This excerpt is part of Entrepreneur.com's Second-Quarter Startup Kit which explores the fundamentals of starting up in a wide range of industries.
In Start Your Own Event Planning Business, the staff at Entrepreneur Press and writer Cheryl Kimball explain how you can get started in the event planning industry, whether you want to work part- or full-time planning anything from a first-birthday party, bar mitzvah or wedding to political fundraisers and product launches. In this edited excerpt, the authors discuss the two types of markets you can target as well as why choosing a niche is a smart move.
Broadly speaking, there are two primary markets for event planning services: corporate and social.
The term corporate includes not only companies but also charities and nonprofit organizations. All these entities use special events to reach their target markets and to increase their visibility in the community. In fact, special events have become increasingly important as competition forces organizations to look for new ways to get their messages across to consumers or contributors.
Charities and nonprofit organizations host gala fundraisers, receptions and athletic competitions, among other events, to expand their public support base and raise the funds they require. Thousands of these events occur each year, and although the larger ones require specialized event planning experience, you may find smaller local events to plan.
Companies host trade shows, conventions, company picnics, holiday parties and meetings for staff members, board members or stockholders. In one year alone, the total number of corporate meetings held in the United States is well over 1 million, according to the latest (2008) Meetings Market Report conducted for Meetings & Conventions magazine.
Whether you plan meetings, fundraisers or receptions, there are plenty of opportunities available in corporate event planning. While planning corporate events can provide you with a steady, profitable amount of business, if you're a beginning event planner, industry experts recommends that you begin by planning social events.
Social events include weddings, birthdays, anniversary parties, bar and bat mitzvahs, Sweet 16 parties, children’s parties, reunions, etc. You may decide to handle all these events or to specialize in one or more of them.
Most people who employ event planners for these types of parties are in the middle- to upper-income levels and have some spare income but no spare time. Such clients are likely to live in affluent suburbs.
Experts expect the market for social events, especially birthdays and anniversaries, to continue to increase over the next few years, as baby boomers mature. This group has children getting married, parents celebrating golden anniversaries, and their own silver wedding anniversaries to celebrate.
Choosing your niche
No matter whether you decide to focus on either corporate or social events, you should consider specializing even further, narrowing your attention to children’s parties, corporate retreats or other types of events. Why? “Without a niche market, it makes it hard for the market consumer to find you,” says Dr. Joe Goldblatt, an event planning industry expert and the founder of the International Special Events Society. For example, if you’re known as your community’s expert on anniversary parties, a client wanting to throw such a party is more likely to hire you than a general party planner.
Specializing in one or two types of events will also make your job easier. You can become an expert in one type of event faster than you can in multiple events. Specializing will save you time because you’ll soon be familiar with all the elements of, and vendors required for, the type of event you choose. And as an event professional, time is one of your most valuable resources--the more you can save, the better.
Selecting a niche will also help you save on startup costs since you'll need to buy supplies only relevant to your specialization. For instance, if you choose children’s birthday party planning as your niche, you won’t need to buy complicated event-planning software designed for larger events.
Industry expert Sachs agrees that specializing is a good way to establish yourself in the industry. She suggests the following possible niches for social event planners:
- Hospitality suites (events held in the “party” room of a retirement home or a business)
- Parties away from home (events hosted by hotel guests)
- Surprise parties
- Progressive parties (events at more than one venue, usually involving transportation from one location to another, such as tours or scavenger hunts)
- His and hers showers, both wedding and baby
- Birthday parties for one-year-olds
- Theme parties
- “Golden” parties (50th anniversaries, 50th birthdays, etc.)
- Milestone birthdays
- Weekend event guest services (events to entertain out-of-town guests over the weekend, such as tours or barbecues)
- Kids’ parties
- Kids’ event areas at grown-up parties
The niches listed above all have a social focus, even though your client might also be a corporation. The following are some additional possibilities for finding your niche in business-related events:
- Mall events (fashion shows, store grand openings, department-store promotions)
- Meetings and conferences
- Awards events
- Corporate retreats or picnics
If you do decide to focus on one type of event, be sure that your market area has enough of a demand. If you live in a rural area, developing a business based on organizing corporate meetings and conferences is probably not as sensible--or as profitable--as developing an event planning business focusing on social events.