How to start an event planning business

© The MICE Blog - event management blog

Events industry offers a variety of opportunities and it is an exciting and dynamic industry to work in. It is an industry where you can express your creativity, meet diverse and talented people, develop your business skills, and most of all it is fun – no event is ever the same!

On Monday 2nd November we met again for #EventPlannersTalk LIVE event and had the fortune to have two successful event entrepreneurs who started their own event businesses, Kelly Brown Founder of KC Events, specialising in events for the corporate sector and Jason Allan Scott who is a co-founder of VenueMe, the Uber for venue finding, mentor, digital influencer, speaker and author, among others.

The event took place at Balls Brothers Minster Court, another fantastic venue of Late Night London Group with a bar, restaurant and conference space downstairs, where the event took place.

Kelly’s story

With a background in acting and dancing, Kelly Brown is an inspirational woman who emerged from adversity to success. A mum at 22, lone parent and divorcee at 24 with strength, determination and resilience Kelly transformed her challenges into catalysts when she started a corporate career in a top investment bank overseeing the incentive programme and annual conference within the division. During that time she gained her confidence and learned from senior people in her team the “rules of the game” – when to speak, when to be quite and what type of questions to ask.

Her career progressed fast in the bank, she said “While we all do the same technical capabilities, we have our niche and the things we excel at and unique to us. Event industry is a people business and the personality opens the doors – once you open the door you are given that opportunity and if people like you they will come back and ask you again”. Her last role in the firm was created for her which was Recognition & Hospitality Manager for commercial banking working for the board. That was back in 2007 when event strategy was a new term in our industry and she was asked to deliver an award and retention event for the top 25 people in the business, keeping them engaged with the brand. That was very successful and met the targets.

At that time her daughter was diagnosed with a heart problem and she made the decision to give up her corporate career and spend more time with her daughter. Without a plan at first, she sold out her house and moved back to live with her parents.

Shortly, she got a call from an old colleague who was now running his own private equity firm and wanted to launch his brand to the London market. Three events later and she got another call from another past client to deliver an event for them, and that is how KC Events, Kelly and Courtney (named after her daughter), was born.

With no business plan and industry benchmark she learned as she went along. This industry is competitive, sometimes who shouts the loudest gets the job, sometimes it is not transparent and without integrity. When she started her business integrity was very important, to stay true to herself, which comes across through the way she dresses, the way she talks, the way she delivers her events.

Some of the decisions she had to make as a business owner included her pricing strategy: How do you price yourself? Since you are not a product, the way people remember you is based only on your last event. That made her to develop a pricing strategy based on a management fee rather than commission and now she offers pricing based on service level her company provides. That is also how she delivers on transparency. She has five service levels so the clients can see it at a glance. The more her agency supports the client the higher the management fee is.

Second thought was how do you differentiate yourself in such a competitive and saturated market place? Thanks to her corporate background, she knows her target audience very well and decided to specialise in private equity and that is what her clients know her for. With time she is expanding to new industries but she is ok to take it slow, there are no quick wins in this game.

She attributes her success also to having great mentors, has a business coach and mentors others. She said it is important to take on board what others say, learn from it and to get better but you need to ask yourself does it fit with where you are going? Does it fit with what my brand is? Do you say yes only because you don’t want to seem being rude?

It is not always easy. There were months when she didn’t have clients and she was thinking shall she be selling more on Twitter to industry peers and being “busy”? But most of her clients are not looking for her on Twitter. Consider a giveaway? Reduce rates? But these aren’t the ways to get business. She suggests that while events it is what we love, when it comes to events event planning is on the bottom of the list. We need to be the accountant, the marketer, deliver the pitch, be the admin assistant, change the toner in the printer, to do the lunch run. If you concentrate too much on running the event – ask yourself who will be keeping the clients engaged and getting you the next piece of business. Therefore, you need to figure out for yourself how do you network yourself at different events.

To conclude, event industry is great to work in, make friends all over the world, travel, and attend other prestigious events. It is hard work but you can still find the right balance for yourself. If you stay true to who you are, work hard, you look after people then go for it. There is nothing in the industry that says you have to be qualified or need to have a certain amount of turnover before you are credible.

“If you do go for it just work hard, you won’t get anywhere being shy, you need to be the face person, say it is my company and I am a business woman. Power on and don’t let anyone say that you can’t do it”.

© The MICE Blog - event management blog

Jason’s story

Jason started his career 15 years ago with Late Night London and today is well known in the events industry because of this speaking engagements, as a board member of ISES, mentor on the Fast Forward 15 programme, author with three book deals, producer of the podcast #WhosOnTheGuestlist and the co-founder of VenueMe, the Uber of venue finding, showing venues who is looking in real time and allowing dialogue and conversation. He is the most influential #eventprof on Twitter, with over 30,000 followers and he believes that the reason he has such fellowship is because he shares information and what makes one stand out is the people and things we know.

After interviewing over 1,000 founders and entrepreneurs for his podcast, Jason found out what is really important when starting a business:

Timing is the most important when launching a company and contributes to 42% of the reasons most start-ups succeed. Too often entrepreneurs “get high on their own supply” and think their idea is the best and is going to work. But the timing is more important and “is how bad the client wants it”.

Secondly is team execution, the people who back the idea and push it forward. Only on the third place is the idea, as Steve Jobs said “if you can’t be first, be best”. Fourth is the business model which is what investors are looking for and includes facts and figures and lastly is funding, because companies that can show that they can make money from the beginning don’t need to ask for it.

Plan is also very important, and he quoted Mike Tyson who said “everyone has a plan until they are punched in the face” and for start-ups the clients are the punch in the face.

Jason mentioned some of the companies we are all familiar with today including Instagram, YouTube, Airbnb, Groupon and Uber. All are disruptive, some didn’t have a business plan, didn’t get it right from the first time and investors objected their business model. But today they are the unicorns of the industry and worth billions.

To conclude, sometimes it comes down to passion, and especially in an industry as ours. Keep doing it until it works. The events industry will support you when you want to do something, but at the same time it is blunt and will knock you down. Jason’s advice is to fail but fail fast. When you do fail, it can be that you didn’t pitch the correct things, the USP wasn’t strong enough, the incentive package didn’t explain the different reasons why this was the best place to go to or any other reason, make sure you land on your back so you can look up, get over it and try again, because the more you try the better you are.

Big thanks goes again to Late Night LondonEvoleroTweetwall Pro for sponsoring and supporting this event and to our fantastic speakers for sharing their experience and know-how! Photos by Sandeep Rai.

This is the first part of the session, the second part will follow shortly.

© The MICE Blog - event management blog


© The MICE Blog - event management blog

© The MICE Blog - event management blog

© The MICE Blog - event management blog

© The MICE Blog - event management blog

© The MICE Blog - event management blog

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