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Lessons for Event Planners from Startups

5 Lessons Event Professionals Can Learn From Startups

by | May 13, 2015 | Best Practices, Business, Business Management, Event Management, Event Marketing, Event Technology, Tech, Tools and Software

Since launching Planning Pod as a beta version in 2012, we have had the pleasure to speak with thousands of event professionals and learn about their challenges in managing events and – for event planners, venues and caterers in particular – in growing their businesses.

Over that time, as we have grown from dozens to hundreds of users, we have found lots of parallels between best practices we have developed to grow our event tech startup and best practices that successful event planners use to run their events and businesses.

When you think about it, startups and event professionals often face similar scenarios. Much of the time we must build something from scratch and create something from nothing (be it an app or an event). We have to juggle and manage many balls in the air at once. We must be adept at using both our left brain (practical/rational/organized) and our right brain (creative). We often must perform miracles on a tiny budget. And failure is not an option.

So here are 5 best practices we have put to good use over the last several years that we know would also benefit any event professional.

1. First imagine what you can do with no budget

Most startups (ours included) have a shoestring marketing budget to use to grow our initial user base. As such, we have to rely on our own efforts and ingenuity to find our first customers, which means we often must rely on low-cost marketing tactics (like content marketing, social media, SEO, etc.) for the first few years of running the business.

Very few events are successful without at least a small budget to devote to things like food-and-beverage, venue space, entertainment, etc. However, regardless of your event’s budget, if you begin your brainstorming by first thinking about what you can accomplish at no or low cost, you can add more value to your event and squeeze more out of every cent in your budget for the things you must pay for.

A good way to start this process is to look at your existing assets and how you can leverage those. If you already have a marketing list and a reasonably good (and cheap) email marketing system in place, you can significantly reduce your marketing costs already. Also, startups are known to barter like hell to get the assets and resources we need to thrive. You might be able to trade your some of your services or assets with other vendors or contractors to drive down costs or create new synergies that benefit your events and/or your clients.

2. Use productivity tools and hacks to whittle down busywork

Like startups, event planners and most event businesses usually have either no staff or a small staff, and each staff member must take on dozens of responsibilities and manage thousands of details every month. We are both spread way too thin and have to wear lots of hats, and sometimes it feels like we are moving so fast that we are doing a mediocre job at everything instead of a great job at a few things.

This is why it is vital to find productivity tools and hacks to help you minimize busywork and give yourself more time to focus on the tasks that will really make a difference for your events and your business. We built Planning Pod to be a productivity tool that event professionals can rely on to help them streamline their event management processes, but there are thousands of tools available for managing tasks and calendars, collaborating and communicating online, and so on. For example, we use tools like to automate and streamline our customer support tickets; Hootsuite to automate our social media marketing; Dropbox for managing all our electronic files; and MadMimi for simplifying our email campaigns and outreach.

Smart time management is the key to any small business, and if you can remove certain hats or automate certain tasks so that you free up more of your time for mission-critical tasks, the better off you will be.

Streamline how you manage your events with Planning Pod’s timesaving online tools for event planners, venues and caterers.

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3. Hire people who are eager and capable of assuming multiple roles

Due to budget limitations, most startups – including new event venue startups and fledgling event managing companies – are forced to either use unpaid interns or hire recent grads with very little work experience because those are the only employees we can afford. And from talking with event professionals, I know you are faced with similar restrictions in hiring and retaining event staff and assistants to help them run their events.

With that said, the employees you should be seeking out are those people who are 1) very eager and quick to learn new skill sets and 2) able to take on new roles as your needs multiply. As small businesses, we can’t afford to have an employee who is only capable of taking on one small set of responsibilities. We need our staff members to be flexible because we never know when a new need will arise (and they always do).

This may mean that you have to pay a little more for someone with broader work experience. Or it may mean that you have to forgo bringing in an unpaid intern in favor of a more qualified candidate you have to pay. As we have discovered in our event tech startup, the extra investment is well worth it.

4. Look for plug-in solutions instead of creating everything from scratch

Often it’s cheaper and faster to find someone who has already built the wheel than to rebuild it yourself from the ground up.

For example, often we find that some bright developer has built a piece of code for a certain function that is cheaper for us to buy and modify than to build ourselves. The same could be said for certain event tasks or initiatives.

For example, maybe a certain keynote speaker has a pre-prepared speech on a topic related to your event; it would probably be cheaper to hire them and tweak their already-prepared speech for your event than to have it custom created by another speaker. Or maybe one of the production companies you are considering has a stage backdrop and setup they have already used for another event that they can tweak for your purposes. This could save you money and free up funds for other areas of your event.

5. Eliminate all costs that don’t contribute to the bottom line

Sometimes it’s difficult to know what you should spend money on and what you can go without until after you have spent the money. We experienced this dilemma when we signed a lease for an office space 4 years ago.

We anticipated that our small team would need a place to work and collaborate in building out Planning Pod. And for the first few months of our lease, our office was a good asset in that we could work closely in creating the first version of Planning Pod.

However, as the months rolled on, we found that most of us were more productive and hit our milestones faster if we all worked from home and collaborated online, occasionally meeting at coffee shops or shared workspaces when we needed to talk one-on-one. The $3K+ we were paying for office space wasn’t contributing to the bottom line, and in fact was taking money away from other critical initiatives like marketing and customer support. So we dropped our office after our lease was over (only a 1 year lease, which makes a strong case for having a shorter lease term if you must have an office), and this let us reallocate that money to more productive uses.

I would recommend looking critically at your event budgets upfront and trimming out all the fat – i.e., those expenditures that really aren’t contributing the bottom line or could be shaved down considerably. And for your business or department, a yearly audit where you evaluate your expenditures is always a good practice so you can identify those areas where you can streamline and reallocate your money in ways that will help you grow faster.