Sparking growth by hiring employees – profile of Exceptional Entertainment Co – includes related article on creating a small business database – Secrets of Success
Sparking Growth by Hiring Employees
I recognized opportunities,” says Donna Friedman, owner of Exceptional Entertainment Company (EECo), a firm that creates and manages corporate events. Friedman, once a Wall Street executive secretary who worked part-time as a clown, started her business in 1986. She projects it will gross about $1 million this year.
Friedman’s business began to take off just when it looked like it might disappear. Last year, one of her largest clients went into Chapter 11. “I counted on this company for 6 of the 10 events I planned each month,” says Freidman. “Losing them taught me to take things seriously. I decided that no one would make decisions that would put me out of business.
“I went ahead and hired staff to help me generate business. And it’s been wonderful. They’ve freed me up to sell and market more. Revenues have doubled. You have to keep growing or you don’t go anywhere.” Her success shows just how important an entrepreneur’s timing and ability to respond to events can be in building a business.
Exceptional Entertainment Company, which occupies three rooms in Friedman’s apartment in Brooklyn, New York, handles events for 75 to 20,000 people. Friedman and her staff analyze the purpose of the event and its target audience, develop a theme, hire professional performers and line up last-minute replacements, negotiate all contracts, and supply production needs.
“We supply music, entertainment, decorations, and sometimes the food,” Friedman says. “Ninety percent of my customers are corporations, such as Citibank, IBM, Pathmark, First Chicago Trust, and Pfizer or other large organizations, like the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union. However, 10 percent are private parties, and that’s a potential growth area for us.”
During her stint as a secretary, Friedman performed part-time at parties and events as Grape Jelly the clown. “Networking gave me my first corporate job as a clown for a Merrill Lynch party. Then the company asked me to put together the grand opening event for its new corporate headquarters. I guess they trusted me.” At that event she met a woman who worked for Abraham & Strauss, a chain of New York department stores. Abraham & Strauss became her second client and the business took off.
“For the first six months after I started the company, I continued my full-time job as an executive secretary on Wall Street. Then I quit and for the first three years, business just happened. But since losing that one big client, I’m much more focused on planning for growth with specific goals. I needed more sales, so I hired a salesperson. I wanted to do more events, so I hired production and creative people.”
COLD CALLS PAY OFF
Friedman, the company’s owner and executive producer, spends two days each week on sales and marketing. “I make cold calls to companies in Manhattan, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Every 10 calls generate one appointment, and every appointment leads to a proposal. If we don’t get that job, we usually get a subsequent job.”
Leads come from magazine and newspaper stories and from business contracts. Friedman belongs to a business networking group, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, the Women’s Economic Development Corporation, the National Association of Women Business Owners, and Toastmasters, and is on the board of the International Special Events Society.
Once EECo lands a job, it can generally count on repeat business. About 75 percent of current clients are repeat customers. “We do follow up after events to make sure the client was happy and to ensure repeat business. The events are flawless. I run a tight ship. People say you’re only as good as your last event, but I don’t think that’s true. I think you’re as good as your last 100.”
As EECo gained more clients, Friedman experimented with different pricing. At first, she got just the standard 15 percent agent’s fee for each performer at an event. But starting this year, the company also bills for managing the event.
Like many home-based businesspeople, Friedman attributes a good part of her success to her computer. “I’ve put all my information into the computer since I started my company. Up until now, I’ve used WordPerfect for almost everything. I’m a very good typist, and I learned how to use WordPerfect as an executive secretary. So I’ve used WordPerfect as a database – as well as for writing – by keeping information in separate files. For instance, I made up separate files to track clowns, costumed characters, Santa Clauses, and EECo’s financials. But my business has grown so much that I’m considering using financial software.”
“When I first started, I didn’t know if I actually wanted a business,” Friedman says. “I’m still on the road to success, most definitely. I’m not there yet. But I am at a serious takeoff point, and I’m considering moving the business out of my home. For example, there are paths for growth in the private sector – say, as an in-house entertainment company. I also may open a prop and production center, which would mean I’d need some kind of warehouse space.”
Within the next five years, Friedman will look to manage more large-scale public events, such as marathons or fundraising events for environmental groups, for example. Even as a person with strong determination and drive, Friedman has needed support from friends and family to succeed. “I started the business on a shoestring, with no money. But I had to borrow money when I added employees.”
How does Friedman measure her success? “I’ve never been happier in my life. I feel comfortable financially. And I finally have got my nights and weekends back.”
BUILDING A SIMPLE DATABASE
Donna Friedman uses WordPerfect as a database, to track both people and financial information. While this method wouldn’t be efficient with a large amount of data (more than 100 names), it does have several advantages. First, if you primarily use a word processor, you have your contact information right at hand and can save your computer memory for other programs. Second, you can copy names and addresses from a contact file into a letter you’re writing or use your word processor’s mail-merge function.
If you want to alphabetize data, use the Sort command. To alphabetize names and addresses, for example, enter the name (last name first) and address on one line, followed by a carriage return. To find a particular name, use the Find command. Of course, a word processor won’t find all addresses in a certain zip code and bunch them together in a report, as a database does. Nonetheless, the simplicity of Friedman’s solution to her contact-tracking problem has its own merit.
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