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Lessons Learned from Owning a Business During a Crisis

Asheville and Charlotte based event planner and owner of Mosaix Group, Melissa Murray, has spent the past few decades globe-trotting, client-pleasing, and venue-taming. She is equally at home steering the CEO of GE to his stadium seat as she is wrangling the Blues Brothers. Her track record is simultaneously an inspiration and a warning to her intrepid staff. In today’s blog, Melissa talks about hard lessons learned during her career as an event professional. From 9/11, to the recession, to the current COVID-19 pandemic, she shares what it’s like to run a business during a crisis.

Melissa Murray, Mosaix Group Owner

It all Started in Vegas

The long and winding road of my event experience started in Las Vegas. Sinatra was our paid (and more than a little tipsy) entertainer and Lee Iaccoca was being celebrated for his amazing influence on Chrysler during his departure event. Being handed a walkie-talkie made me feel like an integral part of the action even though I was more of a human arrow and digester of bus fumes than a vital part of the event. My career has taken me all over the world and has been both thrilling and challenging. Events have changed tremendously over the years and so much of it has stayed the same. The challenges and disruptions of COVID-19 have been daunting and beyond severe but it’s not the first time the event industry had to turn on a dime to make a new reality work.

Over the past 30 years, Charlotte event planners, Asheville event managers, and event professionals from around the world have had to roll with the punches and pivot (getting to hate that word). While we have not seen anything on this COVID-19 scale, much of what we have experienced has helped us prepare for this new reality.

From left to right: Melissa Murray, Alan Melichar. Mary Marbut. Marianne Blazar. On-site for events at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome

Owning a Business in a Crisis

The dot-com bubble taught us about contract negotiations, cancellations, and extreme budget reductions. 9/11? Many lessons were learned by that tragic event. Force Majeure clauses were analyzed, scrutinized, and tightened-up. My experience on 9/11 was waking up at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas expecting 3,000 pharmaceutical arrivals that day while having around 1,000 attendees and vendors ‘in-house’ – most of which traveled in from NYC. We learned to think on our feet and get creative to manage clients, attendees, suppliers, contracts, and most importantly, help with overwhelming emotions from all involved.

The recession brought along the lesson of tightening up the ship and watching every penny. All expenses were examined as corporate budgets were slashed and even modest spending was scorned. The contraction in both the volume of events during this period along with the event budgets had a tremendous effect on the event planners at that time. I learned many lessons the hard way. Mistakes are always more dramatic when finances are slim.

COVID-19 has thrown another curve ball into our industry. Maybe more of a curve asteroid. Lessons learned in the past are helping to carry us through this challenging time. My most important lessons from years past are helping me through yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Lessons Learned
  1. Tighten up your contracts to protect you and your client.
  2. Save for a rainy day, week, month – or year (2020). Ok – maybe it is too late to do that now but remember what you just came from when we are all out of this. Save those dollars.
  3. Reduce spending. Know where every dollar is headed. What is the minimum amount needed to get you through? This is going to be a long ride.
  4. Take care of your staff. This is extremely hard during COVID-19. Many of us have had to lay off staff, furlough staff, or even let them go. Take good care of the ones left. Carry the burden in this uncertain industry. Make sure you check in with those that have been laid off. I’ve written letters of recommendation, helped with unemployment insurance, and referred them to other jobs.
  5. Clients are feeling the uncertainty and challenges too. Take care of them. Reach out. Give guidance and support (regardless if you have a program with them at the current time).
  6. Celebrate the small victories. Have you received reasonable cancellation fees, had a project move to next year rather than cancel, won a little contract for your new ‘start up’ within your company, received PPP or other grants? Celebrate it all.
  7. Take care of yourself. The never-ending happy hour was a way to numb the initial reality of this craziness; now it is time to take care of yourself for the long haul. Yes, you know this is going to be a long haul. There is a great deal riding on those shoulders. Take care. People are counting on you.

-Melissa Murray, Mosaix Group Owner