‘Blood, sweat and tears, that’s how I built my business’ – Evegenia Poplett

Updated on 30 July 2014

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'Blood, sweat and tears, that's how I built my business' - Evegenia Poplett

Our entrepreneur of the week, Evegenia Poplett, explains why it takes guts to make it in the competitive local wedding industry 

Company Profile Name of company: Splendid Wedding Group Years in existence: 7 years

Position: Owner

Can you tell us a little bit about your background – personal, educational and professional?

I was born in Uzbekistan, lived in Siberia, traveled all over the world with my parents and thereafter came to South Africa in 1994 – just before the first democratic elections. My parents fell in love with this country so we relocated here. I matriculated from Epworth, an incredible all-girls private school in Pietermaritzburg KZN, which played a huge part in making me believe that the world is full of possibilities. I graduated with a honours degree in Psychology from the University of Johannesburg in 2004. I am a registered FAMSA counsellor providing pre-marital and marital counselling services. I have experience in course development and teaching.

Can you tell us a little bit about your company and what you do?

Wedding planning is our main focus – we design, plan, manage and execute personalised and bespoke weddings. We take a limited number of weddings per year, between 20 and 30, due to the high level of responsibility and hours required per wedding.

We offer wedding styling services and we own an impressive decor range; we also do all the floral work and set up weddings in different locations. We transform spaces and create magic.

The consulting division deals with coaching, workshops and our new mentor programme caters to novice wedding planners and decorators. Splendid Wedding Group was established this year to accommodate our growth and incorporate different divisions.

How did you journey begin and how have you achieved success so far?

My journey began seven years ago when I found myself at a cross roads due to a personal and life changing event. Wedding planning was not a popular business path in South Africa seven years ago; so I did my research and saw a gap in the market.

I received negative comments and a lot of people predicted my failure. But I believed in my idea. My services were always aimed at professional couples who simply do not have time to dedicate to planning a wedding.

Not being able to “SELL” your vision, service, product is another big problem entrepreneurs face

I achieved success in my business by focusing on a steady growth and not running my business as a glorified hobby. It is a creative business and it is easy to get caught up on all ‘pretty things’ but business is business.

Being able to network effectively allowed me to establish invaluable relationships. I was creative with my marketing strategy and used social media to get my name out there.

Has it been difficult? What were some of the obstacles you face and how did you overcome them? The journey has been challenging. When I started my wedding planning business seven years ago, it was another era. We are talking about the world when social media was in its infancy. There were no wedding blogs or Pinterest. I did a lot of research and studied international wedding businesses. It allowed me to adapt their businesses models to the South African market.

A wedding planner is a luxury and so is the wedding. There was, and still is, a major misconception about the role of a wedding planner. Educating the public and the wedding industry has been the biggest challenge. The benefits of professional wedding planning services are starting to become apparent and amplified by social media. And now, seven years later, I am finally starting to see that all the ground work is paying off.

How many people does your company employ?

The company employs four full time employees. The nature of the event business is fluid and parameters of each events are different. In order to maintain a healthy cash flow we do employ part-time staff during the busy months, and we work with staffing companies if we need more people for bigger events.

What is your overall vision for your business?

My vision is three dimensional. I will continue growing the wedding planning and styling business, as we are already known as a premier trend setting brand when it comes to weddings.

I am a part owner of The Networking Conference – the only event for South African wedding professionals to network, learn and get inspired.

We wish to uplift the wedding industry in South Africa with a special focus on diversifying the industry, focusing on business growth and ultimately job creations in this sector.

And finally, I am taking my passion for wedding planning and offering my knowledge and expertise as a coach to new and novice wedding planners.

What do you think it takes to establish and run a successful business in South Africa?

It takes guts. It takes skills, knowledge, and experience. Lack of education in practical business activities is a major disadvantage. Not being able to “SELL” your vision, service, product is another big problem entrepreneurs face.

Sales are everything in any business, in any industry. You can have the best product in the world, but if you cannot sell it, your business will fail. If you have sales you will be able to pay salaries, tax, rent etc.

 I was extremely fortune to figure out how I could take my passion and turn it into a successful business

How did you finance your business, how difficult or easy was the process?

I had a small startup budget, which I used up in 3 months making poor business decisions. It took me six months to sign up my first client. When you have zero rands in your bank account you have to get proactive. This is when I realised that ‘selling’ must become a priority.

I took a drive around various wedding venues, introduced myself and asked to be recommended. One venue took a chance on me and because of them, I made it today.

Once the weddings started, things got better. For every wedding I took on, a portion was invested back into the business. In those days I did everything myself, even setting up and co-ordinating the entire wedding.

I could not afford to pay anyone. I did weddings at a very low rate just to build my portfolio. When they say ‘blood, sweat and tears’ that is how I built my business. The experience was invaluable because it allowed me to learn practical aspects of an event.

Business requires cash flow, and it took years to get it right. Having gone through the wedding planning, flower and decor set up from start to finish, made me a better business person today. It allowed me to learn the value of my services and how much it is worth.

What are the three things you attribute your business success to?

Passion, a willingness to learn from mistakes and failures, and continuing my education

When did you know that you were an entrepreneur?

My parents were the first wave of business owners when the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s. I grew up with startups, new and failed businesses, so entrepreneurship has always been part of my life.

I think I always knew I would have my own business someday, I was extremely fortunate to figure out how I could take my passion and turn it into a successful business.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Creative and inspirational. I love inspiring people, and I believe that the reason why people love working with me and my company is because they have the freedom to be the best possible version of themselves, in a creative environment – this is vital.

What are some of your favourite motivational books and motivational gurus that have inspired you to grow your business?

I read a lot. To pick a favourite book is difficult. The book that changed my game was When Buyers Say No by Tom Hopkins and Ben Katt. If you own a business, you have to read this book.

I also follow a number of blogs like: Sean Louw, Seth Goddin.

Preston Bailey and Colin Cowie are my wedding gurus.

What three pieces of advice would you offer young entrepreneurs starting today?

Knowledge is power – don’t be arrogant thinking you know it all, you don’t. Learn from the best. Ask for advice. Invest in your education, attend meet-ups, conference and business programmes.

Be reliable – if you say you will do something, you have to do it.

Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure if your biggest teacher. Take a moment to feel sad/depressed/guttered and then figure out how you will improve your product/service/process.

What’s the worst business advice you’ve ever received?

“Fake it until you make it”. I believe it is best to be real. Authenticity sells and builds trust much more than someone pretending to be something or someone they are not.

If you are a newcomer in the industry, don’t lie about your experience. Instead use that to your advantage to tell potential customers that even though you are new, you are ready and you have more time to dedicate to their project. People love discovering a new product/talent/prodigy.

 And finally, do you believe in luck, hard work or both?

Luck is too external, I believe we hold the power and with hard work we can make anything happen. I believe in opportunities and the importance of seeing opportunities around us. I believe in creating opportunities too. Open your eyes, they are everywhere!

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