“I don't think I'll ever go back to a nine to five.”
What work were you doing previously?
I was a finance analyst, working in the finance industry.
I’d been at the company for eight years, and in the finance sector for five years.
What are you doing now?
Now I’m a luxury event planner, organiser and stylist.
I style and design people’s events, including weddings and private events.
Why did you change?
Coming from an Asian background, it was the case that once you've got a degree, you’ll become lawyers, doctors and accountants (at least when I was growing up).
No one ever says that they want to be an event planner growing up.
So once I got my degree, which was a double maths physics degree, I thought I’d go into the finance sector. I landed this finance job and thought this was the start of a new career, that I’d do my CIMA qualification for accountants.
Once I started doing the job, I realised it’s not actually for me. I got bored from it quite quickly (the only thing I actually liked were spreadsheets!), because I realised I'm quite a creative person.
I’d started doing some balloon installations for personal events and I really enjoyed it. Once I started monetising it, it started to quickly become a new career path for me.
When was the moment you decided to make the change?
There was a breaking point where I was just looking at my work and I was still thinking about my events.
I realised that I'm not going to go further in finance, if I'm still thinking about events.
Once I started doing the bigger events, I knew there was money there so I could make a career and living out of it.
I'm currently in a transitional phase where I’m shifting out of finance to make events my main career.
How did you choose your new career?
It was my sister's Sweet Sixteen birthday party and we wanted to do something a little bit special.
I was the one in charge of organising everything and I had no idea of how to do a balloon garland. I googled it, looked at Pinterest images and put everything together for what I wanted for her birthday. We made it work and did a whole surprise party.
At that time, one of my sisters suggested we make a little social media page and put pictures up from the event. The pictures got a lot of attraction online and people started asking if we could do a similar thing for them.
From there, it slowly started gradually becoming ‘a thing’.
Are you happy with the change?
I don't think I'll ever go back to a nine to five, or ever change from what I'm doing now.
I'm so focused now on where I want to get to with my events and with my company that I'm working towards those goals and achievements.
Even though this is harder and you have to meet whatever your clients demand, I don't think I'll ever go back to a regular full time job.
How did you go about making the shift?
Once I set up social media and started posting about the event, I started getting enquiries for events.
It was mainly family and friends asking, without money being involved. So I started doing that for them.
And then I think it was one of my cousin's daughter’s Sweet Sixteen, my cousin said that she’d financially do everything and I’d just have to set it up. It was a really big event that I put together but she paid for it.
I started to think that I was in a place where I should start charging.
About 5-6 years ago, a lady messaged me about doing an event for her and I asked ‘What's your budget?’. At that time, I had no clue of how to price myself, what’s okay.
She told me her budget was £150. I remember telling my sister “oh my gosh she wants to pay £150 to do her event, this is so much money, we need to smash this event.” It was a surreal moment when I look back.
We went and spent about five hours in her house. It was a ‘Frozen’ themed birthday party.
After that, it was just a case of posting about it online and getting more clients.
I started to realise that I was charging less than I should, and that I should be charging more. Gradually you kind of know where you are with your pricing and then go from there.
In terms of the practicalities of doing this alongside my finance job, I was full time at my day job at first, then I started going part time. Because we've got the facility of working from home I think it makes any of our side hustles much easier.
In finance you have regular reviews, and I’ve shared with my line managers that events is a focus for me and where I want to be.
How did you develop (or transfer) the skills you needed for your new role?
I've actually never ever taken any course for this.
I learned from watching YouTube how-to videos and things online. Nowadays lots of people share tips and tricks, how it's done, though five, six years ago there was less information out there as people tended to keep things to themselves.
It was also simply a case of going on-site, doing an event and learning from your mistakes. I learnt a lot from my mistakes, to make sure that I never repeat them again.
You can take as many courses as you want. It'll give you an overview, but it’s not until you implement it and actually do it on-site that you realise what works or doesn’t work for you, or if it fails and you figure out how to correct it. That's the best way of learning.
What didn't go well? What wrong turns did you take?
About eleven or twelve months into the business, we got a really big event in Canary Wharf in Central London.
Up until that point I’d been doing small house events and little things, so once I got this event, I was over the moon and ready to smash it.
We only had five days to execute the whole thing. And everything that you could imagine that could go wrong, went wrong.
When my delivery arrived, half of the things weren’t there. One of the deliveries got lost and arrived late.
Then on the day of the event, the van driver we had booked had taken on another job, so he couldn't get to me in time to get to London. I was panicking and crying. But finally he got there and we rushed to London.
I got all my sisters, all my cousins jumping into their cars to help. We put together the decorations and accessories in the van, so everything was ready to be put out once we got there.
I’d never been to Central London before and didn’t understand the road systems. We couldn't find the underground car park. For a moment we were circling Canary Wharf and couldn't find anything and I just prayed so hard. This was when the people who’d hired me started to panic. “Where are they?”
To this day, I don't remember how I got to that car park. But somehow we got there and had about 20/30 minutes to do the whole set up.
The guests for the event had already arrived, including some big influencers, but once we’d set up and they entered everything was perfect. Only us as a team knew what had happened behind the scenes!
Even though the event itself went well, I thought that the client would never ever book me again, and I’d have a bad reputation. They paid me and I thought that would be it.
But the next year they had a bigger event in a bigger venue, one of one of London's most iconic venues the Gherkin. They booked me for that, and I couldn't understand why at first.
The girl who’d booked me for the Canary Wharf event said that the way I worked and organised the event was amazing, and that my communication was really good, so they didn’t want to work with anyone else.
Even though they understood there’d been a bit of a hiccup, I’d still produced what they asked for so they didn’t want to go to another company.
They gave me more notice this time for the event so I had more time to plan. And that event was so good. While it was a tricky venue, we had no hiccups. And this company still books me again and again.
I learned so much from the Canary Wharf event and implemented everything I learned. For example, visiting the venue in my car in advance of the event so I know exactly where I need to park, how much time I’ll need etc.
What help did you get?
All my family pretty much helped me out on all of my events.
I found a Facebook group of event planners,and from there I learned so much more about event planning.
At first I didn't quite understand the difference between an event planner and an event decorator or event stylist. I always thought a planner decorates events as well.
Actually, there's people out there that just plan the event, and then there are companies that go out and decorate. I learned a lot from that group.
With events, if you’re the event decorator or organiser you’ll likely work with specialists, suppliers and other contractors (for example catering). You'll start talking to them and learn about the industry that way. There's loads of people out there that are willing to help you.
Now I'm in a position where I give advice. I help out other smaller businesses, smaller planners, women that want to get into this.
What have you learnt in the process?
When COVID hit, bigger event companies were talking about having to reschedule, having issues with venues or having issues with clients.
At the time, as I was a very small business, I hadn’t taken on anything massive to that level, and I got to sit back and watch (and learn) from what I saw bigger businesses going through.
I’ve been able to implement what I learnt into my business. Because I learned all of that around that time when I was small, that worked in my favour.
You have to understand that anything can hit your business at any time. You have to be prepared, and you have to be quite mentally strong as well.
During quieter times, you can’t worry that you’re never going to have any more income, or wonder if you made a big mistake and should go back to your old career.
These are the sorts of things that you need to be prepared for and understand that it takes time to build a client base. But once you're there, you know there's nothing stopping you.
Everyone who runs a business has a low period in terms of sales but you just have to be prepared and account for that time.
If I don't have events on, I use that time to plan for future events in the pipeline, and to spend some time thinking about my business and other different things I want to do with my business.
Because once I'm busy, I'm really busy, and don’t have the time to think bigger-picture about the business.
What would you advise others to do in the same situation?
My advice is try to have a side by side approach at first.
Have your day job and work on your side hustle in your free time.
If you’re taking your side business really seriously, then set goals and achievements you want to hit for it.
Even if you’re selling something small, you need to have goals for it so you can see your progress and see if this is viable as a longer term business that you can step away from your day job for.
If you're making money and achieving your goals, it means that it’s a serious venture and if you can, go part-time. Give more time to your business.
And once you’re giving less time to your day job than you are to your business, and you’re making more money, you could be in a good position to leave your job and go all-in on the business.
At the end of the day, this is also about your mental health and you can't be working in a role or work environment that’s draining you or having a negative impact on you. Things like that will really affect your family life too.
So I think it's very important to focus on your mental health and doing whatever makes you happy.
I know it's not easy for anyone to want to completely transition all in one go. So take it slow, but definitely don't let go of what you think might be a life changing career for you.
To find out more about Shabana's business, visit https://perfectplanners.uk
What lessons could you take from Shabana's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.