This is the first edition of Built From Scratch: Interviews with passionate people with beautiful businesses.
Thank you so much to Chabeli for being my guinea pig!
I knew I liked Chabeli the first time I met her, 5-ish years ago. At the time I was catering at weddings that she was coordinating; it was impossible to overlook her. Affable, purposeful, and just little bit salty, she made everyone feel secure while handling about 10 different things and smiling, even though one of those things was the fact that the rental company was about to back their truck into multiple strands of strategically hung market lighting. She had just enough humor that you felt at ease, and just enough edge that you knew you’d better not fuck up. To me she was Wonder Woman.
Flash forward and I am sitting in her living room, on a black leather couch with a snoring bull terrier name Harley flopped between us. We are sipping La Croix (tangerine flavored) and she’s hugging a throw pillow that says “Fuck” in scrawling calligraphy. This couch has become a happy place for me, because in all the capacities that I have now had the pleasure of working with Chabeli, the most significant have taken place here, with a snoring bull terrier and La Croix water. This is where I have received bounteous free advice and where I learned how to meticulously organize my files. This is where she held my hand and took a video of me pressing the button that made Another Cup Photography an official business. Now, sitting here with her to discuss how she started P.S. & Associates Event Planning feels wonderfully kismet.
How It All Began
To get warmed up I ask her an easy one first.
Me: What is in your purse at all times?
C: My wallet with every single credit card I own…
Me: how many are there?
C: A lot. And then there’s my cell phone, there are four different types of lipstick because I never know what kind of mood I’ll be in, sunglasses, and some sort of snack. And NOW there’s water.
The woman is notoriously dehydrated. It’s only in the last year that she’s started drinking a decent amount of water. We’re all very proud.
Let’s get into it. Despite the recent resurfacing of the enneagrams test I stick with a classic: is she Type A or Type B?
C: Definitely Type A. 100%. And if there were a letter before A it would be me.
We talk about what started her path into the event industry and she tells me about her last year of college (she began as a psych major and then switched to communications with an emphasis in PR, which I think is hilariously appropriate for a wedding planner) when she was nominated to put on her Honor’s Society’s graduation party. It was the first time she had planned a large-scale event fully styled with a structured program; suddenly she felt like she had a place to channel all of her “OCD craziness.”
Me: Would you say that was your AHA! moment?
C: I think that was the beginning…that kind of sparked it. But I think throughout my career I’ve had probably an AHA! moment every single year, because I think every single year gets harder, more challenging – but in a good way. Like, yes it is exhausting, but there will be one event where I will have just let the bride go down the aisle, or like a corporate event, where I just sit back and look and think, “oh yeah. This is it. This is exactly where I’m supposed to be, what I’m supposed to be doing. And also, this exactly what you need to alter to get to the next level.” So it’s a push. Those are my AHA! moments. Not exactly like Oprah Winfrey’s but y’know. Close.
I always wonder if entrepreneurs knew what they wanted to do from the get go. I ask Chabeli if, looking back at herself as a kid, it makes sense that she now runs her own business.
C: Growing up I think I always kind of saw myself doing something that I ran the show. A lot of times as kids we picture ourselves like, “I wanna be a fireman,” or as a teacher or whatever, and I never actually imagined myself working for someone else. I always imagined myself being the boss.
It wasn’t instantaneous. After school Chabeli worked as a server at Green Street Restaurant in Pasadena while she started the business. After a few years it became a bit of a juggling act.
C: I was answering emails in like, the side stations. I would say, “I’ll get you another iced tea” and rush to the side station to email a client, or take calls in the bathroom. I remember changing in my car ALL the time, having my server uniform in my car at all times because I’d always be coming from meetings to work my shift.
She made the decision to “cut the cord” and throw everything she had into P.S. & Associates in 2013. With maybe $500 in savings and a couple years of experience under her belt she knew if she didn’t make event planning her only form of income she would never succeed.
C: I had to live. I had to make money. I’m the kind of person that never backs down…I’ve never been a quitter so I knew that if I started this I’d have to finish it. I knew I had to make it work.
With the support of her longtime love, Roger, and her family standing behind her she moved forward, and it didn’t take long for her to pick up the pace. Chabeli went from doing 3-4 weddings a year with one assistant to now taking on 25+ events with a hand-picked team of girls. To say she’s one helluva driven boss lady is a wild understatement.
On Branding And Social Media
When P.S. & Associates was first created it was intended to be more of a corporate event planning company. It wasn’t until she did her first wedding, referred to her by a friend, and an event that she remembers as “everything that could go wrong did, but it was beautiful,” that she fell in love with the industry. So when I ask her about the beginning stages of building the brand she laughs.
C: When picking out the colors I went back to my psychological background and I picked blue and green because they’re very calming colors – I researched color psychology up the ass.
Me: That’s completely different from what your brand looks like now.
C: 100%! And my business cards were clear plastic. You could see through them. They were super modern, but they were showstoppers! I really believe that when you create your brand your business card should be a “wow piece” because when you hand out your business card you want people to say, “oh wow, I like it!” You want them to keep it.
To this day every time I’m with Chabeli and she hands her card to someone they say, “oh wow, nice card.” Every. Time.
C: Anyway, I went with super calming colors, and the website got created and it was super modern – black and white with splashes of the blue and green – and when I looked at it I just never felt like it was me.
As her business developed so did her identity.
C: I read through so many branding techniques and so many tutorials and I just still felt like I was putting on a show, like I had to be a certain way to bring in the right clientele and to make the first page landing on certain sites. I made the decision to say, “fuck it. I wanna be me, because I won’t be able to sell my services if I feel like I’m doing it for someone else.” And that’s how I’ve evolved and I’ve stayed true to that verbiage. Fuck It should be tattooed on me, I say it every day. I didn’t want to follow any of the rules because I didn’t feel like it was genuine.
Me: So what’s the most important part of building a brand?
C: Creating a brand that’s a reflection of yourself, because ultimately you will attract the clientele that likes YOU and what you do and how you work, because it’s a reflection of you.”
She hugs her “Fuck” pillow tighter.
I ask Chabeli about her Social Media strategy and she takes a similar approach. She does the research, she listens to all the things she “should be doing,” and still experiments with what feels true to herself and her brand.
C: I just want people to see what we do. I think that the clients that come to P.S. are genuine and stay true to their personal styles and that’s what I love.
Though she takes into account prime posting times and algorithm strategies, Chabeli refuses to conform to a specific aesthetic on Instagram. Instead, she tries to post 3 photos from the same event in a row, so that her grid tells mini-love stories that showcase weddings of all sizes, colors, and styles. It’s beautiful to scroll through.
Social Media has been a highly successful form of marketing for P.S. & Associates. Chabeli leans hard on Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook, hardly spending money on advertising, but the most lucrative has been good old-fashioned word of mouth.
C: Word of mouth is what made me today, I think. Referrals are what made me today.
Getting Personal About Her Business
Routines are big for Chabeli. The first thing she does when her workday begins is answer emails, always. It’s without fail the first item on her ever-present to-do list. Her cellphone comes off of silent at 9am (a new rule she’s out in place in an attempt to maintain some semblance of a personal life) and the day begins.
C: We receive about 15-20 emails while I’m sleeping. So those are my first responses in the morning.
From there it’s crossing things off the list until a meeting (or series of meetings, as is more often the case) beckons her away from her desk.
I ask Chabeli what her biggest challenge is when it comes to running her business and she gives it to me in one word: boundaries.
Over the last two years work consumed her life, and she let it. I see this as a running theme with many of my friends who have their own enterprises; as a business owner it’s difficult to turn off, or to say no, or to take time for yourself when you know that there are multiple people who are depending on you for certain services. It’s a lot of pressure. There’s a certain amount of guilt that weighs on the idea of taking time off – but what’s that saying about not being able to give anything if you yourself are empty?
C: It took a toll on me. I just drove my body into the ground, I wasn’t de-stressing at all…by the last wedding in 2017 I noticed that I was so tired that I couldn’t physically move as much as I normally did. At the end of that wedding I made a promise to myself that 2018 was going to be different. I was going to have enough energy, I was going to put myself first.”
She’s implemented some healthy changes in her diet and carved out specific times for exercise. Most importantly she’s set boundaries for her work hours – which she doesn’t always adhere to but hey, it’s a work in progress.
C: My boyfriend is a true believer in exercise. He’ll notice that I’m having a really hard day and he’ll just say, “put your stuff down. Let’s go for a walk.” And just get me outside. It 100% helps to step away. Owning a business takes over your life no matter what, I live and breathe PS. It never really stops.
So is it all worth it? I wonder about moments that stand out in her career, those little light bulbs that flash at you in certain junctures of life to let you know that something amazing is happening.
She thinks briefly and then tells me that shortly after leaving Green Street Restaurant, fresh into being a full time planner, Chabeli took on the first ever wedding in the middle of Chinatown, downtown Los Angels. I watch her recall the process of navigating the permits and the structuring the ceremony and reception, choreographing the movement of the wedding party and the caterer, all amidst the bustle of tourists and pedestrians. She paints a picture of the buzzing energy, the lanterns and the neon, all turned into an intimate party for the bride and groom smack dab in the middle of the city streets. It’s electrifying.
At the end of the night there was a traditional dragon dance; as she describes the scene I feel like I’m there, drums pounding, colors vibrant and whirling.
C: I remember sitting back and watching the dragons, and the music blaring and everyone cheering, and just looking back and saying “holy shit. I just did that.” That was a huge moment for me. And I think that moment gave me reassurance as I was sitting there that like…I can fucking do this.
Hell yes you can.
She tears up recalling another moment when she let a bride go down the aisle just last year, remembering an overwhelming sense of feeling confirmation in her business. I ask if she cries at every wedding and she laughs, because yes, there’s always an emotional breath or two. It’s the culmination of so much hard work and these big, important moments that she’s responsible for cultivating, moments that will forever be cherished. She becomes a fly on the wall for whispers from a father to his daughter just before they walk down the aisle. To the mist in a single mother’s eye while adjusting her son’s tie or helping her daughter into her wedding dress, which resonates. She chokes up talking about it. I’m blubbering like a goddam baby.
Yes, it’s all worth it.
I want to know what she looks for in an ideal client. True to form, Chabeli wants people who know themselves as individuals and as a couple, people who want to reflect and celebrate that. But more importantly, and may I say, very coolly coming from a wedding planner, Chabeli wants clients who understand that the wedding day “shouldn’t take every ounce of their being or every penny in their bank accounts.”
C: Yes, your wedding is one of the biggest highlights of your lives, but it’s also just that: a highlight.
She wants people who are excited to build a future together and see the wedding day as a fabulous kick-off to the much bigger picture. To Chabeli, that’s true love. Although…
C: I mean, a big budget is always nice too.
Can’t deny that.
Lastly, I ask her what advice she would give to someone hoping to break into the event-planning world. She doesn’t even have to think about it.
C: Pay attention to details.
She doesn’t just mean the fine print in a contract (although, obviously that’s important too), but the details that your clients might not even realize they’re providing you.
C: The littlest things that people reveal to you as a planner help to round them out as individuals and as a couple, and help you to create a more exciting and impressive planning process for them. People will remember you for the small touches you brought to the table.
Alright. I laughed. I cried. I’m inspired as hell. Time to have some fun. Don’t think, just answer, I say…
THE LIGHTNING ROUND
What is your favorite color? Black. * Laughing * It changes! Shit, I don’t know what it is half the time.
Beer, wine, or cocktail? All of the above. Favorite beer? A Belgian. Oh, but a sour too! Wine? Montepulciano. Cocktail? Vodka gimlet, extra sour, on the rocks.
Where is the place highest on your bucket list to visit? Iceland. And Cuba!
One thing that is ALWAYS in your refrigerator: La Croix water and beer. Like, an insane amount of beer.
Texting or talking on the phone? Talking on the phone.
Fill in the blank. Wedding planning is: fucking awesome
Name one surprising fact about you: I have the biggest birthmark on my toe and no, I won’t get it removed even though everyone says it looks like poo.
First celebrity crush? JC Chasez from N’Sync. Still my celebrity crush.
Guilty pleasure TV show? Real Housewives of all of the above. Except Houston, ‘cause that’s just wrong.
Say one word in Spanish: Hola.
Have you ever skinny-dipped? Yes.
Cats or dogs? Always dogs, never cats.
Sandwich or salad? Oooohh. Wedge Salad. But an Italian sub blows my mind too! But a wedge salad, extra blue cheese dressing, I’m all for it.
Would you rather ask for permission or forgiveness? Forgiveness. Fuck the permission.
If you had a TV show of your life, what song would play during the opening credits? Ohmygod, it’s my new theme song. Kesha’s Woman – the explicit version, obviously!