I was nine years old when The Wedding Planner came out and to this day, it (unashamedly) remains high up on my go-to list of chick flicks when I need a good pick me up.
Brushing the fact that Jennifer Lopez’s character stole the bride-to-be’s fiancé to the side for one moment, for all 103 minutes of movie time, I would get so caught up in the world of venue searches through luxury estates, how amazing it would feel to help the bride choose the dress… and that head piece that she wears on the wedding day to boss everyone around… who wouldn’t want one of those?!
So when my sister suggested that I speak to Nicole Evans, the 29 year old Founder of NFE Events, who just so happens to be planning one of the most highly anticipated weddings of the year at the moment (more on that later) along with 5* parties and luxury trips around the world for corporate clients on a regular basis, the nine year old in me got very excited!
I travelled to her gorgeous Oxfordshire home last week for tonight’s interview and with coffee on tap and an assortment of biscuits waiting, within seconds of arriving, I just knew we were going to get on…
SC.SD. Oh my gosh can I attack?
NE. Please do! And there’s plenty more!
SC.SD. I’m not going to be the pig that goes through a whole packet of biscuits!
NE. It’s that weird time though isn’t it? It’s not breakfast; it’s not lunch so biscuits it is!
SC.SD. Right let’s get this show on the road! I’m so intrigued to find out where it all began…
Nicole launched NFE Events just over two years ago but her career in the industry began during her placement year at university. Having studied Business Studies at Leeds Metropolitan University, Nicole chose to work at a Hotel Representation Company throughout the third year of her course. Given that it was a small company, she was immediately assigned with the task of organising corporate meetings and conferences, handling a huge amount of responsibility from day one…
NE. They were boutique, luxury hotels that had a smaller marketing and events team so they paid for the company I worked at to organise their events so you basically pretend that you’re a part of their hotel! It means that you instantly have a whole portfolio of hotels across the country but you need to know every hotel as if they’re your only hotel. It just gave me such a buzz…
SC.SD. And I guess because they’re boutique hotels, they’re a tad nicer than your Premier Inns so you get a bigger budget to play with?!
NE. Definitely! It gave me a taste for 5* hotels and I just loved how individual the spaces were. I once worked for a little castle on its own island off of Scotland… you have to go over a little drawbridge to get to it and it’s exclusively for parties with a minimum stay of three nights…
SC.SD. And this is still on your placement year?
SC.SD. That’s the dream!
NE. I know, I was so lucky! The director of the company – who was a women – was excellent so that put me on the right track because if you’re watching someone do it properly that’s exactly what you learn. I just wanted to take on more and more responsibility and they were willing to give it to me.
SC.SD. I bet it was hard going back to uni after that…
On returning to Leeds for her final year as a student, Nicole instantly put the skills she’d picked up during her placement to good use…
NE. Well this is a completely random story but in my fourth year I started working at a vintage shop…
SC.SD. Which one?
NE. The Vintage Wardrobe in Headingley, on the corner….
SC.SD Oh my gosh I used to go in there!`Such a small world!
In case it isn’t obvious, I went to Leeds Uni and lived a few roads down from this shop as a student…
NE. Well the owner didn’t like vintage stuff so it was up to me to do all the buying! One day he turned around and said he was going to sell it so I actually bought the shop..!
NE. It wasn’t actually as expensive as you’d think! I used some of my student loan! It was a risk but because I worked there I’d seen how it worked and I’d seen the returns… plus I had it on a rolling contract so I could always get out!
Working in the shop 9-5 was the last thing I wanted to do though. In the end, because I loved events, I used the shop as a hub to organise some fairs with local talent and local photographers. I called it “The Boozaar”! We also had a space in the Corn Exchange. On a Saturday, I’d bring in up and coming bands to play in the back of the shop and I’d advertise for student photographers, models, graphic designers etc…
SC.SD. And they’d do that for free because it’s exposure?
NE. Exactly! And I really enjoyed it! It definitely wasn’t just a shop.
SC.SD. Do you think you got the confidence to do that from your placement year?
NE. Yeh I think so. When you’ve got the confidence to walk into a 5* hotel and pretend that you are the face of the hotel when you’re not at all and are only on your placement year, that gives you the confidence to sell vintage clothes to students and host student events because I was so out of my depth in the hotels… they were never places I’d stayed in myself before… Anyway, I ended up doing my final year project on the shop!
SC.SD. I bet you got brownie points for that didn’t you?!
NE. Yes! I didn’t plan for it to work like that but it just did!
Under Nicole’s leadership, The Vintage Wardrobe went on to win best vintage shop in Leeds, knocking Blue Rinse– the longterm favourite- off of the highly coveted spot. When Leeds Met found out, Nicole became the face of Business Studies across all of their marketing platforms…
NE. It just spiralled and then suddenly I was on buses and billboards saying “Business studies Leeds: It’s amazing what you can do!”
SC.SD. That’s amazing! I wonder if I ever saw you on one! Why did you decide to walk away from the shop?
NE. It got to a point where we’d won the award, I was on the buses etc.. and where I’d pushed myself as a student, friends were starting to catch up. After graduating they’d gone and got proper jobs and I was just sitting in the vintage shop.
I remember my parents sat me down and said you either expand massively now and think about vintage shops in all the student areas or you stop. So I had a good think about it and I stopped.
SC.SD. What did that feel like?
NE. It was what I wanted to do. The vintage shop worked so well for me then. I loved sitting in the shop with my cup of tea and I had my little dog and it was lovely but as I got older, it was less people I actually knew being around. All my friends were getting into the real world and I suddenly felt like I wasn’t.
SC.SD. Leeds to me, especially Headingley, is just such a student bubble.
NE. Yes you’re suddenly old at 21-22! So even though the vintage shop sounds a bit off track, the events side of it was always there!
SC.SD. And I suppose it gave you a taste of being your own boss?
After selling The Vintage Wardrobe, Nicole – having left there on good terms at the end of her placement – returned to the Hotel Representation Company. After a couple of years, she jumped ship to another events company where she left the world of conferences behind in favour of weddings, incentives and weekends away…
SC.SD. Let’s talk about the moment you decided to go solo. When did it hit you that you were done working for someone else?
NE. Because of the vintage shop, it was always in the back of my mind. My Dad has always worked for himself so it wasn’t a complete wild card and my partner always said that I should go on my own. I think having someone supporting you, in your ear saying “you can do this” is massive. That was the push I needed.
SC.SD. So you hand your notice in. What did you do to turn the idea into a business?
NE. To be completely honest, I probably didn’t plan as much as you would imagine! I think maybe if I had I wouldn’t be here. With my events, you just don’t know what’s going to happen and it wasn’t really necessary for me to make a business plan because it’s not like ‘oh I need to sell in 10 shops to cover these costs’. I can appreciate if you have large overheads and you have to invest in stock, you really have to work it out but with this you just have to be impulsive!
I’ve kept my costs really low on purpose. I had a laptop, I had a phone. It was just a case of ‘right let’s do this’.
I had to cold call sometimes and ask “who organises your events? Can I speak to them?” but in every event that I’ve done, because of the positive feedback I’ve had, I’ve managed to stay in touch with a lot of people so the majority of my work comes through word of mouth.
SC.SD. That’s impressive! Do you remember what your first commission was?
NE. Yes! My first client was Sky Betting and Gaming. I had done some projects for them throughout my career so they knew of me and they always said “if you do go out on your own, let us know.”
SC.SD. Amazing! That’s such a good…
NE. Opportunity? I know! They do Cheltenham Hospitality each year so they have two boxes and sponsor the races. It’s over four days and we have about 100 people per box per day. They asked if I want that project so straight away I was given my first break and this will be my third year organising it for them now! I also organise the Play Offs for them at Wembley as they are the main sponsor!
In addition to her work for Sky Betting and Gaming, soon after setting up, Nicole was commissioned by corporate clients to organise incentive prizes for their customers- a job she admits is even more fun to organise than events at 5* hotels…
NE. Clients give me a budget, say £10000 for two people and my job is to put the whole package together. From the moment they shut the door of their house, there will be a chauffeur waiting for them and they won’t need to take their purse out until they return home. Every minor detail is covered!
SC.SD. That sounds so dreamy! What do you prefer working on? Bespoke packages like that, weddings, what?
NE. They’re such a different kind of event. People say to me now, “don’t you just want to be a wedding planner?” but I get my kicks from doing all of them! I organise those prizes once a month and they give me an uplift but I organise the whole thing without a person in mind- my contact with them is so minimal. It’s so lovely to speak to them when they find out they’ve won though, they just can’t believe it.
SC.SD. You wouldn’t believe it though! A ten grand holiday for two people would be insane…
NE. I know! It’s once in a lifetime. It’s just so lovely because once a month I get to speak to people that are completely over the moon!
SC.SD. How do you deal with the fact that you’re not there in person to manage the situation if anything goes wrong?
NE. Because I’m not on the trip, every detail has to be managed perfectly from here. I work very closely now with suppliers that I know, I have my preferred suppliers…
SC.SD. But that can’t have always been the case?
NE. No it wasn’t. I double check, triple check and they know me so well by the time someone’s coming out. When I book a taxi say, I have to organise every single transfer from the moment they arrive and that’s scary because some companies are like “Fill in this form. What time?” and that’s it! Then there’s name changes, you can’t tell them who the passenger is yet etc…
SC.SD. Flight delays?
NE. Exactly! So I make sure I pick up the phone constantly and micromanage everyone…
SC.SD. You say micro managing… I guess you have to be on top of everyone that you’re relying on but do you ever get conscious that you’ll annoy them?
NE. Erm… no because I just think this is my job and if the transfer doesn’t arrive, I guarantee that my client and the guests won’t say “that transfer really let us down”, they’ll say “Nicole let us down!” Everything is on me so I don’t mind that I have to be that person. I know that some people must get sick of me but I get more and more trust in them and I never forget if something goes wrong! They’re instantly black listed! In the same way though, I always remember if someone is excellent and once they realise what I’m doing and how often I’m coming to them, they’re so willing to help.
Plus with budgets like that I don’t have to scrape the barrel with suppliers. I know that if I’m putting them in a 5* hotel, I trust that they’re having a 5* service!
SC.SD. You’d hope so! Let’s talk weddings. You don’t really get to know the couples you send away on your incentive trips but with your brides it’s obviously much longer. Do you get to be selective with who you work with? Because that’s a long time to work with someone if you don’t see eye to eye…
NE. Definitely! I join the brides a year or more ahead of their wedding day and go on a whole journey with them! The weddings turn into your life so I’m not going to take a wedding where I dread the calls; that’s not who I am and it’s not the service I want to give. I always say to the brides “ring me anytime!” I think that feeling is mutual though if you don’t want to work with someone. I become their friend, so if it’s not going to work like that then it’s not worth it.
SC.SD. Do you stay in contact with the brides after?
NE. Absolutely! You get to know them, you get to know their family as well and by the time wedding day comes around, you’re almost like a guest because you’ve been there for so many of their special moments! That’s why I don’t take a lot of weddings on per year and definitely not ones close together.
SC.SD. It’s so nice that you always have a guaranteed wedding to go to!
NE. Yeh I know!
SC.SD. Wedding planning is obviously one of those careers that a lot of women would look at and say is their dream career… Do you plan it in such a way where you can relax or are you very much working on the day?
NE. A boss once said to me that your events should be so well planned that you don’t need to be at the event. Emergencies happen and there are a lot of emotions at a wedding but an events coordinator should never look worried on the day, you should just be pleased with how everything is going!
SC.SD. Speaking more generally about being self-employed, have you had any days since setting up where you’ve just thought ‘I can’t do this anymore, I miss being employed’?
NE. I know that when I sat in the office working for someone else I had way more stressful nights and days than I do now. If this ever gets too much, I just walk into the kitchen, make myself a cup of tea, ring a friend and step away from it all. I don’t force it. I’ll just work another time… in the evening or at the weekend which might seem silly to someone else but I will never sit here and just twiddle my thumbs… it’s a waste of my time! If I was working for someone else I couldn’t do that!
SC.SD. Has anything ever gone wrong?
We both reach out in sync and touch the table!
NE. There are always the nerves before an event and the “what ifs” and things do get a bit crazy…
SC.SD. I always remember in my old job, the alarm going off at silly o’clock in the morning, waking up in hotel rooms not having a clue where I am and then that feeling would hit me… it’s event day and oh my god it’s going to be a long day! You really do have to mentally prepare yourself for that don’t you?!
NE. Definitely! It’s funny because at the event itself I’m not nervous but at breakfast I am! My partner has a very stressful job and I always think if he can come in and switch off and put his feet up and watch a box set then so can I. My advice is to surround yourself with positive people- my family are all quite positive and stress free so it brings you to a good level. That helps a lot.
So no big disasters but I have moments of self-doubt where I need that reassurance that everything is going to be ok.
SC.SD. So you turn to family for support?
NE. Yes… or they just come anyway if they see the doubt in my eyes!
SC.SD. Haha! I’ve always been told that my face gives me away! What does a good day on the job look like?
NE. See I get the biggest buzz on the night an event has finished. Nothing can replace it! It doesn’t matter what event it is…. When you know that it’s down to you, me sitting in my little office working, and I know how much work I’ve put in beforehand and they’re saying thank you to me and you can hear in their voice the time they’ve had, it’s so lovely. It really is a buzz.
SC.SD. I know what you mean but you completely deserve that praise! It’s so obvious how hard you work! This is the kind of job where you have irregular hours so have any of your friendships or relationships changed over time?
NE. Erm… I guess before I started this business it was work and friends whereas now it’s work, family, Sienna (Nicole’s eleven month old daughter) and friends so between all of that, I think friends is something that’s had to give a little. Because I work so hard in the day and then have Sienna, I can’t just say I’m off out for drinks tonight like I used to. We’re kind of at the age now though where all of my friends have different priorities right now… it just means less of the wine and gin nights but we come together for the things that matter.
SC.SD. And I guess you make the most of that time when you do… Do you find that there’s support from within the industry? Any role models?
NE. I’ve had two really strong female bosses who have been very big influences on me. It’s been so nice actually because so many bosses have got in touch in the past few months and said “well done” and I think it’s so positive to have that feedback instead of “damn you Nicole!” I don’t go to networking events though… it’s why my website is so dated, I don’t have a Facebook page, everything is through word of mouth.
I only started Instagram because I was told I should by a friend and I remember being so embarrassed when Lydia and Ali announced that I was their wedding planner because my website is sooo dated and my Instagram had about 5 photos on there and obviously knowing them and what they both do, I know that Instagram is so powerful!
Earlier this year, Nicole announced that she would be the sole wedding planner for Lydia Millen and Ali Gordon’s eagerly awaited wedding that will be taking place later this year.
SC.SD. Haha it’s scary how quick people are to judge isn’t it! How did you end up working on Lydia and Ali’s wedding?
NE. I went to school with Lydia and one day, I can’t remember if it was on Twitter but she said that she was struggling with finding a wedding planner so I just reached out and said “if you ever need any help etc” and she said yes, which is incredible… it’s a dream to work with suppliers that are so passionate about their client!
SC.SD. I bet! How do you deal with the secrecy element to projects like theirs? Are you used to it by now or are you ever tempted to share details with family and friends?!
NE. It’s funny because my family will ask things like “how’s the wedding going?” but they don’t say things like “where is it? when is it?” etc… so it’s not really a problem because no one asks me for the nitty gritty details!
SC.SD. That’s good! I’m always intrigued with wedding planners… do you think you’ll enjoy planning your own wedding or will you get someone else to do it?
NE. It’s a tricky one!
She pauses for a second…
NE. I definitely will plan it myself – you get ideas as you go around and you start thinking personally, I love this venue etc… – but I think there’s so much pressure on my own wedding…
SC.SD. Just a bit…!
NE. Which is so hard… people expect a lot when you’re an event organiser! It’s a bit overwhelming….
SC.SD. It’s almost like your trying to please their expectations rather than your own…
NE. Definitely! It’s funny because people think I go on crazy holidays and make use of these contacts but we just tend to go to a villa and lie by the pool! With all of my events, because I work to such detail, people laugh because with my partner, if we go away, people ask where we’re flying from and what times our flight and I’m like “I have no idea, Neville, where are we flying from, what time is our fight?!” I just handover my passport, follow him and I don’t organise anything….
SC.SD. I was going to ask you this because at work (and at uni and school too) I am and always have been organised. I’m on top of everything, I hit deadlines, I get back to people when I say I will… but outside of that, my friends and family always say I’m a complete mess! I’m late, I’m this, I’m that… I’ve never got the balance right! What are you like outside of work?
NE. Not regimented in the slightest! Not at all! I’m really, really on the ball with work and Sienna but Neville and I have dinner at 10 o’clock at night! I don’t think you can keep complete control of everything.
SC.SD. See I like to think it’s a good thing, that’s what I tell my family anyway..! If you’re so on top of everything I feel like you’d be so wired! There’d be no room to have fun!
NE. Exactly! My original boss was extremely regimented in and out of work but she didn’t have a family. It’s a funny one because you asked about role models and she inspired me in the work sense and how to do things right but even at aged 19-20, I knew that I didn’t want to be like her in every way. She was a powerful woman who did her work excellently which I wanted to replicate but there needs to be a balance.
SC.SD. A lot of women strive for that balance so let’s delve into that a bit more. You obviously got pregnant in the early days of NFE? What was that like knowing you had a new business and firstborn on the way?
NE. Yes, I just thought it would be harder for me to start a business with a child so let’s just start! I was also very aware that I wanted to keep strong relationships with my former employers and you’ve got to consider the repercussions of taking maternity leave, coming back and then saying “I’m leaving to start my own business”… I wanted to be a bit more considerate than that.
Because there’s not big costs involved with running your own events company, I just said to myself keep it as small as you like, make a few business cards and if it’s too much of a struggle then turn some of the bigger events down.
SC.SD. No wonder your old bosses loved you so much! Do you have a favourite quote?
NE. Hmmm…. “all that we are is a result of what we have thought.” There’s a book called ‘The Secret’ that I follow to an extent….I read it years ago and it’s something I come back to. It’s like the Law of Attraction… how positive thinking brings positive outcomes. It goes to the extent that if you believe you’ll get a Ferrari, you’ll get a Ferrari (!) so I don’t believe it quite to that level but I definitely believe in positive vibes! When you’re aware of it you see it in other people, especially negative people…. I’m just like sssshhhhh. It’s like they’re happy being miserable!
SC.SD. So, so true! It’s like that quote “How to be happy? Decide every morning that you are in a good mood…” Where do you see yourself in five years or should I say where do you believe you’ll be in five years?!
NE. It’s an interesting one actually because most people would say ‘I want to grow’ but in five years I want to be doing exactly what I’m doing now! No bigger and hopefully no smaller…!
SC.SD. I guess… actually that’ll sound bad… I was going to say I guess you’re at your peak but that sounds like you’re about to go on a downhill spiral! But your business is really successful as it stands and suits your lifestyle perfectly right now…
NE. Exactly, it’s fine for me and I think people pick NFE Events because they want me to work for them so I just couldn’t hand it over to anyone else right now which sounds really silly I know but I’d much rather take on less and do it all myself.
SC.SD. It doesn’t sound silly at all, it’s your name and reputation on the line after all. Is that what motivates you then? Because I take it’s not money if you don’t want it to keep getting bigger…
NE. I think what motivates me is feeling that I’ve got a good balance so taking Sienna to her baby clubs and putting her to sleep and still knowing that I have happy clients and a happy partner and a happy baby! No more clients could come on at the moment because it would throw it all off. At the moment I feel like it’s just right!
SC.SD. What about as you get older though…Can you see yourself organising these events when you’re 60-65?
NE. I think so yes! I like to be independent and I can’t see myself wanting to give that up when I’m older. I’m never counting down to the end of the day so I don’t know why I’d be counting down to retiring… You’ve got to keep busy haven’t you?!
We end the interview there and after saying our goodbyes, I leave not doubting in the slightest that Nicole will still be at the helm of NFE Events in many years to come…
Her work ethic is obvious; she’s passionate about her job and her commitment to providing a stellar service that goes above and beyond for each of her clients gives her that extra special edge that explains why she’s so in-demand.
What I loved most about this interview though is that I could tell she meant it when she said she really doesn’t want the business to grow any bigger and for that, along with so many other reasons, I wholly respect her.
There seems to be a widely held conviction that we should be striving for more continuously in order to progress and grow nowadays. That if you launch your own business, it has to be the biggest and brightest out there for it to succeed… But Nicole is the perfect example of why being completely content with where you are now – if it works for you – is absolutely fine.
Having earned herself a stellar reputation throughout her career, maintaining the strongest of relationships wherever she goes, she has built a business that is aligned in such a way that she is able to flourish in every aspect of her life. Her diary is full professionally and she feels fulfilled personally.
She has found that much sought after balance that works for her. Why would or should she change that?
For more information on NFE Events, visit her Instagram page: @nfe_events