One of the best things about our industry is the independent planner – someone who finds a passion in event planning and makes a career out of it. As one myself, I know that there are some great benefits to being an independent planner. We get to make our own schedules, we get to work with all different kinds of clients and we are in control of the direction our business goes. That being said, there’re also a lot of challenges. There isn’t a guide book on how to start and grow an event business. No one comes in and tells us the checklist of things that we have to do and there certainly isn’t a formula that works for every size and style of company. So far, we have been very lucky to be surrounded by great mentors and supporters in the industry who help me figure out what is needed along the way, but there are challenges around every corner. Here are a few red flags to watch out for to determine whether or not your business is on the right path or headed towards trouble.

Undetermined Niche
Many event planners think that in order to be successful, they have to do everything. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked an event planner what their company focuses on, only to be told that they do special events, corporate meetings, trade shows and everything else under the sun. Many people think that they have to take every client and do every type of event to have enough money to sustain themselves. However, not having a defined niche means that you don’t have a defined market and you aren’t able to brand your business well. When a potential client is looking for the right event planning partner for their next party or meeting, they are looking for someone who matches with their needs. They identify companies and evaluate them for a mere few seconds before making a decision on the right fit for them. Your brand must be so focused and your niche must be so defined that you can share that with your potential clients in just a few seconds. Your client list, pictures from past events and experience should clearly line up with the type of event that your target market is looking to achieve. If you do take a vents outside of your niche in the beginning to get experience or meet the bills, recognize that they probably aren’t going to be great pictures for your website or brand building activities.

Lack of Focus
If you’re looking to create a business that will just add a little extra money in your pocket, then part-time effort is probably fine for you. But, if you’re looking to build a sizable business that can fully support you and your family and give you the time and space for things like vacations and sick time, you have to dive into your business deeper than you have ever done before. Running your own business is not the thing to do if you just want a cushy, flexible schedule. Running a successful event planning business takes an incredible amount of drive, dedication and focus. You have got to be focused on your goals because only you are in charge of achieving them. One of the biggest red flags for companies that will not make it the long distance is a lack of focus. If they are all over the place, there isn’t enough effort and inertia behind those goal-achieving initiatives.

Changing Course
One of the telltale signs of a failing business is a person who is constantly changing directions. We always see planners who are doing venue sourcing one month and then tradeshow planning and then a bit of social media consulting on the side. This lack of focus really signifies a lack of core mission. Rather than shifting with the wind every time you think there is money in a particular area, you must do your research and reflect on your skills. Once you’ve defined what you can offer the world that is unique to anyone else and done the research to prove there is a market for it, you’ve got to dig your heels in and stay focused. There will be plenty of people who try to distract you or tell you you’re wrong, but you’ve got to believe in yourself. Be open to change, but look for the red flag of constantly changing course. Tweaking your plan over time is natural, but going in a new direction every few months is not.

Lack of Education
One of the hardest things about our industry is that education is not as formalized as it is in other countries. You can study hospitality in college, but many people don’t enter the industry until after graduation. Education, however, is available all over. The industry associations offer certification programs, there are blogs with tons of great, free content and there are a plethora of industry events and conferences. The red flag is for people who don’t pursue this education. Even the most successful of event planning businesses will falter if they don’t actively pursue education. Being that our industry is so flexible, it changes rapidly. There isn’t a how-to guide on staying up-to-date so it’s on us to stay active and challenge our knowledge.