In my role managing a team of nonprofit event planners, I get to work with amazing young people who are just starting their careers in the events industry. We work hard to set our staff up for success and provide a lot of training and professional development. What a different scenario than I had when I first started out years ago!
When I graduated college I started my career at (a different) nonprofit as a program assistant – doing a little bit of everything. I quickly gravitated toward event planning and soon made it into my career. That first job out of college taught me so much – I learned almost entirely on the job, made a few mistakes here and there, but survived the wiser. If I could go back in time, here is what I would tell my younger self:
Budget isn’t a dirty word: As a planner with almost her entire career in nonprofits, I’ve never had the luxury of NOT having to work within a budget. But as a young planner just starting out, I assumed that my budget was top secret and I could never share that information with suppliers as it would give them the edge in negotiating. In retrospect, I see how insane this is. I can imagine how frustrating it must have been to work with me when I refused to name a number or give a range. Now I share my budget as freely as I am able, knowing that it saves time in the long run and allows me to give suppliers the best chance of coming up with a proposal that works for both of us. And the creativity! I especially love when I work with a caterer who can truly work magic within my budget numbers. The more events I plan, the more I realize how much creativity is driven by limited resources, with incredibly positive benefits for the event!
Think outside the box: My early events weren’t bad – they just weren’t as creative as I try to be now. I made assumptions about what we had to do at events based on what our company had always done. Now I like to experiment and try new things.
Suppliers are a resource: Now I understand that suppliers are a partner in the success of my event, but I didn’t always see it this way. It didn’t occur to me to ask suppliers for vendor recommendations, or to run potential issues by them to see what solutions they might see that I wasn’t thinking about.
There is an entire industry that does this stuff: This is actually the number 1 thing I would tell my former self: You aren’t alone. You can make a career out of this. In fact, there are thousands of people just like you!
Since I just fell into an events career through the nonprofit door, I had no idea that there was an events industry. I didn’t even realize that you could be a professional event planner, let alone make a career out of events. In fact, it wasn’t until I moved to Washington, DC where there is such a large community of event planners due to the number of associations headquartered here, amount of nonprofits and of course, the proximity to the federal government, that I realized that there not only was a community, but a support network. I finally found out about groups like PCMA and MPI, I discovered resources like BizBash and all the meeting planner publications. I started to attend chapter meetings and watching webinars online. I met planners who were more experienced and were happy to mentor me. And it made a world of difference in my growth as a planner.
Those are just a few things I wish I knew earlier in my career. What would you tell your younger self when you were just getting started?