Melissa Park has spent most of her career working in the event space. She has also nursed an entrepreneurial bug from a young age and when she finally branched out on her own, she hit the ground running. Her company Melissa Park Events has been producing and organizing large scale events for international companies and festivals for over a decade. And then, COVID-19 hit. Like so many other entrepreneurs in the event space, Park was forced to cancel most of her 2020 gatherings. After years of running a thriving business, Park suddenly found herself without a paycheck and a lot of free time. Instead of panicking, Park decided to take stock of her life, her business and to utilize the time she had been given to strengthen and expand. She redesigned her website, revised her fee structure, created a masterclass for other event professionals, launched new digital products – all while maintaining a solid financial foundation.
Park’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
What was your reason for starting your business?
I’ve been driven to pursue entrepreneurship since I was young and feel like it has always been in the cards that I would make some type of venture my full-time gig. The true turning point though came while I was the event, marketing and new business development manager for an African drumming team. On the management side it was a two-woman show, me and the owner, so while she was on maternity leave, I basically ran every aspect of the business. I very quickly came to the conclusion that if I was going to work around the clock for anybody’s business, it needed to be my own. So when I look back, we both had babies. She created a human and I created Melissa Park Events!
I continued working in Australia as an event producer for six years delivering events like HSBC Bank’s Chinese New Year Gala Dinner Tour, Asia-Pacific’s Incentives & Meetings Exhibition and more than 20 outdoor festivals. Then in 2014 I relocated to the U.S. After two years working in-house for a large tech company in San Francisco, I decided to step back out on my own. For just over three years business cranked along at an amazing, often exhausting but insanely fulfilling pace. Then the pandemic happened and I had a lot of soul searching and purpose-driven reflection to do about what the next phase of my business should be. Without the ability to produce other people’s events on a regular basis, I took the time to fast-track my five-year plan into an immediate plan. I have always wanted to build a platform that enables me to inspire and arm upcoming events and marketing professionals with tools and tactics they need to fast-track their success. Essentially, I want to be the mentor that I wished I had, and the seven step masterclass I created during the last year is the first step towards achieving that goal.
How do you define success?
To me, success is directly correlated to personal (and professional) freedom. Freedom to lead a company that continues to expand and evolve as myself and my vision does. Freedom to choose the clients I work with rather than feeling like I need to accept everyone in order to make ends meet. Freedom to infuse my signature, and proven effective, “Mel-Factor” into my clients’ events with the trust that it will not only help them achieve their goals, but also create a truly memorable experience for their attendees. Success is having the freedom to continue creating the life I love while bringing all of me, the continually-evolving me, to the table every single day.
Tell us about your biggest success to date
Building a global business based on referrals and recommendations. I love the quote “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” I’ve always gone above and beyond and will stop at nothing to exceed my clients expectations and deliver a kick-ass experience that is guaranteed to blow their attendees’ minds. When I decided to launch my first business in Australia, I emailed everyone I had ever worked with to share the exciting news and asked for a recommendation if they knew of anyone who required event management services. With that one email, opportunities began flowing and so did the referrals as more people experienced my events. When I relocated to the U.S., I had no contacts or connections so I had to start over from scratch. I first took an in-house role to build a new network and was promoted to Director of Global Strategic Events after just six months. This role enabled me to showcase my expertise as I delivered the company’s Global Summits in the USA, Europe, Australia and Asia from 2015 to 2017. After two years working in-house, I was ready to step back out on my own and used the exact same strategy as I did in Australia to get the word out. Pre-COVID, my team and I delivered 30 large-scale user conferences, strategic sponsorships, and innovative brand activations annually, all a direct response to recommendations and referrals from clients and event attendees.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
I entered 2020 based in New York City, looking to expand my team after having secured 30 events for the year including large-scale conferences, strategic sponsorships, and innovative brand activations. Within a matter of days of the first public U.S. COVID case, the country put measures in place to reduce the spread and as a result all large gatherings got cancelled, albeit rightfully so. With those cancellations though, went my entire portfolio and income for the whole YEAR! (inhale…exhale…) After the initial shock wore off, I took stock of the situation I found myself in. Rather than be a victim to the virus, I decided to change my perspective and be appreciative of this newly found time to work on my business when I couldn’t work in it. That also meant finding a way to create multiple revenue streams so I never find myself in that type of financial situation again. Since then I have redesigned my website, revised my fee structure, automated processes, and developed a series of free content and a Masterclass to teach other event professionals how to grow their event attendance (in-person or digitally) the way I have for my clients. Between the Masterclass, my one-on-one event production services, and other new digital products I’m creating, I am able to continue delivering value to my clients and their events while driving multiple revenue streams for my own peace of mind and a solid financial foundation.
Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?
Many say, “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” I subscribed to that until 2019 when I suffered from severe burnout. While searching for solutions, I discovered a video by NYC-based Burnout Coach, Caitlin Donovan who said, “In order to avoid burning out, you need to love your life as much, if not more, than your business. If your business is your way of escaping from your life – you’ll burn out every time.” Hearing this was a defining moment and absolute game changer for me as I realized in that moment that like so many entrepreneurs and incredibly driven career people, I had built my entire life around my business and brand. If for any reason it all disappeared, I would be left with nothing. Instantly I knew some significant changes had to be made.
I reassessed my goals. I asked myself the tough questions and got really focused really fast. I realized that if it’s not a “Hell YES!” it’s a No: Now when an opportunity presents itself, if I cannot clearly see how it will enable me to get one step closer to achieving one of my goals, I respectfully decline. I also conducted a human audit; If someone in your life makes you more unhappy than they make you happy, it doesn’t matter who they are, they’ve got to go. I audited everyone and everything – clients, vendors, family, friends and my social media. I prioritized my health. There is nothing better for the mind, body and soul than a good workout. Whether it’s boxing, yoga, running or a brisk walk in the park, as long as it gets my heart rate up and enables me to switch off and be present, I always feel so much better afterwards. I hired a Burnout Coach. They exist! Who knew? Mine has changed my life and as long as you’re ready to be called out on your excuses and be held accountable for your actions, you might benefit from one too. I became mindful of what I consume: Whether it’s food, alcohol or social media, being incredibly mindful of what you’re consuming helps you made healthy choices that create a ripple effect on all facets of your life.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
The fastest and easiest way to get your first clients is by simply telling people what you are doing and asking if they know of anyone looking for help in that space. This is how I grew my network and got referrals.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
I believe that if somebody says ‘no’ then you are asking the wrong person. Whether it’s a personal or professional goal I am trying to achieve, whenever I am faced with a challenge, a roadblock or receive a no, I get creative and find another way. It’s the only way I know how.
Who is your most important role model?
I love the quote, “If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.” Over the last 20 years, I’ve made it my mission to seek out and surround myself (in person and online) with individuals who are the absolute best in their biz, no matter the field. Whether I’m consuming one of her books, videos or podcast episodes, attending a conference, watching a coaching session or just getting my daily dose of inspiration via her social media channels, Rachel Hollis is my mentor – even though she doesn’t know it. Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed or need to channel a fellow female powerhouse, I turn to her content for that burst of inspiration and perspective I need at the moment. Entrepreneur, author, motivational speaker, media mogul and momma of four, Rachel provides the motivation (aka the swift kick in the butt) I need to refocus and come back fighting.