One of my favorite people in the wedding industry is Susan Southerland. Not only is she incredibly successful at planning events, she is a savvy businesswoman, author, and inspiring educator in our industry. She is married (her husband is her business partner) and a mom to 4 kiddos. Susan is relatable, friendly, and funny.
Susan has a long track record of success starting back in 1992 when she launched her wedding planning company Just Marry!, Inc. at age 21.
Over the past two decades, Susan has seen the company grow at its base in Orlando, Florida, expanding to include full‐time employees and executing hundreds of events each year. She is also president of Just Right! Destination Management, a full-service destination management company that services clients nationwide.
We’ve asked Susan to share her expertise on growing an event planning business:
How and when did you start your planning business?
I started my business in 1992 at age 21, soon after I graduated college. The company’s first offices were at my parent’s house with just a phone and computer as a starting point. I had also been working for the local convention and visitor’s bureau planning member events.
Over and over people would ask my advice on where they should get married. I knew that I wanted to have my own business, so I decided to try to do it professionally. At that time, it was just me and I only did weddings.
Your husband is part of the business as well. How do you manage roles and responsibilities between the two of you?
Scott and I created Just Right! and Just Events! Group seven years ago. His expertise is in Destination Management, so he oversees the corporate division and I oversee the social division. We work together on accounting matters, legal issues, and bounce sales and marketing issues off of each other, but we usually stay out of each other’s way. That’s what makes it easy to work together.
What is your advice on building a successful team?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to hire people who aren’t like you. To grow a business with a strong team, you need people with different strengths and weaknesses than your own. It’s important to have people to shoot down your ideas and make suggestions that they believe in.
Don’t be afraid to spend more money to get high-quality people on your team. Once you have them, train them and let them do their job. No one likes to be micromanaged. Also, don’t be afraid to fire quickly if you hire someone that isn’t working out.
Looking back, what do you wish you knew when you first started?
Don’t be afraid to spend money to hire the right person and don’t be afraid to fire quickly when it isn’t working out. That would have saved me a lot of money and heartache. Also, take care of the company first. If the company isn’t healthy, you can’t take care of your employees or yourself.
Are there any mistakes you made that you want to share about?
Sure! I could spend days on this question, but here’s a big one. Years ago I had a company taking care of my payroll for me. I trusted them up until the point I got a nasty letter from the IRS that said I wasn’t making my payroll deposits.
This payroll company was taking my federal deposits and putting them in their own bank account. I had to take an equity line of credit on our house to pay the IRS. The president of that company was criminally prosecuted and found guilty. He had been doing that to all of his clients. He was ordered to pay restitution, so every quarter I get a $4.00 check from the Florida Department of Corrections. I’ll be dead more than 100 years before I see all the money they took.
It was a HUGE, costly mistake, but I learned a valuable lesson – Trust, but verify.
For planners who inspire to reach the level of income and success you have achieved, what advice do you have?
Always look for the next mountain to climb.
I’ve said it many times, once you reach the summit you either have to find a new mountain or the only other direction is down.
This doesn’t mean you have to grow a bigger company because sometimes bigger leads to more problems and less profits. It means finding new challenges. See what’s new. How can you become more efficient, or make big changes in your industry? Benchmark other industries. I like to read books by Richard Branson. I think he’s the great disruptor. I love watching what he does.
Find new challenges before you get bored. Also, watch your money. It’s easy to look at your bank account and see all the deposits stacking up, but how much money do you spend? What happens if deposits stop coming in for a few months? There’s a great book called Profit First by Mike Michalowicz. He gives great advice for business owners who don’t like reading complicated accounting statements. I highly recommend reading it.
What are your goals for the future of your business?
I have many. Some I can’t share just yet, but if things go well, I will be able to share these goals next year. I am always looking for new ways of doing things and reaching into other markets.
I believe the wedding industry is in the middle of some significant changes because our clients are doing things differently. It’s my job to figure out how to ride the next wave.
Connect with Susan Southerland:
Susan’s book (which I highly recommend for all wedding planners): The Susan Southerland Secret: Personality Marketing to Today’s Bride
Susan’s collaboration with Planner’s Lounge: The Complete Wedding Budget Guide for Wedding Planners