Thinking of starting out on your own in an ‘out-of-the-box’ industry? There’s plenty you can learn from freelance event management professional Luke Schroder.
The year’s barely begun. You’ve had enough of your job. Time to go out on your own? Someone suggests ‘event management’. That shouldn’t be too hard. Lots of ex-corporate PAs do it all the time. Even junior sponsorship managers seem to be going it alone.
Just how hard could it be? What sort of background and experience do you need to make a go of it? And are there options outside Auckland?
NZBusiness asked Luke Schroder, owner of Knock Knock Events, a successful two-year start-up, what skills he relies on for his Tauranga-based event management company.
“First and foremost, I’m a problem-solver,” he says. “If there’s an idea or concept I don’t know how to implement, I will spend time finding out how to achieve the desired result.
“I wouldn’t label myself a perfectionist – that’s so hard – but I do enjoy the challenge of searching widely for a solution.”
Schroder says Tauranga has a lot of untapped potential in the events space and with a growing population there are more opportunities for local businesses and organisations to engage with their community through events. The rise of the ‘mobile office’ has meant that Tauranga has quickly become a feasible option to balance lifestyle with business, particularly for SMEs or those doing freelance work,
“I love the flexibility of being able to work where I want and when I want. I can take my work on the road with me wherever I go and I’m not a slave to the nine to five grind. I also love the variety of projects I get to work on.
“When you couple that with the ability to easily be in Auckland, Rotorua or Hamilton within three hours, this is the perfect location.”
So what are the challenges of going-it-alone in the event management industry?
“Work is never guaranteed when you’re essentially a freelance event professional,” says Schroder. “You never really know what the next project will be and it’s not as easy as knocking on someone’s door and saying, ‘Got any events that I can run for you?’
“There was a period in early 2018 when there was simply nothing around. I emailed all my networks asking if there were any events, no matter how small, just trying to drum up some work to get me by.”
Ironically, the other problem is having too much work, he adds.
“Later [last year] I had too many projects on the go and not enough resource or capacity to manage them simultaneously. I had to decline working on two significant events.
“It’s a delicate balance of maintaining the right momentum, while not overcommitting to things during the busy season.”
Taking a risk
What other talents and characteristics should a successful events manager have?
Schroder reckons the best ideas come from being prepared to take a risk. “Often we can be intimidated or afraid of failure, rather than inspired by the potential of success. It will probably be challenging, and you might fail, but it’s always worth trying.”
Schroder has [management] form going back to school days and it’s in his DNA. “I always thrived on engaging and organising groups of people to achieve shared-goals and outcomes. In my final high school year I had a leadership role to regularly spearhead team events and activities. I began to realise I wasn’t bad at it, so I started to seriously consider event management as a career.
“My mother is an event manager too,” says Schroder. “So I also caught the event bug from her. A case of the apple not falling far from the tree!”
Schroder went straight to AUT after school to study a Bachelor of Event Management.
“AUT was really hands-on; I was doing internships and placements from the get-go. These practical experiences were the moments that drove me to finish my degree; because I could see what I wanted to achieve with it.”
Schroder spent six years in Auckland, working for a variety of music festivals and top-performing arts venues, in management and operational roles. Then an opportunity arose, in January 2016, to work for Tauranga City Council on their events team. The role was developing new events to ‘add to the vibrancy of the Tauranga region’.
“It gave me a great excuse to move back home and help grow the event scene there,” he recalls.
“One of my highlights was creating a successful ‘Winter Nights, Winter Lights’ event, which saw 10,000-plus people brave the mid-winter cold to witness an amazing laser-light and fire show in the CBD.”
Ambition and passion
Schroder admits it was scary deciding to go out on his own to launch Knock Knock Events (the business name was triggered by his desire to provide reliable event delivery: “Knock, Knock, We’re There”), but he knew he had to do something with his ambition and passion.
“My considered assessment, my not inconsiderable experience by then, and my gut feel told me this was the time to take the plunge; create immersive, memorable and repeatable experiences in the Bay of Plenty and beyond. To the rest of New Zealand in time.”
Luckily in his first month Schroder picked up four significant contracts, including two nationwide tours. By the end of his first year he’d been involved in more than 50 events.
“That far exceeded my expectations and even resulted in my having to turn down work,” he says.
His most memorable event so far?
“Assisting with the delivery of Tauranga’s largest Christmas event, ‘A Night Before Christmas’.”
A Knock Knock highlight to-date, he says. “We oversaw operations, logistics and production for the event, which has drawn a crowd of around 13,000 for the past two years.
“I also love supporting other events, particularly around operations and logistics, so [consultancy] is a specialist area I’d like to grow.”
Meanwhile, Schroder has been surprised by the number of opportunities in Tauranga for young professionals. “It was only after moving back here that I realised that Tauranga is thriving with so many exciting industries and environments for new businesses.
“The demographic is changing, with more young families moving here and settling,” he says. “It’s great to see so many young people stamping their mark on Tauranga through creative endeavours or new business ideas.”