The Engage Experience

After a wonderful season of beautiful weddings, I am now beginning to refocus my business by initiating the implementation of my goals and objectives for the 2015 wedding season. As an event designer, I am constantly in search of the harmony that marries my love for design with the realities of being a business owner. Although I have been designing weddings for almost twelve years now, it is only in recent years that I am beginning to fully grasp the importance of this balance towards the health of my business.

For those of you who follow my blog frequently, I speak about balance often because it is essential in understanding how your business is positioned in the hierarchy of your time. Understanding ‘balance’ has been the catalyst for change in my business, my business practices, client relations, and more personally –my growth and development as an individual. I began working on my business when I was 21 years old. As my business grew, so did my journey into adulthood. I learned from my business the necessary skills to be an effective entrepreneur and increasingly important -how to navigate through life situations and take ownership of your own journey. Two years ago, I made the decision to command my own journey and began a series of ‘evolutions’ in my business and personal life (www.parasevents.ca/lifting-weights).

I am only a few days away from travelling to the beautiful Cayman Islands in the Caribbean for the Engage Luxury Wedding Business Summit (www.engage14.net) produced by Engaging Concepts (www.engagingconcepts.com). It will be my first trip to the Caribbean, so I look forward to the white sand beaches and sparkling turquoise ocean. This year, I will be a ‘triple-baller’ as they say at Engage –something that I am truly proud of as it is representative of my growth and maturity as an event professional and my degree of accountability to my business and myself. I have learned that Engage is an investment in myself, my business, and my ‘livelihood’ as an event entrepreneur.

The Engage experience required a tremendous amount of courage for the serial introvert that I am. Attending Engage put me completely out of my comfort zone. I did not know anyone at the time and I was very intimidated by the idea of being with those that do the same and do it extremely well. I knew that Engage was the experience that I required to move my business and personal development further, but like many, the fear of acceptance clouded my vision. It is often said, “your light shines brightest outside your comfort zone”. Attending Engage was just the experience I required to begin my personal transformation.

Engage has taught me to:

1) Be Real.  People want to meet the real you.  They want to know about your personal journey.  They want to get to know who you are and what makes you different.  Engage is a three day celebration of creative event professionals and our industry.  Trying to ‘fit-in’ at Engage is not the approach.  Instead, foster new friendships, learn from your mentors, and embrace the change of thought that Engage encourages (whilst remaining true to yourself and your values and beliefs).

2) Be Open.  There is no other forum like that of the Engage experience.  It is a platform for the exchange of ideas, perspectives, and thought processes.  Remain open and absorb the information.  Take the education you have acquired and apply it to your local region/market.  Often, when we are in search of revolution, it takes the strength of an entire industry to make the change.  Continue to share your perspectives, embrace collaboration, and be open to change.  I am always intrigued by the words of Sean Low.  He forces us to accept the changes that many of us resist or are not willing to accept about our businesses.

3) You are in charge of your own transformation.  Over time, I have learned that the degree of effort I exert, often results in an increasingly satisfying outcome towards what I desire.  Engage is no exception to this.  Knowing fully well that I can be uncomfortable in social situations, I must become my own cheerleader and push forward through my personal insecurities and ensure that I am truly experiencing all the opportunities that exist at Engage.  The opportunities to network, to learn, to explore, and to have fun.  If you have made a personal commitment to transformation, Engage is a wonderful starting point to encourage and motivate you to your greatest potential.

4) Be fearless.  Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to someone new -perhaps one of your mentors or someone who you look up to in the industry.  Many are open and willing to share and will embrace you with open arms.  At Engage, I met others who not only do the same, but also experience the same challenges and triumphs of being an event professional.  There is much comfort in knowing that you are not alone.  This is our collective common ground.  Being an event designer myself, I tend to gravitate towards other designers as we speak a similar ‘language’ and can relate to each other.  Think of Engage as three people and not 300, as a family reunion and not a conference, and as a journey not a destination.

Engage has increased my confidence, expanded my knowledge base, broadened my network, and has been the much needed ‘facilitator’ of change I required to revitalize my business.  Through Engage, I have met some wonderful people who I continue to stay in touch with and have afforded me some wonderful life experiences.  I look forward to #Engage14 and another unforgettable experience in paradise.

Have a wonderful week!

Paras

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Collaboration

“As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration.  Other people and other people’s ideas can often be better than your own.  Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.” –Amy Poehler

Collaboration is one of the most important fundamentals of business in today’s networked economy.  Embracing collaboration has allowed me to become an effective event professional, business owner, and nurtured my development as an individual.  Personally, the idea of collaboration has always been quite natural to me.  I grew up in a school system that fostered team work, group projects, and working towards a common goal.  I participated regularly in extra-curricular activities as it gave me a sense of belonging to something ‘greater’, but more importantly, it gave me the ‘team’ atmosphere that I thrived within.  I have a deeply rooted passion for the creative and collaborative process.  The idealists, thought leaders of our world, and the influencers of today’s society rely heavily on the collaborative process to fuel growth and innovation.  It happens to be an essential ingredient to the millennial generation.

As an event entrepreneur, my business relies solely on the collaboration of my key event suppliers and the collaborative process.  My event productions would not be realized without their unique talents, various skill sets, levels of experience, and degree of professionalism. Leading with ‘vision’ fosters a collaborative approach that considers all perspectives and possibilities that potentially may go unnoticed.  Collaboration in the events industry is essential.

In the early stages of my business, I did not fully understand the importance of collaboration.  I allowed my insecurities as a designer and business owner to dictate whom I interacted with and my ability to share and remain open.  As I matured into adulthood, so did my business.  Creating a network of professionals that supported me, believed in me, and encouraged my vision -transformed my business.  I built a community of professionals that I trust, respect, and confide in.  Collaboration went beyond business -the process created lasting friendships.

Attending industry events and participating in industry organizations strengthened (and broadened) my network.  The industry professionals I had the pleasure of meeting shared business and personal values that aligned with my own.  They became my sound board for the challenges I was facing as a business owner and gave me the sense of ‘community’ that I longed for.  My greatest friendships in the industry began by attending industry conferences.  Spending a few days with fellow event professionals allowed me to form close bonds with those that do the same.  I had the opportunity to meet my mentors and benefit from their vast experience.  Many of these conferences had a trade show component which allowed me to broaden my supplier base and core network.  I was able to align with businesses and supply chains that otherwise may have been out of reach. 

Collaboration is a key component to running an event business.  The top events in the world are collaborative productions.  Never has it been more important to embrace collaboration within your company culture than it is today.  Forming these partnerships will propel your event business to new heights and reveal your greatest potential. 

Becoming A Design Consultant

“We need to realize that our path to transformation is through our mistakes. We’re meant to make mistakes, recognize them, and move on to become unlimited.” -Yehuda Berg

It’s September!  The ‘thick’ of wedding season seems to be over and once again the pace seems to be at a more manageable place (or at least that is the sentiment amongst my colleagues, at the moment).  So many brand new projects on the go, new weddings in development, and preparations in full swing for 2015.  September has always been a month of ‘new beginnings’ for me, personally.  I become somewhat reflective at this time of year.  I think about what worked this particular wedding season, what I could have improved upon, and how I may continuously keep my level of service high to my clients.  September has always been a natural time of year for transition.

A lot has changed for me over the past year.  The most significant being the ‘beta’ year within my new business model -a brand new design process, operations model, fee structure, revamped production practices, and the diversification of my business.  Over the course of the year, I also established exclusive partnerships with some amazing event companies to increase the breadth of services I could offer to my clients.  Becoming a design consultant was perhaps the most profound career decision I made for myself.  It was the best way for me to manage my business and my personal life simultaneously. 

Given that I have been in a state or transformation and transition since the beginning of the year, I wanted to provide some clarity to all of you with respects to where my business is today and what it will become moving forward.

1). Making the tough decisions.  I began to weigh all my options in late 2013.  I wasn’t happy with the direction my business was heading and my role within it.  I began to contemplate working as a freelance designer, join another design firm, or completely change my career.  I was at a point where I was just ‘done’.  I wanted out and I felt I could no longer continue in this profession because I simply did not enjoy the ‘operations’ of running a business any longer.  The business had become much larger than me and I was feeling very overwhelmed.  I soon began a transition towards simplicity.  In fact, I made a pledge to honour simplicity.  Going ‘back to basics’  allowed my entrepreneurial spirit and passion for design to shine.  I lifted the proverbial weights I was carrying as a business owner (www.parasevents.ca/lifting-weights).

2). The Design Process.  Becoming a design consultant required me to change my design process and the methods in which I was managing and operating my business.  Earlier this year, I began to scale back my company’s operations by eliminating 2500 square feet of warehousing, selling portions of my inventory, and parting with some of my key staff (this was the most difficult for me).  I employed a revitalized fee structure by limiting my services to only design coordination and design production.  I was no longer going to operate as a full service decorating firm.  The result was a new business model based on limiting overheads and a fee structure that compensated me for my skills, education, experience, creativity, time, and overall design aesthetic.  It would take years of encouragement from my mentors to make this important change to the business.  Paras Events is now positioned as a design consulting firm.

3). Priorities.  Two years ago, I was approached with the opportunity to write a book.  Excitedly, I began work on the visual content and writing immediately.  Over the course of one year however, my business had changed, how I felt about my business had changed, and ultimately, I had changed.  I could no longer write about what my publisher had requested.  I was not the same person and it came down to my personal and professional integrity.  Consequently, I walked away from this opportunity.  I hope to return to this exciting project again in the next few years once I become more comfortable in my ‘new role’ and my ‘new skin’.  I want to write about my experiences as a designer, share my aesthetic with others, but ultimately leave a lasting impression.

I have always believed that the true test of our character and resilience in any life experience is the way we are able to navigate through it.  This does not mean that I do not have my fair share of ‘breakdowns’, emotional instability, and/or business oversights.  By no means do I have it all figured out.  I am self-aware enough today to distinguish what will continue to be a driving force in my life and what brings me the most happiness.  It is a constant exercise in editing your life.  I speak tirelessly about balance because it is essential in our profession.  Returning to a balanced lifestyle has been the single most transformational experience throughout the entire transition of my business -and my life.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

PS – I have a Twitter party coming up in November!  Stay tuned to my social channels!

www.twitter.com/paraskmehta

www.instagram.com/paraskmehta

The CSE Experience

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
― Benjamin Franklin

Last week, I wrote about the importance of selecting the marketing mediums that are most effective for you and your business.  The overall message communicated that marketing a small business requires the proactive efforts of the advertiser along-side your chosen marketing partner(s) (publisher, blogger, producer, etc.).

At PARAS Events, the Canadian Special Events Expo (CSE) has been integral to the growth of our business and demonstrates the importance of collaborating with your marketing and advertising partners.  Inspired by the words of Benjamin Franklin above, being involved is the key to success in any strategy.

Today, I would like to share why the Canadian Special Events Expo has been beneficial to our business and why our firms proactive marketing efforts in tandem with the show producers fueled the growth of our company and my own personal growth as an event professional.

1) Platform to demonstrate your potential.  CSE is one of the first trade shows I ever exhibited in back when I was 23 years old.  I was the ‘newbie’ in a sea of seasoned professionals.  I was very intimidated by this as I felt it was important that I held my own amongst all of my peers.  I worked very hard on my design work but feared that I would not be able to ‘compete’ on the same level as the other participating designers.  Personally, I had a lot to prove.  I had just left school and this was my ’first’ opportunity to make my mark.  CSE allowed me to demonstrate my potential as a designer and introduce my design aesthetic to the industry.  It allowed me to develop my signature as a designer and figure out where I ‘fit in’ (or as I learned a few years later, how I would ‘stand out’).

2) Propelled my event business.  I originally participated in CSE with the intent to generate sales, but I quickly learned that CSE was going to be a marketing medium that would allow me to increase awareness of our business through strategic industry partnerships.  CSE is where I learned about ‘co-opetion’ from my colleague, Ken Kristoffersen of POP Kollaborative.  Part of my growth in this industry has come from the understanding that you cannot merely ‘compete’ with your peers -you must collaborate to collectively elevate our profession through increased value, depth of creative thought, and higher standards of production.  CSE allows you to learn from top wedding professionals and thought-leaders from around the world and forces you to evaluate your own business, its operations, and strategies.

3)  Friendship.  I have made so many of my long-standing friendships with those I met at CSE over the years.  Not only do I work with them on a continual basis, but they now represent my close inner circle of individuals that ‘lift me higher’ with their positivity, collaborative nature, and support.  We work on events together, support each other in the ‘ups and downs’ of being an event professional and navigating the work/life balance that so many of us strive for.  Many of us have ‘grown-up’ in the industry and it has been a privilege to be apart of so many amazing journey’s.

4) Networking.  This is perhaps the greatest benefit of being involved with the Canadian Special Events Expo.  CSE is an opportunity to learn from other event professionals and ignite a dialogue with many of your mentors.  There is no other Special Events conference in Canada that provides the same access to the diverse group of event professionals in attendance at CSE and all of its social events, educational seminars, and the trade show floor.  This is a great opportunity to learn from the best.  My business has been shaped by the many insights shared at CSE over the years.

5)  Star Awards.  Our firm was nominated for our first Star Award in 2004.  I was 23 years old and was beyond thrilled to hear of the great news.  The nomination gave me confidence, validated my swift career change, and positioned me as a serious design professional.  More importantly, the nomination gave me a sense of belonging to the industry I was growing into.  My parents came with me to my first gala and we sat with the ISES Toronto team.  That night, upon hearing we had won, I was overjoyed, but equally nervous.  I completely froze (and was somewhat star-struck by Jocelyn Flanagan of E=MC2 Events who presented the award to me) during my acceptance speech and don’t even remember what I said.  That night, I became one of the youngest recipients of a Star Award.  The Star Awards gala is an opportunity to celebrate with those who do the same, but also an night to celebrate the accomplishments of so many leading event professionals who are committed to their craft and elevating the profession.

The Canadian Special Events Expo continues to be a highlight for the Canadian Special Events Industry annually.  PARAS Events has been continually involved in different capacities throughout the years and the show has personally been an influential part of the event professional I have become today.  I am feeling a little nostalgic as I write this post today.  So many friendships made, so many lessons learned, numerous design challenges and exhibit designs, and lot’s of fun parties over the last eight years.  I cannot forget to send a big thank you to Mark and Stacy for their continued support and helping my inner light to shine.

I am looking forward to another amazing week at Canadian Special Events Expo 2014!  See you there!

Paras

PS -I will be speaking at the conference this year on ‘Igniting the Creative Process’.

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Interactive Marketing

As entrepreneurs, it can be difficult to determine the marketing methods that will be most successful for our business.  I have taken the approach of ‘trial & error’ for most of my career and tried my best to remain as diverse as possible in the marketing mediums we choose.  Over the years, it has become very obvious which methods have been most successful AND more importantly, proven successful for our business.

Thousands of dollars are spent on marketing our event businesses each year. Like many of you, I have exhibited at bridal shows, advertised in magazines and blogs, accepted invitations to join exclusive communities, and participated in editorial shoots.  I have learned that it is not enough to rely solely on the marketing methods above to achieve substantial return.  It is essential when purchasing advertising for your business that you support and market your involvement in these publications, websites, blogs, and wedding shows.

As I reflect back on all of my experiences, I can begin to articulate the approach that has worked best for us and elaborate further on the importance of ‘interacting’ with your own marketing and promotions.

1) Distinguish the difference.  When purchasing a marketing opportunity, distinguish whether it will be for the purpose of generating awareness for your business and your brand or to generate sales.  Sometimes, we confuse that one singular marketing method will achieve both with the same strength.  Allot your marketing dollars to strategically maximize your presence in the industry and to potential clients by making this distinction and reviewing it on a yearly basis.

2) Support your own marketing initiatives.  Unfortunately, it is not enough to advertise in magazines and blogs or exhibit at wedding shows solely.  You must actively promote your participation in these marketing methods to maximize your return on investment.  This means using social media, monthly newsletters, and your company blog(s) to generate awareness of your involvement in a magazine editorial, blog style shoot, and/or wedding show (for example) to draw potential clients to your business and strengthen your brands effectiveness.

3) Take ownership of your own success when advertising.  It is easy for us to say that a particular marketing medium has ‘not worked’.  I will be the first to say that there are specific mediums that I will probably not entertain any further.  That is not because I don’t believe in their ability to work or have anything against them.  They simply just did not work for me and my business.  Taking ownership of your own success in marketing means having copies on hand of magazines you are featured in to review with clients or share with colleagues, sharing your blog features on social media (Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter at three strategic times during the week), and/or blogging about the design/planning process you are undertaking when designing your exhibit at a wedding show.  Create excitement around your brand and the marketing methods you choose.  All of the examples above, extend the life of your marketing.

4) Take advantage of the ‘free’ marketing mediums that are now available to all of us.  As we all know, social media has an immense effect on the success of a business today.  If you are not active on social media, you are missing out on huge opportunities to solicit leads and build awareness for your business and building a strong brand presence.  To this day, I continue to participate in webinars and attend workshops on how I can increase my footprint (as an event professional) in the social media-sphere.  I am currently working on developing my SEO as that is still something I must improve upon.

5) Establish how you will position your brand in all of your advertising mediums and be consistent!  Your business will feel the affects if your branding and presence do not remain consistent.  That means a streamlined graphic identity, consistent voice on social media, your newsletters, and blogs, office space that is aligned with your design aesthetic and corporate identity, dynamic marketing material, and finally an IMPACTFUL website that ties it all together.  One of the best decisions I ever made for my business was to work with a professional branding expert.

6) Attend networking events to build your businesses presence.  There is definitely an art to networking and depending upon the industry you come from, your approach will be different.  I don’t have any formal training in networking and for those of you who know me well, you are aware of how shy and introverted I can be.  What I have learned over the years is that networking events are not solely an opportunity to ‘sell’, but rather an opportunity to establish a human connection and build friendships of trust and support amongst your peers in the industry.  If you are personally not attending industry events and conferences, how are you communicating your brand message on a more human level?  It’s the human connection that makes the difference.  

7) Collaborate with those whom you advertise with.  I have had the pleasure of working with some amazing publishers, bloggers, and show producers throughout the years and their support has been immeasurable.  One of the most important things I have learned from them is that so often we see advertising as a ‘transaction’.  In the case of magazines, we receive a contract, arrange payment, and submit artwork -and it ends there (or so it seems).  Instead, take the time to communicate with those you are advertising with and ask how you can be more involved or increase your visibility within their medium.  Most advertisers are willing to customize a solution that best fits your marketing objectives and sales goals.  Remember that advertising is not a ‘one-way-street’.  As mentioned before, you must actively promote your involvement within each marketing medium you choose in tandem with the publisher/blogger/producer, etc.  It is then easier to make an informed assessment on whether or not a particular marketing medium works (or will work) for you and your business.

8) Marketing your products and/or services is about building your business, your brand, your presence, and to increase sales.  Unfortunately, I used to participate in marketing mediums that were based on healing my insecurities and what I thought ‘everyone was doing’.  I was afraid of ‘missing out’, so I spent marketing dollars on mediums that I knew for a few years had not been successful or proven successful for me, but continually participated because I thought I would be ‘left out’.  Looking back, I know better now.

Ultimately, over time, you will be able to measure the success each of the advertising mediums you partake in. Some will be very successful, others may not. Fortunately, you will be able to determine the best method for you and fuel it as much as possible to optimize your results and its return.  Often a few, very strong, impactful marketing mediums will allow your business and brand to soar.

Happy Spring!

Paras

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