Small Business Spotlight #2, What is it Like to Own an Event Planning Business During a Pandemic? Answer, difficult.

This pandemic has caused devastation to millions of people around the world, either medically, emotionally, or financially (and sometimes all the above).  For small business owners, the financial impact has been significant, and many will never recover.

In my 2nd blog in the “Small Business Spotlight” series I interviewed Courtney Lutkus, owner of Simply Radiant Events.  Courtney opened her event planning & design company six years ago.sr_logo Courtney does everything from the coordination of events, to designing the designing the events.  Whatever theme they want, color scheme, or whatever they want to do for their event, she can do.

Courtney has had some crazy requests in her time “we had a DNA company that wanted centerpieces that look like DNA strands.” “The hard part was that they also wanted lamps on the tables, but with 300 tables, how do you plug in 300 lamps?” Courtney was able to find a compromise and ended up creating something with led lights that were battery operated.

When I asked Courtney about what type of qualifications, she needed to have to run an event planning company she told me about different certifications programs like FIDM in LA for example, or to go through design school. “But for me, I went to Cal State Fullerton and I got my degree in public relations, because they didn’t have a degree in event planning.” She was still able to take a lot of event planning courses in school so she got her formal education that way.

When I asked Courtney why she picked event planning, she told me that she had wanted to do it since she was young.  “Growing up, everyone kept saying, “oh, you’re going to change your mind.” “Even when I was in college, most people change their majors a few times.” “You’re going to change your mind.” And I never did.” Courtney started off her career working for non-profit organizations and doing events that way but eventually she wanted to expand a little bit. “I decided to start my own company, so that I could have different types of events that I do versus the same ones every year for the same non-profit.”

However, starting an event planning business was harder than Courtney expected, “I think when I broke away from the non-profit sector and I was opening my company, I thought, “I’ve been doing this for years. I have this, this is no big deal.” “But I learned that they are actually two different worlds” Starting her business in Orange County turned out to be very difficult, not only were there a lot of other event planners but she struggled on finding the right vendors and getting clients.  “Getting started was actually really hard for me and I almost stopped so many times before I even got going, just because I just kept thinking there’s so much competition, there’s no way this is going to work.” She worked hard to let go of her insecurities and persevere and eventually start her business.

Early on, she realized that as a small business owner that she had to do a lot of things herself.  “When you are first starting out and if you don’t have a lot of finances backing you up, you do everything yourself, you create your website, you create your logo, you are your own accountant yourself, whatever, you name it.”  She figured out there was a lot of learning curves besides all the components of the business, other things she never thought about that she would have to deal with.

Courtney eventually figured out how to have a successful business and client after client Simply Radiant Events flourished.  Not only did she help design weddings and other events, but she also catered to large companies and their big corporate events. Many large corporations used her company for their annual holiday parties, conferences, and other big company events.  That was until March 2020, when everything stopped.

When I asked her how COVID-19 has affected her business she said, “as of right now, it’s pretty much stopped everything that we had or were going to have.” Unfortunately, in an event planning business, you need events to succeed.  With California on a continual lockdown this is exceedingly difficult. “With social distancing you can’t really have parties and events.” “And especially with us, a lot of our focus being companies that hire us for their corporate functions, a lot of those companies are either not open right now or they’ve had to pull back on things” “That’s really pumped the brakes on a lot of events for us.”

I asked her how she is coping with such a devastating loss and she said she is rebranding & rebuilding the website, “just kind of do some inner works that we don’t always necessarily have time to do.” She wants people to know that she is still there and when people are ready to have events, “she can show that she persevered through all of this and Simply Radiant Events is still around”

We discussed if there were any alternative strategies that she could do for her business, “we’ve tossed around a lot of ideas like virtual events, but a lot of virtual events, people aren’t really looking for support or for help with.” One thing that she has started to see lately is “pop up” parties, where people are decorating front lawns, or decorating different areas and people drive by in their cars to celebrate.  “People have this really neat and elaborate background, which she is happy to do, but because most of our clientele has seen us as a different way, they don’t necessarily look for us for that right now.” So she will have to rebrand and “pivot” as she likes to call it.  But, that is something she could potentially do.

Another thing she has noticed is people are doing “timed” events.  Courtney said, “they will let maybe 10 people in at a time come in and do it, so then everyone comes in shifts.” This is something that could be potentially an option where she could plan an all-day event that only a few people attend at a time.  Another thing she has considered is style shoots.  “People need photos for either themselves or for their products and they need florals or balloons or a backdrop or different things like that.” And it is something they might need a creative mind to help with.  She is considering offering these alternatives to help keep her business afloat.  Courtney is resilient, and she will do what she can to keep her business active.

I asked what she likes the most about her business and she enjoys the creative side to it.  “I love when someone come up with a theme and then I am able to create it and execute it.” Sometimes she still gets anxious though when she says to a client “oh, we could do this huge, great thing, and they say yes,” “because then I know I have to figure it out!” Which she always does, every time.  She loves coming up with ideas and creating things and see them come through.  “It’s fun, you never know, things always turn out slightly different, but usually in a good way, so I love seeing how things are created.”

When I asked her what advice she would give to someone considering opening up their own small business she said “go with something you’re passionate about because it’s something that you really going to be spending a lot of time on.” “For me, it is something I’ve been really, really passionate about, so I enjoy spending the time on it and really just go for it.” “I mean, there is going to be naysayers and there is going to be your cheerleaders, but just go for it no matter what and make sure you have that support system that’s there to support you at the same time.” “If you’re passionate about it, you will make sure it works.”

I asked her “if you had to do it all over again, would you?” Courtney said, “that’s a good question, I think I would.” “It’s funny because we all have our moments with being an entrepreneur, but I love it so much and I’m so passionate about it that I feel like a part of me would always be missing if I didn’t do it.”

“Is there anything else you’d like to share with the audience that you’re thinking about that is important regarding your business in current times?”

Courtney said, “I’m excited to see what’s going to happen when this all is over with.” “And we go back to, I guess you can say our new normal because things are probably going to be different in life.” “But I know people are going to want to get together and share their time with everyone.” “I saw someone post the other day who just said, “I miss people.” “I’m excited for when I can create those moments and people could be just people again and hang out and have fun.” “That’s what I’m looking forward to again.”

I realized in that moment I had an image of a party with a bunch of cardboard cutouts of people with their families faces on it.  I can’t decide if that is funny or not.

August 4, 2020, Melissa Tompkins, BS, CVPM, PHRca, CCFP

About the author,

Melissa is a small business owner working as a veterinary management consultant in Southern California.  Her company South Coast Veterinary Management Solutions focuses on helping veterinary hospitals, practice owners, and their team members. 






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