by Elizabeth Zielinski, CMM | February 20, 2013

By Elizabeth Zielinski, CMM
Once upon a time in the meeting planning industry, we were all just known as planners. Then came corporate, government, association and, later, independent planners. Now the categories are countless: insurance,pharmaceutical, nonprofit and military, just to name a few. And within our types of planning, there are types of events: trade shows, board meetings, citywide conventions and client work-for-hire are some examples.
We know that in order to be the best at what we do, we have to know where our skills are best assigned. We can’t be a “jack of all trades” without the risk of being a master of none. And so our best chance at a successful career — whether as an employed professional or an independent planner — is identifying and cultivating our niche.
The two most common questions I am asked about being an independent planner are how I set my rates, and how I determined my niche. The answer to the latter question is far more critical to success than the former.
In the years that I have been working independently, my niche has shifted from time to time to respond to my interests or market conditions. But I have learned basic elements about identifying a niche that I believe translate to all types of meeting professionals, presented below as a trio of questions.
1. What is your passion? If you’re planning meetings of a type or for a host organization that doesn’t inspire your energy, then the money you get paid for doing it will never be enough to fulfill you. And while your personal fulfillment is unlikely to matter to your employer or client, being passionate about your work will definitely allow you to apply more energy to creating a stronger end product.
2. Where are your strengths? There are so many different skill sets in planning that might play to your strengths more than others. Are you especially skilled at measuring results, reading contracts or establishing objectives (just to name a few)? We are taught in school to strengthen the areas where we have weaknesses in order to succeed, but if you work to where you already have strength, then the results will show the positive difference. Employers and clients pay for skill, and they pay for a job well done.
3.  Where is the demand?  Let’s say for example that you’re passionate about fitness (question one, above), and you’re talented at planning trade shows (question two). That doesn’t establish a niche if there currently isn’t a demand for fitness-oriented trade shows. Identifying the demand is what makes questions one and two work. If a market segment is saturated, orperhaps is exceedingly small, it’s not going to be easy to get hired or to find clients.
The bottom line is that establishing a niche means finding the intersection between what you like to do, what you’re best at doing and what other people want. Answering the questions I’ve posed might require a lot of research, but the answers are easier to find than you might think. And finding them is crucial to being both successful and fulfilled in your work.
I’d like to hear more about how you ended up in your specialty niche in the planning industry, or if there are other questions you think are important to ask before determining a niche. Please feel free to comment below, or send an email to me at