BUSINESS | So you wanna be a wedding planner? How I became the owner of my own wedding planning biz
HAPPY NEW YEAR, GIRLFRIEND!
It’s hard to believe that this year marks year FIVE of Leilani Weddings. I started the company in January 2016, and I’ve been hitting the ground running ever since.
Time for a little nostalgia: I started Leilani Weddings literally from my bedroom. At the time, I shared a condo with my ex-boyfriend + he was actually the one who encouraged me to try out the wedding industry (more on that later). From the computer in our bedroom, I conceptualized Leilani Weddings, and it came to life before my eyes. I came up with the name (for those of you who don’t know, Leilani is [one] of my middle names [the other is Elizabeth], he helped me get the online paperwork set up, we registered the business (the boring stuff, ha!) and in just a couple of short weeks I had a logo, and within a month, a website + business cards. I was serious about this entrepreneur thing - it was quick and it was intense and I loved (and still love!) every single second of it.
HERE’S JUST A FEW OF OUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS OVER THE LAST FOUR YEARS:
Over 200 weddings + events planned, designed + executed
Published over 30 times on national blogs + magazines in the US + UK
Two-time winner of an ABC-OC Trendsetters Award [Best Styled Shoot, 2018 + Best Tablescape by a Planner, 2019]
Two-time finalist for California Wedding Day’s “Best Of” Awards [Best OC Designer, 2018 + Best OC Planner, 2019]
4 celebrity clients (including Jason Earles’ - does anyone remember watching Hannah Montana growing up or am I dating myself? LOL anyway, he was the brother on the show!) We are also working with MTV star Jillian Rose Reed, and I am sooo excited for her wedding out in Joshua Tree next fall!
Several destination weddings - Hawaii, Mexico, New York, the Midwest and soon - Costa Rica!
5 contracted planners who I trained (4 out of 5 didn’t have any wedding planning experience prior to working with me!) who now plan + design their own weddings for the company
Over 40 girls trained + mentored through the LW Intern Squad program
2 galas planned
2 guest spots on podcasts
1 guest article in Visit Newport Beach Magazine
I love sharing my story, because it’s a story of a big dream paired with unapologetic hustle, a lot of hard work, blood, sweat + tears, confidence, and believing in a little magic.
My hope is that you find what I share inspiring + motivating, because you, boss babe, have it in you too. Whether you’re aspiring to start your own company one day, or if you’ve already taken the leap + are now just trying to hone in on how exactly this crazy entrepreneur life works - we are all in this together, and I got you girl.
And to all of my aspiring wedding planners - read closely! Trust me when I say that this industry is not for the faint of spirit. According to Forbes, it’s one of the five most stressful jobs - right up there next to military personnel, firefighters, pilots + police officers. I wish I was kidding. If you’re serious about this industry, be prepared to work really, really hard, develop a thick skin, stay open-minded, and adjust to working with all kinds of different personality types.
Whether this gets you even more excited about pursuing wedding planning or another dream career, or has you running for the hills (i really hope that isn’t the case!), here’s how I figured out what I wanted to pursue in life + two years later, made it happen, and started my very own company.
STEP 1: I WENT WITH MY GUT ONE SINGLE CONVERSATION LED TO MY DREAM CAREER, AND IF I HAD PUSHED THE NOTION ASIDE, THINKING IT WAS CRAZY, OR TOO FARFETCHED, I WOULD NOT BE WHERE I AM TODAY.
I was 23 years old. My ex-boyfriend + I had just spent a weekend away in Temecula and while driving back home, started having a deep conversation about life. I brought up how I felt like I was having a “quarter life crisis” (dramatic, much?) and that I was confused about what was next. I had just graduated college a year before, I knew what my strengths were, I knew what I enjoyed doing - I just didn’t know exactly how to take that knowledge of myself + those skills that I had + make a career out of it. He was the one who suggested a wedding planner, because, and I quote, “you’re on top of your shit” and “you’re bossy”. All accurate statements. Fast forward to the next day (I have never been one to wait around) and I buy all of the wedding magazines I can find at the newsstand of the mall I worked at, and decided right then + there that I was going to put my heart + soul into pursuing this.
STEP 2: I FOUND MYSELF AN INTERNSHIP ...AND WORKED FOR FREE, EVEN THOUGH I HAD JUST WORKED MY TAIL OFF FOR FIVE YEARS TO GET A BACHELOR’S DEGREE.
As soon as I made the decision to pursue wedding planning, an almost immediate afterthought was that I would probably have to shadow a wedding planner, for a long time (or so I thought at the time) and probably not get paid (that part was true, but only for a little while). So what would any intelligent, confident, former beauty queen do in this situation? I cold-called wedding planners in Orange County + left “pitch letters”, in voicemail format, on their answering machines. Katherine, owner of Events by Katherine, ended up calling me back + I still remember how she chuckled + said that nobody had ever left her a voicemail like that before. #extra, what can I say? Before the end of the month, I had landed an internship in my dream industry.
STEP 3: I NEVER STOPPED LOOKING FOR OPPORTUNITIES I FACEBOOK STALKED, TEXTED FRIENDS + MESSAGED OLD COLLEAGUES, UNTIL THE RIGHT OPPORTUNITY PRESENTED ITSELF.
From the first wedding I assisted, I was hooked. I was scheduled a closing shift for that first wedding assisting Katherine at The Island Hotel in Newport Beach, and I remember how excited I was on that two-hour bus ride from Fullerton to Newport Beach. That’s right, y’all - if you’ve been following me for a while, you know that your girl did not own a vehicle during this era, and was living in Fullerton at the time. So, you’re reading this right -
I took a two hour bus ride from North OC to South OC to work 6 hours FOR FREE. And I was so stoked about it.
I arrived right before ceremony, and the band was doing their sound check as the ice sculpture arrived. This was heaven to me.
After that first wedding, I was hooked. But like any part-time internship, the opportunities were scarce + I didn’t feel as immersed in the industry as I wanted to be. I immediately went to Facebook, browsing through old friends, wondering who might have a connection with another company, or another opportunity. All I knew is that I wanted more. I eventually reconnected with an old friend from middle school who shared that she worked at a bank with a guy who owned a wedding planning + rental company with his wife, which she operated. She was looking for an executive assistant, a right hand, and I immediately said to myself: THIS IS IT.
STEP 4: I SOLD MYSELF I STEPPED INTO A PRETTY ESTABLISHED PLANNING + RENTAL COMPANY, DECLARED I HAD JUST TWO MONTHS OF EXPERIENCE IN THE WEDDING INDUSTRY, YET PROCEEDED TO TELL THEM EXACTLY WHY THEY SHOULD STILL HIRE ME.
Confidence gets you a long way, but being resourceful gets you even further.
Sure, I didn’t have years of wedding planning experience under my belt. Selling wedding rentals, like chairs + linens? Not exactly on my resume. But what I DID have was Drive. Motivation. Confidence. Intelligence. I ended up interviewing with the owners twice before they decided to take a chance on me + I assured them they would not regret their decision.
STEP 5: I PROVED MYSELF I DIDN’T TAKE THIS OPPORTUNITY FOR GRANTED, AND I WORKED HARD TO SHOW THE OWNERS THAT I WAS MEANT FOR THE JOB, AND THAT THEY HAD MADE THE RIGHT DECISION.
I utilized my past experiences to thrive, and learned “weddings 101” along the way.
My experience working in high end retail became an asset, as I was expected to sell our planning clients rentals, and gain new business. My beauty pageant days came in handy when I needed to go out + have lunch with venue managers, to market the company. My writing skills proved to be an advantage, as I was able to write engaging blogs for the company’s website. My days of being a cheerleading coach proved to be valuable when I created the company’s first internship program, which led to hiring the company’s first two employees (besides me). They both ended up working for the company for years to come (and one gal is still with the company!)
STEP 6: I GOT THROWN INTO WHAT I FONDLY REFER TO AS “THE LION’S DEN” AFTER JUST 6 MONTHS IN THE WEDDING INDUSTRY (I HAD NEVER EVEN ATTENDED A WEDDING IN MY LIFE BEFORE ASSISTING AT ONE, BY THE WAY), I COORDINATED A WEDDING ON MY OWN!
This particular company specialized in Southasian + Persian weddings, and as most people know, as is common knowledge, these are some of the most detailed, lavish, quite frankly, high-maintenance, and expensive weddings that exist. The first wedding I coordinated was an intimate beach wedding on the sand, but after that, it was no small fries.
That first year, I coordinated large Southasian weddings at five-star hotels like The Montage Laguna Beach + the Terrenea Resort, and well - I can tell you that after you execute a wedding like that, you kinda feel like you can execute any type of wedding. And to be honest, there’s a lot of truth to that.
STEP 7: I NEVER STOPPED WANTING TO LEARN + GROW I IMMERSED MYSELF IN LEARNING ABOUT WEDDINGS + OPERATING A BUSINESS. I CONSISTENTLY CHALLENGED MYSELF, WORKED SUPER LONG HOURS, AND ALWAYS KEPT MY EYES LOOKING AHEAD TO WHAT WAS NEXT.
I have never been one for complacency, and this new career path was something that I took very, very seriously. I knew early on that I wanted to excel in this field, become an expert at my craft. So I went to work every day with diligence + enthusiasm, and with passion, knowing that one day I would (at the time, I thought after five years) build a name for myself under my own company, for my own brand, on my own terms.
STEP 8: I TOOK A LEAP OF FAITH ...AND AFTER JUST TWO YEARS IN THE BIZ, DECIDED I WANTED TO WORK FOR MYSELF, CREATE + BUILD MY OWN BRAND, AND PEACED OUT TO HAVING A BOSS + DOING THINGS ON SOMEBODY ELSE’S TERMS.
I feel kinda bratty saying this, because the woman who trained me was so wonderful - not only did she take a chance on me, but she gave me so much responsibility with her company, trained me on all there was to know about weddings, and really became a close friend. Despite all of this, though, deep down inside of me, there was always a longing to have something to call my own + I would be remiss if I didn’t share that every time I would go to a networking lunch or meeting + get asked if I was the owner, having to say “no” was really quite painful for me.
Because I could hardly wait for the day when I could proudly answer “YES! I am the owner.”
So two years in, with respect + grace for both the company, and for myself, we parted ways, and I set out to create my own empire (still workin’ on it, but it’s definitely getting there!)
STEP 9: I GOT COMFORTABLE WITH THE FACT THAT I WOULD NEED TO LEARN AS I WENT WHEN I STARTED MY COMPANY, I DEFINITELY DIDN’T HAVE ALL OF THE ANSWERS. I STILL DON’T. BUT I WAS LASER-FOCUSED ON MY GOALS, KNEW WHAT I WANTED TO ACCOMPLISH, AND SET OUT TO TO DO JUST THAT, TAKING IT ONE DAY AT A TIME.
It can be humbling going from a comfortable lifestyle as a college student, or your 9-5 that you’ve mastered + can practically do in your sleep. Starting something new, especially opening a new business of your own, is going to be scary, that’s inevitable. Just know that there WILL be a learning curve. You may not get it right the first time, you may (and probably will) make a rookie mistake (or several). I’ve experienced this firsthand: You’ll learn to appreciate the beauty of growing + evolving, both as a business owner + a leader, and find value in learning from others + taking advice. As your business develops, your ways of doing things, workflow - even your priorities + goals, will shift throughout the weeks, months, and years, and you will learn to find comfort in the underlying chaos that is the life of an entrepreneur.
STEP 10: I BELIEVED THAT I COULD, SO I DID THAT’S IT. SIMPLE. AS CHEESY AS THAT MAY SOUND.
I feel SO strongly about this - you, girl, can do ANYTHING you put your mind to doing. If you feel it in your gut, if your convictions are strong, and if you are willing to put in the time, effort, and hard work that it takes, you can pull off anything hat you really want to make happen. You may have to start before you are fully ready, you may have to be more stringent on your spending, you might have to put your ego aside or do something out of your comfort zone. But it’s only when you take a chance on yourself, that magic happens.
I could talk sooo much more about my journey (and I will probably will in future blog posts!) but I will end Chapter 1 of this story here.