Jennifer Gilbert, Save The Date Founder, on how she built her $30M event planning company

6 years ago by in Event Planning, How She Built A $1M+ Brand, Mentors Unplugged Tagged:

Building a $30 million company is a HUGE accomplishment and top woman entrepreneur Jennifer Gilbert, Founder + Chief Visionary Officer of Save The Date, is here to tell us all about how she did it!

Jennifer started her event management company in 1993 and at the age of 29 was named Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of The Year. She had only been in business four years and was the youngest, only female at the time. Jennifer’s advice is priceless and can be executed in any industry – not just event planning. Her unstoppable drive has nothing to do with the money but fueled by a traumatic event that changed her life forever.

Tell us about the company you’ve built and the inspiration behind starting it. 

I started Save The Date to help people celebrate and enjoy life’s greatest moments. This became my personal mission and calling after I was attacked and brutally stabbed at the age of 22. After months of recovery, I was determined to lock my secret away and pour my soul into my work. I kept quiet about this event for 21-years until sharing it in my recent book, I Never Promised You A Goodie Bag.

Everyone has a choice - you can’t control what happens to you but you can control who you want to be.

Bootstrap and/or raise money – how did you get started? 

I started the business as a one-woman operation with nothing but a chair and a telephone. Without help from outside investors, I didn’t take a paycheck for five years. I took what I needed to live, but put everything else back into the business to hire employees, expand office space and install computer systems. Those re-investments into the business probably totaled more than $100,000.

You created a new business model for the event space that became your biggest money maker - we need the scoop on this!

Corporations and non-profits typically don’t have the budget to hire an outside event planning company so I saw an opportunity for a new business model -  a referral or matchmaking service - connecting planners to the best locations and vendors. The service is free for planners - vendors and locations pay a service fee or monthly retainer. This new business model has been key to our high-revenue growth and overtime, our clients outsourced all aspects of the event planning to us because of the level of service we delivered.

What has helped Save The Date weather the bad economy? 

First, your business has to be able to expand and contract with the current market. We’ve come up with different business models and have always stayed lean in terms of employees. We used to have offices in 5 different cities but have downsized to our physical location in NYC with virtual teams in cities everywhere.

Low cost marketing strategies – what has been the most successful for helping you drive awareness? 

I’ve never advertised or worked with a PR firm. The two things that have worked very well for us have been word of mouth and cold calling. There’s no need to buy sales lists - our clients provide us with our biggest sales leads. We ask them “who else should we be calling?” and their always eager to offer up 2 or 3 names but you have to ask. Or if I see an article about an event Save The Date should be helping with - I call and ask for a meeting.

Best ways to connect in your industry - which national and local networking organizations, conferences have you found most valuable? 

BizBash is a must to attend for new ideas, meet top vendors and get the scoop on new spaces.

COPE, Council of Protocol Executives, is a non-profit dedicated to bringing together high-level event professionals to network and access Premier vendors.

Share your secret weapons – what business apps, tools or mottos help you run your business/life efficiently? 

One is a saying I live by…Outsource everything but your soul. Focus on what your insanely good at and outsource the rest to those who have a passion for it and can do it better than you.

The big thing that really separates us from the competition is the proprietary client management platform we built to centralize all the details and characteristics of each event down to what the CEO likes to drink and special food requests. This information empowers us with the knowledge to deliver an unforgettable experience to our clients and attendees alike. It also opens up opportunities for cross-selling and repeat clients because we have all the critical details noted for the next event.

Don’t forget to follow Jennifer on Twitter and pick up her unforgettable memoir - I Never Promised You A Goodie Bag..

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