Athena DeVonne: Ask Me Anything!
QC Event School graduate and tutor Athena DeVonne owns and runs a prosperous business, Coalesce Creations Wedding Designs, and knows everything there is to know about becoming a successful event planner!
This fall, Athena answered some of your most burning questions about event planning careers and how to amp up your business. Here’s her advice from the most popular topics!
Q: I’m thinking of taking the first step and taking courses to become a Wedding and Event Planner, but I’m concerned once I complete everything and graduate I’ll have absolutely no experience in this field! How will it be finding a job?
A: Your concerns are the exact reasons why you should take the course. It provides you with a background of the industry, tools to be successful, and opportunities to gain some experience while taking the course. You’re also assigned a tutor who provides you feedback on your progress. I will be honest, you get out what you put in. If you just answer the questions, you don’t get much. But if you make it hands-on and go the extra mile, you can start a business. Example: If an assignment asks for a photo of a beach-themed centerpiece, instead of finding a photo online, create your own.
The best way to gain experience and exposure is plan your own Launch Party event and your own sponsored Holiday event. You have to do everything you would do for a client: create a plan, set a budget, research vendors, locate a venue, create a design, send invitations and coordinate the day of. This lets you know how much time it takes and how much labor was involved to create your prices. Get a photographer to take amazing photos to build a portfolio and a videographer for marketing.
Q: Would you advise me to wait until graduation before accepting clients or just jump start into the business?
A: This is a choice you have to decide for yourself based on your drive, passion and level of confidence. I started my business as I was taking the courses. I didn’t wait to graduate! I planned my launch event, a thanksgiving dinner event, networked like crazy and a business was developed. I was able to do this because of a very strong support system and a very dedicated work ethic. I also understood that failures build success and I was not afraid of that.
Q: What are the most critical components in drafting a special event contract? Should I develop a separate contract for vendors? And what is the average cost of having an attorney develop your contract?
A: The most critical components are an Act of God clause, Behavior clause, Photo Permission clause, outlining your services and what things are not your responsibilities, the responsibilities of your client, and cancellations and payments (late fees, refund, deposit, retainers). Depending on how your company is structured, you may or may not need your own contracts with vendors.
If you are having the client pay you their wedding budget, then it’s your responsibility to contract all the vendors. In this scenario you would create independent contracts. If you are referring clients to the vendors, vendors have their own contracts that the clients sign. Where you live will determine the average cost of having an attorney develop your contracts, so research your area for cost ranges.
Q: How did you know out of all wedding planning schools that QC Event School was best for you? Are they helpful if you want to be an entrepreneur?
A: At the time that I was looking to earn certification,I was a single mom with two young daughters, one with special needs. Therefore, I had no time or funds to travel to a program or attend a physical school. I knew I needed something that was online and flexible with time. I love that QC gives you 3 years to complete the course because I knew I already had a lot going on. The school offers tutors that guide you along the way.
QC was the only course I took and I was able to start my own business.
Q: What are your thoughts on using social media? I posted beautiful pictures of my original work, but I found that someone shared the photos as their own and/or copied my exact design, including color scheme. How would you mitigate this problem?
A: I love all your questions. To answer this question, I LOVE SOCIAL MEDIA! But I also understand the risks. Then is no surefire way to prevent someone from copying and pasting. Depending on where they posted it (Instagram, Facebook), they each have their own process in how to report the issue.
My advice is to focus on strengthening your brand, so it will not matter who takes what. People will know it’s you because your brand is that strong. Fighting everyone who takes your work is tedious and sometimes just not worth it. I used to fight it, and it turned into a mess and a learned lesson. So focus on building your brand.
Q: I see the words design and plan. Are they two separate services that need to be charged? Can you plan without designing?
A: Designers, planners, coordinators, oh my! Yes, they are all different and need to be priced differently. You can plan without designing and vice versa. A planner plans all the logistics: budget management, vendor scheduling, venue researching, calls and meetings, tastings, etc.
A designer creates the theme, mood and feel of the event (without the need of logistics). They focus on just the design details and work within a set design budget. It is very overwhelming to do both for one client unless you have staff to assist you. Ask me how I know (never again will I do this…so thankful for my team now).
Q: I’m nervous to finish school and start this new path in my life. Did you have any personal jitters or obstacles to get through, and if so, how did you do it?
A: Oh my goodness, yes! I did have the jitters, fears of the unknown and nervousness.
I had many obstacles (money, no college degree, not good enough credit for a business loan, no experience, no one willing to mentor). However, I took a new look at these things and came up with a different perspective. All these things that could hold me back were all the reasons as to why I NEEDED to start my business. I have had my business for almost 4 years now. I am professionally certified, earned and won several local, national and international awards and accolades, I have improved my credit greatly and am currently providing a lifestyle for myself and my daughters just on my business income.
I JUST DID IT. I took it a day at a time, literally. I stayed consistent, teachable, took every learning opportunity I had, networked like crazy and gave 100% in everything. I never quit. That is the key to success: never quitting!