To many special event professionals, the thought of any other career is impossible. Yet some longtime pros have made the jump to new businesses and new lives. Here are three perspectives:
was Founder and head of New York-based event producer Paint the Town Red for 21 years, which he sold international event powerhouse Global Events Group in 2008. He then took the post of CEO North America for GEG.
is Expert consultant, launching new initiatives
Q: When did you decide to make the transition out of special events as your main career focus?
A: After selling my company to Global Events, I stayed on for a year and a half to integrate the two firms and help get the Global Events brand more established in the industry here. I left in December 2009.
What factors led to that decision?
It was hard, because I believed in the brand and was excited about where we were going, but I think it was just time to try something different.
When you decided to make the change, did you know what you wanted to do next?
I’d always had lots of ideas for new ventures around this industry, but it’s very hard to pursue new initiatives when you’re focused on running a business. I’ve been fortunate to be able to only work on things that I’m really passionate about, such as consulting with a small handful of event businesses looking to grow or sell, developing a mobile app [the Super Planner, which was just nominated for a Gala Award], or launching the Event Leadership Institute. I still love this industry, even though I’m not producing events for clients anymore.
How is life "after events"? What's better, and what do you miss?
I miss working with new clients to create an event strategy to help them achieve their goals. What I don’t miss is the grunt work, the gazillion details. Even though I had a team to handle that, ultimately I was always accountable for everything. I’ve always been more drawn to the big picture.
Has time away from special events brought you any new perspectives on the business?
Now that I don’t run an event agency anymore, it’s much easier to step back and be able to analyze other companies and the industry in general. When you’re planning events, the focus is very micro, first on one event, then the next. It’s hard to see industry changes and trends. My perspective is much broader now.
was President and owner of Dallas-based Events Unlimited for 25 years
When did you decide to make the transition?
I started thinking of it shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. After that tragic event, the events market changed. I had experienced extraordinary opportunities, worked with the most phenomenal industry professionals and made lifelong friends that still keep in touch. Another important thing for me--and as weird as this is going to sound--I got my dog, Lali. I was travelling extensively, every week, and really felt the need to reexamine my priorities. I started feeling that I wanted to get off the road and make a life for myself here. I continued on, streamlined the business and moved from my offices to my home.
Did you know what you wanted to do next?
I began thinking about what I could do that would give me the autonomy, the income and the personal gratification that I had with my own company. My mom was a realtor in Alabama for 37 years and we began talking about it, and I decided to go to take the classes and get my license, which I did in June 2006. Since then, there have been hard times and great times, just like in the event business. This year has been my best year ever, and I am in the top 5 percent of our company in production--after just 4½ years! (Yes, I am an overachiever!)
How is life "after events"?
What’s better is that I am home; I can do normal things like take classes, volunteer, commit to friends to get together, and spend time taking walks with Lali, whom I now refer to as my “million-dollar dog." I rarely met any of my neighbors before I got her, and since going into real estate and walking her, I have sold about 12 homes in my neighborhood. Selling real estate is much harder than it looks. There is an extreme amount of information to learn, so I continually take classes, earn designations and attend seminars to stay up to date and be the best service provider I can be to my clients.
What I miss is the creativity and certainly the friendships and opportunities to work closely with so many industry leaders, the collaboration and bringing to life phenomenal events as a team. They have made a profound impact on my life--and you know who you are!--both personally and professionally. In fact, so many of us “grew up together” (note up, not old) in this crazy business.
Has time away brought you new perspectives on the event business?
Not really. I find that people still ask me for resources, and when I know someone left in the business, I refer them. I will say, the special events business and industry made me a better business person. I know how to read a contract, and run a business.
Do you have any regrets?
I do regret the changes in the industry that have forced the dollars to get tighter, but that had the effect of also making us more be creative, both financially and to produce fabulous events!
was In events for 15 years, including stints as group event sales coordinator at the Fort Worth [Texas] Zoo and owner of Melinda Massie Events and Consulting, also in Fort Worth
is Founder/owner of Melinda Massie Professional Organizing in Fort Worth
When did you decide to make the transition?
Just before Christmas of last year, an event client called me and asked what I would charge for my organizing services. She wanted to give me as a gift to her mother to help them organize some spare rooms. I loved the idea and told her I could smell a new business idea percolating. After I got off that phone call, I immediately started doing some market research and thought that this was something I could really run with. I started the organizing arm of my business at the beginning of this year, in conjunction with my already running event business. The more I worked with people to organize their homes, the more I loved it. I decided that I wanted my business model to be 80 percent organizing and 20 percent events because I didn’t want to leave events entirely. However, the more I worked with people organizing their homes, the more significant and personally fulfilling it was.
While all of this is going on on the organizing side, on the event side I’ve got complete stress from problem vendors that were lying to my clients and treating them poorly. I slowly realized that I was procrastinating on anything event-related and that I just didn’t feel the fire that I used to. Yet I still hung on.
Mid-July, I had new headshots made. The photographer and I were talking about organizing and looking at my website, prior headshots and such so she could get a feel of what I’ve done before and what direction to take things. I told her that I had no idea why I was still hanging on to events. I didn’t have any booked and didn’t really care to book one, yet there they were on my website. “Safety net,” she replied. And she was right.
A few days later, I read a great blog post on a marketing website about fear and how that can get in our way, and that was that. I’d never been much of a “safety net” sort of girl anyway, so beginning of August, I announced that I wasn’t officially doing events anymore. Business immediately picked up.
It’s still a rollercoaster just like any small business in this economy, but every single day that I work with a client, I know I’ve made a significant and beneficial impact on their homes and lives. When I was an event planner, I used to always say that I was using my powers (extreme organization and attention to detail) for good instead of evil. Now I really feel am!
How is life "after events"?
Life after events is good. My stress levels are significantly lower. Because home organization doesn’t have the multiple moving parts that planning an event does, I no longer have to play the “waiting game” with vendors. I make a decision or my client makes a decision, and we make it happen. I don’t get the freaked-out 3 a.m. emails and 5 a.m. phone calls anymore.
The other week, I saw an event colleague that didn’t know I was no longer in events. She said to me, “You look amazing and so calm! What are you doing differently?” An editor I worked with a lot for weddings said he could hear the difference in my voice. I also think that the grounded and calming approach that I take with my organizing clients has really translated through the majority of my personal life as well.
Is there a side to events that you miss?
I do miss working closely with really creative and talented vendors, watching them do what they do best. I miss doing tastings because I always love to see and taste what a talented chef creates for a specific event. I miss being an “event MacGyver” and fixing something gone horribly awry on the fly. I do still attend different industry networking events (many have hired me for organizational help) to see and catch up with all the friends I’ve made; otherwise, I’d miss them too.
Do you have any new perspectives on events now?
The only “new” perspective I’ve gotten isn’t really new but is much more pronounced now. People get unbelievably wrapped up and stressed-out over their events. Things always have and always will have the potential to go awry. You just have to flow with it and make the best of the situation. In the end, it’s just a few hours out of your life, and most people don’t even remember what went wrong. Parties are for fun, not stress. Perfection isn’t a goal, but having a fabulous time is!
Would you ever go back into events?
I still do an occasional event, but it is very specific and only from clients I’ve already worked with or people I already know.