How I Graduated College with a Business!
It's the week that everyone is going back to college for the start of the spring semester, after the holiday break! I expected to have a weird feeling to not have to go back. I graduated during the fall semester, a semester early! I'm going to start out by saying don't rush it. Just like that, four years (or 3.5 for me) went SO FAST. Not only did I graduate college a semester early, but I graduated with a business.
When I was in high school, I always thought I would be in the medical field. The medical field seemed like a reliable job with a promising amount of positions that would always be open. Towards the end of 11th grade, there was the option to sit down with your family and the school's guidance counselor to discuss your future. I went into this thinking the medical field was the most reliable and that's where I wanted to be. My mom had always seen me as organized and a planner. When I was little, I would love planning my own birthday parties year after year. This was brought up during this meeting. My guidance counselor introduced me to the Hospitality Industry. She had also told me there was an internship option through an open campus program to shadow an event planner at a local resort. After some consideration, I chose to do the internship during the duration of my senior year of high school.
My time at my internship had come and gone and I absolutely loved it. My decision was made and I knew I wanted to major in Hospitality Management. From there, I choose to go to Penn State to pursue my Bachelor's Degree. Coming into the major, I also knew that I was here to only be an event planner and maybe own my own business one day. As a freshman college student, these goals and dreams seemed so far down the road.
It was right before the holiday break, during my freshman year, that I got a really exciting call! A co-worker of my Moms, had heard about my interests and experience so far. She happened to have a son that was engaged at the time. The couple was considering hiring a planner for their wedding. They reached out to me to see if this is something I would be interested in doing. As a college student, making some money on the side sounded like a great deal to me! After meeting in person, we both agreed to work together.
During my meetings with the couple, the bride was always so encouraging. From the beginning, she was suggesting that I should build a portfolio, collect reviews, and to put myself out there and start advertising. The whole time I couldn't help but think "yeah, this is great, but I am in college and don't have time or the resources to do this".
Fast forward about 6 months, their wedding day came and went. This happened to be my very first wedding completely on my own. I was empowered to do what I wanted as my own boss. Everything went exceptionally well, it felt like a dream come true! I remember coming home that night and talking about all of the details and the fun I had. I also felt this feeling of wanting more (weddings). The next day I woke up and I knew I truly wanted to do this. Within the next month, I had a business name, social media accounts, I built and launched a website, and created a WeddingWire account.
This wasn't something that just happened overnight...I worked for a month on getting to a point to be able to launch everything and make things "official". November of 2017, Events By Gillian was established. By this point I didn't have any weddings or events booked. I was merely just putting myself out there to say "hey, I do this, so think of me for your next event". It was also something I didn't feel comfortable sharing at school for some reason. It was a hard concept for me to grasp as "I'm a college student that is also pursuing a wedding planning business". Not only did I feel like people wouldn't take me seriously, but I didn’t want my young age to give the wrong impression.
I pushed my social media presence and started to put myself out there more and more. It felt amazing to grow a following on @eventsbygillian. The year 2018 shaped up to be a great first full year for my business! In 2018, I had three weddings, one other event, was in my first venue open house, and attended a lot of wedding mixers for networking opportunities. The boost of confidence came from the positivities and bookings. I finally shared with professors at school that I had a side business. This opened up a whole new door!
Pursuing a business while being in school is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Although, at times I thought "why the heck am I doing this to myself and why couldn't I just be a normal college student?" Those times were when I had weddings over the weekend and a Monday morning exam. Or when I would be sitting in class with a professor that would not let you pickup your phone and I could see an inquiry come in and not be able to answer it. Or worrying about the group project I had to do but couldn't meet with my group because I had a client meeting. Most college students were not worrying about operating as a Sole Proprietor and writing contracts. Pursuing a business while being in school is one of the best decisions I have ever made because I was able to apply the things we were learning in class to my own real life business scenarios. Those horrible accounting (not my fav subject) numbers and statements turned into real life business excel sheets and contracts. The presentation on a subject and company of your choice turned into talking about something I know like the back of my hand because my hand is the one that created it. Not only did it open up a new door, but it created a whole new support system and opportunities. The in class speakers we would have here and there, turned into me presenting to my own classes and professors as the "guest". It turned my college experience into something I could have never imagined!
Pop the champagne, 2019 was my last full year of school. Sitting down with my advisor at one of our meetings, I found out I could graduate a semester early if I took a few general education courses over the summer and loaded up a little extra on credits. It sounded like a plan to me! On top of working harder to graduate a semester early and taking classes the entire year, my business had 11 weddings and 3 styled shoots in 2019. That means they nearly tripled from my first fiscal year of business. 2019 was a long, yet busy year, but I made it out! Soon it would be December 20th, graduation day, which had always seemed so far away and I couldn’t wait to be done.
As I mentioned in the beginning, it's the week that everyone went going back to school and I didn't have to. Instead, I’m working from home, creating my own schedule, and running the business that I thought I would start after college. 2020 is going to be the best and busiest year yet! With 18 weddings and events booked, I can't wait to see the growth and potential of what is to come. I can't say it enough but, thank you to all of my family, friends, trusting clients, professors, wedding vendor friends, and mentors for aiding in where I am today.
This wasn't something built overnight. I am constantly growing, learning, networking, and experiencing new things. I do know if I didn't start this when I did, I would not be pursuing my dream at this young of an age. Not all days are good. Although, the highs are very high, the lows seem to be very low. It is a lot of trial and error. It is a lot of self triumph. It can be a lot of disappointment, stress, anxiety, and fear. It is excitement and dreaming. Days can feel productive or feel like nothing has happened at all. It is a total mix of things I would not give up! Love what you do, follow your dreams, age is a number. You can accomplish anything if you have the motivation, drive, passion, and truly see yourself as an entrepreneur. Run with your entrepreneurial spirit and don't let that light burn out.