These successful wedding planning professionals have branched out with auxiliary businesses, showing it's smart to have a little something as a sideline.
THE ENTERTAINMENT EXPERT
TARA WILSON, TARA WILSON EVENTS
Tara Wilson began positioning herself as an “entertainment expert” back in 2007, the same year she launched her Fort Worth, Texas-based wedding planning company. The move was carefully calculated: “I intend to expand my brand from just events into lifestyle with several divisions, including events, products, books and a television show,” she says. Wilson has already appeared on NBC's blockbuster “Today” show and has been named one of the “top 50 planners” by website The Daily Meal.
Wilson estimates that her wedding planning services bring in 80 percent of her total revenue, with her “expert” role — product endorsements, public speaking engagements and the like — bringing in 20 percent. “Right now, I spend 80 percent of my time on my event business because it is the more profitable of the two,” she explains. It's a bit of a juggling act: “I do spend a lot of my free time — and my own money, I might add — working on the ‘expert’ piece of the business,” she says. In 2010, Wilson began working with a PR firm to handle her national media and speaking engagements, but she has not had to expand her own office space or add full-time employees.
No matter how big her “expert” role grows, Wilson says she will keep her event work. “It helps keep me abreast of the trends and in touch with what people want when it comes to home entertaining,” she explains. “Many of my best ideas as an entertaining expert are derived from what we're doing in the wedding, corporate and nonprofit world.”
THE PROPOSAL PLANNER
SARAH PEASE, BRILLIANT EVENT PLANNING
The inspiration for her marriage-proposal business — The Proposal Planner from Brilliant Event Planning — came from a story she heard from “a friend of a friend,” explains Sarah Pease. The would-be groom wanted to incorporate his beloved's favorite food — fried chicken — into his wedding proposal. So, “He decided that the very best way to pop the question was to put a ring at the bottom of a bucket of chicken!”
The New York-based wedding planner knew “there had to be a better way,” and in 2008 launched her proposal business. She does not consider it a sideline: “Depending on the time of year, I may be spending the majority of my time planning marriage proposals over any other type of event,” she says. “Since high proposal season is November through February, it's a great balance to the busy wedding months of spring and summer.”
As for the future, “Weddings will always be my first love and the bread and butter of my business, but marriage proposal planning is my signature service and what I'm known for,” Pease says. “I can see a future where we have different teams within my company focused on each branch of the business. Since many of my proposal clients hire me to plan their weddings, I'll always have an interest in both!”
THE VENUE-FINDING SERVICE
Four years ago, London-based Siobhan Craven-Robins saw an opening for a sideline to her wedding planning business.
With her venue-finding service, clients pay her a flat fee and share their event criteria — date of the event, style of the venue, guest count, etc. The Craven-Robins team researches the market and then sends the clients overviews of all suitable venues. She holds the date with all the venues until the clients choose their favorites. She releases venues that don't interest the clients and books viewings with the venues that do. Once clients have settled on a venue, Craven-Robins confirms the booking with the venue, then hands the process over to the client.
The venue service evolved from Craven-Robins' wedding work. “We realized this was the first challenge that couples come across planning their wedding,” she explains. “And, I realized that it was a service I could add to my business for those clients who cannot afford — or do not want to use — a wedding planner for their complete wedding planning.”
The venue service makes a nice counterpart to her more elaborate wedding work. “Just like with the finite number of weddings we take on each year, a venue search can be scheduled over a two-week period, and we only take ones that can be completed in that time frame,” she explains. “So, for instance, in the high season — which is not busy with inquiries anyway — we probably wouldn't take on any venue searches, as we are too busy with the weddings.”
Craven-Robins estimates that the venue service brings in only about 10 percent of her total revenue, “But it's worth it as an auxiliary business using a skill we already have,” she says.
THE ONLINE STORE
MINDY WEISS, MINDY WEISS PARTY CONSULTANTS
It's not that celebrity wedding planner Mindy Weiss isn't busy already. In business since 1992, the Beverly Hills, Calif.-based planner has overseen the weddings of Ellen DeGeneres, Katy Perry, Heidi Klum, Gwen Stefani and a host of others. Not surprisingly, she is a fixture in magazines and on expert panels.
But it was love — well, love of shopping — that led to her online store, which she launched in 2005. “I was always making recommendations to my bride for products they needed or fun things they should buy for their wedding,” Weiss says. “One day I decided to put all my favorite finds in one place, my online shop!”
The site — at www.shopmindyweiss.com — is a collection of “handpicked” products for brides, grooms and party planners. “The products range from wedding-day necessities like my ‘Shemergency Kits’ to fun extras like my ‘I Do’ shoe appliqué to a range of products to use in the home after the wedding,” she explains.
Weiss susses out her product line in her free time — what there is of it. “Usually it's at home while I'm winding down for the day,” she says. “I love finding fun extras and good bargains — I'm a flea market-aholic — so finding new products for my site is a very enjoyable side project.”
An employee is dedicated to posting new products and updating the site, which accounts for about 20 percent of Weiss' revenues overall. But she doesn't envision ever leaving the world of weddings for the world of retail. “Never,” she says. “I absolutely love planning weddings and events and can't imagine a time when I won't be doing that!”
THE ‘DAY OF’ SERVICE
KASEY SKOBEL-CONYERS, BLISS WEDDING AND EVENT DESIGN
Kasey Skobel-Conyers launched her Columbus-based day-of wedding coordination service — dubbed Oh So Lovely Events — in August as a way to rein in the tendency of clients to wind up getting more service than they are paying for.
“I love my clients, and when I was booked for a wedding weekend, I always added extra little design services — picking linens or helping with the floor plan — that were outside of my original scope of work,” she explains. “It was easier for me to just do the work than to explain that it would require additional funds. I also saw an area in the market where almost every planner offers day-of services, but it's not something they specialize in or specifically seek clients for.”
Her day-of service, which should constitute 30 percent of Skobel-Conyers' business in 2012, has enabled her to turn shorter segments of time into profitable work. “We are able to maximize our time with each client, which allows us to book more than we would have by offering both wedding weekend services and full planning service levels together,” she says. “I felt like it was a win-win for the all parties — the client gets to save a little on the planning budget, and we are able to increase our revenue by being able to expand our availability.”
The new business promoted Skobel-Conyers to merge her home-based office and small outside studio into one larger studio space, which gives the new company “more credibility” with clients, she says.
While Skobel-Conyers predicts continued growth of her day-of sideline — another 15 percent to 20 percent by 2013, she says — it hasn't been effortless. “I will say that it has forced me to become more efficient in everything I do,” she explains. “Streamlining tasks and workloads is key to making this work. Thankfully, I have a great support system with my family and staff to help when things get a little hectic.”
THE DESTINATION SPECIALISTS
MARY LITZSINGER, VP EVENTS INC.
Longtime event planner Mary Litzsinger, head of VP Events of Westlake Village, Calif., launched her destination management sideline — offering full-service event planning including travel, accommodations and VIP concierge services — as “a test,” she says.
Litzsinger says her destination service is a strategic focus on serving the top tier of her client base — “the clients that we want,” she says — both corporate and social. “We work with many YPO [Young Presidents Organization] clients, and their expectations have really been the force behind this change for us,” she explains.
The VP team serves these clients with “very specialized events, designed and customized around the ‘main’ event,” Litzsinger says. “This may be a crossover event tailored around the concepts of an ‘Amazing Race’ scavenger hunt with a photo or video twist that is recapped at the final event, all based around the clients. Our clients are looking for very unique event elements that are tailored to them — not a canned program.”
In a similar vein, her wedding clients are becoming just as sophisticated — and demanding. “It's been our experience that our brides and grooms have done their research and are much better prepared to make decisions in many ways than they were, say, five years ago,” she says. “These social clients want this more personalized service and level of expertise.”
At present, VP's business breaks down as 55 percent weddings, 25 percent corporate and 20 percent destinations — “for now!” Litzsinger says.
CHRISTINA MATTEUCCI, DAVID BEAHM DESTINATIONS
David Beahm Destinations launched in 2009, a “natural evolution” for New York-based David Beahm Design, as Destinations executive director Christina Matteucci explains. “The David Beahm brand has always produced and planned destination events at the request of our clients,” she says. “So to us, it was an obvious business decision to be proactive and provide our clients with a ‘little black book’ of properties around the world where they could host their events with privacy and peace of mind. We began to introduce our clientele to the compendium of destination properties we had grown to love and trust over the years, and that group eventually grew into the David Beahm Destination collection as it stands today.”
Today's sophisticated event client is ready for a high-end destination experience, Matteucci says. “From planning, design and production to travel concierge services and coordination with local purveyors, we give our clients and their guests an authentic experience,” she says.
While she declines to say how much the destinations side brings to overall revenue, Matteucci clearly sees it as a growth area. “Quite simply: A globalized world means a globalized event industry,” she says, “and that's reflected in the exploding popularity of destination events.”
And now for something completely different ….
Gala Award-winning wedding planner Frank Andonoplas, MBC, doesn't have an “official” sideline business. But he has long had one in mind: directing funeral services.
“The Greeks have this down,” says the founder of Chicago-based Frank Event Design (www.frankeventdesign.com). Andonoplas recalls when a friend of his father's died, the local Greek community sent a man to the home of the bereaved to help the family choose what elements the funeral home would provide; the “planner” then worked as the intermediary with the funeral home itself.
“It is really not much different from planning any other event, except the lead time is small,” Andonoplas says. “You only deal with the client for a week or so. That's not a bad thought.”
Andonoplas adds that when he was in fifth grade and called upon to think about a future career, he chose funeral director “until I learned how much science you had to take in school. I decided not.”
But if he ever takes the plunge, he has a name picked out: “Marry 'Em and Bury 'Em.”