So you’ve finally done it. You made your dream into a reality and started your own event planning business. First of all, congratulations! Entrepreneurship isn’t easy, and takes a lot of hard work and innovation. But now that you’ve done it, your head may be spinning at the prospect of building your clientele, and eventually your niche in the industry. If you’re at a loss, you can relax- we’re here to tell you it’s completely normal. We’re also here to get you started with a list of ten creative, surefire ways to start building your client list.
1. Start with Family and Friends
Everyone has to start somewhere. Although it may sound rudimentary, send a mass text announcing your business to everyone in your phone. Even in this digital age, the power of word of mouth should never be underestimated. After you send a mass text, move onto your email list. Don’t be afraid to ask close, trusted friends and family members to share your story.
If your email list is as long as most, it’s worth sending out an email debuting your event planning business. Starting a business can be overwhelming, and you may be tempted to send a brief, generic email letting everyone know you’re official. But that would be a mistake. You’ll want to include a unique logo featuring an infographic that will be associated with your brand. Remember, it’s up to you to brand yourself, and first impressions last. They’re also unexpectedly far-reaching, especially on social media.
2. Promote Your Business Across Social Media Platforms
Speaking of social media, you should be promoting your brand across social media platforms. Not only does this maximize your exposure to potential clients, but it helps you connect with and develop a niche. It happens naturally over time by gaining experience and interacting with new people.
Every social media platform has different benefits for your business. In this experiential market, Instagram is important because features creative visual representation of experiences. People can share professional photography and videography related to their business; they can also filter regular photos taken with an iPhone to appear professional and intriguing. It’s also the most personalized social media platform. Although Facebook is primarily a social forum and the statuses that populate your newsfeed are based loosely on shared interests, the algorithm is messy at best. (Yes, we still recommend using it, and will explain the best ways to do so in a moment).
For now, let’s talk about Instagram. It’s not only a creative, visual platform, but it’s also ideal for ongoing discussions about personal topics. Interestingly, because Instagram is such a visual platform, there’s a movement rejecting the curation of perfect, polished images that don’t represent reality. Yes, it’s still popular to share professional, creative works (such as photography stills and videos from your first event). But again, it’s an experiential market, and people want to make genuine, personal connections with the brands they buy. They aren’t just interested in what you do, but who you are.
How do you start a conversation about your business on Facebook? You can start by posting your content along with popular industry hashtags. Naturally, you’ll want to make sure your page is public so it gives you access to international exposure. As you do this, peruse the platform for popular influencers who work in your industry (or related industries). Use their hashtags or tag them in your own posts. If you genuinely admire their work and what they stand for, share it in your posts. There will be others who agree and follow you because you share their admiration for the influencer, and thus some of their values and common interests. Feel free to also follow influencers you admire for personal or intellectual reasons. And don’t hesitate to comment on and engage in Instagram conversations about your industry. When the success of small businesses depends so heavily on networking, it’s how you learn and develop as a brand.
Facebook can be used to your advantage when you know how to do it right. Despite the widespread complaints about how its algorithm affects visibility, it still produces a high ROI. But you don’t have to pay for Facebook ads to leverage it as a promotional tool. The first step is to set up and maintain both a personal and business page.
Once you create a community or business page for your business, invite all of your friends to like and share it. You can also create your own group in which people can join and interact with you. Also, feel free to join other related groups and contribute to them regularly. People want to know that they’re not just connecting with a brand, but the real person behind the brand. This not only gives people a feeling of exclusivity and personal value, but it humanizes you. People are much more likely to be consumers of a brand whose values are aligned with theirs. (We’ll tell you how to demonstrate the values and feelings that engage them shortly; there’s a helpful technique called storytelling that can really bring an event planning business to life).
But before we move on, let’s briefly discuss the value of Twitter and LinkedIn. Twitter is mostly a news and media platform which people also use to follow their favorite celebrities. Since it limits your tweets to 280 characters, it’s not the best platform for ongoing, meaningful conversations that lead to long-term relationships. However, it’s important because it has a pulse on industry trends in the event world. Think about how many people follow celebrities on Twitter. That alone creates entire networks that stretch across the globe. As an event planning business, it’s important to stay on the local and larger media’s radar, however small your business is.
Last but not least, there’s LinkedIn, LinkedIn was designed to be a networking tool that strategically facilitates professional development. It helps you build your professional portfolio, generate leads, and develop your niche. Your content will appear on the feeds of professionals in your industry, or whom work closely with your industry. Once you start making connections on LinkedIn, your network broadens. The platform also enables you to leave feedback on other people’s content; whether that feedback continues to appear in people’s feeds is up to a panel who makes decisions regarding relevant content.
3. Leverage Storytelling as a Marketing Tool
Storytelling essentially brings your business to life. It gives it personality and allows potential clients to get a feel for who you are, what you do, and what you stand for. So ask yourself: What’s unique and relatable about the story behind your brand? In order to gain clients, they need to feel an emotional connection with you. They also need to feel inspired by what you do? Hence, your personal story should stand out but also be relatable to a broad, diverse range of people.
The first thing you want to do is tell people who you are and what you do. Whether you’re sharing it aloud with a friend or posting it on social media, keep it simple and concise. People are inundated by information overload on a daily basis, and their attention spans are short. Even the most interesting long tangents will lose their attention quickly. So after you explain who you are and what you do, tell people what motivated you to start your business.
Do you have an inspiring “rags to riches” story? Did a unique experience or perspective inspire you to start your own event planning business? Was this a childhood dream that you made into reality? Maybe you’re proud of being self-made. Try including a brief anecdote or memory that illustrates your passion and why it became a career. When you tell your story from the heart, it gives potential clients a window into your world- and your values statement.
To conclude your story, make a statement that summarizes what you stand for, and how you plan to fulfill clients’ needs and wishes. Since the goal is to stand out, be sure to highlight how your business does things differently than other ones like it. You don’t have to use the word “better” which can give off a gimmicky, “trying too hard” vibe. When you explain how your business is unique, it naturally expresses the things you do better.
4. Start Your Own Industry Blog
Have you considered starting your own event planning blog based on your knowledge and experience? (Even if you don’t have any experience yet, you can share things you learned in training, workshops, and from your own research. Then you can add insights from your own experiences as you go along).
Blogs are a great way to network because they’re a resource of information for people in your industry. Always enable comments on your blog posts so that people can start discussion threads. There are plenty of free blogging websites that are designed just as professionally as those that charge users. For example, many people use WordPress and Squarespace. A company called Weebly even allows you to create your own blogging site, giving you the freedom to design your own format.
5. Create (and Maintain) a Website
That brings us to websites. Creating one for your business might seem like a daunting task, but it’s much simpler than you might think. Again, there are plenty of free resources available that even big businesses use. Squarespace websites are easy to build and great for beginners. WIX offers over 500 designer templates and features excellent SEO tools. (We’ll talk more about SEO, or search engine optimization, shortly).
Your website should be neat, professional, and easy to navigate. It should also express your uniqueness as a brand. Ideally, by the time you’re building your website, you should have either created or hired a graphic designer to create a logo and signature infographic. Include these in your website, as they will become your trademark.
If you have a blog, link it to your website so that users can easily use it to view it from your home page. (Creating a “blog” tab at the top of the page is probably the easiest way to do this). Your website should also have a space for clients to leave reviews once business is booming.
6. Make Your Content SEO Friendly
How can you make maximize your visibility by making your content SEO-friendly? If you’re not familiar with SEO, it’s actually much simpler than it sounds. Once you’ve selected a topic, plug it into an easy Google Ads search. The results will instantly determine which related words and phrases come up most often on search engines. Those are the ones you’ll want to use. For example, let’s say you’re writing about Halloween events in the Bay Area, SEO keywords might be “Bay Area Halloween events” or even just “Halloween events”.
Most blogs and websites also allow you to add tags to your posts. These tags are top SEO-friendly words and phrases; in other words, they’re the words people most frequently type into search engines.
On social media, hashtags are used to make content more visible. Like we pointed out in the social media section of this post, you can find out which hashtags to use by seeing which are used most often by influencers (and other people in your industry).
7. Carry Business Cards at All Times
Yes, we know. We’re living in a digital age, so who needs stationery design? Well, you do. Even though digital communication is at our fingertips (and best for sustainability), business cards are still a worthy investment. Imagine you’re at a networking party, or even just a social event, and want to share your business. As interesting as your story may be, people aren’t going to remember your contact information, and asking them to store it in their phones isn’t the most professional, memorable way to go about it. So create business cards with your logo, and carry them with you at all times. You really never know when you might meet a potential client or business contact.
8. Attend a Variety of Networking and Social Events
As you’re well aware, most of an event planner’s success is reliant on networking. And although many event planners are extroverted and social by nature, there are probably just as many introverts among you. If you fall into the latter category, don’t bite the bullet and try to become an extrovert. It will just seem staged and forced; you won’t come off as genuine, so potential clients will fail to make that vital emotional connection. The most important part of networking is just being yourself. If that means gravitating toward small, intimate crowds and talking about your business, do that.
There are a few universal tips that apply to everyone. Obviously, you want to smile and make eye contact. (That may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s surprisingly hard when you’re feeling anxious or self-conscious). If you don’t want the spotlight to fall on you all at once, ask thoughtful questions and be a good listener. Good listening skills make people feel heard and valued, which is a good starting point when trying to make connections. The conversation will flow naturally, and when you’re asked about yourself, just speak from the heart. We don’t need to ask whether you’re passionate about your work; event planning is fun but grueling, around-the-clock work. If you didn’t love what you do, you wouldn’t be doing it.
So talk about what you love. Start by telling people who you are and what you do, and then tell the story of your business. Chances are, they’ll be all ears.
One last word of advice on this: Don’t limit your networking to networking events. Social events are also opportune moments to spread the word about your business. At all events, there will be people with common interests...and those people like to attend events related to those interests. So talk about your event planning business at that concert or holiday party. Events are a super effective way to promote one’s business. You may just be able to pull off the perfect event for that musician you met last week, or that caterer you met at a wine tasting with your friends.
9. Invite Clients to Review Your Business
Once you’re hired by your first client or clients, ask them to review your business on Yelp, Yahoo Local, Facebook Reviews, or Google Plus Reviews. (Really, it’s wherever they feel comfortable, but you can make suggestions about where their reviews are likely to be seen). You should also create a section of your website for reviews, and encourage clients to share their experience with you there, too.
10. Follow Up with Post-Event Surveys
Post-event surveys are important because they provide you with feedback from attendees. This feedback is not just important to you as an event planner, but to your clients’ objectives. When you follow up, you find out what to keep doing and what to change. Doing this shows that you care about your attendees’ experience, and want to improve future events based on their personal needs and preferences.
When you create a post-event survey, ask open-ended questions instead of multiple choice. This helps you glean more information. Instead of just learning what attendees didn’t like, you learn why. In each area of the survey, ask what could be done to improve your event.