Veteran event planner Dana Bertotti talks with Door 24 and The Citrus Life about how she started in the event industry, her key to growing her one-woman show, as well as golden nuggets of advice for emerging planners.
D24: How would you describe your business?
DB: I specialize in events and meetings, including but not limited to trade shows, awards shows, dinners, meetings, and promotional events.
D24: How did you get started in your industry?
DB: I was doing marketing for a non-profit in Philadelphia. With that position, I often had to plan events to market the product I was responsible for. I realized that the event planning aspect of my job was by far my favorite, and the rest is history.
D24: What was your first unofficial and official event?
DB: My first unofficial event was every long weekend I planned for my friends. I handled the location, the money and payments, who was bringing what food, how everyone was getting there, what activities we would do once we arrived. My first official event was the 2003 BizBash trade show… 300 booths, 3,000 attendees. Talk about learning on the job…
D24: What has been the most challenging about freelancing?
DB: No question—worrying about finances. Not knowing when the next job is coming in, not having a steady paycheck, paying for my own medical insurance, getting an accountant to guide me. This is a whole new world and the financial side of it can be quite stressful.
D24: What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
DB: Network. Network. Network. 100% of the jobs I’ve landed have been through those I know.
D24: Who would be your dream client?
DB: Someone who trusts me, and my decision, completely and has unlimited funds, Ha!
D24: What types of events (large or small) have you been involved with that have helped set the tone or brand image for your business?
DB: Every event I have done and am doing has helped me set the tone. I’ve worked with small, creative, and unorganized businesses as well as rigid, process-oriented, ‘stodgy’ companies. They all have good and bad qualities, and I try to take the qualities in each that are appealing to create my image and brand.
D24: What sets you apart in this industry?
DB: I like to think I have a great balance. I rarely let things get to me, and I’m quite laid back as far as my approach to work. I know when to lay low, and I know when to take control. The bottom line is—I feel that I’ve been doing this for a long time. I have seen a lot, I have experienced a lot, and with that knowledge comes calm and peace. I like to plan events–successful events–without chaos, and I bring that attitude to the table.
D24: What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
DB: I planned an awards show for BizBash Media in 2006. The space was 3 levels, the site lines were horrendous—the space was not my choice, but I had to work with it. It was by far the most challenging event I have ever done, and it went amazingly well. I broke my foot going up and down 7,000 flights of steps over the course of load in and load out—completely worth it.
D24: What does your client base look like?
DB: Currently, I am doing work for a b-to-b for high-level financial companies, a meeting planning agency, and a DMC (Destination Management Company). The client base 'ebbs and flows’ and changes all of the time… I’d love to work with a non-profit at some point.
D24: What was your motivation behind taking the leap from employee to employer?
DB: I’ve begun to realize that I’m not the type of person that can work from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM in an office. I’ve also realized that I’m not the type of person that can be micromanaged. I love choosing who I work with, and when I work, and where I work. I feel free—it’s amazing.
D24: What attributes do you seek in future employees and/or staff members?
DB: Forward thinking. The ability to take a piece of a project, make decisions, and run with it. Hardworking, because they have to be. I also stand by the fact that you can work in a way that’s morally sound, kind, and positive. This is huge.
D24: How would your staff (or those working with you) describe you in 10 words or less?
DB: Fair, calm, caring, genuine, funny, no bullshit (am I allowed to say ‘bullshit’?).
D24: Who was or has been an industry role model for you?
DB: Maureen Ryan-Fable, President of First Protocol. She is the epitome of a strong, smart, no-BS-woman with a successful career and a lovely family. She does it all and makes it look easy. Also, David Beahm from David Beahm Designs. He has every right in the world to be cocky and egotistical, yet he took me to a place called Cowgirl where we drank margaritas from mason jars. He’s grounded and wonderful.
D24: What is one piece of advice you would give emerging planners?
DB: *Work hard, but if you hate it, change careers immediately because you shouldn’t be doing anything you dislike if you can help it.
*Be fair and be kind. You will make long, solid relationships with wonderful people that way.
*Don’t look frazzled, even if you’re freaking out. People see calm, they will feel calm.
*In the process of planning an event, if you think it’s easy in any way, you probably didn’t double check something. You have to get granular, man! Following up, reminding, cross checking—this makes the difference between an OK planner and one that is great. It’s harder, but you shine in the end.
*Stay away from the phonies. How do you know they’re phonies? Yah just do.
*Feel that weird feeling in your gut about something? Listen to it!
D24: What three pieces of advice would you give emerging entrepreneurs starting out today?
DB: Don’t let the hard parts of starting your own 'thing’ deter you. Who likes figuring out medical insurance and how to LLC yourself? Ugh. Just get through those yucky parts—the rewards are endless. Yah know those people you were kind and fair to? Tap into them. Because you are kind and fair, they are happy to help you. You know what people want from you? They want to hand a project to you and they want to walk away, knowing that you’ll handle it, you’ll handle it well, and they don’t have to worry. Do that.