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Career Make-Over

Client Relationships Hold the Key to Her Future

March 04, 2001|SUSAN VAUGHN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Kimberly Cashwell harbors a dream shared by many full-time employees: She'd like to be her own boss and work from home.

But the 39-year-old Los Angeles resident has raised the stakes in this gambit. She's trying to start two businesses simultaneously, a wedding planning company and a spiritual counseling concern, while working full time as a floor receptionist, handling calls for 12 law firms at a West Los Angeles office building.

"How do I make the transition without financial hardships?" she asked New York-based career counselor Allie Roth. Cashwell explained that she must take conservative steps toward her goals, as she is raising a 12-year-old son.

Roth said Cashwell might be juggling too much at once. "It would not be easy to quit your job and start both at the same time," she said. "Starting even one business will be hard enough."

She asked Cashwell to consider temporarily shelving one of her self-employment endeavors so she could focus on launching the other. But Cashwell was reluctant to do so.

She said she's spent time developing the two businesses, apprenticing 18 months with a wedding consultant to learn the trade and training in spiritual counseling for four years at the Agape International Center for Truth in Culver City.

She also was ambivalent about which business she favored.

Cashwell said she loves helping others put on weddings and believes she can build Fantasy Weddings, her concern, into a thriving company. Of her $32,000 annual income, about 5% comes from Fantasy Weddings.

But when Roth administered a battery of career-oriented tests, Cashwell scored higher in counseling aptitude and interest than she did for wedding planning-related activities.

Cashwell said she's excited about counseling women in transition--such as those changing jobs, beginning or ending relationships or entering menopause--when she graduates from Agape's program in May.

She also hopes to write inspirational and self-help articles on these topics.

Roth said Cashwell would have a hard time reaching her goal if she continues to try to launch both businesses at the same time. Cashwell finally agreed to focus on launching Fantasy Weddings, "because I already have income coming in from it," she said.

Roth offered some tips for Cashwell, as did seasoned wedding and event planning specialists.

* Build contacts and referrals: "In Los Angeles, in particular, the special-events business is built on reputation. It's all word of mouth," said Alyse Sobel, wedding editor at the Wedding Channel (http://weddingchannel.com) in Los Angeles. Most wedding referrals come from planners' clients, said Lawrence Harvey, executive director of catering at New York City's Plaza Hotel.

Newcomer Cashwell will be competing against long-established planners, so she'll have to come up with innovative ways to advertise her services and network with individuals who might generate business for her.

Skilled wedding planners typically take three to five years to launch a full-time business, industry experts say.

"I think I'm having problems just getting my name out there," Cashwell said.

Cashwell should introduce herself and her wedding planning company to wedding photographers, florists, caterers, musicians and other vendors who might be asked for wedding planner referrals.

She should cultivate relationships with vendors in all price ranges so she can accommodate a wide spectrum of client budgets, said Deborah McCoy, owner of Elva Bridal in Boca Raton, Fla.

Cashwell should make sure churchgoers at Agape, where she takes classes, know that she plans weddings. Referrals often come out of planners' church and synagogue affiliations, Harvey said.

To advertise her services, Cashwell can rent booths at wedding expos, launch an informational Web site, try to get booked on cable access and radio shows as a wedding planning expert and write articles for newspapers, women's magazines and bridal publications.

* Develop effective marketing tactics: Sobel suggested that Cashwell consider selecting a niche, such as out-of-town weddings, ethnic weddings or upscale weddings, to set herself apart from the competition.

Cashwell should save notes from satisfied clients in a testimonial book for prospective customers to view, said Angela Thompson, assistant professor of sociology at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth and the author of "Unveiled: Secrets of the Wedding Industry" (Alegna Publishing, 2000).

She also should ask her clients' permission to photograph their weddings so she can create a portfolio of her work, said Kristina Wright, owner of Blue Stars, a wedding planning company in Tacoma, Wash.

"Shoot the scenes without people in them, if you can," Wright said. "And give copies of everything to the wedding party for free--they're happy to let you take photographs that way."

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