Open for Business
###What lessons can be learned from the first year in business in today’s economy?by Ryan Hanson | Published in July 2009 economy | Event Life | Departments
What lessons can be learned from the first year in business in today’s economy?
A year ago, I took the leap from a steady job as an internal event producer/creative director and started working full-time for myself. I never set out to be an entrepreneur. It was a terrifying decision. And yet, once I made it, I was rewarded with a very gratifying sense of liberation.
Reflecting on the year behind me, I’ve learned many things that as a creative I never wanted to know (how to back up a box truck comes to mind). But I’ve also discovered a few truths about our industry — and they apply whether you’re thinking of heading out on your own or are already fearlessly navigating the entrepreneurial seas.
1. Be open to business.
I left my corporate job assuming I would spend some time freelancing as an event planner. To my surprise, people kept hiring me as a designer. Indeed, the opportunities open to me as a designer have greatly surpassed what I would have been offered as a planner — but only because I was open to that possibility.
Being open for business is more than just having a business card and website. It’s about letting market demand guide your offers and being open to unforeseen applications of your skills, not just what you thought you’d be doing.
2. Focus on great service.
The event business is a people business. My service mantra is to not only give clients what they ask for, but to guide them as to what they want. Being an expert isn’t about spewing your vision or taking theirs verbatim, but facilitating their ideal outcome, even if they can’t always articulate it.
To do that, take ego out of the equation. Instead, find confidence in a sense of creative curiosity stemming from a constant willingness to think and an appetite to try. Event ROI derives from participant retention of the created experience — and creativity and innovation drive those memories.
3. Become the expert, not a jack of all trades.
Know who and what you want your company to be. I launched BeEvents in 2007 with a furious desire to design and strategize events as a platform for live conversations. Advances in technology notwithstanding, human beings are social creatures and in-person interaction will always have value. Yet surveying the landscape of the industry, I didn’t see many who worked from this perspective. So I set out to fill that unmet demand, focusing on what I was passionate about and defining my brand.
I’ve also defined what my brand isn’t — and that separates experts from jacks of all trades. The latter try to be everything to every client — an impossible task. Though you sometimes have to do things outside your expertise, focus on being an expert, defining your brand and sticking to it.
4. Find yourself a great team.
Surround yourself with other experts who complement your weaknesses, whether they’re employees, independent contactors or fellow vendors. When you know yourself, remain open to possibilities and deliver great service, your team will do the sales work for you.
Indeed, I have yet to really need to sell myself. Through diligent networking locally and internationally, attending and speaking at conferences, entering and winning awards, and being an active member in industry organizations, I’ve developed a great community of colleagues who have kept me in business.
5. Know that you will never get it all done.
I’ve always worked in small companies and enjoyed wearing multiple hats. Going into business by yourself means every hat is your hat, and I quickly learned that I just wouldn’t get everything done.
When you leave a 9-to-5 job, you take on a 24/7 job where your plans regularly change according to client needs. The challenge is finding a schedule that works for you and limiting distractions to stay focused.
The biggest lesson I walk away with from my first year? Understanding that this gig will always be exhilarating and scary. But within that is the joy of creating who you want to be and what you want to do. Who knows what is next, but I am sure a year from now, I will know more that I never wanted to — and some things I don’t yet know that I should.