Chelsea Suddes, Owner of Pearl Weddings & Events, believes everything happens for a reason—from discovering she’d been creating the business concept for a wedding planning business to finding a location for her startup.
Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price spoke with Chelsea about her entrepreneurial experience and learned that even a professional planner must be willing to accept that plans can change.
NAN PRICE: Have you always been entrepreneurial?
CHELSEA SUDDES: Yes. I feel I’ve always been entrepreneurial.
During my undergraduate studies I was thinking of pursuing the business program at the University of Connecticut. But I didn’t like the idea of having to choose one concentration, like finance or marketing. I wanted to understand every piece of business.
Now, I can recognize that’s entrepreneurial—but I didn’t see it at the time. I thought if I started a business, I would have to invent something. And I didn’t know what I would invent.
NAN: You were focused on a product or something more tangible.
CHELSEA: I was. I thought selling a product made more sense. I had thought about having a business and trying to figure out how to run it. I knew it needed to be profitable. What was my strategy? How would I market? All I kept seeing was a product, a tangible item to sell. That probably came from 15 years of being in the restaurant industry.
NAN: How did you finally develop the business concept for Pearl Weddings & Events?
CHELSEA: While I was at UConn, I did an internship with Ambiance Luxe Wedding Design, which was a Hartford-based wedding planning company. After the internship, I was hired as an assistant and stayed for three years. Eventually, I asked for a lead wedding planner role, but they could not offer me a full-time planner position, so I left and took a corporate job at Aetna in Chicago.
NAN: That’s quite a shift.
CHELSEA: Yes, it was totally different. I got a different perspective about elements I didn’t have before working in the corporate world. I learned so much about business and my time there was incredible.
While at Aetna, I also had the opportunity to go back to school to pursue my MBA in entrepreneurial studies. I was halfway through the program when I realized the corporate world wasn’t a good fit for me. I ended up leaving Aetna and graduate school without knowing what I was going to do next.
So, I was engaged, not working, and I was planning our wedding in two months. My mentor encouraged me to take the time off from work to focus solely on planning our wedding. She basically forbade me from looking for a job—that idea was ludicrous to me! I had always worked, usually multiple jobs. But I followed her direction and made planning my wedding my “work.” And it turned out, I loved it. I didn’t want the planning to end.
NAN: You had found your passion.
CHELSEA: Yes. But I still didn’t really know it! I didn’t fully realize I wanted to open a wedding planning company. It wasn’t until we were on our honeymoon and I read an email from Girlboss, a newsletter blog I follow for women entrepreneurs. They were hosting a business plan writing contest where the winner would receive some money toward startup funding.
I remember the idea just dropped into my head. I turned to my husband and told him I was going to open a wedding planning business. He nonchalantly said: I know, you’ve been talking about it forever—you kept saying this was something you wanted to do.
I remember thinking: How come I never heard myself?!
I don’t think I’d ever solidified the idea in my head. I’d just talked about all these different elements. It’s kind of what I said before, I knew I wanted to have a business, but I didn’t know how to bring it together. I’d been talking about it in different realms and then, at that point, it just all came together.
I never wrote and submitted my business plan to Girlboss. I just started my company.
NAN: When did you officially launch the startup?
CHELSEA: In January 2017 Pearl Weddings & Events became a legal business. And then in March 2017 I did my full business launch with a website.
NAN: What makes your startup unique?
CHELSEA: Being a business owner, you always want to differentiate yourself. You want to make something or do something differently—and people have different perspectives about how to do that. The way I chose to differentiate my business was just to be myself, because this business is a representation of who I am and what I want to create.
I love business. I love strategizing. I love collaborating. I’m not a cookie cutter kind of wedding planner and I think people can see that.
Also, Pearl Weddings & Events is a brand I completely support. It’s something I believe in and something I can understand and talk about very easily because it’s me. I’m learning so much about myself through this business. This entire endeavor has been an evolution of who I am. It’s constant growth. And that’s exciting to me.
NAN: How are you marketing?
CHELSEA: One of the main ways is through Instagram. It’s free in cost—but not in time. It’s a great way to constantly get out in front of people and share myself. I find a lot of people can relate to what I’m sharing—it’s an authentic representation of who I am. That’s how I find my clients who work with me. They connect with how I share myself on Instagram.
NAN: Tell us about the “& Events.” What other kinds of events do you plan?
CHELSEA: Right now, my business is mainly focused on weddings. It was easy for me to jump into the wedding planning industry because I already had the background.
The “& Events” was intentional, because I wanted to leave space for other types of events. Design is a huge element of what I do, so I wanted to incorporate that into event planning for companies in the future. I would love to help clients create a branded event for a new product rollout, for example.
NAN: Let’s talk location. Why Collinsville?
CHELSEA: I live here and right now I can walk to my office. When I started my business, we lived in East Berlin and I had a home-based office, which made sense just starting out.
Then we moved to Collinsville and I had been looking for a space. My husband quoted this building to paint the interior. He saw this room and thought it was a good space for me. And as it turns out the building manager lives right next-door to us! I contacted the building manager saw the space and moved in. I’m now a Collinsville business and I am happy to be a part of this business community.
NAN: Anything you’ve learned in your entrepreneurial journey? Any advice?
CHELSEA: Running a business, you take on a lot of risk and you learn so much about yourself.
I have a vision. I have a five-year plan. I know where I want this business to go. But I need to take it one step at a time, because if I try to go too fast, I could end up completely failing. And if I go too slow, I am never going to get anywhere. So, I take it slowly but pursue it with everything I have. That’s what I’ve found has worked for me.
As far as advice, what I’ve taken from my mentor is: Make a plan and be flexible.
I believe everything happens for reason. You make a plan because you want to have guidelines and have direction, so you can keep moving and taking steps to achieve your goals. But you need to be flexible because in any moment something can change. You have to trust yourself and trust the moment.
Learn more about Pearl Weddings & Events