Jennifer C. Squeglia, CMP, founded RLC Events Inc. nine years ago (the initials are those of her late father, Robert Lee Colburn). Planners who have attended meetings industry events may have met Squeglia in one of the many educational sessions she has moderated over the years, giving back to the industry by sharing her expertise and graciousness.
She began her career in hospitality nearly 30 years ago, specializing in operations, catering, and conference services. In 1999, she moved into corporate meeting planning, and held positions at John Hancock and Fidelity Investments.
We reached out to her for a few tips on making the leap into business ownership as an independent event planner. What we got back was a wealth of thoughtful advice! Here are her 10 things to consider as you investigate entrepreneurship and the independent life:
1. Have Buy-In From Your Spouse, Family, and Friends
Owning your own business is very demanding, and you will work long hours, many likely from your home office. Therefore you want to ensure that those closest to you are fully supportive. My husband was instrumental in my taking the leap—he was very encouraging and reassuring. It’s scary to leave the stability of the corporate world with benefits and steady paychecks, so having that backing is paramount.
2. Be Open to Risk
It’s in a planner’s nature to want to know what’s going on and when. We want control. I have always been risk averse, and opening my company exhilarated me and terrified me at the same time. As I was going through this journey, I came across this quote: “Just past the fear lies the freedom.” With the right attitude and preparation, the reward far outweighs the risk. After nine great years, I find that it usually does.
3. Embrace Hospitality Partners
Having a strong network is so important. When I first thought of going out on my own, I found my biggest cheerleaders to be all my wonderful hospitality partners. Not only were they encouraging, they were also helpful in spreading the word and providing referrals. My hospitality relationships are so important to me, instrumental to my success with my clients, and a huge asset to me professionally and personally.
4. Embrace Other Independent Planners
I had been thinking about going out on my own for a while, so I started reaching out to others who had done so, and the outpouring of information, inspiration, guidance, and insight was incredible. I think of other independent planners not as competition, but as colleagues. Working in a home office can at times feel very solitary, so it’s great to have a network of other independents out there who you can bounce ideas off or share challenges with. I am part of an informal independent planner group; there are about six of us and we try to meet a few times a year. It’s energizing and reaffirming when we get together. Not only are they a great support system, but also an invaluable resource. In addition, we all will refer business to each other if we are unable to accommodate a prospective event; it’s much better to refer a client to another great resource than to just say you are unable to help them.
5. Hire a Great Accountant
One of the best pearls of wisdom I received from a fellow entrepreneur was to enlist the services of a great accountant. She referred me to a small accounting firm that specializes in small businesses. My accountant has been so helpful with my planning, taxes, bookkeeping, and setting me up as an “S” (small) corporation. I send him all of my paperwork once a month and he keeps me straight! Most important, I trust him implicitly. As I was accustomed to getting the steady paycheck, he provided critical guidance for the financial strategy of being an entrepreneur.
6. Build Your Brand: Logo, Web Site, E-mail
Work with your creative contacts to develop a logo and market your brand through business cards and your Web site. I do know successful independent planners who have home e-mail accounts (i.e., @verizon.net or @gmail.com); however, I recommend getting an e-mail address with your company name in it (i.e., @RLCEvents.com). It also helps promote your brand.
7. Set Your Fees and Rates
This was my biggest challenge when I first started out. My husband is instrumental in helping me to set my rates and figure out the best approach when evaluating a new project. My independent planning colleagues also offer great guidance in this area; although we don’t tend to talk specific numbers, it helps to talk through what you should charge. I typically charge by the hour when I support an existing meeting team. When I work with a client who does not have a planning department, I will charge a flat project fee. It can be challenging determining the fee, especially when doing an event for the first time. This has gotten easier the longer I have been in business. It is important to clearly define that your pricing is based on a specific scope of work and to add language in your proposals and stating that the fee will be reevaluated should the scope of work change.
8. Set Criteria for your Ideal Business and Don’t Be Afraid to Say No
When a lead or referral comes in the door, you have to already know what you’re looking for and what is ideal. Is it the right business for you? Do you have the capacity to take it on? My gut has never failed me, so if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Don’t be afraid to say no. When I get an inquiry, I will always have a conversation with someone so I can better understand the scope of work and try to be as helpful as possible in recommending someone else if I cannot take the business.
9. Positive Attitude, Always Be Grateful, Never Take Any Business for Granted
I am truly blessed to have incredible clients, and I am never complacent and welcome every new project with professionalism and enthusiasm. I am ever appreciative of the work and do everything I can to be as helpful and positive as possible. At the end of the day, people like to do business with people they like.
10. Set Up a Productive and Comfortable Work Environment
This is probably a given, but having the right desk in a comfortable and quiet environment is critical. It’s worth spending a little more money on a good chair and desk—the folding chair and banquet table just won’t cut it. It is also important to arm yourself with the best equipment: a computer, scanner/printer, and phone (I use my cell phone), and to ensure you can find technical resources to manage it all. There is no IT department at your home office!