FIDAN ISMAYILOVA ON MASTERY OF BEING A WEDDING PLANNER
Ever since my first interview, I've become fascinated with women who create their own careers from scratch. I have met Fidan Ismayilova - a founder of Designed Dream, an Award Winning Wedding & Event Planning company, a dreamer and a mom of two kids during Summer & Dakota's wedding this spring.
Together with her amazing team, Fidan organized over 250 weddings. In her own words, she shared her thoughts about her most exciting and challenging projects with us.
What inspired you to start a Designed Dream, wedding planning agency?
I always had a passion for events, my entire life, even when I was a little girl. I remember myself constantly organizing concerts and performances with my little sister at our house and gathering everyone to watch us, and when I got a bit older I was the one planning all my friends birthday parties and after weddings. When I moved to Canada in 2008 I realized that there is actually a profession called Wedding/Event Planner (which we didn’t have back home at that time), meaning for me, that I could do what I had always loved and actually make a living doing it! And so I jumped right in! I took a course, got certified and in 2010 I registered my company. I was so dedicated to make this business a success, that nothing and no one could stop me at that point. I was getting almost no support from my parents and friends, everyone believing that this was a bad idea, that it will fail, and that I am wasting my time. The only person who supported me back then and now was my husband. It really takes only one person that believes in you to make something you believe in a success!
Can you tell us about the first wedding you designed?
I will never forget the first wedding that we planned. As luck would have it, it was one of the biggest weddings I had done to date, with around 550 guests. I must admit, that I was a bit nervous that something may go wrong, and, of course, a few issues did arise, as they do at almost any wedding. But the good thing was, that I was prepared for worst case scenario and we solved the problems on the fly. After that challenging first experience, I realized, that nothing can scare me anymore and indeed all other weddings that we did in the first year seemed to be much easier than that first wedding.
Being a mother and entrepreneur how do you manage your time?
It is definitely challenging to be able to juggle between family and business, especially when one works in an industry as demanding as the event industry. It requires us to be away from our homes and families evenings and weekends during the busy months of the year. But eventually, it works out if you only believe and try your best. It is important to have an understanding family and husband to be able to realize your dreams. Over the years I learned to balance the work-life scale. For example, now I don’t take 2 weddings back to back and only take 1 wedding a weekend for myself. We might have more weddings on the same weekend for our team though, where one of our lead planners fully manages a wedding, without my direct involvement. I have to mention that I have a strong team to work with, and it wouldn’t be possible to do it all by myself. Ladies that stand behind all the magic that happens in-house are a true blessing!
How do you choose professionals to work with, what are the criteria, qualities?
Having spent many years in the business we built a list of the trusted, reliable and preferred vendors to work with. We also have a blacklist of vendors, that we don’t refer, based on the previous bad experience. Vendors that are on our preferred list are all very reliable, we know that we can have each other's backs in case of any last minute issues, vendors that really care about our clients and people that are a pleasure to work with not only for us but mainly for our clients. We try to surround yourself with the like-minded people, people that care about their business and their clients and are not only in it for the financial benefit. That is what counts mostly for us.
What is the most memorable wedding you planned?
Frankly, I have many favorite weddings that we planned. I always have a few every year, that I called weddings of the year. So this year, one of the weddings that was really different and memorable and I must say a little challenging when it came to the actual day of the wedding, was the destination wedding on the private villa in the Dominican Republic. The couple was from Toronto, but they had 120 guests that came to their wedding in the Dominican, which is a big group. The private villa came with nothing, but there was a local planner, who helped with outsourcing local vendors and communicating with them, as I don’t speak Spanish (which is on my list to do now for my next destination wedding for sure!) The planning part was pretty smooth and pleasant, but once we got to the villa a few days prior to the wedding, that is when surprises started to happen.
We had a pretty elaborate set-up, that took 24 hours straight to complete, and our crew was at it through the night. We built the floor and tent on top of the pool, hung a large amount of lighting and sound system, and built the stage and the dance floor with the custom monogram decal. Then, after the structure was up, they painted the floors. Only once everything was finished did the actual furniture arrive, which was already the day of. That part went flawlessly because the vendor we had for that big job was very professional and responsible and their people worked really hard. But there were so many problems with some other local vendors, things they were supposed to provide on the day of, that they just decided not to provide or to provide something different instead. For example, the bouquets came in wrong colors and didn’t correspond with our inspiration board that I sent to them during the planning process. So we had to redo all bouquets on the day of the wedding. The make-up and hair person canceled a night before the wedding, so we had to find a new one, which didn’t do a good job on the bride’s hair, and we had to fix too. The local staff was extremely slow, we are just not used to that here, and plus no one speaks English. I even learned some Spanish expressions on the spot, so I could explain myself to them and tell them what to do and when to do it. The set-up crew didn’t set-up properly, so we had to move some furniture around ourselves. It was a pretty “fun” experience, considering the heat and humidity. So on that day, I felt like I was a florist, hair stylist, set-up crew for the furniture and a coordinator. At the end everything worked out of course, and the wedding looked like in the movies, with the fireworks, glowing palms, lots of lights, famous Dominican live band that people went crazy about, beautifully dressed guests and of course my awesome couple, that I truly love! I made sure that my couple isn’t aware of what was going on behind the scenes until after the wedding, so they really enjoyed the night and had so much fun with their families and friends, that it made it all worth all the work and rush and challenges! I will never forget that wedding, as it was a huge learning experience for me, something that I learned from a lot and now I feel prepared for force majeur on a destination weddings in the private venues!
What are your personal tricks and tactics to deal with stressful situations?
In the line of work, it is important to learn not to take anything personally, because you will meet different kinds of people. Some people that are pleasant and others that are not so pleasant, sometimes aggressive and rude. So not taking anything personal and staying polite and in a professional manner is the key in our job.
It is also extremely important to stay calm no matter what. Even if the world is falling apart, you have to stay calm as a wedding planner, as no one is supposed to know that something is not going right, until you fix it. :)
What do you feel are a few of the common misconceptions that people have about a wedding planner job.
Two main misconceptions that we get over and over again are:
From those, who want to be wedding planners: Initially, they always think that it is an easy job, which is NOT. If you do it right and if you are dedicated to making your company a successful one, it is a very tough road to be on. Make sure you are ready for challenges. Long nights of work, weekends away from home. We constantly need to remain available over email and phone, otherwise, clients may get upset. As an owner of a young business, one has to be ready to take care of their own marketing, advertising, accounting, social media, invoices, and contracts. It is also important to keep the pressure and to always find ways to improve and overpass competitors. Once ready, hiring the right people to work with you is also a lengthy and painful experience. The list is endless, really. It is also not always a clean and tidy work. What most people see on the pictures, is the end result, the planner dressed up nicely and standing in front of her creations. But not many people think about how this creation came to life. There are many, many hours of dirty work involved, including carrying boxes, cleaning glasses, candles, unpacking and setting up and after tearing down and packing up. So, don’t think it is all so easy and fun as it seems to be from the first look.
from the brides and grooms: At first they always think that we charge a lot, but once you start explaining to them that first of all we save them endless amount of time by searching, outsourcing, filtering through the enormous amount of vendors (half of which turn out to be scammers) to find the right ones. Then it is the negotiating and reviewing the contracts and all the paperwork, coordinating with every single vendor to make sure they arrive on time on the day of the wedding and provide exactly what they are supposed to provide etc. Besides the saved time, we also save them tons and tons of money, as all vendors that we work with, offer our clients either a discount or a bonus or something that they can benefit from. There is always something that helps our clients to save some more money. At the end of the day, it all balances out with the fee they pay for our services. I’ve had many clients that underestimated our services at the beginning of work, but complimented us and were literally impressed by the amount of correspondence that we had with all of the vendors, venues and the couple themselves.
What are some of your best-kept-secrets for brides getting married in Toronto? Are there particular places they simply must not forget to have pictures taken? Are there any sweet little romantic traditions they should know about?
Living in a such a multicultural city as Toronto, we see so many traditions from each of the cultures, that are just so amazing and beautiful! We get lots of mixed weddings and I always recommend to my couples to incorporate something from both cultures into their wedding in order to make it unique and memorable and to introduce both cultures to their guests. It is always a great way to add that personal touch to a wedding.
Regarding the places to take photos, Toronto is such a versatile city, not only from the cultural perspective but also from the visual perspective. Depending on the couple and their priorities, it is not hard to find a background with the water or gardens with flowers or an urban look or the historical sites, the list goes on and on.
The only secret, if you may call it that, and the one that I always share with my clients is to try to personalize your wedding, try to make “YOU TWO” to stand out both in a direct and in an indirect way. We get a lot of brides that bring their inspirational photos or magazines and tell us that they want their wedding exactly like this one in the magazine or on the photo. My tip number one: Never ever try to copy anyone else’s wedding, make your wedding “YOUR” wedding, make it a unique one, think about what you two love and enjoy doing together, where your story starts, what your hobbies, etc. Whatever it is, make sure your guests see “YOU TWO” in every element of the wedding, when they walk into the room.