Being a freelance event planner provides independence, freedom, and flexibility, but it’s not without its challenges.
We asked Ali Wrighton, Director of Ali Wrighton Events, how to succeed in this competitive industry. Ali has more than 25 years of experience in events and has been successfully self-employed for the past 10. Here are her top ten tips for going it alone.
1. Gain experience as an employee first
“It would be quite challenging for someone to graduate from an event management course and start working as a freelancer without experience or contacts. Ideally, you need to get a year or two of experience under your belt, working for an event agency or a corporation’s in-house event department. On the plus side, event agencies use freelance staff to provide all levels of support, from delegate management through to project management, so there are opportunities for junior event planners.”
Related: How to get your dream job in events
2. Sign up with event recruitment agencies and join social media groups
“Being successful as a freelancer is all about making contacts so that you hear about opportunities. Specialist event recruitment agencies, such as Live, are a good first step. They place freelancers, as well as permanent staff, on medium or short-term contracts.
Another way is joining networks on social media. There are several groups you can join where you can share information, your C.V., contacts and inside information. One example is a LinkedIn group called Freelance Event Managers UK, which is a discussion forum with nearly 3,000 members.”
3. Make the most of existing contacts
“When I first went freelance I continued working for the event agency I had left for the first six months, which really helped to get me established.
If you’ve been working for an agency it’s well worth approaching them to become your first freelance client. Most agencies now use freelance staff on a regular basis, and if you’ve been working for them full-time they’re more likely to choose you over someone they don’t know (provided the departure was agreed and amicable!).”
4. Work at building relationships
“There are a lot of freelancers competing for work so it helps to have strong relationships with both event agencies and other freelance event planners. When event agencies source freelancers directly, as opposed to going through a recruitment agency, they will tend to go to their core, favoured freelancers who they work with on a regular basis. They get to know each other and know how they work.
It’s the same with freelancers; they tend to have regular jobs with regular agencies. Then it’s all down to referrals. If I get an inquiry from an agency and I don’t have the availability, I’ll ask if they want me to recommend someone and then refer or pass the details on to a freelance friend. The longer you’ve been in the business, the more referrals you tend to get.”
5. Be prepared to do anything!
“Sometimes being a freelancer allows you to pick and choose the work you want, other times you have to take anything you can get. That can sometimes mean doing something more menial or mundane than you would like or are qualified to do, but it goes with the territory.”
Related: 14 Fantastic pieces of event career advice
6. Show initiative…but don’t tread on any toes
“It’s a fine balance because clients like you to show some initiative and be proactive, but without treading on the toes of the project or account manager. You’ve got to be ready to take instruction without challenging it, but also understand how to share the benefit of your experience. So tact is an important skill!”
7. Plan ahead (as much as possible)
“It’s not easy to earn a consistent living as a freelancer. No matter how long you’ve been doing it, it’s always a challenge. That’s because everything is generally confirmed at short notice. There are very few jobs that confirm months in advance unless you have a regular event you work on every year.
There’s not a lot of security, so you need to be thinking ahead constantly, checking for opportunities daily and contacting people saying ‘I’ve got all of June available, is there anything going on?’”
8. Be prepared to cancel your holiday plans
“Sod’s law is that as soon as you book a holiday you get offered a great job. Unless you’re in a very strong position, it’s very hard to turn down work, because you just don’t know what the future holds.”
9. Have a war chest in case of emergency
“It’s important to always have a float because you never know when you’ll have to dip into it. You have to cover your back for the summer months when work is quieter. It’s pretty nerve-wracking when you’re down to your last £5k with no jobs in sight and bills to pay.”
10. Don’t expect to get rich
“You can earn a good living from being a freelancer, but you’re never going to get rich and retire early. It’s also very hard to get a mortgage, so if you’re totally self-dependent and don’t have the support of a partner you need to think carefully about your future before entering this career. That said, freelancing offers great flexibility and as long as there’s enough work and I can keep earning to a reasonable level then I’d much rather do this than work for someone else full time.”
It’s true that most things that offer great rewards also come with risk, and this is the case with being a freelance event planner. However if you would love the flexibility to take a whole month off to go traveling, and don’t mind cutting back when times are lean, this could well be the profession for you.
Connect with Ali on LinkedIn
What’s your experience been as a freelance event planner? Tell us how you got started and share any other tips in the comments!