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Your Event Planner Job
Your Event Planner Job

Important Characteristics of a Successful Event Planner

The following characteristics are essential to the successful event planner:

  • people skills;
  • organizational skills;
  • networking skills;
  • knowledge of and training in the field;
  • versatility;
  • leadership;
  • team building capabilities;
  • calm demeanor under stress;
  • sociability;
  • friendliness;
  • efficiency;
  • creativity.

People Skills
You have to really like people. Event planners are masters at interpersonal relationships. They have to be! Events are special occurrences that will mean a great deal to your clients. Because of this vested interest, your client could become very emotionally attached to every last detail. Your job will be to keep calm and maintain your composure while demonstrating to your client that you are listening and understanding the needs and objectives expressed. You will be dealing with dozens, if not scores, of people as you plan an event. Every person is an individual and has a distinct personality. Your job will entail dealing with all types of personalities with the end objective in mind: pulling off the event.

Perhaps your caterer is a hot-tempered Greek. He might be absolutely the very best chef in your city but hard to get along with. You must be able to communicate with him in such a way that he does not lose his cool and destroy dinner for 150 people. Or you may have two vendors working at your event who do not like each other. Your job may involve maintaining a professional atmosphere between the two so that nothing interferes with the event. Improving your people skills is an ongoing process. Read books on customer service. Listen to trainings on salesmanship and the art of persuasion. Attend trainings that will improve your people skills.

Tact is a skill that can be learned and can mean the difference between repeat business or going out of business. There will be times when you have to break unwanted news to your clients. Many times their budgets simply will not allow for everything they are dreaming of. They may want decorations that are simply inappropriate, and it will be up to you to figure out how to tell them, "We really can't do that, but what we can do is _____." By giving your clients an option or two, they still feel as though they are part of the decision-making process and still fall into line with what you believe your needs are.

Communication Skills
In order to communicate, you must understand what communication is. Communication is sending, receiving, and understanding a message. Merely telling someone something is not communication. The message must be heard and understood in order for there to be communication. You will be conveying ideas and plans to clients, staff, vendors, and other people in your business. Communication is very much nonverbal, so learning to be a reader of body language is important in your business as well. Communication, both verbal and nonverbal, is an area of personal development that will help you achieve much in your field.

Organizational Skills
Event planners are highly organized, efficient, and know how to lead and direct a team of people. They must attend to hundreds, even thousands, of tiny details and ensure that they are duly recorded in some fashion. Most event planners use notebooks that are duplicated so that each person who is responsible for a portion of the event knows exactly what all other participants are doing. This is important in case an event planner falls ill; the notebook will allow someone else to come in and pick right up where the original event planner left off.

Networking Skills
As an event planner, you must know people in the field. It is important to know other event planners, even though you are in direct competition with them. There are many occasions when you will find yourself working together with other event planners on very large projects. In her interview, Cicely Rocha-Miller talks about the work involved when collaborating on other projects:

Question: I'm terrified of the idea of organizing a special event, and I'm fascinated by someone who thinks that might be a fun job.

Cicely: You should be because it's not that much fun. It can be fun, but at the end of the day, it is a lot of work, that's for sure!

Q: I understand that you were involved in John Travolta's Super Bowl party two years ago? Is that correct?

C: I did help with the design with that. I actually partnered with an event producer, and he did all the logistics of the sponsors and I just came as a designer and I just helped him to bring together an overall look to both events. We did one for John Travolta and then one for Carmen Electra on a separate night. It wasn't as fancy as it sounds, but it was very star-studded.

Q: What you just said touches on the very thing that I think most people don't realize. You said, "I came in as a designer." Here I am talking to you and I see you as an event organizer. What I'm discovering is that people like you work together and yet you work independently. How do you establish your role in an event?

C: It all depends on which genre you're looking at. A typical event could be…is it a social event, something personal like a Quinceanera, a bat mitzvah, wedding, anniversary party, social party, dinner party, or are you looking more at the corporate entity…. Is it a conference, is it an awards show, Christmas or holiday party? Then there is the nonprofit aspect of it, which is why I got into this as I did. This option includes events, galas, casino nights, raffles … all those different types of entities, so there are many, many facets of events that happen. I happened to be, I would say, more of an expert with my education and nonprofit/charity events, but because I really work hard at every event I do, I am sometimes called on to help with a much bigger event because word has gotten around that I do what I say I can do.

Knowledge and Training in the Field

There was a bit of a craze after The Wedding Planner movie came out, with hundreds of people thinking, "Well, I can do that!" Indeed, after Jennifer Lopez, in the character of Mary Fiore, showed just how easy it is to coordinate a wedding, interest in the field boomed. What many discovered, however, was that Mary Fiore was very, very good at her job, and she made it look easy. When an event comes off without a hitch, everything flowing beautifully, the event planner did an excellent job. Without some type of experience in the field, the job is not as easy as it looks. The good event planner only makes it look easy. Without the necessary knowledge and training in this or a related field, your future in event planning could be limited.

Being versatile and creative is critical in the field of event planning, where every event is different, the players change, and Murphy's Law being ever present proves that what can go wrong certainly will. What distinguishes a good event planner from a poor one is how one handles such a situation. There are stories of wedding cakes falling top down on the floor just prior to a reception, or a landslide blocking the only way to an outdoor event that had been months in the planning. The versatile event planner will know what to do in a split second. It never pays in this field to become easily flustered and frustrated.

Leadership and Team Building Capabilities
Want to learn more? Take an online course in Special Events Planning.

In order for people to trust you with thousands, tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars, you must be able to demonstrate that you have a team of people supporting you and that you are capable of leading them. Leadership is much, much more than just telling other people what to do. Leadership entails vision, confidence, and the ability to get people to follow your directions willingly because they understand the purpose behind the action.

Ability to Remain Calm Under Stress
One floral designer had just completed the flowers for a very large outdoor wedding at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. The two tall altar arrangements alone were $400 each. The problem began when the late afternoon breeze turned into a 35 mph wind, toppling one of the arrangements. The first fall resulted in minimal damage, but any more would seriously rearrange the flowers.

The floral designer asked the hotel's wedding coordinator to leave a table near where the couple would make their vows, providing a stabilizer for the arrangements. The coordinator insisted that the bride was adamant about no table. This left the floral designer in a tough spot, but she searched out the bride, explained the situation, and the table became part of the floral arrangement and the wedding went off without a hitch. There will be times when disaster strikes, and you will need to figure out how to head it off, fix it, or come up with a totally different plan. In event planning, there are no second chances. You have to get it right the first time.
This could also be classified under people skills, but it actually deserves a separate category because sociability means that you can bring people into a conversation, you can get them to share thoughts, ideas, and information with you easily. In order to be an event planner, you have to be highly skilled at the art of conversation, of being convivial, of knowing how to put people at ease. Introverted hermits really do not do well at this business.

Ability to Make Decisions
If you have trouble making split-second decisions, this may not be the career for you. You will be called upon to make dozens of instantaneous decisions. You have to be able to make a decision, go with it, and have it be the correct decision.

When working as an event planner you do not want to be covering the same ground twice. This is why it is a good idea to shadow a skilled event planner or become involved in a mentorship program. It is only by doing the job with someone who is skilled that you develop the efficiency necessary to be good at your job. You charge by the hour in this job, so your hourly wage depends on how good you are at your job. If it takes you longer to do something, you still have to get it done, but you cannot charge any more for it.

In the event planning field, creativity is a valuable asset even if you are not involved with the design aspect of an event. Creativity is actually much more than planning out how things look. It can also entail the realization that Plan A is not going very well, so you have to come up with a Plan B within minutes.

Representing Your Client

Being a representative of your client means putting your own personal opinions away. You are going to be asked to plan events that you would never in a million years have done for yourself. Many people are forgoing tradition and embracing their own personal style. It is your job to figure out how to incorporate bits and pieces of their personality into their event. Figure out how some of the story of their lives or their business can be intertwined into the event. By including the style and personality of your clients, you really will be creating a unique and memorable experience for your client and his or her guests.
Going into Business


Congratulations! You have decided to go into event planning, and this lesson is for those of you who have decided to make this your own personal business. This will require that you research the industry in your area, determine what your specialty will be, calculate business start-up costs, and create a business plan.

Without doing these steps, you may start out very well, but missing an important detail in business planning will result in your becoming one of the many businesses that close its doors within five years of opening.

Let us discuss each of these areas of preparation to go into business.

Research the Industry in Your Area and Choose a Niche

This used to be a relatively informal process, but in today's environment you must remember that you will be competing globally for business. If you wish to plan social events, you may consider limiting your involvement to only clients within your immediate area; your city and/or county would be a good place to work. If, however, you prefer to work corporate events, you may need to expand your sights to a more national scope.

What is the population of your target area? Research studies have proven that you need a population of at least 50,000 to support the services of one event planner. Look up other event planners in your area and determine whether your market is saturated or not. A good number of event planners only intend to work part time and ease their way into their existing market.

Answer the following questions to determine whether your target market can support your services:

  1. Do you live in an area where the population base will support your new event planning service?
  2. Is the economy stable in your area, or is your target market suffering serious economic trouble?
  3. Does your target market have the proper demographics for the business you envision? If you want to plan childrens' parties, but you live in an area that is made up largely of retirement communities, you may need to reevaluate your chosen niche, or your target market.
  4. Have you checked with the local chamber of commerce for information on your area's economic development?
  5. Find out how people spend their money by going to www.bls.gov/cex/ and downloading the Bureau of Labor's Consumer Expenditure Survey.
  6. If you intend to be a corporate planner, how many corporations in your area hold regular meetings and conventions? Do they use outside services? Go to the Web site of your target companies to get this information.
  7. Interview potential clients about their needs and whether they may use a service such as yours. If you plan on being a social event planner, look for those customers. If you intend to work in the corporate setting, talk to directors of marketing and meeting planners at those corporations. Interview the catering managers at your local convention halls and banquet facilities.
  8. Analyze the competition. This field is highly competitive, but do not let that deter you. In the corporate field, your competition will be in the form of other event planning professionals and in-house meeting planners. Check with international trade associations such as International Special Events Society (ISES) or Meeting Planner International (MPI) to see how many members might be located in your area. If you are looking at the social arena, you will be competing against other social event planners as well as caterers, floral designers, and others who are in a tangential market but have taken on the duties of planning events.
  9. Market research costs can be kept to a minimum if you check with local colleges and universities for free assistance. The students may be able to receive credit for helping you, and you suffer less trauma to your billfold.
  10. Do not get discouraged. If you discover that there is a lot of competition. Try to find a niche in this arena that has not been filled. Ask questions of everyone, including other vendors and party supply stores.

Calculate Start-up Costs

This question has to be answered for anyone planning on going into any kind of business. This will depend on the cost of living in your area and whether you plan to rent an office space or start out in your home. Many event planners were interviewed for this course, and about half of them work from their home and the rest have rented a space from which to run their business. It is worth noting that most of those who work from home have an office at home that has a separate entrance so that their potential clients do not have to walk through their home to get to an office space.

Going into business will require some basic equipment, insurance, business licenses, advertising and marketing, and other miscellaneous expenditures. The following worksheet will give you something to fill in and decide if you are ready to launch your own business right now.

It looks pretty obvious that working from home and using some of your existing equipment (cell phone and home computer, for example) will significantly cut the cost of starting your business. However, if you intend to be successful, you will want to look at that higher number because you will likely need additional funds to hire people, invest in more and better equipment, and need more legal and accounting advice. Never, never, never do without adequate insurance, both for yourself and your events. Never. If you cannot afford the insurance, you cannot afford to go into this business.

Preparing a Business Plan

A business plan is a document that can be 20 to 50 pages long. It is a document that is best written by you, though many people do outsource this work. The reason you should be the one to write it is that you will have to be the one to approach any potential lender or investor and explain your business to them and why you believe it will be successful and make money.

A business plan will talk about the event planning industry; the business structure you intend to use, such as sole proprietorship, corporation, or limited liability company (LLC); the exact services you intend to offer; who your clients will be; who your competition is; your marketing analysis; how you intend to overcome competition; what your anticipated income and expenditures will be for the first months or years of your business; and all other relevant information.

By authoring your own business plan, you will be able to understand and manage your business. You will be confident when approaching others to partner with you or to invest in your business idea. Should you need additional money, your business plan will become part of your loan application.

A good and complete business plan usually will comprise seven sections:

  1. Executive summary: This will summarize your business plan and include such information as the nature of your business, the legal business structure you intend to use, the type of events you intend to plan, and your goals for the future of your business.
  2. Business description: This section will allow you to go into greater detail about your special event planning business and whom you intend to market it to. Your market analysis completed previously will provide the hard and fast numbers you will need in this section.
  3. Market strategies: In this area, you will detail specifically how you intend to reach your target market. It will help you to explain how your company will be unique in the marketplace.
  4. Competitive analysis: Here you will explain how you intend to overcome your competition.
  5. Future business development: This section allows you to explain how you will create new markets as you grow your business.
  6. Operations and results: This section will help others understand how you intend to run your business on a daily basis, how many events you intend to handle, and how you intend to manage them.
  7. Finances: Here you will look into your crystal ball and estimate how much you intend to make. Even if you only intend to handle half a dozen events the first year, make sure you evaluate every step of every event here and estimate how much money you are likely to clear. Next, do a five-year plan. Where do you really hope to be by then? How do you intend to get there?

For a look at a business plan for an event planning business go to:

Training: Degree Programs, Internships, and Mentoring Programs

Many event planners find themselves in the field almost by accident. Cicely Rocha-Miller was a former planner for the nonprofit organization she worked for. Each time she organized an event, she discovered that she was very good at what she did and that other organizations could use her expertise. Eventually, Cicely branched out and started her own company because she saw a need in the market for her services.

Other people know from the very beginning that they enjoy the hospitality field, and they go to college to get a degree in a related field. Many event planners have degrees in hotel/restaurant management, in tourism management, in food/beverage service, or in convention/meeting planning. Most of the people with a degree look for jobs with corporations. What any event planner will tell these people, however, is that they still have to work in the trenches. There is so much to this business that simply cannot be learned from books and classes. You have to live it, eat it, and breathe it until you become it.

This kind of education then is available as on-the-job-training. And how does this happen? Some event planners recognize the importance of this type of training and open themselves and their business up to internship or mentorship programs. I asked Cicely Rocha-Miller about how people get jobs in this field and how they learn the ropes:

Q: So you do background checks, and you talked about having people work under you. How do you get those people? ... Do you hire employees? Do you use people as independent contractors? How do you know whom you want to work with?

C: I have both. I have employees and girls who are [tax form] 1099 independent contractors. Really, most of my staff includes, hmm, 90 percent of them have been referred to me by a colleague that they thought would be a good match. How it really works, in regard to an event planner per se, I have all different levels of girls who work with me because they move up the ladder to get to the point where they are consultants. There is a trial period. I want to see how well you work on the event day. So, they'll come and they'll work for me for free for one event, and they understand that because I have literally gotten up to three or four e-mails a day requesting to be employed by my company, or they want to work for an event planner, or they saw the movie The Wedding Planner and think it would be cool. I also have a mentorship program as well; it is on a trial basis. I find that our company is focused on giving high-end service; we want to give a five-star experience. I feel that the execution of the event is so important, but I also want to have the experience for the client be just as important. They need to enjoy that process as well. So, with that, the girls have to focus on customer service. I rank that even more highly than organization. You have to have customer service. I want smiles. I want a good work ethic. They have to work hard. I'm able to watch them and give them the opportunity to prove to me that they are ready to move up to the next level. If they don't meet the criteria, then they're just not asked to come back.

Q: If you get three requests a day, how do you sift through that?

C: I have a specific e-mail that is dedicated to my mentorship program. It impresses me a lot when I get an e-mail from someone who has taken time to learn about the company. If I get an e-mail where they put another event planner's name in an e-mail and send it to me, they won't even get a reply. That's an automatic delete. With the ones that meet the criteria, first of all, I have to evaluate if we're hiring…most times we're not because most of the time I'm pretty well staffed. If not, then here are the necessary steps. If I'm not hiring, then I have information to send to them about our mentorship program. Even that is still very much selective. There are criteria that they have to meet: They have to write a small essay, and it is a whole job-shadowing program for the week of an event, and that is on a waiting list as well. Depending on how many events we have, that will either speed up or slow down the process.

Cicely's answer demonstrates just how someone can break into the field. You have to do your homework, you have to know the business, and you have to have evaluated yourself and determined that you really do belong in the field of special event planning.

Because this course is about special event planning, this lesson will give you only the basics of how to go into business for yourself. It would be wise to consider taking an additional course that will give you more specific details on how to start a business.
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