Independent Hospitality Professional Creates Loyal Customers


After fifteen years in the hospitality industry, Sharon Gates was ready to put her experience and skills to work in her own business. A few years ago, Sharon decided to make the leap to being an independent hospitality professional with ConferenceDirect. With a background in hotel sales, Sharon now acts as an advocate for her clients to ensure their events are a complete success.

Before landing at ConferenceDirect, Sharon worked in various capacities with Marriott ranging from Sales Manager to Director of Hotel Sales and serving as a member of Marriott’s global sales team handling multiple accounts in the northeast region. During her tenure with the company, she pioneered three (3) different transformations within their sales organization. Sharon accepts change and is always looking for ways to improve.

When Sharon knew it was time for a personal change, it wasn’t a fast decision. For months before making the jump, Sharon researched the independent field. “I interviewed two successful ConferenceDirect people to get a feel for why they like their position. I asked them to give me the good, the bad, and ugly, so I knew what I was going into.”

That wasn’t the only preparation Sharon performed. “I met with an accountant and my husband. We sat down and talked about finances,” she says. Sharon knew if she made the jump, she would be leaving a salaried position and entering a commission-based field.

“I went into the position knowing it was not going to be a short-term job. It’s something that is a long-term decision. I knew it may take me three or four years to get to the salary I had with Marriott, but the potential would be greater in the long run.” Sharon views this time period as an investment into her career.

Sharon’s decision to become affiliated with ConferenceDirect hinged on one element: the ability to work with Doug Baarman. “Although I never worked directly for Doug when he was with Marriott, I knew of his great reputation. He was so highly regarded and I had heard so many good things. I felt very comfortable being on his team. He has helped me and positioned me for success.”

Today, after a year and a half as an independent meeting planner, the position seems to suit Sharon. “I enjoy the entrepreneurial nature of the position.”

As an independent hospitality professional, Sharon is more of a consultant to her customers. She enjoys strategizing with her customers; learning about their goals and helping them exceed their objectives. What sets Sharon apart from others is that she is not transactional but rather a partner always looking out for her client’s best interest. Because of all that Sharon does for her customers to ensure their events are a complete success, she has a very loyal customer following including corporate and association accounts. Her primary goal is to partner with her customers as their advocate during every transaction. Over time, her customers have begun to view her as an extension of their organization, focused on helping with their meeting needs while saving them time and money.

Sharon’s advice to others thinking of making a career change involves the initial planning stage: “The number one thing you have to do is think about your finances. If you are the sole provider, you need to look at your savings account and determine how long you can live off of that money,” she advises. Sharon also suggests having an established network and industry experience before working independently as an advantage. “It is possible for someone who hasn’t been in the industry very long; however, I think they would have so many more obstacles to face.”

Sharon has received numerous awards and recognition over the years (including leading performer with Marriott and multi-year recipient of Marriott’s Presidents Club award), but it is the loyal repeat business she receives from her customers that she counts as her biggest reward.

 If you found this article valuable, you might also be interested in “Hospitality Professionals – Is Being an Independent Meeting Planner and Event Planner Right For You?”

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