Common Legal Mistakes Event Planners Make
She’s been seen on Marie Forleo and Danielle LaPorte, and today she joins us at Event Planning Blueprint to discuss common legal mistakes event planners make.
Today’s topic is vital to your event management business and should be taught in event planning 101.
We often learn lessons the hard way, and as someone who has built a business from scratch – with little experience, virtually no money, but a willingness to take action with a git’r done attitude, Jo-Na Williams shares some insights that I wish I had when I started my event management business in 2004.
In today’s episode of EventPlanning BlueprintTV, learn the common legal mistakes event planners make, and how you can avoid – or fix – them.
Common Legal Mistakes Event Planners Make
This is sure to be one of those videos that you’ll watch again, and I’ve included the transcript below so you can choose the right business structure, know how to position your event planning business and charge premium prices for your services, and learn how to identify your strengths to get clients.
Now, I’d love to hear from you.
How are you positioning yourself and your business in the market and how do you use your ‘Unique Ability” to build your event management business?
Please share in the comments below… With much appreciation,
P.S. (Disclaimer: This video and accompanying content (blog, YouTube descriptions, etc. herein referred to as “Content”) is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice of any kind. Jo-Ná Williams and J.A.Williams Law, P.C. assumes no liability for use or interpretation of any information contain in this Episode or this document. This Episode should not be an alternative to obtaining legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state based on the specific facts of your legal matter. Jo-Ná Williams is licensed to practice law in the State of New York only.)
Melanie: Today we going to talk about a very popular question that I get over and over again. It is one that is really difficult for me to answer because I am not a lawyer and I’m not an accountant. I am always referring people to talk to their local lawyer or accountant. We’re going to cover the topic of common legal mistakes event planners make. I’m really excited to introduce our guest today, but before I do that, I want to just give you a little background about Jo-Ná Williams and a little insight into why I have asked her to join us here today. Jo-Ná Williams founded J.A.Williams Law, P.C – The Artist Empowerment Firm in 2011 to provide artists, entertainers, and this generation’s thought leaders with ways to successfully navigate their careers and provide assistant with business, entertainment, and intellectual property matters. She’s dedicated to issues regarding the rights of artists and content creators because she believes they are a population highly vulnerable to exploitation without proper knowledge. She founded Artists Entertainment Group to advise artists on business, branding, and marketing. Some of her clients include Marie Forleo, Danielle LaPorte – who you can see on her website – so there are no confidentiality issues. Many of her clients have also written best-selling books, created award winning blogs, have been nominated for Grammy’s, listed in the Billboard Top 100, Amazon, iTunes Top Album Charts, and received local and international claim. That is quite the bio, Jo-Ná. I know you can see her, but before I actually introduce her, I do have to add this disclaimer. This class is for informational purposes only. It should not be construed as legal advice of any kind. Jo-Ná Williams and J.A.Williams Law, P.C assumes no liability for use or interpretation of any information contained in this class. This class should not be an alternative to obtaining legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state based on the specific facts of your legal matter. Jo-Ná Williams is licensed to practice in the state of New York only. So Jo-Ná, thank you so much for being here. Welcome. Jo-Ná: Thank you so much for inviting me. It is so exciting to be an entrepreneur who has to do like a quick Clark Kent change and stuff like that. Melanie: The superhero. I actually didn’t mention that you also used to be an event planner and have an event planning business, which is really important for this particular webinar. You know the legal side and the event planning side as well. Jo-Ná: Yes. I used to have my own event planning company for 11 years. We put on artist events. We would either put on showcases for specific artists so that they can showcase their talent or different types of people in the music industry like business managers, entertainers, and things like that. We also used to put on different events in the community. I started it off in college and just joining on the campus and being a part of the campus programming board as a president of it, and then people started hiring me and asking me to do their events out in the community. It just kind of morphed into a company that I was doing all the time. It is really fun to jump back into my event planning roots. It’s still a part of me and I still like to put a good live event. Melanie: I can tell. You’ve got that energy. I can see it. Jo-Ná: I still love it and it is one of my many, many passions. I like to think of myself like Marie Forleo says I’m a multi-passionate entrepreneur. Melanie: I definitely know what a multi-passionate entrepreneur is. Let’s just talk about a couple of things. I know that one of the things that you are really good at is positioning. Whether that was in your event business, and now in your legal firm. When I read your bio on just being about entertainers and the Artist Entertainment Empowering Group, it is such a strong statement. [0:04:25.1] How do you go about charging premium prices for your services – when you were an event planner and now as a lawyer? Jo-Ná: I think that one of the things that I did in terms of setting my prices to be at a premium, I kind of looked what was it that I specifically felt like I was worth and what I wanted to charge. I then challenged myself to kind to step into the shoes of someone that would charge that kind of rate. For me, it was more about looking at, “Okay first of all, what am I specifically passionate about? Who are the people that I want to help and who am I interested in helping? Why do I want to help them?” For me, it has always been about empowerment. It has always been about helping people to really be the best that they can be and access their own personal power and strength through whatever it is that they do. It was a no-brainer for me. I had the Artist Empowerment Company many, many years ago back in 2005, and again it just kind of worked and that came with me. For me what I did was I looked at what my services were that I wanted to provide and what did I want to actually charge for those services. That felt a little bit uncomfortable, but not like so much of a stretch. I wasn’t charging like $15,000 for an event when I had never done one. It was more about what felt like a little outside my comfort zone that I knew that I could grow into, and then what would be the next step from that, and the next step, and the next step. That is kind of how I built mine over time. Melanie: [0:06:17.5] Did you decide on that before you started planning events, or did you already have a few clients and then you realized these are the type of clients I want to get and this is how much I want to charge? Jo-Ná: It kind of started off that I knew I wanted to work for artists. I have been in that world my entire life, so I knew that was the world that I wanted to be in when it came to my event planning business. I also knew that they were not the ones that were going to pay me because they just didn’t have it at the time. I was looking at what would be the specific angles that I could come at this. I had the organizations that actually serve those artists hiring me to put on events for them. How I positioned myself was, “Look, I’m from the artist community and I have this specific type of background.” I got a couple of good events underneath my belt that I did for very, very little money. That is really good for testimonials, and then I just built from there. That is how I built my law practice as well. I started off with the people that I knew and the people who were specifically the people that I wanted to target, and then from there just built my practice. Melanie: Nice. I like that. So it really fit into your personality and not just some interest as well? Jo-Ná: Yes. If you can’t tell, I’m a pretty high-energy person and so for me, I really just enjoy having that. I initially hired somebody to help to kind of see what it is that I was missing like what was a part of my brand that was really in my blind spot – or where was it that I really needed to challenge myself to jump into? What did I need to see? I hired somebody to help with me with that vision, and she was like, “You are really extremely powerful and everybody that you are around, when you’re around them, you make them feel that energy, make them feel invigorated, powerful, and all of that stuff. So your brand needs to reflect that on that outside with that particular energy, and it will draw people in because that is just naturally who you are.” [0:08:35.2] What I usually tell people when it comes to marketing, branding, and things like that, is to really just be yourself and allow that to kind of reflect through your brand. You might not be about power – it might be about serenity or it might be about peace. How is it that when you’re around people, how do you make them feel? When they leave your presence, what are they leaving with and what do they feel? Taking that and kind of putting that into not only the way that present yourself online, but also the way that you present yourself in speaking ways and the way that you present yourself in your copy, your emails, or at dinner parties. Just constantly really embodying that version of yourself, and if it is just naturally you, it won’t be hard. Melanie: I love that. I love what you just said about that. It’s interesting because we were just talking about this. I have a mentoring group that is called All Access Pass, and we were talking about identifying what your strengths are and then how you can apply to your business and to your clients and getting new business as well. It is a lot easier. There isn’t the struggle of like, “I have to do all these things. I have to be all things to all people,” but identify one to three things that you really kick ass at and then use those to leverage your business. Jo-Ná: That is exhausting. It’s exhausting to try to be everything to everyone just in life in general. You can’t be the person that every person in your life needs all the time. It’s exhausting, and so it is much more fun if you really just hone in on who you are, who you want to serve, and really focus your energy and attention on that. The other stuff if going to come. Just taking your energy and really focusing it on where you want to serve, and then everything just kind of like rolls from that. That is what I did. Every entrepreneur that I know that is successful, that is what they did too. It is really just about embodying who they really and truly are, and putting it out in a way that people can instantly get it where they look at you and they get what you’re about. If you to my website, you get what I’m about when you go there. If you go to some of my clients like Mischa Boogley, you go to her site and you get a specific energy and you know how she presents herself – and that goes across her brand. It goes across her brand from Instagram pictures to the way that she talks to you in person, and what she wears and when she speaks. It is all just like communicating one specific brand message, and that is what my brand does and what other people’s do. It is still just being authentically you and just putting out in a way that is clearly communicated. Melanie: That is such great advice. [0:11:24.7] What do you think are the first steps that event planners should take when they are starting their business? Some of them are starting right from scratch, and some might have been in business for a long time, but they are either rebranding. There is an element of startup there. Jo-Ná: I got it. What I usually tell people to do which is the step that they often skip, is you need to get your team together – the team that you cannot avoid having. You can avoid having an assistant for a little while. You can avoid having a graphic designer for a little while. You cannot avoid taxes and you cannot avoid the law. Those are two things that no matter where go on the planet, you’re going to have to tend to. What I usually tell people to do is if you are not in a position where you can hire somebody, go and have a consultation. Talk to them specifically about your business, tell them what it is that you want to do, and ask them specifically what steps do they think that you need to take in order to set things up the right way. You’re creating the container for you to bring in money. I just remember my coach saying something like, “Even if you don’t have the clients, get the folders together, talk to your accountant, and get everything ready so that when you are finally at the place where you are getting those clients and making that money, you’re not scrambling trying to figure out how to deal with it all.” I think it is really important for you to create a really solid foundation from the very beginning and get your contracts in place – meaning get the service agreements to protect your money. The service agreements that you have in place take to your accountant and see what kind of business entity you need to get from a tax perspective. Then talk to your lawyer about what business sense you need to get from a liability perspective. I think that a lot of times people don’t do these steps because it makes it real and they feel as though they are dabbling and playing around until it gets to the point that where you have to deal with taxes or the law. It really is taking those initial baby steps to actually making your dream a reality. Melanie: I totally agree. One of the first steps I took when I started my event planning business was exactly that. I met with an accountant and I met with a lawyer. At that time, I had virtually no money to my name but I also know that if I don’t do this now, it is going to kick me in the butt later. I got two pieces of advice, one from the lawyer and one from the accountant that completely saved me at tax time. Had I not done what they suggested, I never would have thought about it, but had I not done it I don’t know how much money I would have owed in taxes. Jo-Ná: It’s insane. I’m so glad that you brought that up because people don’t understand until you kind of put in a real world example. I had a client who came to me who didn’t get advice from attorney about what business entity she should get, she only got it from an accountant. I always tell people that getting a business entity is a two-fold advice process. You need to know the perspective of the lawyer and also the perspective of the accountant, and then you can make an informed decision. She didn’t do that, she didn’t talk to a lawyer, she just talked to an accountant, got the wrong business entity, and ended up owing half of what it was that she made that year in taxes – and it shut down her business. Melanie: Oh no! Jo-Ná: Yes, it was horrible. Now mind you, she owed a whole bunch of money so it was either she shut down the business and try to come up with the money and pull together a tax payment plan with the IRS and do all of that stuff, or go to jail. The options were pretty slim and these are things that people need to deal with. Obviously I’m not trying to scare anyone, but I am. You really need to take this stuff seriously if you’re going to get into business. It’s not hard, and you can probably vouch for that, it is just literally having the conversation, talking to somebody, and getting the right information that you need in order to create what it is that you want to see. The legal and the taxes should not be a barrier to you putting your voice out into the world. Just bite the bullet and freaking do it. Melanie: Right. You know it surprised me as well and this was a block for me, as I’m sure it is for many people especially when they are just getting started, is the idea that it is going to cost so much money to go and see a lawyer and see an accountant. In fact, it actually wasn’t nearly as much as I thought it was. Like I said, it actually saved me much more at tax season so it was well worth the money I spent, and it set me up for success for years to come. Jo-Ná: Absolutely. [0:16:19.2] The thing about that is that I’m going to do the whole tough momma coach right now, but people do use that as an excuse because if you have never even talked to a lawyer before, you don’t know and you’re just freaked out. You’re freaked out and you don’t want to take the steps to really make the dream real because if you make it real, it’s not a dream anymore and now you have to take steps. So a lot of times people like to stay stuck in that cycle and so they use everything as an excuse – “I don’t have the money to hire a coach. I don’t have the time to go see a lawyer. All this stuff costs me so much money.” It’s a bunch of crap and its all excuses. There are so many lawyers who do free consultations. There are so many accountants who would be more than happy to take a couple of minutes out of their day to talk to you to get you set up on the right path. What that means for them is that if they help you in this way, and then guess what? You might come back to them. You have to remember, all of us are entrepreneurs too so we understand the value in helping you from that perspective, and also we’re committed to helping you be the best person that you’re going to be and be able to put yourself out in the world in the way that you want to be put out in the world – and not have something like legal or tax holding you back. When you think about both of those things, all that is standing in your way is you. Like you said, it is going to help you in the long run and then you don’t have crazy things like your business having to get shut down, or having to pay this crazy amount of tax that you don’t have because you don’t have the clients yet. Just set it all up right initially, and then you don’t have anything to worry about per say. Melanie: I love the smack down. Jo-Ná: I kind of have to do this sometimes because I don’t want to hear that stuff like, “Oh, I can’t do it…blah, blah, blah.” It’s all excuses. You’re either going to do it or you’re not going to do it. Jumping in the middle and staying in the middle ground, that is not going to fly. We have a very, very short amount of time here on earth as we have seen, so it’s time for you to just take your life into your hands, take your business into your hands, and get out there and do what you were meant to do in the world. The world needs your voice. Don’t let anything hold you back, especially not tax or law when you can simply have a 30 minute conversation and get it solved. Come on, now! Melanie: Agreed. [0:18:45.3] It’s great to have that conversation too because a part of team just going back to what you said earlier, you can give up on an assistant for a little while, but you want to create the relationship with those people as well. Having that conversation really helps you do that. Do they fit with your personality? Do you communicate in a similar way? Can they communicate to you so that you understand what they are talking about? Jo-Ná: That is really important because I hear a lot of people tell me all the time that the reason why they like me is because I am really approachable and warm. I just noticed that a lot of times I was like, “You have to think about it. These are team members that you’re going to have and that you’re going to bring on your team and you want to make sure that you gel with them and they are not speaking in crazy legal terms where you don’t understand what they are talking about.” You want to make sure that they understand your vision, they have bought into it, and they believe in what it is that you’re doing. Then they feel more connected to what it is that you’re doing and want to help you put it out in the world. All of that is so extremely important and just like any other team member like an assistant or graphic designer, you have to have people on your team that really want to support you in the way that you need. You shouldn’t be going to these legal in a box sites, filling out information, and popping out a contract. It’s not going to protect you. Take the time to really invest in yourself and in your business because you deserve to have a really solid team to help you get through the perils. Entrepreneurship is hard enough so you need to have solid people behind you to help you. Melanie: Absolutely. I totally agree. You had mentioned a couple of things like business structures. Let’s just talk about the business structure and kind of the best business structure for event planners to consider when they are getting their business going – or even down the road because you could change your business structure as you go. Jo-Ná: [0:20:44.9] You can. I think that business structure is really a personal thing and you really need to speak those two people on your team to really talk about would actually be right for you. What you really need to consider is that you need to consider where it is that you want to grow to. What is the ultimate vision? What is the ultimate plan? Even as far as you can see it, maybe you don’t know what you’re going to be doing 10 years down the line – but you know for the foreseeable future this is what it is that you want to do. Then your tax planner and lawyer can help you figure out what would be the best structure for you. What I would say is that it really depends on the level of liability that you have. In an event planning business where you’re dealing with maybe a medical convention or something that has a little more risk attached it like outdoor events, or festivals for example, or maybe you’re doing some type of outward bound retreat – you want to make sure that you have a solid business entity like a corporation, LLC, S Corp, or something like that to really put a shield between your personal assets and the debts and liability of your business. Also it will allow you to be able to pull together contracts, releases, and things like that, where somebody is actually contracting with your company and not directly with you personally. You want to think about those things, and also when it comes to taxes, if you don’t have a company that doesn’t have a lot of liability you could operate as a sole prop for a little while until you get some income. A lot of accountants will tell you that, but again, when you are a sole prop you operate without any liability protection. If you have no assets and you don’t have a high-risk business, then it might be a good option for you until you get revenue coming through the doors. That is why I said it is really a personal thing that you need to thing about before you decide. [0:22:58.0] When it comes to having an LLC versus having an S Corp, because I know that a lot of people want to know about that, many times what you need to consider are a couple of things like the cost. For example in New York, an LLC is considerably more expensive than creating a corporation. The formation cost is one thing that you need to consider. You also need to consider how it is that you are going to be paying yourself. Do you plan on having employees? Because if that is something that you want to do, you might want to for an S Corp structure but paying yourself is a bit more complicated because you have to set up pay roll. It is a little bit more complicated, but having an S Corp means that you don’t incure double taxation which is something that happens when you have a corporation potentially. Tax is one perspective that you want to consider. You also want to consider where it is that you want to grow to, so with an LLC, you only have members. You can’t have shareholders – so if you’re planning on creating the kind of business where you want to grow, have investors, and offer shares of your company, that is something that is not completely out of the realm of possibility. There are angel investors and things like that that help start up. That is something that you many want to do, but you might want to consider being an S Corp versus an LLC because you can offer them an actual share of the company in exchange for their capital that they are putting in and investing into the company initially. That is why I said that I don’t want to get too complicated, but these are the things that you need to consider – where do you want to go to, the formation costs, the tax liability that you will incur, and then how will you pay yourself. It is a lot easier to pay yourself with an LLC. These are things that you want to think about. Melanie: Right. This just goes back to our point of the importance of talking with a lawyer and an accountant to make sure that you are set up properly for what your specific requirements are. Jo-Ná: And what specifically do you want? If you have an LLC, you can file for S Corp status at the federal level if you’re in the United States. That is an option as well so that you will get the tax benefit of having an S Corp, but also have the LLC ease of creating and formulating the company. Again, you really want to talk to professionals about these types of things so that they can guide you in the best direction and help you to understand what you need to do and how you want to create your event planning business. Melanie: Jo-Ná, are there any other common mistakes that you see event planners and small business owners making? Jo-Ná: Yes. [0:26:10.4] One thing that event planners usually will make sure that they have an initial proposal for the project that they are doing, but they don’t usually follow that up with a solid contract that talks about the liabilities, confidentiality, payment, structure, and when. These are the kinds of things that are very, very important for you to have in place after the initial proposal goes out. You send the proposal, everyone goes, “Yay! We love each other and want to work together,” and then they sign the initial offer, but then you have to follow that up with a contract. You follow that up so then you can make sure that the arrangement of how you’re going to be paid, either before the event, during the event, certain markers in the event, how you’re going to settle up the bill after, what are your specific costs going to be, and how are you going to account for extras. For example, if you have to pay for costs out of pocket that you didn’t initially account for, how are you going to arrange that in the contract? Are you going to give them receipts? Do they have preapproved every expense? These are just little nuances and things that you want to get out of the way initially when you start the agreement so there is no fighting back and forth. You don’t want to have that kind of relationship as you’re pulling together an event. [0:27:52.1] One other thing that you want to think about is making sure that you have release forms, liability forms, and things like that at the event that you have. When people come in and you’re going to be filming or you’re going to be putting any type of pictures out, you want to make sure that everybody and their momma signs an agreement or release form when they are at the event that says they get released from any liability if they end up hurting or injuring themselves and that they are allowing you to use their name, likeness, and their image at the event – and afterwards if you decide to use the video or photos and put them in some type of promotional materials for yourself. You don’t want to be censored from doing that because somebody goes, “Hey! I didn’t want my face to be shown there and I didn’t sign anything that said you could use that.” Those are the kinds of things that I usually tell people who are putting on their initial events is to make sure that you have all the proper things like a medical release form, video and photography disclaimers, and making sure that you follow up the initial proposal with a service agreement. Melanie: Nice. I love that. Thank you for sharing those because those are pretty easy things that you can get volunteers to do at the door and make sure that everyone has it when they come in. Jo-Ná: Absolutely. You want to make it so they cannot go into the event, so have it at your front table when they are coming into the event. Let’s just say you’re doing it at a hotel or something, before they can even get to the door make sure they sign the agreement. That is their barrier to entry, and if they don’t want to be photographed and things like that, then you could have a section in your event. So it’s not like, “Oh, you can’t come in now,” but you might have a section where it is like, “You guys are going to be in the no photography section,” for example. Whatever type of concessions that you want to make for those people, but definitely you want to make sure that your volunteers make sure that everybody signs. An easy way to do this is to give them wristbands, name tags, or something that shows that they actually went to the table, they actually signed, and now can enter the event. Melanie: Right. I love that. Thank you so much for those tips. Jo-Ná, I really want to thank you so much for being here and sharing your knowledge and expertise, and most of all your energy around this. It has been an absolute pleasure having you here and for taking that time because I know you are super busy. Jo-Ná: Thank you so much. It was a really, really great time. I love talking about this stuff and I love helping people understand what they need to do in order to just be successful as entrepreneurs. It’s tough when you’re facing so many different things. You don’t want silly things like legal to be a barrier to what you want to do. So thank you for putting on this class and allowing people to access this level of knowledge for them to be able to do what they do. Thank you very much as well and for inviting me. Melanie: It’s been a pleasure. I love sharing knowledge so I’m always happy to do this. It’s a popular question that I really wanted to address it. Again, thanks Jo-Ná for being here and everyone else for being here and watching. I’d love to hear from you before we sign off. We talked about positioning at the very beginning of the webinar, and I want to hear about your positioning yourself and how you’re using your unique ability – so those things that you really excel at to propel your business, to start your business, and to really set yourself apart. So in the comments below, make sure that you leave a comment about how you’re using your unique ability and if you have not already, subscribe to my YouTube channel at EventPlanning BlueprintTV. As always, make sure that you get on over to https://eventplanningblueprint.com to sign up for our free weekly advice. Thanks again, Jo-Ná. Thank you guys and we will see you again next time. Have a great day everyone.