As a new entrepreneur, every day is an opportunity to learn. But as the years go on and you develop from an industry newbie into a seasoned veteran, you might assume that you’ll eventually reach a point of all-knowingness. Yet, longtime industry pros recognize that the rhythm of business is constantly changing as it adapts to the fickle needs of modern society.
The internet changed the industry landscape forever. Then, it was social media. Now, virtual reality and artificial intelligence are breaking long-standing norms. Factor in a global pandemic that transformed the face of events as we know it, and it’s clear that unpredictability is the name of the game.
However, while those with long careers in the special events industry may not know what’s to come, they carry a level of resilience that comes only with years—even decades—of experience navigating the ups and downs of event production.
Meghan Ely (center) presented What Veteran Marketers Want You Know, But Are Too Polite to Say during Catersource + The Special (held this past March in Orlando, FL) alongside a stellar lineup of industry veterans: (from left): Christie Osborne (Mountainside Media), Renee Dalo (Moxie Bright Events), Shannon Tarrant (Wedding Venue Map), and Anna Coats (Mary Me Tampa). Photo courtesy WASIO Faces
We sat down with long-time event pros to discuss their experiences and what they wish someone had told them when they were on the climb. Keep reading to find out how you can apply these hard-learned lessons to your business— even (especially!) if you’re still getting to know the industry.
The going will get tough (which is OK!).
Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart, especially when it involves the emotional volatility of planning weddings and events. From profit margins to brand messaging, there’s much to consider—and even more to do.
“As with any new business, there will be long days and longer nights filled with stress and a million things going through your head,” confirms Nora Sheils of Rock Paper Coin and Bridal Bliss. But she also notes that the early sacrifices are worth it, adding that “the reward is priceless, and making a difference in the lives of others is incredibly rewarding.”
So if you were drawn to the industry because you recognize the power of celebration, don’t lose sight of your passion. Expect obstacles along the way, but know that you can overcome them and you’ll be wiser for it.
The only thing you can expect is change.
From culinary trends to client budgets to business software, there’s no such thing as the status quo for entrepreneurs. Every season brings new changes—for better or worse—so event industry pros must remain agile and adaptable.
“Everything and everyone changes over time, and that includes your clients,” reminds Jamie Chang of Mango Muse Events. “You have to continually learn and try to understand your client and what they want while still being true to your philosophy, values, and what you do best.”
Don’t let yourself get comfortable. Instead, remain curious and question the way your business operates. There’s always room for improvement and further understanding!
Money matters (even if you outsource).
While it’s tempting to dedicate all of your time to the creative process, there’s a lot more to running a business. In particular, you need to earn money to remain in business. And since there’s no way to ignore profitability, “you have to know your numbers,” affirms business owner and hairstylist Alicia Igess Jones.
“Newer industry pros should become best friends with their accountants and attorneys,” Igess Jones says. “Even if you aren’t that good at math, you need to know what is coming in and what is going out. Don’t wait on someone to send you a profit and loss printout.”
Get comfortable tracking sales, running financial reports, and balancing your expenses. After all, you can only make wise, data-based decisions when you know your numbers.
There is no “one way” to do business.
With countless coaches and thought leaders sharing tricks of the trade, it’s easy to feel inspired and adopt a business approach identical to others in your market. But in such an oversaturated and competitive industry, it’s far better to be different than to blend in.
For instance, if ‘everyone’ is pushing content on TikTok because of its trendiness, it ultimately leaves more space for you to stand out in other forms of media. Marissa MacLeod of The Treasury on the Plaza elaborates on this notion: "While social media is a fantastic tool for your business, it isn’t always the best way to grow your sales. Other digital advertising can often provide a much higher return on investment.”
But it’s not just social media—it could be your preferred method of bookkeeping, your tried-and-true sales strategy, or the hours you work each day. Break free from the expectations of how your business ‘should’ look and create your own approach to entrepreneurship.
It really is about who you know.
Relationships matter in all aspects of life, and they are infinitely powerful for event pros. In an industry driven by creative collaboration, it’s essential to establish a wide-reaching network and cultivate friendships with your peers. That’s why Jacqueline Vizcaino of Tinted Events Design and Planning urges event pros to “make networking your friend.”
“You need to know how to network,” Vizcaino assures. “The event industry is centered around relationships, and you must have a strong network of vendors and colleagues to succeed long-term. To cultivate lasting relationships with other professionals, you must be an active community member and attend events whenever possible.”
In addition to earning (and sending) referrals, positive industry relationships enhance teamwork on event days, leading to better events and happier clients. When you lean on your network, everyone wins.
There’s no such thing as having learned “enough.”
Whether you enter the industry with a related degree or not, get ready for a journey of lifetime learning. From best business practices to the latest industry trends, there is always more to know and implement to achieve your goals. Plume and Stone Invitation Studio’s Lilia Shatnaya agrees, encouraging event pros to “keep growing and learning.”
“Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself—it is the biggest and most important investment you will make!” Shatnaya promises. “Learn new things, and attend classes, seminars, and retreats. Keep growing, building, and learning, and always remember you are not alone.”
There are many ways to absorb new knowledge, including books, conferences, webinars, online courses, podcasts, and trade articles. Find the way you learn best and continue seeking education—your business will be better for it.
You are the most valuable asset to your business.
In the early stages of business, running on caffeine and passion is easy. Long nights don’t feel quite so long, while both your wins and losses motivate you to keep going. But if you don’t care for yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally, you will undoubtedly run out of steam. And when you’re not on top of your game, your business suffers—but so does your health and well-being.
Sarah Chianese of Mangia and Enjoy! is a big advocate for self-care, pushing event pros to “treat your crew and yourself in high regard” by “taking care of your body and your emotional state.”
“Put in your budget to treat yourself and your crew to some pampering after large gigs,” Chianese recommends. “Self-care for you and your team is of the utmost importance. The analogy is the oxygen masks on the plane—you need to put the mask on yourself first before others so you can take care of them. What good is your business if you and your crew are broken? Please remember to offer one another grace, health, and dignity.”
If you’ve chosen a career in events, take it from these longtime pros: The work you’re doing is important and sustainable as long as you prioritize education, growth, and self-care. Every business is different, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from those who have paved the way!