Management skills critical to business success — Event planner

Victoria Energy is the Chief Executive Officer of Toria’s Events. She tells KEHINDE AJOSE about how she started her event planning business

Wline were your childhood ambitions?

As a child, I had a strong desire to be successful, wealthy and famous. I considered different career paths in a bid to achieve my future aspirations. At the age of 12, my desire was to become a renowned lawyer. After a while, I picked interest in acting. I joined the drama groups in my church and school in order to harness my skills. As I progressed into my teenage years and got into the university, my goal was to graduate and work for a multinational company. Now, I am adding value to the economy through my business.

What educational qualifications do you possess?

For my elementary education, I attended Central Bank of Nigeria Primary School, Satellite Town, Lagos. I then went to Command Day Secondary School, Ojo, Lagos, for my secondary education. I later bagged a degree in Economics from the University of Ilorin, Kwara State.

Why did you venture into events planning?

Throughout my years in the university and after, I found myself always helping friends and family members plan their parties and other occasions. I was always accompanying them to shop for outfits as they loved my fashion sense.

I also have a flair for cooking and hosting guests to small house parties. I love taking the stress of organizing parties off people while making sure their guests are comfortable, and the event is successful. I also did several ushering jobs as an undergraduate.

In 2016, I decided to officially become an event planner. Someone who knew I had a passion for organizing events asked me to plan her wedding introduction. I did so with so much joy regardless of the fact that we were not even friends then. After the introduction, she reached out to me again to inform me of the wedding date and said they wanted my help again. It was at that point I decided to start getting paid for planning events. So, I agreed to plan her wedding at a fee. At first, she hesitated but later agreed. That was how the business started for me.

How much was your start-up capital and how did you raise it?

No capital was required to start the business. All I required were my skills, network and ability to deliver.

What are the limitations you have in the course of planning events?

Not having the right connections and network is one of the challenges of planning events in Nigeria. This has always been a major challenge but my passion, creativity, consistency and referrals from previous clients always keep me going.

Sometimes, tribalism can also play out when a couple contracts a planner that is not from their tribe and the parents disagree, saying, “How will she plan our event well and attend to our guests if she does not understand our language”? When that happens, I try to, at least, learn how to greet in their language before meeting with the client.

Also, when family members get involved and do not like the idea of ​​a planner, they would not adhere to the desire of the couple or celebrator. The challenge then would be how to satisfy one’s clients without starting a family war.

What are the greatest business lessons you have learned over the years?

I have learned three major lessons in the past few years. The first is to always look back at my experiences, reflect after each event and take notes of past mistakes because it shapes my future and makes me better at my next event.

The second lesson is to always over-prepare because one never knows what unexpected circumstances can arise to disrupt the success of the event. I go to the venue few days before the event and stay till late to monitor and supervise the setup. I have had a situation where a vendor supplied bad chairs and I did not notice until about 7:45pm when the hall put on their lights for the decorator to start working. I was so furious that I called them for a replacement that night but they were unable to deliver. I knew I had to quickly look for a solution that night because the venue was supposed to be ready by 10am the next morning. I called all the rental companies I knew until one came to my rescue, on the condition that I picked the chairs myself that night. I went to get chairs from the new vendor at about 12am and this dragged on till about 2am. I left the venue to my hotel room at about 2:55am and I barely had enough sleep before the event.

The third lesson is communication. It is important to always communicate with one’s staff, vendors and clients. One should also be honest and open with them. I always keep them informed of any changes or sudden updates in a timely and professional manner. Some vendors even get tired of me because I keep reminding them daily or weekly of the event brief and every detail relevant to the event.

How do you handle tough clients?

I always listen to my clients. I do not try to argue with them. I stay calm but assertive. I am firm with my decisions but also flexible when necessary. It does not get to me when they talk to me in a manner I don’t like, so I don’t react wrongly. I have come to understand that in this business, one gets to meet different people. One of the key things to make anyone successful in this line of business is to develop people management skills and I can confidently say I have mastered the art of managing my stakeholders.

I also ensure I document every conversation for future references and for transparency.

What advice do you have for young people who want to follow in your footsteps?

I learned never to be afraid of starting small, even when I wasn’t sure of what I was doing. So, I will advise them to do the same. Start small, do not procrastinate, believe in yourself, be consistent, be hardworking, be respectful, develop people management skills, be friendly with your clients and try to know them on a personal level, so you can understand their needs and tailor solutions to suit them.

Also, always have a plan B because anything can go wrong when you least expect it. Always maintain your composure and remain calm in the presence of your clients. Chaos can be handled behind the scene but as long as one stays in control and honestly communicates, one can pull off any event successfully.

In what ways did the COVID-19 pandemic affect or change your business model?

Initially, events had to be put on hold due to the pandemic, and that had a huge negative impact on the event industry and the economy in general. Nevertheless, with the relatively low number of cases on the continent, there has been a bit of flexibility concerning events. Social and corporate events have started to pick up. I ensure all my events are COVID-19 compliant in order to keep my clients and their guests safe.

First, I obtain an event clearance certificate from the Lagos State government before the date of the event if the location is in Lagos.

During the setup, I ensure the tables and chairs are spaced out adequately to observe social distancing within the venue. On the day of the event, we screen guests with a thermometer to detect elevated body temperature. We also enforce the use of nose masks and sanitisers for both guests and vendors.

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