Top Mistakes You Can Make When Becoming an Event Planner (and How to Avoid Them!)
Becoming an Event Planner is as challenging as it is exciting. As a novice planner you’re probably brimming with energy and great ideas, but a little low on experience. You can anticipate making a few mistakes as you get started but be gentle with yourself when you do. Mistakes are excellent opportunities for learning and growth!
That being said, we want to help you put your best foot forward. We’ve prepared a list of the common pitfalls faced by experienced and novice planners alike. Take this opportunity to learn from others’ mistakes and avoid making them yourself!
Lack of Event Planning Training or Experience
Before you get started in the industry you’ll need one of the following:
- Practical experience with a solid portfolio
- Professional training with certification
Certification can make up for a lack of hands-on planning experience. An event planning course will give you the tools, knowledge-base and confidence to navigate the field successfully. You’ll learn how to manage budgets, the planning time-frame, vendors, suppliers, your clients and a multitude of event types. The event field is unregulated so there is no legal requirement for certification, but you’ll have a hard time finding clients if you don’t have the experience to compensate for a lack of training.
If you’re unsure whether event planning training and certification is the right path for you, I recommend you check out our post on the Pros and Cons of Event Planner Certification! You can also watch our webinar titled “Is a Career in Event Planning Right for You” with Candice Coppola, a QC tutor and very successful event planner!
Poor communication between yourself and your client can set you up for failure. Your client has certain expectations for their event and it’s up to you to make sure you’re both on the same page. Remember, it’s the client who decides whether the event was successful or not.
The key to great communication is learning how to actively listen to your client. Listening is more than just hearing the words coming out of your client’s mouth. You’ll need to use your intuition and perception! Watch for clues in your client’s body language. If your client’s eyes light up when they talk about hiring a band you can safely assume that the entertainment is a priority for them.
You should also listen for areas your client overemphasizes or avoids talking about. Does your client keep stressing the budget restrictions or changing the subject when you bring up the guest list? Probe into any mixed-messages to make sure your client’s wishes are crystal-clear.
As you progress through the planning process it’s important to continuously check-in with your client to make sure you’re still on the same page. Event Planners aren’t mind-readers (though how handy would that be!) Your client may change their mind and forget to let you know! Before formally booking or purchasing anything for the event get confirmation that you’re still headed in the right direction.
As an independent event planner, your resources are somewhat limited. You don’t have a team to rely on during crunch-time so it’s all on you—even the tasks you dislike doing or that are outside your skill set. You may be tempted to cut corners to avoid the tasks you dislike but be warned, that may blow up in your face. Let me give you an example:
You have a client whose expectations exceed their limited budget. If you are a people pleaser, you may be hesitant to lose the client or burst their bubble. Instead, you try to augment the budget by finding the lowest price suppliers possible. The end result? You put in a lot of extra time trying to find bargains and sacrifice quality or reliability in order to fulfill an unrealistic budget.
Sure, it’s not “fun” to be the source of disappointment or confront an uncomfortable truth but you’re the boss. All responsibilities (good, bad and otherwise) fall to you. Be honest with yourself and your client from the beginning. If you’re going to have to disappoint them it’s better to do it during the consultation instead of on the day of their event!
Your clients are paying you to coordinate their event because they don’t have the time or ability to do it themselves. If their event goes off without a hitch they will recommend you and their guests will keep you in mind for their future events. However, if the event doesn’t go as planned you should know that they will tell anyone who will listen about their bad experience.
A behavior research company called TARP did a study on word-of-mouth and found that negative experiences spread like wildfire. While satisfied clients will tell a few people about their awesome experience, disappointed clients talk to an average of 12 people! Surprisingly enough, those 12 people will then tell another 6 people each! In other words, one bad experience with a client equals a possible 85-person reach. Yikes!
Before you start planning the event you need to have an understanding of the work involved and any resources at your disposal. Is your client a DIY queen who wants every detail of the décor customized to her exacting specifications? Is there a bridal party or team of family members willing to help out? To what extent are they available and do they have any special skills to contribute?
When you are booking your venue, find out how much time you will have in the event space to set-up and if there are any regulations you need to know about. If you’ve never set-up a room before, do a dry-run at home to get a realistic estimate of how long each table will take you.
You should use a checklist throughout the entire planning process and assign deadlines for each listed task. This will help you stay on track even during the hectic week leading up to an event. Schedule every little detail, no matter how insignificant it seems, because those are the easiest to forget.
There’s a strong possibility that the venue you’re interested in will be hosting other events on the same day as yours. You should ask who you would be sharing the space with to determine whether it will pose problems for your particular event. For example, if you are hosting a corporate event you may not want to have a Harley Davidson Biker Rally or children’s circus themed party down the hall.
You’ll also want to find out who would be in charge of resolving noise complaints on the day of the event. Have their number handy just in case you have unexpected noisy neighbors!
When you’re new you won’t have the well-developed relationships with vendors an experienced event planner has. These relationships (and the trust that comes with them) take time to build. Eventually, you’ll have a contact list filled with reliable vendors you’ve worked with that consistently meet deadlines and come through for you. Until then, you need to try to make the best choices possible!
Gather information from multiple vendors or suppliers that you’re considering for your event. Start by getting quotes so you can compare services and pricing. Ask for references and testimonials but don’t stop there—search online for reviews as well! Making an informed decision will increase your chance for success.
Choosing and booking your vendors is only half the battle. One of the most common rookie mistakes is forgetting to confirm your vendors before the event. Remember, you are often booking your vendors weeks, months or even years in advance. That’s a lot of time for wires to get crossed!
To prevent disasters, follow-up with your vendors at least 48 hours before your event to confirm everything is in order. Make sure they still have the correct information for your event (head counts, flower choices, etc). Who knows—maybe the person you booked with has moved on to another job and did not leave detailed records.
No Back-Up Plan
Murphy’s Law should never be far from your thoughts as a planner: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” All the preparation and planning in the world does not guarantee a flawless event. You can hope for the best but you need to prepare for the worst. Having a “Plan B” can save you if and when things go horribly wrong!
You need to make risk assessment part of your planning process. Identify potential risks for your event and come up with contingency plans. Create a list of emergency vendors who can act quickly and have a similar product/service to what you’ve booked. Make sure you have a second choice standing by to take on MC duties in case the planned MC is sick or late. For any outdoor events, have an indoor space available to you or room in the budget for an emergency tent!
We hope this helps you avoid the common mistakes you may encounter when becoming an Event Planner! Keep this quote in mind as you start your journey: “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can never live long enough to make them all yourself”—Groucho Marx