You cannot become successful by yourself — It’s true! The more harmonious minds you have on your team, the more successful you will be. Every person brings a set of expertise and skill that you don’t have on your own. Increasing your network and learning to team with like-minded individuals will not only help you grow but grow your company as well.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alicia Mae Smith.
Alicia is the CEO and Lead Planner of ILÈ Events. Alicia had her first itch of wedding planning when she assisted Mindy Weiss applying glitter tattoos at a Bat Mitzvah. From there she fell in love with hosting events and decided to combine her years of hospitality and customer service with event planning. Alicia serves as a confidant, advisor, and a calming voice for her clients during one of the most stressful times in their lives. Alicia has planned over 50 successful events, been mentioned on some of the top wedding platforms, and is trailblazing on social media.
When Alicia isn’t busy planning a wedding of someone’s dreams, she is jumping on the trampoline with her children, cooking something from Tasty, or reading and watching rerun wedding flicks.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Sure! I grew up in a small town in New Jersey with three brothers. Although we were a middle-class family, my parents weren’t traditional at all. My mother, who was always known for turning 1 dollar into 10 dollars, started a beauty supply business catered to women’s hair and make-up. My dad who was an artist and taught himself how to paint created beautiful artwork like family portraits. In a nutshell, my parental foundation installed three simple lessons in me. Do what you love, get paid for it, and have some fun along the way.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah-ha” moment with us?
The moment that I decided to transform my hobby into a business was when I was 7-months pregnant with my first child, Prince. There I was about to bring a new life into the world and I knew I wanted to leave a legacy for him. I wanted to give him the same lessons my parents gave me and add my personal touches to it.
One night, I had a thought to grab a pen, notepad, and write down everything I did in my leisure time made me happy and full. After I listed my hobbies, I placed a “star” next to the ones that I could make money from.
Only one hobby had a star.
That hobby was Event Planning. At the time, I was helping a friend plan birthday parties just for fun. It didn’t dawn on me that I could actually turn this into a business. I started out planning birthday parties and baby showers, and then I landed my first wedding client. That was a game-changer for me as I realized out of all the events I planned, the wedding industry was my favorite. After that, I personalized my services to wedding planning only, 3 years later I have successfully planned over 50 weddings, built a team, and most importantly, established a reputation on trust and extreme client satisfaction.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
Many people get distracted by trying to know the whole plan before beginning. I understand the logic of wanting to know what you are getting into before starting, but this path requires more than planning. It requires a whole lot of faith in what you believe.
I built the ladder on the way up, meaning I only focused on the step I was standing on. I learned on the way and I expanded my network of people who graciously helped me prevent simple mistakes. I wasn’t just focused on the end goal of building a multi-million dollar company but making sure the services I provide are of quality and my clients are happy.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
I always say it’s better to have done than to wonder what could have been. You will be surprised at what you can do when you just begin.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable? The parts of the business I do not enjoy but are needed to run the business I contract out to others who have a passion for it.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
One thing I enjoy most about ILE Events is the creativity of the services and the process of seeing the company grow before my eyes. I started the company with just me and one or two clients a year. Now I have a full staff and we exclusively provide services to 12 clients a year, giving them our full attention.
The downside of running a company is the pressures of finding new clients and making sure the company continues to grow. Although I’ve added team members to aid in these areas, it still takes quite an effort from me to make sure we are meeting our metrics. However, the pressures of keeping the company alive started with my mindset. I learned to release the worries and focus on our company’s mission: to create jobs that focus on people’s passion and to bring happiness and relief to all of our client-couples.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I initially thought the cards were stacked against me. I was a newbie in the wedding industry and I thought I would have a tough time finding people to take a chance on me. This included couples and wedding vendors. However, that wasn’t the truth. As I focused on my main mission of providing a quality service, vendors started to offer to work with me and clients started to seek me out. I thought that I would never break into the wedding industry, but my diligence was rewarded.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so, how did you overcome it?
All the time. When I first went full-time into wedding planning, the earnings were significantly lower than my expenses. Every month I was in the negative and many times I wanted to give up and find a stable “9 to 5.” But, the little voice inside me that encouraged me to keep going and reminded me of other successful people like Walt Disney, Oprah, and Beyoncé who have all hit rock bottom and had some financial losses. They kept going and why should I give up?
When you persevere, even though all the odds are against you, you win.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Before I changed my company name to ILE Events, it was called, “Touched by Innocence .” I learned that the original company name did not compel people. Many thought I was starting a church or an organization that helps children. That is why it’s important to network and expand your team. The people that I trusted advised me to change my name. At first, it was embarrassing because I thought the name was pretty cool, but then I learned that in this business, image is everything. The company name is the first branding-impression your future clients will see. It is useful to be clear in your company’s name. You want your customers to have an idea of what you do before they click on your website link.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
Nancy Pelosi is one of my favorite leaders. I did not choose her for political viewpoints but for the amazing businesswoman, she is. It’s easy for a person like her to get wrapped up in all the political quarrels but her core focus is to better the lives of people in this country. Through her 30 plus years of relentless service, she inspires me to keep going every day.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Almost every entrepreneur I have come in contact with has asked me “how did I manage to monetize my passion?” I believe one of my duties is to provide those answers to aspiring entrepreneurs. My goal is to help more people do what they love and get paid for it. ILE Events has become a staple that provides others with the opportunity of independent and purposeful work.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Failures are A Part of Success — You will make many mistakes as a new business owner but those mistakes add up into a more polished product. Don’t dwell on your mistakes as a bad thing; open your mind to it as a way you can improve your brand.
- You will inspire others — Many times being an entrepreneur is a road traveled alone. However, completing and becoming successful will inspire others to follow their dreams and turn their hobbies into income. Keep going!
- It’s worth it — It’s hard to see when you are first starting out on your own that the hustle and grind will be worth it. For months and years, you’ll only see defeat and possibly small wins, but one day, after you developed your model and found a strategy that works, you’ll see it was worth it all along.
- Your idea can lead to something bigger — I had the intention just to plan birthdays and baby shower events. I had no clue that I would stumble in the wedding industry and my business would skyrocket. Sometimes the place where you begin is not the place where you will end, but you must get started to find out.
- You cannot become successful by yourself — It’s true! The more harmonious minds you have on your team, the more successful you will be. Every person brings a set of expertise and skill that you don’t have on your own. Increasing your network and learning to team with like-minded individuals will not only help you grow but grow your company as well.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Success is the ability to move from one failure to another without loss of enthusiasm.” — Winston Churchill
I have this quote framed in my office as it reminds me daily to Keep Going! Life happens, mistakes are made, and disappointments are experienced, but these things can’t keep you down. You have to continue your momentum regardless of what you perceive to be “bad.”
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Sheila Johnson. Sheila is the ultimate businesswoman as she owns hotels, resorts, and is the co-founder of BET, the Black Entertainment Television network. The business strategy she’s developed allowed her to become very successful in all of her career arenas. She’s purposeful, intentional, and at the age of 71 years old, she’s letting us know that hard work and success don’t have an end date.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.