03/25/2015 11:50 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Entrepreneurs: Tessa Kahoun, AZ's Foremost Wedding Planner


"You need to mentally prepare yourself for the fact that you are jumping into a career that is completely selfless." -Tessa

Age: 24

Give us the skinny on your background!
I went to Arizona State University and chose to major in Communications because I had no clue what I wanted to do and I had free reign to take whatever courses I wanted in that major. College life wasn't for me... I didn't join any sort of sorority and finished school in 3 ½ years. Throughout college I worked for a scouting company for models and actors. I thought what I wanted to do was move to LA and become a casting director. Well, this company that I worked for, would always host events and I fell in love with the events planning aspect of my job. I loved working with the people who would plan them, attending them, running them, and I loved the idea of following a time line. My infatuation for events started during my internship at the talent agency. I worked there for about a year and then accepted a position at an audio/visual production company. We did mostly corporate events. We would work with clients to implement branding in terms of audio/visual/lighting/sound. Then we started working with a few wedding planners and I found that I really loved working with them. I thought that it was super fun and way more creative. At that time I was still doing a lot of the grunt work, you know; setting up and breaking down stages and that wasn't what I wanted to be doing at all. I really enjoyed working directly with the clients.

So, what was your next move?
I started a retail job selling wedding dresses. It's very different than what you would see on shows like Say Yes to the Dress. It's not as glamorous. I had some amazing moments and it definitely solidified my love for working with brides, but the money just wasn't there. I was on my feet for 8hr days, working for minimum wage and 2% commission on $2,000 dresses. I did meet some great people and it was a great learning experience, but I spent the majority of my time steaming dresses, haha! I would get crazy burns from this awful steamer!


Photo credit: Buck Deitz Photography


Photo credit: Buck Deitz Photography

When did you make the big switch from retail to full-fledged wedding planner?
Well, one day, I was telling a co-worker how I was helping a friend plan her wedding and she said, "Tessa, why don't you just do that full-time? Didn't you work in events before?" It was so bizarre... It just kind of clicked and I was like, "Why am I here? Why am I doing this?" I put in my two weeks after that! Then I just kind of pursued that crazy pull that you get when don't know exactly how you're going to do it but you know that you're meant to be doing something, sooo you just go for it. That's how I found myself here.

When you quit your job, did you have outside help, savings, or a loan?
I had savings from working so much and never actually having a chance to spend it! Around that time my dad needed some help at his business, he's a concrete contractor. I started helping him at the office and he told me that if I really wanted to pursue wedding planning he would help me get to where I wanted to be as long as I continued to help him at the office.

Tell me about your first client.
My first client was actually someone I had met through a mutual friend. I reached out to her, and it was just kind of random because she was someone I had spoken to a handful of times. I was just starting out on my own and I knew that people wouldn't necessarily pay for my services yet. So, I called her and volunteered to do her wedding for free. When she agreed I was just ecstatic because this was going to be a great learning experience for me. It was insane! On the day of her wedding I was there at 10am and didn't leave until 1am. It was so rewarding and again, just solidified that I was in the right place, doing what I was meant to be doing.


Photo credit: Buck Deitz Photography

I recently interviewed a photographer, Cristen Geller and she had a strong point of view on that topic which was, "If you're ready and you know what you're doing, you charge! Not friends, not family... put a price on it. Know your worth." What are your thoughts on that?
I can definitely understand why should would say that. For this particular client, my first client, it wasn't coming from a place of insecurity. I wasn't thinking, "Oh, I don't know if I can do this." It was coming from a place of - I am just so hungry and eager, not to mention that she was somewhat of a friend and her wedding was less than 2 months away and she didn't have a crazy budget. I really just wanted to gain some experience and get a wedding under my belt as Tie the Knot by Tessa.

Tell me about working with the venues that weddings are typically held at.
Coordinators at the venues often encourage their brides to hire outside planners because outside planners do more than just run things the day of the wedding. We are truly the liaison between the bride/groom and the venue. It's really important to network and build great relationships with your venues and vendors. They really set the tone for the vibe and fluidity of the wedding day. It's important that they love you and you love them.


Photo credit: Buck Deitz Photography

What's your typical wedding budget and how has that gone up since you started?
I had a bride with a strict budget of $20K, which people view as average. To me, that's below average because it's very hard to plan a wedding with that budget. Then I've had brides with no budget. My very first wedding was a really strict budget but now they range from $35K-no budget.

What's the fee structure for wedding planners?
A lot of wedding planners take a % of the overall budget, but I charge a flat rate. Most brides prefer the flat rate structure because they know exactly how much they are paying upfront.

What would you say your niché market is? What kind of special touch does Tessa put on a wedding?
I love that you asked that. I'm one of the youngest wedding planners in AZ and people tend to be drawn to someone who can put a fresh, creative spin on things. Social media platforms like Pinterest and Instagram have made wedding planning so different nowadays. People don't really pick up magazines anymore. It's all about browsing Pinterest and collecting ideas. Because I was raised in the day and age of technology I feel like I have an edge and am well prepared for brides to come at me with a plethora of images they picked up from one social media platform or another. My main mission is to make this process as fun and stress free as possible. When I worked for the bridal salon the brides would often come in with their wedding planners and it was so weird because I could almost sense this tension between them. That's because the wedding planners would take over.

I want people to be able to pick and choose how they utilize my services. My goal is simply to aid them, not take over.

I know that you have an intern, tell me about that! How does that process work even if you haven't been in the biz for a long period of time?
Well, planning weddings isn't a one-woman job! I don't care what anyone says. I worked in an intern capacity while I was in college and I found it to be extremely beneficial in terms of hands-on, job-force experience. I met my intern, Ellie, out-and-about while shopping at Nordstroms. She was a very sweet, helpful sales associate and intrigued about what I did. The conversation just naturally evolved and she was happy to gain some experience in the industry. If you decide that you're at the point where you need outside help it's just important to be really clear about your expectations as well as, how their time with you is going to benefit their career. I recommend doing what I did, which was create a binder with due dates and project expectations, as well as meeting once or twice a week for a project download.


Photo credit: Buck Deitz Photography


Photo credit: Buck Deitz Photography

How have you marketed yourself and where have you seen the most success?
I just caved and I started advertising with Arizona weddings, which is a popular wedding magazine here in AZ. I was always anti paying for advertising, but in exchange I got an amazing opportunity to do a two-page editorial design challenge. I was able to showcase my design abilities. It's kind of crazy, but for the most part, in this business, it's just word-of-mouth. The referrals in this business come full circle. I've had previous clients as well as current clients refer me to their friends and relatives. I've also had clients reach out to me via my Instagram, Facebook and blog.

What advice would you give other aspiring wedding pllanners about their social media marketing efforts?
It's honestly about showing a bit of your personality. I've had people reach out to me because they thought my blog posts were funny and wanted to work with me simply because they felt a connection with Tessa the person, not just Tessa the wedding planner. Show your bride that you're going to be her friend and confidant throughout this process.

The biggest pro, I would say, is just the fact that you're connecting with the public on a regular basis. People like to see that you're posting, because if you're posting that means that you're working. Social media isn't necessarily going to make or break you but it is really important to let people into your world. The more that you let people into your world, the more they feel comfortable with you as a professional and a person. A wedding is such a personal thing in someone's life. It's crucial that they feel comfortable and safe with you.

I think that's pretty spot-on. Let's not forget to mention the amount of time social media takes. It really is a full-time job. When Instagram was new, you could just upload photos at-will, but now your feed has to have a flow. People are expecting your entire feed to create a mood or some sort of brand identity through filters and cropping. It has to be so strategic now. I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

Let's talk blogs! How important do you feel blogging is for business owners?
I kind of feel the same way about blogging as I do about social media in general. It's one of those outlets to show what you are working on and have a voice with a more targeted approach. My blog is a combination between advice, tips & tricks to plan your own wedding, guest favor ideas, and funny little articles here and there. Your blog really should provide 3 things:
1. Inspiration
2. Substance
3. Laughter


Photo credit: Buck Deitz Photography

Do you have any books you can recommend to aspiring wedding planners or business owners?

Yes... The Wedding Planning Institute, which offers a self-study membership where you can pick and choose online courses that pertain to different aspects of wedding planning, from extreme floral designs to helping couples make eco-friendly choices while planning their wedding.

What's your advice to anyone wanting to be a wedding planner or coordinator to make that first move to launch his or her own business?
I really feel that you need to have some type of experience in events. Spend some time as an assistant or intern for an events coordinator. Before you make the big leap, you need to mentally prepare yourself for the fact that you are jumping into a career that is completely selfless. It's a very rewarding career and that feeling of gratification that you get when your clients say, "I do" is unreal. It's obviously amazing to have your own business and do your own thing, but you have to know when to bite your tongue at times, work weekends, do damage control even if it's not your fault and be your brides best friend throughout this life-changing process. You're planning someone's special day that they've been dreaming about their whole life!

You have to prepare for the fact that this job entails more hand holding than most jobs, but in the end it will be so worth it.


Photo credit: Buck Deitz Photography