(Originally published on June 26, 2011; reprints previous original material published in this section)
Renowned event designer Preston Bailey shares tips for those looking into a career in event design
By Irene V. Fernando
For someone who entered the industry of event designing by mistake, Preston Bailey must have done something right. Today, he is one of the favorite event stylists ofHollywood’s big names: Oprah, Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump, Joan Rivers and Uma Thurman, among others. He has written best-selling books like “Design for Entertaining,” “Fantasy Weddings,” “Inspirations”, and his latest, “Celebrations” will be on the stands this September.
Bailey visited the country to discuss what makes an event design successful during Rita Neri Planners (RNEP)’s 18th year celebration in the event planning industry. The anniversary also showcased wedding table settings presented at the Upper Lobby of Peninsula Manila from May 29 to 30 by the country’s major wedding magazines.
A Career Out of Unemployment
Bailey left his hometown ofPanamaat the age of 19 and moved toNew York, where he started his career as a fashion model before opening a man’s clothing boutique. When his store closed down, he ventured into floral arrangements before finally meeting Joan Rivers, who asked him to design and produce her daughter Melissa’s wedding. Soon enough,Preston’s talent for event design became the talk of the town, with his works often referred to as art installations. He has been known to transform ordinary spaces into theatrical environments, much to his clients’ amazement.
With his profession relying heavily on creativity, one wonders if he has no problems dealing with the business side. “It’s not easy,” he says, “I have my own people. I design, get to know my clients. Once they talk about money, I let them talk to my Chief Financial Officer (CFO).”
Event Design as a Career
When asked what striving event designers should bear in mind in pursuing this profession, Bailey was quick to enumerate the following: “1) Develop your own look; 2) Learn how to charge your clients; 3) Do not give up; and 4) Continue growing.”
For one, Bailey loves an enormous first impression. He once designed elephants from lotus leaves and 10-foot lions from roses. His designs allow his clients’ fantasies to become jaw-dropping reality.
In charging clients, Bailey discussed in his blog the few ways to prevent being cash poor:
You must always keep in mind the three key things you’re selling to potential clients:
1. Your time. Time is money. Our time is our most valuable commodity.
2. Your ideas. As much as I want to get clients excited about what I can do for them, my ideas are my product. I know that I can’t give all of my ideas away in the very first meeting before they’ve made it clear they want to give me the job. Some potential clients expect personal design ideas right there in the first meeting, but the danger of this is that they could take that idea and hire someone else to do it.
3. Your materials. If you give a presentation to potential clients, you will be using your own cash to do so. Therefore, if a client insists on seeing any flowers or other design elements before hiring you, make sure you charge them for it.
And for those looking into starting their own business, Bailey also lists a few pointers on how to keep your business afloat:
1. Do your very best to build a financial nest egg. What does this mean exactly? It means having a savings account worth 30 percent of your annual income or as close to that as you can manage.
2. Every three months, sit down and evaluate your financial situation. Yes, I know, this is not fun, and it can be extremely hard to face the reality of your finances. But ignore them, and you’ll eventually be forced to face the consequences. Trust me, that hurts a lot more. Once you have a clear understanding of your current finances, make a projection. What jobs do you have? What jobs do you think you have a good chance of getting? Do you need to start increasing your sales efforts? Answer these questions honestly. Now is not the time to kid yourself. Use this newfound awareness to keep you grounded and help you make smart money decisions in the coming months.
3. When clients give you a deposit, never use that money for anything other than their project. Otherwise, you might find yourself in a game of stealing from Peter to pay Paul.
4. Be consistent with your profit margin. If you’re not making the proper profit, which is 50 percent, then you’ll mostly likely always be cash poor. You must learn to charge what you’re worth, because there are a lot of expenses and a lot of people you to need pay at the end of every job.
5. Don’t forget Uncle Sam! You work for yourself, which means no one is taking money out of your paycheck to cover taxes. You must set aside money for taxes in a separate account. Never, and I mean never, use this money for anything other than taxes.
While Bailey admits he does not live for dealing with money, he knows that he needs it and that he has learned that it is still part of his job of planning and designing to pay close attention to his finances. “Please learn from my mistakes,” he says, “be financially savvy, and you’ll get to keep doing what you love for decades to come.”
Lastly, Bailey encourages everyone to never stop learning. “I get to travel a lot that I learned a lot,” he shares, “I try to spend much time in the area, pay attention, (and) understand the culture. This way, you’ll also discover that every culture has different needs, and every client has varied tastes.”
To get more of Preston Bailey’s advice, visit http://www.blog.prestonbailey.com.
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