One of my favorite quotes for new event planners is:
The Expert in anything was once a Beginner.
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We’ve all been there before. Those dreaded early days in your event planning career when you’ve had no paying clients. The days of struggling to build your portfolio to be able to book new clients.
How do you confidently book clients with nothing to show?
Who would pay you to plan an event when you have no previous clients to confirm your awesomeness?
Sure you could get your mom, dad, aunts and grandparents to write testimonials about how amazing you are, but what proof does that provide to potential clients looking to see your work?
It is difficult when you’re first starting out, but I promise it gets better. And today I’m sharing four strategies you can use right now to book your first paying client without an event planning portfolio.
1. Offer your Event Planning Service for Free
One of the fastest ways to book clients is to offer your service for free. You can do this by volunteering with an organization to plan an event or offering your service to individual clients such as a bride and groom. Post an ad on a directory listing such as Craigslist or on a forum such as Wedding Wire offering your event planning service for free. This will allow you to work with clients, even though they will be unpaid, gain experience and provide content for your portfolio.
I also suggest using these clients to develop your event planning business processes as well. For example, If you were unsure of how to price your event planning service. Use this experience to track the number of hours it takes to plan each event for your future reference. You can also track the items you needed to purchase and the costs associated with these for future client proposals.
You can use these events strategically to create templates for your business, such an event planning timeline, budget and contract. These templates will be reused numerous times in your business. Just think, working on an event with $0 cost to your client, allows you the time to test and develop your templates to better suit your business needs.
Even more valuable is the addition to your portfolio that these events can bring. You will now have photos of your events to use in your portfolio. These can also be used on your website and social media accounts to market your business. Most importantly you will now be able to gather client feedback and testimonials that you can provide to future clients.
2. Use your Past Event Experience
Most event planners I’ve met started out planning events for friends and family before joining the industry professionally. Even if your past experience is not with a client you can still use this to represent your experience. Helping your sister plan her wedding won’t be much different from helping a client plan theirs. The only difference is that you are being paid, and will therefore have greater responsibility for what you deliver and how it is delivered.
If you plan all the birthday parties in your family, use these as samples of your work. Organize your events as if you are working for a client, and document the process and time it takes to complete the event coordination. Be sure to also take lots of photos that you can use in your portfolio to showcase your talent. Even though these are for friends and family they are still evidence of your skills and expertise!
3. Create your Own Event Portfolio
As a newbie, event planning clients will often ask to see samples of your previous work. Let’s be honest, they still ask to see examples even when you’re an experienced planner. The only difference is experience planners would have a portfolio of events to share and their websites would be filled with photos from their past events.
If you do not have any client or family events to add to your portfolio, there are actually two ways you can start creating them:
Styled event shoots
The first way to create your own event is to design your own styled event for a photo shoot. Style shoots are essentially mock events used to create samples of events and experiences that can be re-created for clients. They often involve a collaboration between multiple vendors such as an event planner, photographer, florist, baker etc. The vendors come together to stage an event for the photography. These shoots also allow each vendor to showcase their talents and express their creativity in a unique way. Plus, each vendor can then use these photos to market their respective goods and/or services to potential clients.
The second way to build your portfolio is to host your own event. This could be anything from a business launch party if you are new to the industry, a wedding pop-up event with other vendors or even a networking event with other professionals. The purpose of a self-hosted event is to provide you with an opportunity to curate content for your portfolio, showcase your business and if possible build relationships along the way.
4. Source Testimonials from your Past Employers
Even if your previous job was not in the event planning industry, another great way to build your business and your client’s confidence is through testimonials. While testimonials from family and friends are great, I highly recommend getting them from past employers if you can. These will be more credible and can be used for references if needed.
Ask your past employer to write a testimonial speaking not to your event planning skills (unless they can), but rather about your work ethic, character, and professionalism.
Even though these might not directly relate to your experience as an event planner, they work as a great indicator of what a client can expect when working with you. Which helps to build trust and put them at ease about working with a new event planner.