When you decide to celebrate an event be it a milestone age, a new life, engagement or celebration of life, it involves a lot of work, time and organization. This is always made easier when you engage the services of Event Professionals. Out there are cowboys and professionals, it is important that you can differentiate who belongs where. The former annihilates, while the latter adds value.
There are celebrants who halfway through their plans, realise they are either too overwhelmed or exhausted to see it through. There are others, who wait till the event date as chaos reigns, before it dawns on them that they should have engaged those best at pulling skills and resources together, to create the memorable day they'd wanted but won't get. Finally, there are those who from the start call in "The Professionals."
Numerous and varied reasons were given as to why choosing an event planner or a professional events caterer, artiste or DJ is eschewed but the one most believe to be the foremost, is the assumed cost. Value is often not placed on the savings in time, ideas, streamlined service and overall enjoyment garnered from sitting back and letting the professionals deliver what you’ve envisaged. While it is possible to plan a grand event yourself, the savings in cost that may or may not be actualised by the celebrant is negligent especially when you consider all that could go wrong.
Celebrants may require the services of a caterer, DJ, drinks service, decorator and so many other vendors and suppliers. Some choose to use family and friends to provide these services. I once attended an event where this was the case. They had the perfect venue, insufficient drinks and haphazardly served meals. The strictly by invitation request wasn't controlled, entertainment was non-existent, with décor unsuited for the venue and drawn out speeches. A lot of money was expended but the overall experience not surprisingly, was one of confusion as no one, not guests, celebrant or those entrusted with providing services had a clue what to expect next.
Event professionals are usually booked separately but together they form a team, sometimes a bond develops, and you find them helping each other out or referring each other for jobs. A client once told me about a 50th birthday event she attended, where the leader of the live band clashed with the DJ and a mini tussle over the microphone was played out in full view of the guests. On the event day what any celebrant or host would appreciate, is to enjoy the day. Their expectations are that each individual contracted, delivers an exemplary manner of professionalism and coordinated service. That is why it is also important to have an event planner or coordinator, to ensure a streamlined and stress-free process between all vendors and suppliers as well as act as a buffer for the client from minutiae details or issues that may arise.
When I started this feature, I was focused on the UK event planners, vendors and suppliers but having had a foray into the Nigerian part of the business, I decided to expand this and asked a few of them from both countries for contributions. Each was sent the same brief, their name what they do, challenges faced and where they see themselves and their business in five years. Meet the 12 professionals that I had the privilege of asking these questions.
Ben Audu @benaudu is a versatile performer and saxophonist based in the UK who also travels for destination events. He has an annual Christmas family and friends themed event and tickets are known to sell out quickly. A few years ago, a friend contacted me, he needed an entertainer for an evening with his new business partners. As he was into jazz music, I suggested a saxophonist. I’d never seen Ben play live at the time but I had his phone number and had seen video clips of him playing. I sent him Ben’s details, the clips and connected them both. The next day Ben was off to Northampton. The feedback received was literally glowing, “Wow, he blew our evening away.” When I finally got to see him play, I agreed. Ben will be making an appearance at a valentine show on 14 February 2020 in London. As you can imagine time was a luxury he couldn’t afford but he spared me some. As close as I was to the deadline that I’d set myself, I deferred publishing to get Ben's contribution.
“My full name is Ben Audu and I have been professionally entertaining people for over two decades.” Ben loves the fact that he brings joy to people when he plays and that he is his own boss as this gives him a chance to, “seek and explore new exploits.” He admits that he does face a few challenges in this role, ones that a lot of self-employed entrepreneurs face; “trying to put myself out there and the capital required to run the business. Other challenges faced are a running theme with some of those I spoke with and that is African time and the value placed on the fee for his services.
Ben’s long-term goal is; “to be the best and continue to make people happy.”
For those unaware of African Time, this is where one receives an invitation with an event start time but chooses to roll in hours later. A trait sadly so prevalent that it earned itself a title. A running joke is to always turn up just in time for dining hour. I personally, find it quite difficult to comprehend why the same people are never late to work. This pattern of behaviour does not show appreciation for the invite. It also places a huge burden on the celebrant and those contracted to provide services on the day, when majority of those being catered for do not bother to turn up in time. There is “fashionably late”, then we have African Time.
Bolanle Ogabi @dj.ogabi is a UK based DJ. I’ve worked with him and know that he is dedicated and a pro at reading the audience. Regardless of cultural differences in his audience, DJ Og knows how to create a unifying and vibrant atmosphere. I watched him effortlessly and without any glitches, set up solo in three different function rooms, without missing a beat.
Here’s what he had to say: "I work under the business name O-G True Music Entertainment and I’ve been a DJ for over fifteen years". He has covered over 400 events to date and these are a combination of Weddings, Engagements, Birthdays as well as corporate events, "I’m happy to travel as well.”
“What I love seeing when I play at an event, is witnessing the joy on the faces of my clients and their guests, as I deliver my services". There’s nothing he dislikes about being a DJ.
“I know that I am yet to hit my peak but that’s my own personal observation because as an individual, I am always looking for ways to improve and develop myself and my brand.” As to where he sees himself and his business in five years: “I see myself teaching and mentoring upcoming DJ’s and others professional DJ’s in the music and entertainment industry.”
Mary Eyo @rlmamakeovers is based in Nigeria and has been in the business for a little over four years. I am yet to plan an event where the services of a Makeup artist or MUA as they’re popularly known is not required by either a celebrant or one of her guests. It’s a competitive field and Mary explains how she ensures she stays at the top of her game.
“I have covered so many events and lost count.” She likes honest people and finds dealing with some clients a huge challenge. “Some clients can be really difficult, but I always find a way to address the situation to alleviate potential conflict.” Also challenging for her are the clients, who fail to recognize the importance of keeping to scheduled appointments. According to Mary, “some clients don't understand that being late for a few minutes can impact negatively on my other appointments for the day as well as their event.” She goes on to add, “with how competitive the business is, you just have to put in your best and remember you are not in competition with others, I strive to be better daily and try not to disappoint my clients.”
For Mary, perfection in this business “is creating a flawless and enhanced look without changing the person to the point where she becomes unrecognizable and also getting the ' WOW' feedback from clients.” In five years, she sees herself running a beauty academy, "where everything about looking good will be under one roof."
Jide Lemom @mc_momelo_ is a versatile UK Master of Ceremony whom I’ve had the pleasure of also working with, he’s also one to take along on destination events as he has a way of being both very professional as well as one of the party, comfortable with any audience and good at engaging them.
“I have been a master of ceremony for almost 14 years and worked on close to 70 events approximately.” The best part for him is getting to know the audience and capturing their attention. "I feel that both the guests as well as the clients need a memorable experience, so I always endeavour to deliver just that.”
“My dislike is when I have to improvise for an impossible situation for instance food finishes and you have to be the peace maker between the guests and the caterers to find a solution.” Perfection, Jide describes as, "intimate events with great clients, vendors and audience.” In five years’ time? "I see myself doing this as a full-time career.”
Gbenga Kolawole @Classiccutemedia is a Nigerian based event Photographer and Videographer who has been in the business for five years. I’ve had him cover photoshoots and a couple of events for clients in Lagos.
Gbenga, has covered over 50 events in this time from weddings to birthdays and other celebrations. “I love adventure and of course the business has taken me to different places." While Gbenga says he loves all aspects of his job, he does have certain aspects that he believes could make life easier for him, and he dislikes "when an event is not well planned.” Challenges faced - "African time syndrome, when an event start time is 12 noon and commences at 2pm, time is money." He stresses that, "it is also important, that the celebrant’s day is not marred by guests or vendors turning up late.”
His idea of perfection is "a well-planned event with top notch vendors and a client who believes in the professionalism of the vendors without any form of interference.” Professionally, his aim in the next five years is to be "one of the top five event photographer and videographer in Nigeria".
I asked caterers and cocktail service providers from both Nigeria and the United Kingdom to contribute as despite location differences, I wanted to know if they would have similar challenges.
I was a guest at a birthday party in Lagos, January 2019 and the flavours from the food served is one I’ve not forgotten. I was tasked recently with hosting a small group and went searching for her. Her costs are reasonable, her response time and customer services, exceptional and I received a lot of positive feedback on the flavours, the taste and presentation of the food and prompt delivery from my guests. I wanted her views on what it was like catering for events in Nigeria, her challenges and her goals.
@UrbanCuisine is the brainchild of Doris Obaigbena a caterer based in Lagos and who’s been catering for events for over 9 years.
To date she can count over 500 events where her services have been required and where she has delivered. What she loves most is being able to take raw ingredients and food to create amazing meals that “wows the taste buds” for both her clients as well as their guests.
She lists her greatest challenges within her business as, “staff turnover, unrealistic clients, and food wastage by staff.” Her idea of perfection is being able to, “serve only the highest quality product, prepared in a clean and sparkling environment, and serve it in a warm and friendly manner.” When asked where she sees Urban Cuisine in the next 5 years, she responded, “having a chain of buffet service restaurants that serves good healthy food.” For those reading this, watch out as it may just be sooner than you think.
Liz Olusoga @ekofoodcatering is based in Bedfordshire but covers events all over the UK as well as home catering for a number of clients. She offers varied food services for events from Buffets to Bowl and plated service. She is also quite creative and turns basic meals into a foodie haven. In the kitchen she is a maverick and has professional and dedicated staff, you can always be guaranteed a smile on her face no matter how stressful the situation. She also offers rental services and says;
“We specialise in a total package catering food experience. This includes, providing sumptuous quality meals for all your events. EFC was birthed from our family run restaurant in Bedfordshire in 2012, as the catering arm becoming more popular and extremely busy, we decided to run fully with catering and included, rentals of crockery and catering equipment.”
“To date, we must have catered for over a hundred events in the UK. This includes party pickup and delivery at venues as well as the total package from creating the menu, food tasting to cooking and serving on the premises." She also provides her own waiting staff and confirms that they have as a team received, "awesome feedbacks from guests and clients."
Liz listed her challenges as “getting clients to appreciate the need for their input for the event day’s menu, unrealistic price expectations from clients who want a 5 course dining experience on a one course budget” She also included, "unexpected circumstances like weather changes and poor driving condition". Others include, "breakdown of venue’s equipment, accidents in the kitchen and having more guests than disclosed by client.” Liz emphasises on the importance of a full declaration from clients. "It is important that exact guests’ numbers are declared".
She loves competitiveness, not against other catering professionals but with herself as she loves to top the last project by adding something new, tasking her with being innovative with each delivery while growing her business. The best part of the job according to Liz is threefold - relationship building, “the ones you build as you meet new vendors, guests, clients, other professionals, learning new skills and interacting with people from varied back grounds.” Satisfaction confirmed - WOW! “This remains one of the highlights, where our hard work is commended after a successful delivery. We are sometimes showered with gifts and bonuses.” What tops all of this for her she says are, “the words thank you”, at the same time, we are always open to constructive criticisms as that motivates us to do better.” Finally putting her feet up and reviewing the days events with lots of love and laughter within the team is what she always looks forward.
"We're not at our peak yet and by God's grace we will keep growing and reaching for greater wins. Our vision in the next few years, is to become a household name in numerous homes and this will be achieved with the project we're currently working on, which is another arm of the food business, please watch this space...."
Onome Wornu, @cakesby_kaks_r_us is a cake maker based in Lagos. Onome’s cake was once described to me as “beautiful to the eye, delicious, moist, very moist and melt in the mouth delight.” I caught her during a busy season and she spared some time to share with me her experience of delivering what is usually the main focus at events, the celebratory cake.
“I have been in the events baking business for about four years and covered christenings, birthdays, weddings, retirement and engagement parties.
What I enjoy the most is the ability to express my creative side in the designs and baking of my cakes” Onome loves the fact that she is able to express her passion for creativity through her art. She explains that making a cake is not all about “sugar and flour” as some clients view it, A wedding or celebratory cake can consume a lot of man hours, can be delicate and intricate to create and the whole process put into a cake is what determines the price. “There are a lot of things that goes into making a cake, put together this may affect the price of the cake”. Major challenges she faces is clients under-pricing. Onome sees her brand becoming a global one by 2025.
Olubukola Fash @fash_events is a UK based wedding and events décor specialist. She’s also the owner of @fasheventshire and a lot of her props and stock are hired by other decorators for events. When she says she’s a pro, believe her. She’s totally hands on, works long hours and is passionate about delivering above the client’s expectations. I’ve experienced the force that is Fash and it’s awesome to see.
I’ve been doing this for over ten years and worked on over 150 events since then. The challenges Olubukola says she encounters includes, “staffing, competition in prices; with clients who want all but aren’t ready to pay the value for this." What she enjoys most is, "when I put it all together and see the joy on the faces of my clients." For her 5 year plan; "What I see in the next five years, is Fash being more grounded".
Nonye Okwara @eventsgalleryltd is a former banker who has always had a passion for organising events from an early age. She also is an event planner and decorator and owns an event centre that services the area around Lagos State University (LASU) along Isheri Road, Lagos. Most of the events she’s contracted to cover, are based on the island and some in the mainland areas of Lagos. She has taken what is her passion for event décor and planning and obtained training and qualifications to hone her skills in Paris as well as USA and Nigeria. I bumped into her at an event in Lagos recently and despite her very busy workload I was able to speak to her briefly about her role, aspirations as well as challenges that she encounters in the business.
“Professionally, I have been in the events industry since 2009 and cannot count the number of events covered to date. They are varied, engagements, weddings, new births, age celebrations and celebrations of life.”
“I love what I do, I enjoy the challenges and most especially the end results, happy client, beautifully decorated venue and event rolling out to plan.” Major challenges for her would lie within the rental side of the business and "while this is ongoing, I have scaled it down, it is usually difficult with the cost of transportation and taxes faced when we ferry equipment’s and orders through local government arears." Venue restrictions is another challenge. "I am sure other event decorators and planners face this, sometimes it's about what we are allowed to provide or what they promise to provide and can’t, for example claiming a space adequate for under 300 guests is suitable for 500."
"I always find a way to work within these restrictions, without negatively impacting my client’s celebration or my business.” According to Nonye, “I love planning, I love decorating and enjoy the challenges that I am posed with and overcome." She also likes; "when clients are appreciative of the time and dedication, we put into delivering above expectations and I love creating an ambience that tells the story of the day.” Future aspirations for @eventsgalleryltd includes having event centres in various locations in Nigeria, to cover destination events, to be the best in events decorator in Nigeria and one day internationally.
I met Christie @ravissantscocktails a few years ago. She runs the popular UK based Cocktails and Drinks business with her sister, and together with their team of dedicated workers, provided the full bar and cocktail service at my 50th birthday party, they also created an Eddiiez signature cocktail for the event. I have also attended events where they provided the cocktail service or a combination of full bar and cocktail service. It is always refreshing to see how they deliver continuously not only delicious and unique cocktails, but also décor fitting for each event they cover, with strong work ethics and efficient and professional staff. Just give them your guests numbers and they are quite proficient at determining how many of what drinks option will be required.
They have been in the business for eight years, covering over a hundred functions with varied themes. As to what they love about the service that they provide: “We love making our clients super happy, and making their events look like a million dollars with the extras that we add.” On the flip side, challenges faced are mainly from clients who want more than their budget can afford, she explains sometimes they want champagne selections on a “coca cola” budget and advises that clients should opt for packages that suits their budget.
Finally, what does the future hold for Ravissant? "In five years, Ravissant will be manufacturing and marketing their own branded drinks. I am sure so many will be looking forward to this.
December 2019, I attended a family wedding in Lagos and the event décor for both the traditional and church wedding was beautiful. That however wasn’t what blew me away. It was the unlimited, delicious cocktails served at the event. I wanted to know who was responsible for these and met the next contributor. We had a brief chat and in the few short minutes spent with her, the enthusiasm and passion for what she does was clear. I contacted her again for an event being hosted in February 2020 and asked her what it was like running The Cocktail Factory.
Taiwo Balogun @thecocktailfactory set up the business in 2017. She has always, “loved being the one to help people with their drink choices at parties or when dining out” and this propelled her into setting up a business that does that and more.
She loves what she does as well as the amazing feedback she receives from clients, “it’s incredibly mind blowing, the 100% satisfaction rating reassures me that I made the right decision in choosing this as a profession.” Among the challenges listed were, “difficulty in sourcing some products/tools as they are only available outside of the country, breakages and of course mobility”.
In five years, I asked her… “Hmmm where do I see @thecocktailfactory in five years?” “Definitely still in the business, doing the best at what we do and expanding our To-Go cocktail range as well.”
This month’s post was supposed to be a 50th birthday event. Due to a change of circumstances it was appropriate and respectful to defer it.
Finding a new topic and being able to get such quick responses back, has been rewarding and I have enjoyed seeing the events business through the lenses of other professionals, though I had to literally pin down a few of the contributors.
I am pleased at the outcome and hope I will be able to do this again someday. If you are an event professional and would want to be featured, please give me a call.
My immense gratitude goes to all who took time out of their busy schedules to speak with me and send in their contributions. I wish you all success in your business and future endeavours. Hopefully I will be back in five years to see where we all are with your five-year plan.
If you are reading this, go ahead and hit the comment button. Share your views, opinion or experiences.