Why one businesswoman launched a events company in the middle of the pandemic

While the events industry continues to be one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, one Manchester businesswoman is determined to make her newly-launch events business a success.

“I’m just so passionate that we can make it through and that we actually have something different to offer the market,” says Holly Moore.

Holly launched her new business venture HM Events on August 21, providing private parties, which has already seen her host a socially-distanced garden party for actor and presenter Denise Van Outen.

HM Events launched as a sister company to Make Events, a company which Holly set up in 2012 and has a client list that includes the likes of billionaire bookmaker Fred Done and Kellogg’s.

Make Events, which pre-covid was worth £3.5m and employed 18 members of staff, originally offered both private and corporate events before it repositioned the brand to become a corporate creative agency.

But, while corporate events became the business’s main offering, it was organising private parties on the side and was beginning to gain traction.

Holly says: “The problem that we’d had right at the start [of Make Events], which was that nobody knew me and I didn’t have much credibility, was all gone because I’m well known in the events industry albeit corporate.

“But we actually thought that was quite good because it shows that we know how to do events, if we can run multiple day events for big global companies we can certainly do a private party or a wedding.”

After working on the new private events brand as a passion project, Rosie Griffin, head of HM Events, presented the brand to the company in March.

A week later, the government announced lockdown measures.

Holly says: “They put all this work into it and I had to sit with them and say there’s absolutely no way we can launch.”

“I said I don’t want it to look like we’re setting up another limited company and it looks like maybe we were doing something dodgy like we’re going to liquidate Make Events and get another company set up.

“Also people aren’t doing parties now anyway.”

Holly said at some points during lockdown she was “seriously considering” closing Make Events to go solo as a party planner.

“But I didn’t want to take Rosie’s dream away from her because she’s worked so hard on it.”

But as the UK began to emerge from Lockdown, Holly “just decided that, you know what, if we’re going to fight we’re just going to absolutely fight, kicking and screaming.”

“I had a lot of businessmen, I’m saying men and it sounds like I’m generalising but honestly CEOs and MDs that I’m in touch with saying to me furlough all your staff…cut your marketing, get it down to the bare bones.

“But there was just something in me that wanted to do the opposite of that and I want to prove, if we’re going to pivot, pivot properly, and our strategy was to be the last one standing.

“It sounds awful but I built this business on my own for eight years and sacrificed a lot for it, and I can’t just hibernate until everything’s back to normal.

“My main priority is to keep this brand alive until this is all over, I’ll have to make decisions accordingly along the way so we’ve almost gone from Make Events version one to Make Events version two with sister company HM events.”

Holly says she didn’t want to wait to launch HM Events until it was “back to normal” because “when people are ready for events, we’re not just a new kid on the block”.

Left to Right: Rosie Griffin, Holly Moore and Suzanne Lawler

She says the business has landed a contract for a global organisation for 18 months of work, so they “know we can keep going”. 

“We had a Halloween party enquiry that’s happening, and we had a small 40th garden party enquiry, we’ve had another big party for next summer and small wedding enquiry, so we’ve probably had around eight solid enquiries that are going to come to something.”

Ms Moore said Make Events has “massively pivoted” since lockdown and has “completely changed the business”.

“[Before Covid], we were really a business with one revenue strategy and we thought if we’re going to continue, we don’t know if this is going to go on for years on and off, so we need to be able to offer other ways for people to communicate and bring the team together.

“It is a permanent change to the business and actually I think we’ll have a much better business by the end of it.”

Holly said Make Events has added virtual events, a content studio – which offers graphic design, branded printing, video, photography – and has expanded its prop shop.

The business now also provided branded boxes for businesses who want to communicate a strategy, a message or a thank you note to a customer or employee.

“Last week we did 380 for a pharmaceutical company that’s just launched a drug,” she said.

“We’re about to launch another marketing campaign, called ‘Social Christmassing’, so we’re giving clients options now to have, because people don’t want to have christmas parties, to do branded boxes for their teams to do virtual events, to office install or catering in the office.”

Holly said it’s “really hard” to plan for the future because “government guidance is so sketchy, it changes minute to minute”.

“We can’t just go off and do our own thing for insurance reasons…because all these celebrities are getting all these parties and getting into a lot of trouble, so we’ve got to be very mindful that we’re doing the right thing.

“You’ve seen the wedding situation at the moment, it’s not going to return to normal for us at the moment until there’s a vaccine, so I guess at the moment, we’ve not done any particular forecasting, we’re just keeping it alive without having to have any borrowing until we know what the situation is.”

Holly says the business is losing ‘at least’ £30,000 a month.

She says: “I’ve always been really good with cashflow and put quite a bit of profits aside.

“I’ve had people advising me on spending profits to reinvest and that I’ve got too much burn rate in the bank, but something inside of me was saying I need it for a rainy day and the rainy day is Covid.

“I’m trying to use our retained profits to get us through but the businesses.

“I’ve managed to cut the cost by a third, but we are losing at least £30,000 a month at the moment, so not only has 95 per cent of our revenue dropped out, it’s actually costing me to keep it alive.

“I’ve had people ask me why we don’t just close but we were so liquid, to actually close I’d have to pay all my suppliers off, so I’d walk away with absolutely nothing which is on a business that’s worth a good few million at the start of the year.”

She added: “I have this stubbornness in me that’s like this would be the ultimate ‘anything is possible’ if I can steer this business through a global pandemic, in one of the worst hit industries.

“I think that’s my motivation that I’ve got a story at the end of it which is quite exceptional that’s kind of what’s getting me up everyday to pull it all through.”