Posts Tagged ‘lynn lee’

Long before I owned a business, I had heard the term “networking” hundreds of times. The value of networking was always touted as the way to get ahead; it’s a way to give your brand an identifiable face within the sea of competition. I always thought it sounded gruesome. I could just picture it, walking up to a stranger with a swagger of confidence, name badge swaying as I moved. With a firm hand shake and a warm yet professional smile I would say, “Hi, my name is Lynn Lee. I’m a wedding planner. And you are?”

Promptly after this dashing opener, I imagined the conversation becoming more and more strained as the moments passed, as we both struggled to get to know one another when neither of us really cared. The entire evening of my networking dream played out this way with dozens of empty, fake conversations until I was able to plan my escape home to bed, thankful that it was all over. It might have been a bad attitude, but it was the truth. The whole concept sent shivers down my spine. I was all about real relationships, not pretending I connected with someone just to get myself ahead.

Then came the launch of Weddings Unveiled. For the first time I was faced with establishing myself in a new market, and I don’t have to tell you what that meant: NETWORKING! I had a leg-up on some new planners in that I was already coordinating weddings for a local venue, so I already knew some people within the industry. It was imperative that I connect with these people to let them know I was now hanging my own shingle as an independent business owner.

I promptly set up meetings to chat about how I could refer their businesses to my clients. The meetings were pleasant as I connected with business owners whose work I knew and respected. These were people with whom I had come to know, chat, laugh, and share stories. I was pleased to be connecting in a very real, genuine way. Once those meetings were over however, I was faced with the daunting task of connecting with those companies with whom I had no prior relationship, but whose work I admired. I had to get to know their services so I could offer my future clients the breadth of knowledge that they deserved. What’s worse, there were so many of them!

The following weeks saw cold calls by the dozen. Every time I picked up the phone to call someone new, I dreaded it like a visit to the dentist. Were they going to be welcoming, or were they going to quickly inform me that they didn’t have time to chat with a newbie who was more of a nuisance than a benefit? I have to tell you, I was surprised how things played out. Nearly every time I was met with warmth and general interest. I spent days and days running around the city, meeting with anyone and everyone I could. The conversations were much easier than I anticipated and I made some real connections with people I still work with today. About three months into launching my business I had swallowed up all the knowledge I could about my local industry and felt that I could go out in the wedding world and represent my clients to the best of my ability. Networking wasn’t nearly as excruciating as I thought.

Today I continue to attend networking events on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s in an attempt to get to know a new service provider. Other times it’s in support or celebration of someone with whom I am already familiar. Regardless of the occasion, there is always someone at those events I haven’t yet met, and I am constantly faced with networking in its truest form.

Even today, there’s still an initial moment where my hands sweat in anxiety as I see a new face coming toward me. I still feel stressed at the thought of having to make conversation with someone I don’t know – will it be comfortable or will it be awkward? But 99.9% of the time, as soon as the other person opens their mouth and starts speaking, I realize that all is well. We always seem to find something to talk about and sometimes that relationship is one that ends up being really valuable either to my business or to me personally. I actually love going to most networking events now. In fact, there is one coming up in three weeks that I would never miss. They provide me with an opportunity to connect with suppliers away from weddings and events where we are always too busy to chat. They allow us to laugh over a glass of wine and reminisce about past clients. We pump each other up and we provide an ear when someone needs feedback. We are each other’s greatest supporters; in fact, many suppliers have become friends outside of regular work days.

Although the truest form of networking still provides me with a tinge of anxiety, I realize that I wouldn’t have the business I do today, nor have the friends that I’ve made, if it wasn’t for networking events. Networking helped me to establish my company at the outset, and today allows me to remain connected. Without it, I would be an unknown in an industry where being known for your work is everything.

So next time you’re faced with a networking opportunity, just remember that the person on the other side of the conversation is just like you. Someone whose hands are probably starting to sweat, just like yours, as you approach. Someone who, like you, just wants their business to succeed. Someone who probably doesn’t know much more than you do, and is just looking for support. Someone with their own personal demands, flaws, accomplishments, and fears. Someone who eats, sleeps, and celebrates bad days and good days, just like you. That’s why it’s simply not warranted to be intimidated by meeting someone new. Connecting with others is one of the greatest joys of being a business owner. Without it, I would be left staring at my laptop all day in a cave of loneliness. Welcome networking and all that it will provide you. I promise you won’t regret it!

Till next time, happy planning!

Wedding planner Lynn LeeWritten by Lynn Lee
www.weddingsunveiled.ca

Lynn Lee has over 10 years experience in the event and wedding planning industry. These days, she’s focusing her attention on her growing wedding planning business, Weddings Unveiled. Her weekly blog posts include business tips, wedding trends, and expert advice.

 

 

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I come from the school of comparative quoting – I was always taught to get three quotes when hiring someone for a given service. So when I opened my company, I continued this practice on behalf of my clients. I always thought that was the right thing to do until I ran into a problem, which is why I’m sharing this story with you today. This incident is the only negative dealing I’ve experienced within the event and wedding planning industry. Maybe that’s why it bothers me so much!

As you’ve probably gathered, honoring my relationships with other vendors and planners is paramount. I work hard to juggle respect for both my clients and my suppliers, being very careful to act in both parties’ best interests. Which brings me to Salina and Shawn’s wedding back in 2008. I was looking for a florist for this couple – it was my second season as an independent planner and I was still getting to know the various vendors in the area. I had sent some past clients to “Florist A,” so I decided to go to her again to get a quote for my couple’s floral requirements. We had a pretty good idea what we wanted for centerpieces, and we knew exactly what we wanted for bouquets and boutonnieres, so I wasn’t looking for much creative input – just a good price. Florist A’s quote came back at about what I had expected; but then again, being a newbie business owner, I didn’t fully know what to expect.

Once I had the first quote, it was time to seek out the other two. But I wasn’t sure where to go next. The few florists with whom I had worked just weren’t my cup of tea. They were either out-of-date or had personalities that I knew were not the right fit for me, Salina, and Shawn. Then I found “Florist B.” She had recently left Florist A’s business to manage another shop. She had a great personality, and was very talented. I thought it would be a great fit. I knew I could trust either florist with this lovely wedding. And since both had been good to my clients in the past, there were no two other ladies to whom I would rather give business. I wanted to play fair – I decided if Florist A got this contract, I would make sure the Florist B got the next one, or vice versa. I thought it was a win-win situation.

Florist B sent me her quote for the exact same order. The quotes were very close, but hers was just a tad under. I presented both quotes to Salina and Shawn and they were pleased with the numbers; they told me that a third quote would not be necessary. They asked me who they should hire, and I told them I had no preference. Because her quote was slightly less, they ended up hiring Florist B. After all, you might as well save a few dollars! Like a good little planner, I thanked Florist A for her time and told her that my clients had decided to go another route. All was good.

You might chuckle at the next part of the story (or maybe you’ll kick me for being so foolish!). I remember it like it was yesterday. I was blow drying my hair, getting ready for a networking affair, and a thought came over me like a hot flash. What if Florist A and Florist B talk between themselves, and think I was playing one against the other?

I felt like I was going to faint. I called my husband in and spilled all of my concerns. I told him how I wanted the business to go to either of them, which was why I chose both in the first place. I knew they might chat, but I thought they would be pleased that I was trying to give them both business. At that moment, I could see the other side. What if they weren’t as fond of my rationale as I had originally thought? What if they thought I was trying to undercut them? I felt sick to my stomach. My husband, lovely as he is, tried to comfort me, but felt I could no longer go to the networking event. I picked up the phone…

I called Florist A – no answer. Then I called Florist B. I explained exactly what I had done and my rationale for doing so. She was so great! She assured me that everything was okay. She appreciated my wanting to give her business, and didn’t seem concerned that I had asked her former boss to quote on the same project. After all, as I explained to her, I was just doing my planner job by getting more than one quote. She told me to go to the function and enjoy myself, and not to worry about Florist A; she was sure her reaction would be the same. So off I went, not totally at ease, but feeling encouraged that my paranoia was probably unwarranted.

The next morning I called Florist A once again to be totally honest with her about why I acted as I did. Just in case there was any chatting between the two ladies, I wanted there to be no confusion whether my intentions were honorable. I remember speaking into the phone with Florist A and the air feeling heavier and heavier as I babbled on nervously. When I finally stopped to allow her to speak, her reaction was everything I had feared and more. My heart sank and I just wanted to cry. It was a horrible conversation, and it was pretty clear to me as I hung up that the relationship had been permanently altered. I feared that our working together in the future would be so uncomfortable for both of us that I chose to avoid it, and have never stepped foot into her shop since.

You may be wondering why I’ve chosen to share this story with you today. What does this have to do with you and your business? Perhaps nothing. Perhaps you are of the mind that multiple quotes are important and it’s our prerogative to source them. Maybe you agree with obtaining more than one quote, but would have been smarter than I on who to approach. Or maybe you just think I was a nutball and should have known better. Either way, I wanted to tell you about this in hopes that it might help even one of you from making the same mistake. Now looking back from my sixth year of business, I can see how short-sighted I was.

The event and wedding planning industry in my city is very small, and almost everyone knows everyone else. Everyone talks and compares, and your successes and failures are all too well known. It’s also a woman-dominated industry where communication is very open and feelings get hurt very easily. I’m not sure if a male vendor would have been as upset as Florist A was, but I am sure of one thing – if I knew then what I know now, I would have tread much more carefully. If I really wanted to get more than one quote for the job, I should have gone to two businesses who had no relationship and no direct contact. Or I could have better educated myself on floral pricing when I first launched my business. Perhaps if I had, I wouldn’t have even needed more than one quote. I would have known that my industry is one of personalities, not just cold corporations. I would have seen all the instances where hurt feelings had ruined relationships in the past, and disallowed people from ever working together again. My hometown wedding industry is full of such examples. If only I knew then what I know now!

Today, I’m in a different place. My clients trust my judgment when I recommend them to a particular vendor and very rarely do I ever attend more than one vendor meeting per category, or get a second quote for the same job. I also know my own market so well that I can pretty much guess what a quote is going to be in advance, or at least provide an educated guess. I no longer adhere to the three-quote theory and do not feel that my clients are more poorly served as a result. I’m a smarter planner than I was four years ago, and I have worked very hard to develop trust and a good reputation within my industry. But I know that I will never have that trust again from Florist A, and for that I am very sorry. I learned my lesson the hard way, and I doubt I will ever forget it.

Till next time, happy planning!

Wedding planner Lynn LeeWritten by Lynn Lee
www.weddingsunveiled.ca

Lynn Lee has over 10 years experience in the event and wedding planning industry. These days, she’s focusing her attention on her growing wedding planning business, Weddings Unveiled. Her weekly blog posts include business tips, wedding trends, and expert advice.

 

Image 1 via http://www.torontolife.com
Image 2 via http://mylifephilosphy.blogspot.ca
Image 3 via http://www.cidonline.org

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Today, I want to share with you something that has changed my business. But before I do that, let me give you some background that led to this big change. About a year ago, I was finding myself at a turning point. With five years under my belt as a business owner I was proud of what I had achieved and the reputation for which I had worked so hard. I really felt that my clients were receiving the highest level of support that I could give and the feedback I got from my couples was amazing and very gratifying. But it was also at this five year mark that I was experiencing feelings of burnout. I had been in the business for 10 years, and working 12-14 hour days had clearly paid its toll. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do and would never change careers. But I couldn’t continue focusing on making everyone else’s lives perfect at the expense of my own. Something had to give!

This feeling of frustration didn’t come over me all of a sudden. It had been brewing for some time, and in talking to other planners I found I was not alone. It was time to stop whining about our lost lives and do something to fix them. I had already re-branded a year back and eliminated day-of management services in an attempt to reduce the number of weddings I had each year. By committing myself solely to full planning contracts, it meant less weddings but greater earnings: more bang for your buck, as some might say! This decision made a huge difference since the workload associated with 10 full planning contracts each year was more manageable than planning and coordinating 30. But even with that, I was still working longer hours than I should have been. It was time to find a way to work smarter than I had been, and this has remained my focus over the past several months.

I began investigating options. I had conversations with other professionals and planners to learn what could help. One of my efforts was to hire a successful planner to mentor me. This mentor helped me outline my personal and professional goals and guided me toward achieving them. I also wanted to learn from my mentor’s experience so I could benefit from the systems that she had already put into place to help with her own business. It was within this relationship that I discovered a tool she had been using as a possible solution for some of my efficiency problems. This tool had revolutionized the way she did things and was something that I needed to consider for Weddings Unveiled. The tool is a project management software called Basecamp.

Basecamp is just one of many project management programs available. It enables groups of people (teams) to work collectively on a given project to see it through to completion. Although not specifically designed for event planning, it certainly lends itself very well. In researching, I found several planners were touting its benefits to their own clients. Here’s how it works.

Prior to Basecamp, the majority of my correspondence with clients was via email. Consequently, I received tons of emails every day regarding the most minute details. Something as simple as choosing a table linen evolved into a solid string of emails back and forth debating texture, color, and size. Each email had to be saved to file so I could keep a record of our discussion. Every time I needed to refer to that discussion, I had to go back to that folder of emails to review what had been discussed to date. My clients had to do the same, which I’m sure was just as daunting to them, if not more so! Add to that all the saved documents that accumulated during the planning process, everything from contracts to inspiration pictures to vendor receipts. I had them all on file, and although my files and folders were pretty meticulously kept, it was I who possessed the records. I don’t think my clients ever felt completely in the loop since all those documents were not as readily available on their end. That is, unless they also kept the level of records that I did.

Basecamp solves these issues by providing each client with a workroom. Everything pertaining to their event happens within that workroom. I’ve included a few screen shots of one of my client’s workrooms here so you can see how it’s structured. In the example to the below, you’ll see our event planning critical path. Each “to do” has a date assigned and the person to whom it’s assigned. We have it set up so that the assigned person receives an email reminder when their task comes due, so nothing falls between the cracks. The critical path can be edited at any time with tasks added, deleted, and modified. At any given moment, any member of our team (both planner and client) can see where we stand in the planning process. I am no longer the sole monitor of the project; it has become a team effort, which is a very good thing!Time management tips

This screen shot shows another part of the client workroom: files. Here we are able to keep all the files associated with the event/wedding. You’ll see a contract, quote, and spreadsheet listed. You’ll also see our storyboard and inspiration picture. Basecamp just added a new feature a few months ago where the team can categorize each file with a label. This allows us to use the search tool on the right hand side of the screen to find a certain file. It comes in handy when the number of files uploaded gets pretty big!Time management 2

Here is a shot of my Basecamp calendar. This complete calendar is only viewable by me while clients only have access to their own. Each project is color coded so I can look at any date and see that anything in blue, for example, belongs to Ashleigh & Mark’s wedding. I also input client/vendor meetings here and a handy-dandy email reminder lets us know a half hour prior that our meeting is shortly ahead. I still use my Outlook calendar to track my own appointments and to dos, but this calendar is an excellent complement!Time management 3

I can go into Basecamp and view the status of all my projects with one click of the mouse. This is great if you’ve been on vacation, or maybe in meetings all day, and you want to see what all of your clients have been up to while you’ve been absent. Instead of having to go into each separate workroom, you can just view this page to see all of the recent activity.Time management 4

As I’m sure you can imagine, these screen shots only zero in on some of the features offered by Basecamp. You can also live chat with your clients through their “discussion” feature. Any team member can create text documents where thoughts, reminders, strategies, you-name-it can be logged so they aren’t forgotten. It allows the entire team to access all of the information pertaining to their event in one place so everyone is in the loop and be active participants. No more searching through files for discussions and records. Everything is together and visible, making for a much more efficient planning process for your clients and for the team leader – you!

Basecamp is not perfect. There are things I wish it could do that it doesn’t. But they seem to be open to suggestions from their clients and are constantly adding features and making improvements. Seven months in, I’m very impressed, and most of my clients love it. Working through Basecamp has definitely improved my efficiency. I’m now taking fewer steps to complete a given task than I had previously. It’s still a work in progress while I continue to teach myself ways to effectively juggle professional and personal life, and I’m constantly learning new tricks and shortcuts within the software program. But a year later, I feel refreshed and refocused and that is in large part due to Basecamp. I encourage you to check it out!

Till next time, happy planning!

Wedding planner Lynn LeeWritten by Lynn Lee
www.weddingsunveiled.ca

Lynn Lee has over 10 years experience in the event and wedding planning industry. These days, she’s focusing her attention on her growing wedding planning business, Weddings Unveiled. Her weekly blog posts include business tips, wedding trends, and expert advice.

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March 28, 2013 3:40 pm

Office Space vs. Home Office

When you first launch your wedding or event planning business, you will be faced with the decision of where to build your office. This is a question you’ll revisit several times throughout your business’ life, as your company grows and changes over the years. In this post, I’m weighing the pros and cons of these two career paths: office space vs home office.

As do many small businesses, most wedding and event planners launch their businesses from a home-based office. It’s a natural choice since it helps reduce the start-up costs of a new business, as well as the risks associated with establishing ourselves. Within my own market, all but three wedding planners continue to run their businesses out of their home, myself included! I have seen more than one planner move into formal office space without fully considering the costs versus benefits in doing so, just to have to up and move back home months later. I’m hoping by discussing this today, I might prevent you from finding yourself in the same situation!

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating one option over the other. There is no doubt in my mind that I will never rent office space. It’s just not the right fit for me, both personally and professionally. But for many, getting in the car and driving to an office every morning is a necessary component of being a productive business owner. Being surrounded by personal things just doesn’t work for them, and I totally respect that. There are pros and cons of both situations and only you will be able to decide which suits you best. Here are just a few pros of setting up an office outside of your home environment:

  1. Getting away from temptations that can distract us from getting work done (e.g. refrigerator, TV, gardens, housework)
  2. Respect for our professional time. I can’t tell you how many “work” hours I lose each week dealing with questions from my children, or picking them up and driving them places,  just because I’m home and available. If I worked off-site, the respect for my work schedule would increase hugely
  3. Having a storefront can often increase your credibility as a business. It’s not viewed as a “side gig” all of a sudden
  4. Meeting clients is simplified with an office since they come to you, instead of your having to either travel to them or try to conduct business in a coffee shop. Plus the ability to host meetings within an office can increase your professionalism and credibility in your clients’ eyes
  5. You can take advantage of tax deductions associated with the costs involved in running an office
  6. When you leave your office at the end of the day, you are more likely to leave your stress there much more easily than if you were working from your home

Alternatively, there are also pros to working from a home-based office. Here are a few that come to mind:

  1. It can be a great situation for women in particular, as they are able to remain available to their children and family better than they would be able if they were to work offsite
  2. You’re already paying your rent/mortgage anyway, so you don’t have to rent a separate space for your office, thereby reducing your costs
  3. A percentage of your lease/mortgage and home expenses can be used for tax deductions for your business
  4. Your productivity may be greater since more time is spent actually accomplishing work tasks and less time spent commuting to an office situation every day
  5. Some people love the flexibility in schedule. You can work sporadically through various periods of the day instead of having to maintain a more rigid 9-5 routine
  6. With less overhead, you are able to test out new ideas, change business direction, or scale down more easily since you don’t carry the same long-term commitments that you would leasing an office
  7. Many proponents for this style of office swear that it is less stressful and wonderfully free from office politics

There is no right or wrong option, just right or wrong for you! It’s important to consider all of the pros and cons before making your choice so that you can evaluate which is the best direction for your business. I do caution, however, that in addition to deciding which scenario is best, it’s as important to consider the timing of your decision. Here’s where the experience of my colleagues comes in.

During the evaluation process, you may decide that leasing is the way to go, as some of my colleagues have. But is it the right time to make this decision? When your business is just starting out, do you really want to obligate yourself to a long term financial commitment if you can avoid it? Maybe you don’t have the funds available to make it work. Or maybe you are wary of your newbie status and want to establish yourself prior to carrying unnecessary overhead costs. These are all good reasons to be cautious.

On the other hand, what if you’ve got a year or two under your belt? Maybe you’ve seen some success very quickly and are encouraged that your business will continue to thrive. That deserves some congratulations, and I can certainly understand the temptation to now grow into a formal space. Even I have considered it. This is exactly what happened to two of my colleagues.

Their first couple of years in business were very encouraging as they worked hard to establish their brands within the marketplace. Neither planner enjoyed working out of a home environment. They found it isolating and had difficulty staying motivated. So both women signed up for office space. They loved the new-found professional digs where they could meet clients and network with fellow professionals, all in very hip districts within our city. The move was probably viewed with envy by many other planners; I know I envied them. How wonderful would it be to enjoy increased visibility and gained credibility just by hanging your sign over a cobblestone walkway! But as I quietly envied, I also worried for these two women, wondering if they would be able to sustain such high overhead costs. I knew how hard I worked for my own income and how disappointing my earnings were given the hours of output. Were they really in that much better shape than I that they could spend thousands of dollars a year on formal space?

As it turns out, I’m not sure either were in much better shape than I was. That is my story of caution. The one planner in my market that is able to sustain office space and lofty financial commitments is also the planner who leads the market in sales. She has been in business for eight years and has a staff of four. Her ability to do multiple events each day is key. Her years of branding and networking allow her to enjoy a track record that helps predict future sales and growth, something a new planner wouldn’t have access to. Both of these colleagues saw a steady increase in the demand for their services. But I fear that both jumped the gun a bit and obligated themselves to office space before they had enough “earned” revenue to be able to pull it off.

The growth gave them hope that the next year was going to bring wild things, but when next year came, it was less than disappointing. All of a sudden, both realized that their growth had reached a bit of a plateau. Granted, the economy also played a role in decreased spending by their clients. The money they were shelling out to keep a roof over their business was so weighty that it prevented them from earning what they needed, and from allocating funds to marketing efforts that would have helped increase business. The jury is still out on my colleagues and whether or not they will be forced to move back “home” after the year’s commitment is up. Regardless of what they decide, I do know that each regrets jumping on the opportunity so quickly. If they had to do it again, they would take a more conservative approach.

I know what it’s like having your kids yelling at you when you’re trying to write an email. Having to schedule work appointments around picking up your kids from school. Trying to keep your focus when all you really want to do is sit out on the deck in the sun! But remember, it took great effort and discipline to build your business and that same effort and discipline can enable you to successfully work from home. Take a hard look at your business prior to committing yourself to any long-term commitments and take out your calculator while you’re doing it. You may be surprised at what you come up with.

Till next time, happy planning!

Wedding planner Lynn LeeWritten by Lynn Lee
www.weddingsunveiled.ca

Lynn Lee has over 10 years experience in the event and wedding planning industry. These days, she’s focusing her attention on her growing wedding planning business, Weddings Unveiled. Her weekly blog posts include business tips, wedding trends, and expert advice.

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March 23, 2013 9:07 am

Weddings: My Styled Shoot

Over the past few years, we have seen the emergence of styled shoots within the wedding industry. They provide an opportunity for wedding planners and other vendors to share their creative talents on wedding blogs and within print publications. Styled shoots are also beloved by readers, who use them as inspiration when planning their own weddings. However, they also serve many purposes for the participating vendors. They allow us to:

  1. Showcase our talents in order to attract potential clients
  2. Affirm our company brand to help establish our place within the market
  3. Reach out beyond our own local market into the international arena
  4. Build additional portfolio work
  5. Garner respect among fellow vendors who can then refer our services
  6. Establish relationships with other vendors involved with the shoot
  7. Support local vendors and help them get their name out in the market
  8. Push the limits of creativity
  9. Learn from our mistakes and successes

Last year it became increasingly obvious to me that I needed to design and coordinate a couple of styled shoots, since I had never done it before. My particular focus was two-fold:  I wanted to refine my portfolio in order to redirect my brand to a certain clientele, and I wanted to create more publishing opportunities for my company outside my own immediate market. With that in mind, I set out to design two shoots, one of which I’d like to show you today! This shoot was hosted in one of the suites at the Westin Ottawa; we had the most fabulous team pulling everything together.

When I designed this shoot, I took inspiration from the main lobby of the hotel. There are large potted birch trees in the window and an incredible fireplace and crystal globe chandeliers (pictured below), which made for a great winter shoot backdrop. I wanted it to feel warm, intimate, understated, a bit urban, sexy, and very classy. These are all attributes that fit my brand as well as the blog on which I wanted the shoot to be published. So instead of going with a typical winter color palette like blue/brown or silver/blue I went with a warm, inviting palette of oranges/pinks/reds. Another consideration when assigning the color palette was the existing orange already in the suite. I knew I had to integrate that strong color if we were to use that room or else it would just look too misplaced!

With my color palette in mind, I then began to focus on the details of the shoot. My jumping off point was an image I had seen on etsy.com, featuring a variety of really cool white vases. I’m a sucker for juxtaposition, and wanted to feature something sleek, smooth, and urban paired with a more natural, earthy element, like wood.

With my inspiration board created, I began by DIYing wooden risers and white vases for the dining table. With the help of a second-hand store and some Tremclad white paint, I was able to create some lovely, contemporary vessels. I used styrofoam blocks and wood veneer planks to build the risers for the cake, candles, and vases to sit. Next I gathered our fine vendor team!

Other than the design itself, gathering the team is the most crucial step. The team I assembled had to mirror my own brand, exhibit exceptional work, be reliable and professional, have a strong reputation, be easy to work with, and be available for the shoot date – three days after Christmas. It took several hours each day to pull the vendor details together and coordinate everything. It was almost like planning a wedding. The level of commitment was huge and I don’t recommend this to anyone who isn’t able to devote the time required to pull it all off to perfection. Coordination efforts included vendor meetings, proofing stationary, DIYing vases and dishes, sourcing and purchasing supplies, and much more. Despite all that, the payoff is so worth it and we are thrilled with the results of our shoot!

At this point, I should mention the importance of choosing the right photographer. Not only do you need to find a photographer who reflects your own brand and style, you also need someone very adept at capturing details. The photographer will need to capture close-ups of the small, sensory-rich items you’ve created for the shoot, and the simple fact is that this is not most photographers’ strength. Barbara Ann Cameron shot our images and we couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome. She did an amazing job and really captured the feel of the shoot that I had envisioned all along!

I’ve featured a few images from the shoot to share with you today. After editing and selecting, we ended up with between 150 and 200 final shots that we submitted to our blog of choice. When designing your shoot and choosing where you’ll submit, be very aware of their submission rules beforehand. The blog to which we submitted demands exclusivity, meaning that we couldn’t share these images with anyone until the blog post went live. They also suggested a range of shots, so we were mindful to ensure that we provided them with enough images so they could make a solid selection from their end. Also, knowing the publication, we were aware that they like multiple shots of the same detail, shot at different angles and orientations.

This is the lobby shot I referred to, which sets the tone for the winter shoot. Barbara is highly skilled at posing models and this was a huge plus for me so I could achieve the sexy, urban, polished look I so wanted!

I love the polished , urban look we achieved.

I love the polished , urban look we achieved

The tablescape included a variety of flower types all in the color range of the shoot. The repetition of the white vases, service wear, and place card holders created continuity in the shoot while the multitude of flowers used created variety and visual interest.

We kept the color scheme to white, red, pink, and orange

We kept the color scheme to white, red, pink, and orange

I wanted the cake to be an understated, contemporary design and I think we achieved it beautifully! The very talented florist created these beautiful carnation beds for the shoot and we used them several times in a multitude of ways, including a cake plateau.

Our contemporary cake design

Our contemporary cake design

Over the table in the suite were these fabulous boxed fixtures that were just screaming for decor. We hung Mokara orchids from the center of each fixture to achieve this amazing floral canopy over the table. You can see the wonderful repetition of the fixtures captured in this photo as well!

A gorgeous floral canopy

A gorgeous floral canopy

We featured letterpress stationery in this shoot. I chose letterpress because it’s stunning, tactile, and high-end. We wanted a finer paper product that was simply stated and modern and I think that was accomplished with the square motif and bold font. They’ve also incorporated the wood-grain element in the invitation, again to achieve continuity, and carried that same motif throughout the various pieces.

This letterpress stationery kept to our theme

This letterpress stationery kept to our theme

The florist we worked with is very imaginative and created something contemporary and a bit edgy for the bridal bouquet. When I first showed her the inspiration board, she knew that something like this would work very well for the feel we were creating in the shoot. She was so right!

We topped it off with a creative bouqet

We topped it off with a creative bouquet

There are dozens more images that I could share with you, but I hope these give you a feel for our shoot and some inspiration for what you can achieve in your own. Looking back at both of the shoots I did last year, I am really pleased with the end results. They both reflected my brand, allowed me to connect with vendors whose work I adore, and were both publishable, which was the end goal! Before entering into a styled shoot commitment, remember that it takes a lot of to pull it all together effectively. There are also costs involved that you must be aware of. For my shoot, costs included:

  1. Decor details
  2. Half of the flower costs (the florist shared the other half)
  3. Lunch and refreshments for the vendor team on shooting day
  4. Parking
  5. Thank you notes for the vendor team and gift cards

Fortunately, many of the direct costs involved in the shoot (e.g. stationery) were absorbed by the various vendors in return for credit within the publication, which is great. But there are still costs involved and a huge commitment of time and effort, so be prepared. Also be prepared to be very pleased with the results of your efforts after the shoot! It’s a lot of fun allowing your imaginations to come up with concepts that you might not otherwise be able to achieve within your usual contracts.

With wedding season upon us, I’m back to my usual routine. No time for styled shoots for me, but best of luck with yours!

Happy planning!

All images courtesy of Barbara Ann Studios.

Wedding planner Lynn LeeWritten by Lynn Lee
www.weddingsunveiled.ca

Lynn Lee has over 10 years experience in the event and wedding planning industry. These days, she’s focusing her attention on her growing wedding planning business, Weddings Unveiled. Her weekly blog posts include business tips, wedding trends, and expert advice.

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Determining how to base your fee structure as a wedding planner is one of the hardest things when you’re starting out. It certainly was for me! When I was in school I was taught to base my fees on my clients’ wedding budgets. As a young planner, the industry standard was 10 per cent. That meant if my client’s wedding budget was $50,000, my fees would be $5,000. I thought that was a pretty good, simple deal, until I had an enquiry for a wedding with a $10,000 budget. Did that mean that my fees were to be $1,000?

All of a sudden this percentage-based charging didn’t seem like a great idea anymore. With the number of hours I’d be devoting to their contract I would end up making about $6.00/hr. Very quickly, I realized I would need a minimum charge regardless of the budget just to cover my labor and costs of doing business. The problem was at that time in my business’ young life I didn’t really know the average number of hours I would put towards a contract. So I talked to other planners, got a sense of what they were charging, and tried to guestimate how many hours of work I thought I would have to put in. A minimum fee was established and I set forth to gain my first full planning contract!

Everything moved along as planned and I secured my first “full planning” clients within a matter of three months (yes, it does take that long – sometimes longer!). A contract was drawn up and my fees were based on 10 per cent of their budget, which was $25,000. All was good, that is until we started delving into the planning process, securing vendors, and making decisions. It quickly became apparent that the budget was going to change. Some weeks it was up, others down. Once we got to the week of the wedding, it was time to reconcile my charges with my clients’ final expenditures. I ended up owing them money. However, that wasn’t the thing that bothered me most. It was having to reconcile at all. I couldn’t help but wonder if I would have felt uncomfortable having to ask for more money if my clients had gone over budget. Might I have felt a little weird benefiting from their over-spending? My answer to that question was a definitive “yes,” and I quickly threw my budget-based fee structure out the window in favor of flat-fee based quoting.

Now don’t get me wrong, flat-fee based earning is no perfect solution either! How do you know how many hours you’re going to put towards a given contract? Gather as much information as you can about your clients’ wishes before you start working to give you something to go on when trying to estimate a time commitment. But let’s face it, it’s not an exact science, and I do believe we win some and lose some with this type of charge. Despite that, it better reflected my values and required no interim accounting (which I loved). Plus, I thought it was fairer to my clients that they know exactly what their commitment is at the outset. Six years later, I still base my fees in this manner. It works for me and I will never go back to percentage. There are times when I hear of large earnings from colleagues who were involved in top-budget weddings based on percentage-based charges. It makes me wonder, momentarily, if I made the right decision some years ago. It’s just human nature to question things a bit!

So which way is right? The answer is that the right choice is what is right for you. Each business owner has to make the decision based on their own business values, needs, and abilities. But take solace in the fact that nothing that you decide is set in stone and adjustments to your fee structure or pricing can be made down the road should you decide that changes are warranted. So, which method of charge will you use starting out? Here are a few points to consider as you’re weighing the options:

Percentage based fee structure

  1. Rumored to increase your earnings in the long run
  2. Some planners don’t feel this structure is in keeping with their own value set
  3. Some clients balk at this variable structure since they don’t know their exact financial commitment until all the spending is complete
  4. You will not know your exact earnings until the planning process for each contract is complete
  5. A lot of paperwork is involved with this structure
  6. You may want to estimate your fees on the low side so that when you reconcile at the end of the planning process, your clients will owe you, and you don’t have to pay out

Flat fee structure

  1. Rumored to provide you with lower potential earnings when compared to percentage based fees
  2. Easy accounting for you- one quote and you’re done!
  3. You don’t necessarily benefit from being involved in higher-budget weddings with this fee structure (unless you increase your quote based on the wedding budget)
  4. There’s no going back with this type of fee structure. Your quote sticks even if your client increases their budget or accelerates their plans down the road (unless you include some sort of contract clause to cover you in certain instances)
  5. In my experience, some couples have greater sticker shock looking at a dollar figure as opposed to knowing they’ll be charged a given percentage. I think it’s just having that big number placed before their eyes, which is why I like to break the total fee down into monthly payments for them. It’s not so overwhelming that way!

Regardless of your choice, talk to other planners and educate yourself on industry standards and regional norms. That will help you to know what your local market will bear in terms of pricing. Plus, by keeping pricing standards in line with our competition, we encourage couples to choose their planner based on performance, reputation, portfolio and personality, not price. This is important since we are still developing our credibility as an industry, and the more we can do to improve expectations industry-wide, the better it is for everyone concerned, ourselves included!

Best of luck with your decision!  Till next time!

Written by Lynn LeeWedding planner Lynn Lee
www.weddingsunveiled.ca

Lynn Lee has over 10 years experience in the event and wedding planning industry. These days, she’s focusing her attention on her growing wedding planning business, Weddings Unveiled. Her weekly blog posts include business tips, wedding trends, and expert advice.

 

 

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March 14, 2013 9:45 am

Business Growth: Focus on Quality

Business growth…the title alone probably conjures up positive thoughts for many of you. As entrepreneurs, we’re encouraged to seek more, to build, to conquer, and to grow to our full potential. After all, isn’t the goal typically to manage large, big-budget weddings, perhaps several per day? To step into the role of lead planner, overseeing a staff of support personnel who help make it all happen? This what we see when we visit sites like www.sashasouzaevents.com and www.mindyweiss.com. We work hard to gain the kind of reputation where demand for our services forces us to increase our internal staff numbers. I adhered to this thinking when I first started out, thinking bigger was definitely better. But after a couple of years, I realized I needed to go in another direction, one that was a better fit for me, my goals, my values, and my personality.

Several times a week, I am approached by talented women looking for employment, whether on an internship or part-time basis, or as a full-time career move. I always feel bad that I am unable to offer them a position, but I have chosen a different route than seems to be the norm. I do seek growth but of a different kind. Growth for me is achieving a reputation and a brand that enables me to do the type of events that are truest to my nature.

I’m interested in planning better events, not more events. I want to take part in events where I play a pivotal part of the planning process. I want to enjoy a close relationship with my clients and their family, and help them to achieve their goals with ease. I want to create events that mirror both my clients’ and my own values. It’s taken five years of often excruciatingly long hours and a commitment to excellence in all that I do to get where I am today. Now, my brand consistently attracts the exact clientele I want!

There are several reasons why I opted for a different type of growth – growth in quality versus quantity. All of those reasons are unique to me alone and my position in life, and yours will be too. Here is a list of just a few of my reasons, to give you an idea why I made the business decisions I did:

  1. Being closer to retirement than many planners, growth wasn’t necessarily a good fit for me because of the time commitment involved in overseeing multiple events and staff.
  2. I find my connection with my clients the most rewarding part of my career, and to give that experience up to my staff wouldn’t be as satisfying to me.
  3. I am a bit of a type A personality (okay, not just a bit…), and have a hard time giving up control.
  4. I tend to feel most stressed when I feel out of control. Therefore, keeping control of a smaller number of events would improve my quality of life.
  5. Put simply, at the age of 50 my values do not include making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Someone at the beginning stage of their career would probably have different financial goals than I do.
  6. I value being wholly available to my clients, so providing a high level of service to a small number of couples is a better fit for me.

Although the decision not to grow in the usual sense was sometimes a difficult one, I have no doubt that it was the right move. Entering my sixth year, I am enjoying every event with which I am involved and really feel like the business is a true reflection of who I am and what I can offer the industry. You too will develop a business plan that will evolve over time until it becomes exactly what it should be for your own values and personality. I assure you, it will be a wild, rewarding ride getting there.

Best of luck and happy planning!

Written by Lynn Wedding planner Lynn LeeLee
www.weddingsunveiled.ca

Lynn Lee has over 10 years experience in the event and wedding planning industry. These days, she’s focusing her attention on her growing wedding planning business, Weddings Unveiled. Her weekly blog posts include business tips, wedding trends, and expert advice.

 

 

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March 6, 2013 5:04 pm

Creating Memories for Your Clients

As business owners, we are always looking for ways to ensure that we continue to thrive. With the growth in our industry over the past decade, the competition gets fiercer every year, so we are constantly challenged to be creative, to be fresh, and to offer the best service and support we can muster! I think one of the ways that we can do that is to look closely at our clients and suppliers to see beyond their immediate needs. I’m not talking about their wedding planning needs. We’re getting paid to do that, it’s not an option, and we better do it well or we’ll quickly lose the next client to the competition! I’m talking about the extra little things you can do for your clients and vendors, I’m talking about creating memories that make working with you special. That way, when your clients’ friends ask, “Who should I hire as a wedding planner?” your name is unquestionably the one that rolls off their tongues. You’ll be memorable enough that your vendors adore working with you and tell all their own clients and other vendors how wonderful it is!

So, how do we create memories? How do we make these people feel special and appreciated, the way we all want to be made to feel? The answer to these questions is probably going to be different for each of us. After all, it’s what we each bring to the table that makes us unique and valuable as entrepreneurs. I’ve also been generating some ideas as to how I engineer special moments for my own clients and fellow vendors. I’ve always been proud of the relationships I develop with these individuals, but only recently did I really look closely at my own processes, realizing that I too had much room to improve! This is going to be a huge focus for me in this coming year as I take my business into year six, and I have allocated a significant portion of my budget to accommodate. Given my brand, my focus as a planner is as someone who creates meaningful, memorable, personal events. Quite frankly, it’s long overdue!

I’ve been brainstorming ideas and keeping my ears open for suggestions from others. Here is just a sprinkling of some that have already surfaced:

  1. Sending a hand-written thank you card to vendors who went the extra mile for you or your client at an event. Yes, I mean to use the dreaded snail mail!
  2. Make note of client/vendor birthdays when you can and send them birthday cards on their special day. For a real treat, enclose a gift card to be used at their favorite coffee shop or restaurant. Christmas cards, new home cards, congratulations on your promotion cards, all cards are fun to receive!
  3. Next time you have a meeting with a client or vendor over coffee or tea, take note of their preferences and order takeout next time you’re on the way to a meeting with them, with their drink in hand. What a great start to a morning meeting!
  4. If someone has something special coming up in their lives (ex: vacation, special celebration, bachelor party), make a note of it in your calendar and when the date rolls around, follow up a couple days later to share in their excitement.
  5. Surprise your client with a thoughtful touch at their event. Maybe they expressed loving a certain thing that you could integrate into their day? Or maybe they really wanted something but the budget just couldn’t handle it? They’ll be totally surprised when they arrive to find out that you secured it for them on your own dime.
  6. Next meeting, bring a little sweet treat to nibble on. French macaroon, brownie, favorite yummy. Maybe even in their event theme colors!

I have no doubt that you will have some amazing ideas of your own. There are countless opportunities to be thoughtful and it really just boils down to being attentive. With smartphones and tablets, it’s so easy for us to jot a quick note to ourselves next time we have an opportunity and refer to our notes next time we can use them. It doesn’t have to cost a lot, but the way we make people feel is priceless. And that is good for our souls and good for business!

Enjoy creating those memories. Till next time!

 

Written by LyWedding planner Lynn Leenn Lee
www.weddingsunveiled.ca

Lynn Lee has over 10 years experience in the event and wedding planning industry. These days, she’s focusing her attention on her growing wedding planning business, Weddings Unveiled. Her weekly blog posts include business tips, wedding trends, and expert advice.


March 4, 2013 4:18 pm

Ask the Expert: Wedluxe Magazine

Many wedding planners, myself included, look forward to the bi-annual editions of Wedluxe magazine. The magazine originates in Canada so its content is highly meaningful to this Canadian, and it often highlights the work of other colleagues whom we have gotten to know over the years. However, you can find similar magazines from all over the world! The buzz surrounding the current issue is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Always stunning, this one is beyond that and truly showcases some of Canada’s best talent. I was floored and humbled as I turned the pages for the first time!

Now as you know, print media has had its tough times over the past few years, as demand for online content continues to grow. But Angela Desveaux, founder of Wedluxe, seems to have found the perfect niche in Canada by setting the bar high and choosing its content, vendors, and style very carefully. This allows them to preserve their luxe branding. Additionally, Wedluxe has an online presence in its website and blog. This helps to generate excitement around their brand and magazine so that their print sales continue to climb!

Like so many other wedding blogs, Wedluxe considers both real wedding and styled shoot submissions for its content. Styled shoots, for those of you who are not familiar with the term, and “mini wedding mock-ups” that allow professionals to highlight their talents. With our preferred team assembled, we are given an opportunity to dream big, to design without restrictions (well not as many anyway), and to showcase our individual styles. Ideas can stem from a particular colour palette, time of year, texture, shape, just about anything! The shoot itself, is usually completed in one day. Images captured include details of many of the most common wedding elements such as bridal styling, stationary, cake, tablescapes, and flowers (just to name a few).

Many wedding planners and photographers aspire to have their work accepted on the Wedluxe blog, but the real pinnacle is to see it on the pages of their magazine. One of the things that Wedluxe does every year (twice actually) is to open up an opportunity for its preferred vendors (or glitterati as we are termed) to submit a styled shoot for publication consideration. Each edition has a theme assigned to it and this current edition finds inspiration in the big screen and Hollywood glam. Using this theme, glitterati members have assembled and designed weddings that are simply unbelievable. As I flip the pages, I am still stunned by the incredible attention to detail found in every element of the shoots. Here are just a couple of examples of the work you’ll see:

  1. The Great Gatsby inspired shoot that features a giant floral peacock sculpture
  2. The Wizard of Oz’s wrought iron gate studded with a stunning multiple cake cascade and floral OZ monogram
  3. Let Them Eat Cake gold-gilded dessert table
  4. Shakespeare In Love’s deep crimson floral works that are beyond words

The winter/spring issue of Wedluxe, or any issue for that matter, really is worth the purchase if you work within the industry or are preparing to do so. After reading it, I walked away with two prominent feelings: the first was one of pride that the wedding industry continues to showcase the value that we provide to all of our clients through our hard work and creative talents. The second was one of awe and admiration knowing that I have much to learn from these masters. It’s really worth a look, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Written by LynnWedding planner Lynn Lee Lee
www.weddingsunveiled.ca

Lynn Lee has over 10 years experience in the event and wedding planning industry. These days, she’s focusing her attention on her growing wedding planning business, Weddings Unveiled. Her weekly blog posts include business tips, wedding trends, and expert advice.

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March 1, 2013 3:43 pm

Bridal Shows

I’d like to talk about bridal shows today, since this is prime time for shows! In my own local market, we host several wedding shows, both big and small. The biggest one, and the one that appeals to the higher budget wedding, just recently took place. The show included booths exhibiting the work of 11 wedding planners, one of which was hosted by Kennedy Events. I wanted to highlight Shannon Kennedy’s booth for you today, since I think it’s a great example of what to do when you’re investing in wedding shows as part of your marketing plan.

In my opinion, Kennedy Event’s booth demonstrated six major considerations when designing a bridal show booth: current market trends, layout, show clientele, branding, consistency, and details. Let’s look at each!

Current market trends

Shannon’s booth both exhibits her knowledge of the upcoming trends as well as appeals to brides looking to feature some of them at their own wedding. This year, we’re seeing softer colors, elegant, luxurious weddings, gold metallics, and a bit of bling, and Shannon’s booth highlights all of these elements. By including these in her booth display, Shannon demonstrates to potential clients that she can represent them well in today’s ever-changing market.

Layout

Kennedy’s booth is laid out to welcome visitor traffic with two points of entry. There is ample space around the tablescape to encourage interaction with Shannon and her team. Visitors can also make their way around all the displays so they can see all the wonderful touches that have been included. The booth is uncluttered with just the right amount of details so there is no sensory overload, and just enough pretty to make us all take notice.

Appeal

This particular bridal show appealed to a higher-end, urban clientele. Kennedy Event’s booth is positioned very well for this. It might not have worked nearly as effectively if it had been part of a DIY or rural show appealing to a smaller wedding budget or crafty bride.

Branding

When designing her booth, Shannon clearly focused not only on the above considerations, but also on remaining consistent with her brand. I hope I speak for Shannon in describing her sensibility as contemporary, romantic, lush, feminine, pretty, shimmery, and organized to a “T.” I could have walked up to this booth, without any signage, and known just whose booth it was. This is exactly what Shannon would have wanted since her branding distinguishes her from other planners exhibiting in the show and appeals to the best client for her!

Consistency

This is a bit of a continuum of the above point. There is consistency within Kennedy’s booth that makes it present so effectively. Her color palette is consistent throughout, as is her style. There is enough variation to make it interesting but enough consistency to present a united display that pleases the eye. She is also very careful to use certain elements throughout like the gold shimmer on the stationary, candle holders, and individual cakes, just to name a few!

Details

And lastly, the details. Shannon excelled here with lots of little touches that excite the senses! Crystal charger, stationery elements, stunning chair garlands, and fabric choices. Kennedy demonstrates to potential clients the ability to attend to the important detailed elements that will create a stunning wedding and one that is unique to each couple. And isn’t that exactly what they all want?

Choosing to exhibit in bridal shows is more than just renting a booth and having some promo materials printed up. For a wedding planner, it is an opportunity to showcase what we uniquely offer our clients. Kennedy Event’s booth is a fine example of what we can all do with an exceptional design, superior planning and execution.

My thanks to Shannon Kennedy and Melanie Rebane for allowing me to share these images with you today!

Till next time, happy planning!

 

Written by LynWedding planner Lynn Leen Lee
www.weddingsunveiled.com

Lynn has over 10 years experience in the event and wedding planning industry. These days, she’s focusing her attention on her growing wedding planning business, Weddings Unveiled. Her weekly blog posts include business tips, wedding trends, and expert advice.

 

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