(Photo: Courtesy of Karen Lawrence)
Karen Lawrence is a certified meeting professional and founder of It's My Affair, an event management company based in Charlotte. Lawrence won two contracts to help plan this week's Democratic National Convention. In an interview earlier in the week, she talked with BET.com about how she got the jobs and shared her best business tips for budding entrepreneurs.
BET.com: What type of services does It's My Affair specialize in?
Karen Lawrence: Basically what we do is we work with our clients to develop a plan, and oversee the overall operation and execution of meetings, conferences, conventions, grand openings, citywide events, training programs and galas. We just work with them to develop their programs, and to help to oversee, and then execute onsite.
What will you be doing at the DNC?
In my first contract, I will be providing the onsite management at the hotels and during the convention. That’s overseeing all of the room reservations, and being there to troubleshoot for whatever may come up. The second contract I have with the DNC is through the Charlotte Host Committee, and basically they put on 12 welcome events, and I was elected as one of the event planners to plan the welcome event at the Harvey B. Gantt Center.
You are the only business to have two contracts at the DNC. What was the application process was like?
The first contract actually came to me by way of the vendor directory. I was approached by a lady by the name of Tina Macintyre with Macintyre Management Group. She approached me and said that she had a business opportunity that she was putting together a team to compose on the housing contract and wanted to find out if I would have an interest in being part of her team. The second contract actually went through the Request for Proposal (RFP) process that the Charlotte Democratic National Convention Committee put out looking for event planners to help their welcome events that they were doing. And so, just going through the RFP, and putting together my proposal and going in to do the presentation was how I got the second contract to plan the event.
This year the DNC committee had an initiative in place to attract more African-American businesses to take part as vendors at the convention. What does it mean for you to be part of that group, and how do you think this experience impacts your business?
I get the opportunity to provide onsite management for one of the largest conventions in the United States. So, that is huge for me, and it puts my business into a different stage, to also open up doors for me to build real relationships that I believe will continue after the convention. What I think that they’ve done is they’ve made a tremendous effort to make sure that there’s a local participation, and then also making sure that minority businesses here locally are a part of this convention and getting some of the business.
How important is it that minorities are included in this process?
I look at it this way, a lot of times we don’t get the opportunities that some other businesses may get, because we are minorities, or because we are a small business. So, it makes me very happy to see, or hear, that other businesses besides myself are getting business from the DNC. I think it’s very important that the DNC makes sure that the people they’re doing business with are a diverse crowd of folks. I think that makes a huge statement.
What expectations do you have for the convention?
My expectation is to make sure that I do a good job, that I be a professional and bring in professional people to be a part of this. Just build real relationships to show that, yes, we can do this. We can provide the services, or the product that people are looking for, and that there are professional minority businesses out here that can do it.
Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs trying to break into their industry?
My advice is persistence. It’s been a struggle for me. It has not come easy because I’ve had to be kind of everything for my business. I had to go out and do the sales, the marketing, the administrative, and then when those doors [weren't] opening, it was very disappointing. But I am a very persistent person. And then also take time to position myself, making sure I get the proper training to do my business, to keep up with the latest trends and meetings and special events. And then just continue to go out and build those relationships. Networking is very important, and then again, positioning yourself so that when opportunities do come, you are ready.
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