cover photo Twah Dougherty
hair & makeup Beautini
florals Designs By Ahn
I started Michelle Elaine Weddings on a whim in October of 2011. I had no clue what I was doing … but what I did know was that I always had a brand vision in mind, the drive & desire to be my own boss & call my own shots, and I knew working for someone else was never going to be the end of my road.
Creating a brand and company is an immense amount of work. Growing into success, then sustaining and continuing to grow that success is even harder. I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy journey for me but I had high hopes that eventually the reward would pay off much greater.
What truly got me into weddings and the event industry was my job in catering sales, back in 2010. Working for that company, however, it was very hard to keep up with all of the demand given the lack of staff. The number one thing I disliked most was that I didn’t feel as though I could provide the proper level of service to couples that they deserved. Your wedding day is a huge deal, there are so many decisions to be made, a lot of money that is spent, and it was upsetting when I had to handle clients back to back to back to back. It felt like they were just coming in and out of a revolving door, getting 10 minutes with me and onto the next – not my ideal vision for a business.
When I left that job, and ultimately set out to create MEW, the vision in my head always, from day one, was that the couple is more important than anything. I wanted to keep a limited amount of couples so that everyone felt as if they were my only wedding, and of course their happiness and ease of mind was the utmost priority. With that, I wanted to just have four weddings per year, so that I could provide very high end, luxury style service, and make my couples feel so special and catered to on every level … but that was going to take time.
Of course, years one, two, three, and even four were tough. I had to build my reputation from the ground up. I needed vendors to trust me and for me to trust them so I could build a list of referrals. I needed clients to see, trust and feel just how important their day was to me, to build up my word of mouth referrals. I needed to hire interns who eventually became trusted staff, and also weed through those who I couldn’t trust, tried to steal clients from me, and were no good for myself or the company.
In my fifth year, I got married, and I also was starting to feel the burn out very badly. Mind you, years 1 – 4 I was working full-time on the side so that I could have a steady paycheck to pay bills, rent, food, etc. By the time I hit year five, I had taken on MEW full time, had over 15 weddings at various planning levels, and was now planning my own wedding. I had a breakdown one day because there was just no time for me. I’d stayed true to myself and put my couples first and foremost, I was finally able to take on MEW full time, but I didn’t ever stop to take care of myself.
Because of that, heading into my sixth year (2017) I thought, “ok it’s time to restructure and really put my vision into place.” I had enough weddings and word of mouth under my belt that I felt it was time to take a risk. I cut out Month Of Planning all together and really pushed for my four full service planning and design clients only. I did get one … and then the others were Partial Planning. I was not making much money and I was terrified that this was a mistake, and constantly questioned taking a risk too soon.
2018, I was doing even worse. Took a loss, needed a loan to pay bills, was petrified every single day that I wasn’t going to have a business anymore. I even took a Month Of client because I needed the money so badly. I was staying up at night sending out my resume to work full-time on the side again in fashion. It felt like I couldn’t get any lower and I was really losing confidence.
All of a sudden one day I started getting inquires for 2019, and it was roughly into late September/early October of 2018. A lot of them were for full or partial planning. I thought to myself, “please let this be the year I feel the pay off.” I ended up booking 4 weddings in 2019, all various services from full to partial but I was (finally!) officially done with Month Of Planning!
Summer of 2019 I started getting inquires for 2020. Couples were coming to me with urgency, knowing I only take four weddings a year and being sure they got locked into one of the slots. I couldn’t believe it. Nobody was trying to negotiate my pricing, and everyone was full service planning and design. I actually cried when I booked that 3rd contract because I couldn’t believe I was finally seeing my hard work paying off right in front of my eyes.
Sometimes you have your head down for so long, working, working, working, day in and out, night in and out, and you feel like nobody will ever see you or notice you, nobody will ever want to pay what you know you’re worth … and then they do and it’s as if your eyes open up to see a whole new business world that you never saw coming (but always dreamt of!)
Business is hard. Working for yourself is so hard. Everyone always thinks it’s so easy … “You work from home, you must have so much free time, not a care in the world.” None of that is true. My job is extremely hard, I am always here for my couples no matter what, and at the end of the day I need to get up at bat and hit a home run every single time because this is someone’s wedding day, there are no do-overs. I’m also the CEO, CFO, COO, secretary, administrative assistant, social media manager … I’m everything.
The heart, passion and drive that I’ve always had was never appreciated working for others. It’s taken me, what feels like an eternity, to get to where I am today … and I will not sit here and say “I’d do it over again” because my gosh those beginning years were TOUGH … what I will say is for those who are not entrepreneurs, you should have a bit more empathy for those of us who are, and also be really proud when we do hit these goals because unless you’ve walked my path you have no idea what I’ve done to be where I am now, and no idea what I continue to do every day to keep growing, learning and succeeding. This all didn’t come to me overnight, it’s been years of clawing my way through the trenches over and over and over again.
To my fellow entrepreneurs, I see you, I hear you, and I definitely understand you. Cheers to all of us and continuing to kill it in 2020! Thank the lord I am finally seeing the pay off.