How Natasha Miller Started A $4M Event Management Company

$333,300
revenue/mo
1
Founders
14
Employees
product
Entire Productions
from San Francisco
started January 2001
$333,300
revenue/mo
1
Founders
14
Employees
3.11M
alexa rank
3.46K
followers
531
followers
email
shipping
accounting
analytics
advertising
stock images
freelance
education

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

I’m Natasha Miller- raised in Des Moines, Iowa but high-tailed it out of there as soon as I could at the age of 23. I thought I’d be a performer only - a classical violinist and jazz vocalist, but as it turns out those careers might have been the catalyst for where I am today.

My company Entire Productions is an event and entertainment production company with an emphasis on experience design (XD). We primarily work with corporate clients- many are Fortune 500 and a lot are in tech and pharma.

We do two main things- bring in entertainment for high-end events and also plan, design and produce high-end events. Mostly on the West Coast with our offices being located in San Francisco (headquarters) and Los Angeles, but we work all over the world in major markets.

We are a fast-growing company in the last few years and I attribute that to the education and focus I’ve given to my business. The Goldman Sachs 10ksb program was the kick-starter. I have a goal of getting to the $20M annual mark but won’t stop there necessarily.

This year alone we’ve been included in the following:

how-natasha-miller-started-a-4m-event-management-company

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I thought that I’d be a performing artist touring the world and although I did leave a mark with my performances at esteemed concert venues and recorded 7 CD’s that I produced under my boutique label Poignant Records, I found myself being double and triple booked for private parties (this is how many musicians add to their income when not touring, recording or teaching).

I didn’t take a salary for years which in hindsight was a mistake. Even a modest, regular salary is something I’d suggest for anyone starting their business.

Instead of turning down the business I’d explain to my clients that I was already booked but I could bring to their event a group that was as good as mine if not better and manage the whole process. What I didn’t know at the time was that I was creating a mini empire and becoming a budding entrepreneur.

It wasn’t until my daughter turned 5 in the year 2001 that I left my job as a media buyer for an ad agency, got an office, a business license and began operating as a legal business, even though I was still a sole proprietor. Now I was responsible for things like business insurance, bookkeeping, taxes, and other “grown-up” things that I didn’t deal with much before this time.

One of my biggest clients I landed that first official year in business was a real-estate client who has an outdoor performance stage that they hosted public concerts every week in the spring through the holidays at lunchtime. I had rented a desk in an office of an event planner that had the account. She had another music programmer doing it for years but they were ready for a change and asked me to do it. I had only programmed one-off events but I said yes. Always say yes, then learn how to do it while you’re doing it! That was a great undertaking having to program that stage and I still have that client today!

how-natasha-miller-started-a-4m-event-management-company Photo © Misti Layne

I then branched out to programming concerts, bringing in other entertainment outside of music- dancers, models, walk-around characters, aerial artists as well as live fine-art painters, photo booths and so many other experiential talent. We did some planning of the events as well, but mostly focused on entertainment production. I eventually registered as an LLC and am now an S Corp.

This being the mecca of the tech industry, we have incredible clients with plentiful budgets- one recent client spent over $100,000 on the entertainment for their 3-hour event. One of my individual clients spent over $700,000 on entertainment for her birthday party for a headline artist.

Now we’re designing, planning and producing large-scale events as well as programming the talent. Instead of taking about 10% of an events budget for entertainment, now we’re looking at spending 100% of our client’s budget.

Take us through the process of designing and executing your unique events.

Entire Productions started off sending out classical string ensembles and jazz bands out to social and corporate events.

We then added other offerings such as dance bands, DJ’s, aerial and circus artists, live-event painters, cigar rollers, headline celebrities, etc. A lot of our challenges are educating our musical and artistic talent what the expectations on a special event are which are very different than what they’re used to at bars, clubs, festivals where there aren’t many restrictions for behavior, interaction with guests and drinking, etc. I knew a lot of classical, jazz and pop/rock musicians from being a musician myself. I had to branch out of my world to engage with DJ’s and circus arts performers- I also had to learn the lingo that comes with each discipline. Asking people who they know, finding them at their public performances as well as sourcing and qualifying talent online are the main methods I used to find this talent.

Research your competitors and figure out what makes you unique, different and why your customers should really choose you. Deliver impeccable services or products. There’s no shortcut to this!

We always bootstrapped the business and thankfully didn’t have a huge overhead or had to invest in inventory or storage costs. After our clients demanded that because of our skills in design, creative, planning and producing we plan their events instead of just providing the entertainment.

In 2017 we started accepting one full-production event a quarter, in 2018 we opened it up to accept more, and in 2019 we’re primed to build that side of the business substantially.

We have legal counsel that advises us on our contracts but try to keep those costs to a minimum.

how-natasha-miller-started-a-4m-event-management-company Photo ©Gustavo Fernandez

how-natasha-miller-started-a-4m-event-management-company Photo © Misti Layne

how-natasha-miller-started-a-4m-event-management-company

Describe the process of launching the business.

I began the business in a very rudimentary way- money in, expenses paid out and whatever leftover went back into the business or to me.

I didn’t take a salary for years which in hindsight was a mistake. Even a modest, regular salary is something I’d suggest for anyone starting their business.

I financed the company through my own money saved from past full-time jobs and some on credit cards, but avoided that as much as possible.

I didn’t take a line of credit or a loan from the bank until 4 years ago when I requested a line of credit as “in case” funds.

Rebrand

In 2008 I was trying to pry myself out of a bad relationship and thought that being busy with a new endeavor would be helpful. I enrolled in a course at the Berklee School of music- an online Entrepreneur course where I decided to focus on Entire Productions rather than my small record label and music publishing company. I decided to put energy into redoing the logo, colors, and offering more services. I relaunched my company with a blow-out marketing experiential marketing event that was 100% sponsored by the caterers, bar, talent and venue which was the Oakland Rotunda.

This kicked off an annual event that the event industry in the San Francisco Bay Area looks forward to. We actually have people that fly in from all over the country- from New York, Chicago, Hawaii, Los Angeles, and Dallas.

This event is still sponsored by all of the vendors and partners (venue, catering, decor, A/V, etc.) and has a retail value of several hundred thousand dollars now. It’s incredible! Last year’s event had a “Vernal Equinox” theme and this year takes place on Fat Tuesday so we’re doing a Mardi Gras Masquerade theme.

Launching the website

I coded my first website in HTML after learning from the “Dummies” books. When I rebranded I had a graphic designer design my logo and website and had a programmer develop the site.

Today I still use that database-rich site (which houses all of the artist profiles) along with a tricked-out Squarespace site that both I and a designer/developer work on.

Lessons learned

The biggest lesson I have learned is to educate yourself on the mechanics of business, not just be good at the service you provide.

I would have made a lot more money in those early years if my focus was there but my passion for what we were doing was more than my interest in making certain profit margins.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Being active in the community

For us the biggest way to attract clients is to be very active in the various organizations in our field such as MPI and ILEA.

Attending the events doesn’t cut it, we become members, volunteer on a committee and eventually want a seat on the board. These organizations- especially early on- were responsible for most of our client acquisition.

We learned to go where our clients are, and not waste our time in marketing endeavors that are too broad. For us, that meant that attending Chamber of Commerce events weren’t the best use of time because maybe 1-3% of those attending would use our services whereas at the event organizations nearly 95% would.

Social media

Our social media has also been a very important way of both attracting new clients but also informing existing clients on our scope of possibilities. We rely on Facebook and Instagram.

We don’t do much paid advertising and don’t buy followers. We don’t have as many followers as you’d think would be impactful but we’ve landed clients from just one image of a mermaid swimming in a pool. It’s amazing!

We’ll be focusing some effort, time and money on SEO this year for the first time to attract new clients who we can’t reach by the means we have now.

PR

Recently we’ve been featured in many outlets including Inc. Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, Thrive Global. Some of this was due to a freelance part-time publicist we used for 10 months last year, but most of it came through because of the various features in the larger publications.

For retaining clients, we really consider the excellent service we provide to them to be the number one approach. We send thank-you notes, reach out via a newsletter and welcome them to our annual marketing event.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

We’re so proud to be a profitable multi-million dollar company that is fast growing. We’ve had growth of 148% and have since grown by almost another $1M last year. We expect to grow by another $1M at a minimum this year.

We don’t spend any money on online or print advertising with the exception of boosting various Facebook posts. We really spend our time and energy on developing relationships and offering amazing service and experiences.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I’ve learned so much throughout the 18+ years I’ve been in business.

Hiring

One that is especially tough is hiring and firing. The adage, “Hire Slow, Fire Fast” is so correct.

I spent a long time with people who worked with me who had attitude issues as well as performance issues and I didn’t know that only ⅔ of hires will “make it”. That ⅓ should either be let go or will leave so I hung on and tried to help develop them.

Honestly, I didn’t have the skills that were necessary to manage people as well as I do now (though I’m constantly learning and improving) but I now understand that I’m not only hurting myself but also the team and company as a whole by keeping people on that aren’t cutting it. Learning how to write a great job description, interviewing and screening/testing candidates is also an art and science in and of itself.

I still think it’s very hard to know if a candidate will be solid even if they have great references, a spot-on resume, interviewed well, and great excitement for the company.

Sometimes, they just couldn’t perform well with us even if they’d been successful in other companies. I wish there was a secret button to know ahead of time, but there isn’t.

Programs

Some of the best decisions I’ve made were participating in the Goldman Sachs 10ksb program, followed up with the Surge and Grow program- both at Babson College in Boston. I learned so much there and attribute the fast growth and success to my ability to see my business as a bonafide serious business rather than a passion.

Finding an advisor

The next best decision was to enroll with Pacific Community Ventures for an advisor (at no cost) in Human Relations. I was assigned to a woman named Cindy Kaczmarek who helped me shape so many things in my business. Both in Human Relations but other aspects as well.

She’s recently turned me on to a credit card processing company where I’ll be saving $10,000 a year! You can’t beat that!

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

I created a unique system for my business within Salesforce. We run our entire business on it- from the moment a client engages with us to contracting the talent, vendors as well as the clients. It is heavily automated and is one of the biggest reasons we were able to work on over 750 events in 2018.

It captures every piece of information needed to run an event and communicates with all parties without us having to think or remember to do so. Salesforce has written about me and how we use their platform and I had the honor of speaking at Dreamforce last year as well.

We connect so many apps to our Salesforce platform including Dbsync which connects Salesforce to Quickbooks, OwnBackup to back up our Salesforce org every day, Adobe Echosign for contracts, Conga Composerto create forms (it’s similar to a layout program), SMS Magic for sending out reminder texts to our artists and clients and Cirrus Insight which connects Gmail to Salesforce.

We LOVE Google for their email, Google Docs and Sheets as well as Google Slides which we create all of our presentations and proposals on.

We rely heavily on Slack to communicate with our team. We have people working in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta and London but we are very connected because of this app. It also greatly decreases the need for inter-office email.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

A friend from high school named Justin Aten just wrote a book about leadership that I found very useful- it’s called The Leadership Formula. Although I’ve been leading my team for some time, it’s always great to get other examples and glean new information. A book that will open your eyes to making a profit is Profit First- I don’t use the principles exactly as they’re defined in the book but it was a pivotal switch after reading this book and I used some of the teachings in it along with my advisors that have led the company to profit.

I listen to How I Built Thisby Guy Raz- it’s incredible to hear his guest’s stories! It reminds me to reach higher and think bigger.

I read Entrepreneur Magazine, Inc. Magazine and Fast Company every month. I’ve just started reading Forbes Magazine as well.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

If you’re just getting started, create a business plan right away. There is no one “right” way to do it.

Get your ideas on paper, scratch out the numbers and don’t forget to double what you think expenses will be. Great systems and processes take time, but don’t forget about them- putting them in place and tweaking as you go is just fine.

Research your competitors and figure out what makes you unique, different and why your customers should really choose you. Deliver impeccable services or products. There’s no shortcut to this!

Make sure you love what you’re doing, try to hire great people, and know that any mistakes or issues are incredible opportunities to learn. They’re not failures. Failure is not recognizing the opportunity for growth and making adjustments.

Ask for help as soon as you can. Find mentors, advisors, classes, read books. Get as many opinions as you can. Even if you don’t agree with them they might guide you to another method. You should always be thinking and learning and engaged.

Don’t wait until it’s perfect. Go out and do it and you can figure out everything else along the way. Just do it!

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We’re always looking for phenomenal people to work at Entire Productions. Currently we’re looking for an Account Executive and a Production Coordinator.

Where can we go to learn more?

Thank you so much for this opportunity to share my story! Feel free to reach out to me or drop a comment below and I’ll be sure to answer!

-  
Natasha Miller,   Founder of Entire Productions

Want to start your own business?

Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.

We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business. By sharing these stories, we want to help others get started.

If you liked this story, join our mailing list for new interviews every Tuesday.

Interested in sharing your own story? Find out how!

-  
Pat Walls,   Founder of Starter Story

Are you ready to boost your revenue?

Using Klaviyo will open up a massive, untapped sales channel and bring you closer to your customers!

We've interviewed many impressive businesses who swear by the results of the product, including Brumate, Beardbrand, and many more.

Level up your email marketing with Klaviyo!

Leave a comment

Check out our premium interviews: