(Image via ePi.longo )

Last week, many of you posted some great questions. This week, I’ll start answering them.

First up is, Lia, who is planning her own wedding. Congratulations, Lia! She wants to know the best way to cut down on flower costs, particularly the gorgeous calla lily.

Dear Lia,
Thanks for your question! The best way to cut down on floral costs is by using seasonal and local flowers. For instance, if you’re getting married in the springtime, you might consider using cherry blossoms, which will give you a big bang for your buck.

However, I understand that you like calla lilies. What about purchasing potted ones and using them as centerpieces at your reception? This way you still get to have your calla lilies, but for a lot less money. The potted lilies will also make a lovely gift for a few of your guests to take home at the end of the night.

Lia also asked about internships here at Preston Bailey. When I do need new interns, I always post an announcement in my newsletter. So please keep reading!

Dear Theolotus,
It’s always a struggle for some clients to understand the cost of fresh flowers. In the risk of being bold, in the past, I have actually brought my clients with me to the flower market and very clearly explained to them the mark-up system.

In my experience, most clients do come to understand the cost and realize that the mark up allows you to make a living. And for those who don’t get that, well, then they are not right for you.

Dear Jenny,
Nonprofit events are still events. So, yes, I definitely suggest a retainer up front. Except, of course, if I have agreed to donate my time and flowers – that’s another story.

Dear Christie,
Insurance are a must when you start any business. However, I’m going to pass your question to my Controller, Anne. She’ll answer you personally by e-mail.

Dear Hileni David,
First, thank you very much for taking my course. Draping a tent is what I call a new science. It’s a bit complicated, depending of course on the size and the type of draping you are hoping to accomplish. But in general you need the following:

1. Fire-proof fabric. (Very important)
2. Fabrics that are over 100″ wide. (The wider the better)
3. Wooden skeleton attached to structure. (I find zip lack to be very helpful)
4. Stapler, hammer and small nails.
5. Very stable lift.
Of course, this is just the beginning. Next comes the actual structuring and draping.

Dear Mackie Hill:
Yes, I empathize with you. It’s always a bit of a challenge to have our clients pay for something new and different. In fact, at times, I find it to be very discouraging.

This is where I suggest that you become not only a designer, but a supper sales force, too. And actually show them how they can benefit by spending a bit more to upgrade their event. I have tried this by doing a bit more work and showing them 3 designs, and the different of each impact. Sometimes, they get it, and sometimes they don’t.

Also, thanks for your interest in taking my course. I do believe that you can take it at Brooklyn College.

Dear Ani Kitsinian,
I think you are on the right track using tape. The trick is to hide the tape with leaves. You can also try using small water picks, but again, make sure you hide the picks with leaves.

Dear Anthony,
I have been engage to my partner now for a couple of years, and I am also planning to do my own wedding in the near future. But I have been conflicted about what to do to make it unique. I think the greatest part of same-sex marriages is that we have the opportunity to set our own traditions as well as mix with existing ones. For instance, instead of carrying a bridal bouquet, I’m thinking of having one of my young nieces carry a fantastic bouquet. I’m also thinking about walking down the aisle with my partner first, and having the rest of the bridal party enter after we’ve reached the altar. These are just a couple of ideas to mix things up a bit.

Dear Lara,
I think that the more time and more information that guests receive before a destination wedding, the better. I suggest that as soon as you have any new information, you send it out via email to your guests. Given enough time, your guests will be able to plan their vacations around your wedding.

Dear Constance,
I promise that in the near future I am going to do a blog on lighting. And yes, lighting and AV should definitely be incorporated into all of your designs. In the meantime, you should visit the sites of Ira Levy and Bentley Meeker to get additional information on lighting.

Dear Kim,
I am always thrilled to plan and coordinate weddings. Please email my assistant Rae@prestonbailey.com with more information.

Dear Marissa Chanel Guerrero,
I think it’s a great idea to show potential brides exactly what they are getting. However, this should only be done once you have a retainer for the job. Or, on rare occasions, if a bride cannot make up her mind, tell her that you would love to show her a sample. However, she will still need to pay for your time and materials.

Dear Sharon,
Congratulations on your daughter’s baby and your grandbaby! I think lavender and hot pink go very nicely with a rich purple hue. They’ll provide that extra pop.

Dear Tiffanie,
Here are some suggestions to help keep hydrangeas alive:
1. When you get them fresh, smash the bottom.
2. Put them in clean water.
3. (Very Important) Spray a lot.
4. Keep them in clean water for at least a day before using them in oasis.

Dear Katie,
I find one of the biggest challenges of our business is explaining to our clients our worth. There is a line that my friend Marcy Blum uses with her potential clients that I love. She tells them, “Yes you could go ahead and get many planners that are cheaper, however, when you are hiring us, we bring years of experience and savvy that in the long run, is going to save you money and aggravation.” Also, it helps if you make a list with all of your expertise for clients.

Dear Zyanya,
I choose my vendors (lighting, audiovisuals, DJ, etc…) first by their ability to perform, second by their talent, and third by their prices. Always keep in mind that quality comes with a price. Ultimately if they do good work, I look good.

Dear Phillippa:
Yes, I know that stephanotis and gardenias are as fragrant and beautiful as they are difficult to work with. They turn brown so quickly. I suggest when you get the stephanotis that you leave them soaking in fresh water for a few hours. Also, constantly spray them with fresh water as you work with them.

Dear Shirley,
Yes, it was great meeting you in Las Vegas, too. As a new planning and event company, you wanted to know if I think it’s a good idea to invest in a booth at a bridal show? It depends, and here are a few factors to consider:

1. You should ask the organizer how many potential brides will be attending.
2. Find out where your booth will be located. It’s important to have a good spot.
3. It is better if the bridal show has been around for a few years. Nothing beats experience.
4. Make sure you have the proper materials to hand out. Think about including a small gift for your potential clients to help them remember you.

And, yes, I agree with you; your booth needs to have a “wow” factor. Be as inventive as possible. If you have any inventory, make it front and center and show off its floral glory. Or, create a booth out of all flowering trees like cherry blossoms or dogwoods.

Dear Sara,
In our tall glass centerpieces, we usually use a plastic tray and lots of green tape with Oasis. Make sure you tape the tray very securely to the top of vase. After that it’s just a matter of balancing the arrangement.

Dear Gloria,
The only time to ask for a retainer is when you and your potential clients are sure that you’ll be working together. This usually happens after a couple of meetings and budget discussions.

Dear Angela,
It’s easy for nonprofits to get in a rut. They use the same format that works, over and over. In a way, this is not a bad thing. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. However, here are a few suggestions:

1. Keep the traditional silent and live auctions.
2. Have a buffet instead of a sit-down dinner. Make it feel like an extended cocktail party.
3. Schedule a live performance before by the live auction.
4. End the evening with dancing.

Dear Iris,
Try using the pale yellow as an underlay on your tables and the silver gray as an overlay for tablecloths. That will give you a good background. Next, incorporate the winter theme with either white branches and crystals or French tulips in a tall cylinder.

Dear Gina,
I understand your frustration with other planners undercutting you. The one tool you have is the quality of your work. Try to make a list with at least 5 things that you do differently than anyone else, and make sure you tell your potential clients what they are. From the start, I have mostly tried to do things differently (never better, just different). Ultimately, this is what’s going to set you apart and get you new clients. Always look at it as a work in progress.

When I first started I had a few obstacles:

1. Price. I was so excited but not sure of myself. So, I practically gave away my services Solved it: By learning to mark up my work properly.

2. Getting clients. Solved it: On every job that I did, I knew that all of the guests were potential clients, and so, I made sure to always do something unforgettable with my designs.

3. Producing. It took me a while and a lot of trial and error to be able to do a job without screw ups. Solved it: I am still learning by trial and error.

Dear Jose,
You are right. Branding is extremely important. From the very first day I started, I thought only of using my name to brand my company. Because we are in the service industry, I think our clients should always have the feeling that they are getting our personal stamp of services and designs. With time and practice, by using your own name, your company will be linked with talent, service and great designs.

Dear Deb,
I applaud you for bringing this issue to the front. The growers that I have visited are mostly in my country of Panama. And I can assure you that I saw no child labors. However, I shall look into to this very distressing issue. Most of our flowers come from Holland, and, I can assure you, they have very strict child labor laws there. I am also buying the book “Floral Confidential” to get better informed. Thank you.

Dear Chris,
Thank you. I still stand firm on those believes. Quality and originality are the key to long term success. As for an employer who consistently under-staffs, well, without knowing all of the details, I strongly suggest, that you RUN to a company where you will be APPRECIATED. It sounds like they are taking advantage of you, and this is not a good work environment.

Dear Angela,
Good luck on your open house. It sounds as if you are being very pro active in getting clients. BRAVO. Even though I have no immediate plans to come to Atlanta, I’ll be delighted to review your pictures.

Dear Debbie,
I just wished I had your education when I first started. I do not know the business in your area. However, most of the event business is about building structures, transformations, and doing floor plans. I suggest that even with this economy, you get involved in that portion of the business. You could also try set designing, which would be a great asset in this industry.

Dear Kathy,
For our presentations, we usually use: Vector-works, SketchUp, Photoshop, Illustrator, Alias, and sometimes Maya for renderings. I hope that helps.

Dear Misha,
Congratulations on your desire to start your own invitation company. Here are a few suggestions, although I do not know much about the invitation business in India:

1. You need to have some experience in this area. This Industry is very intricate.
2. Have you design invitations in the past? If so, what makes your designs unique?
3. Do you have an extended knowledge about the quality of paper?
4. Do you have any potential clients?

These are just a few questions for you to consider before taking any steps. Lots of good luck!

Dear Adrienne,
Here are ideas for your client’s urban wedding to help give the look and feel of a Manhattan roof top:

1. Potted plants
2. Benches
3. Lots of sparkling lights
4. If you want to be a bit adventurous, try to find this fabric that looks like burlap (but isn’t). I believe it comes in a pewter color.
5. Use tall or low grass for the centerpieces.

Dear Sandra,
For our design presentations we use Vector-works, SketchUp, Photoshop, Illustrator, Alias, and sometimes Maya for renderings.

Dear Dianna,
Congratulations on your recent event. I am even more proud of you for giving yourself kudos. As far as I know, there is no one book that will give you definite pricing for the event business (I could be wrong). Each company charges differently depending on its market. However, here’s some general guidance:

If you spend $50 on time, material and labor, you should be charging $100. As far as contracts are concerned, I strongly advise that you make the investment and visit a lawyer in your area. But in general, before starting a job, get a retainer, do your design, present it with prices, and get 50% of your fee. Then, make sure you get the other 50% at least two weeks before the event.

Dear Jan,
When you decide to donate your time or product, you should request a tax form for the total cost of what you donated. This is standard practice.

Dear Dianna,
When I first started as a florist I never took a course with anyone. However, I suggest you get a few floral books by Jana Packer and Kennet Turner. They have very comprehensive explanations for beginners. And nothing beats practice. Any occasion you get, arrange it. I also suggest that you go to Home Depot. They have a wide variety of steamers.

Dear Sullivan,
I apologize for not following up on my 3 BIGGEST SCREW UPS. I promise you that this Thursday, I’ll be posting them. (The number one is very embarrassing, so I have been procrastinating!)

Dear Yvonne,
I think that each company using its model and profitably has the right to inflict any minimum charge they can work with. As you know, a lot of times these smaller jobs, need the same attention and care as the bigger jobs. And if a company spreads itself to thin, both the larger and smaller jobs will suffer. So, at times, they do need to set a minimum budget to avoid overextending themselves. I am often confronted with this same issue.

Dear Felicia,
I think the best way to procure free items for an event showcase or for charity event giveaways, is to look for companies that want to promote their products and that are compatible with the event and its attendees. Many times you can make a connection with the PR firm that is in charge of promoting these companies and their products.

So, once again, do you have questions about your business or wedding that I may be able to help with? Please leave your questions in the comments, and I’ll answer in next Tuesday’s COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS’ blog post.