Updated: Jul 1, 2020
by Maria Walda
You can’t run a corporate event planning business without any corporate event planning clients. Here’s how to find, persuade, and land your next big accounts, no matter where you are in your career.
Getting into corporate event planning
Employment growth for meeting, convention, and other types of corporate event planning is expected to grow by 10.4% between now and 2026. The national average for all other industries is 7.4%, which means that event planning is (and will continue to be) in high demand for quite some time.
If you’re looking to enter this lucrative field, you’ll have the option to freelance, join an event agency, or work for as an internal events coordinator for a brand. Each option has its pros and cons.
Starting your own event planning business allows you to set your own schedule and become location independent. You’ll also be responsible for all your own sales and marketing efforts as you navigate building your client roster.
Fortunately there are lots of great resources available that can help you get an event planning job. But before you can land your very first client, you’ll need to have these basics ready to go in your corporate event planner’s toolkit:
Event planning portfolio. This dedicated website will house things like images from previous events, client testimonials, and direct contact information.
Business plan. Even a one page outline will do. Just include your goals, market research, sales plan, and tax entity.
Fee structure. Do some research and figure out how much other professionals charge for what you offer so you can quickly get back to your prospects when they ask for a quote.
How much do corporate event planners charge?
The average corporate event planner salary ranges a lot (from $29k to $98k to be exact, with some earning less or more than those figures respectively). When you’re just starting out you’ll want to keep your pricing competitive but as you gain more experience, make sure you give yourself a raise every couple of years.
In the meantime, here’s how to increase your income by getting more business.
How to get corporate event planning clients step by step
The following instructions should help you cover all your bases!
Step 1: Learn how to attract corporate event planning leads
So how do event planners get leads exactly? By doing research, creating a goal, and setting their plan in motion of course.
Learn about your dream client
Visualize everything about your most ideal corporate client. From their age and interests to what kinds of hobbies they pursue, no fact or detail is too small for this exercise. These answers will serve as your foundation for your target market.
Even if you’re entirely unclear about what that person looks like, you can always:
Take a peek at your competitors’ portfolios to see the kind of brands they’ve worked with
Use a search engine to identify decision makers at corporations in your immediate area
Survey past clients you enjoyed working with and find things they have in common
With this information in the back of your mind, it’s time to build a sales system that they’ll actually respond to.
Set up your lead funnel
A lead funnel is a series of steps (determined by you) that a potential customer will take. From first contact to sale, your lead funnel guides, persuades, and wins over new business. It can get really complicated when you consider all the different ways a person can learn about a business (word of mouth, online, etc.) but for the most part you can focus on all your active sales efforts on 1-3 main customer paths.
Once you establish a lead funnel (which might take a little trial and error at first) all you have to do is make sure you’re consistent with it so that new leads come in on a regular basis.
For example, your funnel could look something like this: you call a potential corporate client on the phone and give them your elevator pitch. They schedule an in person meeting with you to learn more. You follow up the meeting with supplementary documents that build trust and support the vision you discussed in the meeting. They respond positively and send over a contract.
While there are many examples of successful sales funnels out there, all that matters is you create a system that works for you.
Tap into your network
If you want to get more corporate event planning clients you have to talk to everybody you know in person and online. Let them know you have some availability to take on new projects.
In fact, send out a monthly email, Facebook, and/or Twitter blast letting your network know you have some room to spare on your calendar and that you’re looking for a corporate client. Even if no one gets back to you right away, you never know who might remember your message a month (or even a year) later and pass it on when the opportunity pops up.
Make outreach a habit
Cold emailing, commenting or posting in social media groups, and creating helpful content that appeals to your corporate audience are all basic outreach practices you can (and should) practice on a daily basis. A little goes a long way – even if you aim to send one email, make one post, and share one related link on Twitter every day, you’ll get your business name in front of more eyeballs which all adds up over time. Especially if you’re smart about your target audience research and put effort into the digital spaces they spend the most time in.
Step 2: Learn how to market yourself & network as a corporate event planner
There’s a lot you can do that goes beyond social media outreach and email newsletter campaigns.
Get started with 7 Marketing ideas for corporate event planners
Why do these creative tips for marketing your event planning business work for corporate clients? Because they take into account how businesses prefer to be contacted, what their needs are, and ultimately how they make their buying decisions. Let’s dive in!
1. Limit yourself to quality, not quantity.
There’s a reason why 70% of B2B marketers want more quality leads. Targeting well researched and vetted prospects is your best bet when it comes to getting corporate event planning clients.
Most corporate event planners don’t think to do this, so you’re already one step ahead of your competition. Plus you’ll field a smaller number of responses which might sound like a bad thing. But because you’ve double checked their background and discovered that they value your services, you already know they’ll be more likely to work with you before you even reach out. All in all, you may find you have fewer opportunities but larger payouts, which is the very definition of working smarter, not harder.
When choosing who to pitch to, you’ll have to create your dream customer profile. To do this, you’ll answer the following questions:
What kinds of events does this company host? Conferences, meetings, seminars, trainings, the list of corporate event types goes on and on. If you have a particular specialty, put an extra check mark next to the companies on your list that lean heavily on your areas of expertise.
How many events do they need help planning per year? Per quarter? Per month? More is always better.
Is event marketing a priority for them? Hint: if they already have some evidence of event marketing as part of their overall strategy, they might still be interested. When you’re just starting out you can skip the brands that don’t – no use convincing someone that event marketing is important and that you should be the one to do it for them!
How many employees do they have? On top of that, how many are in house and how many are freelancers? LinkedIn is a good resource for this one. If they have a history of collaborating with outside vendors then they’ll be more likely to welcome your proposal and know how to actually work well with you.
What is their yearly revenue? Depending on your specific niche within the corporate world, the magic number really varies. A good rule of thumb is the higher, the better! Higher profits equals higher budgets, and higher budgets should be taken as a sign that they can actually afford to hire corporate event planners and truly invest in their event marketing.
2. Put in some face time.
In-person meetings lead to 10 times more sales, increase your close rate by 40%, and are generally 34 times more successful than email contact, no matter what industry you’re in. So limit your focus to companies in your immediate area and find ways to introduce yourself face to face. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Drop offs. Stopping by your potential client’s office with a small gift basket, box of donuts, or a hard copy of your latest event marketing ebook can win you some points. Just make sure it’s a quick “hi” and “bye”. Drop your card off with the receptionist and stick another one in the gift itself.
Attend their open client mixers. Public events are great because you get to see first hand what the company could improve on and get in front of some decision makers at the same time. Don’t provide criticism in the first meeting but do make sure to highlight your related strengths when you send that follow up proposal.
Participate in industry related events. Whether they’re a sponsor, a featured speaker, or simply an active attendee themselves, going to an event where you can meet a few of your dream clients is always a good idea. Reach out ahead of time through social media to schedule a coffee or lunch meeting while you’re both attending the event. Your treat, of course. And if you can’t afford to go into the actual conference or trade show, you can still meet up with them near the venue anyways.
If these examples aren’t really an option for you, you can always invite your target audience to an introductory event hosted by you with their tastes in mind. They can see a real life example of your skills while also meeting you in person. Plus you’ll get to control the situation by bringing them to your turf and letting them see you shine.
Just make sure you plan something they’ll actually want to spend their free time doing. Whether it’s a private wine tasting or an educational seminar (based on a trend they’d like to learn more about), there are lots of ways to get their attention. You’ll have to invest heavily into this last idea to pull it off. But landing even one corporate client that could net you income over the course of many years is totally worth the hassle.
3. Set up Google Alerts on target companies.
Warm leads are always going to be better than cold leads. Once you add company and decision makers names to your Google Alerts list, you’ll receive an email any time a piece of news or update about them gets published online. So you’ll be able to keep up with their latest press releases, acquisitions, and job openings. When something relevant does pop up, reach out with a quick congrats message. Over time, these little notes here and there will help you develop a relationship with prospects. So when you finally do pitch them, they’ll already be familiar with your name and image.
4. Write tailored event planning proposals.
An event planning service proposal is a short document that basically tells the reader what you do and why they need you. Most corporate event marketing guides recommend that you create one after your initial meeting. However, sending one ahead of time is a smart move if you want to skip a couple steps while also standing out from the crowd.
In your proposal you should indicate that you’ve researched their events history and identify their key needs. Then, propose a hypothetical event that is either an improved version of one they’ve done before or a completely new idea (that you can prove using statistics, your brand research, and even some latest event marketing trends) that you know will help them achieve their goals.
As for the actual email itself you need to remember that subject lines are key. Here are some good rules to follow:
Use (reasonably) casual language. Don’t pretend you actually no each other in real life if you don’t but do avoid formal business jargon. Consider throwing in an emoji while you’re at it – 56% of brands who do say it increases their open rate.
Keep it between 30-60 characters. Most people check email using their mobile devices these days and an email subject line of this length will be pretty easy to read no matter what carrier they have.
Include their first name. Personalized subject lines get as much as a 20% increase in open rates!
Also, a lot of corporate event planners waste hours trying to find a relevant and direct email contact for their pitch. Don’t waste time with generic customer service extensions. Instead, use one of the following tools to locate the specific email addresses of your targeted decision makers:
HelloNorbert. The first 50 (successfully found) leads you search for are free and Norbert has a very good Ask Jeeves vibe we totally dig.
Hunter.io. Corporate leads for major brand name companies can be found here.
Vocus.io. The all-in-one lead contact tool works within your Gmail account.
5. Establish a customer referral program.
B2B referrals are hands down the best way to get corporate event planning clients compared to other marketing methods. But don’t just send out a few messages on LinkedIn and call it a day. Instead, consider building a strong referral rewards program for your business.
Small business referral marketing programs are automated systems that, once set up, help incentivize lots of stronger, relationship based sales leads into your funnel. To get started, you’ll need to conduct an internal survey of your existing leads. Where did they come from? Why did they respond positively to you?
With these answers in mind, you can then choose a program structure. The best practices for referral programs advise you to make it as seamless and easy for participants as possible. Forwarding an email with a referral link or even resharing a Facebook post are particularly low effort and effective. But anything that aligns with your current lucrative sources of lead generation will do!
You should also make sure you spell out what’s in it for them. If you’re just starting out, you can provide the referrer to a free mini service or a generous discount on your full priced event planning business menu. You can even offer gift cards, cash rewards, or a finder’s fee. The payout is up to you – just make sure it’s motivating enough to get people to take action.
And don’t forget to apply a referral analytics software to your campaign. That way you can see how many shares vs. clicks you’re getting per link along with other helpful insights you can use to tweak your program over time. If you’re not sure which one to choose, Capterra is a software directory site that offers a list of top peer-reviewed products that you can use to find the tool that you like best. Check out their list of most loved referral softwares here.
And if you’d like to dive deeper into getting better quality leads for your corporate event planning business, we’ve got a whole article on the subject of business referrals here.
6. Get private testimonials or endorsements from your targets’ peers.
Sometimes your dream clients are hard to reach. But if you’d like to bust through their secretary’s keen defense mechanisms, the best way to do it is by infiltrating their network through other professional means. Build your network while simultaneously closing the degree of separation between you and your targeted accounts.
Some of the best ways to do this are to attend industry related events at which one of your prospect’s peers will be presenting or giving a speech. Because they’ll be a featured attendee, they know they’ll be meeting new people and networking a lot throughout the day. Which means they’ll be more open and receptive to you when you approach them to introduce yourself. There are also plenty of industry meetups, seminars, and happy hours you can attend in your city that may get you closer to your goals.
You can even do this online. There are plenty of avid LinkedIn users, personal brand developers, and social media content creators in the corporate world who make a point to be very knowledge and well followed. If you see that your dream clients like, comment, and share their material, make sure you’re doing the same. Because you’ve demonstrated interest in someone they love, you’ll also be showing your prospects that you share their values too.
Once you do meet these people who influence or interact with your dream clients, don’t be afraid to ask them for a review. Even if you’ve never worked with them before you can volunteer your services to their organization in exchange for a video testimonial.
Or, if you see them as more of a mentor figure, reach out to let them know and see if they are comfortable sharing a single sentence or two about your event planning potential based on your previous interactions. No matter what you choose to do, having names that your prospects will recognize and respect attached to your resume will help win them over.
And another thing – once you have those testimonials, you have to be smart about how you use them. You’ve probably been told to get some great reviews on LinkedIn or you’ve added a happy customer quote or two on your corporate event planning website. And while those things are all great, you’d be surprised how many leads you’ll receive that have never been to any of your online properties. Which is why you’ve got to include these quotes in other strategic locations as well.
For example, a pitch email wouldn’t be complete without the addition of an endorsement or two from a brand who put on a similar event with your help. And, if you’re planning a cold email campaign, it’d be wise to put one or two testimonial lines in the body of the message to give you a little extra credibility. Honestly, any sales interaction can benefit from including these valuable tools.
Some freelance professionals even use marketing collateral called one sheets. A one sheet is (as you probably already guessed) a single page document. It should be well designed, have a catchy heading, and include a short story from one of your happy clients or impressive referrals. When attached to introductory emails, sent along with quotes, and used as follow up materials after meetings, a one sheet can practically do the selling for you.
7. Master the power of suggestion.
For this tip, you’ll need to change the way you word your communication with potential clients to tap into this powerful psychological phenomenon. Studies have shown that if you simply suggest a certain outcome is possible in an email or phone conversation, you can subconsciously affect the recipient’s behavior, hence the term power of suggestion. And it might seem a little far fetched but it truly is quite powerful. Government agencies, medical professionals, clinical psychologists, criminal investigators, and even child rearing experts are just some of the entities using it to achieve positive change in others.
So how are you, a corporate event planner, supposed to use the power of suggestion to get new clients? Simply by flipping the scripts you already use. Instead of ending a voicemail or email with, “Please let me know if this is something you’d be interested in”, use the power of suggestion to persuade them towards your desired outcome.
It might sound something like,“This sounds like an offer you’re interested in learning more about, right? If so, let’s set up a time to meet so I can give you more information.” Or “Because improving brand recognition is important to you, you’ll probably also be interested in my event pitch outline (attached) that can help you achieve this goal, just like I’ve done for my other successful clients.”
In short, don’t leave your interactions up to chance. Find new ways to engage and persuade your prospects with this psychology based sales trick by changing the way you phrase your everyday communications.
Step 3: Getting your first client as a corporate event planner
All your hard work has paid off and a potential corporate event planning client has emailed you back. Hooray! But wait, what’s that? That’s the feeling of anxiety and dread as you realize you now have to respond. Eek!
First of all, don’t panic. Expect to receive follow up questions and have answers prepared. If you’re just starting out, we recommend keeping a spreadsheet with questions your prospects ask you. Next to that column, write out your response so that you save time if/when it comes up again later.
And don’t put off responding to them either! Aim to get back to them immediately. Even if you don’t have a well thought out or eloquent response prepared, let them know you at least saw their message.
More often than not you’ll receive messages that indicate the client is ready to begin working with you right now. Which is why you need to have a general event planning contract at the ready so you can get things rolling sooner than later. Once that’s signed, you can finally pop the champagne!
Now you’re ready to fill up your corporate event planning calendar!
So there you have it – everything you need to know to build a corporate client roster that absolutely rocks. If you dedicate yourself to consistent action, you’ll gradually build up a business network that can sustain your career for years to come.