Building a business doesn’t have to mean being lonely and overworked, as Claire Dowd shares with us in her Startup Story. The founder of X Events has gone from an employee at an events agency with over 8 years of experience, to starting and running her own agency focusing on incentive travel. Claire was named one of Conference and Incentive Travel Magazine’s Top 35 Under 35 Influential Events People in 2016, and her business has doubled in size since she began her journey. We caught up with Claire to discuss starting out, how she manages her growing business, and what’s next for X Events:
Hey Claire! Tell us all about X Events, what do you do there?
I set up X Events 2 years ago when I decided I wanted the freedom to work for myself but still do the job I had grown to love. X Events is a full service events agency but we specialise in Incentive Travel. We design complete incentive travel programs that capture the attention of sales teams and keep them engaged and motivated to achieve success. I do a bit of everything here, from managing relationships with our valued customers to going on site and delivering these unforgettable experiences.
What were you up to before starting the business, and what made you change direction?
I was working for an events agency and although that’s still what I do now, I am now responsible for everything so it gives me the opportunity to cover sales and operations as well as the personal challenge of becoming a business owner.
Tell us about the steps you took to start your business.
I researched other smaller agencies first to see what longevity there could be for me. I had to decide whether being a freelance event manager would fulfil all my needs, or whether I needed to run my own company. I did some freelance work at the beginning as that really helped me earn a wage whilst taking some time out to investigate what I would need to do to set up a business. I received a lot of guidance from a family member about the legalities and financial side and without that support I don’t think I would have been able to achieve my dream so quickly.
What has been your proudest moment so far?
Doubling my client base and events in my 2nd year. I worked really hard to commit to my existing clients whilst also looking to build new relationships. This paid me back as some of my new clients were referrals.
Where possible I will pop on an out-of-office and make some time for myself, my family and my friends.”
What’s the most important lesson you have learned since starting X Events?
That it’s OK to take a day off! I don’t think I ever took a real day off in my first year, even now I’m usually always available for my clients but where possible I will pop on an out-of-office and make some time for myself, my family and my friends. Working for yourself can be lonely so it’s important that I make time to socialise and enjoy the company of loved ones.
Do you have any tips for businesses looking to run their own events?
Get an agency! If your employees don’t walk away from an event with a very clear message, new learning, the feeling of being valued, etc. then you would really have to question whether it was the best use of your budget to put the event on. Where possible, spend a little extra and hand over the creative element to an agency whose job it is to make these events work. If you are doing it all in-house it’s maybe still worth outsourcing the venue find, most agencies don’t charge for this service and the right venue can make a huge difference to your audiences engagement.
How do you stay organised? Any tips or tools?
Everything has a file! Running a business from a laptop is totally possible with today’s technologies. I do have a daily to-do list and I never shut off until I have achieved that list.
Would you say you have a healthy work life balance? If yes, what do you do to maintain this, and if no, what would you change?
Yes I think I do. I make time most days for the gym and I will never eat a meal ‘at my desk’. I enjoy cooking and I like to sit down and switch off at meal times. I have friends in the industry so sometimes networking events can also be opportunities to catch up with people on a personal level. I will always have at least one friend get-together in the diary where I know I will really let my hair down, that always gives me something to look forward to.
Any advice for people who want to start their own business like you have?
I worked for a good year on the business before anyone really knew about us. I think it’s best to start small and build rather than go out there with a big bang launch and not have the business behind you to back it up. Focusing on one or two clients and getting it right with them can be rewarded by their lifetime loyalty. I’m working with new clients all the time now but I have the assurance of my loyal customers who are the backbone to my business successes.
What do you have planned for X Events this year, and what are the next steps towards your goal?
This year will be about raising our profile and growing our client base. In the near future I want to put X Events forward for award nominations, I would love to have some of our great work recognised by industry peers.