Starting a successful event planning business involves research, financial planning, and a bit of administrative work. Thankfully, these are skills you'll already have if you want to be a great event planner.
Running your own event planning business can be lucrative despite having low set-up costs. Additionally, it can give you freedom and a great sense of independence. Event planning isn't always easy, but the satisfaction from a job well done is so immense that it makes up for the stress.
This guide will show you how to start an event planning business and take you through all the legal, administrative, marketing, and organizational things you need to do to get your business off the ground.
Introduction: What is event planning?
Event planning is the process of scheduling and organizing events like meetings, trade shows, parties, ceremonies, conferences, and more.
If you want to be an event planner, you'll work with businesses and individuals who wish to organize an event. The central part of the job is listening to their requirements and finding a way to turn their vision into a reality.
Event planning is a relationship business. Your job will require building and maintaining relationships with clients, suppliers, venues, organizations, and vendors. While the event itself is what you'll be working towards, a tremendous amount of planning is required to make them run smoothly.
The growth of the event planning industry
The event planning industry is growing all the time. Allied Market Research suggests the industry will be worth $1.5 trillion by 2028. The party planning market is worth over $3 billion in the US annually.
Event design and planning is a specialist discipline. Quite often, the skills and contacts required to pull off all successful events are outside the scope of most businesses and individuals. As a result, individuals and companies that want to host events are increasingly outsourcing the management and planning to third-party professionals.
That's where you come in.
Develop a business plan for your event planning business
Before you start an event-planning business, you need to develop a business plan.
One of the first things you should do is decide what type of event-planning business you want to be.
Let's explore a few of the popular types of events that you can host.
What type of event planner will you be?
There are an almost endless amount of events you can host. While there is a lot of crossover between different events, some occasions have their own peculiarities and expectations.
Here is a list of some of the most popular types of events. You can target specific events depending on where you live, who you know, or your past work experiences.
Team building events
Sponsored sporting events
Community education and awareness
Of course, there is just an example of the type of gatherings an event planning business can service. Event planners can specialize in just one, some, or all of these occasions.
Deciding what type of events you work with will depend on your experience, contacts, where you operate, and several other factors, such as what you are passionate about. So evaluate your options and choose carefully.
Market research and competitor analysis
Before you start your own event planning business, you need to do a lot of research. Just like the events you want to plan, you can't just dive in and hope for the best. Instead, you should study the landscape and decide what type of event market you can serve.
Who is your target market?
All businesses need a target market. So, get out a pen and paper and write down the types of people and businesses who require the services of an event planning company.
Next up, think of the geographical market that you can serve. Living in a city will give you access to many people and businesses. However, you'll also have more competition to contend with.
On the other hand, if you live in a smaller town, you'll have less competition. However, you will most likely be competing for fewer contracts.
Think about your area and the types of individuals, businesses, and organizations that live and operate there. Soon, you'll be able to emerge with a picture of what kind of work is available.
Generally, event markets are split into either corporate or social. It's harder to break into the large corporate event market because it requires lots of experience. So, start small, and not least because you don't want the stress of a 5,000-people event when you're just starting out.
Finally, think about your experiences and skills. Suppose you've worked in a specific industry before. In that case, you'll have a head start on the requirements and preferences you can bring to your event management company. While it's not strictly necessary to have insider experience to host, for example, a corporate banking event, starting with what you know can be hugely beneficial.
Anyway, decide on your target market and your niche. Remember, you can start as small as possible and gradually build your event planning business. For example, you could start a party planning business for kids' birthdays or local church events. Once you get the hang of things, you can use these experiences to build your offering. Rome wasn't built in a day.
While choosing a specialty that falls directly inside your wheelhouse is tempting, an essential element of market research is ensuring there is enough demand in your area to support your event planning business niche. So make that a focus of your business plan.
Who are the main competitors in your area?
Depending on where you live, there might be a few or many rival event-planning businesses. It's essential that you do the work to find out about these businesses so you can see who you will compete against.
Some of the big questions you need to ask are:
What type of event planning businesses are in my area?
What services do they offer?
What prices do they charge?
What are their strengths and weaknesses?
There are lots of ways that you can gather this data. Go online and look up each business. Then, check their website, reviews, and social media accounts. With a bit of luck, you might be able to catch some gaps in the market.
Perhaps your rivals are charging prices that are way too high, and you can grab some of their market shares through competitive pricing. Or, maybe your rival's services are limited or too rigid, and you can triumph by offering something more unique and tailored.
Whatever it is, if you want your event planning business to take off, try and find a unique service proposition (USP).
Of course, finding these gaps in the market won't always be possible. In that case, you can focus on doing what you do to a really high level. Go the extra mile, be reliable, and help turn your client's dreams into reality, and you'll build a reputation and get return business.
Define your event planning services
Event planning companies can offer a wide range of services from design to execution and additional services. Define your service mix based on your core competencies and provide services where you have a competitive advantage. Then, outsource other possible services to partners if your own competencies do not support them just yet.
Here are a few specialist services an event planning business can offer.
Event design involves working with businesses or individuals and designing the event from the bottom up. This service involves working closely with clients, understanding their aims and requirements, and finding the venue, supplier, vendors, entertainment, etc., they need to realize their vision.
Venue & equipment rental services
Some event planners double up by also renting out venues or equipment. Some extra services you can add are AV equipment, chairs, tables, marques, heaters, etc. This offer can be a lucrative way to capitalize on each event. Additionally, you can use a platform like Rentle to lease these items to customers when they're not required for your planned event.
Another standard service that event planners offer is to take care of the event decor. This can be something simple like banners or balloons or more complex elements like flowers, lighting, stage design, sculptures, art, or other things you might see at special events.
Many event planning businesses specialize in coordinating events on the day. There are many moving parts to some events, so your prospective clients will be happy to pay for someone who will ensure everything runs smoothly and on schedule.
Program services are another aspect of event planning that you should consider. This can involve helping secure speakers and artists for events or, more generally, scheduling the programming.
Food is a big part of events. As an events business owner, you can hire food vendors for your clients. Offering this service requires sound knowledge and a relationship with local catering teams and vendors.
Alternatively, you can make it part of your offering if you know some good caterers.
Get experience and knowledge
If you already have experience in event planning, that will be a huge benefit. It doesn't necessarily have to be that you've put on gala events or fundraisers before; even experience in the service sector can give you an idea about what you are doing.
If you don't feel incredibly confident in your event planning skills, there are a few ways to remedy this.
Paid or voluntary work
Volunteering for events or taking paid work in any capacity are good ways to gain experience, make contacts, and gain a foothold in the industry.
Access educational resources
The internet has a wealth of resources you can use to gain knowledge about the event planning industry. Places like Udemy have a range of event planning courses, many of which are free or cost as little as $20.
On top of that, there are endless books, websites, and YouTube videos, where you can learn about the trade. Hoover up as much information as you can.
Some people choose to get a certificate or degree in event planning from their local university. While not having a cert won't necessarily hold you back, studying the subject can help you learn best practices that can ensure long-term success.
Finally, if you can find a business mentor in the event planning industry, they could be a great source of learning while you get your own business off the ground. If you can't find a relevant mentor, try speaking to other business owners in the event planning industry.
Budgeting and financial planning
Cash flow is the number one reason that new businesses fail. Therefore, you must get a good grasp of your finances when starting an event planning business — or any business. This process involves understanding startup costs, ongoing expenses, what to charge, and how much profit you can generate.
Let's explore these four essential elements to see how they can give you a better picture of how to start an event planning business.
How much does it cost to start an event planning business?
One of the most attractive things about an event planning business is that you can get things going with a modest sum of capital. However, that's not to say it's the best way to do things. Saving on startup costs could mean you have to do a lot of extra work, or it will take longer to get up and running.
What we are saying here is that if you want to start your own event planning business but you're short on capital, it's still 100% doable. However, having some starting money can help with your marketing, website, software stack, any equipment you might need, insurance, and other expenses we'll get into below.
Business formation expenses
If you want to become a legitimate event planner, you need to set up your business legally. This process can cost around $50 to $100. Additionally, you will need to consider things like small business insurance too.
While you might not need a lot of dedicated equipment to start an event planning business, you'll need a mobile phone, a laptop, and a car. If you have those, great. Otherwise, you'll need to work them into your starting budget.
Dedicated event planning software, alongside marketing and customer relationship management (CRM) applications, could cost up to $1000 or more. However, there are lots of great free tools that are perfect for new event planners.
You'll need to build a website and pay for the domain name and hosting. Many event planners operate over social media, so that's an option too.
You can get a basic website off the ground for under $50. Something more advanced can cost thousands, especially if you pay for web development.
Another great thing about an event planning business is that you can actually run it from your home. Renting business premises will eat into your profits, so when you're starting an event planning business, try and keep the costs as low as possible.
Of course, if you become fairly established, you can consider renting office space. However, it's not strictly necessary at the start.
Marketing your event planning business could cost as much as you want. It depends on which channels you use and how aggressively you want to get the word out. Of course, you can rely purely on social media and word of mouth if you don't have a lot of capital. Just beware that it can take a long time to get traction.
In summary, you can start an event planning business with a few hundred dollars. However, average startup costs are around $15,000
What are the ongoing expenses for an event planning business?
Depending on the size and scope of your event planning business, there could be substantial ongoing business expenses. Things you need to budget for are:
Internet and phone bills
Marketing and advertising
How much can you charge your customers?
There are a lot of factors that go into determining how much you can charge for event planning services. Some elements are the type of project, your expenses, your location, and the client.
Event planners charge their clients in several different ways. Here are the four most popular:
Flat fee per project
Percentage of expenses (typically 10 to 20%)
Per hour + percentage of expenses
The average rate for an event planner in the USA is around $33 per hour. Obviously, this varies with experience. One commonly cited figure comes from Patty Sachs, the author of the book called "Your Special Event Planning Guide." Sachs says an event planner can make between $12 and $75 per hour, a reasonably wide range.
Percentage of expenses is a good option if you are planning big events. If your niche is wedding planning, you can charge around 10 to 20%. The average US wedding costs around $28,000, so that's a tidy sum of between $2,800 and $5,600 per event.
When you're starting out, a flat fee could make sense. Clients like to know where they stand, so a flat fee can work well if you estimate how long you will spend on each project. Just be careful to factor in all the event planning services you'll provide and charge the client for expenses.
How profitable is an event planning business?
The beauty of running an event planning company is that you can keep your overheads low. The client pays for the vendors, the venue, and other expenses, and you charge a flat fee, an hourly rate, or a percentage of the costs.
You don't need to buy and hold stock unless you offer equipment rentals. Of course, depending on the services you offer, things might be different. For example, if you run baby showers, you might consider buying balloons and decorations in bulk. However, by and large, the business revenue you generate is yours, minus taxes and marketing expenses.
Establish a legal entity for your business
Choose a name for your business
Before you commit anything to paper, you need a business name. However, coming up with the right business name takes time and research.
Think about the service you want to offer and see if you can work that into your name. Pick something memorable to help you stand out from your competitors. Alternatively, many event planners use their name for their events business.
Once you've settled on a name, you'll need to ensure no one else is using it already. Check the following to confirm your name is unique:
State business records
Social media accounts
Form a business entity
The next step that you need to take is to form a business entity. Think carefully about which business structure you use because it will affect, e.g., the amount of tax you have to pay and whether you will be personally liable for losses or damages.
Let's quickly look at the four options you'll have.
Sole proprietorship: Sole proprietorship is the most popular structure for small businesses. It doesn't draw a distinction between you and the business. As a result, you are liable for any debts the business occurs. Additionally, you are responsible for damages or liabilities caused by the business.
Another thing to consider is that under this business structure, you'll pay tax on your personal income AND your business income. The advantages are that it's the simplest business structure to set up.
General partnership: A general partnership has much in common with a sole proprietorship. This option is best when you go into business with a partner or partners.
One potential drawback of this structure is that you are liable for your partner. So ensure you partner with someone you can trust because you'll be on the hook for any debts or mistakes they make.
LLC: LLC stands for limited liability company. Unlike sole proprietors or general partnerships, this structure protects you from debts your business might accrue. With an LLC, you and your business are considered separate entities. LLCs are taxed through a personal income tax code.
C Corp: Similar to an LLC, a C Corp will differentiate between an individual and the event planning business. The plus side is that you aren't liable for any debts. However, you will have to pay taxes on both your business and personal income, also called double taxation.
Overall, we'd recommend an LLC as the best option for an event planning business. It provides the right blend of simplicity alongside liability protection. If your company does run into financial issues, you don't want to lose personal assets.
What's more, an LLC allows you to pass through your taxes, meaning that you, not your business entity, are taxed.
Register for taxes
Each small business needs to register for takes before they can legally operate. Some of the taxes you'll need to pay as an event planning business are:
The first step you'll need to do is apply for an Employee Identification Number (EIN). These are given out by the IRS, and it's something you can do for free online.
There are some situations where you don't need an EIN. For example, if you choose a sole proprietor legal structure, you can pay taxes on your social security number (SSN) instead.
Set up a business bank account
Every event planner needs a business bank account. While you might think you can use your existing personal account, it's rarely a good idea.
Two big problems with mixing your personal and business funds (i.e., commingling) are:
A) If you are an LLC, you can lose the liability protection that is one of the best features of this business structure. As a result, if you lose money or you're sued, your personal assets are at risk.
B) It makes business analysis, forecasting, and accounting more challenging.
Some of the big advantages of opening a business bank account are:
Access to business loans
Access to a business credit card
Protects your liability as an LLC
Building credit as a business entity is important. Cash flow is the number one business killer, so always set up a business bank account
Necessary permits and licenses for event planning businesses
Event planners don't need specific permits or licenses to perform their work. However, that's not to say that you won't have to deal with licenses or permits at all.
For starters, you'll need state or local business licenses like any business. These licenses are often called occupational licenses. Requirements vary from state to state, so check your local state website for more details.
There are a few optional certificates that you can get as an event planner. The International Live Events Association has the CSEP, which can help your business apply for special events. Similarly, the Events Industry Council has the CPM, an events industry badge of excellence.
Again, neither certificate is mandatory. But if you plan on hosting larger, blue-chip events and contracts, they can be a big help.
Buy business insurance
If you are running public events, you'll need some insurance to protect yourself against claims. While you can ask your clients to sign a liability waiver, that can only go so far. Events are complex, have lots of moving pieces, and anything can go wrong.
Many insurance companies offer specialist event planner insurance. Typically, they are made up of three different parts.
General liability: Also frequently called business liability insurance, it protects you from claims resulting from your business operation. Some of the things it covers are personal injury, medical bills, and damage to products or venues.
Professional liability: Sometimes called errors and omissions (E&O) insurance, this coverage protects you against claims of misconduct or negligence. For example, if a client sues you for damages because they believe the event was not up to par.
Commercial auto insurance: If you use your personal vehicle for work, you need a specific type of insurance.
The best thing to do is shop around and get a bunch of different quotes. Just don't leave yourself uninsured. That could turn ugly very quickly.
Other policies you should think of
Service level agreement
A service level agreement, or SLA, is a contract between you and your client that details what they should expect when they hire you as an event planner. It documents what services they should expect and how they will be delivered.
It's important to draw up these agreements to avoid conflicts and disputes.
It's essential to draw up a liability waiver to protect yourself from any losses your client occurs as a result of the event. You can only be held liable for damages that you cause. There are lots of event planner liability waiver templates online that you can use. Alternatively, speak to a legal professional for advice.
Events get canceled all the time for a variety of reasons. However, you'll be out of pocket if you've taken the time to work on an event that doesn't go ahead. So set up a cancellation policy that ensures you still get paid in full or in part for your work.
Plan your daily operations
One of the best things about being an event manager is that no two days are the same. While some event planners work a strict 9-5, most go with the flow of the job. That means working evenings and weekends and during the holidays. Essentially, you need to be around when your clients need you.
Of course, you can do the planning part of your events during normal working hours. But the nature of social events is that they happen during the evenings or on weekends. On the other hand, corporate events are more likely to be on a weekday day. So, it all depends on the niche that you want to service.
Here are the main duties you'll need to do when running an event planning service.
Research and design
Research is a huge element of event planning. To make the right decisions, you need to have good information. Some of the research you'll need to do is:
Finding local vendors, suppliers, and venues
Researching the feasibility of an event
Learning about client expectations
Finding out which artists or speakers are available
Knowing which permits are required for particular public events.
You get the picture.
Design is another important element. Clients often have an idea of how they want an event to look and feel. They'll also have a budget. Often, that budget won't be enough to cover their ambitious plans, so you'll need to learn how to manage expectations.
Event planners need to be able to turn their client's dreams into reality. Sometimes clients have clear preferences; other times, they're looking for your inspiration and recommendations. Event planners can be responsible for choosing every detail of an event or just a few.
Sites like Pinterest are great for getting inspiration. Keep up on design websites and magazines, too, so you know the trends as they are happening.
Generally, when clients approach you to perform event planning services, they expect you to send a proposal. This document will include all the event details, occasionally with designs and pictures.
Proposal writing can be an involved process. Depending on the budget and complexity of the event, these documents can be pretty lengthy.
Organizing an event is where the real work happens. You'll need to be on top of everything, from suppliers, venues, vendors, local governments, and the client. Even small events involve many different things, so ensure you get your scheduling and management right.
Having some staff to help at this juncture is really helpful. However, if your business isn't quite at the point where you can hire full-time staff, look into finding a virtual assistant. You can hire these professionals by the project or the hour, and they can take away a lot of the workload. Furthermore, if you carry rental inventory, you should pay attention to the best practices in inventory management.
The key is to budget for at least a few months to organize even a medium-sized event. Of course, smaller events like a children's birthday party won't take the same amount of intense planning. But it's still essential to have as much notice as possible so you ensure vendors and suppliers are available.
Coordination is where it all comes together. Event planning requires an understanding and appreciation of each person's role in the event. Communication is key.
Each vendor or a third party should be clear about the timings and what is expected of them. Any problem or delay can cause a knock-on effect. For events with strict programs (speaking events, concerts, etc.), you must ensure everything runs like clockwork.
Problems are inevitable. However, keeping a cool head is a critical event-planning skill. Even the worst issues have solutions.
Finally, you need to bill your clients. We've covered how to work out your charges in the "How much can you charge your customers?" section. You will have worked out all of these terms with your client beforehand. However, you need to invoice them once their event has been completed.
Additionally, depending on the set-up, it may fall on you to pay the suppliers or vendors after your client pays you. Ensure you do this timely if you want to maintain a good relationship with these professionals.
Start building your brand
Once you've made a business plan and sorted out all your administration, it's time to start building your brand. If you want to reach potential clients, you need some visibility.
For that, you'll need to build a website and do some marketing and networking.
Build a website
Building a website is an essential part of starting an event planning business. Clients need a place to find out about your services, prices, testimonials, and more. Building a professional-looking website will give your business credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of potential clients.
You might also want to think about how to package your services online in an easy-to-sell format because today's consumers are more willing to buy services online. For example, you can productize event package levels that include predefined services. If you focus on custom events, this won't work, but if you can come up with repeatable event concepts, why not sell them online? With Rentle, you can build an online booking website super easily.
If a big part of your event planning service is about classy design, you should ensure your website looks the part. So, when your target market is a sophisticated audience, it can be worth spending that bit extra on web development.
Otherwise, try and stuff your site with photos of events you've planned and customer testimonials. Social proof is a powerful sales and marketing tool.
Finally, make search engine optimization part of your marketing strategy so you can generate organic business.
Grow your networks
As we mentioned early, event planning is about relationships. These relationships extend beyond just your clients and also include vendors, venues, freelance workers, catering teams, entertainers, and any other workers you might find at an event.
Building a network is incredibly important when starting an event planning business. When you put on an event, be ready to hand out cards or other marketing materials, if appropriate.
Otherwise, join social media groups about wedding planning and forge good relationships with suppliers and vendors. Always be courteous and helpful because you never know where a relationship could lead.
Market your business to get clients and build a reputation
You need a marketing strategy if you are going to reach potential clients. You can get the word out about your service in several ways.
Part of your marketing strategy should focus on what makes your business unique. People require many different event planning services, so find an area where you can stick out.
When formulating your marketing strategy, consider your target market and where you can find them.
It's a good idea to set up some social media accounts for your event planning business. Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and TikTok are all popular social media platforms that can help you advertise your services and reach new clients. You can use these channels to pick up business if you're active on them.
Additionally, consider pay-per-click advertising. Google, Meta, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, and more offer digital marketing services that connect your business with prospective clients. It's worth investing in these channels because they can boost your event-planning business while you're not well known.
Conclusion: Your own event planning business is just a step away
The events industry is booming. Many people are turning to third-party event planners to help them host a variety of occasions. If you've got a flair for design, organization, and communication, this could be the job for you.
Starting your own business is challenging. However, when you do something you love, it doesn't feel like a job. No matter your business model, one of the best things you can do at the start is service events in areas you have some experience.
As we've mentioned, you can start your own event planning business without a huge amount of starting capital. Start small, get a few projects under your belt, network, and go the extra mile for your clients, and you'll soon find the offers coming in.