I first heard about Ms. Natalie John through an article by Huffington Post last year. Dreamy Weddings was featured as an ideal wedding planning company for those interested in having a destination wedding.
Ever curious I went on their site and was pleased to find a company which presented itself as a high end quality service provider with a CEO who was a force to be reckoned with.
The founder and CEO of Dreamy Weddings Natalie John, is a Certified Wedding & Event Planner & Lifestyle Specialist who has planned hundreds of weddings from Jamaica in the north to Aruba in the South. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree of Commerce from Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia and also majored in Marketing & Finance.
Imagine my surprise when I found out that Ms. John herself would be in my very own back yard hosting a three-day seminar for persons involved in the romance service industry in Dominica. Of course I had to cover the story for my work and while there invited Ms. John to an interview which she agreed to.
What inspired you to create Dreamy Weddings?
Essentially I would have to say it was divine intervention as wedding planning was really not something that I grew up with the notion of doing. This is in part of it being a non-traditional job that we were used to having in the islands.
I grew up with parents who were entrepreneurs; my dad was a furniture manufacturer and my mother had a boutique and a restaurant so I never had a 9a.m-5p.m type of parent. This made me realize that I would probably be following their footsteps in that regard but I had no idea what sort of business I wanted to own.
Early in 1999 I had moved to St Kitts, was working with the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank and was on my first assignment in Anguilla. I distinctly remember being fascinated with the white sand beaches of the island. I happened to observe a couple getting married while I was admiring the beach, which was when my first inkling of inspiration was born.
This happened in March and sometime later in June I received an email from someone I had never met before, inquiring about information on planning a destination wedding. I being an avid supporter of promotion of one’s island assisted him as best as I could but at the end of the email I inquired to how he had received my contact information. He responded by saying he randomly found it on a list of email addresses he found on a West Indian website.
He had other questions which I answered and ended up asking me how could he have booked my services. Of course I was scared as this was something I had never done before but with prompting from my parents and other friends I decided to assist them with their dream following some planning and research.
Planning the renewal for them from St. Kitts where I resided was rather easy having worked in the Ministry of Commerce in Saint Lucia where I had networked and maintained a number of good relationships.
The renewal went off very well and the couple was excited and elated when they realized on the day that the marriage officer was the same who had conducted their ceremony ten years prior.
When I was able to pay everyone as well as pay myself that was when it clicked.
And the rest is history.
What were some things which assisted you when you first launched the business?
My first client was actually the spark. He informed me that if I ever wanted a testimonial for future clients he would be happy to oblige. Following that, a friend of mine bought me a book Strikingitrich.com which was a compilation of stories of persons who had struck gold in the online era. That really assisted me in terms of introducing me to the internet; online businesses, search engine optimization, marketing and the like.
All these things were self taught for me. I had someone who was involved in web design to assist me in launching my first website and did my research on how to maintain it. It struck me that since I was able to organize a wedding in St Kitts with little difficulty I should be able to do so in my home island. So I started off with two destinations St. Kitts and St. Lucia.
Was the networking process difficult when you were just launching?
I would not say so as I am a naturally friendly person. My family is really well known in St. Lucia so I thought if I was able to do it in St. Lucia I should be able to do it in St. Kitts where I am based.
I really credit the successful launching of my business to Windjammer Cruises which was very popular at the time. They reached out to me needing a destination wedding planner for Nevis, Antigua, St. Martin and St. Lucia. This really inspired me to reach for those other islands. I also accredit some of my networking skills to my previous job as Marketing Specialist at the Ministry of Commerce in St. Lucia where I was able to travel quite a bit and make a lot of contacts. I also had connections through my studies in university, so it was more or less calling to reestablish these networks.
Windjammer tested me first with one wedding which was successful and now to date we are at 14 destinations.
If you had to place a number on the amount of weddings your company has orchestrated what would it be?
Definitely in the hundreds, tipping into thousands. We started with myself and family then really good friends and neighbors. My first employee was a neighbor who was seeking employment in St. Lucia.
Of course transitioning from running a business on your own to being an employer was something that was a bit nerve racking as taking up responsibility for someone else was a big step. So I took her on for three days which turned into a week which turned into more. I soon received a section of the house from my mother to work in, which launched my home office.
We grew to about seven employees in St Lucia and then I transitioned my entire office for Dreamy Weddings to St. Kitts as I had gone into other areas of that business sector in St Kitts and air travel was not the best at the time. The head-office for Dreamy Weddings is in St. Kitts where we have a total of 15 full time employees.
I know that you mentioned that if you had previous information there were some things you would have done differently, what are some of those things?
Marketing is definitely one of those things. Destination wedding planning is an industry that is still relatively new and so there is a lack of information so many things were a hit and miss. For example, at the time there were a lot of telemarketers reaching out to us as a new business who did not do as promised so there was a lot of trial and error. In looking back one of the things I can say is to do more research and get reputable persons to work with.
The key now I must say, having started off back then almost 20 years ago, is taking advantage of what is out there. It is a different world now, everything is so much more available and people are sharing so much more. So if you’re just starting off in the business, unlike me who began with limited information, you can go to Google and search how to start a wedding company and there are so many people who are sharing with you that type of information.
What key characteristics should an aspiring destination wedding planner have?
Passion. You have got to be passionate about it. It is an easy entry job but to be able to sustain it you have to enjoy it, you have to love it. There will be long hours, you will be underappreciated but it is critical to remember the pressures that come with being a part of organizing a wedding.
A sane reasonable person may not be the same under that kind of pressure and you have to remember that. You also have to be patient especially in understanding the different cultures. What a local bride would accept may not be accepted by an international one. You have to learn the absolute best customer service as well as be skilled with certain things in the industry such as color palliating, décor etc.
Our location in the Caribbean can also be a hindrance. Oftentimes clients see things in magazines or on social media and would not be understanding of our customs or policies to recognize that some things are not possible. You need the patience to deal with those hiccups as well.
Have you experienced any difficulties in being a woman and more specifically a woman of color in this field?
In the local industry I would not say that color has been an issue but as a woman I have experienced some trials especially as it relates to management. I think that as a female you have to work twice as hard as a male and what comes naturally from a management point of view for a male looking in from a female perspective is a lot harder. For example, one of my other businesses is a partnership with a male partner and when he says something once there is no need to repeat, it’s done. However sometimes I would have to say it once, twice and even a third time. Another challenge we face is that if you are a go-getter and are driven to get things done you tend to be labeled as aggressive and a man who does the same thing is labeled a boss.
It’s important however to not let those things get you down.
One of the things that I do a lot and encourage others to do as well is read and research on management, which helps me a lot in terms of how I operate on a whole. So really and truly even if you have been educated at the university level you still have to continually educate yourself so you can keep up with the day-to-day challenges.
Interviewing Mrs John was an experience that I will take in and grow from and will definitely never forget.
Let us know what stood out to you the most in the interview in the comments down below.