My Interesting Job: Wedding Planner

With a business degree and an initial foray into the corporate world, Chenai Bukutu decided to pursue her passion for event planning by setting up her own business, ByChenai three years ago. Now, as one of the UK’s most up and coming wedding planners, she helps couples bring their vision for the perfect day to life. Here, she tells us about the highs and lows, how she got started and what those looking to make it in the industry should know…

This wasn’t always the industry I saw myself ending up in. I actually studied International Business at university and have a much more corporate background, specifically in supply chain management. I did, however, always know that I wanted to do something that combined my love of hosting, celebrating and, as a natural extrovert, working closely with people. 

Wedding planning wasn’t something I believed you could do as a profession until I started researching and understanding that wedding planners are not an extravagance reserved for fictional characters in Hollywood rom coms. These days, so many couples who don’t have the time or the right experience will turn to a professional to help them create their dream day. 

Rachel Takes Pictures

In the beginning, I started by seeking out those whose work and businesses I admired, and watched to see how they did it. Researching the industry thoroughly helped me understand what it would take to create a thriving business, as well as who my ideal client would be and what type of events I wanted to plan. I also did some coaching with the UK Association of Wedding Planners, which gave me some useful, practical tools. 

Networking is invaluable in my line of work – just getting to know suppliers, seeing their work at events, collaborating with them on projects. It's so important to match clients with the right suppliers – both in terms of their style and budget – so I try to always seek out new names who I think would be the perfect fit.

Now I'm approaching my third year in business, I have been able to take on an intern who earns course credit for her time. On event days, I work with freelancers and other professionals who regularly support me and the business on an ad-hoc basis.

Fortunately, I haven't had any major disasters yet – touch wood! A caterer once arrived late, and that pushed back all of our timings, but fortunately the couple were enjoying themselves so much they really didn’t mind. In the end, dinner was only served 40 minutes later than planned.

Jennifer McCord
Rachel Takes Pictures

The best aspect of the job is the broad variety of clients and wedding styles. I’m lucky to work with people from so many different backgrounds and across some awesome locations. Next year, I have a British and Sikh multicultural wedding, a more mature couple who are celebrating with their blended families, and a Zimbabwean couple getting married in Scotland.

One of the best things about being an independent wedding planner, or just running your own business, is that there are no limits to where you can take things. In the future, I’d love to do more destination weddings, and work with more clients from outside the UK. That said, I’ll always design weddings that are a reflection of my clients’ style and values.

One of the weddings I’ll always remember was a three-day celebration in a beautiful countryside venue. It even had its own pub! On arrival, guests were treated to an informal welcome supper, and a male choir sang Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Everywhere’ as the bride walked down the aisle. Two of the groom's friends also played guitar as guests were led to the wedding breakfast, the champagne was flowing and it was a glorious, hot July day. It was honestly one of the best days of my career – thank goodness it all ended with a recovery brunch the next day!

The worst part of the job is often situations like we’re in now with Covid-19. It has had a devastating impact on the events industry – one which nobody could have predicted. It’s sad not to be able to do what I enjoy most, but we can't execute large events the way we want to right now. It’s been such a challenge for everyone who was due to get married this year. 

As a black business owner I’ve generally had a great experience. I now have some wonderful friendships and business relationships that I value highly. But I accept my experience will not apply to everyone, and our industry needs to be more diverse in its representation of non-white couples, and the promotion of non-white business owners. There are some great conversations starting to happen as a result of the BLM movement, which I am so pleased about. 

Rachel Takes Pictures
Jennifer McCord

This job is such a big responsibility when you stop and think about it, but I still love it. The feeling of achievement when I stand back and watch my clients having the time of their lives on the dance floor – shoes off, ties undone, hair escaping once-tidy up-dos – I really enjoy it.

To be a successful wedding planner, you need to be organised and unafraid of admin. People assume this job is very glamorous but 80% of it is research, maintaining spreadsheets and systems, and constant back and forth between suppliers. Then there’s the emotional support you have to offer your clients. To enjoy the fun, pretty stuff, you have to be okay will all of that, first. 

Day to day, my personal motto is 'don't sweat the small stuff' – which helps me focus on the bigger picture. Generally, I thrive under pressure – you can’t show signs of stress and panic in this role, because there are so many people who are relying on you to steer the ship. I do get butterflies on the morning of a wedding, but that’s mostly excitement. As long as you’re managing your clients’ expectations and doing all you can to support them during the planning process, there isn’t too much pressure on the big day. Done right, you’ll have put in all the necessary work ahead of time.

When it comes to a forging a career as a wedding planner, make sure you do your research. Not all planners are equal or offer the same services. Some might focus more on logistics, while others have a more design-led or creative approach. Figure out which part of the market you want to serve, and be proactive in getting work experience – even if it’s just shadowing to begin with. If you want to go it alone, you’ll need to understand early on how to operate a small business, especially when it comes to costs and what to charge your clients.

When it comes to carving out downtime, I don’t shy away from doing my own entertaining. I enjoy having my friends over for dinner – I'm a pretty decent cook and love nothing more than having people gathered around my table. The evening often ends with a killer playlist and dancing into the early hours! I live in west London, so I try to explore the neighbourhood in my free time, too. It's a beautiful part of the city to walk around.

If couples planning a wedding are looking for some free advice, I’d say try to have the conversation about what your priorities are, what really matters to you and what kind of experience you want as early as possible. Agreeing these early on will also help you create a realistic budget – which a good planner can ensure you stick to!

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