During her career, Melissa has worked with Marriott International in various direct sales and leadership roles in Texas, Oklahoma, and Colorado. As a global account manager, she handled the association, corporate and extended-stay markets as a single point of contact for site selection in placing conferences worldwide at all Marriott, Renaissance, and Ritz Carlton Hotels.
While Melissa’s career was going well, there was a point where she was ready for a change: “I wanted to take charge of my own destiny in a changing environment. We are in the business because of relationships we develop. Many times, when reorganization happens, you start over with different territories and need to build new relationships.”
These reorganization periods called for Melissa to establish new relationships which she found frustrating as she worked so hard at establishing the previous relationships; she didn’t want to scrap those and start over again.
Melissa decided that working as an independent meeting planner would allow her to cultivate and strengthen those good relationships she had already established. To make that change, she chose to become an independent meeting planner with ConferenceDirect.
As an independent meeting professional, Melissa provides meeting solutions to her clients such as site selection, contract negotiations, conference management and acts as a liaison to help provide services her clients need (registration, housing, exhibit sales, sponsorship sales and attendee marketing).
When asked why she chose ConferenceDirect, Melisa stated, “I liked ConferenceDirect because it’s a quality organization that places emphasis on hiring people with experience. Not a lot of third party meeting planning companies have an experience requirement.” Melissa was impressed that ConferenceDirect preferred to hire professionals who had worked in the field for a number of years. “I wanted to be affiliated with quality and experienced people, professionals,” she says.
Once she had decided to make the switch, Melissa felt comfortable working with Doug Baarman, whom she had worked with previously through Marriott: “I had experience with him and enjoyed his leadership style and his motivation and passion he shares with the team. He is focused on our success and contributes to the team success.”
Being an independent meeting planner is not for everyone, however. Melissa gives this advice for those thinking about making the transition: “Make sure you have established relationships in the industry already with planners that might be interested in working with you. You cannot just make a cold call and the prospect will start working with you.” Melissa has found that relationships are key to an independent meeting planner’s success. “People want to work with people they trust.”
One of the challenges an independent meeting planner can face is income structure. “If you’ve never worked under a commission-only structure, it can be challenging learning how to manage revenues, managing expenses and flow of revenue until you get established,” Melissa advises. She recommends keeping a nest egg that will help through the building period or seasons that are a little slow. Melissa advises that, “It takes time to ramp up.” It’s not uncommon to work hard for six months before an independent meeting planner starts to see a reliable revenue stream. “You need to work with discipline, being proactive and dedicated.”
For Melissa, her first accounts came from relationships she had already established through her work in the industry. “Not everyone will use you, but some will.” After five years with ConferenceDirect, Melissa’s business has grown, allowing her to hire a coordinator who assists with many of the details of running her business, such as monitoring hotel pickups, sending out RFPs, and arranging site visits.
Melissa says she truly enjoys running her own business. “I have the ability to build it to the level I want, to manage it day in and day out.” But she’s not alone in her endeavor. The ConferenceDirect team is an important aspect. “It’s nice to have a support group,” she confides.
If you would like to know more about becoming an independent meeting planner, download your free report “Take Charge of Your Hospitality Career and YOUR Income”. Fill out the form to the right for immediate download.