All posts in “career tips”

10 Questions from an Intern – My Journey as an Event Professional

IMG_6625I had the opportunity to work with an intern, Erin Quadrozzi, a Hospitality student at Endicott College, over the winter break. She was a delight to have in our office and it was a pleasure showing her “the ropes” onsite at events and during the planning phases of several upcoming events. I’d like to share 10 questions that Erin asked during her parting interview about my career path, a typical day for an event planner and how to prepare for a career in events.

1. What is your professional background and how did you decide to work in this field?
I began my career as a volunteer for a youth leadership organization while I was working in the insurance industry in Boston in my early twenties. I liked organizing, working with people, seeing how solving complex organizational challenges was rewarding and fun. It was a very social experience – collaborative and altruistic – providing high school students with a chance to interact with community leaders.

I joined my father’s moving and storage business shortly after and began working with exhibit and display customers – shipping their booths to trade shows across the county. It was then that I was asked to assist with a hospitality event for customers of one of my trade show clients. They saw that I was organized and was a reliable partner for them, so I said yes to helping. The woman who had asked me was going on maternity leave and planned to come back to finish the planning for this event, but never did, so I saw it to fruition. It was in New Orleans in 1991. We hosted the event at Mardi Gras World where all the floats from the parade are stored. From then, I planned their annual event each year at locations in the US where the show was being held – Atlanta, LA, Dallas, Chicago, New Orleans. At that time, I relied on my colleagues in the International Special Events Society to help me resource vendors and venues. It was before the internet became widely used, so I did all my investigative work through phone calls and the yellow pages. It was exciting traveling to these different locations and creating an event that provided a social experience while meeting the client’s sales and marketing initiatives.

2. What degree(s), coursework, and skills are most helpful to persons entering this field?
I have made a conscious effort to help those who want to enter into the field or advance their careers by sharing my expertise and bringing my colleagues together to also serve as instructors, lecturers and mentors with an online program – Special Events Institute. It’s been rewarding and exciting to see so many event enthusiasts learn from best practices and not have to do it the hard way – by trial and error. I think a combination of course work – either in your community or online – is a great starting point. Add volunteerism, working with a mentor or an internship to put what you’ve learned into action. Those two components will help build an event professional’s skills and confidence.

3. What other careers (or job titles) are related to work in this field?
Event Marketing, Fundraising or Development for Nonprofits, Academic Event Planning, Hospitality, Hotel and Restaurant Management, Wedding or Social event planning, Tour or Travel Specialist – so many industries use qualified organizers or planners to meet their goals – it’s all about creating the experience.

4. What professional organizations (and/or publications) related to this field provide resources for students to help them learn more?
These are the organization that I have found most helpful. For a full list, you check Appendix B in both of my books – How to Start a Home-based Event Planning Business and How to Start a Home-based Wedding Planning Business.
MPI – Meeting Professionals International
PCMA – Professional Convention Management Association
ISES – International Special Events Society
NACE – National Association of Catering Executives

5. What do you like and dislike most about your job?
I like the journey – seeing a need and figuring out how to make it happen. I like to see people come together for a purpose and enjoy the experience. I like solving problems, overcoming challenges. I like making something new and different through a creative experience. It’s challenging to have prospects that don’t understand the value of a professional, or who don’t heed your advice. Especially when it comes to safety issues or recommendations to create unique elements of an event. At times, a client comes in with ideas that they have seen or heard about and want to do the exact same thing. It’s more fun if they let you as the event professional, add some nuances or style to make it their own, or do it in a way that will yield a better result.

6. What are advantages and disadvantages of working at small and large organizations?
Small companies allow you to get involved with many aspects of the planning process. You see something from start to finish. On the other hand, you have to do a lot yourself at times. You don’t necessary have the “team” to hand things off to, but you can create your own team of event colleagues and vendors to be your strategic partners and support you. They can fill in when you need them and round out the skills that you have.

Working in a large company, you have access to more resources – an IT department, a marketing department, a travel department – it’s nice being able to dial a number or send an email and have your computer fixed or flight booked. The downside may be that there are more levels of approvals or management – and you may not be able to see all parts that go into the end result of an event.

I have worked as a small business owner for my most of my career, but have had amazing strategic partners that have allowed me to plan large-scale events worldwide, so it is all about the team, no matter the size of the company your work in.

7. If you had to start over again, would you do anything differently? If so, what?
Not really – I have been fortunate to meet many people, travel the world and experience the pleasure of creating successful events that have made a difference to so many people. I have enjoyed the variety of clients – social, nonprofit, corporate, community and academic – and that diversity has really enriched my life. I also have been able to balance my work life with a full home and personal side – having a family, great friends and I enjoy the outdoors when I can. I have no regrets and now, after 29 years in the industry, really love to hear that I have inspired or helped someone who dreams of having a career in events. It’s been very rewarding!

8. How much do you travel for work? Why? How do you balance this with your personal life?
Now I don’t travel as much, but when I did for client events, site inspections or meetings, I relied on support from family and professional services so my children were safe and happy. I have been in a book group for 25 years (although I must admit, I don’t read the book all the time), and love to grow vegetables in the summer, walk my dogs and be outdoors when possible. I think multi-tasking has worked for me – walk the dogs and get exercise – visit friends and read a book – garden and feed my family – things that I can do in small doses throughout my day or week that bring me pleasure!

9. How many hours/week do you work? What sort of work do you take work home, if any?
I guess you could say that I would work all the time – but it’s just living my life. I love what I do, so I am always thinking of new things to do, ways to connect with clients, and how to make projects the best they can be. I typically work at least 8 hours each day and some of the weekends as well. I have a home office so it’s easy to slip into my office and jump on the computer. Once I do, I connect with students and instructors in my courses, work on projects, or take care of business details for my businesses.

10. What is a typical day like? A typical week? Year?
In a day, I spend quite a bit of time on the computer – in my courses with current students, on social media, reading, sharing and connecting, on the phone with colleagues or clients or with marketing or business planning details. I also walk my dogs with my daughter or husband daily, cook and dine with my family, visit a friend or attend an event or meeting. I am on the board of an art gallery and am active in my community with events that may be held during the week.

During a week – I have my daily schedule, and on the weekends, try to spend time outdoors, will take my elderly Mom out for errands or to my home to cook and visit and take care of home chores. I also love music and will see live music or have dinner with my husband and friends when possible.

In a year, I attend professional conventions, speak at colleges, universities or at conferences, vacation with my family and enjoy the seasons of New England. I like to cross country ski, hike and walk, swim and visit the ocean and be with my family, cousins and friends. I plan a few get-away’s a year with my girl cousins to stay connected with them as well. It’s great having support and love – and giving it – I feel very lucky~ I’ve had an amazing career that has allowed me to travel, write books, create educational opportunities for others and give back and have fun along the way.

The Balancing Act

Coffee Break

Best-selling author and SEI Executive Director, Jill Moran, CSEP shares her insight on balancing the many responsibilities of an event or wedding professional. From family, to scheduling, to friends and downtime – she’ll share her insight on how to fit it all in and make choices that work for you.

Is it really necessary to have a sitter when I work? My child is only six months old and sleeps most of the time.
If you are serious about your business, you should approach it as you would any other job. You may be able to squeeze a little time in if you have a long and deep sleeper, but you may need to plan for the worst-case scenario. In most cases, you may not be allowed to take your child to an outside office and work at the same time, so why should you expect to have one ear on the monitor and one on the phone with a client in your home office? Noise from children or pets and other distractions in your home will make it harder for you to portray yourself as a true professional. If you can’t bear to bring your little one to a day-care center, consider an in-home helper who can attend to his or her needs immediately. It will take the pressure off you when you are in “work” mode and help set the stage of professionalism for your clients and family.
I have so much work to do; do I really need to take a night off to play? Plus, I love my job!
Yes! Take a break! You deserve to refresh your spirit and body, and it will allow you to come back with new ideas and a fresh approach to each wedding. If you love the business so much, consider a visit to a flower show (you will be getting ideas about the latest blooms and arrangement options), museum (creative ideas on which to base future wedding themes), or the gym to work out (you will look and feel great when you visit your clients). Even the Bible suggests a day of rest, so plan to work it in weekly if at all possible.
How should I schedule my workday? Is it necessary to work from nine to five?
It’s not essential to “clock in and clock out” of your home-based office. By all means, fit in that exercise class or trip to the dentist when you can, even if it’s at 10 a.m. or mid-afternoon. That is the beauty of having your own business. A flexible schedule is one of the best perks, and you will more than make up for it when you work fourteen-hour days on the weekends during a busy wedding season!
Should I give up my weekly tennis match or book group meeting with my friends because of my new company?
Not at all. Incorporate your lifestyle into your new business. Maybe you want to pick and choose the outings that mean the most to you, or make the most sense with your new work schedule. If weekends will be busy and balancing all your extracurricular activities more challenging, focus on the activities that will help maximize your time. Consider attending an exercise class with a group of pals, or play golf with both a client and a buddy to meet both your personal and work goals in one fell swoop!

 

Student Highlight – Julie M. Jones, That’s A Wrap! Events

Julie M. Jones  - That's A Wrap! Events

Julie M. Jones – That’s A Wrap! Events

SEI has given me the opportunity to further my career as an event planner through their online courses, which provide priceless education from highly-acclaimed, International Special Events Society (ISES) certified professionals.  For anyone who has event planning in their blood (like me), the suite of courses offered by SEI is a must!  My life as an event planner, wife, and mother make it difficult to attend formalized “brick and mortar” classes.  The flexibility offered by SEI within their online programs allows me to “do it all” within my schedule demands and constraints.  I cannot say enough about how invaluable this education has been for the goals I have set for myself and my company.”

What made you choose SEI?

I happened upon SEI while performing an internet search on ways I could further my knowledge as an event planner.  I never do anything half-heartedly and event planning is no exception.  I wanted to make sure that I was fully informed and on top of current trends, planning, operations, and management in relation to event planning.  SEI was the perfect option for me.  Not only were the program topics right on point, the flexibility offered by the online classes allowed me to work them into my hectic schedule as an event planner, wife, and mother.

What do you do currently for work and how does education fit in with your career goals?

Event planning is my encore career and although I have years of hands on experience, I want to differentiate myself through knowledge and expertise and ultimately through certification as a CSEP.  SEI is the perfect starting point for this journey.

What do you like most in your courses?

I truly appreciate the interaction and feedback from the instructors during the courses.  They really want their students to understand the material and ultimately succeed in this industry.  Having the opportunity to review and speak to the other students’ work is another facet that I enjoy.  Sometimes it is difficult to open yourself up to new ideas and think “outside the box”.  The student to student interaction opened my eyes to other concepts and strategies that I might not have previously considered.

What do you wish to gain from your certificate?

Achieving certification from SEI will show my clients that I am completely serious about event planning and that I am not satisfied just resting on my laurels.  I am constantly striving for more knowledge within the industry, not only to remain relevant, but ultimately to bring additional value to my clients and their events.  My goal is to become a CSEP through ISES and, in my opinion, the classes offered by SEI are a very necessary part of that process.

Would you recommend this to others?

Absolutely!!  There are so many moving parts within any and every event, big and small.  SEI is teaching their students how to effectively and efficiently manage every aspect of the process. Their programs offer invaluable information from some of the event planning industry’s most trusted and acclaimed professionals.  This truly is a priceless education!

Here’s a look at some of Julie’s work at That’s A Wrap! Events!

Buffet Setting

Ceremony Arbor

Favor Cart

reception

 

Free Webinar on Student Events 101 with Andrias White, CMP, CSEP

Do you want to learn more about student events? Join us for this FREE WEBINAR – Wednesday, July 22, 12:00 PM EST!

If you are in charge of student events at your school, on an event team at a college or university, or just want to broaden your event planning skills, mark your calendar and join us for our FREE WEBINAR with Andrias White, CMP, CSEP of George Mason University, Fairfax, VA.

Andrias White, CMP, CSEP

Andrias J. White, CMP, CSEP Event Manager, Office of Admissions Director of Logistics, Washington Scholars Program George Mason University, Fairfax, VA

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

12:00 PM (Noon) EST

REGISTER NOW!

Here’s what we’ll cover:

* Types of Student Events – from Concerts to Homecoming – Spring Fest to Alumni Weekend

* Challenges on College Campuses – scheduling, budgeting, vendor management and more

* Managing Staff and Volunteers – recruitment, training, evaluation and recognition

* Engaging Faculty and Staff – protocol, processes and partnerships for maximum impact

* Marketing and Communications – how to best communicate with your target audience

* Partnering for Success – working with your constituents for success

She’ll share what it’s like to be a busy Academic Planner and how to best address the need to create successful student-focused events on campus.

We hope to see you next Wednesday!

jsmoran signature

Executive Director – Special Events Institute

PS: We’ll be sharing a SPECIAL OFFER for all attendees! Don’t miss out!

Career Tips: Working out of the home

IMG_4610Business software seems very expensive. Do I need event planning software right away, or should I wait until I have multiple clients?

To get your business off to a professional start, I would recommend a basic office suite that, at the very least, includes word processing for letters, proposals, invitations, and menu cards, and a spreadsheet program for budgets, lists, and charts. (You can add to this with specialized software for wedding planners as you grow.) Doing things from scratch will help you develop some basic skills to keep your business and your clients organized and to help you understand the basic steps of your wed- ding planning business. If you don’t want to invest in financial software, you could create your invoices in Excel, but as soon as you can, it would be worth streamlining things and moving to a program that interacts with online banking and your receivables and invoices, such as QuickBooks.

How do I separate my household to-do lists from my event business or wedding planning to-do lists?

While lists are important, too many lists can be overwhelming. Since you may be responsible for being at every business appointment and lacrosse game, a master appointment schedule is the way to go. To complement your appointment book or smartphone or computer calendar, to-do lists will keep you on track to get things done on time. Too many items on your lists can be difficult to manage, so consider grouping them by clients or projects. I am not advocating leaving out details—in this business, it is important to remember even the smallest task—but to organize them in a manageable fashion. I recommend having a notebook or computer document that you can use to create your to-do list, which can be updated daily or weekly. I also have a notebook by my bed that I use to jot down things that I need to get done the next day; by writing them down, I can put them out of my head and get a good night’s rest. I also have small note- books and sticky pads handy in my car and purse for phone messages or things I don’t want to forget; I jot them down and transfer them later to my master to-do list. For your home tasks, consider using a corkboard or message area to enlist the help of other family members in getting things done, thereby removing some of the burden from your shoulders.

I don’t know any specialty vendors. How do you compile and build a list of vendors/resources?

The best way to find good vendors is to ask someone who has used them. If you can put together a networking group to share ideas and issues, you will learn who your colleagues are using and who they have had success or problems with. If you join an industry group such as the International Special Events Society (ISES) or the Association of Bridal Consultants (ABC), you will have access to monthly meetings and wedding professionals who attend meetings and are members. These are great resources for building your little red book of names and contacts. Don’t be afraid to ask hotels or country clubs you visit who they have had success with. They will be happy to share their top picks for floral designers, photographers, or limousine services.

How many clients should I take on in my first year?

Depending on how much time you have and whether you will start your business full-time or ease into it will determine how much you can take on at the start. My advice would be to apprentice with an experienced planner at the outset, and also offer to help a close friend or family member with his or her nuptials. Start with a smaller wedding with traditional details and ease into the destination or multicultural affairs. During high wedding season (spring and fall), you could end up with a wedding each weekend, but I wouldn’t take on more than two per month to start with. Once you get your planning timelines established and resources lined up, you can take on more as you feel comfortable. At the beginning, you will be doing most of the planning, meeting, and legwork yourself, so make sure you allot sufficient quality time for all of your clients to keep your business and reputation solid.

Meet Your Instructor: Jane White, CSEP, Event Coordinator

Jane White, Event Coordinator at VA Beach Convention Center

Jane White, Event Coordinator at VA Beach Convention Center

What made you decide to become an event planner and what do you currently do professionally (aside from teach with SEI)?

I became an event planner after my 8 years in the Navy, where I planned a lot of command functions and parties as a volunteer duty.  When I was stationed in Wales, UK, I was selected to be on the Royal Air Force Sergeant’s Mess Entertainment Committee and we planned monthly events throughout the year – I was there during the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain and had ideas on how to create the 50th Anniversary Ball – so they put me in charge of the whole thing.

After I returned to the US, and got my BA in History, my first job was as an administrative assistant, but it was also planning a Lecture series and small events for the program I was attached to at Columbia University.  I decided then that I really enjoyed planning events and searched for professional associations – and found ISES (International Special Events Society). 

Currently, I am an Event Coordinator at the Virginia Beach Convention Center – I’ll be there 10 years this coming July.

 

What SEI course do you teach and why do you enjoy it?

I teach “Foundations of Event Planning.”   I enjoy it because it is a great place for people who are just getting started to truly get the basics, to learn to think of event planning in a more 360 degree way, and understanding all the elements that go into producing a successful event.  It is great to ‘see’ the lightbulbs come on, the ‘ah-ha!’ moments, as well as the terrific creativity and diversity that each student brings to the course.

 

What was the biggest challenge you’ve faced as an event planner?

This is a tough question – I think the two biggest (because they are different and yet the same in some ways) challenges have been:

  1.       The first was when I was Event Coordinator for the Virginia Beach Public School’s High School Graduations in 2011 when Vice President Biden spoke at one of the graduations.  The high school was selected randomly and without the knowledge that we held all 12 graduations in our building over the course of 4 days.  I worked with internal departments, the school system folks, the Police/Fire/EMS departments as well as the White House staffers, the White House Communications Agency and the Secret Service to ensure that all the things they required were taken care of and yet did not detract from the families’ enjoyment of the event. I also worked with them to ensure the impact on the other graduations was minimal.

It was a wonderful event, and a highlight of my career to date.  It required a lot of attention to detail, supreme knowledge of the event and the elements of the event and an ability to work with people who had very differing priorities and focuses.

  1.       On a more global scale, the biggest challenge I currently face as an event planner is to communicate to clients, other planners, vendors and so on, how important it is to explain ALL the details of an event well in advance of the event to ensure that a comprehensive plan, adequate staffing, and safety concerns are addressed.  Too often, safety is an afterthought or seen as a nuisance that hinders the process and stifles creativity.  In light of recent tragedies at events – preventable or not – it is incumbent on planners to take the lead on this.

 

Why do you believe getting a certification is important for event professionals today?

In this fast-paced world, it is critical to be able to set oneself apart from the pack – to demonstrate a professional commitment to the event industry.  Because there is no official regulation of the event industry and the paths to careers are so diverse, one way for clients to make a distinction between someone who decided they want to be an event planner versus someone who has made it a priority to be knowledgeable and connected to other event professionals through the numerous professional associations out there. Taking the initiative to proactively educate themselves and earn a certification, such as CSEP (Certified Special Events Professional) or CMP (Certified Meeting Professional,) sets them apart from others and gives prospective clients a comfort zone that they’ve hired a real professional.

 

What advice do you have for the current SEI students?

The best advice I can give the current SEI students is to: dive in to the material, network with your fellow students and instructors, be willing to jump out there and learn all you can, and participate in the forums and comment on each other’s work as you go along.  Each student brings something different to the courses and everyone including the instructors learn new ways to do things.  That’s what makes this so much fun and so great!

 

When hiring, what type of qualities do you look for in an event planner new to the industry?

When I’m hiring, there are a couple of key things I’m looking for regardless of level of experience:

a.)    Enthusiasm for the profession/job

b.)    Willingness to work hard and do what it takes to get something done without the “it isn’t in my job description” statement

c.)    A positive attitude towards problem solving

d.)   A commitment to life-long learning

It can be challenging for new planners to break in or established planners looking for a new position as there are multiple generations in the workforce – each with their strengths and weaknesses.  In order to be successful, new planners need to show that they are open to ideas that are different to theirs, to be understanding that someone with a lot of experience may provide a way to avoid mistakes they may have made earlier in the career, and that this business can be tough in terms of schedules, hours worked and lots of nights and weekends. The rewards for having planned a wonderful event can all be worth it, however!