Samantha Bellinger is a wedding planner at 620 Events and the author of Screw Your Wedding: A Candid Guide to Wedding Panning By a Jaded Event Planner. She has over 10 years of experience planning events from 5 to 5000 people. You can read more about her experience and streamlined approach to planning at www.620events.com.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced while planning an event and how did you overcome it?
Excellent Question. It hits close to home. The biggest challenge I’ve ever faced while planning an event had nothing to do with actual event planning; it was grief. I lost both of my grandparents in the course of a year. Trying to focus and plan event details while grieving was nearly impossible. Thankfully, I had a team that picked up my slack and allowed me the necessary time with my family.
What are 2 trends in the event planning industry that you’re excited about?
Sustainability and Mindfulness
What are some tips for creating an elegant and memorable event on a tight budget?
Oh man – I have a lot of those. The majority of my career has been in non-profits or academic institutions. Both are notoriously underfunded. I once planned a fundraising event with a starting budget of zero and managed to produce an elegant event that brought in thousands of dollars in donations. My biggest tip is to utilize in-kind donations. Offer to trade your services (or marketing to your list) in exchange for their services. The key is to offer a fair trade. Think of it as a modern day version of bartering. If done right, it works fantastically. I’ve been able to secure venues, vendors, food, entertainment, etc. using this method.
If you had unlimited resources, what would your dream client and event look like?
What a great question! I’d have to say a multi-day wedding celebration in India for a well-to-do international couple. Full disclosure: this very well might be because I just got invited to a friend’s wedding in India and it’s on my mind. Regardless, I love the idea of planning weddings that require international travel. I’m a bit obsessed with traveling so combining work with my passion for travel would be ideal.
How important are your relationships with vendors and what are some ways that you successfully cultivate and ensure good rapport?
Incredibly important! Vendor relationships can make or break an event. In order to maintain good rapport with vendors, I take a simple approach: be kind. Do what you can to make their lives easier, always over-communicate the details (the more communication the better), always be gracious, and thank them/their staff after each event. It’ll do wonders for your working relationships.
What advice would you give someone who needs to plan a fundraiser but isn’t sure where to start?
I love helping people figure out where to start. I actually created a whole free guide (called the ultimate cheatsheet) that talks about this and gives readers a few things they can do today to start planning. Basically, I recommend determining the purpose of the event (type of event, target audience, and desired outcome), then brainstorming the overall vision of the event, figuring out the budget, and then looking into the location/date (those are usually secured at the same time). It just keeps going from there.
What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for you personally or professionally?
I’ve just released my book “Screw Your Wedding: A Candid Guide to Wedding Panning By a Jaded Event Planner” and am in the process of developing an online course aimed to help couples navigate the ins and outs of wedding planning. That launches at the end of the month.
What inspired you to launch your own company in the event industry? How long did it take from initially having the idea of setting up and starting to attract a client base?
I had to leave my last two full-time event planning jobs for health reasons. One landed me in the hospital and the next one resulted in a major PTSD relapse. The stress of 12 hour days, 50 hour work weeks, sleepless nights, and very few breaks certainly didn’t help my health any. So I decided to build up a scalable business that allowed me to practice self-care while saving others from the stress of event planning.
It took a full year to really get up and running. I set most of it up in the first few months but didn’t start attracting clients right away. All the framework was complete at the beginning — website, storefront, all the backend automation systems. Then I let everything sit on the back burner while I took a break to write my book. It’s finally up and running with a solid client base.
What’s the first event you can ever remember planning and how did it go?
I honestly can’t remember the first event I planned. I’ve been helping to plan parties for years. Does a tea party for my stuffed animals count? Just kidding… sort of. I guess the first time I was in any formal planning role was college. I was appointed a member of the college activities board and also the concert committee.
What are some things you wished you knew before starting your businesses?
My top two are: the amount of mindset work I’d need to do and that I’d need to learn so much new lingo. I was surprised about both. I hadn’t realized how ingrained certain ideas were until I started my business.
For example, I noticed that I needed to change my mindset around money. In non-profits, it was a surprise if you’d break even on an event and relied heavily on donations or fundraising to fund your “goodwill” events. This always frustrated me because it felt like we were throwing away people’s money unnecessarily. I was tired of being asked to spend recklessly just so we could get more on our budget line the following year. I tell you this because I thought switching to the for-profit world would be easy – I was wrong. Apparently the poverty mindset was engaged in almost everything, including lingo! I spent the first few months learning new business terms and trying to equate them to “non-profit speak.”
Neither of these things were something I had expected. Thankfully a former colleague helped to change my mindset and bridge that gap with a single comment… just when I needed it.
What’s the most surprising or unusual request you have ever received from a client and were you able to fulfill it?
I’ve had many unusual requests, so I’ll tell you about the first one that caught me off guard. I worked with a client whose rider specifically requested a giant pickle — you know the type you get at the state fair. It was unusual in of itself, but the client’s reaction was the most memorable part. When shown his dressing room and food area, he burst out laughing at the sight of the pickle. Apparently, it was an inside joke and his agent had added it to the rider without his knowledge. Since then I’ve provided everything from a unicorn petter zoo (aka miniature horses wearing tutus and horns) to pumpkin trebuchets. Most requests seem tame in comparison to those.