The fourth episode of #EventIcons podcast is dedicated to talking about something that our host Will holds dear to his heart: starting your own event company. His guests today are Dahlia El Gazzar and Sarah Soliman, two entrepreneurs who had, just like him, made their dreams come true.
Not only do Sarah and Dahlia talk about starting their own companies, they also answer some listeners’ questions. From talking about mobile apps to the power of influencers, this conversation is highly resourceful and inspirational. So without further ado, let’s welcome today’s icons, Sarah and Dahlia!
Connecting With Mobile Apps
Before the trio talks about today’s topic, starting your own event company, they answer a question from the audience. “Is there any technology out there that helps connect like-minded people within an event?”
The answer, according to Dahlia, is yes: through mobile apps. “What they’re trying to do is connect like-minded people, whether it’s through interests, their profiles, or matchmaking. The other thing that is also happening is harnessing the power of crowdsourcing. Some conferences where are trying to crowdsource topics, sessions, and ideas from attendees, not having it be more of the agenda per se. But don’t rely on technology to try to find like-minded people at an event because if that were the case, then I wouldn’t have met Will or Sarah.”
Sarah agrees with Dahlia and adds that technology enhances the event and helps make those connections. “It also extends the life of the event, post-show. It’s just a great way to connect at at all times.”
Thinking Of Events As A Business
Next up, Dahlia and Sarah answered another question from the audience. Mike wanted to know what was the biggest challenge they have encountered getting seen for their events.
“Since this session is all about starting your own event company, people have to think of events as a business,” explains Dahlia. “They need a rock solid marketing plan. One thing that I would love to see more events do is social media influencers. They will play a huge part going forward when promoting an event. What that means is reaching out to people that are very passionate about the focus of the event. There’s a way to identify them on social media platforms and to engage them, reward them, and keep them as part of your marketing team. They have tribes and communities that you potentially would not be able to reach without them.”
Sarah emphasizes the importance of SEO. “Build a promotional video for your event, but don’t just plug it onto your YouTube channel and hope that your database sees it. Push it out there and implement SEO.”
Finding Social Media Influencers
Speaking of social media influencers – how do you go about finding them? “Go to different platforms and identify those that are passionate about the topics that you’re having at your event or for a specific campaign. It doesn’t necessarily have to be represented by number of followers, but rather by engagement,” says Dahlia.
What turned out to be very effective when Sarah was starting her own company were Facebook Ads. “I definitely took advantage of that and I was able to target the audience that I wanted to reach: the demographic and the regions.
Will redirected the conversation into the topic of starting your own event company. He asked his lovely guests what did it take for them to get their first clients on board.
“In my work that I’ve done within the industry, it’s all about building relationships,” replies Sarah. “I treat my clients and potential clients like my friends. Build that relationship, get to know people, ask about their kids, learn about them as human beings and don’t make it as much of a business transaction.”
Dahlia’s first client was the company she had worked at for five years. “There was a certain sense of trust there. When you’re starting your own company, I’m not gonna lie, it’s very scary.” She stresses the importance of net weaving, while urging entrepreneurs to understand that they can’t be everything to everybody at the same time. ” You don’t have that special power. If you want to be a powerhouse, be known for being that powerhouse in something specific. If you don’t have the answers, that’s where your net weaving comes in. I don’t know that much about AV, so I’m going to pass them on to Endless Events. That’s what it’s all about.”
Starting Your Own Event Company: What About Burnout?
Continuing the topic of starting your own company in the events industry, Will was curious to learn how do Dahlia and Sarah manage burnout and what they do when their passion dwindles.
“My company is my everything, so my passion is through the roof. But at some point, I will get burned out because I’m working harder now than I’ve ever worked in my entire life,” replies Sarah. “It’s important to recognize that you’re getting burned out. Listen to your body, take a step back, do things that are relaxing, take a vacation, go to the gym, go shopping, whatever it may be – take a few days off. Business will still be there when you get back.” She also mentions the importance of you inner circle. “Surround yourself with passionate people, even if they’re not doing the same exact thing that you’re doing. When I see my friends working hard, it motivates me too.”
Lean On Your Support System
“How do you guys recommend building a great support system around what you do?” asks Will. “Is it important to go to associations and being part of things like MPI? Do you recommend having something outside of events to support you as well?”
“A lot of my friends are part of the industry. I joined a lot of different committees and that has helped me meet people who are solid friends, but also have very similar work ethics and goals,” says Sarah. “To me, that’s a hugely important circle in my life. I also have my friends that are completely out of the events industry.”
Starting Your Own Business: No Time Like Today
Starting you own company is no easy feat. Will wanted to know what Dahlia and Sarah would say to the 18 year-old versions of themselves in regards to that.
“That little voice in your mind that you can’t do that – don’t listen to that voice, okay? People tend to spend so much time trying to crush a passionate idea. They spend most of their time and energy competing or comparing themselves to others and thinking that they would never be able to succeed as much. What they don’t understand is that that’s not the point of it. The point of it is truly to just see your ideas through. You can fail or you have to try all over again, but if you don’t see it happen and all of a sudden someone is copying you, that is the moment that will just crush you even more,” says Dahlia. “My advice is either you have to go on with your idea or you bring someone in that can compliment you. It doesn’t have to be perfect.”
Sarah then shares her advice. “Not everyone’s going to like what you’re doing and that’s okay. Being okay with that is vital. Don’t let the noise distract you. Focus on your goal because ultimately that’s why you started: you had a goal in mind and you want to meet it. It’s all about building your brand. Stay focused and always take the high road. Never speak negatively about anybody who is throwing negativity your way.”
Finally, Will adds his own words of wisdom. “If you want to start a company, don’t do a day job for 10 years first. Just go do it now. The younger you are, the less risky it is for you to start your own event company.”
Moving on to the topic of event planners, Will asks their advice to make event planners’ lives easier. Dahlia says that they shouldn’t be afraid of technology. “They don’t take the time to try to put a solid plan together and delegate it out. They don’t have to understand everything, but they need to be able to have someone on their team or outsource it to make them embrace technology better. Not only for their event, but more so for anything else for their team.”
“Use the resources available to you to tell your story. My field is video,” adds Sarh. “You don’t have to do everything yourself. Video is part of the technology world, so let that be your voice. Show what your event is all about and let your members give testimonies. You have great suppliers that you can work with, make use of those relationships that you have.”
Last But Not Least: Resources!
Will is all about sharing resources with like-minded people, so naturally, he asks Dahlia and Sarah to share what they think the podcast’s listeners might find valuable.
Dahlia mentions Mixergy. “Andrew Warner is the king of interviews. He has this uncanny ability of interviewing people, especially startups and companies, and they dish out their secrets. They can tell you how they do SEO and how they close business.” She also mentions 99u, a website with insightful blogs. “We know what our sources are within our industry, but it makes sense to look outside of our industry as well,” she says. One such resource is IdeaMensch, a website, filled with amazing ideas from entrepreneurs and startups.
And that’s a wrap on the fourth episode of #EventIcons! Make sure to subscribe and never miss a new episode!
Editor’s Note: This post was updated on May 28th, 2021 for clarity purposes.