Alumna Spotlight – Cindy Shanholtz
After planning and executing over 879 weddings and countless other corporate and social events, Cindy Shanholtz knows the dedication and hard work that make a small business successful.
Shanholtz owns and operates Effortless Events, an event coordinating business in the Chicago area. Effortless Events began as a one-person operation, with Shanholtz offering free event planning services for family and friends. Since then, Shanholtz has worked her way to the top of the industry through a series of positions and experiences that have allowed her to develop her natural talents for numbers, design, and event coordinating. Her journey to success began at Douglass.
“I was raised in a family that told me I could do anything during a time that was not the norm. Douglass not only reinforced that sentiment, it made it flourish. My time at Douglass gave me the skills I needed to make anything a reality,” Shanholtz said. “I would choose Douglass again in a heartbeat and cherish my time there. I believe that the education I received provided training in gender advocacy that helped me to propel myself in finance, which at the time was a predominantly male industry."
While at Douglass, Shanholtz was an English and economics major who served as class president and spoke at commencement. Upon graduating, Shanholtz received ten job offers, and eventually decided to take a finance position with Nabisco, a company that was intrigued by her unique combination of degrees. In the early years of her professional life, Shanholtz worked in finance for a variety of firms, including at Avon and on Wall Street for American Express. It was only after a move to Georgia, and then to Illinois, that Shanholtz’s event planning business began.
On the road to Effortless Events’ success, Shanholtz learned something new at every stage of building her business. One of the most impactful lessons Shanholtz learned was the importance of knowing every corner of the industry.
“You have to learn every business from the bottom. People want to jump in as the manager, but it’s amazing how much you learn from the ground up. It pays off in the long run,” said Shanholtz. “Don’t be afraid to do all the jobs. My staff will tell you: If I walk into a venue and the bathroom garbage is overflowing, I will take out the garbage myself. You have to learn everything, that’s how you can make the best decisions.”
The nuts and bolts of the business are especially critical in event planning, where miscalculated details can result in mismanaging a client’s event budget. For weddings and other social events, these funds often come from personal finances.
“Anybody can be a planner, but you need to be able to be fiscally responsible with someone else’s money. With my background in finance, I can do an excel spreadsheet faster than anyone else in the industry. I joke that the whole world should run on excel spreadsheets,” said Shanholtz. “Entertaining is expensive. I want people to enjoy every moment of it knowing their money was well managed. My clients deserve to feel like guests at their own events and feel comfortable knowing that every penny was well spent.”
Ultimately, Shanholtz’s position allows her to be an integral part of her client’s lives, as her work often coordinates families’ most pivotal milestones. From birthdays and anniversaries to corporate events, clients return to Shanholtz because she treats their special moments with personal care.
“It’s all about building relationships with people. It’s about trust,” she said. “I learned all that at Douglass. So much goes back to your college years and how formative they are.”
After eleven years as an event planner and small business owner, Shanholtz has seen it all. Still, living her dream makes it all worth it.
“People have to work really hard to shock me,” she said with a laugh as she reflected on her own long journey from Douglass class president to Wall Street finance consultant to business owner. “I’ve seen it all, I’ve done it all, and all this time later, I still love what I do.”