On Dreams and Persistence (or, How I Became a Wedding Planner)

As I sit here on the sofa-- sipping my skinny vanilla latte and combing through the day's e-mails on the brink of a re-brand-- I can't help but think back to when I started this business a few years ago.  I remember the process well, and I remember the sheer joy I felt when I booked my first client.  It came after years of shadowing another wedding planner, soaking up every lesson I could until I was truly ready to go out on my own.  

I didn't jump right into it or pull a Jerry Maguire (as tempting as that was at the time!).  The road I took was a longer, less exciting one.  I get e-mails (daily) from aspiring wedding planners asking to intern, shadow, or assist me in some way.  Others ask how I did it and what advice I can give to them as they start their own business.

So I wanted to take this opportunity to share my story.  It's how I got to where I am, and though it's not a perfect path, it's an honest one.  Let's rewind back to 2006.

I knew I wanted to be a wedding planner.  I felt it in my core.  But I had just moved to a new state, and had few friends in my new town, let alone business connections.  I was starting at the very bottom of the totem pole, and I was okay with that.

I wasn't in the position to just hang a sign outside my door and open up shop; I had student loans to pay, a car to pay off, and not much experience planning weddings.  So I did the next best thing: I joined the ABC and started shadowing a wedding planner (for free) to gain more experience.  I busted my butt to prove myself to her, which led to earning a flat fee when I assisted her at weddings.  I met DJs, photographers, site managers, and florists along the way.  I slowly started to build a network of wedding professionals and gained invaluable experience.  People started to remember my name.  I felt like I was finally getting somewhere.

In the meantime, assisting at weddings wasn't exactly paying the bills.  If I was going to have a career in wedding planning, I had to be financially stable.  I had to not only pay off my debts, but have enough savings to hold me above water in the worst case scenario.  I did the math, calculated the money I'd need in the next five years to get by, save, pay the bills, start my company, and buy a house, and if my calculations served me correctly, I needed a six-figure salary, before taxes.  YIKES.  This wasn't going to happen if I was self-employed.  At least not in my first few years.  So I decided to go into Pharmaceutical Sales.  Only I had a minor problem: I had absolutely no experience in Pharmaceutical Sales.  My degree was in Marketing, and from a fashion school, to boot.  

So I applied anyway.

And applied.

And applied again.  To pharmaceutical company after pharmaceutical company.

And guess what?

It took a year.

A year of applying to one pharmaceutical company a day, every weekday, until I got a call for an interview.  Yah, it took an hour or two every night, and there were some nights when I just wanted to throw in the towel.  I cried.  More than once.  But I pushed myself to keep going, and my then-boyfriend (now husband) supported me every step of the way.  'Not getting a pharma job' wasn't ever an option in my mind.  I had applied to over 200 companies before I got a call for an interview.  And when that interview came, I gave it everything I had.  Every last ounce of effort and heart.  I researched the company's drugs, its competitors, did side-by-side comparisons of said drugs and how I would sell against them, and prepared this information in binders for the panel of interviewers.  I had my husband drive me to the interview because I was a nervous wreck in heels and a new suit.  I had one shot to make it happen.  And it happened.

I got the job.  I loved the job, and the job loved me back.  Not only did I prove to myself and others that I could sell, but I went on to earn a trip to the Riviera Maya with the company's top ten producers nationwide, and was named a Field Sales Trainer for new hires at the company. 

I share this information not to brag, but to point out that anyone truly can do any job they want.  If you want to start a business, you already have all the tools you need to do it.  If you want to be a wedding planner, you can be a wedding planner.  You just need to want it badly enough.

So having a solid foot on the ground with my pharmaceutical sales career, and a working knowledge of the wedding industry from assisting my mentor on the weekends, the time came for me to part ways with the wedding planner who had taught me so much.  It was time to open my own business.  I would work both jobs, pharma during the day and wedding planning at night, until I was ready to plan weddings full time.

And it all comes full-circle; the sheer joy I felt when booking my first wedding client-- all on my own-- was one of the happiest moments of my life.  I'll never forget how it made me feel.  I started to book more clients, and more, until I had eight full-service wedding clients and a full-time pharma job.  Adam hardly ever saw me, because I came home from my pharma job only to sit down to the computer to crank out e-mails and plan weddings.  I ate dinners at my desk and crawled into bed long after Adam was asleep.

I was working 12-16 hours most days, and there were some days-- right before weddings-- when I will admit to pulling 20-hour days and working all-nighters.  This went on for a few years, and just the thought of the stress I carried on my shoulders then completely stresses me out now.  But the time did come; the time to leave that incredible pharma job to pursue the only career I'd ever love... weddings.

I'll never forget the day; December 14th, 2011.  It was the day I gave my notice at my pharmaceutical job, explaining that I was going to plan weddings full-time.  My boss was surprised, saddened (okay, probably a little angry), but supportive.  My co-workers couldn't believe it, and texts spread like wildfire among our sales reps nationwide as they heard that I was leaving.  But I was doing the right thing.

On December 15th, 2011, I was officially a full-time wedding planner.  It took a lot of work, even more faith, an unconditionally supportive man (who was, by this time, my husband), and five years time.

So my advice to those who e-mail me-- asking how I successfully opened up shop and how I just up and left my day job to follow my dreams-- is always this:

Follow your dreams, however wild they may seem.  It will take time, and it may take more patience than you ever knew you had.  But I can promise you that it's worth it.



Naomi said...

Is it OK to say that this post made me cry? It really did. I think hard work and believing in yourself allows us to climb those stairs even when we trip, or step on a tack...it is our love for what we want to do that makes us so determined. As I sit here writing this I'm so very frustrated, and feel so defeated...but I read this and I know that I was suppose to and there is no way that I would care about what I do so much if I wasn't so emotional about it. Thank you so much. I wish you we were closer for a planner hug! xxoo

bonafidebride said...

Thanks Naomi, that means a lot! It always helps to be reminded of other planners with similar stories. Whatever is frustrating you today, I hope that you're able to overcome it and realize that you are greater than the sum of your frustrations. This too shall pass, and everything that doesn't kill us truly does make us stronger. Keep on keeping on, and thanks for taking a few moments to read my post. :) *Planner hug!* xoxo

Anonymous said...

This was extremely inspirational for me, on so many levels. Thank you for sharing your story. Like you were, so many people are scared to leap into pursuing their passion for fear of failure, not being able to pay bills, lack of experience, etc. But your story surely puts some of those fears to rest and proves that dreams do come true....thank you.

bonafidebride said...

So glad it was helpful to you! Thanks for taking the time to comment!

jacin said...

love this post kristin - and i'm so happy for you and your rebrand launching this week. you're a true inspiration of what hard work + genuinely good person is!

Denae said...

Thank you for sharing your story! I am currently working a full-time job while building my wedding planning business on the side. I'm struggling right now as I tell constantly myself that it will take time before I can leave the corporate job and work for myself. But once you figure out what you're meant to do in life, it's so hard to want to do anything else! It's encouraging to hear stories like yours and know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. :)

bonafidebride said...

Thanks Jacin! Right back at you, girl. Your work ethic and genuine-to-the-core personality both inspire me daily.

bonafidebride said...

Denae, when you set your heart to it, nobody -- and nothing-- will be able to stop you. Keep on keeping on, and in a few years, this time of struggle and persistence will be a distant memory. I know where you are, and I'm cheering you on!

Jen said...

Such a perfect (and timely) post. As I build my wedding design and planning business I am teaching full time. I consider myself lucky, being able to dedicate summers fully to weddings, but the other 10 months are long days and little sleep. Thank you for such an honest post, its bookmarked now for times I need to refocus!