Event planner Rachel Senner makes business personal by promoting her work and herself at the same time – through lifestyle photography. The result, an experience that looks like so much fun her followers can’t wait to work with her.
Vendors at a pop-up shop party seem to sprout overnight, like mushrooms. It looks so simple. Name the date, find a place, then invite a bunch of shops to set up tables, tents and displays.
But when it’s the first event you’ve ever planned, and you have to convince those vendors that it will be worth their time to come?
As Rachel Senner remembers her first pop-up shop party, it was less fungi-like ease, and more like giving birth: “Hundreds of phone calls, elbow grease, blood, sweat, tears and prayers. I was ready to quit.”
Rachel had just opened the proverbial shutters of her event planning business, Senner of Attention, and took on the pop-up shop party with the help of friend and photographer Meghan of Chicka Artistica Photography.
“We found a venue (The Chase Center on the Riverfront) and immediately got to work. I created a logo on Canva (which, by the way, I use Canva for pretty much all the graphic designs I do for events; that website saved my life!) for the Pop-up Shop Party, which served as the face of our project. As we gained vendors we would post their logos with the event logo to gain momentum for the event.”
The event not only kicked off a partnership that would help build Rachel’s business grow, but it was also a landmark moment – it’s how she got her first 100 attendees.
Rachel says, “I heard a lot of ‘No’ before I ever heard a ‘Yes’. Business owners are smart. They want a great return on investment, and to trust what seemed like a couple of newbie kids with their money and time took a big leap of faith.
When those vendors started showing up and setting up their products, and thanking us for allowing them to be there, I felt like I could do anything.
Those first vendors will always have a special place in my heart. They were the start of something really big.”
In this article, Rachel breaks down how she uses social media (and print media) to grow her business, why promoting yourself is key to promoting event planning, and her unique approach to event design.
Rachel uses Instagram as her home base, from which she produces her posts and material and then modifies them accordingly for Facebook and Twitter. That’s it – a three-pronged attack. But while the tools are few, the strategy that goes into making them tick is carefully considered.
I use social media like it’s my lifeline. I primarily communicate and advertise through social media, so it’s a HUGE part of my business.
Each post has at least two jobs to do – communicate with her audience, and keep a finger on the pulse of what they like and what they don’t. It’s like a game of ‘hot or cold’, and her follower’s responses tell her whether she’s getting warmer.
“Most of what I post on social media is to simply communicate with my client base, and figure out what makes them tick and what they want to see. So every post I make is very valuable. I can gauge what kind of audience I have, and what they like and don’t like. This has really helped with developing my business, new products and ways of communicating.
Even if half of my followers don’t want to plan an event, I want to make it look like so much fun and so pretty that they just can’t resist.”
If you were to take stock of her past 100 posts, you won’t see many that directly sell or promote event planning. Something like this post below is very much the odd duck.
Get the look with this Canva template: Watercolour Roses Instagram template.
But because so many of her posts are fun, informative and inspirational, she gets positive responses when she does use her social media to promote her latest event, product, or service.
When promoting events though, social media isn’t her go-to medium. For local events like the pop-up shop party, or her Ladies’ Yuletide Celebration, she uses traditional media – what she calls “small representations of the event” that potential guests can hold in their hands.
These tangible promotions not only take the form of flyers and invitations, but also items that multi-task, like the pop-up shop program that doubled as a road map to get to the event.
“If a flyer or invitation was on their fridge, or written down on their calendar, they would definitely be more likely to come to the event. For the Christmas event, it was also vital because women could take more than one flyer and invite friends. For the pop-up shop, programs were a road map to the event itself.”
Most importantly, each promotional object, flyer or invite, is pretty enough to act as a memento of the occasion.
“I think it’s important to speak to the different ways people feel things. Once the event is over, that little invitation can take them back to their memories of the event. The offline media doesn’t stop at the end of the event.”
Social media and traditional media aren’t the only ways Rachel reaches her audience though. She’s also started vlogging and incorporating lifestyle photography into her marketing repertoire.
“My friend Meghan is a lifestyle and portrait photographer (for the most part). I had NEVER thought twice about getting head shots, having professional photos of me and my boyfriend, or anything like it.”
Rachel saw Meghan, of Chicka Artistica Photography on Instagram before they ever met in person. One day, Meghan posted about wanting to network with other entrepreneurs, asking others to message her if they wanted to meet up and talk about business. When she and Rachel met, Rachel told her about this pop-up shop party idea she had.
“The pop-up shop party was an idea I had when I saw a local community center host a pop-up shop party with only 10 spots available. There were tons of local vendors asking to be added to a waiting list, and I was one of them. I decided it would be a lot of fun, a great way to get to know other local businesses, and a legitimate way to show off my skills to host my own pop-up shop party. Meghan was so excited and on board that it gave me the confidence to jump in with both feet.”
It didn’t take long for Rachel to see the benefits of having a professional photographer around. In fact, you might say she got hooked.
“Well, Meghan showcased her skills so well that I literally have not been able to stop having her take photos of me and for me since. I need them now. That’s what I want my clients to feel. I want them to discover another side of life they never expected, but that is so much fun they never want to stop.”
The Senner of Attention Instagram page is littered with personal photos of Rachel (and her boyfriend), not just at her events, but also travel selfies and random moments. But they have a common theme – they all share a sense of her fun personality.
Fun and personality make great business sense. They’re how Rachel connects with her audience on a personal level. Her social media is never just about promoting her business or selling her products or services. It’s mostly about her, as a person.
That personal touch is central to Rachel’s marketing philosophy. It’s all about creating authentic connections with people. It’s also why she’s decided to start vlogging.
“I added a Vlog for the sole purpose of letting my followers get to know me better. It’s no fun following someone you don’t want to invest time and energy into. People want to know YOU, not this shiny version of yourself. I try to be really real. People can sense that stuff.”
“I used to focus on just the tiny details, like the pattern on the napkins, or the shape of the escort cards. I put a lot of effort into making little areas special, and it could be time consuming. Now I focus more on the big picture, and making that ‘wow’ impact when guests first walk into the room.
I want them to feel a certain way, and this is usually accomplished with the grand entrance and overall impression of the event. Of course I still pay attention to the little details, but I’ve expanded on that over time and can pick and choose which details to spend time on.”
Rachel uses the six elements of event planning to help guide her creative vision, ensuring that events deliver the right feel by focusing on key aspects, rather than many small details.
“They are commonly called The Six A’s. They help you to visualize the entire event through the eyes of your guests, and they also help you get organized!
“These elements are Anticipation, Arrival, Atmosphere, Appetite, Amusement and Appreciation. When using these elements, it is really easy to think about every aspect of the event in compartments, and really difficult to forget anything! These should all be thought of with the budget in mind.”
Everything leading up to the event, including social media and traditional media promotions and invitations. If you need to advertise, make sure your event has synergy (when all of your marketing efforts align and promote the same message) – and know your audience. Why would they want to come to your event? What’s in it for them? Infuse every part of your messaging with your audience in mind to ensure maximum turnout.
How guests arrive, what their first impressions are when they come in. You can influence their first impressions through your design choices of things like directions to the venue, signage leading to venue and escort cards.
The feel of the event, keeping the five senses in mind: sight, sound, taste, smell and touch. The right music playlist will do a lot to set the mood, and when choosing your playlist, keep in mind the overall effect you want to achieve. Do you want people to mingle? Dance? Feel sophisticated and elegant? Feel fun and gregarious? How you appeal to those five senses can influence behavior and impressions.
This isn’t just about food, it’s about how you serve the food, what types of food you choose, and how it is displayed. Hors d’oeuvres passed by waiters on silver trays sends a very different message than hiring the local taco truck. There isn’t a wrong choice, it’s about making the right choice for the overall effect you want to achieve. And keep in mind, how you serve food will also dictate how people interact with each other. Assigned seats at tables can ensure the people you want to meet get talking time with each other, whereas a buffet shuffles everyone together.
If you’re seating people at tables you can design your own place cards in Canva with this Salmon and Green Wreath Place Card template.
Plan entertainment around what you want your guests to do and feel. Do you want them to move around and interact? Stand, sit down? Participate in games or watch a show? What are the venue’s guidelines or amenities for accommodating a live band? Review your options, and remember your timeline. Try not to choose activities that will overwhelm the reason for the event (or underwhelm guests and leave them bored!).
How will you thank guests for coming to your event? You can send them home with a favor, send a thank you note after the fact, or both. A great way to remind guests of the event they recently attended is to send a thank you note with a reminder that the event happens annually. You might even include a link to a Facebook page where they can get updates on your future plans.
Create your own thank you notes with this Orange Flowers template in Canva.
Throughout each of these elements runs the common thread of budget – and Rachel is very budget-conscious, working with clients at all price points. Budget constraints actually work to inspire her creativity.
“I LIVE off of budget challenges. I have always been able to stretch a tiny budget to its limits by using ordinary dollar store items and jazzing them up with glitter, spray paint, washi tape or paint.
Some of the crafts I make most often when working with a tight budget are the tablecloth backdrops and chunky confetti. I make the table cloth backdrops from plastic tablecloths cut into strips of multiple colors and tied to dowel rods that can be hung up on a wall. I make the chunky confetti from construction paper, wrapping paper, etc. with different sized hole punches. Another way I like to make events feel luxe with not a lot of money is by adding little metallic touches with gold or silver spray paint on things like mason jars, centerpiece vases, and mylar balloons.”
These are just little things that can go a long way in making that big impact.
This is a complete portfolio of Rachel’s events from her first styled shoot of a faux wedding at Thousand Acre Farm, to the most recent bridal shower she’s planned. She says “All of these events (besides the pop-up) were accomplished on a budget of $500 or less, which puts them into a special category all their own.”
For the biggest bang for your buck, Rachel says the elements that usually make that ‘wow’ impact are big backdrops (that can easily be created with rented pipe and drape), decorated arches, and lighting. These can all add some dramatic flair that will immediately set the tone of an event.
One of the things Rachel loves using for that dramatic flair are mylar balloons.
“I absolutely LOVE mylar balloons, there is such a variety nowadays, and they are so in style and are a great, inexpensive way to quickly add extra flair to an event. As soon as you add mylar balloons, they brighten the room and really make it feel like a PARTY.”
Once an event is complete, Rachel’s job isn’t over. There are thank you cards to write, and just as importantly, an ‘after-action’ report of sorts.
“I measure the success of an event by the level of satisfaction of my client. Are they over the moon? Or are they just ‘ok’ with how the event went? It doesn’t matter how large of a budget they had, or how many people came, it matters how the client felt when they walked in the room and throughout the event. I want them to feel like I reached inside their head and made their dream event a reality.”
And Rachel has one more trick up her sleeve for keeping clients happy, engaged, and excited about planning events at all price points. She’s created products.
“The event emergency kit is one of the new products that just launched in the store on the website. I added it because I wanted people to really be able to plan events with the resources they found on the website if they couldn’t afford an actual package. So this event emergency kit comes in two sizes: the event planner for the potential event coordinator, and the personal for the potential hostess that is not necessarily planning the event.
I know what it’s like to be running around like a crazy person the day of the event and realize you forgot something so simple like scotch tape or comfortable shoes to run around in. This emergency kit is to prevent those ‘uh oh’ moments and just make the process of being in/planning an event super smooth sailing (as much as possible!).”
The Event Emergency Kit isn’t the only product in her store, she also offers some of those ambience-creating details that create ‘wow’ moments.
These products aren’t just a huge help to aspiring hostesses, it’s also a great entry-level buy in. In marketing terms, she’s winning the trust of future clients – they may not be ready to hire her now, but when they are ready to hire an event planner, she’ll be first on their list.
One of the quotes Rachel talks about on her vlog is “Don’t let someone who gave up on their dreams talk you out of yours.” It’s a sentiment close to her heart, as she explains.
“I have always been a really ambitious person, so I have run into a LOT of people who don’t share that. That’s one thing I’m really trying to do now, is surround myself with people who dream big like I do.”
Create your own quote templates for Instagram or Facebook in Canva.
“Basically, I don’t want to always wonder ‘what if’ I did that big idea, I just want to do it. I know that if I had stayed friends with some of the people I was friends with 2 or 3 years ago, I wouldn’t be where I am today because they would have made me feel crazy for even trying to pursue my goals.
Never ever doubt your ability, potential, or passion. That is what will set you apart. Feed that fire with all you have.”