North Shore Weddings & Events was created in 2011 by Owner & Principal Event Planner, Megan Estrada. Started as a Chicago focused wedding and social event planning company, it has now grown to be serving national events across the country. Megan Estrada is a seasoned wedding and event industry professional who has been in the event planning and hospitality industry for over 20 years. NSWE has managed and arranged hundreds of events, including weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, corporate events, bar/bat mitzvahs, and not-for-profit fundraisers. They take an extraordinary approach to creating flawless chic events that will entertain and inspire hosts and guests and provide memories to last eternity.
NSWE prides themselves on helping clients stay organized, keep within a budget, and attain the wedding or event beyond their initial expectations. They believe that unique events require extra creativity, not necessarily expenditures. The goal is to produce the most creative and individual event within the conditions designated by the client. As experts in contract negotiations with venues, caterers, and vendors, they provide ease to the process and enable clients to include more of their wish list in their event. They approach coordinating events professionally to provide a creative and logical method to the process.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced while planning an event and how did you overcome it?
For a year, I had been planning this lovely tent wedding with a client. So many details were decided with such scrutiny from the violin show during dinner to the Grapevine Chandelier and Café Lights to light the tent. We brought in generator power for the band and lighting. Everything had been triple checked to be working smoothly.
About 10 minutes before the ceremony was about to start, I received a call at the church from one of my assistants. The generator for the band was blown. I called my back up plan electrician to reroute the power off the house and went to gather the groomsmen and groom. The Groom asked me “How’s everything going?” and I casually said, “Ahh, a generator is blown so we have to reroute the power from the house, but everything will be fine. I have an electrician meeting me there after the ceremony.” I wish the photographer had been there at that moment to catch all their faces. The groom then asked me “So we basically don’t have any power for the reception?” I responded, “Yep, but it’s going to be fine. I have a backup plan.”
It was fine. We rerouted the power for the entire event off the client’s and neighbor’s house (who was attending the event) and the party went on until the early morning under the beautiful café string lights and a grapevine chandelier. The client claimed it was the “Event of the Century”. Just a little stressful though!
What are 2 trends in the event planning industry that you’re excited about?
We have always taken a 360-degree approach to planning events and are now seeing more companies recognize that well-planned events aren’t just about pretty décor and photography. Multiple elements make up a successful event and they have to be balanced with the client’s priorities. More and more event planners are being particular about the specific music being played, the food presentation/quality, and having excellent logistics/management of the events. This is the test of a great event planner and I’m hoping this trend will continue in the future.
For something fun, I’m loving the trend away from the volume of flowers and towards really well thought out design elements. Designing the look and feel of an event is more than just pretty flowers. We have so many resources available to the event design industry and thoroughly designing an entire room is the goal. We are using furniture, lighting, and custom installation pieces to provide a really unique feeling to the event. I’m excited to see textures of palm leaves, grasses, and painted foliage. I also love designing with a cultural element and with color!
What are some tips for creating an elegant and memorable event on a tight budget?
Prioritizing from the first stage of planning is the best strategy for executing an event on a budget. I discuss with my clients their true priorities and spend money on the priorities and cut where they don’t find as much value.
I currently have a destination wedding whose top priority is music, so we spent the largest portion of the budget on flying in a band, providing a gospel choir, and strings for the ceremony, but spent much less on invitations and flowers. This made sense to their needs and kept the bottom line where they were comfortable.
If you had unlimited resources, what would your dream client and event look like?
I’m all about the guest experience. I want them to be surprised with pleasure, but I don’t like to overload the senses. So much gets lost when trying to use resources to overstimulate and impress people.
My dream client would have taste that follows mine, which we call “understated elegance”. They would want the event to be engaging and fun. They would appreciate being directed to create an experience that is valued by the guest versus a performance that is self-serving to the client.
The event would have a grand location, as to excite the guests before they stepped foot at the event. Beautiful or interesting invitations would be sent out to further create anticipation. Their arrival would be easy and welcoming and greeted with food, beverage, and some kind of entertainment appropriate for the time of the day. The menu would be perfectly reflective of the hosts and the style of the event. The entertainment and activity would be inclusive, relatable, and encouraging for all guests to enjoy themselves freely. The guests would be graciously courted throughout the event experience. That is the ultimate event.
How important are your relationships with vendors and what are some ways that you successfully cultivate and ensure good rapport?
Part of our company’s mission statement includes, “Create an environment that allows the vendors to excel.” Our relationships with our vendors are the most important element of our success. This starts with cultivating event teams specifically for each client and then providing those vendors the support and information they need to succeed.
Nothing bothers me more than hearing about event planners giving vendors insufficient information, not treating them with respect, or throwing them under the bus. Events are created with teamwork and we have systems to provide each vendor we select and supportive systems to execute events.
What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for you personally or professionally?
North Shore Weddings & Events is currently going through a national rebranding for our ten year anniversary in 2021. We are changing our name to NSWE Events, to reflect our national market and goals for the next ten years.
We also are creating a development program for the event industry, focused on providing an enrichment course for event planners and catering managers. For many years, our vendor partners have said that they wished more event planners had our systems and processes. We have decided to share it with the events community and let them into our secrets for successful client and vendor relationships. By learning our systems, we feel we can elevate the event industry and allow for weddings and social events of all price points and styles, in all parts of the country, to be well executed following our theories.
What inspired you to launch your own company in the event industry? How long did it take from initially having the idea to setting up and starting to attract a client base?
I started planning events 20 years ago, in college, when I was shooting live music photography for the music industry. My friends planned and hosted special events (concerts, festivals, club nights, fashion shows) and I was involved in the planning process and production. These events sparked an interest in the event planning industry. I saw how the event production required creativity and management skills that I excelled in.
After college, I took a catering position with a hotel and began booking and planning social events. I moved up in positions and was the Director of Catering for the opening of a luxury hotel with 52,000 square feet of event space. Over the years, I helped plan hundreds of social events from the catering/venue side. That is when I developed a passion for flawless events and strong client relationships, which grew my desire to start my own event planning company in 2011.
After having two children in 2 years, I launched North Shore Weddings & Events to focus on serving the Chicago North Shore clientele with full event planning and month-of-coordination services. Between my children’s naps and diaper changes, I worked to build a company that rapidly grew each year.
After about 5 years, we were handling 20-30 events a year. Now at 9 years in business, we handled about 50 events this year and have six staff. We have a sub-brand called NSWE Home, which handles smaller sized events in people’s homes that want the elevated event design and planning on a smaller scale.
What are some things you wished you knew before starting your businesses?
Event Planning is a tough business and never an easy road, but I’ve been blessed with a strong referral business and really amazing clients who value the services I provide them. Working with the public versus business to business is a very different marketing strategy. I, fortunately, had already been accustomed to marketing to the public and knew how to weather the ups and downs of that lead process. You have to be patient and use a soft sales approach to building a clientele. Some months are incredibly busy and profitable and some are slow and without much income. You have to be prepared for the ups and downs.
As a single mother running a full-time business, it was a challenge to be an entrepreneur with small children. Although it teaches you to work smarter, I wish that I had started my company before I had children, as to go through some of the immediate challenges of being a business owner before I had the additional responsibility of two children.