Events by Carline is an event design studio based in Garden City, New York that focuses on creating memorable, one of a kind events. With 18 years of experience in the industry, we know how to successfully plan and produce events based on our clients’ goals, dreams, and ideas. We thrive on creativity and have worked with clients locally and internationally to complete over 2,160 events over the past 18 years.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced while planning an event and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge I’ve faced while planning events is last minute changes by clients and how those changes impact finding new vendors. Here’s an example of this in action.
We planned a huge graduation party a few years ago. The client decided a few days before the event that she wanted a special cake. We obliged but knew we couldn’t create the cake in house like we usually did because the timeline was too short and we were swamped with other projects.
So, I found a baker who I had never worked with before but was referred to by another partner. I sent her all the details and explained that she would be responsible for delivering the cake. Any vendors we outsource to are responsible for transporting their products because they know how best to transport them.
The day came and the baker called me with news I wasn’t expecting. She couldn’t find anyone to deliver the cake. All our regular delivery men were out so I had to contract someone else to pick up the cake. It got to the venue okay, but the big mishap happened when it was being transported inside.
The cake was huge – 36 inches tall with four layers. One of the doormen offered to help carry it inside because the delivery men were struggling. He tripped while walking inside and the cake box hit on something. The cake literally split in half!
I had to do damage control. My first response was to call the cake designer to see if we could figure out a solution. She said there was nothing she could do. It was clear to my team and I that she hadn’t correctly inserted the supporting dowers and hadn’t allowed the cake to settle before sending it out for transport.
My team and I tried to repair the cake but all we could do was use the bottom layer and conceal the damage with the cupcakes and flowers we had. It was after finding this solution that I spoke with the client. I expected her to be livid. She was disappointed but not mad to the point of blowing a fuse. I refunded her the money for the cake and gave her complimentary dessert items of equal or lesser value for her next event.
This incident taught me three important lessons:
1. My client contracts needed to be structured differently. I no longer accept last minute changes.
2. My clients now have a deadline several weeks before the event to submit their final ideas and requirements.
3. I only work with vendors who I have thoroughly researched and feel confident about.
It’s always important to have a solution before delivering bad news to a client. Being solution-oriented increases a client’s confidence in me and my team. We’re viewed as professionals who are efficient and effective. The clients I described in both incidents actually became repeat clients.
How important are your relationships with vendors and what are some ways that you successfully cultivate and ensure good rapport?
Last-minute vendors have been my Achilles heel. They always end up being people I can’t work with because they aren’t reliable and dependable. That’s why it has become a part of my brand’s culture to thoroughly vet vendors before I work with them. Here’s what my team and I do:
Research any vendors we want to work with months in advance of an event. We look carefully at their reputation, observe them at events we’re also a part of, ask about them in our network, and find out as much information about them as possible before reaching out.
Host mock events where we hire vendors to see how they would perform. We look at how they:
– Deliver their items
– Work with their staff
– Demonstrate their work ethic
We then meet as a team and decide if these vendors are likely to perform optimally if we were to hire them for real events.
What advice would you give someone who needs to plan a fundraiser but isn’t sure where to start?
My advice is to follow this four step process:
Have a clear goal. Sure, you’re raising money but what specific initiative are you raising money for? What’s the story around the initiative? People relate to stories that make sense to them. So, work on a storyline that explains the importance of the fundraiser and why people should care about it. For instance, your fundraiser can focus on women who are victims of domestic violence but what is the specific initiative these women will benefit from? A more targeted goal would be to raise funds for female victims of domestic violence who need education opportunities so they can start afresh. Having a clear, initiative-based goal makes it easier to set a financial target.
Clearly outline all the expenses related to the specific initiative.If you’re focusing on multiple initiatives, ensure they’re related to the common goal and list all the expenses. How much cash do you already have available to meet those expenses? What additional funds do you need to raise? Make your funding target realistic. Create a detailed budget for the event that considers the venue, catering, and other event hosting expenses. It’s going to cost you something to put on this event.
Figure out who your donors are and where you can find them. Your promotion strategy should focus on encouraging them to buy into your initiative. If there are too few people who can relate to your cause, the fundraiser may not be worthwhile unless those few people are high income earners. So, carefully consider who your target donors are, the communities in which they are located, and how you’re going to reach them.
Ensure the venue and event match with the nature of your initiative and the type of donor you want to attract. My team and I once planned an event for an NGO that supports children with cancer who have birthday wishes. We knew the event had to be fun, child-friendly, and in a relaxing atmosphere. So, we chose a park and had a wide range of fun activities that spoke to specific wishes expressed by the kids. For example, one of the activities was a paintball fight where the funds were used to purchase art supplies and classes the children requested.
Start planning early. You’ll build more momentum the sooner you start. I always give myself 12 months and set up a timeline for when each part of the planning and promotion process should be completed. I started promoting the event six months prior using social media, press releases, special invitations…any form of relevant promotional material I can use. The promotion only includes teasers and surprises that will get people excited about the event. Don’t over promise though because that will mar your reputation.
What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for you personally or professionally?
The party and event supply arm of my business will be open and ready for business by January of 2022. This business is called Creatively Created Events and was something I always wanted to do but didn’t have time to do pre-COVID. It’s an online platform that allows us to rent and sell party and event supplies from our inventory. It’s our way of being eco-friendly and reducing the waste that’s so common in the event planning industry.
What are some things you wished you knew before starting your businesses?
There are many things I wish I knew before starting my businesses. But, here are two of the biggest insights I wish I had before starting.
I wish I knew the market was going to crash in 2008.
Many of us experienced the negative impact of the 2008 recession. There were warning signs leading up to the economic turmoil, but I would only have seen them if I found time to keep abreast with what was happening in the economy, politics, and the financial markets. These three areas impact businesses across industries so it’s important to read widely about them and ask questions. That’s how you prepare for the unexpected. Thankfully, I was able to pivot but many of my colleagues weren’t.
It would have been great if I understood from the onset how the macro economy can impact business operations and what I should do as a business owner to prepare for the impact. I’ve learned to read widely and consistently so that I’m up-to-date with what’s happening and can better prepare.
I wish I knew more about how to run the day-to-day operations of the company.
I started my event planning business as an experienced entrepreneur. My mom had a salon and my dad had a restaurant. I was actively involved in managing the business affairs of both. But, that practical knowledge didn’t prepare me for the nuances of an event planning business. It’s an entirely different ball game!
It took years of me overcoming challenges to finally figure out systems and processes that work. I also went back to school to get formal education in event planning. I had to be very deliberate about the path I would take to build a successful event planning company. Having all the information beforehand would have helped me make bigger strides sooner.
What’s the most surprising or unusual request you have ever received from a client and were you able to fulfill it?
Destination weddings are big undertakings. There are several moving parts and it’s a bit trickier to adjust things closer to the time of the event when you’re working with people from another country. One of my clients wanted a destination wedding in Jamaica. The original plan was to have about 50 people at the wedding and keep the budget within the $3,000 range.
We set up a website for the wedding where people could RSVP and engage in various content related to the couple. The website was a hit. So much so that people began sharing the link with their friends and family. The guest list grew from 50 to 250 guests about five weeks before the wedding! We kept going back to the couple to ensure that adding these people was okay and they gave us the go ahead.
So, we ended up planning a wedding for 250 people. We had to be in constant communication with the resort and vendors in Jamaica. Thankfully, they gave us a deal that made renting out half of the resort for these new guests more affordable since the resort hadn’t been booked out. We were lucky, though, because resorts are usually booked out during those busy seasons. The wedding was successful and the couple willingly paid the full $30,000 required to pull it off.
Anything else you’d like to comment on while we have you?
My Biggest Lessons About Destination Weddings:
- Do your research on government regulations, import and export regulations, currency exchange rates, travel restrictions, risks, and any other relevant requirements. Effectively communicate your findings to your clients, team members, and the guests.
- Ensure the vendors and resort employees in the host country know where your guests are coming from, any specific requirements, allergies, and anything else they need to know before everyone arrives.
- It’s not always possible to find vendors in the host country for some of the things you would want to do at the wedding. So, you have to research the import rules and figure out what you’re going to do with the products once they reach the country. My team and I once had to fly hundreds of flowers to Mexico for a destination wedding there. We had to figure out where to store the flowers when they arrived so that they were still fresh for the wedding. It took a lot of detailed work for us to find the right warehouse and figure out how to transfer the cost to the client.
My Branding Tips for Event Professionals:
- Be yourself and carve out your own identity. Sure, it’s good to have a role model in the industry, someone you want to emulate. That doesn’t mean that you should do everything exactly like them. They put in the work to figure out the best combination of strategies that would help them succeed. What spin can you put on what you’re learning from them to let your own light shine in the industry?
- People should be easily able to identify your work. No one will remember you if you don’t have a unique personality and approach to event planning and design. You have to be comfortable with yourself and eager to truly portray what makes you unique. Don’t try to fit into the mold; create your own mold.
- Creating a loyal team is another important part of this branding process. You should surround yourself with people who embrace your vision and become a part of your work family. I trust my team to represent my brand well because we believe that what we do is our work. It’s not Carline’s business; it’s our business and we each have a responsibility to make it succeed.