Do the Damn Thing: Event Planning with Joe Moller [Video]
You go through all the ups and downs of running a small business. Sometimes you want to give up cause you have no idea what to do.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could hear from other fellow entrepreneurs who underwent the same struggles as you? Who could give you insight on how to overcome those struggles?
That’s why we started our weekly series, Do the Damn Thing.
Every week, Laura (our Digital Marketing Director) is picking the brains of fellow solopreneurs and entrepreneurs for advice, tips, and inspiration to overcome the everyday hurdle of starting and running a business.
You’ll find our weekly LIVE videos on Facebook every week.
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Meet Joe Moller
This week’s guest is Joe. He runs a full-service, boutique event production company in Los Angeles.
Watch the video and find out how he did the damn thing.
Read the script:
Laura: Hey, everybody. My name is Laura Foy, and I am your host for Do the Damn Thing. This week I am talking to entrepreneur Joe Moller. Hi Joe!
Joe: Hi Laura!
Laura: Joe runs a boutique event production company based in Los Angeles. And Joe, how long have you been doing that?
Joe: Events altogether almost 20 years, Joe Moller events since 2007, so better part of 13 years.
Laura: As an event planner, do you have a specialty? I know there are wedding planners. There are people who throw Grammy awards events. Do you have a niche?
Joe: There are opportunities I stay away from. For example, weddings. Most of my clients tend to be consumer brands that are Fortune 100 brands. Most people have heard of them, and all of them need to connect with their consumer base in ways outside of their internal resources. L’Oreal, OPI, British Airways, Variety Magazine, Lexus are a couple of examples.
Laura: Wow. That’s nice. Here’s what I really want to know. How did you get started? Those of you at home may not be aware, but Joe and I have known each other for quite a long time.
Joe: Since we were kids!
Laura: Yeah! Since we were babies. Exactly. We worked at a television network. You may have heard of it – called G4. And we were running around Los Angeles, like crazy little kids. At the time, we were both trying to put our hand in television, which is a rite of passage. If you live in Los Angeles, you must try television. But, you were also making a movie, right? Tell us a little bit about that.
Joe: As you kind of mentioned, I’ve always been interested in creative projects. Television for me, I would compare that to the skeleton of event production, right? Producing television shows: You have lighting and sound and props and catering and security, and a lot of the same logistics that go into event production. So that’s sort of how I learned the nuts and bolts of what I’m doing.
The documentary project you’re talking about. We had another colleague, Steven, who collaborated with me. A project that’s still very interesting and dear to my heart. Steven brought me this project, which was a documentary about a casino that was fully integrated at a time in American history where integration had not yet happened. It had all the drama of Vegas: mafia, singers, dancers, celebrities. And at the time, it was a very attractive project.
To your point about trying entertainment, suffice to say, neither Steven and I turned that into anything bigger than our own production. But it’s still a project I look back on, and I’m proud to be part of and a body of knowledge I’m happy to know and talk about.
Laura: Absolutely. And that’s kind of interesting. Everything you do. All of your past work experience. You’ve taken little bits and pieces of it and applied it to your company. Would you say that’s true?
Joe: That’s really it. For anyone who’s unsure of starting their specific project or doesn’t know how to get started with their own business, look back at what you’ve learned and apply that to this new project. In my case, I wasn’t smart enough when I started event production to know that I didn’t know enough. I liked going to parties, so I wanted to throw parties.
At the time in Los Angeles, pre-COVID, we’re in a town full of events. People go to a party on any day of the week for anything. So in my particular neck of the woods, I had access to a lot of things I could study and look at and see on TV and reverse engineer.
If you don’t live in a part of the country where there’s a lot of that stuff going on, turn to the Internet, Instagram, Google, and study what you’re interested in. It’s oftentimes not much more complicated than taking a few notes and saying, “I think I can do this.” Which is really all I did.
Laura: Tell me a little bit more about that. How did you get started? Most people would think that you need to know somebody, you need to have a lot of money, or you need to have some master business plan.
Joe: At the time I started, there was not the body of education. There was not the ability to get a degree. If you are someone who thrives in an educational environment, I’ve gone to universities and spoken with featured speakers in front of students learning about event production. So if that’s how your brain works and you like instruction and taking notes and an academic approach, find a night class, find an online class. Sign up and pay attention.
In my case, you know, it’s funny as it sounds, I did have a friend who was involved in the industry. And much like the productions that we worked on, I took that skillset and said to this guy, “Hey, I want to do more of this with you.” And kind of worked my way up through the different facets of event production.
So almost what you would call an internship today. I learned and worked with different experts. Much like television production: There’s a guy who’s in charge of furniture rental. There’s a woman who’s in charge of drapery. There’s a woman who runs a catering company.
There’s all of these people in your local market. Reach out to them and ask if you can shadow them for a day. Ask if you can work for them for a day. The nature of the work I do is very creative, and I like to think that’s what propelled my agency forward, but at the same time, it’s very simple.
I joke with most people that I rent couches for a living.
Laura: I’m looking at your website. You know, this looks a lot like Brittany Spears. Is that Brittany Spears on your website?
Joe: Her father was an interesting dude. I met him because he was friends with the Maloof family who owns the Palms Casino. Maloof family was a client. And one of the Maloofs enjoyed the cooking for Mr. Spears. So very quickly on in that relationship, I learned you don’t need a fancy, big-name caterer to provide your clients with the type of food they’re looking for.
And that was a really valuable lesson to me because I think the industry standard is to turn to the big name, the fancy name, the established institution, and your client base may not need or be able to afford that. So one of the tools that I use that I think has been really important is understanding that not every solution works for every problem and has more than one solution prepared.
You don’t have to have Caviar and Escargot for dinner every night to serve that to a client who likes it. It’s a lot of listening. It’s a lot of learning. I’ve definitely been more educated through this career path than I brought into the job in the beginning.
Laura: So, what you’re saying is you kind of go for it and hope for the best.
Joe: That’s another way of looking at it. These are things in my early twenties that I hadn’t eaten before. And just because I didn’t know what it was, doesn’t mean somebody didn’t want to pay me to get it. So you have to take it; it’s really not about what Joe likes all the time. It’s about what person A is hiring Joe to do, and I have to find person B that sells it, makes it, cooks it, and connect the dots.
For anyone who’s unsure of starting their specific project or doesn’t know how to get started with their own business, look back at what you’ve learned and apply that to this new project.
Laura: It’s an interesting point because that’s really, that’s a common thread. You have to learn that it’s not necessarily about what you like; it’s really tapping into your target audience and finding what they like (or what your client likes).
Because as much as I wanted it to be all about me, it won’t sell. If it were up to me, I’d have NSYNC playing on a loop over and over again. With that being said, you do some amazing work. So who’s the creative mastermind behind these things?
Joe: I definitely take a lot of pride in the original ideation. So you’ll see some pictures. It’s specific houses that we all recognize. You’ll see brands like L’Oréal brought to life in clear lucite trucks. I’ll be given a project: “We’re launching this widget. We want to send these messages.” And then it’s my job to translate that text-based communication into a real-life visuals. In some cases, it’s making giant, foam letters. In other cases, it’s making clear letters that glow in the dark that we fill with product. In other cases, there are no letters involved. So really, the opportunity I have is to take someone’s email or text or phone call and bring it to life. It’s like playing with Legos, except I have to put all the pieces together. But, I don’t have a roadmap, oftentimes.
Laura: You throw parties for a living. You throw events, glamorous, beautiful events that some people can only dream of going to. That’s your day-to-day. If you put that glamorous stuff aside, what’s the hardest part of the job?
Joe: For anyone who’s in a traditional W2, employment capacity in any format now. You have one boss. You learn English once. If that person tells you “great” or “that’s horrible,” you begin to understand what they mean. I tell people I have to learn English 900 times a year. Because even though every client uses the same words, “This is great. That’s horrible. I love this. I don’t really like that.”
I have to translate what those really mean because even though they’re expressing it in simple terms, they don’t always have the same implication. So one of the big challenges with new clients and even existing clients is learning to speak their language, learning to listen, and learning to translate.
“Oh, she’s telling me she likes this, but I can see in her face, she does not.”
Laura: I would think that’s tough. That’s like going on a first date over and over and over again, but never getting to know the person.
Joe: Except I never have to pay for dinner.
Laura: Now I would think that you do have to pay for dinner. Isn’t your industry all about schmoozing?
Joe: In that capacity, yes. But in the event-client relationship, a double-edged sword is you’re spending someone else’s money. So if you’re recommending balloons or flowers or chairs or couches, and it’s a great idea to you – but when they get there, and they don’t like it, you are now responsible for that mistake. And unlike working as part of a larger team, if you’re a micro-enterprise as a solopreneur, there’s no one to blame.
Laura: And that’s an excellent point. Nobody can do everything by themselves as much as we want to be self-sustained, and I can do it all. At the end of the day, you’re probably going to have to hire somebody as you grow.
Joe: Correct. And you don’t want to do it all because that means you’re not very good at one thing because the opportunity cost is your decent at a lot of things. So for anyone looking to enter this industry, figure out what your good thing is.
If you have a great sense of floral design, you can pick florists that really get you. If you are a foodie, find caterers that offer unique culinary experiences.
In my case, I love artwork. I love Legos. I liked the idea of building things. So my skillset, I compare oftentimes to a general contractor. I’m not framing the house. I’m not running the electrical wire. I’m not the plumber, but I know how to manage all of those people. We build a house at what the client’s looking for, and that’s a lot of times how I explain it when I’m sharing how event production works.
You’re not always moving furniture and not always fluffing pillows. You’re very rarely pouring drinks, but you’re accountable for all of that. So you need to understand what that expectation is, what a great Manhattan looks like. You don’t have to drink, but you have to understand what it is.
Laura: Sounds stressful.
Joe: According to Forbes magazine, event production is in the top five stressful careers.
Laura: Did you know that prior to going in?
Joe: I knew less than most people when I started.
Laura: You kind of didn’t know what you didn’t know, and you just did the damn thing.
Joe: To that point, there’s no force in the universe stopping you from being successful. So when I wanted to get in this, I had a relationship with someone who was doing it already, and I just reached out and said, “I want to do this.”
He knew I had no experience. I knew I had no experience, but I didn’t let that lack of knowledge block me from moving forward. I figured out how to get the experience. If you have a day job and are offered to work at your local academic center, your local religious center, there’s a lot of people (outside of COVID) who need a support staff.
And that’s a great way to see how things work on the other side of the coin. I joke with people, if you can make dinner for four, that doesn’t mean you can make dinner for 40. So be aware of the limitations of your knowledge. I stumbled through a lot. One person can’t do everything. One person shouldn’t tell a client you can deliver eight pallets of champagne to my house. That’s a lot of moving and boxing and unboxing. So there’s a lot of times where I look back where I think if someone could see what I was doing, they would not only laugh; they would feel bad for me.
Laura: Oh, poor Joe.
Joe: When it’s 100 degrees outside, and you’re moving 800 boxes of champagne that have six bottles each by yourself, that’s an all-day project as it turns out. Then you have to move them back outside after you move them in, which is the other part of that problem. Now, there are resources like TaskRabbit… opens in a new window to TaskRabbit website… and Fiverr… opens in a new window to Fiverr website…. There are so many more solutions available to the micro-enterprise.
I can’t tell you how impressed I am when I see smaller companies coming up using all these app-based technologies to put their team together until they’ve developed more resources for a larger team. I’m at a point now in my career where I joke with people that I have 150 years of experience because I have three 50-year-old vendors. You want to build up, level up. Slowly, but you also want to look at what the big companies are doing. I follow several of my competitors and colleagues online, and I’m oftentimes impressed with things I see. And then I can figure out how much they spent. And I know that one day I’ll have budgets that big.
Laura: Now, let’s talk about that real quick. You mentioned online. What is your social media strategy? Do you focus online? You have a small business website, but do you have a social media strategy?
Joe: My social strategy has always been to use Instagram as a vehicle for communicating concepts and images. My theory is that an organization, like Microsoft or Toyota, is looking for people in my capacity. They’ll look at the style of vocabulary I’ve developed.
- How does he serve alcohol?
- How does he serve food?
- What is the decor look like?
They’re not looking for their solution. They’re looking for someone who can understand it. Implement their ideas by themselves. So my social media pages are often populated with images that are in high contrast to other images that aren’t redundant because I don’t think my core client base is scrolling through 800 pictures to find their favorite one. I think they’re very quickly scanning and saying, “Okay. He’s technically capable. Now, let me communicate with him to see if he’s the right fit.” So with that, as my sales funnel to use diverse images that I own and I’ve created from my events, I want people to see it through my lens to understand that I can do what they need me to do.
There are small agencies that reach out to me every day for SEO optimization for content building. I don’t feel like that’s necessary to gain new clients. I feel like that’s an opportunity that if you had those resources, spend that extra money on your first event. Tell your clients whose budget is X that you spent X plus, so they could have better flowers. If you’re having a hard time making a decision, I’ll offer to pay for it. If I believe in it enough, I’ve developed a long-term relationship in the end. So until you have additional resources to invest across the board, my recommendation is invest in your relationships and then document those on social. Don’t start with investing in social until you have a relationship to share.
Laura: I want to talk about your first event. We’re trying to help people to get started with their business. Where do they start? How do they do it? A lot of that, I think, is mindset. A lot of it is having some innate faith in yourself that you can do this. So talk about your very first job.
Joe: I am very lucky, and I’ve been able to harness that luck into a long successful career. My first clients happen to be a recording artist and producer by the name of Dr. Dre and his business partner, Jimmy Iovine. This was at a time in the LA landscape where events happened regularly. They happened in large formats. And getting invited to a party was cool, but it wasn’t anything unique. In the case of Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, as they are in their own league, I collaborated as much as I had input with either of them. These are people who know what they want.
Laura: How did you get to them? Did you call Dr. Dre?
Joe: Oh, you don’t call Dr. Dre. Through a series of relationships, right place, right time. And to that point and to the name of the show, you gotta be at the intersection for someone to find you. So put your name out there, put your Instagram up, put your social, make your social channels active. Be available when the phone rings. Answer it. And eventually, you’ll get one of those calls. It may not be day one, but you got to show up.
Laura: And maybe start small, like don’t, don’t expect Dr. Dre on day one.
Joe: Expect Dr. Dre on day one, but be ready for whoever comes in line and ahead of him. If he’s not reaching out, you know, So it’s a great place to start. As I mentioned earlier, our local religious centers, schools, your own social network, places of employment. You could be something as simple as planning your own dinner party at home and taking pictures of it. It could be something as simple as working with friends and documenting that process. Again, there’s no force in the universe stopping anybody from being successful. If you’re constantly waiting for that big picture client or that celebrity to call you, all you’re doing is nothing. Right. So stop doing nothing, do something, and whatever that something is, somebody will be interested in it if it looks good.
Laura: Interesting that you say that. Cause I was on Instagram recently, and I found the Life of a Digital Marketer. I was scrolling through, and I found this company that literally throws dinner parties in outdoor spaces in fields.
Joe: Outstanding in the field.
Laura: Yeah. And I thought this is so great. And then, like that could be somewhere that someone who doesn’t have a connection with Dr. Dre could get started. Just do your own thing in your backyard. Take beautiful pictures.
Joe: What’s interesting to me about that organization, that example, in terms of their style vocab, they are very pared down. It’s a folding brown chair. It’s banquet tables. They could be plastic. They could be old, simple, white linens, but what makes them so impactful is the scale of what they do. They did an event in Santa Monica, California, where they had one long white linen table on the pier. There was no design component to it, with all due respect, but it was such an impactful event to be at because it was a large format gathering.
Obviously, in today’s day and age, that’s most likely not your first client. I’m taking very simple tools, and creating a shared moment around them is sort of the DNA of every event.
It could be the biggest, most expensive wedding. It could be the smallest baby shower. Ultimately people in my position are tasked with creating those moments and those experiences. So even if you’ve never been to a baby shower, even if you’ve never been to a huge dinner party, think about what’s important. People want to connect. They want to have a conversation. They want to remember the moment.
Pro-tip number one: Don’t use tall flowers on dinner tables because you can’t see your guests. So when you see these very dramatic wedding pictures and huge gigantic flowers, notice what’s going on in a table height that separates the pros from the novices, right? If you tell your client, we want all these candles, and he or she sits down and can’t see anybody, you failed, and nobody cares what the candles look like. Find those great examples. Use Instagram, and take a lot of notes. Look at the details. If you don’t look at the tiniest details, it doesn’t matter. You’re never going to get the big opportunities.
Laura: Do you have any failures that you want to share with us?
Joe: Oh! Here’s a hard lesson that I think about often. I was very eager to engage with an entity that was much smaller. Keep in mind they were in a different part of the country. In my eagerness to engage in and work with them regularly because I saw their future potential, I didn’t thoroughly read the agreement that the client sent back to me. Sorry to sound misogynistic: She had manipulated the agreement to a very one-sided situation. That was a huge red flag. Instead of listening to my inner voice and not signing and walking away, I signed it and shared it enough. We had a huge problem. The problem was not one that I caused, but it became one that I was responsible for. So make sure your contracts are solid. And if someone changes it, ask them why.
Laura: Yeah, absolutely. I want to talk real quick about COVID-19 and how that’s affected your business. A lot of people are moving to the online space, both professionally and personally. How is this affecting your business?
Joe: Prior to COVID happening, I was on the road 11 months out of the year. Sometimes I was home a week or two, only a month. Obviously, when the pandemic started, all that ended. There’s a lot of movement in the word: pivoting.
People are trying in Los Angeles to do these driving concepts and all of these sort of knee-jerk responses. Honestly, I don’t believe in that. I worked really hard to get where I am professionally. My reputation management is extremely important. I don’t want to be looked at as a company that now has almost 20 years in business doing virtual weddings or doing drive-ins. That’s not what we’re good at. That’s not my skill set.
I’ve waited patiently. I’ve maintained client relationships by checking in with the people, not asking for work, just asking how they’re doing. I’ve managed to keep up our social sharing, old images, cute memes like everyone else, and slowly I’m getting requests for proposals, and we’re doing some small mailer projects for big companies. But that still allows us to put our fingerprint on the experience.
So if you believe in yourself and you’ve got some savings, these are the times you use it and hope for the best. But plan for the worst, and as corny as that sounds, if you haven’t done that from the beginning of your business, you’re not managing yourself the same way you’re managing your clients. And that’s really something to pay attention to.
Laura: Awesome, Joe. Well, we out of time. I want to thank you very much. And I wish you the best. And for everyone out there who is interested in getting started in business, we’re going to do this every single week with different entrepreneurs, different solopreneurs, and we’ll be giving advice on how to get started and do the damn thing.
So please like us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram… opens in a new window to Hipcat Society Instagram page…, and hit up Joe at joemoller.com… opens in a new window to Joe Moller Events website….