“I never want to be that company that did weddings. I never planned to be the clipboard that someone hired just to plan their wedding. I wanted people to hire me, Elle, a personality that is the foundation of my brand.” – Elle Ellinghaus
Today’s guest is Elle Ellinghaus of Elle Ellinghaus Designs, a high-end event planning business based in Baltimore, Maryland. Elle has created one of the most sought after event planning companies for weddings and boast an impressive client roster from NFL players, to Fortune 500 executives. She was even asked to be a featured author for a textbook that colleges use for event planning degrees.
So I wanted to know what went into creating such a high-end brand and how did she attract those types of clients? That’s what we discussed in today’s interview.
Elle Ellinghaus has a love-hate relationship with the color pink, holds a firm belief that all houses should have flower boxes, and is a Southern Belle at heart. Elle did not aspire to be a wedding planner and she actually never wanted to get married herself! It wasn’t until she met her husband that she fell in love with love and the world of weddings.
As she was creating EED, fellow planners asked her to help design their weddings; this lack of design in the wedding planning industry made her business plan a goal of combining the meticulousness of planning with the graceful art of design. With that, Elle Ellinghaus Designs began “officially” in 2010 and has become a sought-after planning company for weddings with 2 other planners beside herself and a total of 6 employees.
Elle’s work has been featured in countless publications, her clientele included numerous NFL superstars and fortune 500 execs and she was invited to be a featured author in the Event Planning Major’s textbook used in colleges nationwide. Their home base is in a pink-trimmed studio in downtown Baltimore, yet they actually travel for destination weddings more than Baltimore events. Since 2015, she has been mentoring and coaching wedding planners & small businesses as a cheerleader for their success and speaking at workshops and events across the country sharing her knowledge and story.
Elle Ellinghaus Designs | EED’s Instagram | Elle’s Instagram | Pinterest | Facebook
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“[00:00:05] EE: I never want to be that company that did weddings. I never planned to be the clipboard that someone hired just to plan their wedding. I wanted people to hire me, Elle, a personality that is the foundation of my brand.”
[00:00:24] DJ: Welcome to the Brands that Book Show, where we help creative service-based businesses build their brands and find more clients. I’m your host, Davey Jones.
Today’s guest is Elle Ellinghaus of Elle Ellinghaus Designs, a high-end event planning business based in Baltimore, Maryland. Elle has created one of the most sought after event planning companies for weddings and boast an impressive client roster from NFL players, to Fortune 500 executives. She was even asked to be a featured author for a textbook that colleges use for event planning degrees.
So I wanted to know what went into creating such a high-end brand and how did she attract those types of clients? That’s what we discussed in today’s interview. Be sure to check out the show notes at daveyandkrista.com for the resources we mentioned during the episode and I’d like to hear from you about what kind of content you’d like to see on the Brands that Book Podcast as we move forward. I’d also like to know what episodes you’ve enjoyed most so far and why. To leave your feedback, head on over to the Davey and Krista Facebook page and send us a message.
Now, on to the episode.
[00:01:35] DJ: Elle, welcome to the show. I’m so glad to have you here. This has been an interview that has been months in the making and just trying to get our schedules lined up. Excited that this is finally coming together. I have to start the interview by thanking you, and this is –
[00:01:50] EE: Oh!
[00:01:51] DJ: Yup. So this is kind of random, but when Krista first got pregnant, she was reaching out for advice or something like that and one of the things I guess you told her, you emphasized the importance of sleep training from the beginning.
[00:02:03] EE: Oh, yeah.
[00:02:04] DJ: Yeah. We’re seeing the benefits of that now.
[00:02:07] EE: Oh good!
[00:02:09] DJ: Yeah, I feel like anybody – As you go through it, you’re definitely in the weeds early on and wondering if what you’re trying to do, like the schedule you’re trying to put your baby on is working, but now four months in, he’s sleeping through the night. He’s been a great napper for quite some time now. So I appreciate that.
[00:02:26] EE: That’s awesome. Congratulations. Four months through the night. That’s amazing.
[00:02:31] DJ: Yeah. I’m sure, I wouldn’t have been able to survive without Krista. She’s just very disciplined and very – She develops kind of approach and then sticks with it. I’m more of the one that’s just like taking the shortcuts. If he’s crying or something, I’m just like, “Okay. Whatever I have to do to get him to sleep, I’m going to do it,” whether it’s rocking or whatever. That’s more Krista than me.
[00:02:53] EE: Yeah. I was at my wit’s end and I finally found this schedule and I started going like hardcore, and my husband, he was sleep deprived to. I was like, “Okay. That’s what you say we have to do,” and then boom! I said, “Anybody that’s pregnant or expecting a baby,” I’m like, “you have to do this. It’s important.” Congratulations. That’s wonderful.
[00:03:11] DJ: Yeah, thanks. Definitely owe you one. But for anybody who’s listening that doesn’t know you, could you just briefly introduce yourself and tell us about what you do?
[00:03:19] EE: Yeah. I’m Elle Ellinghaus, owner of Ellinghaus designs. We are a wedding – EED for short, because it’s awful. But we’re a wedding planning and design studio focusing on high-style events. Started technically in 2010, kind of 2008, but technically 2010, and we’re based in Maryland. We often travel to D.C., New Orleans, Virginia, Carolinas and a large part of the past five years actually has been destination weddings around the world, which is amazing.
Let’s see what else, we have a team of about 8 of us at EED. I personally only work with about three or four larger production luxury-esque weddings per year, but I also have four other planners on my team who work with everything from luxury, to smaller weddings. So as a whole, we work with all budgets, but I would say we’re probably more on the higher-end type of market. Yeah.
[00:04:09] DJ: I mean, I think that’s definitely the reputation you have in this area and I know that for us, personally, and we’re going to spend a lot of to these episode actually talking about that specifically, how you built your high-end brand and how others can go about building a high-end, more luxury brand. Because all of the weddings that we’ve worked, all of the weddings that we’ve shot where you or your team was the planners have been – I mean, they’re always beautiful. They’re always super well-done, and some of the clients that we worked with have been some of the most interesting clients that we’ve gotten to work with. So I definitely want to talk a little bit about how you built such a high profile client roster and how you’ve made that happen and just how you’ve made a name for yourself.
I mean, I talked in another episode about sort of the myth of the saturated market, but the D.C., Baltimore, kind of this area, it’s full of wedding companies out there. Definitely interested in hearing more about how you created this high-end brand with some of these higher profile clients. But first, I don’t want to skip into that. I don’t want to skip your story, just how you got started. Why did you start planning weddings?
[00:05:15] EE: I was always a designer. You can ask my mom. I had dolls and toys, but I loved redecorating my room. I was probably more excited to decorate my first college dorm room than to actually go to college. No joke. So when I first graduated, I had a job that paid the bills, inline sales. Not a bad gig, mind you. But my ultimate goal was to be an HGTV design show star. That’s what I was going to do. I had it firm in my head.
[00:05:42] DJ: I feel like you could still do that. Is that still a dream?
[00:05:46] EE: I’ll never say never, but –
[00:05:50] DJ: Sure. I feel like that could still be on the table for you.
[00:05:53] EE: Well, thanks. We’ll see. But what really kind of took me into weddings, and this is a story I feel like my planners at my company are going to roll their eyes if they listen. I think they’ve heard it so many times, but my husband really changed my life path completely. I was never the love girl. I was never going to get married. Babies were not in my future. I was always that ambitious kind of career-oriented person, and weddings were so dramatic to me, if you can believe it.
Then one day I saw those green eyes of my husband for the first time and my life completely changed. It was literally like a love first sight for us both. Long story short, about a year and so later we were engaged, but I fell head over heels in love with love and weddings, and I owe everything to literally my husband for the reason I switched from room design, to weddings, to the drive every day to start my company and get where I am also for the last name, which works really good with Elle.
[00:06:49] DJ: Sure.
[00:06:51] EE: But there were no classes or programs when we were talking about this. There was only two or three maybe, and it was like, “Okay. Well, the first dance comes before the father-daughter dance.” “Okay. Thanks, guy. I know that.” There was no backbone of starting a wedding planning business how-to, or hands-on experience lessons and a book. So I literally trained myself. I asked fellow planners to follow them for free. Everybody from planners, to engaged couples, recently married. What would have made your lives easier that day?
Then I asked a plan weddings for free under no company name just to get that deep, dirty hands-on experience, and it was the meaning of hustle in a dictionary. I mean, there’s that quote that they call you are a dreamer, but you never sleep. That was me.
[00:07:36] DJ: But when you first got started, was it just the going through and planning your own wedding and experiencing that process with your husband where you decided, “This is what I want do. I want to plan weddings for other people as well.”
[00:07:48] EE: When I planned my own wedding, I was already a planner. I mean, it kind of helps me in things like that. But when I started my company, it was so strategically done that I didn’t want to learn as I go. I wanted to start already knowing everything I could possibly learn from the get go. I think that set me apart right away and help me land to the taking seriously category right off the bat.
For industry, the last thing you want to do is mess up by not being prepared, of course, but missing something or messing up on the best day of a couple’s lives is kind of a really big deal. I wanted to knock the socks off basically from moment one and not have to ask for help. I think, yeah. I think that’s one of the reasons I was kind of respected right off as a wedding planner, and this is going to sound crazy, but I was never looked at as, “Who’s that new wedding planner?” It was, “Oh! That’s Elle.” I did that very much on purpose and I did that very, again, strategically, because I know first impressions are everything and you can’t take them back. So I kept that in line from the get go.
[00:08:49] DJ: Basically, when you first learning the business, you were kind of running things under no business name. You were shadowing people. You were interviewing people, and would you say that’s kind of like where you made your mistake so to speak, or that’s where you –
[00:09:03] EE: Exactly.
[00:09:04] DJ: Then when you were ready, at what point did you decide, “Okay, it’s Elle Ellinghaus Designs. This is the business I’m ready to kind of hang the sign so to speak and move forward with my business.”
[00:09:15] EE: Well, I guess there was never like the aha moment. Everybody tells you, “Okay. There’s no time like today, start your company. Learn as you go,” and that was not okay with. It was about two to three years probably, maybe a little bit less, of just that experience that I was getting until I felt like everything that I learned in those two years outweighed any of the books that I read, or any of those silly little courses that I was talking about that I took, and I felt like I had a very, very good – Just a really good idea on grasping the industry, and I think it was just – Again, it wasn’t an aha moment. It was just, “Okay. Let’s do this.” Woke up one morning and said, “We’re ready,” kind of thing.
[00:09:57] DJ: Yeah. So in getting your first clients, what did that look like? I mean, when you were ready to work under EED, were you still doing some work for free or at that point where you’re saying, “Hey, here are my prices. I’ve learned it and I’m ready to charge a high-end amount.”
[00:10:14] EE: So that’s an excellent question, because I know some people actually still do that. When I started, I started my branding, my personal look. I had one assistant back in the day that would help me here and there, the dress, the etiquette of her matched mine completely. The branding kind of wasn’t a logo for me. It was the entire ambience of our company. So all of that was done, pricing set, everything ready to go, and then, “Click, here we are,” kind of thing. It wasn’t still doing things for free. It was, “Let’s do this. Yup!”
[00:10:47] DJ: Yeah. How important do you think that was, because that’s such an interesting concept, because I think too, when you start out doing a bunch of work for free and then just gradually raise your prices overtime, it ends up being a little bit harder to raise your prices, because the people you’re working with who are referring you are often talking you up to people who have a similar budget that they did. So you work with a couple, they’re great, but they paid, let’s just say, $3,000 for your services, but now since you’ve raised your prices to $5,000, let’s say. So they’re telling all their friends who are probably in the same – Probably have a similar budget to them, right? How important do you think it was that you just came out and said, “Hey, no. Here are my prices and this is what I’m worth from the get go.”
[00:11:29] EE: I think depending on the type of industry you’re in, it really is going to be different. With me, I wanted to make – So I had the experience to back up my prices. I had the photos of the beautiful weddings and the luxury kind of feel. Again, I was planning weddings for free that were some were really beautiful high-end weddings. Some were just your backyard barbecue kind of thing, but I made sure that I had that to back it up, which I think is key. If you start out – Of course, my prices are higher than they were a decade ago, of course.
[00:12:01] DJ: Sure.
[00:12:02] EE: I think if you start out and people know you as the “budget planner”, they’re kind of already always going to be known as the lower-end, “Oh! She just takes anything she can get,” kind of thing, and that’s great, because there are some planners out there that that’s what they want to do. They just want a living of being a wedding planner. They want to bring in money for their family and that’s what they want to do. They don’t care what packages they take. With me, it was just a completely different ballgame, and I wanted to be taken seriously as a luxury market wedding planner right away. I just think it depends on so many things of the industry and where you want to go with it. Yeah, I think that was crucial, crucial to my start by having everything set and then being ready.
[00:12:48] DJ: Yeah, absolutely. Let’s talk a little bit about kind of the approach that you’ve taken to marketing to create this high-end brand from the very beginning. What are the things that you’re intentional about doing or were intentional about doing in creating that luxury brand, and is there anything that you specifically avoided, off the bat like, “I don’t want to go there.”
[00:13:09] EE: I had a very specific marketing direction, I guess you could call it, and it basically catapulted me, hands down, and this is the basis probably of my company, and this is not probably what you or everybody else is expecting to hear. But when I first did start my company, I had some attention from a few publications that wanted to feature my work. I don’t mean like featured weddings was telling me pretty or anything like that. It was more of a write up about my company, which was awesome.
One in particular was a Maryland non-wedding magazine, and I said to them, “Basically, look. I want to add some of my personal life in the article, the woman behind the work.” They said, “Well, we’re not really looking for the event world behind the scenes aspect. We’re looking for the events.” I said, “Okay, look. If you prefer that angle after our interview, that’s fine. We can discuss it, but let’s do it my way and see what the editor thinks.”
So the magazine came out and on the spread, rather than a large photo of a wedding they were planning to have, it was actually a large photo of my face. I said, “Ooh! They said it would be somewhere on there, but not large covering a page.” Anyway, there was that full page, the article, and then on the back page there’s a mini photo collage of my weddings. The point is they loved it. The editor said it was their audience needed, not just about the work, but the strong woman behind the work. That moment was a validation that what I wanted to do would actually be kind of work, it would be a little bit successful. What on earth does this have to do with your question? I know. But I guess my point is when I started my business, I never wanted to be that company that did weddings. I never wanted to be the clipboard that someone hired just to plan their wedding. I wanted people to hire me, Elle, a personality that is the foundation of my brand.
I can ramble on about this for hours, but in the first few years of my business, the love story with my husband, as corny as it sounds, in our little life, I feel that people could really resonate with that and it made the foundation of my brand so much more real and you know, years went by, my husband and I bought a bunch of [inaudible 00:15:19], we bought a home, #Ellinghaus, had a beautiful little girl. I think that lifestyle connection honestly made my foundation of my brand so much stronger.
I mean, I can’t even begin to tell you how much stronger, and it put me into numerous categories and places that people started knowing my name, finding me, referring me, completely outside of the wedding world. This is going to sound whatever, but I had this southern fairytale-esque lifestyle with this matching wedding band and it sounds crazy, but it’s that subtle luxury boom to my brand that worked, because not only have they heard of my weddings, but they know me, and now half the time they know me and then see my work. So it’s kind of a cool little thing that we created, but it’s like they know my house and they asked for design advice and a consult and they know why I travel all the time. They ask me how I liked here or there, and they knew my husband. I talk about my marriage being amazing openly on Instagram.
I used #marriageiseasyallthetime, because I wholeheartedly believe it, and I found it like a fake persona or even a bragging type of thing. It’s just more of, “Marriage can be wonderful. Dive in and enjoy it every minute.” I think engaged couples want that. They want that for their life and their marriage, and I think that’s something I know that something that has really attracted them to me. Obviously, life is far from a fairytale, and I hear that very often too. But I think that makes them feel like a successful woman who has it altogether. Everything is obviously well-thought out from the style and color of my Instagram feeds and my websites, to the weddings that I do. They can trust me, because they feel like they know me already. We’re on the same page and they know that I’m going to put the same OCD that I have in my life into their events. That’s kind of what really took me to the next level in terms of just building a foundation of my brand with my company and kind of life together as the same thing.
[00:17:16] DJ: Yeah, and I think there’s so much to unpack there. One, I want to start with kind of just the value of PR. That’s something that’s actually come up a number of times in different episodes in people who really – They were intentional about going and seeking out PR opportunities kind of like this one that you just talked about. Julianne Smith who was just on, she talked a bunch about that and how that helped catapult her with the Garter Girl. To a certain extent, I feel like Katelyn James, it wasn’t through another publication, but it was back when blogging was just getting started, right? She was blogging kind of about her life, and that really resonate with people. I think we can all see what that’s done for her over the course of the last 10 years.
It’s really interesting hearing you say that as well, seeing that theme through a number of different interviews. One question I have for you is, one – Actually it’s two. How did you decide – This company come to you and they said, “We want to do a write up on your company,” and you said no. Did you know right off the bad like, “No. I want this to kind of be about me and my company, or my behind my company.” What made you make that slight pivot in a pitch to them?
[00:18:22] EE: It’s hard to put into words, because it was never like, “Oh, I want to be famous, or I just want to grow my name.” It was never about that. It was more just; I’m such an ambitious person. I always loved public speaking, everything like that, and I guess I was too big of a personality to just sit behind a desk and do timelines. I loved wedding design, and there’s two years that I was really trying to figure out where my business was going to go and my plans that I was making. I kind of figure out that I wanted to be my brand. I want people to know me and I want – I just really wanted that aspect, because I thought it could really – It was different at the time anyway. I feel like everybody’s doing it now.
[00:19:07] DJ: But I think everybody is doing it now because of people like you who have done it so well and so successfully and showing people that how powerful a personal brand can be when done the right way. I think my follow up question to that was how do you decide what to share personally? Because I think on some level – And this is probably a part of a larger conversation about what authentic actually looks like on social media and over in publications and things like that. But there’s going to be on some level some things that we don’t share, right? There’s plenty of things throughout my day that you won’t ever see on IG stories, for instance, right?
[00:19:42] EE: Absolutely. I totally agree.
[00:19:44] DJ: Yeah. In a given day, or for this publication even specifically, how did you decide, or looking back in it, maybe at the time you just kind of intuitively knew, but looking back at that, how do you decide what to share and what build your brand and what doesn’t, what stays at home so to speak?
[00:20:03] EE: Right. I think that I always take a step back and think about my clients’ perspective. I think everybody has to as a business owner. If I am a potential wedding client of Elle Ellinghaus and I look at her Instagram feed, I don’t want to see that she is breaking down because there’s so many weddings and not enough time and blah-blah-blah.
I see so many, so many planners that talk about how they’re so stressed and they have no time and they’re, “Oh my gosh! I need 20 coffees.” I’m thinking why would a client give you more business if you’re already stressed out of your mind? I mean, for example, if you look at like my Instagram feed and my everything, everything matches. It’s all the same style and there’s like an air equality, like a romance of life if you will all with a little boss girl edge, of course. But even with the exception of my daughter’s preschool teacher who had seen me un-showered and in yoga pants every morning, I’ve always put together in or outside the office. Wedding or not, I carry my style throughout my life. My branding is a pink pineapple with pastels. My house is pastels. My closet is all pastels. I literally own nothing black.
So I bring that all into my Instagram and I make sure that that it kind of stays the same. I can share that my daughter was sick for a week. I mean, that’s one of the reasons we had to reschedule. But I can say that we’re sick for a week. After she’s better saying, “Oh! This is great. We’re all better. The Elihghous House is going great and blah-blah-blah,” knowing that I didn’t shared it when she was sick, because I didn’t want my clients to call me or not want to call me or something like that. I’m not going to put that there was a strategy or something like that and I’m unable to work and I’m just crying every day. Things like that, I think, you get on the borderline. It’s a very, very, very tight rope that you walk when some people share just way too much.
Long story short, I think looking from your clients’ perspective and seeing, “Okay. Is my caption going to give anybody any reason not to hire me or to even just think differently about me in general?” I kind of make sure they all, you know, I’m actually kind of together. The thing is, it was my business and my personal Instagrams, they even go together. The captions are the same, kind of lighthearted, funny whatever. Nothing ever too serious, or cause luxury can sometimes come across as snobby, and that is the complete opposite of what I want to be.
[00:22:29] DJ: Yeah. I think, yeah. Kind of like what you’re saying, everything you seem to post on Instagram or whatever across social media does build your brand and you have that airy sort of not even just in the types of images that you’re posting, but even throughout the caption, it is relaxing to a certain extent and it does kind of take the stress, right?
[00:22:50] EE: Right. Exactly. It’s what I want my whole – My lifestyle brands and company brands and everything. That’s what I want. I want people to feel relaxed when they’re with me, and that’s the point of hiring a wedding planner in the first place.
[00:23:02] DJ: Yeah. This is probably a good segue to start talking about clients in general, and I know we just talked about your marketing approach. But how does that, like how did you get from there, this PR opportunities, or was it a result of these PR opportunities, to working with some higher profile clients? I’m not sure if you can mention the kind of people that you work with, but I know you’ve worked with Raven’s players before. So how did you attract just a high-end roster of clients?
[00:23:30] EE: It’s hard to put this into words, because honestly it happened so fast. I mean, I went to my husband one day and I was like, “Wait a second [inaudible 00:23:40] Torrey Smith.” He used to be a Baltimore, Ravens, “They picked me. Are you kidding? I’m this good, right? I’m not going to fail at this? Are you sure?” But it was the publications that helped, and I got to say, honestly, I think it goes back to the way I started and the way I kind of – I was not that new wedding planner. I was Elle. I feel like that brought my attention to people to start with. It was just very, very huge starting perfectly rather than learning as you go to be perfect.
I’m going to be brutally honest. The first high-end client that I received, I bent over backwards multiple times for them every day, and I made sure they were the happiest people that ever walked the planet. I mean, my first celebrity-esque wedding, I know it wasn’t about budget, but they got a deal, completely honest.
Key in mind, they also had a contract from another planner in their hands when they met with me, but the reason they met with me is because people told them, “Oh! You got to meet with Elle. You had to meet with Elle.” It wasn’t, “Oh! You had to meet with Elle Ellinghaus Designs, or this wedding planner that I know.” It was, “Gotta meet with Elle.”
So that’s why they came. I was still higher cost than the person they almost went with, but I showed them I was worth the extra few thousand dollars. I earned, by the way, that package, times 100. No joke. That was the hardest I ever, ever worked.
To just kind of go with that, it’s something that I tell my planners to do and it’s a key quote of mine whenever I do like business coaching, is to master letting your clients know how hard you worked not coming out and saying it. I feel like that is the key. They had no stress. I handled every single detail, but I was sure they know how hard I worked for them so they could tell others that I was the best. It’s kind of art form, but it’s a necessity.
[00:25:27] DJ: I think definitely an art form too, because on one hand you don’t want to come off as stressed, like, “Oh! I just –” Or dramatic even, like, “I just – You won’t believe what I had to do for you or what I did for you.” You said, you don’t want to come off as boastful or prideful either.
[00:25:43] EE: Exactly. Exactly. But from that first celebrity-ish wedding, the referrals, it just opened doors, and I can honestly say that one wedding took me to the owner of AOL, or the founder of AOL Instant Messenger’s son, multiple Ravens players, MLB players, a lot of NFL players, politicians and things like that. It really kind of got my name out there, because one good referral can make or break you totally. That’s kind of how it happened.
Also, that did bring in the whole girl boss thing again, but being very strategic in what I did with publications. For example, just a couple of weeks ago a news channel contacted me, asking me if I wanted to be on their morning show for a segment. I said, “Of course!” They said, “Okay. We want to talk about how to be a good budget for your wedding, budgeting and how to do most bang for your buck and things like that.” I said, “Well, I’m not really a budget planner. I would rather talk about how you can do great things and the design.” They just went back and like, “No. We want to talk about how to have a great wedding on a budget.”
So I just finally turned it down, because that’s not the way I wanted to be branded. I didn’t want people to see me and say, “Oh! She is all about budget. Let’s go with her, budget planners,” and then going back to the first publication, standing up for yourself a little bit and saying, “Thank you for wanting to interview me on my company. This is what I want to do.” I think all those things combined just kind of got me the clientele that I had.
[00:27:15] DJ: Would you say – And like you just said, all of those things I think combined have resulted in the clientele you have. At this point, do you think it’s a lot of word of mouth for you? That’s the foundation, is all these PR and the publications and all of those things certainly play into it. Would you say among a high-end clientele that it’s mostly word of mouth now?
[00:27:35] EE: I would say, yeah, we are mainly referrals, for sure. Someone still used me for the wedding, so and so, and, “Oh! You have to use them. You have to use them.” That’s for my senior wedding planner, who’s also my sister at my company, Jillian. She is recommended constantly. I get so many emails asking for her. It’s the same kind of thing. She did luxury wedding a bunch of years ago, and now everybody wants her for their thing. So it’s totally referral-base.
But I’m also going to tell you that I think Instagram has taken my company to the next level hugely. That’s by far the biggest media channel I recommend for many businesses. I actually have brands daily contacting me asking for sponsorship and paid ads as like a brand influencer. I’m a wedding planner. I’m just a wedding planner, and this is happening.
So it kinds of goes back to my original idea of being about me and company, not just my company, and kind of where that’s taking me. I’m actually currently working on a personal blog called A Pink Pineapple Life, and it’s kind of behind the scenes of the southern living and wedding designer mom, all that kind of stuff, because through Instagram I get hundreds of direct messages asking where I got this, or advice on that, or how do I juggle it all, and Instagram did that, because people refer me and my company of amazing ladies, because they know my name from outlets that have nothing to do with weddings. Again, just full circle, I’ve connected with the business. It’s all part of the brand, but Instagram is probably – If it’s 60/40, 60 referrals, 40 is quite literally Instagram.
[00:29:09] DJ: is there anything specifically that’s you’re doing on Instagram that has allowed for this success?
[00:29:14] EE: I think being very particular is something that I’m doing. I think what we talked about before, like amount you share and the perfect amount you share is very key. I don’t put a lot of – Some people over post, some people under post. I just want to make it once or maybe four times a week kind of thing, and I also – Because the lifestyle is such a big part of my brand, I try, attempt to, but you’ll find out, Davey, with the babies, I talked not to post – My daughter’s name is Emy, 11 pictures of Emy in one. It’s a picture of Emy and then a little bit of the house. I try to make it as combined of what people want to see as much as possible. I make sure that all the styles are pretty next to each other, or the colors are pretty next to each other. I get so many emails and direct messages asking, “What do you to your photos?” Well, I don’t do photos. It’s just strategically planning them. I think that when you look at the Instagram feeds, again, they nudge my website and everything and I feel like it’s just a nice airy kind of feeling and it just kind of makes you happy when you just look at, not even the individual pictures, just in terms of the style and the feeling that it gives you when you look at something with pastels. You know what I mean? I think that’s kind of my game on Instagram, if there is one.
[00:30:36] DJ: Sure. Yeah. No, absolutely. I think one of the things that I keep on hearing you say is just you’re very intentional about what it is that you share regardless of whether Instagram or a different marketing channel. Are there common mistakes that you see others make as they try to build a high-end brand? Or even during the coaching that you do with people who are trying to start their business and trying to create a more higher-end brand, are there certain things where you find yourself across the board pretty much saying to people, “Okay. Hey, you’re doing this and you need to stop.” What would those things be?
[00:31:06] EE: Oh, yes! I’d say maybe two or three, probably two in particular that really kind of standout. The first I think – And this is something that every new business does wrong I feel regardless of high-end or low-end, stalking your competition. I’ve had to get into almost Wall Street before when someone emails me and says, “Check out so and so’s website. It’s exactly everything you say on yours,” or when someone was trying to sell my copyrighted timeline template a couple of years ago for profit, if you’ve hustled and you are where you are, even in the beginning, you have talent, trust in that. Don’t consistently check Instagram or websites of your competitors. I honestly never check my competitors’ websites or Instagram. I mean, I comment when I see beautiful work popup, or there are cute little babies and those that I’m friends with, but I never purposely land on their pages, because I know my worth. I know how hard I worked to get here, and no good comes from design others have. I think that’s just a huge mistake that people make. I wouldn’t go on a rich homes site and look at homes that are bigger than mine, or go to a models site and look at all these girls that are skinnier than me.
What would I do that with my company? I’m just a very positive person. Those who are negative around me, they’re not usually around me again if I can help, which is because life is too short to be surrounded by negativity. I feel like that’s what’s stalking your competition does.
A great quote from a book called Zero to One, if I can quote it correctly, “All failed companies are the same. The fail to escape to competition,” and that is so true. I say leave your competition doing what it does, and focus on yourself. Also, you also have these people that just start mimicking your designs and it’s so obvious.
But the other big mistake for a specifically high-end brands is stating luxury in their Instagram bios and on the front page of their website. Now, look. Ritz Carlton, a luxury resort or whatever it says, absolutely! Totally get it. But as an example, there is this certain planner, no names, in the world, and whenever I see he or she, they feel the need to tell me how great they are for about 25 minutes. It’s the same kind of thing.
My friend, you are trying way too hard. If you’re a luxury, show them. Don’t say it. If you’re a true luxury, you don’t have to say it outright. You can literally just show them. When you go to my Instagram page or my website, you know the weddings that you’re looking at are pretty expensive, and it gives off a high-end-ish vibe, but I don’t say luxury anywhere, and yet luxury clients keep finding me. So it must be the case. But not to mention, stating luxury when you don’t have the experience or portfolio to back it up is just a sure fire way to be dismissed as a luxury brand.
A quick note, actually, for wedding planners specifically. Most brides actually don’t know what anything costs. So they could have a budget to actually handle a luxury wedding and hire a luxury planner, but they actually don’t know what anything costs. So they may see luxury and think million dollar wedding and they’re not going to inquire with you because they only have a million dollar budget when, let’s be honest, you’d be fine with a half million budget wedding.
[00:34:21] DJ: Yeah, I’d say so.
[00:34:22] EE: It confuses people that don’t know what things costs, and I think that’s a big mistake planners make in general.
[00:34:27] DJ: Yeah, I like both of those things. One, not stalking a competition. Try as much as possible not even to follow people who are really in the same space as us, except for friends and things like that. Just because I think we stay so much more inspired when we look to other industries. That they’re not related to necessarily what we do, but just by seeing the kinds of things they’re doing in their own industry is I think inspire us when it comes to web design, or branding or whatever it maybe, even within different marketing campaigns and stuff like that. So I’m a big believer in not stalking your competition.
I love what you’re saying about not having to state kind of what you are. Show people what you are. I mean, a rich person doesn’t have to tell anybody that they’re rich. A talented person doesn’t have to tell anybody that they’re talented. They demonstrate that they’re talented. I appreciate both those things.
If you were coaching somebody, what would you tell them, or the specific things, like they’re just getting started let’s say. What would you tell them are the specific things they need to have in place in order to create this high-end brand? I know in the beginning of the episode, when you were talking about when you first got started, you came out of the gate ready, right? Things were set up. What were those things that you had set up in the beginning so that you had this air or high-end luxury brand?
[00:35:45] EE: I think everything individually is important for a high-end brand. I mean, your experience is the biggest key. I think especially for wedding planning and anything really in the wedding industry, because as you know, weddings can throw anything at you. Experience is the key, and you can’t get taken seriously in the market without it.
I think there are a few things that I made sure I had and I would recommend to anybody, any industry, to be ready for and have in place. The first will be a focus. I can’t stress this enough actually, because some industry, sure, open up a hatch up, be an invitation designer and then do medicine on the side, which is a terrible example. But think about your industry in particular. Does that work for you? Because for me, my focus when I first started a decade later, my focus has always been higher-end windows. I’m known for higher-end weddings. That has never changed, nor has my reputation. I’ve bridged out subtly. I have more planners that do smaller weddings. We opened Le Petite Pineapple, which is a smaller events company. It just means small pineapple for smaller events. It’s kind of cute. For the most part, my focus has always been on weddings and mostly bigger production weddings. That’s what I’m known for.
But if I did rooms, invitations, had a DJ company and did fashion accessories, I might not be taken as seriously in my devotion of my weddings. I’ve been stretching my expertise just way to thin. I’ve had so many people come to me and say they want someone who does only weddings, because that is what I do best. People try to expand so quickly and wear too many hats, when really, “Let’s just see if your one hat stays on in hurricane force winds first,” and just get that down, hold it on tight and just make sure that works before you’re going to be just all about company of doing way too many things. The second thing –
[00:37:38] DJ: I really like what you’re saying there, because I find that companies, even if they do have multiple services, but if they have one really core product and service or service that they’ve nailed the messaging for that they’re very consistent in saying this is at our core, who we are and what we do. Some of that other stuff that they also do ends up getting booked more as a result, I think.
I know that you do at least some other kinds of events, but I think the message is that we do – Where is our focus is high-end weddings. So it makes sense that if somebody after using you for wedding planning comes to you and says, “Hey, I’m doing this other big event. Could you do this?” I’m not saying you do other events or you would take that necessarily, but I think it just makes sense that, “Oh! You really nailed this. Why wouldn’t you be able to do this other thing?”
[00:38:24] EE: Right. Exactly. In fact, I had a company that I used to work closely with. He came to me and said, “Oh! We’re –” I mean he or she is what I meant to say. He or she came to me and said, “Oh! I think we’re going to branch out and start doing this, this and this.” I said – We’ll call them Bob. I said, “Bob, I don’t think that’s a good idea, because you’re not even the top of the industry for what you do. You’re fantastic, but focus on that, and then if you want to branch out, then do it. Don’t wear too many hats.” He’s like, “Oh, okay.” Then he did, and then a year later I saw him and I said, “Oh! How is that going?” He went, “Oh, well. Yeah, they left and we’re not doing that anymore. It was just too much.” I’m like, “See? I hate to say I told you so.” But you need to have like a firm, firm focus. I mean, it’s kind of the same thing with you think of Martha Stewart, you think of beautiful things, but she also does weddings, she also does baking, she also does – It’s have your focus and then branch out when you’ve mastered already what you’re doing.
Also, and this is something that I didn’t have ready when I first came out of the get go, is learn how to talk to your client, especially if they are a high-end client. I mean basically like show your experience without saying your experience. Same with a luxury, show your luxury without saying your luxury. This is a true art form, because it takes more than a few meetings to master. It takes years, and you have to have really just true experience in order to do it. I’ll be honest, I really prefer like in-person meetings. It’s much more fun in-person than on the phone. But it can be done phone, email, whatever. I’ve had numerous, numerous clients because we all become BFFs of course. Tell me after the fact that even if they hadn’t seen an ounce of my work, after the consult, I would have won them over, because I was just, I guess, able to show them my design and how much expertise I knew without having to show them anything. They would tell me stories about being a appalled at other planners that they would meet with before me and say they would be lifting off their clientele, “This one. This one. This one,” and show them over the top wedding after over the top wedding without even asking. Just kind of shoving it in their faces.
To be honest, that kind of sounds like what you’re supposed to do when you sell yourself, right? But, honestly, sometimes it’s not about your work. They are there, right? They mostly have probably seen your work. They know accolades already from your Instagram or website.
Now, if they ask, tell them 100%. Brag if they ask, to the moon. But a lady never boasts about herself. It’s kind of like a common quote. A company owner should never boast about herself unless asked or himself, of course. But your past clientele is not as important when your current client is there. Let those accomplishments be part of your brand. Let them mold into your luxury company you’re striving to me. But sitting in front of you in your console is the most important client. Not the past ones. I think that’s what people kind of have to – That art form that they just have to master and how to kind of sell them. Show them what they know without saying it.
I can give you a quick example. Would you like a quick example?
[00:41:39] DJ: That’d be great, because I was just going to ask. I think that’s great advice. I really like the whole focus on your current client, and that’s the most important client at the time. But I was going to ask, are there any resources that you used to learn this, or was it really just experience? But I think maybe the example will help us parse that a little bit more.
[00:41:55] EE: The thing is you have to have experience in your industry and what you’re trying to sell in order to sell it. But just a quick example, in every single console I have, I say, “Describe your wedding in three words.” So let’s say they say tent, romance and amazing food. Instead of me saying, “Oh! That sounds dreamy,” and moving on. No. I’m going to sell her on her own vision with me as the artist of it.
I’m going to talk about how with the right caterer, you can me a 5-star dining experience in a field without any electricity or water and tell her five examples of how I’ve made that work with catering tents and – Oh! Noting to myself, “Wait. We’re going to need this size catering tent for her guest count. Oh! But don’t worry about it. Those details are mine to handle. Not yours.”
I’m going to tell her about outdoor tents and how a layer of romance, just by being outside, because you have stars twinkling. Oh! We could do an outside dance floor under the stars to make the ambience help even more. Oh! There is this line of new beautiful velvet furniture that screams romance and will be stunning by that outdoor dance floor. Oh my gosh! You know what? A company just asked me opinion yesterday on it and they’re bringing it in for me. You’re going to love it. Oh my gosh! This is great that you’re here. Mic dropped, booked.
[00:43:06] DJ: That’s great. I feel this is something that you’ve been able to do throughout your entire business. I mean, not just in sales call, some console. I’m sorry. Or like a discovery meeting, like this example, but on your website, the copy that you’re using on your website or across social media channels like Instagram. You found a way to sort of walk that line between demonstrating your experience without shoving it in people’s faces.
[00:43:30] EE: I think that was the point. Thank you.
[00:43:32] DJ: Yeah, and it seems like a lot of that is done by understanding who your ideal clientele is or who your clientele is, and then also as you just stated, by really listening to what they’re saying and the kinds of things they want.
[00:43:46] EE: Absolutely. Just to kind of add on to that, the key I feel like is relating and reading a client, because there’re different kinds of clients out there. I have a lot of luxury clients that I quite literally have a relationship with their assistant. I don’t really talk about the bride. A personality is not going to go a long way with their assistant. They want to see my work. They want to know that it’s topnotch.
Then I have the other kind of client. He was the person who wants the whole package, that want someone who they can relate to, someone personable, passionate, wants to hire the person they’re going to be BFFs with for the next year. Usually, they’re referrals. They’ve seen kind of your work. They’ve seen your weddings. They just want that person they can depend on kind of for a year.
With reading your client that way, you need to ensure that you have both bases covered for both of those clients. So back to Instagram, my Instagrams are connected, my business and my personal. So if you click on one, it says the creator of whatever, Elle Ellinghaus. Click on the other one, it says owner of Elle Ellinghaus Design, and you click on that one. They’re all connected. But the assistant of the client, I’m not going to send the pretty photos of my house and my more lifestyle living kind of thing. Because they’re not going to care. I’m going to send them my business.
But the other one, the one that kind of wants the best friend, wants the whole package, planning for a year. I’m staying in to my house, my personal one, because we spend the last hour chatting at our consult about everything and anything but their wedding, because we did it all so well. So I want them to relate to me after they left me. That’s what I’m going to be doing with that. So it’s just reading your clients really well, and that’s two obviously black and white examples. But sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes you just have no idea where they’re going to fall and it just comes with experience. You have to go, “Okay. I know which one you are. Okay. I got you.”
[00:45:38] DJ: Yeah, no. But I think that’s a great point in just terms of like understand who you’re talking about and understand how they’re going to make the decision. Again, as you said a couple of times, I think some of that just comes from experience. But I think that people, by going through the process of actually really intentionally thinking through their customers’ journey, their clients’ journey into your service, they can start thinking through some of these things themselves and understand how they should respond to different types of inquiries within the kind of clienteles that they want to book.
How does somebody learn the rest of what you know? Because I know that we’ve just – It’s just the tip of the iceberg of what we talked about today, and we could probably talk for hours longer. We’d have to do multiple episodes just to get through everything that you could possibly share with somebody who want to start either a high-end brand, or wanted to start their own wedding planning business. So if someone want to learn a little bit more about you and your business, where would they go?
[00:46:32] EE: Our website is eedevents.com, and there’s an inquiry page. You can go there and it always comes to either my assistant or myself. You can go to our Instagram. I’m @ElleEllinghaus. It’s a mouthful. E-L-L-E E-L-L-I-N-G-H-A-U-S. Our business is @ElleEllinghausDesign. So that’s where you can go, or you can also feel free to email us, firstname.lastname@example.org.
[00:46:55] DJ: Awesome. We will link to all of those in the show notes. So if you’re driving while you’re listening to this, or whatever, head on over to the show notes and we’ll link to all of those different accounts there. Again, do you have resources for people who are either starting their business, whether it’d be a wedding planning business or just a wedding industry business in general? Do you have resources for them?
[00:47:16] EE: In terms of like courses and things like that, I honestly don’t. I offer a lot of business coaching just because there’s not a lot out there, specifically a wedding planning. That’s kind of why I started just because I know how hard it is to start a wedding planning company and not really know anything. So there’s always – Always feel free to email me with questions and things like that, or a coaching session. But in terms of actual resources, some really, really good books out there can blow your mind. The one that I kind of referenced, Zero to One, by Peter Thiel, I think it’s how you pronounce his name. That is a book that my husband and I have read millions of times because it’s so good. It kind of opens your minds in terms of business and what you should do.
I mean I could run off quotes from that book for an hour. It’s just so good. So kind of looking on your community Facebook or whatever of just business savvy books and things like that are things that I find, and podcasts like yours, Davey. This is what people need.
[00:48:12] DJ: Yeah, thank you.
[00:48:13] EE: Sure.
[00:48:14] DJ: We’ll definitely link to that book in the show notes as well. I have heard of this one now repeatedly, so I’m going to have to check it out as well. Elle, thank you for your time this morning and sharing a little bit about how you built your business and how specifically to build a high-end brand.
[00:48:27] EE: Thank you so much. This is awesome. A lot of fun, and it’s an honor to be on your show.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:48:34] DJ: Thanks for tuning in to the Brands that Book Show. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider subscribing and leaving a review in iTunes. For show notes and other resources, head on over to daveyandkrista.com.