In the interview below, Charlotte talks about how working with brand such as Dior and Tom Ford led her to starting her own business, La Fete, which specialises in fully bespoke wedding and event planning.
Hi Charlotte, thanks for agreeing to share your story on YHP. Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I’ve always had a passion for luxury and aesthetics, which led me to a career in high-end fashion. Over 8 years, I worked for brands such as Dior and Tom Ford, in sales and merchandising respectively. I’ll forever be grateful for these opportunities, which allowed me to hone my people skills, enhance my creativity and learn to deal with challenges and high-pressure situations.
As for my personal background, it’s extremely varied: I was born and raised in Switzerland, but am a French and British quadrilingual. I’ve always been around different cultures, languages and religions and can definitely say that I thrive in those environments. I’m also recently married to my wonderful husband, who, incidentally, is Spanish, so I’ll let you imagine the mix of languages at home!
Tell me about the early days, the type of challenges you initially encountered?
The biggest challenge for me was figuring out where to start. There were so many things thrown my way and things that I hadn’t even considered I’d need to do. You never learn the basics of starting an actual business at school, such as registering a company, filing a tax return, etc. so it was a definite learning curve. It was also challenging to find the right people to help build the business: you can’t do everything alone, it truly takes a village.
I also had to learn some valuable lessons, either through personal mistakes or shortcomings from partners, and had to take them as positives and move forward: not as easy as it sounds!
What is your company? And what are you trying to solve with it?
My company specialises in fully bespoke wedding and event planning, but I like to think that what we do is so much more: my end goal is to solve problems, create experiences and contribute to the memories of each and every one of our clients.
Working in fashion, I witnessed firsthand the sometimes-difficult process of organising boutique events, shows and cocktails, particularly abroad, whether it was because of language or cultural differences. And it’s then that I realised that I could do something about that, not only for large companies, but also private clients, thanks to my international background and languages, particularly with the exponential growth of destination weddings and celebrations.
How have you been able to fund it so far?
My business wouldn’t be what it is without the support of my family. I’m extremely fortunate that they believe in my vision and have financially contributed to its growth.
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
The first few months were a blend of excitement and a healthy dose of apprehension. I’m not going to sugar coat it: it can be scary at times, but you just need to make sure to not let yourself run on fear. Use it as a motivator, but not your main driving force.
A huge change for me was going from a 9 to 5 in an office to working from home with no set hours. I’m a naturally sociable person and this felt very lonely. I also had to get used to looking at everything from dozens of different angles, as I was the only one responsible for the mountain of work and decisions in front of me: deciphering what was right and wrong for the company was also incredibly daunting, not to mention the unpredictability of starting your own business.
How did you initially get traction?
The biggest thing for me was networking and meeting people at events, cocktails, charity dinners, etc. I had to shake the typical British politeness and humility and push myself to be cheeky: give out business cards, set up coffee meetings, chase people and offer my services.
A big lesson I learned was to constantly remind people what I do: you’d be amazed how this small detail can lead to opportunities. Working on the second and third editions of The Glamour Beauty Festival also helped cement my credibility and make invaluable connections with some truly fantastic people. My key tip in this industry is to never underestimate word of mouth: it’s brought me some incredible opportunities.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
First and foremost, I’ve trusted my gut instinct. It may not seem like a factor in business growth, but it certainly is, especially when choosing a direction to develop your company in. Similarly, learning when to say no to certain opportunities: it’s easy to fall into the trap of being desperate for an opportunity to come knocking on your door, but be mindful to think it through fully before agreeing. If it doesn’t fit in what you want for your business long-term, think very carefully before saying yes.
Risk-taking is also essential, particularly thinking outside the box and further than trends: I’ve always taken inspiration from current fashions, but never compromised my own creativity and aesthetics, which I can confidently say has paid off.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
The greatest pride for me, other than working with my clients on creating their dream event, has to be recognition from my peers. Getting their positive feedback on not only my work, but my company name, brand, ideas, etc. is extremely encouraging. Hearing that you’re headed in the right direction by reputed industry colleagues is an amazing feeling.
What should we be expecting from yourself and your team for the rest of 2018?
There isn’t long left in 2018, but we will be busy working on next year’s clients events and some confidential collaborations that we hope to finalise before Christmas. Additionally, one of our seasonal styled shoots will be featured in the press and we will also be creating some new vlogs, particularly a wreath tutorial with Ricky Paul Flowers. So stay tuned!
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
My key pieces of advice would be:
- Accept the support and help of your family and friends. Their input, fresh viewpoint and love will help you every step of the way.
- Prepare to feel lonely: I wasn’t ready for this and it hit me hard. Whether it’s because you’re working tirelessly and neglecting your social life, or because you’re working from home and aren’t in an office environment, just be aware that it will happen.
- Don’t be afraid to invest financially from the start. Curating your image and setting up your business framework properly will not only be better in the long run, but also make you look more elevated right from day one. This will also work in your favour in regard to getting the right opportunities and knowing how to confidently deal with them.