An interview with the amazing Barbara Grace (Wedding Planner) from Barbara Grace Weddings (barbaragraceweddings.com). After running her wedding planning business for more than 6 years, Barbara will share some of her tips and strategies on how to start and manage a successful wedding planning business in this interview. She’s doing all the right things and she is definitely an up and coming wedding business to look out for in 2018!
Please find the video transcript below:
Alex Cheng: So today we have with us Barbara Grace from Barbara Grace weddings. Hello Barbara, how are you?
Barbara Grace: I’m well, how are you?
Alex Cheng: Doing very well, thank you again for accepting my request to interview you this morning.
Barbara Grace: Thank you so much for having me.
Alex Cheng: Awesome so let’s jump into our first question which is; tell us a little bit about yourself, and why you chose to be a wedding planner.
Barbara Grace: So, as you mentioned my name is Barbara Grace, I actually started out my first career as a legal assistant, which I did for ten years. So it was very corporate, I was part of the Bay Street hustle in downtown Toronto. And I knew that I had a very creative side to me that I wasn’t really tapping into so I knew I kind of wanted to discover and get into that side of things.
There were definitely a lot of things that I learned as a legal assistant which definitely came into play, and still comes into play as a wedding planner. There was a lot of skills that I learned in that career that I’ve carried over and have been able to use. But now I also get to use the creative side of myself as well which is a lot of fun. And I think I’ve always had that kind of desire to be an entrepreneur in me so that’s obviously also something now that I get to utilize which is really, really great.
Alex Cheng: Awesome. When you first started what were some of the greatest challenges that you’ve encountered?
Barbara Grace: There were so many. There’s two very different sides to doing all of this, so there’s the wedding planning aspect which I love and enjoy, but then there’s also the side of running a business and all that comes with that. So you’re kind of a jack of all trades when you start out until you build and get to the point where you can start outsourcing some things you’re doing. You’re doing your own marketing, your own advertising, you’re doing all of your accounting.
It’s a lot for one person. You become very versatile and you teach yourself to do a lot of things on your own in addition to actually doing all the things that go along with the actual wedding planning aspect of it So when you first start out, it’s definitely challenging in that regard but it’s a lot of fun because you really do learn a lot about yourself and you learn what you’re capable of.
Alex Cheng: You know a lot of wedding planners when they first start out, it’s really a big challenge for them to learn all of that and gain some experience. How did you get your feet wet and step into the wedding industry?
Barbara Grace: I think I took a very nontraditional route into wedding planning, I think a lot of people at least from the discussions that I’ve had with other planners, they start out working for other people or working in the venues and that’s kind of the route they take to get their feet wet a little bit. I was the complete opposite, I jumped in head first and decided I was going to start my own business and that was kind of it.
I started doing wedding shows, that was kind of my first big introduction into the whole industry so I started doing wedding shows and word of mouth. Some of my friends that were getting married knew that this was what I do and know what I was starting to do and so I gained some clients that way as well. It was definitely a slow start but once the ball got rolling then it just kind of a snowball effect.
Alex Cheng: That’s amazing, wow! You know it takes a lot of courage and confidence to just jump out there and present yourself as a business, and a wedding planner right?
Barbara Grace: Yes, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I’m very fortunate that I definitely found something that I love and it’s worked very well for me, so I feel like I really chose the right path for myself by doing this.
Alex Cheng: Got you, OK so why do your clients hire you over other wedding planners out there, because Toronto is a very saturated market.
Barbara Grace: It is. I think it really comes down to personality. There’s a lot of wedding planners out there and when it comes very down to it we’re all doing things that are quite similar in the sense of you know we all create our itineraries that we’re dealing with our vendors and you know we’re all treating (hopefully treating) our clients very well and offering a really high level of service so that is the base across the board of wedding planners.
I think it really comes down to style and personality, everyone’s very different so I tell all my clients when I sit with them in a consultation process that when they’re sitting down with vendors and potential vendors, they are hiring their entire team of people, and it is a team because we all do work very closely together. You can’t just look at the budget and you can’t just look at Style, you really have to get along with the people that you’re hiring so I encourage all of my clients to really get to know the people and make sure that you’re comfortable with them and you trust them. Wedding planning is a very long process, I work with my clients anywhere from two years to six months and sometimes more, sometimes less so it’s a really long process, so they really have to put a lot of trust in me and in what I’m doing and trust in the process.
Alex Cheng: Awesome! Can you describe a time when you know you went above and beyond to “wow” your clients?
Barbara Grace: I feel I do that at every wedding. We always do. I think I always go above and beyond just in the sense that, whether something is actually outlined in my contract or not at the end of the day I want really happy clients. I want a really happy wedding party, really happy guests so whatever needs to be done, gets done and if that means that I have to go out of my way, I will go out of my way for them. There’s no question, there’s never a question. I would never tell my clients that I’m not really hired to do that so yeah, sorry I can’t do for you. With me it doesn’t work that way, I just want really happy clients at the end of the day so I will do what has to be done in order to make that happen.
Alex Cheng: Got you, now do you have a story on the top of your head that can illustrate your point.
Barbara Grace: I had a wedding this past summer. The ceremony was to be outdoors and the reception inside the tent and the bride really was quite adamant about getting married outside. We had a backup plan but she wasn’t too keen on actually using it. and I don’t know for those that recall the weather on Canada Day at least out in these parts, there were torrential downpours. So the weather was not cooperative. But we were watching the radar and I really kept an eye on things and it looks like the rain was going to pass in about an hour after what her scheduled ceremony was going to be. I touched base with her and touched base with the photographer and all of the venue staff and said look; she really wants to get married outside and I really like to make this happen for her, so if we can bump things a little bit later, then we would like to do that.
So again, this is where the team comes in. The photographer was like “yep no problem” he was still going to have enough time to get the shots that he needed, the venue staff was really great because what happened was we had to reset all of the ceremony chairs. Which was wet because of all the rain, we had to essentially reset the whole ceremony space, dry off the chairs, get everything kind of repositioned and ready to go so that she could get married outside. It was just one of those things that she wanted and I wanted to make it happen for her so we made it happen and I do say “we” because it was it was a lot of people involved in that process to actually make it work.
Alex Cheng: It is definitely is a team work kind of activity!
Barbara Grace: Every single time, planning a wedding is a team effort.
Alex Cheng: Awesome! So, when you as a wedding planner exercise original thinking and creativity?
Barbara Cheng: I like to think that I get couples that really do want to kind of think outside the box a little bit or sometimes a lot. So, I think every wedding to me, whether they’re traditional or not, it’s really about the couple and it should be a reflection of the couple. So, I take the time to really get to know them and understand what they want out of their wedding and what kind of vibe they’re going for and what they want for themselves and for their guest. We try to create a really unique experience. I feel like I exercise creativity with every wedding and it’s really about making it about the couple, not just a cookie cutter. It’s about getting to know the couple and kind of incorporate a little bit of themselves into their wedding so that all of the guests have a really great experience and really leave the wedding with a feeling of “wow, that was such a great reflection of the two of them, joining together in marriage”.
Alex Cheng: So, sometimes you got to really take in the vision of the couple and provide some really creative “out-of-the-box” thinking, right? Now do you have a source where you continually get inspired and get ideas from?
Barbara Grace: I think I take a lot of my inspiration from a lot of the vendors that I’ve had the opportunity to work with I usually tend to look more locally than anything else, so you know looking to all of my florist friends, vendors and decorators. I love looking to them and seeing what they’re doing in their own businesses and how they’re running their businesses. I mean it’s really great to kind of gain ideas and kind of incorporate some of those things into my business as well, so I really like to look to them because they’re the ones that I work with on a regular basis.
Alex Cheng: I see you at a lot of our open houses and industry events, is that also a source of inspiration?
Barbara Grace: Absolutely, I love those. It’s great, it’s just really nice to touch base with all of the amazing creative people that are in this industry there’s no shortage of incredible vendors so yeah, it’s great just to get to know them and share ideas and network with them. I just find it’s really helpful and I always want to keep things new and fresh in my business. You never want to get to a point where you’re stale and doing the same things over and over so I find that networking is really great for that.
Alex Cheng: Got you, now here’s a tougher question for you. When do you decide to fire a client?
Barbara Grace: Fortunately, I’ve never had to do that. For me, I put a lot into my consultation process. So, I really try to pre-qualify people before I even get to the point of signing wedding contracts with them, because I really want to make sure that I’m getting the right couples for me. It’s a two-way street so they have to love me and they have to put a lot of trust in me and I also really have to love them and have a desire to work with them. So, if I’m excited about the things they’re telling me about, the things that they want to do for their wedding during a consultation process then it’s a no brainer. If they’re telling me things that don’t really vibe with you know how I do things and my processes or if I feel that they’re not really understanding what my role is as a wedding planner, then I would just say that you know, I don’t think this is the right fit for me.
I try not to get too far into that process so I don’t get to a stage where I have to fire them. But to answer that question, I think if I did get to that stage it would be the same conversation. I would tell them that I don’t think this is the right fit, and I never want to get into a situation where I’m going to end up with clients that are unhappy at the end of the day, because no one wants that. I want clients that are thrilled at the end of the process and are thankful that they were able to have a wedding planner that brought their vision to life and that were helpful to them.
Alex Cheng: That’s amazing, thank you. And what are some of your best marketing tips you have for wedding planners or wedding professionals who are just starting out in the industry?
Barbara Grace: Woo, that’s a tough one. Everyone runs their business differently so I find that a lot of different things work for different people depending on the structure of their business. But I think my biggest piece of advice is really put yourself out there and network and get to know as many people as you possibly that you can. I’m friends with a lot of planners in this industry. We’re all kind of in this together and there’s more than enough work for all of us, so just get out there and get along with people I think that’s a really, really big thing. We really need to be supportive of each other. We’re all trying to run our own businesses and be successful at what we’re doing. And the better that all of us to do our job, the better it is for all of us. So, we need to raise each other up, and not try to tear each other down. My best piece of advice not necessarily directly related to the actual planning aspect, but just running a business in general. That is, really support each other and build a really good network because when you need help then you have people to reach out to and when you need advice you’ve got people there that you can go to and get advice from. When you’re running a business, being an entrepreneur can be lonely at times, so we need to build a good network of people.
Alex Cheng: That’s why you’re part of our mastermind group, am I correct?
Barbara Grace: Exactly. And I built really great relationships in that mastermind group, it’s fantastic!
Alex Cheng: We know having a great relationship with vendors and other wedding planners it’s great, has that helped you in generating leads and sales?
Barbara Grace: Absolutely, I’ve actually received referrals from other planners and I receive a ton of referrals from other vendors in the industry that I work with. The wedding industry is a highly referral based industry. I’m constantly getting referrals so it’s a huge role in generating new business.
Alex Cheng: Would the vendor referrals account for more than your client referrals?
Barbara Grace: I think I’m getting to the point now that it’s probably about an even split as business has grown and now that I’ve been doing this for almost six years. I think it’s probably about an even split now so.
Alex Cheng: And before it was vendor referrals right?
Barbara Grace: Yes absolutely, before it was vendors. I would work with them and they would be impressed with how I do things and how I treat my clients as well as how I treat them. As a result, the referrals will start to come in.
Alex Cheng: Wow! Awesome. So, I hear a lot about wedding planners say that they are also their client’s therapist. What do you think about that? Do you find yourself in that situation sometimes?
Barbara Grace: Yeah a little bit. I think we’re definitely there again because we work with our clients so closely and for so long we definitely are there to give advice, and sometimes the advice is you know on a color scheme or flowers or dresses but sometimes the advice is also about you know this bridesmaid is not you know being part of the wedding are my mother in law is future mother-in-law is driving me crazy and has a lot of opinions, so yeah that definitely comes into play and we just try to offer sound advice and at the end of the day it’s really just to keep everyone calm and relaxed. We try to be the voice of reason for our clients so
Alex Cheng: You know some clients that just keep coming with more and more questions and help and advice that’s not really related to the wedding anymore? Do you entertain that or do you somehow diverted or change the topic back into wedding planning and what you provide as a service?
Barbara Grace: I always want to answer their questions and if they’re coming to me with a concern then I definitely want to address it. I certainly don’t want to brush it off because if they’re bringing it up then it’s obviously that it’s something that is concerning them and causing them some sort of stress. I would do my best to try and at least address it. But also, I mean if it’s something that I think is not necessarily relevant or something that they shouldn’t maybe be focusing on, then I would be honest with them and tell them, “in the grand scheme of things this isn’t something that you should be too worried about” because I don’t want them stressing at every, every turn when it comes to their wedding.
Alex Cheng: Yes, definitely. So how do you choose the right vendors to work with, as you know especially as a wedding planner, you are only as good as your team right?
Barbara Grace: Yes. It’s really again it’s about getting to know my clients so in the consultation process and in subsequent meetings, I really get to know them as a couple and understand their personalities and what they’re looking for and I basically give my recommendations based on that, because again going back on what I was saying that it’s really about your personality so you want to make sure that you’re matching personalities and people that are going to get along well together. One of the examples that I use that I find is really, really crucial is the photographer. If you’re not comfortable with your photographer they spend an entire day with you, and they’re photographing you so if you’re not comfortable with them that’s going to reflect back in your photos. You’re going to look tense, you’re not going to look relaxed you’re not going to have natural smiles on your face so it’s really, really important to be comfortable with the people that you’re working with.
I really try to match personalities obviously things like the style of the couple come into play, their budget, I need to make sure I’m staying within the allotted budget that they want to spend on any particular vendor. It really comes down to matching personalities and making sure that we are matching them with someone that they’re really going to truly get along with, and of course vendors that are the absolute best at what they do because the vendors that I recommend to me are reflection of my business. When I throw out a recommendation, I need to make sure that those vendors are offering the same level of service that I offer so that’s really important as well.
Alex Cheng: See that’s very true, I mean it’s a reflection of your brand as well, right? And I know that you see your brand as very important as I can see the consistency of your logo to your website to how you are with people and how you create relationships with vendors and potential clients. How important is branding for a wedding planner?
Barbara Grace: I think it’s huge. Depending on where your referrals are coming from, if someone goes to your website, goes to your Instagram goes, to your Facebook or any of your social media outlets, that is the first thing that they see. The images that you’re putting out there in your branding needs to be a reflection of you and your business, because if you do get to the point where you schedule a consultation with them, you want to make sure that the process is seamless. This is important because when it comes to sit down with you, it’s just a continuation of what they’ve already seen and that they already have a good understanding of what they are getting into. If there’s a disconnect between your branding and between how you are as a person and what kind of weddings you’re doing, you’re not going to book people, you’re not going to get those clients in because they’re going to sit down and meet with you and say oh this is not what we expected. So, you want to make sure you’re meeting those expectations from your branding efforts.
Alex Cheng: Definitely, I totally agree with that especially when you know that potential clients will go through a few touch points like your social media, your website and maybe even meeting you at a event. It all has to be consistent and it connects all those different touch points together. If I go on to your website and then I meet you some other time and your website is not consistent to your brand or look and feel it then I may not be able to connect your website to you. However, if I see your logo on your business card and your site is using the same colors themes and images, everything is together and consistent, it’s memorable.
Barbara Grace: Exactly, exactly. And you know couples nowadays are doing their research and they are checking out every social media and website, so they are doing that work beforehand before they even meet you. You have no idea how many times they’ve come across your name before they actually contact you for that consultation.
Alex Cheng: Now I know that a lot of brides today are millennials, have you changed your business in any way to target millennials or any of your processes when you’re planning a wedding for them?
Barbara Grace: Social media has definitely changed, but not too much since I started my business. I like to think I was always quite involved in social media, it certainly changes from year to year and you need to make adjustments. Today, I find that brides want an immediate response now so it’s really about when you receive that inquiry, and how you need to answer them back as soon as possible. I mean I try to do it within a few hours at minimum but it used to be twenty-four hours. I think just staying current with your posting and putting your work out there gives people a sense of your branding and who you are.
Alex Cheng: Yeah, I find personally that you know people do their own research and then they qualify you first before they even contact you. So when people contact you through your contact form or they give you a call, they already pre-qualified themselves and they’re coming later in the sales process than how it used to be
Barbara Grace: Yes, I agree.
Alex Cheng: Awesome. So, you know this is more of a personal question but you know I’m sure everybody is curious. When did you decide to go pro with your business, like when he decided that this business is going to be my bread and butter.
Barbara Grace: When I first started my business as I mentioned it was kind of like I just jumped into it. I did start out part-time because I really didn’t know if it was something that I was going to enjoy. And thankfully it’s something that I absolutely did and definitely a passion of mine now. But when it started, I did start it part time. I was working a few different jobs at one point so I had a full-time job, I had another part time job and I was doing wedding planning. And like I said it started out kind of slowly so it was a matter of a combination of things at first. Learning if this was something that I was really passionate and then finding out that yes, I actually do really like this.
Secondly, was I think I’ll be good at it and saw that I was getting great feedback from clients and other vendors. That was also helpful and kind of giving you the push to continue on with it and pursue it a little bit further. And I was probably about three and a half years in when I decided to make the switch and do it full-time. I was at the tipping point where I now had enough clients that I realized that yes, I could do this full-time. And it was one of those crossroads and it’s either OK, I’m going to keep this as a side business or I’m going to pursue it and go all in with it. You can’t be wishy washy on it so you know when you’re running a business full time there’s a financial investment that goes along with that. There’s a time investment that goes along with it. A lot of sacrifices are made when you’re running your own business so it really is a huge commitment. And it’s something that you have to kind of mentally prepare yourself for and be ready to do so, I think I just got to that point where I was like yes, this is what I want to do, I really enjoy it, I absolutely love it and everything else was becoming secondary. So, I just decided to make that decision and go all in.
Alex Cheng: So, this might be the last question. If you can do this all over again, what would you have done differently? Do you have any advice for people who are starting out in the wedding industry?
Barbara Grace: I think for me I like to think that everything is a learning process so, I don’t think I would have done anything differently because for me everything that I did and the way that I did it, is what brought me to this point. So, not everything went smoothly all the time and you know there’s always bumps in the road and you learn as you go along. So I wouldn’t say that I would have done anything differently or changed anything. Like I said, I took a very nontraditional route in starting my own business, I don’t think that’s necessarily for everyone I think some people were probably better off starting in the industry working under someone and learning that way but it’s all about your own individuality and personality and what works for you. It’s different for everyone and you just have to figure out what works for you.
At the end of the day just be confident in your decisions and when you decide you’re going to do something you have to go all in and be committed to it. It’s not something that you can do if you’re not completely committed to it. You are going to have to make sacrifices, you are going to have to work really, really hard, they’re sleepless nights. I’ve been doing this for six years and they’re still sleepless nights. The work doesn’t end and it never ends. You’re always changing and growing the business and learning new things that never stops. You really need have to be committed to make it work for you.
Alex Cheng: That’s amazing. Well thank you so much Barbara. I mean we’ve got a lot of value on this call together. I’m sure that this value will help many people in the future either make the decision to go with you as their wedding planner or to start their own wedding business in the wedding industry, so thank you so much Barbara.
Barbara Grace: Thank you again for having me Alex it was a pleasure!
Learn more about about Barbara Grace Weddings at barbaragraceweddings.com
Articles you might be interested in: