• Meet Sean R. Schuette, CMP, owner of Schuette On Duty Solutions
• Building relationships is key
• From live theatre to live events
Sean R. Schuette is celebrating his 18th year in the meetings and events industry. This native Minnesotan is the youngest of three boys who grew up in the shadow of the Jolly Green Giant in LeSeur. Sean knew early on that he loved singing and musical theatre. As he pursued his theatre major and communications minor at Luther College in Decorah, IA, he learned about and fell in love with stage management, which, as he put it, “is similar in many ways to the skillset needed for a meeting planner.
Sean is an asset to his local community and has been involved with his church production team for over a decade helping with everything from cameras, lighting, and production of large services. After years of working in tradeshow and association management, November 2016 saw a shift as Schuette on Duty Solutions, LLC was born and Sean became an independent planner.
Midwest Meetings: What was your first experience with the meetings/events industry?
Sean R. Schuette, CMP: My first experience with the industry was attending Affordable Meetings in Chicago at Navy Pier. It was a free event to attend and I was able to get my travel and hotel covered by my employer. I was a member of the MimList (now MiForum) at the time and had formed friendships through the discussions on the list. It was great to meet many of the people in person at both networking and educational sessions. I got to see firsthand the beauty that is the meetings industry, which at its core is all about relationships.
MM: Tell us about yourself and your job.
SRS: I have been on my own for a little over three months now and am continuing to build my client base. In my role prior to becoming an independent I worked with six association clients and helped them ensure success of their respective organizations. This came in the form of partnering with their board of directors, conference committees, and volunteers. I worked on an average of eight to ten programs a year both local to MN and national in reach.
MM: What prompted you to obtain your CMP designation?
SRS: It was a goal of mine. I was 5 years into the industry and knew I needed enough experience, and at the time points on the application, to apply. It was another step and chapter forward in my journey in the industry and helped me embrace all that I had learned along the way. I remember the study group I attended, put on by MPI MN, as well as my exam day in Vegas in 2008. I still have my letter from the testing organization noting a “passing score” that I waited close to 10 weeks for after taking my test.
MM: What is your tried and true approach to clients?
SRS: I have learned it’s about being their partner. Going into conversations and meetings with the attitude that I am not the smartest person in the room and showing clients you hear them.
Clients entrust their meeting and their experience to you and your expertise. Partnering with them for success is the key time and time again, and often what causes them to stay with you and refer you.
SRS: I have had many great days, but one that is always close to my heart is the day I got to see a collaboration I was involved in for a speaker, and dear friend, come to life on the stage in front of nearly 2,000 people. I helped in the overall flow of the event, the images and music used, and how it would look to the attendee onstage during. It was again a confirmation of my producer’s heart in how I approach my work and the moments that are “the beauty of live theatre.”
MM: What challenges do you feel meeting and event planners face today?
SRS: We are managing many more unspoken expectations now than I recall in years past and attendees come in expecting those to be met or at least a plan in place. We are challenged to look more and more at the overall experience attendees have while at the events we produce. Their time away from their families and work is valuable as well as the cost to attend, and many are having to show ROI back to their organizations when they return.
MM: Describe your all-time favorite catering menu for an event?
SRS: One of my all-time favorite menus was a welcome reception we had for a client who was holding their meeting at Disneyland Resort. Normally only attendees are able to attend thereceptions, but I convinced the client to open it up to all, so families could be in attendance. I had an assortment of kid-friendly and family-friendly foods including mini PB&J sandwiches so that all ages could feel comfortable at the event.
As an added touch we had an appearance by Mickey Mouse during the reception which caused all those in attendance, myself included, to revert to being a young child again.
SRS: You need to remember that when you enter into this journey, you are now a business owner first and a meeting professional second. Sometimes that is hard to keep balanced as so many of us love the work and know to keep the work we need to sell our services and prospect.
• Go into this with the mindset of making relationships with people and being transparent first, and not solely focused on the money aspects. Yes, you need to bring in an income, but it is narrow-minded to just focus on the money piece.
• When you are in meetings with current or potential clients, even if you are the “expert” in the room, leave that at the door and assume the attitude of not being the smartest person in the room. It will serve you in the long run as it opens you up to much more learning and growing. I give credit to business owner Tom Bilyeau for that piece of advice.
• Know right away you will need to build a tax shelter. You will need to put a percentage of the income you get aside to cover taxes as more often than not you will be paid a full amount without any taxes withheld. Put the money aside and don’t touch it.
• Network and meet new people as often as you can. So much work is landed via referrals, and people refer those they like and have formed a relationship with.
• Track your time, not only so you can properly bill clients, but so you can categorize the time you are building the business and compare it year over year. There is a great free, online site, Timeflow, that is both web based and has an app.
• Keep your business and personal monies separate and pay yourself from your business.
• Get an accountant who understands small businesses as well as independent planners. You will learn about what you can write off or not and be sure to track it as currently as possible to avoid scrambling at tax time. Keep your receipts for backup and categorize them.
• Have a support system of other independent planners in your area. They have been through the launch and first year and can help encourage and guide. They are also people you can refer and share work with. It is an amazing community.
Read Sean's 'Just For Fun' answers in the Summer 2017 Digital Edition.