18 Feb 2016

I am an instructor at San Diego State University’s College of Extended Studies, in their Meeting Planning Certificate Program.  Each semester, I teach a six-hour elective course called, “Starting Your Own Business in the Meeting & Events Industry”.  While most of my students are interested in becoming a meeting or event planner, many of them desire to work in other areas of the industry such as decor, catering, or wedding planning. My goal for the class is to lay out the key components of business ownership with emphasis on what it means to own a business in this industry. Many students come to class just to take a look at what’s involved, but not truly sure they want to make that jump. Yet, every semester at least two or three students desire to work for themselves.  My intention is to give them enough insight and information to be able to make an informed decision about becoming an entrepreneur.

One of the most frequent conversations we have in class is about how to determine
one’s service offering — and specifically, “Should I keep my product offering simple, narrow and limited – or should I offer a variety of services that appeal to many clients?”  In a nutshell, should I centralize or diversify?

When I began working for myself in 1999, I offered meeting planning services to corporations and non-profits. My product offering included the key elements of meeting planning: Site Research and Inspection, Contracting, Project Management, Logistical Management (food and beverage, AV, accommodations, transportation, registration), as well as budget management. My services were clear and simple. There were industry experts available to support me if I needed assistance in other areas.

Over time, I expanded to include the additional services: management of speakers, travel, content, marketing and promotions, team building and branding. My background included marketing, advertising, printing, corporate and private industry. Having a broad offering of services under the meeting planning umbrella was fun and ever changing. I liked being broadly skilled, and being able to respond to my clients’ needs by providing them with support when needed.

When I founded Pick My Brain in 2009, I originally desired to keep the product offering narrow and focused on Consulting Services. This is the playground that gives me much challenge and much satisfaction. But as things go in business, sometimes your clients need other services and you’re called to respond to those needs. Our requests for Event Management services grew and ultimately usurped those for Consulting. Additionally, the opportunity to expand into training and facilitation came and seemed to be a good complement to our already existing product offering.

I’ve heard many an expert say that to be successful in business you need to keep your offering centralized, focused and to avoid expanding your services too wide.  I like the idea of a company being an expert at what it does, and then doing it the best they can. But for me, a large part of my entrepreneurial thrill is the opportunity to be engaged in a variety of services and activities on behalf of my clients.  Maybe over the years I have become skilled in many things, or maybe it’s just that I love the ever changing pallet of my business.  No two projects are truly alike, and that keeps me sharp and on my game. Often I am called to do things that are new and different and so have to always keep expanding my knowledge and expertise. Many of our projects are on-going, repeat business. For these, it’s equally important not to get too comfortable and to keep those creative juices flowing even when the work is predictable.

For a beginner, I recommend keeping it simple. Determine what you do best, set out to sell those services, and then expand as you gain more experience and wisdom. There are ample experts in the industry who can support your projects for specialized services. Building a network of exceptional suppliers will help you to expand your business with limited expense.

As for me, you can see that variety is my spice of life. The decision to offer Consulting, Event Management, Training and Other Services has been strategic. Mostly, we get to play in a variety of playgrounds which keeps life exciting and meaningful.  Diversification also means that should the industry or economy take a downturn or if our clients’ needs change, we don’t have all our eggs in one basket, thus reducing our risk.

So, to centralize or diversify? Formulate a strategy that works for you, be flexible, and give it your best shot.






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