A week in the life of a party planner

This post has been swirling around my head for a couple of months now and the only thing that has postponed it is my crazy schedule. I’m not complaining. Busy is good. But my goal is to set aside more time to focus on this blog.

In the meantime, I’ve been wanting to show you what “busy” really means in the life of a party planner. I can only speak for myself and I’m sure other planners have better systems, work faster, and simply do things differently, but I have a feeling my readers might get a kick out of seeing what goes into this whole operation. I have a feeling you might be surprised at how UNglamarous this career really is! I’ll take you through the week of an event because that’s when all the running around is done.

In a perfect party world, clients book a month or two in advance, give me complete and total creative control, and pay in full the day I send their invoice. In reality, clients call me freaking out because their kid’s party is in 2 weeks, say they don’t have opinions yet micromanage every detail, and don’t pay until the wee hours before the event. Clients always say they aren’t sure what they want and don’t have anything specific in mind… But they ALWAYS have an opinion and its my job to get it out of them. And planning doesn’t start until payment is received, so sometimes I can’t do a thing until mere days before the event. I’m so use to working under the gun at this point, it’s almost like my best work is done in the last 24 hours!

Okay, here is a breakdown of an average event planning timeline:

THE FIRST WEEK

The first 7 days after the initial phone call is usually spent working out the logistics with the client: how many adults/kids, where, when, theme, colors, price, contract, etc. If the party is at the clients house, my second consultation is at their home to determine the space. If the client wants the party at another venue then I make the phone calls to that venue to arrange the party. Either way, one of my most important consultations is the venue consultation because I need to make sure it can at least fit a 6 foot dessert buffet and a backdrop.

THE WEEKS IN BETWEEN

If I’m lucky enough to have any time between the week the party is booked and the actual week of the party, that time is spent confirming dates and design details with my vendors. Clients are free to choose their own vendors if they have a preference, but I do have to approve any and all designs that will be displayed on my tables. This may surprise you but I’m pretty adamant about this. It is my style that I want my company to be known for and client parties are the best representation of my work, so it’s imperative that Party Pants is represented well. If clients don’t have a preference then I refer to my preferred vendor list.

Anyway, I use this in-between time to book venues, reserve rentals, start the design process with the graphic designer and bakery, and order invitations. Although these are all big decisions, the craziness doesn’t set in until the last days before the party. These tasks can mostly be done over the phone and email (still in my pajamas and on my couch at 1:00 in the afternoon). The color scheme has been chosen by now, so I’m going through my inventory to see what needs to be ordered. Most likely I’m going to order my jumbo balloons, paper straws, treat bags…those kind of things that I can’t find in the big box stores.

THE LAST WEEK

In most cases this is crunch time. As I mentioned above, the majority of parties are booked with only 2 weeks notice. Any time between the first week and the last week is spent planning the theme and details. Even if I had 2 months to plan the event, I still don’t make any major purchases or decisions until the last week because anything could change (mostly my mind!). Here is how the last 7 days usually go:

7 DAYS LEFT

Today I’m purchasing the edibles (ie Ice cream for an ice cream buffet, candy for a candy buffet, donuts for a donut bar, etc… all the store-bought sweets). I’m also going through my inventory to see if I have all the necessary display pieces. For example, I usually stock an ice cream buffet with 3 flavors which would require 3 ice cream scoops (plus a backup). I recently did an ice cream buffet with 5 flavors so I needed to purchase more scoops. I’m pretty particular about the brands I use so I’m most likely going to have to make a few trips before I find the “good kind”. In some cases I may need to purchase a special size cake stand or a certain display piece that I don’t already have, so this is the time to do it!

6 DAYS LEFT

By now, my vision is clear and I know exactly what I’m looking for. The hunt is on! I’m working on the final details with the graphic designer and I’m searching for the items that will bring my party to life: ribbon, craft paper, tissue paper, specialty and seasonal items. This is my favorite day because I’m not quite frantic yet and I’m just browsing the aisles of my favorite stores to find those must-haves for this particular party. Fun!

5 DAYS LEFT

Today I’m doing the printables. I print them, cut them, string them, fold them, glue them…whatever I have to do with them is done today. Once my printables are done I will have a better idea of what else I need. I make the cupcake toppers, cake topper, name banner, door signs, tassels garlands. This takes a LONG time. Do not underestimate this part. 4 hours at the very least.

4 DAYS LEFT

Today I’m working on my handmade details. I’m making my pinwheels, stuffing favor bags, rolling napkins and utensils, spray painting props, filling jars, fluffing poms, assembling drink stirrers, wrapping display boxes. This also takes a LONG time! And it’s usually done while my daughter is napping, then resumes when she goes to bed at night. My kitchen and living room are most likely littered with ribbon scraps and tissue paper poms so cooking is out of the question. Who wants pizza for dinner?!?

3 DAYS LEFT

It’s officially crunch time! By now, I’ve been putting some hard to find details off (“oh, I’ll be able to find spoons in that color…. I’ll get them tomorrow”). Tomorrow becomes the next day, then the next, and before you know it there are 7 major details I have not checked off my list! Yikes! I spend today feeding my child anything that comes out of a bag and we are literally living out of the car for 5 hours straight. A diaper change at Hobby Lobby, lunch at Target, a bribe toy from Michaels. Anything to get us through this day! I know the next 2 days are busy enough so I absolutely need to finish my shopping today.

2 DAYS LEFT

Now it’s time for the mock table! In my head I’m thinking I’m good and I’m ready for party day. But you can never be sure until you set up a mock table. Then you see a huge gap on the table and you are frantic to fill that space! “What do I fill that space with?!?!?!?” I’m rummaging through my inventory trying to find the perfect display piece… I’ve got it! But now what do I put in it? Something I don’t have, of course! This is why we do mock tables. Once the mock table is complete I take detailed shots of every angle. I save those photos to a folder on my iPad with the clients last name and I take that iPad with me on party day. You never think you need to reference those photos until you NEED to reference those photos. Preparation is key. I finish my day by filling out a chart and checklist for the day of the party. This has every item that I need to pack in detail. I staple a copy of that to the client contract and keep a picture copy in the same iPad folder with detailed shots of the mock table.

1 DAY LEFT

Today I pack and clean! I’m cleaning out all of my travel gear and prepping it for everything I need to pack for the event. I’m sanitizing all of my display pieces and tableware, I’m cleaning my coolers, wrapping my glassware, ironing my linens, packing my cleaning supplies ( because I always make sure I leave the party area in the same condition it was in when I got there). I’m making all of my confirmation calls and emails to the cake shop, bakery, caterer, equipment rentals. I’m also sending a confirmation email to the client confirming the address, time, number of people, etc. If there is a balance on their account, I’m sending the invoice and request for payment.

DAY OF EVENT

So, you think everything is done, right? Wrong! There are certain things that can only be done the day of the event, like blowing up the balloons, picking up the rentals, and picking up the cake and baked goods. I always try to schedule my cake/baked goods pickups for the day of the event, that way they are as fresh as they can get and there is less risk of anything happening to it. In some cases, they need to be picked up a day or two before the event so I make sure the shop wraps everything properly to ensure freshness. Giant balloons are all the rage and I really love the drama they add to each party, so I try to use them at each event. They can get tricky, though. They are 3 feet wide so space in my car is always an issue. I have an SUV but its chock full of the other party gear, so I can only comfortably fit 2 balloons in there (I had to learn this the hard way… I’ve actually had one of those bad boys pop while I was driving. It’s not a good look). If the event calls for more than 2, I need to scope out the surrounding area to find a place that can blow them up (not all places will do it). I have to make a separate trip to have them blown up after all the party gear is unloaded out of my car.

And that pretty much covers it! Then there is all of the clean up and unloading of the car, of course. Hey, I never said this was an easy job!

Here are some action shots I took of the process

This is my front seat the day of an event. I've got snacks, bag of balloons, planner book, bag of tools (glue gun, scissors, tape, safety pins, ruler, ribbon...).  I'm in the process of designing an apron with custom pockets for all my tools to wear during party set ups. Can't wait until its done!

These are the things I carry with me on my front seat the day of an event. I’ve got snacks, bag of balloons, planner book, bag of tools (glue gun, scissors, tape, safety pins, ruler, ribbon…). I’m in the process of designing an apron with custom pockets for all my tools to wear during party set ups. Can’t wait until its done!

What my dining room table looks like the entire week of an event.

What my dining room table looks like the entire week of an event.

This is a mock table for an ice cream birthday party I styled this past Winter.

This is a mock table for an ice cream birthday party I styled this past Winter.

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I put everything on the mock table that will be displayed at the actual event. In some cases, that includes the food. Here, I needed to make sure the toppings filled the paper bags so I used the actual candy on my mock table.

I put everything on the mock table that will be displayed at the actual event. In some cases, that includes the food. Here, I needed to make sure the toppings filled the paper bags so I used the actual candy on my mock table.

Here are a couple shots of the actual party.

Here are a couple shots of the actual party.

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The mess that is my craft closet the week of a party. Im only showing you half of it because the other half is too embarrassing!

The mess that is my craft closet the week of a party. Im only showing you half of it because the other half is too embarrassing!

Singing songs to keep my toddler from having a meltdown.

Singing songs to keep my toddler from having a meltdown.

Posted on by Jessica Billings Posted in Parties. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to A week in the life of a party planner

  1. Alison says:

    Thanks for sharing! It’s interesting to hear how you prepare for a party. I’m sure this will be helpful when I plan another baby shower for a friend or party for my little boys.

    • Thanks for reading, Alison! It’s taken a couple years to perfect the process and I definitely had to make some mistakes to get here, but it works for me really well. I left a few details out to avoid being boring, but I would say the most important step is the mock table! I always find something I missed when I do the mock table. Good luck with your next party and I hope this helped!

  2. Judi Frew says:

    Oh My Goodness! It is so good to hear (or read!) that I am not the only one that works like this! I am definitely sharing this with my Hubby so HE knows I am not alone! Great post!

    • Thanks Judi! So glad you can relate to the craziness that is party planning. Do you plan professionally or for fun? No matter what the occasion, it’s still good to have SOME form of method to the madness ; )

  3. Dawn says:

    Jessica!! Thank you SO much for this post!! I am fairly new to this biz, and I love posts like this that share how others do their thing…it really is so helpful to know I’m not alone :) It’s funny, I am working on a baby shower now, that I am not completely in control of, my client is creative herself with some really great ideas, so little things keep getting added or taken away at 1.5 weeks away! Without going into your fees, of course, would you be willing to share how you set up your “party packages”?? That seems to be one of my biggest struggles, and it is so hard to figure out for me when I know no one local in this business.

    Thank you again for sharing this…LOVED it!!

    • Hi Dawn! It seriously makes me so happy that these little insightful posts help in one way or another. It seems like the “how to” posts have become more of a trend in the party planning world, but when I started it seemed very hush hush… I wish there was more information like this available to me 2 years ago! I’m happy to provide whatever I can and I have nothing to hide (except maybe the other half of my craft room).

      To be perfectly honest, I’m always in the process of perfecting my party packages. Don’t beat yourself up too much about fumbling over your price menu because there is really no perfect answer. I recently read an article from Tonya of SoirĂ©e Event and Design about exactly how she priced her packages and I was shocked at her method! I was sure that someone like her, who runs such an established and successful party planning business, would have a precise and exact formula. But she doesn’t! She simply took the price of an average Chuck E Cheese party package and multiplied it by 3. She looked at that number and decided that her services were at least 3 times more valuable than Chuck E Cheese’s (she explains it much better than that, but you get the gist). I found it to be super helpful and it made me feel a whole lot better about my method, or lack there of.

      These posts have been so popular and helpful to others that I’ve been thinking of doing an entire month of blog posts dedicated to tips and tricks of the business. Ill be talking money, for sure, so keep an eye out for the future posts : ) Thanks!

      • Dawn says:

        Jessica..thank you!! Things have been kind of hush hush, so your post is SUCH a breath of fresh air for us newbies…I can’t wait to read your future posts…I love the idea of a whole month..go for it!!

  4. Dawn says:

    ok..never mind :) I was just perusing your site and found your services page :) I’d love any other insight you have to share though!! Have a great day!!

  5. Dawn says:

    Hi jessica…I wondering if you could give me some advice. I need to price out a candy buffet…I have never done just a candy table before that wasn’t part of a full party styling “price” . Any insight you have would be great! Thanks

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