Building Their BrandFebruary 12, 2024

Rise of the Independent Meeting & Event Planner By
February 12, 2024

Building Their Brand

Rise of the Independent Meeting & Event Planner
Wendi Freeman. Photo by Robert Keith

Wendi Freeman. Photo by Robert Keith

Think about the people in your professional life who truly stand out in the crowd. They may have inspired you to take your career more seriously, to follow your professional dreams more closely, or perhaps they’ve mentored you along the way, helping you become the corporate meeting and event planner you are today.

Of course, building a solid independent event planning company is no small feat. Just ask Wendi Freeman, whose passion is to create unique, life-changing experiences through live and virtual events that spark engagement, inspire change, and enrich lives, communities and organizations.

For over 15 years, Freeman has been planning events, conferences, workshops, retreats and masterminds for corporate groups ranging from 12 to over 850+ people, and budgets ranging from $1,000 to over a million.

“In the fall of 2019, I founded my company, Be Bright Events, driven by a desire to create events that could truly impact people’s lives. I was motivated by the idea of focusing on transformational events,” Freeman said. At that time, she had spent 12 years with a company where she was the fourth employee and had worked her way up the corporate ladder. Over the years, the company had grown to over 700 employees, and while Freeman enjoyed her work and the role she played in the company’s growth, she realized that there was limited room for career growth within the organization.

“The company had lost its family feel, and although the events were becoming larger with increased budgets, they began to feel repetitive,” Freeman said. She craved the opportunity to create unique and transformative experiences that would leave a lasting impact on the attendees, and leave her with a feeling of purpose.

Additionally, Freeman yearned for the freedom and flexibility that comes with owning your own business. Working over 60 hours a week in her previous corporate role, she recognized that if she was going to put in that level of effort, it should be on something she was passionate about and something that allowed her to chart her own course.

“Starting my own business was the natural step to align my passion with my work while enjoying the independence and flexibility that entrepreneurship offers,” Freeman said.

Today, Freeman’s focus primarily centers around in-person events and retreats, which include a diverse range of gatherings such as events, conferences, workshops, retreats, and masterminds. One of her specialties lies in orchestrating three-day enrollment events for transformational coaches, as well as curating smaller immersive, experiential destination retreats designed to enrich the experiences, connection and transformation of their clients.

“What I enjoy most about being an independent planner is the privilege of working with clients who are making a profound impact on their own clients and communities,” Freeman said. “The variety of clients I get to collaborate with and the diversity of events I plan keeps every day exciting and dynamic. Each event presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities, allowing me to think creatively and craft truly exceptional experiences.”

Cassie LaMere

Cassie LaMere

A Lifelong Journey

When Cassie LaMere, founder and creative director at Cassie LaMere Events, looks back through childhood photos and videos, she realizes that she was born ready to entertain. Her mom tells her stories about how she was insistent on making holidays and special occasions a big event; she created menus, suggested attire, baked cakes for celebrations and designed her own table décor.

“Growing up in a small town with limited access to arts and culture, I was drawn to anything that allowed me to be creative,” LaMere said. “I found myself seeking out environments where I could study artists, entertainers and destinations around the world, which furthered my enthusiasm for many of the sources of inspiration that still influence me to this day. Even at a young age, I pursued opportunities to plan and design experiences for others.”

After over a decade of overseeing experiential events in-house for various corporate brands, LaMere decided to take the leap to start her own boutique event design and planning agency in 2018.

“I consider bootstrapping my company from the ground up and solely funding my own business my greatest achievement to date,” LaMere said. “I’ve drawn on my experience working in the industry for over 15 years to build a company on the foundational pillars that are important to me and the values that I believe are the keys to a successful, meaningful event experience.”

Today, Cassie LaMere Events specializes in designing and producing corporate lifestyle luxury event experiences for Fortune 500 companies and elite brands. The creative briefs LaMere supports range from executive hospitality events connected to a conference, to offsites, pop-up shops, brand activations, influencer trips, VIP client experiences and employee engagement events.

“I enjoy being the agency of record for a select number of clients who entrust us to support all of their events. I can’t imagine a greater compliment than being told that we’re the first phone call they make when they decide to host an event,” LaMere said. “To hold such a close relationship with our clients is a privilege that we do not take lightly. Our hosts value that we prioritize discretion and uphold a discerning level of standards that aligns with their worldly lifestyle. To know that we are successfully delivering an experience that exceeds our clients’ and guests’ expectations motivates us to continue to raise the bar.”

Venturing Along a New Path

For independent corporate meeting planner Kimberly Stanséll, her corporate background in human resources and project management afforded her the opportunity to be involved in planning employee functions and c-suite meetings.

“A mentor encouraged me to become a CMP. His wife was the head of physician education and a CMP at a Los Angeles hospital, so he was familiar with the process. His encouragement planted a seed in my thinking that becoming a corporate planner might be a career for me, though I did not heed his word immediately,” Stanséll admitted.

Several months later, a colleague recommended Stanséll for an opportunity to partner on a conference with a nonprofit organization.

“It was such a great experience and I loved the work — I knew that being an independent planner was for me,” Stanséll said. So she began researching the profession and the industry — attending local MPI meetings; joining on-demand planner networks and cold-calling companies to pitch her services.

“My first big opportunity came through a MPI listing for an independent planner to work on a project for a healthcare company. From there, my incredible journey began in the meetings and events industry,” Stanséll said. Currently, she provides event strategy consultations and produces meetings, events, trade shows and conferences in the healthcare, pharmaceuticals and medical device sectors.

“I love being able to partner with clients on projects that align with my values — joyful and meaningful work that supports my flexible working lifestyle,” Stanséll said.

When she meets with potential client-teams, she scrutinizes them to assess whether or not she can see herself partnering with them for the long-term, e.g., two to five years. Throughout the years, Stanséll has become comfortable and skilled at passing on opportunities that are not a fit.

“I encourage my mentee-students to be mindful of this strategy as they venture out — the sooner you pass on ‘unfit’ opportunities, the sooner you’ll get connected to the project portfolio you desire.”

Recently, Stanséll was a co-producer of a healthcare conference for 12,000 attendees. She was contracted 90 days before the conference date to manage the exhibit trade show and sponsorship relationships. It was an arduous yet exhilarating process. The project pulled on every skill, talent, knowledge nugget and resourcefulness Stanséll possessed.

“We had an incredibly talented and dedicated group of professionals who developed a deep bond. When we arrived onsite for the load-in, it was hard to see the vision,” Stanséll said. “However, by the end of day one, it was coming into fruition. It was an impactful conference for its attendees and for us as a planning team, an incredibly meaningful experience.”

Embracing Challenges

One of the biggest challenges Freeman faces as an event planner is the coordination and timely communication with various stakeholders involved in the event. This includes speakers, sponsors, vendors and venues, among others. Obtaining the required information from these stakeholders within the necessary timeframe can be challenging.

As Freeman explained, effective event planning demands meticulous organization and persistent follow-up to ensure that all essential details are secured in a timely manner. While it’s crucial for all parties involved to adhere to their respective deadlines, if any of them miss their commitments, it often results in a compressed timeline for her.

“In addition to the coordination challenges, another significant aspect I face in event planning is working with visionary clients who often have grand and ambitious visions for their events,” Freeman said. These visionary aspirations sometimes come with a substantial price tag. While it is Freeman’s responsibility to ensure that she and her team work within a budget, bridging the gap between their ambitious visions and budgetary constraints can be a daunting challenge.

“To meet this challenge, I strive to find creative solutions and innovative approaches to bring their visions to life without compromising the quality and impact of the event,” Freeman said. “Flexibility, resourcefulness and effective communication are key in addressing this challenge and ensuring that my clients’ visions are realized to the fullest extent possible.”

Currently, one of the biggest challenges LaMere faces is helping to educate the client on the role of a planner and when to engage her services. As she explained, clients frequently have the mindset that they need to have the entire vision for their event mapped out before they bring LaMere into the conversation.

“What I like to remind our clients is that you don’t have to have it all ‘figured out.’ Our job is to take any inspiration or vision that you have and ideating to build upon that direction, creating concepts, sourcing vendors and developing a plan to reach a client’s goals,” LaMere said. “The sooner we are looped in, the better to allow our clients to receive the full benefit of our services. This enables us to draw upon our experience to influence and guide the decision making process, solidify project timelines and set everyone involved in the event up for success.”

Teamwork In Various Forms

Currently, Freeman does not have any full-time staff members on her team. Instead, she has established a network of individuals who are fellow entrepreneurs and share the same commitment to excellence in their respective businesses. This network includes Freeman’s core team of event support staff, videographers, photographers and audiovisual providers, who play crucial roles in executing successful events.

“Over the years, I have cultivated strong relationships with a network of trusted vendors who excel in their respective fields. These are our go-to partners for various aspects of event planning, most importantly the audio-visual team and on-site support staff,” Freeman said.

This level of teamwork is evident in the successful corporate events that Freeman has planned. Among the multitude of events she’s had the privilege to orchestrate is one that holds a special place in her heart. She’s had the opportunity to design and plan it for two consecutive years, with preparations currently underway for the third edition in August 2024.

“This event transcends the ordinary; it’s a three-day immersive transformational experience tailored for high-achieving, impact-driven entrepreneurs and leaders. The core focus is on elevating their leadership capabilities, blending elements of leadership development, personal growth, ceremonial rituals and deep emotional connections,” Freeman said.

While meticulous planning, curated experiences, the perfect location and attention to detail are vital components, what truly sets this event apart is the remarkable individuals who attend. As Freeman explained, they arrive with a commitment to fully engage, radiating pure love and positivity throughout the entire experience, making it an exceptional and unforgettable gathering.

“Each year, this event serves as my much-needed recharge. Typically, after planning and executing events, I tend to leave with my energy reserves depleted,” Freeman said. “However, this specific event has a unique quality — it has the power to refuel me, reignite my passion and leave me utterly invigorated.”

When LaMere engages with a corporate client to plan an event, she hand selects vendors for each project and her roster includes an “A-team’” that she has extensive experience collaborating with, which greatly contributes to the success and outcomes of the event. “We are constantly developing relationships with partners in various markets, as most of our events are destination based,” LaMere said. “The vendors we choose to work with are those who we have the utmost confidence in their ability to understand our vision, deliver on the desired experience, and operate as consummate professionals.”

LaMere recently planned a corporate event for a Fortune 500 company in three weeks, which was a massive undertaking given that the event included over 1,000 guests, multiple complex moving parts and numerous high profile guests in attendance.

“In these moments, it really gives us the opportunity to show what we’re capable of and how having key relationships can make all the difference in successfully executing an event within a tight turnaround,” LaMere said. “Because we knew exactly who to call, we were able to reduce the learning curve and timeline required, which allowed us to move mountains in a short amount of time to deliver upon the desired experience in peak season.”

Full Speed Ahead

Many professional meeting planners decided to venture off on their own during the tumultuous time of the pandemic, and this continues to be a growing situation.

Freeman firmly believes that independent event planners will continue to grow compared to those who are employed within corporations.

“The demand for event planning services remains consistently high, driven by the increase and need for transformative and impactful experiences and events. While event planning can be a rewarding profession, it is also known for its challenges and high-stress nature, as evidenced by its frequent inclusion in Forbes’ list of most stressful jobs,” Freeman said. “This high-stress environment, coupled with a turnover and burnout rate within the industry, further amplifies the demand for independent planners who bring fresh perspectives, creativity and dedication to their work.”

LaMere also anticipates that professionals who choose to become independent corporate planners will continue to grow, and her hope is that planners value experience and hard work, keeping in mind that there are no shortcuts.

Indeed, venturing into independent event planning demands determination, organization and a strong work ethic. Freeman advises that a well-structured business plan and clear goals are essential, and success requires a high level of self-motivation, especially in the early stages. While the journey may be challenging, the rewards are worth it.

“Building a reputable name takes time, so focus on consistently delivering exceptional service and exceeding client expectations,” Freeman said. “Networking, marketing and effective client acquisition strategies are vital to finding success in this field. Adaptability and patience are key when working with diverse clients, and maintaining a client-centric approach ensures lasting relationships.” C&IT


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