I’m returning with another interview in my new Begin Again series on starting over. I hope this new series will not only show you how and why people made the changes but also give you some ideas and tools to use in making your decision. This time, we’re meeting Claire of Wed In Central Park whose career change looked nothing like her previous job. This Wedding Planner knows how to trade energy and she made the leap to Wedding Planner after planning her own wedding in Central Park. One wedding was all it took for her to make a new career.
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Can you please introduce yourself, tell us what you do and where you do it?
I’m Claire, I run a small business from home planning weddings for couples who want to get married in New York’s Central Park. I started the business while living in New York, then we moved to Las Vegas, then to Southern California, then back home to our native England. I am a full-time mother of two and this is my part-time job, which I fit around my kids.
Your previous career was as an Analyst in Energy Trading. How did you end up doing that and what did you want to do as a child?
As a child, I just wanted a good job. I wasn’t really sure what that might involve, I just wanted to be paid well and not hate it. So, I studied business at university, with no clear career direction, just that good job as the goal. I applied to lots of blue chip companies on leaving university and was offered a few jobs and chose one with a large energy company. I worked in various roles within that company, but most revolved around trading power, gas, coal, oil and carbon and creating shareholder value from the asset base, and all involved lots of lovely spreadsheets. I still love a good spreadsheet.
In my blog, I write a lot about trying new things and people who start over. First, why did you change your career and second, how did you decide to do this?
I worked the first eight years of my energy career from a town in England called Coventry. I was content with my life; I had the good job I had vaguely aspired to. Then my job moved to Dusseldorf in Germany. I didn’t much fancy the change to my comfortable life, but the money was too good to say no. I think a little while before I went to work in Germany I started to get bored in my job. There were things I enjoyed – I got a buzz out of making decisions that made money, my most important decision in those years was one that brought in £10 million. But on the whole, I got disillusioned with what felt like day after day of moving numbers around on a spreadsheet just to make money for shareholders, I felt like I never actually created anything or helped anyone. There was a lot more going on in my head than this, but I felt like things had got stagnant.
My contract in Germany ran for two years, and when I was asked to renew it I said no, I went to Australia with my boyfriend and I got offered a job in Sydney, doing more or less the same thing but for a small hydro electric company. My boyfriend was offered a job in New York, and in my arrogance, I felt sure I could get a job offer there, too. So, we picked New York.
I did get offered a job there, again, in the energy industry, but that year the US had run out of visas for Brits, so I was without work for several months. That was fine because I had savings from my previous well-paid job, but that period off work gave me some time to think. After a while of not doing what I had been doing for a living for ten years, and having that breathing space, I knew I didn’t want to go back to that, I just didn’t know what I do want to do. Luckily, I got married in Central Park and that led to ideas…
What do you offer in your Central Park Wedding Packages and what’s the most popular?
I offer three basic packages; 1) just the ceremony, 2) ceremony plus a couple of hours of photos and 3) ceremony with all the frills. Couples can add extra or take away from all these things, so they can send me photos of what flowers they want, or have a photographer all day long, or add in someone to make a video, or sing at their ceremony. I’m flexible on what I offer, that’s the beauty of it being just me; I decide what I can and can’t do.
What percentage of your clients are from NYC compared to other countries?
Around 40% of my clients are British, maybe 30% American, 25% Australian and 5% other. Of the Americans, maybe half are New Yorkers. I do have locals contact me to help them plan a wedding, they generally say that they don’t have the time to plan their own stuff, or they want to go with me because I have great reviews and they don’t want to spend the effort finding all the people involved.
What do you love most about your new career and lifestyle and what do you miss about your old career?
I love that I earn roughly what I would per hour if I went back to something similar to my old job, except without the commute, without the extra childcare costs, and without all the stuff I don’t like, such as meetings. I hated meetings. I love that I make all the decisions; I decide what needs doing and when, and most importantly, who I work with – the clients and colleagues. I enjoy puzzling out the best way to design my website and to market my offering to people. I love working in weddings, which is the biggest surprise of all. I was not a woman who was particularly interested in weddings, but I love being a part of a big celebration of love. What do I miss? I miss the very different challenge of deep analysis of data and markets, I miss the buzz of making a lot of money when things go well – trading gives very quick feedback; you know very quickly if you have made the right decision. Another major difference that many people who run their own business will mention is that in my old job I could switch off at evenings and weekends. No switching off for me now!
Have you ever had any requests that you couldn’t meet for your clients? Are there any offerings you currently have that a client asked for it first and you decided to start offering it?
Yes, the business is constantly changing and evolving. I always ask for feedback from couples, which is very helpful, and the procedure I go through when planning a wedding has been much improved over the five years I’ve been doing this. The thing I can’t do is be physically at a wedding. I am in the UK and the wedding takes place in the US, and though I do go over there sometimes to attend weddings (and see the fabulous people I work with) I can’t commit to being an on-site coordinator for most couples when they book their wedding. My prices reflect this of course. Rather than try to offer this (although I can offer an on-the-day-coordinator, it’s usually not me), I explain the reasons to the couples why I don’t think they need me there. Myself and the guys I work, with are a well-oiled machine. I’m available on the phone every day I have a wedding if I’m needed, which I rarely am.
Looking back to when you made the career transition, is there anything that you wish you’d done differently or anything that you felt wasn’t working out and you dropped or changed along the way?
I’ve changed a million tiny things. I started out with very little clue as to what I was doing. I’m better at all sorts of things now, the whole experience has taught me so much. I wasn’t planning on having kids when I started this business, that just happened along the way, but this job has been perfect for fitting in around the kids. I wonder if I hadn’t had the kids this might have got boring and I might have found something else, but this is really the perfect part-time work for my life at the moment.
Did you get any advice or help from others while embarking on your new career? What is the best advice or assistance that you got along the way?
Towards the end of my two years working in Germany, I read a book called The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. The book has lots of flaws and his suggestions might not work for everyone. But his ideas about efficiency and flexibility were life-changing for me. As I read it a big lightbulb flashed above my head.
What advice do you have for someone looking to make a career change?
Do it. Our working lives are so very long, it seems a little crazy to do the same job the whole time from the end of education until you retire, particularly if at any point you decide you have had enough of it. I left my old job seven years ago, and it’s still there. My spreadsheet skills are certainly rusty but I’ve picked up so many along the way I could always go back to it.
If you’re starting your own business: find your niche. There will be something that you know so much more about that everyone else out there. There is something that your unique life and experiences will allow you to do best. Also, for those starting their own business, in this age of the internet; read about marketing and search engine optimisation. There’s no point in having something fabulous to sell to people with no knowledge of how to get your message out there.
Links for Claire
(All Wedding Pictures used in this post were provided by Claire from Wed In Central Park and used with her permission.)