How I Quit My Job to Start An Event Planning Business
Alyssa Perna has over a decade of event operations experience for leading multinational business-to-business conferences, festivals and trade shows, press conferences, large-scale fundraisers, complex social events, and more. She is the founder of Experience Events, the Managing Director of Ingenuity Cleveland, and the lead instructor (and tutor!) for QC’s Corporate Event Planning Course.
For the last several years, I yearned for the day when I could quit my full-time job and pursue the dream of owning and operating my own event planning business. The daydream began nearly a decade ago, but I wasn’t comfortable or confident enough to carry out the task of breaking off on my own.
Why? Let me take you on the journey leading to the epic day where I finally put in my notice at my full-time gig to pursue the dream of owning my own event planning business.
I became heavily exposed to the event industry in 2012 when I worked at the Great Lakes Science Center in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. I fell in love with the industry – from the vast array of event types that I could plan (from festivals, to social events, to conferences and more) and the ability to be creative and innovative.
I admired local event planners who owned and operated their own businesses. I observed from afar and wanted to learn more about their expertise leading them to become independently successful. What experiences did they have? Who were they connected to? What led them to that point in their lives where they finally decided to pursue becoming a business owner?
I went out, networked, spoke with local industry leaders, asked questions and most of all observed and soaked in everything that I could. I fantasized about the day when I could have autonomy and accountability for my professional life and, over many years, slowly worked towards achieving this accomplishment.
Working for Others
At that time, I made the conscious choice of continuing to work full time until I was more prepared to take the risky leap into owning my own business. I wanted more knowledge and experience to master all aspects of event planning, and to feel confident enough to handle any event planning job – no matter how large or small.
After working at the Science Center for three years, I received an opportunity to work with a privately owned global company called Smithers where I was able to take on more professional responsibility, and ultimately learn how to operate a large-scale conference business. Some of my responsibilities included holding profit and loss responsibility for a multi-million dollar budget, negotiating complex venue agreements and leading a team of event professionals to successfully host over thirty annual conferences and events across the US and Latin America. This truly entrepreneurial experience prepared me to eventually make the leap to become a responsible business owner.
Growing Tired of the Daily Grind
Eventually, I became tired of fantasizing about owning my own business. I had the ambition and drive, but didn’t take action and let fear control my decisions. I decided to inspire myself, because if I let doubt and fear continue to control my future, I would never risk breaking off on my own.
“Fear is an idea-crippling, experience-crushing, success-stalling inhibitor inflicted only by yourself.” – Stephanie Melish
So I took some small action steps. First, I pursued a few side-job opportunities while working my full-time gig. I named my business and had a logo designed. I applied for and established a legal business with the State of Ohio, opened up a bank account and started transferring side-job earnings into the business account. I learned how to design my business website, wrote the content for it and had it ready-to-go for when I was ready to break off on my own.
I continued to work my full-time job, multiple side job(s) and take care of my family but it wasn’t sustainable long-term. I absolutely loved working the side jobs which kept me motivated and on that path towards being in control of my life and dreams, but I didn’t have the capacity to continue doing it all.
For some time, I kept my eye out for the right opportunity which would allow me to publically launch and grow my business while taking care of my family and personal needs. I was very lucky to have come across a part-time opportunity with a local non-profit organization that provides year-round programming (mostly events) and an annual arts, music and technology festival – Ingenuity Cleveland. I was able to take my event and operations experience into this role, while finally launching my event business and pursuing the dream I longed for for many years.
“Thinking will not overcome fear, but action will.” – W. Clement Stone
Leaving My Full-Time Job
My situation was complicated. I was the breadwinner and carried the health benefits on behalf of my family so leaving a great full-time job was incredibly scary. Luckily the opportunity with Ingenuity provided health benefits and they supported me working side jobs through my business, Experience Events. Working the part-time role at Ingenuity plus working my side jobs made it financially possible for me to make the move while still responsibly taking care of my family.
The Right Conditions
The conditions had to be just right in order for me to leave my full-time job. I spoke to many dear friends, colleagues, mentors and people I respected before making the decision to leave my full-time job. I believe in listening to your gut, and not only did things feel “right” but I could pull it off financially. While there are still many challenges to face as I begin this new journey – from growing my rolodex of customers, to managing a rather complex schedule, balancing my time and finding my own unique voice and services to offer in the industry – I wouldn’t change my current situation for anything. But this wasn’t a knee-jerk decision. It took many years of slow planning and action to finally become a business owner.
Now that I’m on my own, I’ve been able to take on additional side jobs, from continuing to work with my former employer Smithers, to taking on a new customer who I’m helping to launch a brand new conference in the education industry. I also get to plan incredibly fun and funky immersive events with Ingenuity, including a 15,000+ person arts and music festival.
I can’t wait to see where this journey takes me over the next few years and hope that you feel inspired to take the steps to follow your dreams – whether it be taking on side jobs, owning your own business, or planning the Superbowl half-time show. Go get it!