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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Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family.
Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.
~ Jane Howard

One of the major obstacles to successful self-employment is not having a circle of entrepreneurial friends. When I point that out in Making a Living Without a Job seminars, I often see participants who look doomed. Not knowing anyone who is joyfully jobless does not have to be a permanent situation. It can be a call to expand your horizons.

“Where do you meet self-bossers?” is a frequent question that I hear. A good starting place, I point out, is to be entrepreneurial yourself and then go to their natural habitats for closer contact. Here are some ways to track down those dreamers and doers so you can study their habits up close.

  • Starbucks. Yes, the ubiquitous coffeehouse is loaded with entrepreneurial energy. In fact, new businesses have been dubbed Starbucks Start-ups because so many are conceived there. It’s also a popular meeting place for home based business owners, their clients and peers. It you have good eavesdropping skills, you can learn a lot while sipping your latte.
  • Seminars. Spend an evening or an entire day in a business oriented seminar and you’re bound to make a connection—if you bother. In observing behavior in my meeting rooms, I notice that not everyone makes the effort to introduce themselves to other participants. Many people don’t even greet the person sitting next to them, unless it’s an opening exercise. What a waste of potential opportunity to connect with a kindred spirit.
    In a recent seminar of mine, a young man came up to purchase a copy of my book and I asked him what his plans were. When he told me he was on his way to Japan, I said, “You’ve got to meet Patrick (another participant). He just got back from working there for eleven years.”
    I’ve had students come back from a break who met someone in those few minutes and saw a potential joint project. This can only happen if you let people know who you are. Do talk to strangers.
  • Conventions and trade shows. As writer Alan Epstein points out, you can get a list of such
    events in your own hometown from the Chamber of Commerce of Convention Bureau. Some of these events will be entrepreneurial beehives. You can meet other attendees and talk to exhibiters. Not only can you get some valuable information, but, as Epstein illustrates, “You’ll undoubtedly come away with a greater awareness of the cutting-edge trends and developments in the business that interests you. And you’ll refresh that interest by being among people who share your enthusiasm.”
  • Associations. While many small business organizations have had a short shelf life, niche groups seem to do better. Perhaps the kind of business you’re passionate about already has a group in place.
    How do you locate such an association? You can check the Yellow Pages, watch your local paper’s meeting calendar, or contact your Chamber of Commerce to see if they have a directory. A valuable locator tool is the extensive Gale’s Encyclopedia of Associations which you’ll find in your library’s reference section. Once you’ve tracked down a potential group, see if you can attend a meeting as a guest. Groups have personalities, after all, and you may or may not feel rapport, so check them out before you join.
  • Retreats. I could go on a retreat every month. There’s nothing quite so powerful as spending several days with a small group of people who are actively engaged in building their dreams. Most importantly, the longer time frame makes it possible for participants to get to know each other and share specific ideas and suggestions that can move mountains.  Of course, if you’re self-employed, such experiences have the added benefit of being tax deductible, but that’s not the primary reason to take a retreat. As monks and mystics have long known, putting yourself in a beautiful environment can be miraculous in many different ways.
  • Field trips. Every entrepreneur should set aside time occasionally to visit other small businesses. If you plan such an excursion, try to pick a time when the business won’t be too busy so you can chat with the owner. Do this only with entrepreneurs who are excited about their ventures, however. As Sarah Ban Breathnach reminds us, “A disgruntled dreamer makes a risky mentor.”

You can also observe entrepreneurs working at flea markets, art fairs and community festivals. Be conscious of behaviors that you find magnetic—and those which you don’t.

Begin tracking and observing the habits of Genus Entrepreneurus and you’ll soon see what Jim Rohn was talking about when he said, “Formal education will make you a living. Self-education will make you a fortune.” It just takes a willingness to learn from others with an entrepreneurial spirit.