Every entrepreneur struggles with the timing of their business launch, pondering questions like: is the technology infrastructure in place to support my idea? Is there pent-up market demand? Is my target audience ready for my idea? Do I have time right now to devote to making this work?
Tracy Fuller struggled more than most business founders, and with questions that went well beyond those above. Looking for a way to get back out into the world after the death of her son, she started a small balloon delivery service for special occasions. Nothing describes her decision and the challenges she faced better than this quote from a podcast interview:
“I think anything that you recover from and you decide that you’re going to be a ‘thriver’ instead of just a survivor or a victim becomes a bullet in your belt and makes you stronger…I’ve had some challenges—child death, divorce, dealing with my ex-husband’s bi-polar disorder—those are some big things to tackle when you’re trying to raise kids and raise a business.”
Today, she’s come a long way from that kitchen-table business delivering balloons and signs for events. Her company, InnovativEvents, now plans and manages events ranging from small board meetings to high-impact nonprofit fundraisers to corporate events for Fortune 500 clients.
She’s launched a separate venture, Event Heroes, to share the knowledge she’s acquired over the years through training and educational resources for early-career event planners.
Here’s the inspiring story of Tracy’s journey from delivering balloons to kids’ parties to delivering strategic event planning and execution for tech giants and global brand clients.
The InnovativEvents team works closely with each client to achieve their goals. That means using active listening skills to understand what they really need and why they are doing their event in the first place. Sometimes the team’s role is to help determine exactly what the role is.
Once the “why” for the event is determined, InnovativEvents gets involved in the how, where, what, and who.
Becoming a partner with clients, listening actively, and building relationships is often what sets the group apart from other event design and production companies.
Year founded: The company was founded under the name Happy Occasions in 1987 as a sole proprietorship. When the business went international in 2004, the name and structure were changed to Innovativevents, Inc., an S-Corp.
Funding rounds: Happy Occasions started as one of those kitchen table businesses, funded by Tracy’s mother with $150.00 which was used primarily for supplies and printed flyers.
Current size: Multiple Fortune 500 clients including a few Fortune 100, and several of the tech giants. Staff size has varied over time from three to 10 employees. InnovativEvents also works with a select group of event services partners for lighting and sound, entertainment booking, event management software, staging, and event furniture.
Webbiquity: What inspired you to work on a solution to this particular problem?
Tracy Fuller: The company history comes from tragedy, but when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. I wanted a way to celebrate life after our son died, and helping others celebrate was a good way to work out of the gloom that had enveloped us.
What I found was I really enjoyed seeing others celebrate and have a good time. I love to stand in the back of the room and see the joy events bring. In the corporate event arena, they don’t necessarily party like the social or wedding markets, but learning is key.
Our clients come to us when they realize they have out grown their own event abilities.
Corporate event planners are great at many things, but look to use for help with everything from AV and lighting recommendations, suggestions of entertainment to fit their conference, and venue décor to strategic guidance to help them achieve their goals.
As a production and décor company, we get exposure to all sorts of different segments of business and what works for one segment might work for another but since the planners or organizers don’t have that exposure, they don’t know about it. Staying informed in the industry is key to being able to bring new and exciting elements to our clients events.
Another thing we deal with is planners or clients who have seen something on Pinterest and don’t know how to make it work, or have many ideas that don’t tie together. Our job is to steer them in a direction that accomplishes the desired look and feel, and ties it all together with their message.
Every element of the event should support the purpose of the event. That includes everything from the entryways and side drapes all the way to the centerpieces. This also helps to set the mood for the attendees and help our clients create a clear and precise meaning for their event.
Watching people make positive comments to our meeting planner clients or having their boss congratulate them on a job well done is just incredibly satisfying. It is so gratifying to know they know we make them shine!
Webbiquity: What were the most effective channels or methods for you to get the word out to prospective customers when you first launched your services?
Tracy Fuller: My tenacity allowed me to get out there and do my own guerrilla marketing. I printed and handed out a ton of flyers (the internet didn’t exist at that time) and gave my elevator speech to anyone who would give me 30 seconds. No one was safe from my little elevator speech, and it worked.
I was full force, called everyone I could imagine, and built a nice little business that started to grow via word of mouth. I joined networking groups, aligned myself with other businesses that were like mine but offered different services, and found myself learning many different elements of the event business.
Now we don’t get to just sit back and watch the business come in. Continued networking, doing events with amazing results, and keeping clients and attendees happy lead to long term relationships and returning business. We’ve had many events that we have done over 15 -20 yrs. That’s a long time for a vendor/client relationship to last!
Webbiquity: Finish this sentence: “Knowing what I know now, if I were starting over today, what I would do differently is…”
Tracy Fuller: Hire a good team! Instead of doing everything myself, I would have hired earlier and for those things that took me away from what I do best. It’s hard when you are bootstrapping your business to hire but there are other ways to find partners to help that can help you build quicker.
Webbiquity: What’s the most important advice you could offer to an entrepreneur starting out today?
Tracy Fuller: Get with a mentor, coach, or someone who can show you the ropes.
I’ve seen those who try to go it alone, and as with any new venture, the learning curve is huge. You will save time and maybe even your business if you find someone who has already made all the rookie mistakes you are bound to make and can help you be aware, watch out, and overcome without falling on your face.
There are too many opportunities out there to not take advantage of what you can learn from others who have already done it.