“Go for it. I wish I started my own business sooner.”
We met Grace at her house in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago. It was a rainy July day and Grace was wearing a baby blue striped jumpsuit. It was clear from the moment I met Grace that she was always on trend and organized. On one arm were brown and beige big bangle bracelets that matched her hoop earrings. Grace welcomed me into her well-lit, perfectly-decorated home that you could tell was owned by a wedding planner. Her tables had fresh flowers, giving the room a comfortable fragrant feeling.
Grace excitedly talked about her career and tips for planning a perfect wedding. Planning 14 weddings this year, Grace managed to meet me between many appointments for the multiple weddings she plans every month. She explained her success came from having strong communication skills.
She came across kind, intelligent, and organized. If anyone is planning a wedding in Chicago, go to Grace!
Grace, are you originally from Chicago?
I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, in LaGrange Park. I am one of three girls. My mom is an etiquette school teacher and started the Etiquette School of Chicago 10 years ago. Being somewhat of a goofball she made etiquette a bit warmer and less scary. Good manners and kindness are some things my parents really drilled into us growing up. Those are two things that I try to take with me everywhere I go. When I went to University of Dayton I had plans to have a career in graphic design. As much as I enjoyed the creativity of my major, I wanted a career with more production and hands-on creativity, so I swapped to a Public Relations major to pursue a career in event planning. When I graduated in 2009, corporate events were hard to come by, so I fell into weddings. Those never fade!
How did you launch a career planning events?
As soon as I graduated I jumped right into events. Most of my opportunities were in weddings, working for a wedding planner here in Chicago and doing some weddings on my own. Despite the economy, people were still getting married. I also worked at Jam Productions in Chicago; they plan big festivals and concerts. I was a runner and prepared green rooms and supported the event producers. It was a great learning experience and was very humbling! Being low man on the job totem pole, I found myself shlepping things around a lot, but that is still a big part of what I do now! I also took a job with a catering company, which I realized would enhance my value as an event planner over the long run. I eventually focused on event planning full-time, working for a great event planning group here in Chicago and then opening my own event planning business in 2017.
Why did you continue to focus on planning weddings?
Weddings are a sustainable business, especially in Chicago. People are always going to get married here! I have started to do some corporate work, which I also really enjoy!
What is your favorite part of planning a wedding?
Weddings are such a personal thing for people. It’s such a big life event and involves all of the people who are most important people to the couple. Naturally, planning a wedding really brings me into people’s families, and that is the coolest part of my job. We talk about all the uncomfortable stuff like budgets, but also over the course of a year or more I find myself learning so much about peoples’ lives. And I do believe I have the best clients so it’s always bittersweet when a wedding or event ends.
How did you go about starting your own business and developing your brand?
I have been wedding planning for eight years now and independently planning for close to two years. I found it really important that I develop my own brand and personal relationships since I am the business. Something I focused on a lot is building relationships with vendors that I thought had business goals that were similar to mine. Being in Chicago made that very easy; we have such a great wedding industry here.
Was event planning independently challenging to get started?
Jumping off to do this on my own was pretty scary, but it was a great decision. My first year out I did 10 weddings and 7 small events. It was more than I expected! But I was saying yes to everything so I could work with great vendors and get photos for my portfolio. Every year has been different and I know next year will continue to surprise me! I love what I do, though it can be a stressful job! But the great clients are what keeps me coming back for more.
Do you have any advice to other women starting a business?
Go for it. Jump in with two feet and give it 100% of your time because it takes a lot of love for something to work. I took great comfort in knowing this city has more than enough business to go around for everyone in the wedding industry. Be willing to change and evolve with the times. Trends don’t last forever!
What does it mean to you to be powerful?
Recently I feel like I have really been catching my stride with my business, and I have been able to give advice and opportunities to others which has felt really powerful. Not so long ago I was the one seeking out advice and opportunities. I never thought I would be on this side of things, so to be helpful to someone feels great.
What separates you from other wedding planners?
I started a new planning package called the Bookends this year. It includes heavy assistance during the two most crucial times during your engagement – the start of the planning process and the final lead-up to the wedding. This format allows my clients and I to take care of all the difficult parts of planning from the start, leaving them in a good secure place for the months leading up to the big day. Then, a month before the wedding I pick back up and act as a liaison between my client and the vendors. I also offer my full-service wedding planning, which will always be my favorite!
Learn more about planning a wedding, private party, or corporate event with Grace here: