Getting married changed Terra Law's life in many ways. But one thing she didn't think it would change was her career.
The 32-year-old was happily employed as a social worker in Calgary in 2006, when she began planning her own wedding, an affair in the Okanagan Valley for about 100 people. "I became really swept up in it," she says. "I felt really passionate about the creative process."
Law took a year to plan her wedding, consulting resources across North America, including blogs by fellow brides. Since she was having a "destination wedding," she wanted to impress her out-of-town guests with thoughtful touches throughout the evening. She created signature drinks, lined flower vases with colourful slices of fresh fruit, and attached photos of her grandparents, who had recently passed away, to her bouquet.
She had everything she could think of to make her big day perfect—except for one thing: a wedding planner. "I ended up filling the role of bride and wedding planner, which meant I was completely exhausted," says Law. On the morning of her wedding in September, 2007, she was running around making sure everything was in its place, paying attention to details like table runners and centrepieces, and paper umbrellas to keep her guests out of the sun.
"I ended up being 45 minutes late to my own wedding," says Law. The trickle-down effect of getting a late start to the day extended all the way to dinner, which was cold by the time the guests got to their tables. "It was very upsetting," she says. "If I'd just had that one person who knew all the same information I knew, they would have taken care of all the details, like telling the kitchen we were running behind." Despite the timing glitches, Law says that in hindsight her day was perfect, and that her guests probably didn't notice the hiccups.
In fact, they were so oblivious that all she got was rave reviews, not only from guests but from vendors as well. "Here were people who'd seen hundreds of weddings telling me that I had something special," she says. "I was flattered, but I didn't pay a whole lot of attention at first. Then after a couple of months, I really started thinking about it."
By December, she had made up her mind. It helped that weddings are big business in Canada: The average cost of a wedding is $25,000, and the industry rakes in more than $4-billion a year, according to the Wedding Planning Institute of Canada (WPIC). But Law wasn't ready to walk away from her paycheque. "It was really important for me to maintain my job until I had my footing, because it takes time to build this business," she says. She chose her company name, began to think about branding, and spent many nights working on party favours and brainstorming themes. "It was like having two full-time jobs."
Law developed a vision for her wedding planning business that she believed best suited her aspirations. "Cookie-cutter weddings are not for me," she says. "I wanted to be working on weddings where the couples' personalities, styles and interests are reflected." There are planners who will do the whole deal for a thousand bucks—but Law isn't one of them. "Someone in that category is more likely to want a community-hall wedding with streamers and balloons." What Law wants to do is look at what matters to the couple and incorporate it into their day. For instance, she had one bride who loved horses, "so she rode up to the ceremony on her horse," says Law. "That not only was a very grand and unique entrance, but it really reflected her passion and personality."
In May, Law took a WPIC course to become a certified wedding planner. "I looked into many options across North America, but I liked the idea of having Canadian certification," she says. Aside from the credibility factor, certification in WPIC offers inclusion in the association's network, with access to its alumni and their expertise. After a weekend of classes covering everything from cake apportionment to pricing, Law wrote a final exam and received her certification.
Because many couples start their research for a planner online, Law was actively involved in the creation of her website, right down to the wording displayed, the colour scheme and the selection of pictures. To create a personal connection with would-be clients, Law started a blog. "With event planning, social networking is becoming increasingly important," she says.
As her last big project, she renovated an area of her home to serve as an office, which involved gutting the space and starting from scratch. She created a private entrance that leads to a meeting space for her clients and her office. Law was able to repurpose items from her home, but she did buy a few items of furniture and a computer, as well as supplies for favours and invitations, like a paper cutter, cardstock and ribbon.
After planning a few trial weddings, Law quit her job in September and officially launched Inspired Occasions. She offers several different service options: full wedding planning, which covers the process from start to finish; co-ordination packages, which cover the actual day; and hourly consultations. For now, she's a one-woman show, hiring certified planners to work alongside her on an as-needed basis.
The life of a wedding planner can be a bit tense, admits Law, though she does say that she's never dealt with any "bridezillas." "I have had situations where brides are emotional," she says. "But to me that's quite normal, having been a bride." Her background in social work comes in handy with reading her clients' signals and calming them down, but perhaps the trickiest part of her job is solving problems on the fly. "At every wedding, there's something that may not be quite right, and it's my job as the planner to make sure the couple never knows about it."
Since her launch, Law's target market has emerged. She's most interested in working with established couples, aged 25 to 35, who likely own their home and earn above-average salaries. "These are people who like designer products, who like quality," she says. "They want something that feels high-end, with attention to detail and that's personalized. They're more likely to eat in a high-end restaurant because it's the experience that matters, not just the food. We have a lot of young, urban professionals working in the oil and gas industry here," she says, adding that as many as 90 per cent of her clients come from that field.
Law looks forward to a busy summer season and anticipates that she'll be doing weddings every weekend, even though initially she was concerned about the effect of the financial crisis on her new business. "In the early days I would think, am I crazy, what have I done? But at this point, I wake up every day excited that I get to do what I get to do."
Wedding planning 101
Where the money is: Fees for full wedding planning amount to 10 per cent of the event's budget. So the bigger the wedding budget, the higher the fee.
Pitfalls: Failing to build a savvy website. "The majority of couples have their first introduction to your company online," she says. "So if you have not invested in it, and the advice looks dated or lacks certain info, you're going to lose them."
Why do it: This work suits people who are both creative and business-minded, says Law. "A lot of people go into this business thinking it'll be really glamorous," she says. "But you really have to understand marketing as well as the creative part of the process." It's the balance of the two that makes it rewarding for Law.
Don't start a wedding planning business without: An emergency kit. Law assembled hers before she even officially launched, and filled it with everything that could be needed on the big day, like painkillers, thread, stain remover and snacks. And a little research goes a long way: "For example, never use Tide To Go on a dress, because if it gets in the sun, it will turn yellow."