Francine Ribeau and Danielle Ehrlich are the masterminds that make up Francine Ribeau Events, a powerhouse wedding planning team located in San Diego, California. Francine and Danielle’s beautiful work has been featured on Martha Stewart Weddings, Style Me Pretty, Green Wedding Shoes, Wedding Chicks, The Perfect Palette, Reverie Gallery and more.
We were excited to get to sit down with Francine and Danielle to talk about how they got their start, their approach to wedding planning, and—most importantly—the importance of doing what you love.
What was your path to becoming a wedding planner. Was it something you were always interested in?
Francine: Actually, no. I went to school and changed my major six times because I was really unsure of what I wanted to do. In hindsight, that just means to me that I was able to touch different industries and skills, which were ultimately really important to creating my wedding planning business. I didn’t realize until later how vital it was to be able to connect to all different types of people and speak their language as a wedding planner.
I ended up graduating with a graphic design degree and an art minor. I did a number of jobs in graphic design, bartending, marketing, and PR, but I ultimately decided I wanted to do wedding planning. It sounds weird, but the reason was because every time I went to a wedding, I just felt like it was full of love. Everyone was happy, you know? It was just a really wonderful place to be, and that was the only reason I wanted to be a wedding planner: because I love that feeling of love.
While it took a while and definitely wasn’t a direct path, I ultimately knew wedding planning was what I wanted to do. One day while I was getting my eyebrows waxed by my long-time aesthetician, I said I wanted to change careers and become a wedding planner. I just didn’t know how to get started. She told me she was getting married and offered free facials for a year if I planned her wedding. I was like, “Done!”
She was my first client in 2007, and then I opened my business officially in 2008. And that’s the winding road to here.
Love it! It seems like the most interesting people have indirect paths to their success. You mentioned that you’ve been partnering with Danielle. What made you decide to work with another planner and how did you two meet up?
Francine: I’ve always had this vision when I started my business that I wanted to have a second person as a partner. The reason was because, I feel there is success in numbers. I like bouncing ideas off of each other and using each others’ strengths to create quality work and a healthy working environment. I know that everything we do is a team effort. So the person that I wanted to bring in had to be a really good compliment to me.
Danielle heard I was hiring through a friend of mine. When we finally met, she was interviewing me as much as I was interviewing her. Turns out Danielle was the perfect compliment. We work in tandem with each other, each being the other half of the brain. I’m the logistical guru and she is the creative queen. We both get to work on what we excel at, but also collaborate to create some strong memories.
Have you found your work’s changed or the way you’re able to do your work’s changed since you partnered up? How do you work together?
Francine: Absolutely! Initially it was a bit of a challenge because I’ve been doing this for so long and so many years by myself that having someone come in and share the office space with me has been a little bit of an adjustment. In addition to that, Danielle coming in is a breath of fresh air. We are each others biggest advocates.
What do you think has been your best source for connecting with new clients and brides?
Francine: I would definitely say it was Yelp in the past. As our business has grown, we started working toward capturing a wider audience from social media, search engine results, peer referrals and such. In fact, we just got back from an industry conference and one of the things was they talked a lot about millennials, how millennials is the largest social group right now, they range from age 13 to 34, so most —I would say 89-95% of our clientele —are these millennials, so it makes sense to communicate and connect with them via social media.
Are you finding that you need to change your practices for wedding planning to meet the needs or preferences of millennial couples?
Francine: Definitely. Texting is one thing. I used to try to really keep my personal side separate from my business side, but I’m loving that I just kind of have to roll with it and go with it. Brides, or Grooms for that matter, hire us to be their best friend, to be their confidante, to work with them for essentially nine to twelve months and the most important months leading up to their wedding. Texting is important, so it’s something I’ve had to kind of come out of my comfort zone to do.
Millennials are also really good at vetting before they hire. So really laying everything out for prospective couples to find and being transparent is also really important. I try to make sure they realize the planning process is about them. One way to do that is with Aisle Planner. Our millennial couples love the transparency that Aisle Planner creates. They also love that they get their own dashboard where everything is super tailored and specific to their own wedding.
Do you have any particular tips for other people for how you like to find inspiration for your client weddings?
Danielle: I think a lot of times I find inspiration through the landscape. A lot of people don’t really use their landscape for inspiration and they’ll try to put this ultra-glam wedding in a—
Francine: ..In a barn!
Danielle: In a barn! And I think using your backdrop and grabbing colors from the architecture, shapes, flowers, and whatnot truly makes the wedding feel like it belongs in that space. We also pull inspiration from our couples and really trying to dive into who they are, what they like and really try to incorporate them in it.
Francine: Right, we truly believe it’s about them. I have always felt strongly and have created my business on the foundation that couples are creating traditions of tomorrow. It not about the past, it’s about their individuality and the memories they are creating for their generation.
You talked about using Instagram to delve into these inspirational photos a little more. Do you find that’s a little easier and more informative to do on Instagram versus Pinterest?
Danielle: I think that Pinterest for wedding planners has been a great tool to showcase our work, but not so much to find inspiration. Pinterest can be repetitive, but it is a great tool for brides to show us their inspiration, and then we can build on that inspiration and create something truly unique to them.
Instagram is a massive network all about individual expression. I follow people from all over the world who share all sorts of photos. It’s nice to see people’s lives from their point of view. It’s inspiring. We have been using our team’s instagram to communicate with our couples, too. We like to follow them, get to know them on a different level. We are able to tag them in photos that we think may be of interest to them and vice versa. It has been a great tool. It’s not for every couple, but our millennials love it.
Do you have any thoughts on trends you’re seeing in wedding planning? Maybe the future of wedding planning that’s exciting to you?
Francine: I think most important wedding trend is the trend of being true to yourself. The couple wants it to be an expression of their individuality, who they are. Most of the time they’re paying for the wedding themselves, though not all are. Parents aren’t paying for everything like they used to. So this isn’t a wedding about their parents, it’s now more a wedding about themselves and who they are. It all goes back to creating new traditions.
In addition, technology plays a huge part in communication, multi-tasking and organizing. We are working longer, harder, and faster, so Aisle Planner couldn’t have come at a better time.
So what would you say is the most rewarding part of guiding a bride to a wedding? What’s the part you love the best?
Francine: I love the relationships we build with a lot of our couples. Being able to call them a friend and after the wedding still go to lunch and hang out or email and say “Hey, I saw this and I thought of you” type of stuff. The greatest reward is the relationship and knowing that we did everything we could to make their day perfect for them.
How does Aisle Planner help in your planning process?
Francine: We use Aisle Planner everyday. We used to use Google Drive for sharing documents with clients, but using Aisle Planner is more streamlined and simple. It’s where we go in and see our schedule and all our upcoming weddings. For our full-service clients, it’s part of their package so they have access to it. And it actually helps because they aren’t emailing, “Hey, what’s going on? Where are you at?” They can see where we are, and they can also contribute in terms of checking items off the to do lists, entering notes and such.
It’s also great because it’s essentially an electronic file cabinet. So you get to keep all your individual files, and within those files it’s super organized, all in one place. You’ve got the styling guide and the design studio in there. I love the guest list. I have all of my clients build their guest list using the Aisle Planner template so they can then import it. It really is a seamless process. It’s so nice having everything in one place rather than notes jotted down on scraps of paper here and there. I can type all my notes right into Aisle Planner and nothing goes missing!
What in your opinion makes a great wedding?
Francine: I can think of three characteristics of a great wedding. The first is flow, which includes timeline and setting – where you set up tables and how one would walk through the space.
The other is creating an event that is a true representation of the couple. We love looking at the inspiration board we create for each wedding and comparing it with the images of the real wedding. The inspiration board is approved by the couple so it is exactly the look and feel of what they want. We take that and build upon that and create their own wedding based on their inspiration board. Seeing those side by side is just fantastic.
Also, building a super team. Being able to work with amazing professionals that we know and trust.
Danielle: I think one of the biggest things is making your bride and groom feel relaxed. Making it so they can sit back and enjoy the day. I think that their guests follow how they’re feeling. When the bride and groom are joyful and up dancing and having fun, their guests are joyful and having fun.
If you could travel back in time and give one piece of advice to your younger self as you started out, what would it be?
Francine: This is a hard question because obviously there’s a bias. I think I’m doing pretty darn good. I probably would say hire someone sooner than later. Ask for help. I always thought I could always do everything by myself, and I still struggle with that today.
Danielle: Getting Aisle Planner sooner!
Francine: Absolutely! If Aisle Planner was around when I first started, my productivity would have skyrocketed!
You’re our biggest fan, that’s awesome! Any last advice?
Danielle: It’s a really hard question. I started wedding planning in an abstract sense in college, but my studies were in science. And I told myself back then that I needed to get into science because that’s what I went to school for.
But there was this large part of me that really enjoyed weddings and being creative, and I kind of pushed that person to the wayside. I put that creative energy on the back burner for too long. And I think there was this inner fire in me that really wanted to go back into weddings, and I wish I would’ve trusted that instinct a little sooner. So: trust yourself. I feel extremely lucky that I have found a career that I wholeheartedly love. I don’t feel like I am going to “work” and that is very important to me.
Francine: One of the most important things is to make sure that I still set time aside for myself. As anentrepreneur, it’s hard not to only think of your clients all the time. The work-life balance is hard. I’m married now, so being able to spend time with my husband but yet still run a business is important.
It’s a balancing act and I’m still learning.
Thank you for the great chat, Francine and Danielle!