Jennifer Gilbert, Founder of Save the Date & Author of “I Never Promised You A Goodie Bag”
Jennifer Gilbert’s BIO
Jennifer Gilbert’s name and that of Save the Date® commands instant recognition and immediate respect and is seen as the expert on all aspects of event planning. After only five years in business, Jennifer was awarded “Entrepreneur of the Year” in 1998, and has consistently been on “Working Woman Magazine’s Top 500 List.” She is often quoted for her expert advice on everything from meeting planning to wedding advice in national publications from The Wall Street Journal and Business Week to Cosmopolitan and InStyle Weddings. She is an authority in her field and will continue to not only set the standard in the event planning industry, but raise it as well.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW
1. Please share with us what prompted your creation of Save the Date?
Jennifer: In the early ’90s when corporate America did not have the cash flow for the traditional event planning business model, I foresaw a unique opportunity. I had all of these clients that desperately needed help finding spaces for their events and conferences, but couldn’t afford to hire an outside person. Conversely, there were all of these spaces that needed business and had to let go of their internal sales people. I flipped the traditional business model by offering Save the Date’s services free to clients, while being supported by the vendors and venues. By providing our clients significant savings, Save the Date essentially became recession-proof, and could grow in a time most businesses could not. I had discovered a niche in the marketplace that changed the way my industry has conducted business.
2. There is no typical day in the life of an entrepreneur. Please share with us a sample of your day, start to finish.
Jennifer: That is very true, every day looks different but there are a few constants. I always take my 3 kids to school, everyday. We wake up together, have breakfast and try to get out the door by 7:45 a.m. (sometimes we are a bit tardy) to get them to school by 8 a.m.. Then, my work day starts. On any given day I am meeting with clients, pitching new business, writing for Bed Bath & Beyond (as I am their bridal expert), doing a walk through with vendors for an upcoming event or prepping for a speech, which I am currently doing. Then I go home around 5:30, I have dinner with my kids (they eat, I sit), bathe them, read to them and tuck them in. By around 8 pm, I’m out again, with clients, husband, friends or at an event….then always back on my computer to check emails and make sure ‘nothing is on fire’.
3. What are your ‘can’t live without’ Smartphone or desktop applications?
Jennifer: I’m technologically challenged and yes, I still have a Blackberry. I will not give it up and I don’t have an iphone. However, I do have an ipad, more for reading and searching. But as I’m a subway girl, I love HopStop, and as an entertainer of clients, I use Opentable, and Menupages, as I’m a gluten free girl so I need to see if there is something I can eat. I still love reading my papers, but I like the NYT news emails and LOVE the Huff Post. OHHH and I shop online, so those types of websites are a blessing to me because I’d rather be anywhere on a Saturday with my kids than in a store shopping for clothes.
4. What are your tricks for time management?
Jennifer: OUTSOURCE EVERYTHING BUT YOUR SOUL. Every entrepreneur will fall into this trap at some point…they feel they have to or need to wear every hat. When I started growing and actually able to hire people. I realized that anything I was not supremely great at, I didn’t do and I found someone who did it better than me. If people are doing something they don’t like, chances are they are not great at it, if they are not great at it, they are never going to be happy or make money at it. I have a very efficient life because I only do the things I’m good at (or try to) and I surround myself with others that can compensate for my shortcomings. I’m also a very competent multitasker, and I do not micro-manage. I trust my people, when I hand it off, it’s off my plate.
5. What was the best advice you received when you started your career?
Jennifer: It was from my Father, an entrepreneur himself. He told me not to be worried about making money, if I love what I do, then I’ll do it well, people will see that, and the money will come. I have never been afraid of failure, I have to try, and not think about the woulda coulda shoulda’s..that would kill me, not failing.
6. Given the current economic climate, what has been your strategy for building awareness of Save the Date®? ( what you do for short term and long term growth)?
Jennifer: I have been on television, I wrote a book called “I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag’ which was highly publicized and I am quoted all the time as an expert in my field. All of these endeavors led to brand awareness and speaking engagements led to awareness of Save the Date®.
As my business was started in the recession as a solution to the existing problem of having to ‘hire’ a planner when most corporations or non-profits desperately needed the help but couldn’t afford one, we have always offered a ‘free’ service. But as the economy shifts and changes, we have become a full outsource model for some corporations, and are on retainer from other charities. We offer an a-la-cart approach to our industry, as each client’s needs are different and we can adjust with them. I have had 100 lives in my business. I am constantly reinventing the business model and new ways to offer our clies something they need. I host client events, have round tables with our best customers, and always look for feedback to think about the business differently.
7. What is your proudest achievement as an accomplished entrepreneur?
Jennifer: Winning the 1998 Entrepreneur of the Year Award Sponsored by Ernst & Young. I was the youngest and the only woman to have won an award that year. It actually made me feel legitimate. Most people still say ‘how fun’ or ‘what a cute little company you have’…I think, we do 30 Million dollars in business every year, employ hundreds of thousands of people through our events, from the dishwashers to the chefs, and I bring real commerce into New York City. That’s not cute. That’s business and it was hard work. Still is. I think publishing my book, I NEVER PROMISED YOU A GOODIE BAG was a close second in the accomplishment department. I wrote about a very private painful personal story that actually helped me to find my way into event planning and eventually my Company and my career. Save the Date® was the direct result of a tragedy that happened to me and it’s my constant reminder to stop and enjoy life, to celebrate, and be in the moment. I made this my life’s mission, and that’s why I know I’ve been successful at it.
8. How do you achieve balance in your life?
Jennifer: Balance?HA! Still trying to figure that out. Actually, I think I have great balance. I make my life work for me, I hire great women in my company. I believe women CAN have it all, and I created a company I’d truly want to work for. People get married, have babies and stay, we work out flex time, and days working from home. Everyone can have balance, it’s just a decision to prioritize and realize you cannot do everything yourself. On the days I feel like I’m failing at everything (and I have them once in a while), I try to just breathe and remind myself I am just one human being, and I’m doing the best that I can….then I ask for help. Learning to ask for help is huge, and sometimes everybody just needs a hand, or a break.
9. Your top 3 book recommendations?
Jennifer: Anything by Jane Austen, This is where I leave you by Jonathan Trooper (I laughed so hard I nearly peed), and Little Bee touching, beautiful and thought provoking…I could keep going, Atlas Shrugged, A prayer for Owen Meany (I was in 3 book clubs at the same time, I’m an avid reader).
10. What are your most rewarding charitable involvements?
Jennifer: Anything involving women and children. I spend a lot of time mentoring and giving time and money to causes that support women’s rights; whether economic, health or reproductive. I am on the Board of the National Institute for Reproductive Health. I also admire Tory Burch’s foundation providing micro loans to women in need, and Christie Turlington’s charity called Every Mother Counts. These women are giving back and changing lives. I hope to have my own foundation one day soon.
11. Who has influenced your career the most?
Jennifer: In the beginning it was my father. Now, I think it’s instinctual…I know what needs to happen and I listen to my gut. I always know what feels right. I also believe in a democracy at work, I trust every woman that works with me…they influence where we take things, and what to say yes to, or when to talk me out of something.
12. What is your advice for someone interested in entrepreneurship?
Jennifer: My business philosophy is, if I need it and you need it and she needs it, then you have a good idea. But an idea does not always create a great business. Do the prep work, crunch numbers and, most importantly, do your market research. I would never offer a new product or service for Save the Date® [savethedate.com] without polling my top 50 clients and making sure they would use the product or service. Even before I sent the final draft of my memorier to my publisher, I called an emergency book club and got feedback from my perfect demographic of readers. Their feedback changed my book. It was vital. I believe you need to test the market, if no one wants it, then there’s no business, or if you can’t execute the idea then it’s just an idea. With all that being said, if you have the passion and the drive, and you just HAVE to do it, then my friend, you have the entrepreneurial spirit, and no one will be able to stop you.