Back to the wonderful world of weddings with winner of the Best Wedding Planner in the UK; Katrina Otter.
Some of the stories she tells in this episode give an understanding of the care she has for the couples that she works with and how she tries to delight them on their special day.
Tony: This is Tony Winyard and Episode 7 of Exceeding Expectations.
In this week’s episode, I talk with Katrina Otter, former UK Wedding Planner of the Year as we are back in the world of weddings. Katrina, is very clear about how much she loves weddings and how much she does for clients. Let’s hear more from Katrina.
Today, I’m sitting here with Katrina Otter, who is a wedding planner. So, how are you doing Katrina?
Katrina: I’m alright. Thank you very much.
Tony: How long have you been a wedding planner?
Katrina: Six years now.
Tony: Okay, and what got you into planning?
Katrina: I was working in events in London, for a very big agency. I loved it. I loved the experience. I loved the places I got to travel to, but it all became a little too much. There’s a lot of destination events. So, I was spending three months in the Middle East to fly back for two days, to go out to America for three months. It got to the stage where I hit my 30s and thought, ‘I don’t think I could do this traveling anymore.’ It’s taking a lot out of me. I met my husband, so it just kind of made sense to leave London at that time. Weddings was something that it was a kind of a natural progression in some ways. A lot of my friends were getting married at that stage. They were asking me to help them out because I had wedding planning and the event experience. So it just naturally fell into place.
Tony: Okay. From what I know about you, you’re doing so quite high in weddings. So, how did that come about from beginning as a wedding planner? How did you manage to get to that kind of level?
Katrina: So, I think it’s time, experience and social media. I think as you naturally progress as a wedding planner, you do take on bigger budget weddings. So once you prove on your portfolio and Instagram feed that you can do weddings of a certain size, a certain budget, you tend to get higher and higher. But as time has gone on, I’ve put my prices up. I think as I put my prices up, I’ve attracted clients with higher budgets.
We were talking about earlier about putting the prices up. It was one of those things. For me, it was it was a daunting thing to do, to put my prices up. But, actually putting my prices up meant that I got the bigger budget weddings. I’ve been very fortunate this year that I’ve had some incredible weddings. I have been blessed with some amazing clients. My biggest budget wedding this year, I have to say, it’s the longest time I’ve ever had, and so much so that I’m spending New Years Eve with her. She was just the loveliest person to work with. But, I think no matter what her budget had been, she’d be the loveliest person to work with. So, sometimes it does correlate. Sometimes it doesn’t.
I find that actually the bigger budget weddings are slightly easier to plan. A lot of people wouldn’t think that but for me, when the budgets are bigger, it’s easier to spend the money. It’s easier to go all out on art deco, which is something that, details design is something I’m really passionate about. So having a bigger budget means that I can be a little bit more creative. There are extra areas that I can spend it in really thinking about the flow of the day and creating that sort of all around experience for my clients.
Tony: So, you just touched upon something I was about to ask about; what is it that you really enjoy about wedding planning? So is it just creating something? Is it taking the stress away from them? Or is it a combination?
Katrina: I think…obviously, my background is in events. I love a good spreadsheet. I am such a loser but I really enjoy spreadsheets. So, it’s delivering something from start to finish. So actually, when I left events, I went into a 9-5 job. I couldn’t cope with it. I couldn’t do a 9-5 job. It was one of those jobs where there was no start-middle-finish to a project. So, I’ve gone from the career of 8 years in events and I had delivered project by project. Whereas, then going for this 9-5 job, I didn’t do that and I just couldn’t. I couldn’t fathom it. I couldn’t get my head around it. I was clock watching the whole time. Then, going into weddings, I’m doing something where I’m delivering something.
So you see something progress and it’s that sense on the day, when you see everything come together. There’s no words to explain actually how you feel when you see something you’ve worked so hard on, and you see it all come together in one room. You see the clients’ reactions, we actually see the guests reaction. It’s just such an amazing sense of achievement to be able to do that. I think that’s what I love most about seeing it all come together.
Tony: Do you have a certain type of client you prefer to work with? How does how does that work?
Katrina: I have a certain style of wedding…
Katrina: … so that’s the type of client that I attract. A lot of my clients are like me in some ways, so they have similar interests to me. They have similar ideas and taste. So that’s the style of clients. But yeah, a lot of my weddings are very classic, laid back, country estates. It’s more of a kind of weekend wedding celebration style. I tend not to do things like hotel weddings. It’s just a little bit more subtle, laid back, out-doorsy. Marquee weddings as well are based in the countryside. So, I do get a lot of inquiry for the marquee weddings.
Tony: We spoke before about exceeding expectations and that’s what this whole podcast is about. So, you meet a client, and they obviously got a certain number of expectations about things that you’re going to do for them. How are you able to exceed that?
Katrina: I go above and beyond for clients. I really do. So it’s things like, because I know a lot of them have really busy jobs, or they’re based overseas, I will make sure that I’m available 24-7 for them. So, if they want a Skype call at 5am in the morning, I will be there at 5am in the morning. If they want to meet up with me in the evening, I’ll be there evening I’ll work weekends for them. I am available for them the whole time. It’s not like I’m suddenly going to disappear at five o’clock on the dot. So, I think that’s one way of doing that. It’s working around their requirements, their preferences. I had one client who I went to her house every time we had a meeting. We’d get in takeaway, we’d sit down and have a whole planning session together. It used to be just a really fun experience. But, that’s the way she liked to work whereas another client wants to meet at the RAC in London.
It was more kind of process driven. So, I adapt the way I work according to how my clients want the relationship to be. Some of my clients want it to be a very professional relationship. So I’m being paid to do a service for them and that’s how I treat the relationship. Then others want me to be an extension of their wedding party, if that makes sense. So, I effectively become their friends that they can confide in and we have that kind of almost texting relationship. So I adapt the way I work with them. Little gifts, I send them every so often, so there’s always a welcome gift for them.
Tony: When you say welcome gift, you mean on the day of the wedding?
Katrina: No, so when they booked me, I actually give them a bottle of champagne, which is the champagne that I had when I got married. I put that little note about how is my favourite champagne etc. I give them a Christmas hamper, and then something on their wedding day that reflects what I have learned about them. So it’s always very personal to them and their wedding.
I did a Marquee wedding a year and a half ago and it was at a beautiful house in Rutland. The weather was atrocious. It rained all night, all day, all night and the marquee was on the slope. The DJ and the bar company, despite me telling them not to, they decide to drive down to the marquee and got stuck.
So, this is about two o’clock in the morning with torrential rain. They’re both stuck so I had to call RAC. The RAC turned up and the RAC got stuck. So, the RAC had to call another RAC van to come and get them out. Bare in mind, it is now for about 4:35 am in the morning. I’m still there.
Tony: So this is after the wedding?
Katrina: This is after the wedding and I’ve been there since 5am. So this is now 5am, the following day, and I’m standing out in the rain. Then, the RAC turns up to get the other RAC and this is no joke. The RAC that came to get the other RAC out, they got stuck. So, they had to call a third vehicle out to get all these vans out. So this now is 8am in the morning. I have been there for over 24 hours. The owners of the property, it was their niece getting married, the owners of property came out, and they were going for a morning run. They got to the marquee and they saw me and they’re like, ‘oh, you’re back here early.’
I said , “You know what? I haven’t been home yet.’ I think it was that reaction on their faces when they realised that I hadn’t gone home. They said to me, I don’t understand why you didn’t go home. It wasn’t you that got stuck. I said, but yeah, this is what the thing is. What I didn’t want to happen is that you wake up in the morning to find two suppliers still stuck on your property and I’ve left. So, it’s my responsibility to make sure that your wedding or your niece’s wedding is perfect.
So yeah, in terms of going above and beyond, I think that was probably the one. I didn’t get home until 1pm on the Sunday. I sat down on the sofa and literally fell asleep within two minutes, on the sofa all afternoon. I was absolutely shattered. But at the same time, I wasn’t going to walk away from it. So it’s the case of even though I desperately needed sleep, I was so tired, it’s still my responsibility to look after that wedding and make sure that they’re being, that there was a hiccup and that I resolved it. I stayed to resolve it.
Tony: Do you tend to find when you’re able to give customers surprises, is it often the small things? How is it in your experience?
Katrina: Well, it depends. This wedding in point, I got a very nice gift from them afterwards saying thank you for staying to get things sorted out. I’m now doing a party for them in February. They are soon to be launching as wedding venue, which I will be co managing for them. So, I think if those things were, I’ve shown that I’m completely dedicated. I’ll go above and beyond and you get that as a result.
Once you’ve done one thing to go above and beyond, for example, you’re meeting up with them on weekends, you’re meeting up with them in the evening. They come to expect it as a given. So, there’s not much you can really do. They know that you’re going to go above and beyond. You potentially aren’t going to get any thanks for it because they have come to expect it. Other clients really do. So it completely varies between clients.
Tony: One of the hardest things in a way is because when you’re meeting with a client or prospective client, you want to get the business. So you want to say all of different things you can do. I mean, this is my experience anyway.
Katrina: Yeah. Exactly.
Tony: But on the other hand, I don’t want to tell them everything I’m going to do because I want to give him some surprises. It can be hard trying to find a balance without telling them too much, without telling them everything.
Katrina: Yeah. I have a lot of clients that are based overseas. So it’s things like, I’ll go to the flower market for them and choose their wedding for them and send the videos and images and sort of annotate the whole thing. So, it’s giving them the full experience without being there. But tomorrow, for example, I’m driving down to Devin because I’ve got some clients flying in from the States. We’re doing two jam packed days of food tastings, cake tasting, meeting a florist, going to the venue, and accommodations. Bare in mind that I’ll get back Saturday. It is pretty much Christmas shutdown, but I will do that, because it’s for my clients. So of course I’ll do that.
Tony: So, from the sounds of things, you put so much time into each wedding therefore you probably do far fewer weddings per year, I’m guessing?
Katrina: I do. Yes. Yeah, so I do eight a year.
Tony: Oh, okay. So really fun for you.
Katrina: Yeah. But, I also find as well that I did one year where I did twelve, total rookie era.
I found it got to the point now, it didn’t happen, but I was very dangerously close to losing the plot. But also, I’ve got to stay on top of things. So, if I was to have a certain client call me up and say, ‘Oh, how are you getting on with photographer?’ I say, ‘Oh, sorry, which wedding is this for? Which photographer? Or sorry, can you remind me what I was doing for you again?’ But I have to memorise all the eight weddings, every single one. The location, who all their suppliers are, all those details. If I was to be in a meeting with them, and they suddenly say ‘what time is our ceremony? I’m like ‘just refer back to my notes. Which one are you?’ so, I need to know exactly what’s going on. So that’s why eight is the right amount for me, because then I can give them a dedicated service. Any more than that, and I just don’t think I’d be able to. I’ve tried it. I’ve managed it. I didn’t have fun doing it.
Tony: So because of the time and]what you deliver on each wedding, so I’m guessing you get quite a few referrals recommendations afterwards.
Katrina: Yeah, so I have one group, and every year I do a wedding for them.
Tony: When you say group, what do you mean?
Katrina: So, they all were in the army together.
Tony: Oh, I see. Okay.
Katrina: All the guys were in the army together. So, I’ve done a lot of their weddings. So one every year. So that’s a nice little kind of like referral system going on. Yeah, I do get a lot of referrals. The one that I did this year, the biggest one I did this year, in all their wedding stationery, they put my details in there, which was lovely of them. So, this went out to all 300 of their guests and my contact details were in there as a special thanks to Katrina Otter. So getting referrals through that side of things, but people coming up to me on the day as well and just asking for business cards and things. So, I do get that. I also write for corporate wedding venues and [inaudible 16:21]
Katrina: …. so I get a lot of inquiries by those features as well. That’s how a lot of people find me.
Tony: So, clearly just from hearing passion in your voice, how you’ve been talking about weddings, clearly you love weddings is there. Is there one part of the wedding that you really enjoy more than any other? Is it the day itself?
Katrina: The day itself is normally quite stressful. I’m not going to lie. I’m one of those people who when I get stressed, I have a bigger smile than usual. So, I don’t relax on the wedding day until guests are seated for dinner. That’s the first time when I can probably relax, because a lot of the energy, effort and detail goes into the tablescape. So making sure that everything is set up until that point.
I’m normally not enjoying it until that point and the part when I start to enjoy it when I see guests reactions when they walk into either the ceremony or the reception. That for me is when I really started to enjoy a wedding day, because I can see that everything, all that hard work , it happens, it’s there. We’ve achieved it. The client is really happy. The guests are taking photos of everything. For me, that’s a job well done. In terms of the part that I enjoy the most, I don’t know really. I never really thought about it. I suppose it is that on the day that sense of delivering something, working so hard towards something and then being able to deliver it.
Tony: Do you always stay to the end?
Tony: Wow, man, that’s unusual isn’t it?
Katrina: Yeah, not all partners do. A lot do sometimes. I personally wouldn’t want to walk away from anything because I am being paid to be that responsible person to look after the wedding. Say for example, cars get stuck in the rain, who is going to support it out? But anything can go wrong. So, if you were to consider leaving straight after the first dance, for example, what happens if the power goes in the building? What happens if a supplier doesn’t turn up? What happens if the suppliers stuck? What happens if they run out of alcohol? What would happen if…? You know all these what ifs. Sometimes, there are collections that evening, so tableware is being collected, who’s going to pack that up? That’s me. I’m also a bit of a control freak.
So, I can’t walk away from something if it’s still going on. Now the only times where I will, is say for example, I’m working at a venue where you can go on till 4 in the morning, now honestly, no matter how much caffeine I consume, I cannot be awake until four o’clock in the morning, if I’ve started at five o’clock in the morning. It’s physically not possible especially when after about nine o’clock, for example, you just watching people dance. It’s quite hard to stand there from nine o’clock until four o’clock, just watching someone dance. Whereas, if you’ve got lots of things to do, you can keep yourself going. But once the dancing starts, it’s very hard to continue overseeing something. I’ll always stay until midnight.
I will always stay past midnight if it’s a Marquee wedding. So for example, if it’s going on till two o’clock in the morning, someone has to turn a generator off, for example. I’m not going to turn around to the bride and groom and say, ‘by the way, you have to turn around generator off. Sorry about that.
So I always stay until the end for Marquee weddings. If it’s in a venue where I know that there’s someone responsible for the venue, if there is security who’s looking after it, then potentially it might come to the point where its 1am, if party still going, that’s where I think, ‘okay, I’m tired now and I’m not functioning now. Plus, I have to be up at six o’clock the following morning,’ especially if they’re staying overnight, for example. So that’s the point where I leave, but 99% of the time, I will be there until the end.
Tony: Coming back to the whole kind of over delivering. So when you were doing events before, is that where you started to learn about how over delivering pays in terms of getting more referrals and so on?
Katrina: Yes, yes. My first year working in events I had the boss from hell. She had a military background, well it’s a military upbringing. Her way of working, it was extreme. She used to tell me that if I hadn’t finished at the end of the day, bearing in mind that the end of the day normally was about eight, nine o’clock in the evening, If I hadn’t finished what I was doing, I need to stay and potentially even sleep over at work. I mean, she literally, I learned everything from her. I hate every single moment of it. But I think in terms of over delivering and that’s where it came from this, its from the boss from hell.
Tony: So, it got instilled into you?
Katrina: It did. Yes, yes.
Tony: But it’s paid dividends.
Katrina: It has. It has. It was only a year. I managed to cope for a year. But I think that’s where it came from. In some ways working in working in a big London company, and there were lots of us that started the same time, so about six of us all have a similar age, that all started at the same time. The only way to get noticed was over delivering. They only promoted a set number of people, at a certain time. They gave the best jobs to people that over-delivered.
We all were fighting for the same thing. So I think that got instilled in me just because I wanted the promotion over everyone else. I wanted certain jobs over other jobs. So doing that, instilled that for me from the get go straight out of uni.
Tony: So just before we finish, is there anything that you would say about over delivering to anyone who’s getting into being a wedding planner, or even in any other line of work?
Katrina: I think the thing is, is that what I’ve got to remember is I’m working for myself. I always set the planning business up with the intention that I was going to succeed. I wanted to always put my all into it. Putting in my all in means over delivering, because what I don’t want to do is invest in a new website and say that I’m going to come a wedding planner, and then just expect inquiries to come in. Just expect that someone’s going to find me and book me without putting any effort into it. I think I’ve gotten a lot further a lot quicker, because I have over delivered. So, it’s not expecting things to come through. But working for yourself, you do have to deliver, you do have to be flexible. You’re working in the wedding industry, so you do have to expect to work weekends, evenings, I hear a lot of people saying, ‘Oh, I’m going to change career because I want more of work-life balance.
Your work life balance doesn’t exist in the wedding industry. As much as everyone wants it to, there is no such thing as work-life balance. So, I will have days where I have to work until midnight or I’ll have to be in at 4am or have to work weekends. I mean but weddings are weekends so of course you’re going to have to work weekends. So Yeah. I personally have gotten a lot further, a lot quicker because I’ve over delivered. So, I would recommend it. I am knackered at the results. I am absolutely shattered. I’m really looking forward to Christmas. But it has been worth it.
Tony: I get the impression you won’t do anything else.
Katrina: I love weddings, I love the planning. I think that’s what it is. So it’s what I’m good at. I write lists for everything. They’re lists at home, there are lists at my office, there are lists in my car. There are lists everywhere. So, it’s something that I know that I’ve always been good and that I wanted to do. So I can’t imagine doing anything else. Now, I do style shoots every once in awhile. Once again, it’s in the wedding world. I train other wedding planners. So once again, in weddings. So it is all I do. But yeah, I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Tony: Well, it’s been a pleasure speaking to Kat.
Katrina: Thanks very much for coming in.
Tony: Meet you again sometime. Thank you very much.
Katrina: Thank you.
Tony: Next week on Episode 8, takes us to just outside Chicago, with Brendan Hufford, an expert on SEO, who may well surprise you on ways to get better results for your website. Thank you for listening today. Please do subscribe and leave a review on iTunes. Do remember to get in touch if you know of someone who you feel would make an excellent guest for this show. I look forward to speaking to you soon.