How to become a freelance event planner or organiser

The events and hospitality sector has faced huge challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic. But if you enjoy bringing people together, now might be the time to investigate how to become a freelance event planner or organiser.

As spaces begin to open up again and restrictions have lifted, there’s a surge in enthusiasm to attend events. But it also means a growing demand for staff who can not only organise events, but understand how to work with new and evolving health and safety requirements. And at the same time, the move to virtual events has created a need for organisers with a greater knowledge of technology and online communities.

What does a freelance event planner or organiser actually do?

The key role of a freelancer planner or organiser is to deliver an event from conception to completion, using your knowledge and experience to manage everything required for success.

If you’re working as a freelance event planner or organiser, it may mean working across a diverse range of events, or specialising in an industry sector. And each client may want you to focus on different areas and responsibilities. But it’s likely to involve at least some of the following tasks;

  • Understanding client requirements and briefs
  • Developing creative and logistical plans
  • Overseeing event budgets
  • Securing locations and suppliers (including equipment, catering, security, first aid etc)
  • Planning layouts and schedules (potentially including securing speakers or special guests)
  • Arranging licenses, insurance and ensuring all legal regulations and requirements are met.
  • Managing the project by co-ordinating facilities, contractors, and attendees. And liaising with marketing and PR to promote the event.
  • Coordinating the delivery of any promotion material or information for attendees or delegates.
  • Organising event staff
  • Management and troubleshooting during the event itself
  • Overseeing the clear-up of the venue.
  • Post-event reporting and evaluation.

Self-employed event organisers working on their own conferences, festivals, or other events may need to oversee every detail. Whereas if you’re working with clients, they may already have the creative concept in place, and need help with the practical delivery.

In any case, you’ll be expected to have good communication skills to be able to liaise with everyone involved, including keeping speakers, guests and attendees happy. And to know what’s happening at any moment by being organised and detail-orientated.

What skills or qualifications do you need for event planning?

There are a wide range of courses and qualifications available for event management, up to degree level. And an increasing number of universities are now offering a BA in specific areas such as eSports events if you want to focus on competitive gaming competitions, or in combination with areas such as Tourism or Marketing.

And while there’s no formal entry requirement or barrier to becoming a freelance event planner or organiser without any qualifications, they can help to attract and reassure potential clients that you have a solid grounding in the skills needed.

The alternative is having on-the-job experience. This can come from working for an existing company to build up your credentials, or by creating your own small events and building from there. If you can identify a particular niche which is underserved, or have an idea for an event based on your own interests, it allows you to quickly gain a lot of practical experience. 

It’s also possible to volunteer for a huge range of charities, nonprofits and community organisations to assist them in putting on events. And in most cases, they’ll be incredibly grateful for the assistance as long as you don’t complain about starting out with some of the more basic tasks. 

In all cases, you’ll need to learn as much about the industry as possible, especially when it comes to the legal and financial obligations and risks involved. To be a successful freelance event planner or organiser, you’ll need to have a mixture of the following skills;

  • Detail focused and well organised
  • Calm under pressure and composed
  • Able to multitask and co-ordinate multiple people and priorities
  • Good communication and negotiation skills.
  • Social, and able to network with a wide range of people
  • Good financial awareness and budgeting skills
  • Able to negotiate effectively
  • Creative, particularly when problem solving
  • Motivated and resilient, even in the face of significant challenges
  • Knowledge of event planning and project management processes and software

You may be moving into event planning from other areas, or be looking at adding additional skills. Areas such as PR and Communications, Marketing, Design, Accountancy or Management will provide useful and complementary abilities.

Two freelance event planners having a discussion

How much can you earn as a freelance event planner?

Your income as a freelancer will always vary depending on your skills, experience and ability to negotiate with clients. And your potential earnings will also vary depending on the size, scale and focus of the events you work on. 

The National Careers Service estimates the average salary for an Event Manager ranging from £21,000 to £50,000 depending on experience. For freelance event planners, Glassdoor have an average base pay of £33,128 per year in the UK.

In the events industry, the career ladder ranges from Assistant, or Coordinator through to Planner or Manager, up to Director of Events. But you can also boost your freelance rates by specialising in a particular niche, or by hosting events in different areas of the country, with London tending to attract the highest pay.

These annual averages may not reflect your monthly earnings. In many sectors, events will be seasonal and clustered together around industry launches or the run-up to Spring, Summer or Christmas. So, you may need to plan for the majority of your income to arrive during a small number of months, and then quieter times of planning for the following year.

If you’re self-employed running your own events as a business, then the revenue and profit can be much higher, but you also take on the associated financial and legal risks if you incur a loss or a problem occurs.

How to find event planning clients?

If you have previous experience in events and hospitality, this is a useful way to secure your first freelance event planning clients. Even if you haven’t been responsible for that area in the past, you may be able to translate your related skills and existing relationships into your first official paid work.

For anyone starting out with no experience, securing client work will be a mixture of outreach and building your reputation. Networking with local venues and suppliers will give you valuable contacts and insight, and could lead to referrals. As can helping charities, non-profits or other community groups to host online or physical events. Many of these organisations will have lots of existing relationships with local business and potential sponsors.

Any relevant experience should be included in your online portfolio and any marketing material for your freelance business. It’s important to be honest and not wildly overstate your involvement or responsibilities, but events will typically generate a variety of local press coverage which can help attract interest in your services. 

It’s extremely useful to collect all of your previous experience, case studies and press clippings for an online portfolio which can be included in your emails and marketing to potential new clients. And may attract enquiries from anyone searching for an event planner, or if you’re sharing it via social media. 

You can build on this by adding advice, tips or guides to your website. Or by networking online with other event professionals who might refer clients or work when they’re fully booked, or if it’s in your specialist area.

Freelance event planner working on an iPad

The growth of freelance online event planners

The events industry was changing even before the coronavirus pandemic impacted live conferences and meetings. But the impact of lockdowns and social distancing has created a massive search in demand on virtual events, which looks set to continue as many people find them more convenient, or will remain reluctant to attend in-person for a variety of reasons.

With the global virtual events market predicted to grow nearly ten-fold over the next decade, with a rise in entirely online, or hybrid live and virtual events. LinkedIn reports that 72% of survey respondents in the UK and Ireland said they would continue organising virtual events in the long term, with a potential split between physical events (36%), hybrid events (24%) and virtual events (40%).

And there’s more involved than simply firing up Zoom and ensuring your webcam is on. The most in-demand skills for virtual event organisers were listed as:

  • Design skills for eye-catching visuals
  • Platform troubleshooting
  • Technical knowledge of events platforms
  • Technical ability to offer networking over video chat
  • Online advertising skills

Add the challenges of online moderation, managing questions from attendees and the other concerns of a successful virtual event, and it’s not surprising that specialist freelance online event planners will be in greater demand than ever.

Legal and Insurance Requirements for freelance event planners and organisers

As a freelance event planner or organiser, you’ll be expected to inform clients about all the legal requirements and other regulations they’ll need to have in place. And knowledge of the insurance and cover that will protect you and them if something goes wrong.

While venues and other suppliers may be able to help advise on specific areas, it’s likely that you’re going to be coordinating everything to ensure any licenses are acquired and insurance premiums are paid on time. And the exact requirements will vary depending on your local authority or council, and the nature of the event. 

Obvious examples include safeguarding if your event is catering to under-18s, or restrictions on the availability of alcohol for adult attendees. 

You’ll also need to advise clients about the business insurance they should take out, and be aware of what you need as a freelancer to protect yourself from financial loss.

Some of the core examples include:

  • Public liability – this can protect you against claims arising from injuries or loss suffered by a member of the public as a result of your work.
  • Professional indemnity insurance – this covers you if you make any mistakes which cost your client financially
  • Employers’ liability insurance – this is likely to be a legal requirement if you hire staff to run your business, or the event itself.

It’s important to understand the limits of the cover available, and what restrictions you may have to put in place as a result. For example, you may have to only accept volunteers above the age of 18 to ensure they’re covered by your insurance, or take out additional insurance if there are hazardous materials on site.

Event planners and organisers have a duty to plan, manage and monitor any event to ensure workers and the visiting public aren’t exposed to health and safety risks. The Health and Safety Executive have guides to planning and managing events which include communicating relevant information, construction and working with contractors. Including how to conduct risk assessments and other requirements.

More resources and support for freelance event planners

 Researching other freelance careers? Why not check out our other guides:

And you can get support and help if you’re starting out with self-employment, or still in the early stages of building your career, with the IPSE Incubator. The 12-month programme is currently free with IPSE membership, and includes advice, events, webinars, networking and more, tailored to anyone just beginning their freelance business.