Jamel Shuford, owner of Plan Ahead Events. (Courtesy Photo)

When Jamel Shuford graduated from Drexel University with a degree in mechanical engineering, she didn’t plan on a career in event planning. However, after years of working in the industry, she found her academic background to be quite useful.

“I can look at the process that a client has taken to plan an event and identify places within that process that they have wasted time,money or resources and then give them ideas on how to reduce that waste,” Shuford told the AFRO. “I think that’s a real benefit to the client because they want to get the most bang for their buck.”

In 2009, Shuford started Plan Ahead Events, a Washington, D.C.-based company specializing in conferences, galas and fundraisers.

The key to producing any successful event is establishing a game plan, she said.

Shuford said she likes to work backwards. “I take my clients through a visualization exercise so I tell them the end of the night when this event is all done and ask them what did the event look like, how many people were there, what did they say about the event the next day or are they putting it on social media, are they tired from too much dancing – that sort of thing, to get an idea of how they visualize the event and then we create all the little details from there,” she said.

Shuford got her start in event planning in 1998, working as mechanical engineer for the U.S. Navy. As a collateral duty, she planned picnics and appreciation events while based in Philadelphia. She was then given the opportunity to work at the Navy headquarters in Washington, D.C.

“I met a wonderful woman who took me under her wing and started to help me with event planning,” she said. “At the Navy yard, we have thousands of employees so we did fundraisers for all of the employees, we did conferences for the admiral, we did breakfast meetings, seminars, road shows, and all kinds of wonderful events.”

After becoming a mother of two, Shuford decided to launch her own company in event planning. “I realized that I wanted to have a career that I could still be totally involved in my kids’ lives and not feel guilty when I needed to take a sick day to take them to the doctor or things like that. So it was really because I wanted the best of both worlds – flexibility as a mother and business professional,” she said.

Organizing multi-day conferences has become a personal favorite and she plans about four per year. Though it’s a lot of work, the end result is well worth it. “When people are on their way home it’s nice to hear ‘Oh, I had a wonderful time’ or ‘This conference was better than the last one, I’m definitely coming back,’”she says. “It gives me a certain satisfaction.”

To reach Shuford, call 301-272-7333 or email paedc@pae-washingtondc.com or visit planaheadevents.com/washingtondc/.