Williams-Napierata (Rhodes Studios)

By Gail Johnson, ABC™, Gail Johnson Weddings, Tucker, Ga.

Can we really have it all? It just might be possible if Susan Southerland has anything to say about it. An entrepreneur, event planner, author, business consultant, wife, and mother of four, Southerland, is one of the foremost experts in the event industry today and the author of The Susan Southerland Secret: Personality Marketing to Today’s Bride.

President of Just Events Group!, Inc., Southerland is also a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and the national wedding expert for  Perfect Wedding Guide. Her wedding expertise is so widely recognized that she was even given the prestigious recognition as one of only 30 wedding planners worldwide named an “A-List Planner” by Destination Weddings and Honeymoons Magazine. In November, she will be one of the featured keynotes for the Association of Bridal Consultants Annual Business of Brides Conference, Nov. 10-12, in West Palm Beach. Wedding Planner Magazine recently caught up with her and asked her to share her secrets.

WPM: How do you find balance while running a business, conducting interviews, and attending speaking engagements?
Southerland: It isn’t easy, but I have a very supportive family—including my wonderful husband who works with me and takes care of the kids, a 17-year-old daughter, 11-year-old twin boys, and baby Macy, 1. The boys, in particular, know when the suitcases are packed. They wave me off, and patiently wait for me to come home again.

WPM: Tell us about the Susan Southerland Secret.
Southerland: Over the years, I’ve gotten to work with hundreds of brides as a planner, and through my speaking engagements, thousands more. Often, we sit and chat about things that are difficult for them, things that are easy, what they love about wedding planning and wedding vendors, as well as what they absolutely can’t stand and what makes them nervous. I soon realized there were four types of purchasing and planning personalities. That is how I developed the Susan Southerland Secret. Based on strengths and weaknesses, those personalities fit into certain categories. And, based on what those categories are, that is how you successfully sell a service to them.

WPM: What are you working on now?
Southerland: I’m expanding different areas for my company. I have a lot of speaking engagements. I’ve written a few more books for brides and am working on my second book for the trade. Fingers crossed, I hope it will be done when the ABC Business of Brides conference happens. It will be on entrepreneurship, and it’s designed to inspire high school and college students to take the road less traveled. It’s not about going the traditional route. Entrepreneurship could be a wonderful way for them to live their lives.

WPM: What’s the best part about your job?
Southerland: What I enjoy the most is that it’s really never the same thing twice. I really like inspiring other entrepreneurs. Speaking has been a wonderful fit for me. I enjoy seeing what happens when I give advice to eager people who want to build their businesses.  I also consult with corporations. I just got done with a consulting job for Loews Hotels to rebrand their wedding collateral and sharpen their sales techniques, and I consult with small businesses when they want to build a wedding and event business. It’s wonderful to give back in that way. I had so much help along the way. There are so many people who have inspired me, and I’m just excited to spark inspiration in other people.

WPM: What does it take to become a successful wedding professional?
Southerland: It takes excellent listening skills, tenacity, and the ability to stick around when things are tough. Flexibility is important, so we are not afraid to shift with the changing marketplace and try things that are new. Overall, just being an excellent listener is the key to success in business. Being a risk-taker doesn’t hurt, either.

WPM: How is your business using social media?
Southerland: We do a lot with social media. Some people on my staff are excellent with Pinterest. It is the bane of my existence, and I don’t know why. I never caught on to it. I don’t like it. It makes me crazy. We do a lot with Facebook and Twitter. Honestly, I really am looking to unlock the secret to that. There are some people who are using it really well and others not so much. It’s important to find a balance between “sell, sell, sell” and giving out useful, and interesting information.

WPM: How do you see the industry progressing over the next couple 
of years?
Southerland: I have concerns, actually. The number of vendors continues to grow, and the number of large weddings continues to decline or, at least, hold steady. There is more competition, especially for the top one percent of weddings. Everyone shouldn’t be competing for that top percent. If you start shooting down the middle, which is 40 percent of the weddings that take place, there is a much bigger marketplace. Technology has also taken a big bite out of business for us. It is cheaper to get into the business than it has ever been before, whether you are a photographer, videographer, wedding planner, or DJ. It is really more important than ever to establish ourselves as experts.

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