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How to be a wedding planner

Interview with...

Rosena McKeown and Kay Carey 
Age:
Undisclosed
CV:
Undisclosed
Business name:
Boutique Souk & Heading up the Aisle
Goods/services:
Wedding planners
Location:
Marrakesh & undisclosed
Open for:
Undisclosed
wedding

Being married can add credentials to your CV.

"To be a great wedding planner you have to be married," says Rosena McKeown, a nuptials organiser based in Marrakesh.

And that's not the only nugget of advice for people who want to set up wedding businesses, which can range from management of the event itself to work-from home wedding stationery businesses. 

Customer testimonials and bases take time to establish - "it's a very chicken-egg problem," says McKeown. Thankfully, Kay Carey, owner of Heading up the Aisle, and Morroco-based wedding planner McKeown encourage entrepreneurs with cold feet.

It's hard to break into an industry without experience, so work for free at a venue or with another wedding planner company

Kay Carey, Heading Up the Aisle

Krystena Petrakas: What inspired you to become a wedding planner?

Kay Carey: Essentially my own wedding. And my husband works in a wedding car company, so we already had our foot in the door.

With our wedding there wasn't any flexibility - no one could help us and the week before the big day was chaos!

We had no one to run around after suppliers and we had to make sure everything was going on time. I thought to myself "there is a gap in the market - there should be more on-the-day wedding services."

Rosena McKeown: For me it was a lifestyle decision. I used to work in PLCs in the corporate City of London, then I moved to Marrakesh to start a wedding-planning business.

Growing numbers of English-speaking tourists want destination weddings, and my business, Boutique Souk, bridges the cultural gap for wedding services.

KP: Have you always wanted to set up your own business?

KC: Absolutely, working in a corporate environment certainly didn't set my world alight. I always to be my own boss and have real job satisfaction - it worked quite well 'marrying' the things together! [laughs]

RM: I never thought about owning my own business, my parents were self-employed and I saw how hard they worked - I liked the security of working for big companies.

I did a Master of Business Administration a few years ago, which gave me a good foundation to start my own business.

But I fell in love with Morocco, Marrakesh in particular, which is an entrepreneurial city. I decided to pursue my passion to live there, and had no other choice but to set up my own business.

KP: How did you find the transition - from working for companies to becoming a wedding planner?

RM: I have a strong corporate background and working with suppliers was always something I was trained in which worked in my favour. Living in Marrakesh made the transition worth it.

KP: How did you finance your business venture?

RM: Fortunately I was half working for my previous employer in London and half starting up the business, giving me a salary for the first year. I then had the tools for starting the business part time. 

KP: Any advice for would-be wedding planners?

KC: Look at established organisations to give you advice, like the UK Alliance of Wedding Planners.

The second route is to get some experience. It's hard to break into an industry without it, work for free at a venue or with another wedding planner company, show some enthusiasm.

This gives you valuable work experience. If you couple this with the right qualifications you're heading in the right direction.

RM: I got married while I was a wedding planner and it's given me more empathy with the couples - you understand the emotional side which is an important dimension.

KP: And how do you get your name known?

KC: Wedding fairs are good for looking at suppliers, but they can also be a bit challenging on your budget in the beginning. Just remember people planning their own weddings go to wedding fairs, so they have time to organise themselves - the clients you want are the ones that don't have the time and need you to do it for them.

Track all advertising and marketing deals and see what it's done for your business in terms of sales, otherwise you might as well throw some money in the bin. I think it's important to measure your business marketing.

RM: We do some advertising online, which gets people to look in our window but doesn't secure us the business. For people to trust you with their wedding they want to see examples of previous work; they want to speak to former clients and they want a vow [laughs] that you can deliver to their standards.

 

KP: How did you go about finding contacts and establishing your business?

KC: After getting my qualification I decided to shadow a wedding planner. When you've done those first few weddings you start establishing which suppliers you can build a good relationship with and the ones you can't.

It's important for you as a business owner to be cautious as your reputation is on the line. We go through reference checks and check company portfolios. Never recommend anyone you haven't used yourself.

RM: I think it's good to start out working in a bigger structure. Work as a wedding planner in a hotel and develop your expertise there before you attempt bespoke events, then you can build a portfolio.

Also work with your suppliers on a smaller event before you use them for a wedding. One of our stringent policies is that any suppliers we use for weddings we would use before in some other capacity to test they are the right supplier earlier.

KP: What are the toughest things about wedding planning?

RM: Any events planner will tell you that wedding planning is the most time-intensive and precise work - timing the music and arrivals, the cake-cutting and planning seating are all vital elements.

KP: What are your working hours like?

KC: It can be unpredictable, you have to be flexible; you can be working on a wedding from 8am till 2am the next morning! It's not your fixed nine till five, but it's exciting at the same time - you never know what's going to happen.

KP: So does being a wedding planner fits in with your lifestyle?

KC: It does, I'm fortunate I've got a support group around me. My husband also has an interest in weddings from a business prospective, which helps.

You're giving up most of your weekends, so you need an understanding group of people around you from a friendship perspective. My friends all understand if I'm working at a wedding I might come to the party, but I might be quite late, and I might be quite tired as well [laughs].

It's as demanding as you make it. For me it's really important to give really exceptional service, so if that means on the night of the wedding I have to stay late then I will.

KP: What have you enjoyed about running your own business?

KC: The 'unknown' of everyday work; you may wake up in the morning saying "these are the things I'm going to achieve today" but what actually happens could be something very different.

I like the variety with wedding planning - you're not confined to your office all day, it's a great, active job in that sense.

KP: Did anything surprise you about being your own boss?

KC: When you start your business you need to be the finance manager, HR, marketing and salesperson, and what surprised me was how you learn to juggle these roles.

RM: I didn't expect to develop such close relationships with clients. Because of the emotional aspect you learn a lot about the couple, it's really quite intense.

Some of those clients have become dear friends over the years and some former wedding clients ended up being guests at our own wedding!

 

It's also about being recognised for that unique selling point - to a certain degree it's about being right for the clients

Kay Carey

KP: What are the key elements of being successful in the wedding planning industry?

KC: Credibility built from reputation and also your reputation with competitors. Most wedding planners start up by themselves and I think it's imperative to build a contact network.

I work closely with a number of planners that work locally, solely because if you can't do a job you can call someone and know they will deliver an exceptional service for your business.

It's also about being recognised for that unique selling point - to a certain degree it's about being right for the clients.

KP: How much can a wedding planner expect to earn?

KC: We do packages so it's specific to what people want. For on-the-day coordination you could be looking at £500 to £1k on average per wedding.

For full wedding planning, depending on the size and the planner's credibility, it could be anything up to £10k. Most planners charge £5,000 to £10,000.

Obviously you have to build your reputation, which brings with it more money.

If people work for venues rather then themselves their salary tends to be less.

KP: Would you do anything differently if you had the chance to do it again?

KC: When I started thought, probably because of my previous career path, that I needed qualifications, but now I feel it's just as important to have the right attitude, learn and grow - to get out there and get some free experience.

I would choose qualifications more carefully - make sure it's in accordance with my practical experience rather then something that looks good on paper, because essentially is doesn't mean anything.

KP: Do you have a fixed plan, like a five-year or ten-year plan for the future?

KC: Absolutely. I want to open another boutique at another location in the next three years - a considerable expansion.

In the following five to seven years I will look at how we can franchise the business and have it in different locations around the UK.

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