Destination Event Planning
Thriving in the destination event planning business requires you to be in the right places and connect with the right people. For Michelle Norwood, this strategy has fueled her business to the point it is today. As the owner of Michelle Norwood Events, our guest shares quite a few things:
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Michelle Norwood has been in the destination event planning business for more than a decade. She helps clients identify and plan ideal wedding events. Her brand and signature style is centered on organic and garden-style decorations. As a destination event planner, Michelle mainly looks for venues all over the world that appeal to her clients before she can transform them into something better.
Starting Out In the Destination Event Business
Starting out is one of the hardest parts of any business. Especially in destination event planning. Other than creating credibility, you have to define your niche and create a client base. As long as you put in the work, thriving in the destination event planning field becomes easier. With time, happy clients are most likely to generate more business for you through referrals.
Michelle emphasizes on creating a portfolio and building credibility for your destination event planning bussiness. When starting out, she would travel to new destinations and post pictures on her company's social media page. Very soon, clients started noticing what she offered, and calls started coming in.
More people are starting their own businesses during the pandemic, which means more competition for new entrants and veterans. The more you can differentiate yourself, the easier it will be to thrive in destination event planning. Michelle suggested networking with people, posting on social media, and writing blog posts as strategies for building credibility.
How to Meet and Exceed Client Desires
Michelle points out that she designs her service offerings around a client's heritage, background, and love story. This allows her to create unique experiences for each client and their guests. However, you do not have to directly ask clients about their likes and dislikes. You can draw insights from the simple conversations you have with them.
She tells a story of one of her clients who mentioned their love of a Mexican wedding tradition mid-conversation. The tradition involves walking behind a donkey at the wedding parade. Michelle's destination event planning team took note of this and turned it into a reality, even though the client hadn't requested it. They welcomed it with open arms.
Of course, it will not be easy to get such intricate information from all clients. This is where social media comes in. People share their lives on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. She suggested visiting the clients' social media accounts to draw insights from them. The more intricate details you can introduce to the event, the easier it will be to appeal to clients.
Thriving In the Age of COVID-19
For Michelle, the pandemic provided her with a short break from work. She had been booked for a while, but most weddings had to be canceled. However, she sees the event business coming back bigger and better.
With most people having been social distancing behind closed doors, people will be craving social interactions. However, the expectation is that future events will consist of smaller people craving intimate interactions, rather than large crowds.
While her business was affected, it was by luck that she had worked with a great lawyer when drafting her contracts. Most destination event planning businesses have been experiencing the negative effects of the 'act of God' clause in their contracts. Working with a reputable lawyer when drafting your contract could save you from such issues. You should also consider adjusting the clause during the COVID-19 period to avoid financial losses.
Starting Your Own Destination Event Planning Business?
Thriving in the destination event planning business will be easy as long as you do the work. Instead of reinventing the wheel to learn your way around the business, you can always rely on online resources for insights. Feel free to check out Only Successful Events' website for event planning resources, training, and certification.
Welcome back to The Only Successful Events Show. Today I'm joined by event producer Michelle Norwood from Michelle Norwood events. I really wanted to bring her on today's show because she does something that I think a lot of people are shying away from. Especially with the pandemic going on. And I really love her business model and wanted her to share a little bit more. Welcome, Michelle, how are you doing today?
I'm well, thank you for having me April.
Oh my pleasure. So before we jump into everything, can you share a little bit about your background?
Yes. So I have been in the event industry for 17 years. I actually have a degree in accounting and landed my dream job as an accountant for a corporation. And then they wanted to have a large scale event and they did not want to hire a planner.
I volunteered for the job and it just grew from there. So, 12 years later, I wanted to do my own thing. And I quit my job and started my own business. It was funny when people would come and audit our work. Because we did a floor plan, which we managed millions of dollars for these corporations. And when people would come and meet with me, they were like, you are like no other accountant we’ve ever met. And I'm like, yeah, I know.
But math makes sense. So it works for events. I can handle the budget.
Love it. So what made you actually pull the trigger and say, okay, I'm done. And I want to do my own thing, I'm an entrepreneur?
I wanted to be in control of my life and in charge of my schedule. And I just wanted the freedom to be able to choose when I could go on vacation. The company that I worked for you couldn't go on vacation at the end of the month. My birthday's at the end of the month. And I always like to travel for my birthday. I was turning 35 and I was like, I just need to be in control of my life.
I just want us to be in control. That's the short answer.
Love it. So tell us a little bit about what Michelle Norwood Events is.
So we are a destination bespoke wedding planning company. We are based in New Orleans. Our model started as a reverse destination where clients were coming to New Orleans, the greatest city in all the world to get married.
And so from there, we evolved into a destination event planning business with clients requesting that we fly out to meet them and then fly out to do locations and other events. So it was the natural transition to destination event planning.
I love it. And when did you make that transition?
At the three year Mark. That was the first time we were actually invited to Scotland to plan an event.
Oh, very cool. So for me, I don't love traveling. Although, I travel all the time. Did you run into any issues? Cause now you want to be in control of your schedule. You know, you started your own company. And when I started, we had an event production company and catering company for seven years. I was like yes! We're going to do this because I don't want to work in a restaurant and be working all the crazy hours.
I want the catering company because I will be home with my family more. But, I found it completely the opposite. So, with throwing travel into that mix and having to plan something abroad. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced at the beginning when you were finding that balance from everything in my city, to everything other places?
I underestimated customs. What they let you bring in and not bring in. And that was the biggest shock. I was like, Whoa, this is, this is the way different. It's a different set of logistics that you have to worry about. And I never thought of that. So, I mean it's just the learning curve, even if I'm leaving here and going to Santa Barbara. Just different climates, different things, but that was the biggest one. I was like, Whoa, wait a minute. Let me get my life together.
Did you even think about customs ahead of time? What has to be checked into customs or go through customs? Did you put that into the planning at all? And then it was just more than you thought or you didn't think about it?
MN ( 04:47)
No, I did, but it was definitely much more than I thought. Even now when I'm doing stationery and we're mailing stuff internationally, I separate the international ones from the domestic ones and make sure they get weighed in. And if the post office person tells you that they don't need an international form go to a different one because they're not telling the truth. So now just knowing those things, but I prepared, I just wasn't prepared.
Yeah definitely. And with any event or any new type of event or even any new venue, there's always a different learning curve so I can only imagine.
Now, I know that you have a lot of things that make you unique, but what is the biggest thing that makes your event company unique?
For us, it’s about the clients. So we use them, their love story, their backgrounds, their heritage. And from there we plan the event around them. It's their event unique to them. So that's what makes each one of our events different. They're all beautiful. But they're all little things that are just around that speaks to them. For example, if the grooms Haitian, we have Haitian cigars and Haitian rums. Then when the family arrives they wouldn't expect it. So just things like that, we make it about them and then their families appreciate it. And they all leave saying it was the best event they've ever been to
I love that because when you first said, we make the event unique to them, I know all of the listeners are like, every company makes the event unique to them. But you find that extra little piece for each couple. How do you dig deep into that and find those pieces?
Alcohol. The minute we start drinking, they start talking and things that they talk about or mention for them, it's just, we're just having a conversation. But when I hear certain things I’m like okay note to self. And so that's kinda how it happens. So we're at a tasting one time and the groom brought up that they do this walk in Mexico and it includes a donkey with tequila. And he was just kind of having the conversation. So immediately I got home and I'm Googling it. What is up with this donkey? It has a wife and groom paper mache. And I learned all about it. I figure it out.
And so when I met with them the next day, I was like, I have a great idea. So, you're coming to New Orleans to get married. You're Indian And you're Mexican. Let's do the traditional Mexican walk and mix it with a second line. Their mind was blown! Donkey booked, tequila purchased, they were hook line and sinker. And, we were just having a conversation and they brought up something and I took it and made it a part of their event. They were floored. They loved it. And we're doing it.
I love that idea. So, for the people that are not as receptive or intuitive as you where pick out the little pieces. Are there any questions that you may suggest that they ask the clients to kind of dig deep? Not just hey, I want to make your wedding special what's important to you? More of a broader question where they can pull out little pieces from that.
I talk about their heritage, where they're from. When was the last time you visited that place? Just finding out how connected they are to specific things about their background. It's a great way. And if they're not really connected, then you have to try a different approach. You have to be nosy. Check their Instagrams. This is how you get to know them, you know. Follow them on Pinterest, go see if they have a LinkedIn. People share their lives with the world.
That's what social media is for. So if you're uncomfortable asking questions, you could always just do some research and go find out things about them. And then present the ideas to them and see if they bite, if not, then back to the drawing board.
Michelle that's what makes you an expert compared to somebody else that is just an event planner or producer because you go that extra mile. Because you really make it unique to the point where they walk in and they're like, wow, our wedding planner had this idea and when we walked in, we cannot believe how it came to life. So I love that. And I hope that people listening can pick up those little pieces. Those little golden nuggets. So, obviously at the time of recording, we are in the pandemic, we're going through the Coronavirus.
Things are just now opening back up, which is awesome! Travel is, is kind of opening back up, but I want to hear two things. First, I want to hear, your initial concerns, when everything got shut down including travel. Did you have any initial concerns?
we'll. I actually had no initial concerns. So I had just gotten back from Dubai when this all happened. We had a light spring, so I only had five events before I was off for London for our first wedding in June for the summer season. And so when things got shut down I quickly moved weddings. Then I was like ah a break. Because coming back from Dubai, I was looking at the calendar and I was going to Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and then I was going to Palm Springs and I had a lot of travel coming up. and I had these events coming up and I was like, Oh, this is going to be grueling.
Why did I do this to myself? And then when everything happened, I was like I get a break. So I literally stayed in PJ's and ate potato chips for four weeks. And I was like, this is awesome. The first month I literally did nothing. And then, I started to kind of get into Facebook groups. But for me, I had no issues with Coronavirus at first. It was a welcomed break if I'm being completely honest, I was very happy about it. Not happy about it. But we're forced to sit back and it was a nice break.
So moving forward, I know you and I talked a little bit before and you really don't see there being an issue. But I know a lot of people, not only destination planners and destination event companies they are really worried right now.
They're really worried because of a lot of things. One, if they book something far in advance, is it going to be back open, is it going to be shut? Are people going to even want to travel? And are they going to be booking? But you really didn't have any concerns or don't have any concerns now about the future of the business. Right? None. Can you tell us a little bit why? What makes you so secure?
Just an eternal optimist. I live with the glass half full. Everything's gonna work out. I also know that we are people that are very forgetful. Once this kind of passes and simmers down a little bit, I feel like we will not forget, but it'll kinda just be a little bit in the back of your mind and life will resolve to normal.
I mean, you listen to people all the time and they're like, I can't wait for life to get back to normal. Well, they want some sense of normalcy. Not that it'll ever be the way it was before, but they want some sense of normalcy which will then allow them to start living their lives. And then when people are able to start living their lives, the first thing that's going to come back, in my opinion, is events.
Because that's how we celebrate and how we come together. That's how we love each other. And so for me, I think events will be back and it will be bigger and better. And people will have time to be like, okay, I want more of this. I want the details to be even better. I want it to be more special. That's how I feel. I could be crazy, but that's what I'm going with.
Totally on the same page as you. So we produce several events for our own companies per year, and we did cancel the ones for the rest of this year. But we rescheduled them for next year and we already have dates picked out and everything because we know that they're going to be open back up. And the economy has to get back to normal and people really need that interaction. Because you can only do so much on zoom and then they need that personal connection.
Especially for social events, like weddings, bar mitzvahs, family gatherings. In my opinion, I think they're going to be smaller, but more intimate. They're going to spend more. And they're going to make it a really extraordinary experience, but not invite the 200, the 500 people, more of the closest friends and family. I don't think the money's going to be any different.
I think they're going to spend the money, but I think they're gonna spend it in different ways and just make the experience that much greater. So, did you have to reschedule any weddings that you had planned, or were you taking that break anyway?
So we rescheduled four weddings to fall. And so currently we have seven weddings in the fall. One thing about my business is everything we've done, we've always only worked with less than 75 guests. Some of our events are only two people.
For me to tell the bride we need to cut 25 guests It's not that big of a deal anyway. Those 25 people probably weren't going to come because of all of this. So we've always worked in the intimate scale of events. The events we moved, they were all less than 50 people anyway. So it was really not an issue.
And then the ones that were already in the fall, we had two that were 250 people they've moved to next year. But everyone else is like, we are holding on tight. We want this to happen. So fingers crossed. I have my first event and 16 days in Alaska. So fingers crossed that they don't change the 15 person requirement. We only have nine guests and that it goes off without a hitch.
Love it. So, did you add any additional clauses to your contracts? Are you going to moving forward?
No, there is one that I thought about yesterday. But no, my contract was written by a great attorney and he stands by it. We went over it. So I'm leaving it as is it's, it's good.
So we've had a few issues, and a few of our event producer clients have mentioned that they are running into issues with the clause of the acts of God, the force majeure. Just make sure you double-check, especially with destinations. But if your clients are going to put it off anyway, you should be fine. So I know that everybody has a style to their company, you know, a certain brand that they represent. What is your signature style?
It is garden-style organic. We find spaces that are already beautiful and we enhance those spaces. We're not in transformations Not that we can't do it. It's just something that I don't understand transformations, to be honest. I mean, why book a space and change it to something different? For me, it's let's find a space that you can love and enhance it. It can only get better. So that's, that's our signature style.
I love it. Do you start with the bride and groom from the very beginning and coordinate the whole event? Help her pick maybe a dress that fits into, I know you're not really going dress shopping, but suggest stuff that might fit into a garden theme or a boho theme or whatever kind of space they're in? Or is it more like, we just want to hire you to plan our event, go make sure it runs okay?
You know, it's double fold. So we have gone dress shopping with brides before. It's not outside of the realm of what we do. But we start from the beginning with the couple, I mean, we take care of everything for them if they want us to. I do tell them that planning is a collaborative project. And without them, I cannot plan their event. So they understand it while they get to do all the fun stuff. And I basically have to make the decisions about what's happening, but we are there from the beginning. We can do everything or we could just do the event and that's it. But most people choose us to do everything.
It makes the most sense and that way it's beautifully coordinated. So when you're going into destinations or when you're going somewhere else and you don't have a core team, that's around you, how do you really make sure all of the pieces are coming together at the location?
So we do diagraphs and 3-D renderings. And so we sit down and get those done early on in the design process. And we send those to everyone and do logistical meetings just to make sure. I often flatter locations just to make sure we're all on the same page about things. There are always going to be hiccups. And there's always going to be things that could go wrong.
It's how you handle those things. So I have plan A, plan B, plan C and then plan D. And if all of those run out, I'm like, okay, on the fly, what are we doing? You have to be flexible. When you get stuck in thinking it has to be one way. That's when you lose the freedom to be creative. Because it could be plan D and plan D ends up being fabulous and breaks the internet. Who knows you, you just have to be flexible.
I’m a bubbly person and I meet people all the time. A stranger is only a stranger for the first second. So for me, it's easy to meet people and chat and talk to them. So building relationships in other markets or meeting people for the first time, it's like we're friends anyway.
Perfect. Do you bring any team members with you or do you have anybody that travels with you to help you once you get to the event and pull it together?
Yes. So it depends on the event size and like the parameters that we're working in, but my team does travel with me.
Perfect. Now, what is the biggest challenge to growing in your business right now? Other than people not traveling at the moment?
Well, no, that wasn't even it. See, I don't even focus on that. The biggest is my blog, Oh my God. I just have such a hard time sitting down writing a blog. But you asked me a question I can answer, but that is the hardest part. And, I'm not sure if you're familiar with Anya Whitaker. She owns editor in chief and she posted yesterday a blog can grow your business by 434%. I was like another reminder where I'm falling short.
Well, the blogs the easy part. I'll give you some tips when we hang up. So you should just be able to give somebody a few ideas and then they write it for you. You give them great meat and they write it and pull all the wonderful pictures together. And it's your ideas, it reads nicely. And you're delegating that whilst you can focus on your, your beautiful bride and groom and the experiences you're creating.
Most people do say that they are not posting on social media consistently. They're not doing their blogging. And they know that that's a big way to really build credibility, especially now they going into 2021, we're going to have a lot more event planners because people are trying to start more businesses from home.
So when they're like, you know, I loved planning my own wedding planning that seems like fun. We are going to have a lot more pop up and the things that are going to separate the everyday people just coming out and the really experienced people that have a big track record is going to be those posts, unfortunately. Of course always referrals and recommendations from your bride and grooms.
But when they see somebody that has an amazing Instagram and if they're searching for something and something comes up versus someone that's not posting consistently and somebody that's doesn't have great pictures. You know, they tend to go with the one that just looks good rather than the one that has experience.
So it is important. But I'll give you some great resources for that. So anybody that wants to make that transition from or even add it to their repertoire from being one location-based. We're in South Florida, just being South Florida or Florida to destination, What advice would you give them?
You have to invest in yourself. I didn't start out with destination events. I started traveling and going to tour venues and posted it on social media. And, you know, letting people know that this was something that, that we were moving towards.
And so then when we got our first call for an event, I was like, Oh my God, all of that I have done is it's paying off this first time. And then the next call and I was, Oh my God. So you have to invest in yourself. You have to build relationships in other places and be willing to put yourself out there.
I mean, it's not going to come to you and you have to go and get it. In anything, that's my advice. Do the work because that's what's gonna make the difference. And you have to be able to show your portfolio. Without me going to other places and doing editorial shoots, I wouldn't have a portfolio to prove that I could do it. So again, just investing in yourself and being willing to do the work, you have to do it. It's not easy, but you have to do it.
Perfect. And that's great advice. I totally agree. What is the next stage for Michelle Norwood events? Do you have a bigger picture?
I'm like a ride the wave kind of person. I have a gypsy personality. My son is turning 18 this year and he's going to college. So, the world is my oyster. I can literally go anywhere, do anything I have no idea where I'm going, but I'm excited wherever I lay in. So, I have no plan, but it's coming. I don't know what it is.
I am going to ask you a question because I want to share this clip with you and you can actually use it on your social media if you want. But when a bride and groom are looking for a destination wedding planner, what are three questions that they should really ask?
They should ask, are they comfortable traveling or planning an event in a different destination because the planner’s comfort level is going to translate. Also, are they familiar with the place that they're going to? Being in New Orleans, we do second lines and a lot of planners come here and they have no idea about the process. And it's something that's very unique to New Orleans.
So knowing where you're going, you immerse yourself in their culture and the client's needs to make sure that they can trust you with that event. The third thing a client should ask, have you been to the location? That's important! Have you seen where they want to go? And if you haven't, then you get on the plane and get over there. But yes, the client should know if you've been there, with a portfolio of work to make sure that you can produce these types of events.
Just making sure that the person that you're hiring is strong enough to go into these, different places and being able. Some cultures are very different. So just knowing the different cultures and being able is important.
I think that's very important, the point that you made to makes sure whoever you're hiring has actually done destination weddings. So it doesn't necessarily have to be the destination you're going to but have actually planned something away from where they're very comfortable where they're friends with all the vendors where the location is familiar with them. So definitely make sure that you do that. Michelle, I really enjoyed this conversation. I know you probably piqued the interest of some of the planners out there that are like, Hmm, I like to travel, we want to start offering it. So thank you for sharing today. I look forward to talking to you again soon.
Absolutely. Likewise. Thank you, April.