How to start a party and event planning business
Are you organised, creative and client-focused? Learn how to become an event planner or party planner and start an events business with our guide
How to start an event planning business – the key steps:
It may sound niche, but party and events planning is actually a multi-billion-pound industry with plenty of demand across the UK. After all, who doesn’t love a good knees-up?
What’s better still is that you don’t necessarily need a history in events planning to start your own business. However, one of the risks involved with working in events is that the popularity of this fun and creative industry does mean it’s a saturated market.
But, with a clear concept, effective marketing and a few key transferable skills, you’ll maximise your chances of beating out the competition and finding success.
First and foremost, organisation and time management skills are crucial – from sorting suppliers to managing logistics to blowing up balloons, events planners must be excellent jugglers. You should also be personable, and able to clearly communicate your plans and the results you’re achieving with clients.
You’ll also need to be creative enough to come up with unique concepts, and composed enough to solve problems that might arise at the last minute (what can be done if your caterer is stuck in traffic?). The confidence to make decisions for your clients and negotiate prices also wouldn’t hurt!
If this sounds like you, and you’re passionate about pulling top-quality events together for clients, read on to find out how to become an event planner, and how to start a party planning business.
1. Define your event planning business idea
When it comes to starting an events company, you’ll first need to decide on the type of events services you want to offer.
Would you like to offer the full event planning service, organising every aspect of an event from inception to execution? Or would you rather focus on one or two particular skill sets? For example:
- Event decorating
- Corporate entertainment management
- Venue hire
- Event promotion
- Catering (find out more about starting your own catering business in our guide)
It’s also key that you decide on the type of events you want to work on. In your early days, you’ll find it easier to market yourself clearly, attract customers and build the right skills and experience if you have a niche.
Events can be classified into four broad categories based on their purposes and objectives:
- Personal events, such as weddings, birthday parties and family celebrations
- Organisational events, such as commercial, political and charitable events, conferences and product launches
- Leisure events, such as sports events and concerts
- Cultural events, such as ceremonial, religious, art or heritage events
It’s advisable to pick a niche that you’re familiar with and already have a little experience in. If you come from a corporate background, for example, you may have a clearer understanding of what a successful conference looks like than a successful art festival. Remember, you can always take on more specialties as your business grows in size.
Georgina Coleman, whose business Established Events organises parties for corporate clients, says “your past experience and network” are integral:
Founder of TYPE, which provides networking events “that enhance wellbeing and that millenials can afford”, Tristan Johnson says drawing on your own experience of the events market as a consumer is a good idea:
“As a young millennial entering the competitive job market fresh out of university, making valuable connections to progress my career was really difficult.
“Either I’d attend networking events that weren’t relevant for me or find myself spending far too much money. After chatting with a few friends who felt the same, our business model was created.”
Meanwhile, Emma Sayle, founder of global adult party business Killing Kittens, says “the ethos behind the events” was what came first for her: “I saw a need for female focused events which gave women the freedom to explore their sexuality, feel empowered and in control whilst in a safe environment without being judged.”
NB: If you’d like to become a wedding planner, be sure to also check out our guide to starting a wedding planning business.
Bear in mind that, once you’ve come up with a concept, you should always test it to make sure it has a good chance of succeeding in the market. To do this, you’ll need to…
Conduct market research
It’s really important that you understand both your target audience and your competition before you decide how to reach out to potential customers, settle on a pricing structure or – in short – do anything else.
Market research should help you to understand:
- Who your competitors are
- How you can differentiate yourself from them
- How much demand there is for your particular event planning service
- The type of people who are most likely to want/need your service
- How much your target customers will be prepared to pay for your events, and whether you can make a healthy profit from this
To answer these questions, try:
1. Researching the competition online
Often a simple Google search will show you who the events businesses in your local area are, but the ONS, the FSB and the British Chambers of Commerce also hold more specific, publicly accessible information about different businesses.
Try to find out how your competitors operate, how big they are, who their customers are, how much they charge, and what their USPs are. Think about how you can bring something different to the table in order to compete.
2. Running an online survey
Online surveys are fairly cheap to set up, and you can also take to Facebook and LinkedIn to run questionnaires.
Ask people what they would expect from your events planning service, the budget they would have to spend on an event such as yours, how often they’d use you, what would make them want to use you, and anything else you want to know.
3. Holding focus groups
Essentially a face-to-face version of an online survey, a focus group gives you the opportunity to discuss your business with potential customers.
As well as asking the above questions, you can also talk more specifically about your own business, asking what they think of your concept and branding, and share ideas.
2. Come up with an event company name
As fun a task as choosing a name for your party planning business may seem, it’s not something to be taken lightly.
Your name is the first thing most customers will hear about you, and so it’s important that it accurately represents what they can expect from your services. Plus, it needs to be something you’re proud to shout from the rooftops.
To come up with a name, try these tips:
- Think of the type of events you want to plan and the style of service you’ll aim to deliver. Write down every word that springs to mind – no matter how obvious or abstract. The more, the better. Then single out your favourite words and explore them. Do they have synonyms that are better? How does it sound when you combine them in different ways?
- Consider your own name. Can you name the business after yourself?
- If you’d like your business to be one that doesn’t take itself too seriously, try thinking up event-related puns or phrases you might be able to use as a name. Just try not to be too cheesy!
- Think about existing events planning businesses whose names you really like. Take inspiration from what makes them so great – but make sure you don’t simply copy them.
When it comes to coming up with a name, simplicity is key. Johnson says “Keep it simple, catchy and memorable”, while Sayle advises: “Keep the name strong and simple, the strapline mission statement simple and the branding clear.”
If the name you choose doesn’t make it obvious that you’re an events planner – if you’ve picked a rather abstract word, for example, or are using your name – we’d advise adding a tagline. For example:
Remember, your event planning business’ name should be:
- Easy to remember.
- Easy to spell and pronounce.
- Original, and as unique as possible.
- A good representation of the services you’re offering (don’t go for something jokey and fun if you’ll be planning serious corporate events, for instance).
- Appealing to your audience. Ask target customers (whether through friends and family, an online survey or a focus group) for their honest opinion of your name.
Once you’ve settled on a name, you’ll need to check that it’s available – you can do this using the Companies House Register – and also check that it’s free to be used as a domain name for your website: for example, www.joebloggs.co.uk. It’s best to register your domain name as soon as possible.
If your chosen name is available, you’ll need to officially register it as your company’s name.
Your business' name will tie inextricably into your business’ branding as a whole. Its tone will be the starting point for how you design your logo, website, marketing materials and messages, social media posts and more – all together, this should convey the tone and purpose of your business.
Bourlet suggests that you create clear guidelines for targeting your specific target audience with your branding:
“Once you have completed an in-depth persona analysis, ensure all of your work is aiming towards these individuals to gain the greatest results.”
When it comes to devising a branding strategy, Johnson advises keeping it simple: “Studies have shown our attention span is shortening so branding must be easily consumable, easy on the eye and fitting to your personal brand, be it premium, fun, colourful or sleek.”
Getting professional help
Coleman suggests enlisting the help of a professional when building your branding: “I would suggest employing a brand consultant. Although it is a financial outlay at the start of your business, professional advice on your branding message is invaluable. The psychology of branding can have a huge effect on your customer and how they engage with you.”
Similarly, Johnson says consulting a graphic designer may help when it comes to creating a logo and other visual assets: “Find yourself a graphic designer who can help you bounce ideas around. It’s good to get a creative opinion and sound it out with a third party.”
3. Develop your business plan
A business plan is an important document that takes its reader through every aspect of a business – including how it will run, plans for how it will progress, and forecasts of what it will achieve in the future.
As well as something potential investors and banks will want to see, writing a business plan will give you the opportunity to break down and plan every aspect of your business step-by step – including details of your business model and pricing structure, a marketing strategy, plans for hiring staff in the future and those oft-daunting financial predictions.
|You can download a free business plan template, developed by the government-backed Start Up Loans Company, from this article.|
Lucy Davis and Antonia Voss, directors at Peppermint Diva, which plans “a broad spectrum of events from children’s parties to product launches”, explain their business plan process: “We started with a five point ‘dream' scenario of what we wanted our business to look like after five years. We then broke down each of the points – how were going to get there, what the challenges might be, market conditions and a basic S.W.O.T. analysis.
“We kept referring back to the plan and learnt when to be flexible an adapt, and when to get back on track. It was a useful tool and once we had hit the five year point (and ticked every point off our list) we did it again to take us from years five to ten.”
To form the foundation of your financial predictions, you’ll need to…
Come up with a pricing strategy
A crucial part of your business model, to plan your pricing you’ll first need to decide whether you want to charge:
- A flat fee for the whole service
- An hourly rate for the time you spend working on the event
- Commission-based prices
You should use what you’ve learnt from members of your target audience and your competitors to decide on which of these you’ll choose, along with the actual prices you’ll charge.
Remember, while your prices should be attractive to your target customer, they must also cover the operating expenses you spend on planning the event, while still leaving room for a healthy profit for you. As Coleman advises, “You need to strike the balance of attracting as many customers as possible as well as much revenue as possible”.
Work out how much it’ll cost you to put on an event based on your plans and ideal suppliers, and see whether you’d still get a decent margin based on what customers want to pay. Making sure you're giving your clients value for money is crucial, as Sayle says:
“Research your target customers and what they want to see in place at the type of events you are offering and how much they would be willing to pay.
According to Coleman, “Price all comes down to value for money.
“Don’t worry if you don’t get it right at first. Your price can change, so don’t think you can’t do this once you’ve set your price. However, it is important to think about it properly as reducing a price is much easier than raising it.”
Davis and Voss add: “Make sure you can justify your pricing. The internet has pushed transparency up the agenda and clients at every end of the spectrum are looking for value and quality.”
Don't be afraid to adjust your offering if your pricing seems unreasonable. It may be that you need to re-evaluate how much you’re able to spend on pulling together the event or how many services you can offer as part of your package.
4. Understand the requirements
You certainly don’t need a formal education in events and party organising before becoming a party planner.
Coleman says: “There are no educational qualifications needed to be in the events world. I have come across a whole cross section of people with different levels of qualifications and this doesn’t necessarily mean you are good at your job!”
Davis and Voss are of the same opinion: “We value creativity, communication skills and common sense over any professional qualifications.”
However, if you would like to study events management, you can:
- Research your local colleges and universities, or online facilities like the Open University, to see whether they offer something that suits you.
- Look into specialist event institutions. Event Academy, for example, offers four accredited event management courses which you can choose to undertake online or on a physical premises in London.
Or, as an alternative to studying, you can always build up your events experience (if you don't have any) by volunteering to help out at local events. This will give you a practical insight into the many cogs that form a single event, and you might be surprised at the level of graft involved!
Follow this checklist to make sure you’re operating your business legitimately and without fear of costly legal problems:
✓ Obtain licenses
The licenses you need to operate your business legally will be down to your local authority or council (get in touch with them to find out which licenses you need) and also the venues at which you'll be holding events.
Johnson points out that, “If you’re selling alcohol, you’ll need an alcohol license”, while Sayle says: “Local councils are all different, and using private venues requires different licences compared to working with licenced venues, so you just need to check as it’s a bit of a minefield.”
✓ Register as a sole trader
Unless you want to set up a limited company (though most start-ups don’t begin life this way), you’ll need to register as a sole trader with HMRC, and understand the tax implications of this.
✓ Set up a business banking account
This, plus you’ll need to get an accounting and cashflow system in order so you can easily manage invoices and outgoings. It’s a good idea to hire an accountant to help you out in the early stages.
✓ Prepare to take payments
Alongside your business bank account you’ll also need a merchant account. After a client pays you, their money will be held in your merchant account until it is approved by the client’s bank, at which point it moves into your business account – so it’s crucial you have one.
✓ Get yourself insured
You might also need buildings and contents insurance if you keep expensive equipment at home or in an office, and vehicle insurance for any vans you use to transport materials to and from venues. Find out more about start-up insurance here.
Sayle points out that your insurance should include event cancellation clauses. She also advises consulting a “good insurance broker”:
“They will tell you exactly what you need as there are different requirements for different workers; for example, if you have badged security then they need to have their own insurance.”
✓ Brush up on your health and safety
While the venues you hold events in will likely have their own set of generic health and safety regulations, it’s vital that you carry out your own risk assessments in advance of your events, detailing the hazards and controls for each.
So, learn how to write risk assessments and consider everything from trips, heavy loads and electric shocks to structural security and food hygiene.
Of course, it’s easy to blame the venue if something goes wrong – but it’ll still reflect very poorly on you if you’ve failed to recognise and manage a risk.
5. Start promoting your event planning start-up
Now you’re ready to get going, it’s time to show your business to the public (and encourage them to use your stellar event-planning services). Alongside traditional techniques such as leaflet drops and putting advertisements in your local paper, you’ll want to try the following…
Set up a website
Having a website is vital for any small business. It’s a place to explain everything you offer, show off your previous projects, list your pricing packages and display your contact details.
It’s also an opportunity to prove that, even though your business is new, you’re a professional who knows exactly what they’re doing. So you’ll need to make sure your site is sleek and professionally-designed, with no spelling mistakes (an erroneous, dated website is a surefire way to turn off potential clients).
Unless you’re a web designer yourself, you’ll want to go with one of the two options:
- Hire a freelance web designer to build your site for you. The benefit of this is that you’ll have an expert to discuss ideas with, but you may find that your designer charges for any changes you’d like them to make in the future.
- Use a website building platform. These are often low-cost, and will likely give you more control over your site and a clearer understanding of how it works. Wix, GoDaddy and Weebly are popular options.
Your website should be in-keeping with your branding and appealing to your target customer, and you should adopt SEO best practice to make sure it ranks well when people search Google for a local events business.
Tom Bourlet of brands Fizzbox.com, which offers group activities and experiences for any event, and stag and hen party organisers The Stag Company and Hen Heaven, elaborates: “It is important to understand what terms you are targeting, the competition you are up against and what you can afford to spend on PPC (pay-per-click).
Bourlet adds: “One quick win can be to focus on local SEO, ensuring you quickly rank in the city you are based in, which is relatively easy to do in a short period of time.”
Use social media
As Sayle says: “Social media is massive and if you’re not on board with the digital world then you will fall flat on your face, so get a good digital marketing plan in place with social media leading the charge.”
With social media, you can get the word out about your business for free, sharing details of your services, special offers and – with your clients’ permission – images of your events to give potential customers an idea of what you can deliver.
Sayle adds: “There are loads of digital tricks you can use, from boosting ads on Facebook to your target audience, to using Instagram from a visual point of view with sponsored posts.”
Coleman's advice is:
In particular, Pinterest can be a goldmine for party and events planners. The image-based platform centering on inspiration and idea-sharing, Pinterest is the place to find people looking for ‘inspo' for their next big bash – and show them what you can do.
You might also find Facebook's groups valuable. Brides-to-be, for example, are increasingly joining locally-focused Facebook groups in which they can discuss and recommend local caterers, boutiques, planning services and more. Try joining up to relevant groups and sharing a tailored special offer with members.
Of course, there's no point in spending energy and resources maximising your Pinterest and Facebook profiles if your target market don't spend a lot of time on them.
Johnson says: “Firstly, find out where your target audience are, and on which platform they spend the most time. With the introduction of Instagram stories, millenials are spending up to 25 minutes on the platform everyday. This was a key insight for us to ensure we’re hitting those that would be interested in TYPE.”
Sending engaging marketing emails to both customers and those who have expressed an interest in your services is an excellent way to communicate with the public, sharing updates and special offers, encouraging engagement with your business and keeping interest high.
A CRM (customer relationship management) system will help to streamline this process by personalising emails to make customers more inclined to read them, automating email sends, collating customer data and more.
Attend fairs and exhibitions
Some events, such as weddings, often have regular fairs and trade shows where small businesses like suppliers and party planners can host a stall and show off their products and services to visitors.
This is a great way to get your service in front of the people who need it. Furthermore, chatting face-to-face with potential customers will give you a unique opportunity to explain what you can offer to them specifically. Plus, they’re more likely to remember you if they’ve had a friendly and promising conversation with you.
Make sure, though, that you have professional business cards and leaflets printed so you can give them something to remember you by.
Try cross promotions
Seek out other small businesses in the events industry and see whether you can partner with them to create a promotional offer that you’ll both benefit from.
For example, a local independent caterers and offer a discount from both yours and the caterer’s prices to those who use your services and select that caterer.
Encourage word of mouth
According to Davis and Voss, “Word of mouth is by far the most powerful and authentic form of marketing.
“If social media isn’t their thing ask them to share their experiences within their circle of friends.
“We produce look books with images of our events in, and many of our clients (private and corporate) have agreed to have them on display in their homes/offices which has proved very helpful.”
Coleman adds: “The old-fashioned face-to-face conversation is the best way to market your business. It takes a bit longer to establish yourself but is so worthwhile.
“And pick up the phone! Don’t rely on emails and text, create a genuine relationship with your suppliers or customers. You will reap the rewards for your efforts.”
6. Find suppliers and build contacts
As the old adage goes, it’s not what you know but who you know that counts. When it comes to events planning, what you know is obviously crucial – but you’ll also find having a portfolio of industry contacts very useful.
Of course, finding the right suppliers for each event will mean carefully considering your client’s wishes and budget. But building relationships with reliable suppliers will give you options right off the bat, saving you time – provided they fit the requirements.
If you’d like to plan weddings, for example, having contacts at catering companies, local venues, entertainment providers, et cetera will prove handy. If you’re specialising in corporate events, you may need to find contacts at banner printing companies, potential sponsors and more.
Here are a few ways to start building up that contacts book:
- Visit online event supplier databases. Alive Network, for example, lists thousands of UK event entertainers and suppliers along with reviews and prices.
- If your competitors run public events, see if you can attend them. Make a note of who they’ve used as a caterer, venue, equipment supplier etc. If any suppliers or sponsors are present, get talking to them and ask for their details.
- Attend trade shows, seminars and exhibitions where suppliers will be showcasing their offerings. Coleman says the key is to “Network, Network, Network! Go to as many trade shows as you can, often these are free to attend. There are lots of events for events professionals and Eventbrite is a good place to look out for what’s coming up in your area.”
- Join local events groups on social media, where professionals share details of the companies they’ve worked with. Be proactive, joining in with discussions and asking for opinions.
- Use your personal network. According to Johnson, “You’d be surprised how many contacts you can make through friends of friends, and colleagues both new and old. Use LinkedIn to the full as well, make new connections daily and interact with them if only to simply introduce yourself.”
Beyond this, Davis and Voss say you should always be alert and prepared: “Always keep your eyes peeled as you can meet people in the most unlilkely of places.
“Festivals are a great place to source creative acts and entertainers, as are non-event trade shows. Interiors shows and gift expos are a great place to meet businesses who may be a great fit for events.
When it comes to securing venues, Bourlet says a face-to-face approach is best:
“I strongly recommend visiting a destination and arranging meetings with the venues. This way, you will have the opportunity to build a relationship with the potential supplier, explain through any issues or doubts and help to create a long-term partnership.
“This will also make it easier to work together on marketing opportunities, as well as being recommended to other businesses.”
As you build your network and liaise with suppliers and customers, you may want to consider getting a business mobile to separate your business dealings from personal calls (more information on our page on business mobile phone contracts.
The party and events planning market is hugely competitive, but with the tips, tricks and tools in this guide, you’ll set yourself up with the best chance of success. Good luck!