The first word I would use to describe Monica and Sarah is girl-boss. As owners and founders of a wedding planning company, Grand Occasions – they’ve learned the tough stuff along the way. Since leaping into the wedding vendor realm in Grand Rapids Michigan, they’ve worked tirelessly and happily for their brides. “We’ve danced with our brides on the dance floor,” Sarah exclaimed during our interview. While they’ve seen the rewarding side of wedding planning, they’ve also gone above and beyond to make their brides weddings go smoothly, by being the first ones there and the last ones to leave.
In the community of west Michigan wedding planners, Sarah and Monica have the qualities of making their company a little different from the rest. They are two young single girls working 9-5 jobs and co-owning this business on the side with hopes to one day take the leap to be full time wedding planners. I had the pleasure of connecting with them a couple months ago and ever since meeting them and hearing their story, I fell in love… I fell in love with Sarah’s tenacious and ballzy attitude and Monica’s encouraging and real-world honesty. While they admit they are complete opposites, they complement each other beautifully as friends, and co-owners of Grand Occasions (…and side note, the founders of another business called Tandem Studios, which you can read more about here!) They have the mind-set of community over competition, and that’s one of my favorite things about them.
Kylie (K): I love the story of how you guys came together. You each wanted to start your own wedding planning business and then decided to do it together. Can you explain how you each decided in your minds like this is happening, I’m doing it.
Sarah (S): I did a ton of event planning in college on campus. I loved being large and in charge…loved being my own boss, loved telling people what to do, and it’s a control freak issue but I admit it, so I’m working on that. But my jobs after college were in the bridal industry and I felt like there was more that I could do for brides. I’ve always known I was going to start something, I just never knew what. And then I got thrown in almost on accident, to the wedding scene. And what girl doesn’t love that?
Monica (M): My experience was not as chronological. I had just graduated from college and didn’t know what I wanted to do…well I thought I knew. I was in hospitality, planning events from the corporate side and hated the way it was done because it was all about sales. I had all this time all of a sudden after school was over so I really had to think about what I wanted to do. I knew I didn’t want to do hospitality but I had that taste of events and I liked it. And I’ve always been such a romantic…
S: She cries all the time… at every wedding we go to.
M: I do! It’s so awful. I’m so in love with love and weddings.
S: Do you feel like I pushed you into it a little bit?
M: Um you pushed me faster than I would’ve gone myself.
S: I think we balance each other and I think I pushed you into it in a good way and I’ll never forget the one thing Monica said to me in the beginning, she was like, “I don’t quit. I’m not a quitter.” And that was huge for me. I needed someone who wasn’t going to be like “bye Felicia” when things got tough.
K: I’m curious about the first wedding you ever planned.
S: I knew you were going to ask that. (laughs). The bride was my previous roommate…so friend. And I basically asked her if we could be her day of coordinator essentially for free, but she paid us because she’s a saint of a person.
M: Well we asked her because it’s a lot for someone to hand their wedding baby over to someone…
S: Right and we were brand new…we really didn’t know what we were doing but we pretended like we did. And I can’t describe to you the anxiety of that first day.
M: I remember sitting alone at the reception venue and I was waiting for the photo booth guy because he was late and I remember thinking like, “what do I do in this situation?” Now we have plans for that. He got lost but he ended up showing up.
S: I did an emergency run to Meijer for fishing line to secure the directional signs, and got the bride hard cider because she made a joke about wanting it.
K: I picture you guys kind of like the wedding planner movie, with like a fanny pack of stuff for anything that can go wrong.
M: We do! We have an actual kit that has everything from chalk to deodorant, to a cork screw, and extra fake flowers…Bobbi pins. It’s so weird.
K: You both complement each other so well and I laugh when I think back to the day when I asked you guys, “Oh do you live together?” …And your response Monica was, “Heck no.” So how do you explain balancing your friendship and this partnership of co-owning Grand Occasions?
S: It’s tough, because those lines are always blurred.
M: It’s a lot harder because we didn’t meet in college. We’ve known each other our whole lives and our parents are friends.
S: One, I am a workaholic. I never stop thinking about our business. Mon is better at turning it off. We meet almost every day…we’re always communicating and working. And Monica is one of the most loyal people. She’s like the little sister I never had. I think that’s a good way to describe our relationship.
M: That’ true. She’s the older sister I’ve never had.
S: We’re kind of like family like we’re not going anywhere. So we have to make it work.
M: Sarah is the cheerleader in my life. We try to encourage each other in our personal lives. We talk things out about how our personal lives affect Grand Occasions. My personal decisions affect our business and we’re the only two people who truly get that. Not that other people have to get that but all the more reason why we have to encourage each other.
K: How would you encourage a girl whose thinking of running her own business, what would you say to her?
S: Do whatever makes you tenacious. My thing is that I will go down kicking and screaming.
M: She sure as heck will.
S: Do your research and then commit. There’s a time where you have to realize, this may seem crazy, people won’t understand, people won’t take us seriously. People are always going to be critical about your work. There’s this quote from Teddy Roosevelt about The Man in the Arena and to sum it up it’s like – you can’t be a critic if you’re not in the arena getting your ass kicked too. You have to go for it, stay positive, fight through it, and choose to not listen to the critics that will try to deflate that tenacious balloon.
M: Do your research so you know what you’re getting into. Figure out, okay how does this look day to day? Can I do this for the next 40 years? The second thing is don’t have a quitter mentality. That’s my mantra. If quitting is an option; you won’t get anywhere.
S: Fake it till you make it, like that’s a real thing. Every girl boss says that.
K: What inspires you guys? If there’s a day where you’re stressed, what’s the reminder that’s like, ‘this is why I do what I do?’
M: I love that question. People in our lives ask us this all the time. Someone asked me recently, “When are you gonna get a big girl job?” And I about flipped my lid. People acting like it’s a hobby…it makes me angry and I want to fight it but I’m like, wait; I don’t need to say anything to you. The proof is in the pudding. We have brides scheduled this fall, and showers we’re planning. We’re venturing out from just weddings, it’s growing and that encourages me. And the other aspect…I cry at every wedding. I love love. We take a step back at every reception and are like “okay, people are having a good time, vendors are happy…!” That’s what keeps me going.
K: It must be super humbling…
M: Oh it is!
S: I love how we have the opportunity, if we’re lucky, to run into our brides again. We ran into a bride the other day at a coffee shop. She sat down and chatted with us and hugged us. It is a humbling thing to be a part of her and her husband’s big day that they’ll remember forever. But day-to-day: it’s not glamorous when we’re emailing vendors and checking price quotes and figuring out nitty gritty details. If you just look at that you could get drained so you have to keep the big picture in mind. Also being inspired by following people in our network. There’s a community of wedding planners in this area and we’re all in a Facebook group together and it’s community over competition. So just finding that community to encourage each other. Also, I listen to girl boss podcasts and get amped.
K: Where do you each see yourselves in the next years personal and professionally?
M: Well three years from now will be our 5 year anniversary. Right now we have to have day jobs because we want Grand Occasions to be IT someday. We want to be doing it full time. Which saying out loud, for me is scary…
M: I’m a stability and comfortability person.
S: Well there’s so much risk right?
M: At some point we have to jump all in. I suspect that being at the 5 year mark. I see us having brides outside of Michigan. Weddings, maybe in the south. Personally, I still see myself living with my gorgeous friends, doing life. And hopefully Sarah and I have an office space.
S: You answered for me pretty much.
K: Any last encouraging words for entrepreneurs?
S: Stay humble. We dedicated this business over to the Lord and prayed about it, and if you’re not humbled you will be humbled. Also don’t ever forget where you came from. It wasn’t always rainbows and butterflies. At the end of our first season we did the books and crunched numbers and we were like we’ve been robbed (laughing)!! But I don’t regret a single thing because we learned so much and I think we had to go through all of that to hand a contract to a bride and say that is how much we’re worth. I’m so confident in what we do that I won’t even bat an eyelash.
K: I think it’s so hard for a woman to be confident in nailing down a salary, even in a 9-5 job and be like am I worth that much? And you almost try to downplay it like ehh I don’t know! So that’s really cool to hear you say. Just work your butt off and your worth will be affirmed.
M: That was the cliff we had to jump because we were charging x amount for a while and then after every wedding we felt were like we should have charged more, we’re worth more than that. We’ve worked hard and we know we’re worth it.
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