On a steamy July Saturday several years ago, I accepted an invitation to accompany a friend to the bridal shop where she had chosen a gown. As I sat on the sidelines, I watched groups of women arrive — brides-to-be with mothers, grandmothers, sisters and friends in tow. The young women would arrive in jeans or shorts, but moments later they’d be transformed into fairy princesses. As they modeled their dresses for their families, there were often tears, along with the smiles.

When we left the shop, my friend commented that I had appeared spellbound by the process. I agreed that I had found the experience surprisingly fascinating. “You should open a bridal shop,” she joked.

Amazingly, her words stayed with me and for weeks I contemplated doing just that. I couldn’t get over what a happy atmosphere existed at the bridal shop and I envisioned the fun it would be to share in that excitement day after day. About the time my friend came to her senses and called off her engagement, I came to mine and admitted that shopkeeping of any sort was not for me. Nevertheless, I’ve never forgotten that helping people celebrate special moments could be a joyous way to earn a living — and shopkeeping is only one of the possibilities.

Our culture is filled with events, holidays and family traditions that call for a celebration. Sometimes those celebrations are intimate and follow a well-used pattern; others occur only rarely and can cause panic. It’s no wonder, then, that all sorts of businesses exist to help us make the most of these special times in life. If some holiday or special occasion makes your heart beat faster, consider how it might become a happy profit center for you.

What does it take to launch a celebration business? An experienced party planner says the main requisites are:

  • A sincere interest in people.
  • The ability to organize and manage numerous details and personalities while staying cool.
  • A specialty or niche.

“Although special times are exciting for the client,” she adds, “there is often plenty of stress, too. Part of your job is to make sure that your client, who is throwing the party, has as good a time as his or her guests. That frequently requires building rapport and trust, along with staying calm when things go wrong. It’s a wonderfully challenging, creative and varied business and I can’t imagine anything more fun!”

Find your specialty. If you possess the necessary social and organizing skills, it’s time to decide what your specialty will be. Again, your own personal interests will help you zero in on the sorts of events you’d enjoy working on. There’s no point in organizing children’s parties, for instance, if you can’t bear being around kids. On the other hand, organizing corporate events or class reunions might be a perfect fit. Or your niche may be planning spectacular romantic evenings for couples or fantasy birthday celebrations. Several companies specialize in staging murder mystery parties. Look around your own community for ideas. In Minneapolis, where I live, we have a thriving theater environment. A number of set designers and construction people joined forces a few years ago to create backdrops and sets for conventions and corporate parties — expanding their talents in a lucrative new way.

Besides your own creative and management talents, your network of suppliers and contacts will become your business’s biggest asset. Get to know as many caterers, photographers, suppliers, florists, designers, musicians and entertainers as possible. Keep building your talent bank. The more people you can call on, the better. You’ll need to know prices for all the services you’ll be hiring for each event so set up a system for recording pertinent information for each of your suppliers.

Like most personal service businesses, special events planners get much of their new business from referrals from happy customers. As a newcomer, you can get things rolling by advertising in the Yellow Pages plus having a brochure and web site detailing your services. One memorable brochure I saw was designed to look like an invitation, a natural promotion idea.

Another appropriate way to start this kind of business is to throw a launch party for yourself and let people see what a great job you can do.

A wedding consultant summed up his business by saying, “Imagine this: I get to share the happiest times with my clients, I get to attend beautiful receptions every week, I get to wear terrific clothes, I meet all kinds of people, and I go home knowing that my efforts made someone’s special day even more special.” It’s almost enough to make me think again about opening that shop.

There’s more where this came from.
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