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Legal Issues a Party Planner to Ponder

Legal Issues a Party Planner to Ponder
Liability and Insurance
There is much to ponder when it comes to legal issues in certain small businesses; for instance, naming your business. If someone happens to notice you have named your business with the same name as theirs, you'll likely wind up in court and chances are you'll lose, if you don't change it. Before you tag your business with a permanent name, do more than check the yellow pages; see a specialty attorney to learn your "copyrights."

One other thing -- try to keep your business name unrestrictive. If you select a name such as Amy's Birthday Parties, and decide to branch out into wedding receptions or the like, the name would be encumbering. Let's say your business is a huge success, however, you want to sell your business. If you are Amy, and the new buyer is Kate, and if the name is changed to Kate's Birthday Parties, the new name would lack recognition. Another reason you should put a lot of thought into your business name: Party planner business names don't work the same as law firm names.

Names with words like Elegant Affair are overused and Fabulous Time leans more toward a theme type party suggesting entertainment. Think twice about attaching your business name to where you live. Las Vegas Events and Parties could prevent you from obtaining party business in areas outside of Las Vegas. A more generic name, such as Guys and Gals Parties, Remembrance Parties, AAA Party Planners works best when naming your business.

Permits and Licensing - DBA

Congratulations! Now that you have named your party-planning business, it's time to protect your business name and yourself. Most states require you to file a Doing Business As (DBA) if you are doing business under a name different than your legal name. A DBA is an official and public registration of a business name. DBAs are also called Fictitious Names, Fictitious Business Names, Trade Names, and Assumed Names. A DBA is necessary if you want to open a bank checking account under your business name, or other than a Sole Proprietorship, which is under your own name.

All states differ in their regulations regarding DBA Filing. They are usually filed at the state level and sometimes at the county level. DBAs must be filed in the state or county in which you will be conducting business. Most DBA filings take one to four weeks.

Just to clarify whether you need a Tax ID Number (EIN) for DBAs): If you are a sole proprietor, your Social Security Number may be used on all government forms and other official documents.

Most small business advisors recommend you get an EIN only when:
  • You have a corporation
  • You have employees
  • You need to open a business account
  • You want to build corporate business

Sole Proprietors

Many event planners conduct business as sole proprietors because it's the easiest way to operate: less paperwork, does not require a business account, and you can use your own social security number. The downside is, you are liable for any losses, legal actions, etc. This can wipe out your personal and business assets if the loss is serious enough.


If you are planning on working with another event planner, you are basically forming a partnership. They are easy to form, and you don't have to file any documents to make the partnership legal. You will need a partnership agreement spelling out both partner's responsibility, since each partner is responsible for the other.

Limited Liability Company

The Limited Liability, or LLC, has the tax structure of a partnership, yet protects each partner's personal interests.


Very few party planners choose this way of conducting business, because the cost to form a corporation is steep and the company must pay corporate taxes. The main benefits are that it is easier to obtain financing should you wish to expand your business in a big way, and the corporation alone is legally responsible for any losses, protecting any employee's personal assets.

Permits and Licensing

Many areas require party planners to obtain certain licenses and permits to comply with local regulations. As a party planner, you may need the following to do business:

  • License to sell alcohol
  • Business license to abide by certain zoning and parking regulations
  • Fire Marshall's permit for large events. and parties setting off fireworks or certain special effects.
  • Vendor's permit allows you to buy and resell
  • Parade permit
  • Health department permit if you also cater events and handle food (Party caterers must also have these permits on display at their place of business).

To learn if you need a particular license or permit, check with the following sources:

Small Business Administration, Small Business Development, both located at www.sba.gov

Choosing Insurance and Risk Exposure

There is no manual to tell party planners which type, and how much, business insurance they should carry. Here's a scenario you will never want to happen to you:

You are producing a fabulous 50th wedding anniversary gala. You have all your bases covered, including copies of all vendor insurance, naming you as an additional insured. Everything is on schedule and moving along splendidly. The food presentation is delicious and lovely to look at, even though the chef and one of the servers exchanged a few off-color words.

Suddenly a table candle is knocked over and the table covering catches fire. While staff grabbed the fire extinguisher, as a precaution, guests were led from the room. By the time the fire was put out, it had left a nasty burn and soggy carpet. The good news ─ the guests returned to the room, undaunted, and the evening continued.

The next morning, the party planner received a call from the owner of the venue asking for the name of her insurance carrier. The bad news - the planner learned from her carrier she was not covered for that type of accident. As a result, the party planner had to pay out of pocket. A lot.

Don't let this happen to you. Shop around for a broker or agent you feel comfortable with and discuss your needs with him. Here is an idea of the insurance coverage that may be required for a party planner:

  • Commercial General Liability Insurance - A must have for all party planners. Peanut, Wheat, and grain allergies are serious potential risks.
  • Malpractice Insurance - If you and your caterer don't show up for a wedding reception or a large party, it's grounds for malpractice.
  • Hired and Non-owned Auto - You and your staff can rent and drive autos and trucks.
  • Workers' Compensation Insurance - Only if you have employees and they receive an injury on the job or while on company business.
  • Bonding - This is mainly for event planners that sell large numbers of tickets, such as for concerts. You must put aside a certain amount of money in a separate account for the client, in case your business goes under.
Business problems come at you before you know it; just like in our example. Speak with other party planners ─ those who have already done what you are trying to do.
Tapping into Social Events

Planning Social Parties

For those who panic at the thought of inviting three couples to their home for a dinner party, a party planner is an essential advisor. Not only will clients gain knowledge from a party planner, decisions that would normally disorient them become absolutely doable.

Even when times are tough, people still want all the bells and whistles to celebrate their special moments. Planning social events is a good choice because the social event is practically recession proof. There are many milestones to pick from and once you have your expert's hat, you can plan all types of events.

Be creative. Even though your birthday party stems from a simple plan, you can always put a creative twist on it. Fresh themes are important since, for certain celebrations, guests will be attending many similar parties and want to share in all their friend's celebrations.

Sticking to a fixed fee is something else you will learn over time. You shouldn't haggle. Value your expertise and services and say so.
Want to learn more? Take an online course in Party Planning.

Happy social clients give referrals and you can set the stage for evolving your business. Words of caution, certain events are tied to traditions you should be aware of. A traditional wedding celebration, for example, includes:

  • The processional (here comes the bride and bridesmaids).
  • Content or vows
  • Recessional (bride and groom leave the church for photo taking or the reception).
  • Reception with introductions and toasts to the bride and groom
  • Cutting of the cake
  • Bride and groom special dances, joined by their wedding guests.

Most would-be brides haven't the slightest idea what should be done when making wedding decisions. As a party planner, familiarize yourself with social and ethnic customs before you draw up a proposal.

Weddings can be packed with emotion. The bride and groom want everything to be perfect, and mothers and fathers are trying to prepare for changes in their relationship with sons and daughters. Even siblings are contemplating the loss. Handle issues professionally so as not to intensify an already unpredictable situation.

It often seems everyone wants a piece of the pie, and to give their input as to how the party or reception should be handled. There are the finances to consider, design ideas, and, of course, the menu. Be flexible and try to nail down who the decision-maker really is. If you can't, ask. Calmly announce you will be dealing with that one person. You will be challenged even under normal, smooth-running circumstances. Changes are expected up until a point. This is where you, as a party planner, should lay down the ground rules, tactfully.

Every party planner has a checklist. Run several of these off to keep handy for the upcoming parties you will plan. Here is an example for a wedding checklist;

  • Venue Rental
  • The rehearsal ceremony and rehearsal dinner venue
  • Hair and makeup
  • Bridal Gown and bouquets
  • Bridal party wardrobe and bouquets
  • Before-wedding snacks for the bridesmaids and groomsmen. Will the bride dress at the church, and is that included in the ceremony fee?
  • Pastor, Priest or Rabbi
  • Organ Music for the processional
  • Floral arrangements
  • Miscellaneous decor
  • Rentals
  • Reception decor
  • Photo session
  • Cocktail hour
  • Entertainment
  • Introductions
  • First dance
  • Food (Line up the caterer.)
  • Sample food and cakes, if possible.
  • Cake cutting
  • Bouquet and garter toss
  • Dancing and socializing
  • Wedding party departure.

Certain weddings will require a lesser or larger checklist. This is a basic idea of areas to consider.

Social Planning Basics
The social market for party planners can include weddings, birthdays, anniversary parties, bar and bat mitzvahs, Sweet 16 parties, and the list goes on. The market for social events, particularly birthdays and anniversary parties, is expected to continue to increase over the next few years, as baby boomers mature.

Decide how you will charge for your services. Most planners work by the hour or request a flat fee (which can go up into the thousands). Others charge from five to 10 percent of the budget.

It's not all peaches and cream for the social planner. Children's birthday parties, for example, run non-stop. That's why it's best to keep them to about two hours. Even while they're eating, when you are serving hot dogs or burgers, they are still wired up. Opening gifts is another bore for younger party guests. Why? Because the gifts are all for someone else. This is a great opportunity to invite the child to personally hand their gift to the birthday child. Afterward, play a game where everyone has a chance to win a prize.

You will be expected to know as much as possible about entertainment choices, from magicians to disc jockeys and live bands. Keep an updated file on entertainers with a good track record and ask for leads from other party planners. You may be asked to organize contests, games, and auctions. Nowadays, preparing gift bags and party favors are all part of the job.

Build a portfolio of photographs of the events you coordinate and ask for testimonials from satisfied clients.

If you decide to specialize in special events, such as awards ceremonies, galas, and fund raisers, you may be asked to prepare marketing spots for TV and radio, posters, invitations, or even to arrange accommodations for the visitors.

If you are really serious about becoming a professional party planner, it is recommended that you obtain a Certified Special Events Professional (CSEP) certificate. This is an impressive endorsement to imprint on business cards and when trying to get a foot in the party-planning door.

As you plan parties, try not to get trapped into the same old venues. Sometimes you just need to follow your gut. Presently home owner's fees are increasing, and this is as good a time as any to ask the home owners' association directors if they would rent out their clubhouse for a tasteful party. Their rental fee can offset some of the home owner's fee increases.

However you decide, don't get trapped. Many party planners get the location and try to fit the event/party into the space. Put your thinking in reverse: Fit the location into your theme.

Be ready to pitch in and know how to make a great martini, and how to plan a menu for a Greek wedding reception. If a planner decides not to attend the event, who will step in and make those decisions when something goes wrong? If you really want a recommendation from the client, you, as a planner should be there.

Event planning is not a nine to five job. By its very nature, party planning encompasses evenings, weekends, holidays, and even specific seasons. It may surprise you to learn social events involve working more weekends than corporate events. With the exception of children's parties, you can plan on working some evenings when coordinating and supervising certain events. Most of the actual party-planning is done during business hours.

Social Planning Challenges
Research is always challenging, because there may not be enough information on the Web, your survey wasn't satisfactory, interviews and focus group research didn't give you much information and you're new to the industry. So where do you go from here? Find out all you can from vendors and suppliers, talk to other planners who have produced similar parties. Finally, read up on issues of custom and etiquette, especially if this is your first time planning this type of event.

Interviewing a client is a form of research. This should include asking a lot of questions and actually writing them down. Asking too few questions or not listening adequately to a client's answers can jeopardize the success of the event.

This is where you fall back on your creativity and actually sketch out the impression and appearance of the event. If you have employees, this is a great time to brainstorm with them. Hopefully you have an "idea file" and don't forget to consult your notebook containing the client's ideas.

Once you're satisfied you have enough information, prepare a proposal. This is a time-consuming task, particularly if you include photos or sketches. You should receive a consultation fee of about $150, which can be applied to the event if you are hired. Only larger event planners can afford to draw up a proposal for "free."

Once the client decides to hire you, ask for a down payment. This is important. Your credibility with your vendors and venue owners could be at stake if the client decides to back out and you don't have enough capital to make payments to your caterer and so forth. Make sure you have a contact person, and keep in mind the old adage about too many cooks.


Brides - Traditional Versus Bridezilla
The word Bridezilla is a term used to describe a woman who displays demanding, selfish, and rude behavior while planning her wedding. It is also the name of a reality show on cable TV where brides showcase the good, bad and ugly aspects of their personalities regarding the upcoming wedding.

When a bride reveals Bridezilla-like behavior, it may be more than a mere response to the stress of wedding planning. This behavior may indicate a dormant narcissistic personality. It makes you wonder just how many potential grooms brush off the bad behavior as stress ─ until they're married for a few months. Even if couples live together before marriage, the bride may stay on good behavior when there is so much at stake. It's usually the wedding planning that brings out her concealed behaviors.

Narcissism is defined as excess love or admiration of oneself, psychologically characterized by self-preoccupation, lack of empathy and an unconscious deficit in self-esteem.
As a wedding planner, dealing with a traditional bride is the ideal situation, however, there are those times when a planner's gut shouts, "Uh-oh!" You have the right to either decline the job, or know what you are getting into and write up a proposal. Be warned, if you cannot deal with a lot of stress or demanding people, give the job a great deal of thought. Money shouldn't be the entire reason for taking a job when there are negatives floating around before you even get started. There is always someone else who is willing to do the party planning.
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