Irish Women In Business - Wedding Planner Sharon McMeel
For the latest in our series of editorials focusing on Irish Women in Business, we’re talking to Wedding Planner, Sharon McMeel.
How did you become interested in wedding planning?
My love of party planning came from my mother Dolores. As long as I can remember my mum was organising parties - birthday parties, Halloween parties, New Year’s Eve Parties, and family get togethers.
However it wasn’t until I started working in the Castle Oaks House Hotel that I had my first real introduction to planning weddings and realised how wonderful it was to help people plan such a special day. There are not many jobs out there that allow you to be part of peoples' lives when they are most happy.
When and how did the business come about?
During my time at the hotel, I looked after over 100 weddings a year and with each one I fell more and more in love with the idea of working as a wedding planner. I knew that if I stayed in hotels I would be limited with how much help I could give couples with their wedding. I wanted to do more for couple in all areas of the planning process and give them the peace of mind to enjoy their day to the fullest.
Watching my dad setup and build his own business when I was a young girl inspired me and I always knew I’d work for myself one day. So when I finally found the thing that I truly loved to do I knew it was time the take the leap of faith and after several discussions with family and friends and a lot of research I setup my business in March 2007.
At the beginning, what was the aim?
To be Jennifer Lopez! Only kidding. Without sounding too clichéd the aim was to help people. I’d seen so many couples and friends put so much work and time into their big day only to see them completely stressed out on the day because they were the ones checking if the room was setup correctly or if the buttonholes arrived at the church or if the makeup artist was on time. I wanted to let people have a fairy tale day like in the movies.
When I was asking for advice from my family and friends before I setup the business, I got a great piece of advice from my dad. He said if you can pay your mortgage you’ll be fine. So my aim initially was to get in enough business to cover my mortgage and then build my reputation in the business. I also had to make sure that I acquired all the knowledge possible on the wedding industry and gain experience planning weddings. And thanks to some friends who were getting married who allowed me to help them, I was up and running.
Did you ever expect that this idea would turn into a thriving business?
Even though it was a scary thing to set up my own business I knew I would succeed. It had to be because I was the only one that could make it happen and there is no one there to pay your bills but you. I also knew I was very good at what I did, I genuinely cared about my clients and I had the passion and the drive to push the business forward and 7 years later I’m still here!
Could you tell me how exactly you got to this point in terms of building up the business from the ground?
A very important part of the wedding business is building good relationships with people and suppliers. So it is really important to get out there and visit venues or meet suppliers for coffee and start to get to know each other. Other tools I have used throughout my career are:
* Set goals, it keeps you motivated and you are a thousand times more likely to achieve them when you write them down
* Surround myself with good people
* Stay true to myself
* Continuously updating my knowledge and skills
* Adapting the business and looking for new revenue streams
* Be your own PR woman, you must get out there and promote yourself
What is a normal working day for you (does it even exist)?
Not really but that's why I love doing what I do. No two days are ever the same. Today I could be with a bride trying on wedding dresses and sampling wedding cake (I have a tough job!) and tomorrow could be spent reading through contracts or finding a new venue for a couple who’s venue has closed down unexpectedly. Needless to say I haven’t seen a 9-5 day in a long time!
Was there a point at which it dawned on you what you had achieved?
When I got the call for this interview!
I supposed it was winning the Weddings Online Wedding Planner of the Year Award recently. It was an extremely tough category which made the win all the more special. It was such a wonderful thing to be recognised for all the hard work, late hours and sacrifices you’d made over the years. It was my moment of pure joy. The support and good wishes I received and my family received after the win was overwhelming. It really has been a lovely few weeks.
What has been the biggest challenge?
One of the biggest challenges is getting people to understand what a wedding planner does and changing their perception and explaining how much help I can be to them. Many people think that wedding planners are expensive, drape everything in voile and that if they hire one it means they can't plan their own wedding. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The best way I have to describe it is by looking at the difference between hosting a dinner party in your house and attending a dinner party in someone else’s house. If you are the host then you will most likely spend several days getting the house clean, table set up, purchasing the drinks and preparing the food. On the night you are again checking that everything is in place and the napkins are out, that the plates for the dips are washed and ready and then cooking each course as per your well thought out timeline. You are not free to fully enjoy the evening with all your guests as you always have your eye on what’s happening. The night goes really well and everyone enjoyed themselves but you are exhausted. Now switch to going to your friend’s house, you are not worrying about anything except turning up and enjoying good food, a few drinks and good company and don’t have to even think about the clean-up that night. A wedding is exactly the same and by having a wedding planner to look after all the setup, details and timelines you get to enjoy every moment with your family and friends.
What has been your best moment?
For me one of the best moments was just after the first wedding I looked after when I realising that I made the right decision to go out on my own and pursue a career as a wedding planner. I knew then that this was what I was meant to be doing.
What do you think makes your business unique?
My focus is the people. I listen to couples and give them my time which allows them to get back theirs. My job is helping people beyond budgets. It is my job to make sure the day brings the best of their ideas into reality, telling their story. I do this every time and this is something I am very proud of. I am ready for all eventualities including having a needle and thread in my pocket to fix the bust of a bridesmaids dress that had burst open seconds before she was due to walk down the aisle.
Have you had a favourite moment from working on weddings?
There are 2 moments I love at weddings. The moment the couple see each other for the first time is a special one. They are looking directly at each other and for a split second don’t care that there are 200 people looking at them or that it might raining outside, in that second they are completely connected. It’s not very often that you get to see what a couple are truly like when they are on their own together but in that second you can see what they actually mean to each other. A moment of pure joy and it’s a privilege to witness it.
I know at this stage your readers are sickened at the soppiness but when it comes to weddings you are allowed to be soppy and it helps that I’m a hopeless romantic.
The second is when you see the couple jumping around on the dance floor beaming from ear to ear. There is no stress, no worry and they are having the time of their lives as they imagined they would. Then I know I’ve done my job.
Can you tell me a little about the Gay Wedding Institute Certification Course and why you decided to take it on?
The Gay Wedding Institute Certification Course is an intensive, practical, in-depth program designed to help wedding professionals understand the LGBT wedding market, sharing best practices from hundreds of gay and lesbian weddings. The course covers topics such as laws and policies affecting same-sex couples, LGBT wedding data, trends, traditions and more.
I am continuously seeking to update my knowledge and expertise in the area of weddings and with the changes happening in Ireland over the last few years I felt it was important to gain additional information in the area of gay weddings.
The course highlighted things I had never considered, such as every time a gay couple calls a vendor they will tell them that it’s a gay wedding. So in essence they are coming out over and over again. This can be very uncomfortable and distressing for the couple. This is not the way it should be but unfortunately it still is in many places. As a wedding planner it is my job to ensure that all vendors gay couples book are gay friendly and that all their correspondence such as contracts etc reflect a same sex couple and not bride and groom as appears on most contracts.
Is there a particular famous wedding that you were in awe of?
Well there are very few people who get to marry their prince and look elegant glamorous and truly happy, so it has to be Grace Kelly, Kate Middleton and Cinderella!
To be honest I admire any couple who do it their way and stay true to their personalities and style as a couple, after all it's their day, their story.