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  • Jennifer Houlihan

2013 A-lister joins the dots between career and family life

Every year C&IT invites agencies to nominate their top talent under 35 years old to be put forward for the A-List. As a member of the A-List class of 2013, I took the leap and set up my own business in March last year. Here is my story.

My career in events started at a young age, working for a caterer as agency staff during the school holidays. I fell in love with the buzz of being onsite and, throughout my career, I have taken roles that shaped my well-rounded knowledge of the wider industry, hotels, caterings, airlines, TMCs, and events. My specialism in live events developed at Cascade Productions, who put me forward for C&IT's A-list in 2013. It was a super exciting time to be recognised for my ambition, and in the years following, I took on progressively bigger accounts and was rewarded with promotions. My last role with that company was as Commercial Director.

My ultimate goal has always been to set up my own business. I had experienced and achieved everything I wanted to, and more - from managing huge and emotive live events to setting up and running an entirely new service in the form of a boutique TMC arm to the business. I could have stayed in my comfort zone, but that would have been the easy option.

In addition to fulfilling a life ambition, I also wanted the freedom of running a business that I could fit around my young family, and so Dotted Lines Events was born.

Dotted Lines Events offers three primary services: Freelance end-to-end event management services, Operations Consultancy, and a newly launched sister brand - Get Dotted Events - which works in partnership with restaurants, retailers, cinemas, hotels, and more on ticketed pop-up events.


The last year has thrown many challenges my way. I expected some of them, organisational steps such as finding the right accountant, deciding a company structure (sole trader, limited company, etc.), making it legal, and opening digital channels were straight forward for me.

But one of my most significant tests, aside from COVID-19, was the instant lack of a 'team'. That wasn't so much because of the amount of work involved in setting up a business. It was more about having people around me – the buzz of busy events and project teams creating and planning. In the early days, I would head down to the butchers just for some human interaction. But now I love that I can dip in and out of ready-made teams when working on freelance projects and have a solid community in local co-working spaces.

Luckily after many years in the industry, my network of contacts is strong, and I've been able to investigate collaborative projects that I wouldn't have been able to explore previously.

I'm a huge advocate of sustainable events. I have been working with the MIA on its #20PerCentLess campaign, and have recently joined the HBAA's new-formed sustainability committee.

I've learned to be even more organised than I was before – people who know me will wonder how that's possible! And running your own business to fit around family life also makes you more appreciative of your down-time and family time. I sometimes wonder how I've crammed everything in, and then I remember that creative project management skill is one of the strengths that make event profs a perfect fit for the industry we've chosen, even if this does mean my children have their own Trello board!

It's not all roses; there are times when I'm working 24/7 and away on live events, and of course, my husband takes the brunt of it for a few weeks. But I try to offset these periods with some downtime to focus on my family and my wellbeing, in the hope that my children grow up seeing a strong, hardworking mother and that I have a legacy to leave them.

It was an incredible first year when I reflect on it. I managed a five-night immersive pop-up food event at a zoo, concluded a six-month freelance project with an overseas luxury three-day culinary and mindfulness event, grew strong partnerships with local agencies working on freelance projects for their clients and started to build my own client base up through strategic partnerships with fellow start-ups and entrepreneurs. I mentored an event prof under ELEVATE – a unique programme to encourage and inspire ambitious people in our industry. I designed incentive programmes for locations, including Las Vegas, Lapland, Budapest, Miami, New York, and Lisbon. I supported a local community pop-up event, delivered GDPR compliance mapping and training, and built my own website and blog.

And while Coronavirus has thrown me (and all of us) a humongous curveball, it's proved the worth of event professionals' resilience and expertise. Early on, we crisis managed daily changes from the H&S perspective, and a logistical approach. We rerouted live events as they happened while mitigating costs and protecting client investment – all the while being dictated to by daily shake-ups to corporate access and travel policies. You can't put a value on the relationships, creativity, and quick-thinking of our industry and its people in situations such as that – pulling together for our clients when it really counted.

And now we’re doing it again... we’ve come together as a family to support each other and do whatever we can to help businesses survive and ensure events can safely return. In fact, frustrated with Government progress, I created operational guidelines that I presented to DCMS, to showcase how events can safely happen using current advice – certainly with no more risk than a non-essential retail shop. My guidelines have been recognised by Visit Britain and adopted by The HBAA, circulated to all members. I hope that a Government announcement for our industry comes soon so we can start following the guidelines to deliver safe events for our clients again.

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CONTACT

Got a challenge you’d like to discuss, or just want to say hello? I’d love to hear from you.

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Tel: 07921 210729

jennifer@dottedlines.co.uk

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