That Time When… I Became an Event Planner

Event planning, specifically wedding planning, is one of those careers that a lot of people would like to try.  “That must be so fun!”  That’s what I hear a lot.  And it is fun.  It’s really fun. But it’s a lot of things. And that’s what I love about it.  It’s stressful, and I love the rush.  It’s frustrating, and I love learning how to cope with new problems every day.  Best of all… It’s incredibly rewarding.

“Rachel, how did you get into event planning?”  That’s a question I hear quite frequently.  Everyone is fascinated to know how one gets into that field.  No one asks an accountant how they got into accounting.  That’s boring to talk about.  But, as we’ve already established, my job is FUN!  And there’s plenty to talk about.

So, how did I get into event planning?  I found it out of desperation when I was in search of a more fulfilling career than the one I had prepared for since age nine.  In the fourth grade I decided I wanted to be an architect when I grew up.  We had a day in school when we were asked to come dressed up as whatever we want to be when we grow up.  I dressed as an architect.  My dad helped me pick out my outfit.  I specifically dressed as an architect visiting a jobsite.  I wore jeans, a button-down shirt (my favorite paisley one – it was 1991) sturdy boots, and I carried a roll of drawings under my arm.  My dad even let me borrow his white hardhat to carry around.  I was adorable.  But what did I know about being an architect at the age of nine?  Elyse on Family Ties was an architect.  She seemed to be pretty cool.  Mike Brady from the Brady Bunch was an architect.  He had such a great life and always had time to spend with his kids!  And Tom Selleck’s character in Three Men and a Baby was an architect.  His life was awesome!  I drew floor plans for my dream house almost every day as a child, and I thought that qualified me for the job.  Not to mention, I totally looked the part with my perfect wardrobe!  What I did not realize at the time was that most young architects are sequestered to designing stairwells and sidewalks for several years on minimal pay before they are permitted to design anything worthwhile.  Before coming to that realization, I attended the University of Hartford to study Architectural Engineering.  I was an excellent student.  Not only did I graduate at the top of my class, but I served as the Student Council for two years.  While holding that position, I had the pleasure of planning some events for my school.  I enjoyed putting those events together, but never considered pursuing that as a career at the time.

Throughout college I had a great internship at one of the country’s top construction management companies.  After three summers working there, I was offered a full-time position upon graduation.  I was twenty-two and gainfully employed.  Sweet!  The job was great, and I loved wearing a hardhat.

However, the novelty of the job wore off after about 4 years and I started to recognize that I was seriously lacking some kind of creative outlet.  I had wanted to design something my whole life.  But there I was, just executing someone else’s design.  I had come to really enjoy project management, and I did not want to give up that aspect of my job.  What could I do for a living that utilized the project management skills that I had honed over the years and also incorporate some aspect of design?

Pause the story and rewind four years to my first month as a full-time employee at the Whiting-Turner Contracting Company.  My Project Manager was a very ambitious woman.  She was engaged to be married and she was planning her own wedding.  I asked her, “How do you do it? How do you find the time to plan your wedding and work here seventy hours a week?”  Her response always stuck in the back of my mind.  “I’m treating my wedding like it’s a building,” she said.  It’s what she knows how to do.  She explained that she had a budget, a timeline with a hard deadline, and vendors to manage.  She bid the job out to different subcontractors and awarded the job to the best candidate.  Then she coordinated their individual scopes of work and managed their contracts.  It was exactly what we did every day at work, except instead of coordinating mason and iron-workers, she was managing a caterer, florist and DJ.

Fast forward to where we left off earlier.  As I reassessed my life and tried to think of a career that offered everything I was looking for, I recalled that conversation I had with my boss four years earlier.  I thought I could really do that.  I immediately started marketing myself like crazy as I looked for the first job in the industry I could get.  I had literally no experience in the hospitality industry, so I was a huge risk for someone to take on.  Eventually, a full-service catering company added me to their team on a trial basis.  My tenure there was very brief, but I learned a lot while I worked for that company.  I won’t give them any credit for anything I learned.  It was mostly an enlightening experience because I found out that I was really good at the job, and I could really pull this off!

Catering wasn’t my dream job, so I continued my search for the perfect event planning job.  At the time, I was engaged to be married, and I had already contracted my wedding venue – The American Visionary Art Museum.  The facility’s rental coordinator was Alicia, and she was very well connected in the industry.  I asked her if she had any suggestions for how I might be able to get my foot in the door of the event community.  She suggested I attend a networking meeting for the National Association for Catering Executives (now the National Association of Catering and Events, to be more encompassing of all event professionals.)  I had never been to a networking event before, but I gave it a shot.  That night, I met Cate Buscher.  She was an event planner with her own company, Plan It Perfect.  Alicia introduced me to Cate and suggested I talk with her about a job opportunity.  Cate and I got along famously from the very beginning, and she took me on as her assistant on wedding days.  I took to it like a fish to water.  I had found my calling.

I eventually bought the company from Cate, and the rest is history!