Four years ago this week I started a wedding planning business. If you would’ve told me four years ago today that I’d be sitting in my office in Kelowna about to go into my busiest wedding week of my career with a 20 week pregnant belly and my handsome husband working away on his two businesses right behind me, I don’t know if I would’ve believed you. At the time I had just graduated from an Events & Conventions Management diploma and was laddering into my Bachelor of Tourism Management. Not feeling satisfied with work I could get between school semesters and not feeling quite prepared to start a business from my diploma, I got certified as a Wedding Planner & Consultant and a week later decided to start “Events by Nicole Deanne”. Lucky for me, Royce had three wedding photography clients that summer that let me tag along and run their day-of coordination for free. I didn’t have any wedding planning experience… at all. So let’s take it back a few years…
I started in hospitality at age 16 working for a cute high-end French restaurant & bakery in Saskatoon called Calories. It had a vintage door, window seats that were always that little bit too chilly in the prairie winters, creaky wood floors, and a pastry case full of freshly made cakes and sweets. I started there as an evening expeditor where I was a barista and decorated/plated all the desserts before they went out. (I still have a scar from hot sugar, a torch, and a creme brule that got the best of my finger on a Friday night.) The restaurant was always busy but my favourite part was the late evening rush of customers that came in just for hot drinks and dessert. I took so much pride in styling each dessert and pairing it with their blueberry tea or latte. Looking back, maybe this was the job was where I fell in love with styling and creating atmospheres. If I close my eyes I can still remember the sound of muffled talking, the espresso machine running, and chits printing while I drizzled raspberry sauce on the white chocolate cheesecake. I later moved on to serving and then filled in on private catered dinners throughout the wealthier areas of the city. My last event I did with them my supervisor I’d been working with for a couple years turned to me and said, “See you just get it. You understand how catered events work.” That’s always stuck with me, I kind of wish I’d run into him again just to tell him in person that it meant a lot to hear that at age 18 where I was secretly dying inside to be a wedding planner.
I later moved onto another restaurant and then the lounge in the Sheraton. That was one of my favourite jobs too. I served the day shift on Saturdays & Sundays where I was getting tipped around 40% every shift. Since it was a hotel, most of the customers were businessmen and I had a knack for remembering their orders even if they had come in a month prior. It was kind of a game for me. It was there that I learned that people really do value good service and are willing to pay for it (or not, you can’t really have an “off day”). I finished my first year of commerce while working that job and thought my heart might just explode if I didn’t at least try wedding planning so I applied for university in Kamloops (two provinces away) to get a diploma in event management. I had only worked one wedding with a local planner and it happened to be an East Indian wedding of 400 people where we did an afternoon room flip in 2 hours and a second room flip from 2am-5am. Needless to say, the hours have never scared me away from planning. At the very least, I feel like my serving background taught me work-ethic, multitasking, customer service, and the hustle I needed to get started.
Obviously I got accepted into the diploma at Thompson Rivers University, met my now husband in the first four months of school, and decided to never move back. I’ll be honest with you, the first year.. two years.. three years.. okay it all has been tough. Every single year. The first two were the hardest though. I was a full-time broke student running a business with absolutely no experience and Royce was just as broke as I was. Two businesses in the same industry under one roof. We’ve never been on salary, we’ve never had benefits we haven’t personally paid for, we’ve never had loans to get our businesses going, we had nothing. Like nothing. I remember the first wedding I did for free I got tipped $100 and I literally thought I had won the jackpot. I opened the envelope while walking downtown and almost started crying from being so excited to get paid for something I loved so much. I made $6,000 total in year two, which isn’t a lot but I had to start somewhere and where I was living wasn’t exactly a wedding mecca. By year three Royce and I were engaged, I had just graduated, he was working full-time in the camera department at Future Shop while running his business and we were still so stressed about money. We counted pennies every. single. month. I wish every struggling entrepreneur could see thriving businesses start-up days. They were brutal. If I had a quarter for every time I cried about money back then I wouldn’t have had to stress so much about my bank account!
It was that summer that was truly a make or break for us. After some really serious life planning and dreaming, we knew we were going to have to do something pretty bold if we wanted to make it in the wedding industry. We quit our second jobs (mine ended as I was campaign assistant for the provincial election) and Royce left Future Shop and we moved to Kelowna in peak season. I flew to Santa Barbara the day after we moved for a one-on-one planning workshop with wedding planning extraordinaire, Jill LaFleur. We literally slept for 3 hours after unpacking and getting to the airport on time. I came back completely inspired, pushed some creative boundaries, and somehow pulled off three major features/publications that summer. By season four I had 19 weddings and one assistant and Royce was busy with ski photography contracts and wedding season. And now in year 4 (season 5… since my first season technically was the 3 weddings I did for free) have been so fortunate to have received 20 publications to date, grown a team of six staff, hired my first Associate Planner, and am loving my job more than I ever have. We still stress… a lot, but less about money and more about how to push each other to feel the most fulfilled in the paths we’ve chosen.
This post feels more like a journal to myself than for whoever is reading it (though I do appreciate more than you’ll ever know that you’re here listening). I have days where I feel like I haven’t grown. Where I’m stuck in the moments that used to scare me when I first started my business. The moments where you fear if anyone will ever book you and if people think what you do is of any value. Or you sit in complete worry of how you could ever compete in a market full of so many talented people. Putting yourself on the line to run a business is down right intimidating let alone every other stressor that comes along with it. And then you have these days of absolutely clarity where it’s like God literally shakes you and says “this is exactly where you’re meant to be. Stop worrying.” Thankfully the moments of clarity overshadow the doubt the majority of the time. But those doubt days will get ya.
So if this is you reading this today with a dream job in mind, an entrepreneur doubting if you’re the only one on earth struggling, a person wondering if you’ll ever find your path… you will. Dig deep and push a little harder.
This is just a piece of my story and how I got here. You have one too. And I know if you start looking back on yours, you’ll find that your dream job has matched up with everything that got you to this moment the entire time. Maybe those nagging thoughts of yours are just waiting to be fulfilled too.