this year. Remember: They are just a part of business (and life)! Simply aim to make new mistakes, correcting those of the past and choosing not to let any slip-ups hold you back from trying new things. 


Meghan Ely

President, OFD Consulting, Richmond, VA

Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast. 

Photo: Melody Smith Portraits