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Building an Entrepreneurial Career – Serena Holmes of Tigris Events

Expert Interview Series

Serena Holmes

President, CEO of Tigris Events

Serena Holmes is the President & CEO Tigris Events, an award winning experiential marketing and event staffing agency headquartered in Toronto. Serena is a contributor to Entrepreneur.com and was selected by Profit Guide in 2016 as one of the top 100 female entrepreneurs in Canada.

Tell us a bit about your background. What inspired your decision to join the beginning stage of Tigris, and more broadly I.OPT Marketing?

I had graduated for journalism which I knew would be a long road and was looking for work while I volunteered for Rogers to build my broadcast portfolio. I had worked for the woman who opened I.OPT Marketing Groups, Knew.Age Solutions (event planning) and Tigris Personnel – briefly at a past company. We were reconnected through a mutual friend and she asked me to work with her. It started out part-time in spring of 2004 – which lead to full time management by the fall. She offered me partnership which I turned down (given my broadcast aspirations) but by the following spring, I decided to seize the opportunity. I felt very invested in the company and saw the potential. Shortly after, we began booking events with Motorola through Hill & Knowlton and Rogers directly. Business started to boom!

When you’re an entrepreneur, you need to be open minded to different opportunities. Even if you’re not 100% sure how you will pull something off, say yes and find out how to get it done.

How have you been able to overcome the setbacks that you have faced while developing and growing your company?

There have definitely been a few… you just have to roll with the punches and believe in your vision. My partner decided to leave the company 4 years in which was a big cost and also a big transition. There have also been ups and downs with various employees, gaining/losing customers, the occasional legal issue, etc. You have to put things in perspective and recognize that setbacks are not permanent. Just pick yourself up, dust yourself off and push through it. Over the past few years, I have had a business coach, two mentors and am currently in a peer to peer mentoring group. That also helps tremendously when you’re going through something – or even just trying to learn something new to help your company grow.

What factors (such as your personal experiences, external companies or business campaigns) have influenced your vision for Tigris and how?

I think one of the biggest influences was my mentor John. I was matched with him through the AMA’s Mentorship Exchange from August 2013-Apr 2014. He owns a marketing consultancy full-time and goes into businesses to fix and improve inefficiencies. It was a great match. After evaluating our structure, he recommended we close I.OPT and Knew.Age since Tigris was the one brand of the three that had taken off. It was, admittedly, a very confusing structure that I had inherited. We changed the name from Tigris Personnel to Tigris – and later to Tigris Events – which we felt was more all encompassing to reflect our core competencies of event staffing, event planning and experiential marketing. It has helped to establish our offerings more clearly in the market place and brought us tremendous opportunities over the past few years.

If you could go back in time, is there a specific decision that you would change or something that you would have done differently in your career?

Yes, I would’ve taken SEO (search engine optimization) more seriously. I had someone speak to my partner and I about it in 2005 and we more or less disregarded it. Years later, by 2012, we began investing in it heavily. Not only did it help prevent our company from going under when we lost a few big clients, it has helped us attract a steady stream of new leads, more than half of which we convert into repeat customers. As a result of these efforts, our sales have quadrupled from 2013 to 2017. I look back sometimes and wonder, why didn’t we do this sooner – imagine where we would be!

As a female entrepreneur and someone who has built your business from the ground, what insight would you offer young professionals in the early stages, or just starting, their careers?

Say yes! When you’re an entrepreneur, you need to be open minded to different opportunities. Even if you’re not 100% sure how you will pull something off, say yes and find out how to get it done. You need to give your customers the confidence in knowing you can handle anything and if for some reason, you can’t, be open, honest and communicative to manage their expectations while you try to find a solution.

What advice would you give to college students on how to find the right job fit?

I’ve only ever worked for Tigris full-time so I don’t have many other experiences to compare with, other than companies I worked for part-time when I was much younger. This said, I think students need to find an environment that gives them the courage to work independently and make a few mistakes along the way. Lifelong learning is important and finding a workplace that supports this is huge.

I would imagine that networking has served as a key factor in the progression of your career. What are some networking tips that you could offer college students and young professionals?

In the early days, networking did. We were largely referral based. I can talk anyone’s ear off but I’m not great at breaking the ice and may only meet a few people every time I go out. After I meet them however, I always send them a follow up and add them on LinkedIn. I don’t personally like to solicit to anyone – I just want to remain in an environment where they can see what we are up to and remain top of mind if they have an opportunity in events to consider us for.

Do you have any final thoughts that you would like to leave us with?

Starting out is never easy and rarely do things turn out exactly as you thought they would. Be bold, be persistent and work hard. If you don’t, the only person you will be letting down is yourself. Luck happens when preparation meets opportunity.

Ariana Moran

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