Trying to book a client without a portfolio is not easy, but we’ve all been there before. Those dreaded early days in your event planning business when you’ve yet to book a paying client. The days of struggling to build your portfolio to be able to impress potential clients and finally secure a booking.
But how do you confidently book a client without a portfolio?
Event planning is a visual industry. Clients are often persuaded, when they can see a portfolio of your past work, to gauge your talent and experience as an event planner. 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 past work?
One of my favorite quotes for new event planners is:
The Expert in anything was once a Beginner.
It is difficult when you’re first starting out, but I promise as you grow your business it gets better. Today I’m sharing four strategies you can use right now to book your first paying client without a portfolio.
1. Offer your Event Planning Service for Free
One of the fastest ways to book clients without a portfolio is to offer your service for free. You can do this in a number of ways, by volunteering with an organization to plan an event, or offering your service to individual clients for free. You can create awareness about your offer by posting in free Facebook groups for brides and newly engaged couples, posting an ad on a directory such as Craigslist, or on a forum such as Wedding Wire. This is a great option for working with clients, even though unpaid, so you can gain experience and get content to add to 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. You could 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 also use these events strategically to create templates for your business, such as 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 business processes.
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 get 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 paying client you can still use this to represent your experience. When you’re struggling to book a client without a portfolio, it’s time to get creative. For example, 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. Be sure to also take lots of photos that you can use in your portfolio to show potential clients. Even though these are for friends and family they are still proof of your skills and expertise!
3. Create your Own Event Portfolio
If you can’t get a seat at the table, build your own. I’ve always loved this saying, and nothing rings more true when it comes to creating your own events as a way to build your portfolio. If you do not have any client or family events to add to your portfolio, there are actually two additional ways in which you can create one:
Styled shoots to book a client without a portfolio
The first way to create your own event is to design your own styled photoshoot. Styled shoots are essentially mock events used to create samples of your work that can be re-created for clients. They often involve collaboration between multiple vendors such as an event planner, photographer, florist, baker, etc. The vendors come together to stage an event for the photography, and the shoot also allows each vendor to showcase their skills and creativity. Bonus, each vendor can then use these photos to market their respective goods and/or services to potential clients.
Self-hosted events to book a client without a portfolio
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 get content for your portfolio, showcase your business, and if possible build some new 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.
Conclusion: Book a Client Without a Portfolio
The key to getting a client without a portfolio is to remember that everyone started at the beginning. Be strategic about how you gain experience and exposure, even if you don’t currently have paying clients. There are a number of ways in which you can build your portfolio, even if it means stepping outside of the box.