“I Love What I Do!” We’ll be interviewing women who find creative work that makes them feel fulfilled without sacrificing their personal or family lives. They’ll share what their jobs are really like and how other women can find something they love to do.
Reality TV has shown us the exciting world of events planning. But what does it take to plan a party hundreds of people will attend? Norma Smith owns and operates Be-Me Enterprises, an events company based in Silver Spring, Maryland. She shares with us how she got involved in events planning and how her job compliments her family life.
1. When someone asks you what you do for a living, what do you tell him or her? Why?
My first answer is event planner because it fits my life. I plan the events for my family first then the events for everyone else.
2. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you end up where you live today? What has your career path looked like?
If I had to give a shape to my career path it would be a circle. My parents purchased a general rental store in 1974. By early 80s we had gone all party rental. They were the first all party rental store on the east coast. My sister and I both started working very early, wrapping paper goods, stocking shelves, and later answering phones. As we grew older we would assist with orders and write contracts for customers who came into the rental store. By the time I was 15 I had planned many events for people. Connecting them with caterers and making arrangement for their events that extended beyond just rentals.
In the early part of my marriage I had a few jobs that were just to keep me busy. When my husband was in grad school, I had the opportunity to attend a small community college and get a certificate in dental assisting. While working as a dental assistant, I used my planning skills to coordinate care for patients.
I planned parties for friends and when my husband retired from the US Coast Guard I decided it was time for me to open my own business doing invitations and events.
3. Why did you want to start your own event planning company?
When my husband and I were married, I decided that I wanted to do something else, so I went to school and became a dental assistant. It was a great career since it was portable and I could move from state to state as his job in the US Coast Guard moved. I’ve lived and worked in Connecticut, Illinois, Alaska, Alabama, California, Hawaii and now Maryland.
Even when I wasn’t working officially as an event planner I’d found the skills were useful in my life as a mom and dental assistant. I helped plan weddings and other events for friends.
When my husband retired from the US Coast Guard, I decided that I should put my talent to use and get paid for it. I am very thankful to those who put their faith in me as a new business when my only references were friends who I had done work for.
4. How could someone else get started event planning? What kind of skills did you need to get started? What does it take to do a good job? Is there training involved?
Anyone could get started event planning if they enjoy working with people. You can be an introvert, but realize that selling yourself and your service requires that you go out beyond your comfort zone. You should be organized and have great listening skills. You don’t need a degree in psychology or sociology, but much of what you do is listen to what clients want and give them a reality check. Often people see TV shows like My Super Sweet 16 or Platinum Weddings then ask if I can do that for them on their budget. The truth is that I can’t.
There are lots of companies that offer certification in wedding or other types of planning. If you weren’t raised in the business, this kind of training might be helpful to avoid beginners’ mistakes. But the best way to get into the business is to work for someone else, even if it’s as a volunteer to see what they do and eventually join the company. Patience and understanding go a long way.
After my events I try to conduct an exit interview with the client where I let them tell me what went well and where things happened differently than they had planned. I always ask what I can do better. It’s always a learning curve, so don’t take criticism too personally. Try to fix what you can, but some things are beyond your control.
5. What does a typical day look like for you? How does running your business fit into your normal routine?
My typical day is very different now that my kids are older. Our son is 17 and can drive while our daughter is 14 and has a busy social life. Often I am asked to take her places on weekends when my events are happening. I remind the kids that I have events on certain weekends, so they have to rely on each other.
My husband is extremely supportive, which helps. He works full time, but takes time off to make sure our kids are taken care of.
On weekdays, after I deal with my family’s morning commute I work on projects for my next event and meet with clients as needed. Since many of my orders arrive via internet, I’m never sure what I’m going to do in the morning beyond check my e-mail.
6. What is the best part of owning your own event planning business?
The best part of owning my own business is that I can do the work around my family. I don’t have to work every weekend. I can pick and choose. When I get schedules for the kids I can put them on the calendar and take care of business stuff later. I do make exceptions, but for the most part I try to do my computer/prep work during the day and leave my evenings open. I meet clients around our family schedule, which works out well for them too, since they all work.
7. The worst?
Like a doctor, I’m always on call. Sometimes I get calls late in the evening and may have to settle a dispute between a bride and parent. Another problem is expectation management. I try to get my clients to realize that their event is important, but there are things in life that are more important.
8. Do you have any interesting stories about an event you’ve planned?
One of my brides had finished her degree and gotten a job much sooner than she anticipated, so the couple moved their wedding up by a year. This was a good thing, but now she had just weeks to get her wedding together.
She called me on Wednesday to do flowers for her Friday wedding, once she realized that she couldn’t do it all by herself. I received a lovely thank you note and was glad to help.
9. What advice would you give to other women interested in follow the same path you have?
Run away? Seriously, my path has been a roller coaster, never knowing where I’ll be or what I can do. My biggest challenge is realizing that I can accomplish big jobs with the support of my family. Currently I’m working on a large wedding for a family from a different culture than I have worked with in the past. I know I can do this because the bride has been educating me in the culture and been very patient as I learn.
10. Has owning an event planning company made you a better woman, wife, or mother? How?
Because of my experiences as an event planner, I can solve problems without becoming too emotionally involved. It all comes down to what is really important, G-d, family, friends, and work.
Do you have a job you love you’d like to share with the Experimental Wifery community? Send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d always love to hear what you have to say about the things that make you a better woman or wife.