Preston Bailey's Advice for Starting a Wedding Planning Business

Posted by on Dec 04, 2011

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Preston Bailey may have been in the wedding planning business for 30 years, but he can easily recall what it was like to be a young entrepreneur. A lot of new planners want quick success, but he knows there isn't a simple checklist or obvious timeline to getting celebrity clients like Matt Lauer and Ivanka Trump. Case in point: Preston's career in America began as a fashion model, and walking the runway is more than a few steps removed from running an event.

CraftFoxes received many questions about starting and marketing an event design business — even when to turn down clients. Preston's advice will be helpful to almost any creative person starting a business.

How does a planner with little professional experience convince a potential client to let him or her plan an event? What did you do when you were starting out? — Nicole
Preston Bailey: Even if you have very little professional experience, you'll be amazed at what you can accomplish with strong salesmanship and a heavy dose of charm. You need to prove to your potential clients that you can be of great help to them. Convince them that you will make their lives easier and their events better. The line that I remember using quite a bit when I was a novice was, "If you want to enjoy your party, you need a planner." Then to prove that they really did need me, I would rattle off a long list of things they probably hadn't thought about.

What marketing and development advice can you can give someone who's starting his or her planning business on a tiny budget? — Jessie
Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day. You need to put in the time. Also, keep asking yourself this very important question: What am I offering my clients that is unique? Focus on giving great and unique service. That's the key. Do this, and the business will follow.

Who was your first big client and how did you convince them to hire you? — Alex
I started as a florist. One of my customers, who regularly purchased my arrangements, appreciated my efforts and service. She asked me if I would do her daughter's wedding. She knew I had never done a wedding before, but I think she was impressed by how hard I worked and that I always did my best.

How do you get all of the information you need from a bride to accurately make her vision a reality? — Bailey
I always ask a few very specific questions: What is your dream wedding? Do you prefer a modern, traditional or eclectic feel? Are you more comfortable with understatement or lots of drama? What colors do you love? What colors do you hate? What are your favorite flowers? What are your least favorite flowers? By the time I get the answers to all these questions, I have pretty good idea of how to start designing.

How do you protect your ideas and designs? A few times potential clients have come to me for a consultation, and I gave them design ideas. They didn't hire me, and then I discovered they had someone else execute my designs. — Elizabeth
When you meet with potential clients, use your best poker face. I make it very clear to every potential client I meet with that I never design on the spot. I explain that I need as much information from them as possible, and then I need to sit with these ideas for a while before I'm able to design. I give potential clients no ideas until they've officially hired me. However, I don't care when folks use one of my designs from a previous job I've done. As far as I'm concerned, once I've done something, it's old news. It's only my new ideas that I guard very closely!

What advice do you have for someone who wants to get into floral sculpture but doesn't have much money? — Jessica
It's like the Nike ads say, JUST DO IT. When I first started out, I would take long walks and pick up all sorts of leaves, pebbles and driftwood to practice creating my own sculptures. It cost nothing and was really great for my creative development.

Have you ever turned down a client. If so, why? — Kathy
I am in the business of giving great service, and so it pains me to have to turn down a client. However, I have learned the hard way that I can only accept jobs of a certain budget or higher. When I take on jobs with smaller budgets, I am making a commitment to offer the same amount of time and effort I give to larger jobs. The result is almost always that my larger jobs suffer. Consequently, the only time I turn down jobs is when the budget is just too small. It's not worth my time.

Who in the floral design and event planning industry inspires you? — Monica
I am a huge fan of Daniel Ost, the Belgium designer. I had the privilege of collaborating with him on a royal wedding, and he impressed me with his incredible architectural floral abilities. He's also just a really wonderful man.

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