What is it?
A killer venue, fantastic music and the best of food: party and events planning is a popular business. Not surprising really. Who doesn’t love a great party? As a start-up, you’ll have to work hard to organise a myriad of elements. You’ll juggle post-its, phone numbers and endless lists to make the most spectacular of shindigs, booking the perfect entertainment; contacting the most sought after caterers; getting deals on dream venues with the perfect décor; and sorting everything from the waiting staff to the balloons… put simply, you’ll apply top notch project management skills to the creation, and development, of sparkling parties and events.
But all that project management is a doddle when you consider how hard you’ll need to work to differentiate yourself in what is a very saturated market. Events can be classified into four broad categories based on their purpose and objective: Leisure events e.g. leisure sport, music, recreation; Cultural events e.g. ceremonial, religious, art, heritage; Personal events e.g. weddings, birthdays, anniversaries; and Organisational events e.g. commercial, political, charitable, sales, product launches and expositions. There are companies that specialise in exhibitions, conferences, festivals, cultural activities; and then there are the private events: kids’ parties, weddings, 21sts and Bar Mitzvahs. You’ll be hard pressed to come up with a new angle.
With universities in the UK producing between 200-500 events management graduates per year, you can bet on ever more competition coming your way, too: there are a lot of people who want to get into this creative industry. This can have a serious impact on your business from the outset, as David Jamilly of Theme Traders explains: “With a popular industry, what happens is the salary levels drop and the competition tends to be very intense.”
You are pitted against an awful lot of people who will work in events for free, because they want to be involved in what is considered a ‘fun’ industry. Be prepared to watch your price point.
Who is it suited to?
In terms of setting off on a career in party planning and events management, the key thing is that you are keen, with a genuine interest in the industry. It’s pretty tough, and certainly not a ‘get rich quick’ scheme. According to Michael Newsome of Connect Events, to be successful in party planning and events, it’s all about personality. The party planner is a special mix. On the one hand, you have to be extraordinarily organised in order to juggle all the logistical elements of a range of projects; on the other hand, there’s the creative imperative, for which you need a completely different skillset. And on top of all that, it really helps if you are ‘bubbly and outgoing’.
Party and events entrepreneurs come from a whole host of backgrounds, and boast a formidable range of specialisms from management and marketing, to sports and music. If you have experience in a corporate events firm, or an events management degree, it opens up a lot of doors, according to David Jamilly of Theme Traders. “I’ve been in the events industry for 25 years, and it’s changed very much. 25 years ago, it was a new industry. Events management was only offered as a degree around 14 years ago. So, the qualifications thing is quite new.”
Michael agrees that a degree in events management could definitely help: “When I went to university if I had known that this is what I wanted to do, I think I would have done a degree dedicated to it. I think it’s a help, and would give you a grounding. But it’s not at all vital.”
Planning and research
You are strongly advised to do as much research and be as passionate about the events industry as you can. You’re up against well-seasoned professionals who haven’t got enough work to go around.
You need to be very clear on the area in which you want to run events. Will you set out to be the go-to company for children’s parties; charity events; sports pop ups; engagement bashes; baby showers? Or perhaps specialise in arranging product launches, fashion shows or concerts? First, determine which events you will run, then break down whose parties you will plan, and finally, decide on the style you’re going to have as a business. Because in event management, having a stellar concept for an event is not enough, you need to tailor everything to your target audience. Party planning and events spans a really broad area. It’s all too easy to stretch yourself, and your company, too far and to offer too much.
“My advice to anyone setting up a business in events would be to find a niche,” says David Jamilly of Theme Traders. “Specialise in a niche and stick to it. Because there’s tremendous competition in every single area you can dream of, and unless you are the best in that field, there’s not much chance of you doing well or surviving.”
See what else is out there. Research what is already available in your chosen area. What quotes do your would-be competitors give? If the market is too crowded, or over saturated, and the pricing too steep, you might need a different speciality, or perhaps need to launch in a different location. When you are devising your business plan, bear in mind that the events industry is quite cyclical, and is very affected by macro-economic and social trends. According to David Jamilly, it’s not the kind of industry where you can plot returns over six months, or over a year. “You have to think long term,” he advises. There are certain times of the year when there will be no action at all across the industry.
Beyond that, it’s cyclical in terms of public expenditure too. For example, it is expected that the Olympics will offer a welcome boost to the industry, but in recent years it’s been tough for events. This is an industry affected by how society feels, and how much money there is floating about at a given time. “It cuts all the way through,” David says, whether you’re focusing on the corporate side of things, or on private events such as weddings.
Whichever area you set up in, if you have the budget, it is worth joining an industry body such as The Association of Event Organisers which offers training, mentoring services (http://www.aeo.org.uk/page.cfm/Link=89/t=m/goSection=3), advice on approved suppliers and a range of networking events. What’s more, the organisation will add you to its Members’ Directory, and will keep you up to date on developments in the industry.
As with any business, in party and events planning avoid over expansion and under capitalisation. The strength of one good client isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a good reason to buy a new Mercedes car – even if you’ve just won a contract for the Olympics.
Rules and regulations
Party planning and events is very highly regulated in terms of health and safety. There is a legal requirement under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations to carry out risk assessments that identify any and all significant risks. Think fire safety risk assessments, food poisoning and disability access. This is heavy duty stuff, and should not be dismissed as box ticking.
Venues usually produce generic risk assessments to indicate common hazards for most events, but you would be well advised to produce your own risk assessment in addition to this. You should detail the hazards and controls for each individual event, considering everything from trips and falls, heavy loads and electric shocks, to work equipment, Legionnaires disease (pesky water features) and structural security.
The industry is highly regulated in terms of ‘can and can’t do’, depending where you are. If you’re working in the EXCEL Centre, for instance, then the internal rules and regulations will be immense. If you’re working on public property, then obviously you’ll have to get police or council compliances and licences. It depends on your venue and what kind of event you’re aiming to set up.
You will, of course, require insurance too. There are no insurance companies that specialise particularly in events, so you’ll be looking at standard business insurances such as public liability and product liability insurance. “There are some specialised insurance companies that will insure against bad weather for events,” says David Jamilly of Theme Traders, “but otherwise it falls back on general business insurance.”
There are an array of sectors from exhibitions, conferences, festivals and cultural activities, to private events such as 21st birthdays, Bar Mitzvahs and a host of religious events that you can get involved in. Each one of these sectors tends to have an official organisation, or a body. One of the most famous associations is called ISES, The International Special Events Society, which is a global society. The Association of Events Organisers is worth a look too. These organisations can help you understand the rules and regulations connected with your speciality.
The sustainable side of things is also worth looking into, according to Michael Newsome of Connect Events. Eco thinking is a new industry standard. “Make sure your suppliers are using ecological products; source food and drink locally rather than bringing it in from abroad; and anything you produce, like flyers and posters, should be produced on recycled paper and so on,” he advises. “It’s about being aware of it rather than watching out for legislation, but it’s becoming quite important.”
When it comes to party planning, keep a green theme where possible.
Costs and potential earnings
“It’s an extremely difficult industry to break,” warns David Jamilly of Theme Traders. “It’s incredibly competitive, the margins are extremely low – and the salary is very low too!” But that’s not to say it’s not a great industry to work in. And your company may break the mould.
If you’re coming from a large corporate events company, things will be a lot easier in terms of establishing good relationships with venues and suppliers, and making a list of contacts to get good rates in printing etc. “If you’ve worked with an events company before, you already have those contacts set up,” says Michael Newsome of Connect Events. “That way, when you set up on your own, you’ve got a starting point.” But don’t underestimate the effort it takes to build up your supporting infrastructure. Just because you’re successful in an established events company, doesn’t mean you won’t have to push hard when you’re on your own. You will not have a separate marketing department, or a tech guy to call on when your site crashes. The devil’s in the detail.
According to Michael, your supplier costs will dictate your pricings for the most part. Just how low you can swing your venue rentals and printing costs will, alas, depend on your contacts. Your overheads, if you are working on your own, could be as little as the cost of a phone line and a website. Marketing and promotions are considerations too (more of that, below). The biggest costs in big companies are in staff and you shouldn’t have to worry too much about that during the early days.
Reputation and marketing
This industry has got a history of lots of people entering it, doing a bad job, and then going bust, so reputation is incredibly important. As with all industries, word of mouth is key. In this digtial age, word-of-mouth includes online social networks too. Twitter and Facebook pages should form part of your portfolio of marketing efforts. Link your pages to your own site or blog: this will feed traffic to your site, improve your SEO tagging and your search rating. Every little helps.
You could, as Michael Newsome of Connect Events suggests, use marketing lists, which are available for purchase, to arrange email shots and targeted marketing. Just make sure you choose the right lists. If you are going down this route, it’s really advisable to read up on data protection. Be careful to buy lists that are kosher.
No matter how successful your online campaign is, however, at the end of the day you can’t really buy reputation with Google advertising, or mailshot. The most important thing is getting yourself established. Run a number of successful events, build up good relationships in the industry, and your reputation will soon tower over your competitors. As David Jamilly suggests, this will take time: “For a start-up business, as a rule it’s two to three years, breaking even; five years doing okay – that’s applicable to this industry as well.”
Event Management is a multi-million pound industry: if you are an organisational hot shot who throws a great party, you could take a bash at it and earn yourself a cut of the winnings. But if you want to be part of this rapidly growing and rabidly competitive sector, just be sure you’re prepared to fight it out with the big boys!
These associations will keep you up to date on new regulations and new movements in the events industry, and they host excellent networking events.
Events Industry Alliance is a business created by ESSA, AEO and AEV to provide an association management secretariat service in the events industry. The three associations are run by its members for the benefit of its members through an elected council of representatives, specialist working groups and a full time secretariat.
International Special Events Society is an association that sits at the heart of the worldwide event industry, and is truly International with a network of over 7000 members across the world.
Association of Events Organisers is the trade body representing companies which conceive, create, develop or manage trade and consumer events.
Association of Events Venues is an organisation serving an established event venue community, focused on creating and driving platforms that service fundamental industry needs.
Event Supplier and Services Association is a trade association representing contractors and suppliers of goods and services to the events industry.
UK Alliance of Wedding Planners was founded to promote professionalism in wedding planning. This is done through membership, training courses and specialised events.
Theme Traders offers event management and party planning services incorporating production, design, consultancy, installation, props, theming, event prop hire, furniture hire, party and event decorations. David Jamilly is the author of ‘Party People’
Connect Events Ltd
Connect Events specialises in the management of events, primarily within the technology, media and sports markets.