While working in retail in the 80s in Los Angeles, several of my associates had jobs as "cater waiters," and it seemed like a fun job. I started doing the same and found that I had a natural talent for designing food stations and tablescapes, as well as managing people. In no time, I was hired directly by a successful catering company that had a corporate take-out division and a busy full-service division, mainly serving the social events community. I was tasked with running the take-out division, which included sales to corporate clients, writing orders, hiring and scheduling delivery drivers, as well as being a manager for the full-service events on the weekends. As I got older and started a family, working six and seven days a week was not as appealing as it once had been. One of my catering clients, a full-service event production company, asked if I would be interested in talking to them about producing corporate events. This sounded appealing as it was mainly a Monday through Friday job, and included much larger events, as well as some travel. After working there for almost eight years, I was asked to join the Extraordinary Events team, affording me the ability to expand my skills with a highly respected company, known the world over, and continuing my education of layering new standards and practices as the industry grew and evolved. So, I have been in the events industry, in one capacity or another, for more than 27 years.
I know you might be thinking, "Didn't that transition take you out of your comfort zone?" There's only one thing that challenges my comfort zone these days - the rapidly growing trend of integrating social media and guests' live interactions during an event. It seems like the quickest moving trend in our industry. But, as soon as I learn and understand the necessary elements, they are suddenly outdated! So, I stay in my comfort zone by educating myself on a constant basis to the latest app! And, as I've always done in growing from catering to international events, I surround myself with the experts in the field. Not only does that allow me to sell the latest trends, but if affords me that opportunity to grow and learn.
Why am I focusing on my own experience? Because I want to provide a template for those considering a change!
Want to Make a Change in your Career?If you are striving to make a change, join professional organizations or groups that are focused on the type of events you want to do. If it is weddings that interest you, join a wedding industry association and surround yourself with professionals who are at the top of their game and willing to share their experiences with those new to their industry.
That holds true for any event genre. Conferences, discussion groups, and professional organizations that support every niche market are just a Google search away! Attending industry meetings and conference is invaluable. Not only are the networking opportunities endless, the education and ability to learn from the icons in our industry are priceless.
Tips to Relationship Building with Experts, Clients, Vendors and Team MembersOkay, the point of joining those professional groups is to build relationships with expert individuals. That relationship building carries over to clients, vendors and your own team members. I have a networking style that is a little more laid back than some may agree with, but it is who I am and has served me well over the years.
In our world, there are so many salespeople selling to a finite number of customers. I find it distasteful (and think my clients do as well), if in the first few minutes of meeting a potential customer, salespeople are "selling" their company without finding out the needs of the person to whom they are "selling." I take the time to find out what a person does. I ask questions about the culture of their company, how they want their customers to view them, and if we are talking about a specific event, what they want the attendees to experience and take away from the event.
I even go so far as to have a legitimate interest about their life in general. . . where are they from? What interest them as a person? What is their dog's name? This isn't something I do to appear to be interested in order to get the sale; it is something that connects us as humans - both professionally and personally. Nobody wants to be "sold" to and only be regarded as a customer. Most of my "customers" also transition into being a part of my life outside of work. This same school of thought holds true for both vendors and colleagues. I know that I am way more willing to bend over backwards and support someone when they are part of the fabric of my life, and not just there for a commission check, although that is part of it!
All genuine relationships help in every aspect of my work. One think I learned early on is to never write off anyone as someone that I don't "need" - or someone not worth forming a relationship with. Of course, we are all here to make a living, so prioritizing and spending time forming relationships with those that can be most beneficial to you is wise. Ignoring someone who at the moment might not transition into a customer is not a wise choice. With the current state of our industry, people are constantly shifting from one position and employer to another. You never know when the person who can't hire you today will be in a position to hire you tomorrow.
Action ItemBe genuine in your relationships with people; let the positive and unique qualities of your personality shine, and never stop educating yourself in all aspects of our rapidly changing world and industry.
Clint Upchurch is a Senior Account Executive at Extraordinary Events. He has a passion for incorporating branding and messaging with his events so that attendees have a full understanding of why they are there and experience the event instead of merely attending it! He may be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org