Youthful Flair: Cameron Forbes’ Journey to Redefining Event Planning

Cameron Forbes

👇 Key Takeaways

  • Forbes Functions brings a youthful approach to an industry dominated by legacy agencies that don’t appeal to younger audiences
  • Most of the business’s clients have come through word-of-mouth or social media
  • Cameron says her relationships with vendors have been among her keys to success

Overview

Business Name: Forbes Functions
Website URL: https://www.forbesfunctions.com/
Founder: Cameron Forbes
Business Location: NYC and the Hamptons
Year Started: 2022
Number of Employees/Contractors/Freelancers: 7

Tell us about yourself and your business.

My name is Cameron Forbes, and I/m the founder and CEO of Forbes Functions, a boutique event planning company based in NYC and the Hamptons. I’m a born and raised New Yorker and I grew up on the Upper East Side and attended Riverdale Country School in the Bronx. I attended Duke University as an undergrad and spent my summers during college working in public relations at LaForce.

I’ve always been passionate about event planning. My family loves to host and entertain, and my parents have memories of me setting the table with my tea set even as a toddler. After working in events from a public relations capacity, I was exposed to the exciting landscape of brand activations and VIP experience in New York City.

After graduating from Duke during the pandemic, I worked in experience design at Bank of America. My journey in entrepreneurship began when I started Forbes Functions in June 2022 as a side hustle, planning events for friends of friends on the weekends. After nine months of running the business while working in banking full-time, I decided to bite the bullet and explore event planning full-time.

Since then, I’ve grown my business from a team of one to a team of seven and planned events for some major brands and influencers, including HamptonWater, Baked by Melissa, Serena Kerrigan, and more.

Forbes Functions prides itself on our entirely female team, and the playful touch we bring to the industry. We’re committed to curating one-of-a-kind events for clients and making the experience as seamless as possible. 

How does your business make money?

My business makes money off our event planning services and tablescape rental products. With event planning clients, we charge a percentage-based fee for each event based on budget. This fee covers our design services and labor. We also make money via our new tablescape rental service, Ours at Yours, which starts at $250 per box. 

What was your inspiration for starting the business?

I started the business because of my love of event planning. After everyone was cooped up inside during the pandemic, I noticed a renewed interest in hosting from friends and family. Brands were also taking advantage of the recently relaxed guidelines, and hosting activations like influencer dinners for the first time in years.

I also noticed, however, that there were very few young event planners working these events. Most of the professionals were well-established in the industry. This led to many of the events looking the same – basic, boring dinners with identical step-and-repeats and branded menus.

I started my business not only to make event planning more accessible for a younger audience but also to bring my understanding of brand marketing and Gen Z to the youthful DTC brands popping up in NYC. 

How and when did you launch the business?

I launched the business in June 2022, after missing the creative energy of my past professional experiences in public relations. It started as a side hustle, working mainly on the weekends and after my full-time job. After working with a handful of clients, I hosted a launch party in August 2022 to build brand awareness and grow my following online. 

How is the business funded? 

Forbes Functions is entirely self-funded and bootstrapped! As an event planning business, we don’t have a ton of overhead or startup costs. My initial investments were all of the necessary paperwork, licenses, and forms needed. 

How did you find your first few clients or customers?

I found my first few clients through social media and word-of-mouth recommendations. After starting the business, I began planning events for friends of friends. However, quickly, word spread around NYC, and I grew my clientele to include strangers who discovered Forbes Functions via Instagram and TikTok. 

What was your first year in business like?

During my first year of business, when it was still a side hustle, I was working around 2-4 hours per day during the week on client events and spent pretty much every weekend working onsite at venues.

I started making money immediately, but much of this went directly into growing the business instead of into my pocket. For example, I spent the first $10,000 I earned on branding for my business, as well as website development. This investment has brought back endless returns – today, nearly all of my business comes through my website.

Early on, I was mainly working on smaller events – think Thanksgiving tablescapes, intimate birthday parties, and dinner parties. I was also growing my vendor list, one of the most important assets for any event planner. 

What strategies did you use to grow the business?

My greatest strategy was doing the opposite of what my competitors were doing. As a young female event planner, I quickly noticed that the industry was dominated by legacy agencies, filled with red tape and high minimums for clients.

I didn’t want to have the same opaque planning process. Instead, I wanted to document my event planning online, and make hosting and entertaining as easy and accessible as possible for my clients and following.

Instead of just focusing on glossy galleries of event imagery, I shared the behind-the-scenes of party planning with clients, allowing me to grow my following on TikTok and Instagram and bring in more business.

Additionally, I took advantage of the influx of influencers in New York City right after the pandemic, partnering with content creators that felt brand-right and boasted a similar audience to Forbes Functions. 

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome?

The biggest challenge I had to overcome was truly starting my business from scratch. I founded Forbes Functions when I was only 23, and didn’t start out with a client roster or network of vendors.

Unlike some of my competition, I hadn’t built up years of experience at a legacy event planning agency first and, therefore, didn’t have clients or connections to bring over. Instead, I had to build both my vendor network and client roster from scratch, mainly through word of mouth and social media.

My upbringing in NYC definitely helped. Even though I didn’t have certain vendor relationships, I started with a solid understanding of the NYC hospitality industry and its key players. Also, I had loose connections to many of my current clients—whether they attended a neighboring school, supported similar charitable causes to me, or lived around the corner. 

What have been the most significant keys to your business’ success?

I think the most significant key to the success of the business is my relationships. Event planning as an industry is all about who and what you know—from the best florists to the venue fees at the hottest new restaurant. Very early on, I built critical relationships with major vendors that I still work with to this day. Prioritizing my vendor relationships and making the planning process as easy on them as possible allowed me to secure exclusive discounts and deals for my clients, setting my business apart. 

Tell us about your team.

I feel so fortunate to have such an incredible entirely female team. I currently have seven employees I work with in various capacities. My administrative team includes my business manager Macy and my publicist Sam. They primarily focus on organizational, managerial, and promotional activities.

My core event planning team includes myself, a lead planner, two assistant planners, and our event coordination intern (soon-to-be junior coordinator). All of my team is local to NYC and the Hamptons. During the summer, we mainly work out on Long Island. When we’re not onsite for client events, we primarily work remotely, using software like Asana to manage projects and collaborate on tasks for clients. 

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?

I love answering this question! In fact, every Friday on our Instagram and TikTok I host “Forbes Friday,” where I share advice for my fellow female founders and other entrepreneurs.

My first piece of advice would be to do things right the first time. Whether it’s drafting your first contract or creating a website, putting the effort in early on in your business journey will pay dividends as you continue to grow. For example, I wish I would have started with a professional Gmail Suite from the get-go, instead of creating a free account and then having to transfer all my contacts and mail over a year after the fact.

Another critical piece of advice is to know your worth. Often, when starting a business people heavily discount their services to grow. This can actually hurt instead of help, especially in event planning, you can quickly become known as the budget option. Instead, take the time to learn about your industry, and how your competition charges and makes their money.

Similarly, I recommend doing things for free only to a certain extent. Often, business owners think that sending out products or providing services to influencers or VIPs for free will have a high ROI. I’ve found that’s not always true – instead, being strategic about what services and products you give for free will allow you to achieve the greatest promotional impact, without harming your bottom line.

Finally, my greatest piece of advice is don’t be afraid to ask for help! When I was starting the business, I lived by the motto that there are no stupid questions. Asking for help not only lets you learn, but it’s also a sign of strength.

What is your favorite quote?

My favorite quote, and one I reflect on often, is “Comparison is the thief of joy.” As a female founder, I often find myself comparing my business to those of others in my field and beyond, and have to remind myself not to focus on other’s successes but instead enjoy my own.

As an event planner, clients often come to me wanting to achieve a look they saw on a friend’s or influencer’s Instagram and may be surprised when I tell them the budget needed to achieve that look. No matter the area of life, whether it’s career or social, “comparison is the thief of joy,” and it’s best to focus on what you enjoy rather than the joy of others.

Cameron Forbes
Photo courtesy of Cameron Forbes

What are your future plans for the business?

I love dreaming big! I’m so inspired by fellow female founders like Martha Stewart and Ina Garten who got their start in catering and event planning before building their lifestyle brands. I would love to continue to increase brand awareness and visibility around Forbes Functions by creating meaningful partnerships with like-minded brands, tapping into new audiences in NYC and beyond.

I also hope to grow our blog and newsletter. I would love to eventually monetize these materials as another revenue stream. I also want to share more of my story as a young female founder beyond print and digital media, utilizing podcasts, television segments, and other outlets as storytelling opportunities.

Also, I hope to grow my business in the realm of corporate and brand clients, as I find these the most exciting and challenging events. I hope 2029 Cameron Forbes looks back at this interview with a book deal, product line, podcast, and more. I also want to grow our new rental concept, Ours at Yours, by continuously dropping new capsule collections and partnering with brands to curate co-branded boxes.

What are some of your favorite books, blogs, podcasts, or YouTube channels?

I’m an absolutely voracious reader, watcher, and listener, so I have so many recommendations to share. Some of my favorite books about entrepreneurship include:

I also love Rachel Karten and Emma Apple Chozick’s substacks, Link in Bio and gr8 collab, which both focus on content and brand marketing, as well as design.

Some of my favorite podcasts include:


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