When J.P. Morgan took over Seattle-based Washington Mutual in September 2008, the New York investment firm decided to downsize the West Coast office with the intention of ultimately moving employees east. Kathy Rust, CMP, CTC, then vice president, corporate meetings & events, declined the opportunity.

Instead, she launched Rust & Associates, an independent consulting firm, with the intention of helping companies implement strategic meeting management programs. “My role at Washington Mutual was leading a team doing meetings and managing the SMMP: creating the preferred vendor program, creating consistent policies, really leveraging our spend,” says Rust. Now she is ready to share that expertise. “My goal is not to do meeting planning. I want to focus on infrastructure, on strategic issues, and on business processes.”

Rust found help from her local Small Business Administration office, which offers counseling, classes, and other resources. She had regular meetings with a retired executive who “has given me great feedback and support,” she says. “It’s exciting and it’s scary. But the exciting outweighs the scary.”

Jennifer Squeglia, CMP, also felt both emotions when she launched her independent meeting planning firm in April 2007. She loved her corporate job—director, meetings & client events, at Fidelity Investments—but elected to leave it to pursue the dream of self-employment. “There were days when I thought the idea was crazy,” she laughs, “but it always came down to the same thought: What’s the worst that could happen? I could always go back to work.” Inside, though, she says, “I always knew I could do it.”

She was right. Squeglia had a client right out of the gate, and her previous partnerships and word of mouth have helped her grow her business steadily.

Squeglia’s top tips for success:

  • Get a good accountant.
  • Don’t take your clients for granted.
  • Diversify your client base.
  • Make it a pleasure to do business with you.
  • Remember that you must spend time working on your business (marketing yourself, developing a Web site, networking) as well as working in your business.