THE ENTERTAINMENT EXPERT
Tara Wilson, Tara Wilson Events
Tara Wilson began positioning herself as "entertainment expert" back in 2007, the same year she launched her Fort Worth, Texas-based wedding planning company. The move was carefully calculated: "I intend to expand my brand from just events into lifestyle with several divisions, including events, products, books and a television show," she says. Wilson has already appeared on NBC's blockbuster "Today" show and has been named one of the "top 50 planners" by website The Daily Meal.
Wilson estimates that her wedding planning services bring in 80 percent of her total revenue, with her "expert" role—product endorsements, public speaking engagements and the like—bringing in 20 percent. "Right now, I spend 80 percent of my time on my event business because it is the more profitable of the two," she explains. It's a bit of a juggling act: "I do spend a lot of my free time—and my own money, I might add—working on the 'expert' piece of the business," she says. In 2010, Wilson began working with a PR firm to handle her national media and speaking engagements, but she has not had to expand her own office space or add full-time employees.
No matter how big her "expert" role grows, Wilson says she will keep her event work. "It helps keep me abreast of the trends and in touch with what people want when it comes to home entertaining," she explains. "Many of my best ideas as an entertaining expert are derived from what we’re doing in the wedding, corporate and nonprofit world."
THE PROPOSAL PLANNER
Sarah Pease, Brilliant Event Planning
The inspiration for her marriage-proposal business—The Proposal Planner from Brilliant Event Planning—came from a story she heard from "a friend of a friend," explains Sarah Pease. The would-be groom wanted to incorporate his beloved's favorite food—fried chicken--into his wedding proposal. So, "He decided that the very best way to pop the question was to put a ring at the bottom of a bucket of chicken!"
The New York-based wedding planner knew "there had to be a better way," and in 2008 launched her proposal business. She does not consider it a sideline: "Depending on the time of year, I may be spending the majority of my time planning marriage proposals over any other type of event," she says. "Since high proposal season is November through February, it's a great balance to the busy wedding months of spring and summer."
As for the future, "Weddings will always be my first love and the bread and butter of my business, but marriage proposal planning is my signature service and what I'm known for," Pease says."I can see a future where we have different teams within my company focused on each branch of the business. Since many of my proposal clients hire me to plan their weddings, I'll always have an interest in both!"
THE VENUE-FINDING SERVICE
Four years ago, London-based Siobhan Craven-Robins saw an opening for a sideline to her wedding planning business.
With her venue-finding service, clients pay her a flat fee and share their event criteria—date of the event, style of the venue, guest count, etc. The Craven-Robins team researches the market and then sends the clients overviews of all suitable venues. She holds the date with all the venues until the clients choose their favorites. She releases venues that don't interest the clients and books viewings with the venues that do. Once clients have settled on a venue, Craven-Robins confirms the booking with the venue, then hands the process over to the client.
The venue service evolved from Craven-Robins' wedding work. "We realized this was the first challenge that couples come across planning their wedding," she explains. "And, I realized that it was a service I could add to my business for those clients who cannot afford—or do not want to use—a wedding planner for their complete wedding planning."
The venue service makes a nice counterpart to her more elaborate wedding work. "Just like with the finite number of weddings we take on each year, a venue search can be scheduled over a two-week period, and we only take ones that can be completed in that time frame," she explains. "So, for instance, in the high season--which is not busy with inquiries anyway—we probably wouldn't take on any venue searches, as we are too busy with the weddings."
Craven-Robins estimates that the venue service brings in only about 10 percent of her total revenue, "But it's worth it as an auxiliary business using a skill we already have," she says.
THE ONLINE STORE
Mindy Weiss, Mindy Weiss Party Consultants
It's not that celebrity wedding planner Mindy Weiss isn't busy already. In business since 1992, the Beverly Hills, Calif.-based planner has overseen the weddings of Ellen DeGeneres, Katy Perry, Heidi Klum, Gwen Stefani and a host of others. Not surprisingly, she is a fixture in magazines and on expert panels.
But it was love—well, love of shopping—that led to her online store, which she launched in 2005. "I was always making recommendations to my bride for products they needed or fun things they should buy for their wedding," Weiss says. "One day I decided to put all my favorite finds in one place, my online shop!"
The site—at www.shopmindyweiss.com—is a collection of "hand-picked" products for brides, grooms and party planners. "The products range from wedding-day necessities, like my 'Shemergency Kits,' to fun extras, like my 'I Do' shoe appliqué to a range of products to use in the home after the wedding," she adds.
Weiss susses out her product line in her free time—what there is of it. "Usually it's at home while I'm winding down for the day," she says. "I love finding fun extras and good bargains--I'm a flea market-aholic--so finding new products for my site is a very enjoyable side project." An employee is dedicated to posting new products and updating the site, which accounts for about 20 percent of Weiss' revenues overall.
But she doesn't envision ever leaving the world of weddings for the world of retail. "Never," she says. "I absolutely love planning weddings and events and can't imagine a time when I won't be doing that!"
And now for something completely different ….Gala Award-winning wedding planner Frank Andonoplas, MBC, doesn’t have an "official" sideline business. But he has long had one in mind: directing funeral services."The Greeks have this down," says the founder of Chicago-based Frank Event Design ( www.frankeventdesign.com). Andonoplas recalls when a friend of his father's died, the local Greek community sent a man to the home of the bereaved to help the family choose what elements the funeral home would provide; the "planner" then worked as the intermediary with the funeral home itself."It is really not much different from planning any other event, except the lead time is small," Andonoplas says. "You only deal with the client for a week or so. That's not a bad thought."Andonoplas adds that when he was in fifth grade and called upon to think about a future career, he chose funeral director "until I learned how much science you had to take in school. I decided not."But if he ever takes the plunge, he has a name picked out: "Marry 'Em and Bury 'Em." See the full story in the March-April issue of Special Events.