It’s no secret that southern belles have a reputation for big personalities and even bigger hair. But then there’s the refined, graceful side that’s less talked about. That air of warmth and elegance so frequently seen south of the Mason-Dixon line. Tara Parnell Guérard, owner of Tara Guérard Soirée, an award-winning event planning company headquartered in Charleston, epitomizes that southern charm. Tara’s eye for style and strong attention to even the smallest of details has made her a trendsetter within the industry.
After opening up shop in 1997, it wasn’t long before Tara Guérard Soirée became a household name among brides-to-be and industry folk. Tara’s work has even graced the pages of several prestigious publications, such as Martha Stewart Weddings, Modern Bride, and Food and Wine. Since beginning her career, Tara has published two best-selling books, partnered with a luxury, eco-friendly letterpress studio, and opened a second Soirée location in New York City—impressive for a wife and mother of three. And did we mention she starts every day off by running 5-6 miles… before 7am! Tara’s drive and talent have led her to a place many event planners dream of. Today she shares how she found her way to event planning, and how hard work and doing favors can really pay off.
Full name: Tara Parnell Guérard
Educational background (school, training, majors, degrees, etc.): Psychology major, College of Charleston
Current title/company: Owner, Designer, and Founder of Tara Guérard Soirée
What was your first job out of college, and how did you land that position?
I was the general manager of a hospitality temporary and permanent placement agency. I got it because of a friend who was friends with the owner, and of course, from my energetic smiling personality!
There has been major growth in the event planning industry in the last several years, causing it to become more competitive than ever. How did you get started in this business?
It’s a long boring story, but it was because of my background knowledge (and only experience) in the food and beverage industry (I paid my way through college waiting tables) and my desire to be creative. I took those two concepts and came up with the idea of designing parties. This was in 1997 when no one had even heard of an event planner!
What advice do you have for others hoping to succeed in this field?
Know the food and beverage industry first. Customer service is absolutely critical!
When and how did you discover your passion for event planning?
Once I started this “business” to plan and design parties, what I learned and loved the most was the friendships I created along the way with each and every bride. I loved how I made the most important day of her life more amazing than she ever dreamed!
After you made the decision to launch your event planning business, what was your first step to make it a reality?
A business plan and printed business cards!
What would you say sets your events apart from others? What main attribute would you attribute to earning so much recognition?
I think that once you experience a Tara Guérard Soirée wedding, nothing compares to it in terms of the ambiance, the service, the style, the setting, the attention to detail and the personalization. My favorite comments seem to always come from a male: “This is the BEST wedding I have ever been to!” I always say the day our clients and guests don’t feel that way, I will not want to wake up on Monday mornings and do it all over again.
In the beginning stages of launching your business, how did you support yourself? Did you ever work for free, and would you recommend others do as well when they are starting out?
I can’t count the times I have had to do things for free. It is part of the learning process, and I am still learning all of the time.
You have been featured in awesome magazines, including Martha Stewart Weddings, Southern Living, and Food and Wine. What did it take to gain the attention of such highly esteemed publications?
Fabulous events, gorgeous details, beautiful photography and a great PR company.
Tell us about your team and how it has grown since you started out. How are responsibilities delegated? Would you say you do more or less work on a single event since you started out?
Over the years, the description of my day-to-day duties has changed. I would say I work just as hard but maybe I work smarter. Yes, the team has grown, but the number of events has decreased and the size of them has increased. I work every event we do, from the very beginning to the very end. It is probably called a control issue! But seriously, I love my job, and I take pride in being there for every bride, every song, and every departure.
Take us through an average day at work. What does a day in the life of Tara Guérard look like?
I usually get up at 5:30 am, run 5-6 miles, and get home by 7am, in time for my ten-month-old waking for her bottle. Within the next two hours, I feed the baby and my two boys (ages three and five), dress them for school, have coffee and a smoothie with my husband, skim the paper, and walk the dog. Next, I jump in the shower, dress and head to the office for a full day there, meetings, conference calls, site visits, designing, checking emails, etc. Unless it is a week that I am heading off to our NY office, in which I would go straight to airport instead. I try to tweet once or twice a week. Not very good at that! Who has the time??!!! If in town, I leave the office at 5:45ish to run to the grocery store to pick up something to cook for supper. Then I’m home, with three children usually screaming and attacking me once I walk in the door! The next two to three hours are absurd..with feeding children, bottles, bathing, playing, yelling at them to brush their teeth, to reading bedtime books. Honestly, by 9pm, I am exhausted and try to have a quick bath and bedtime. I sometimes quiet down with inspirational magazines and never have time for TV or books anymore these days! And then, I do it all over again the next day.
What is your favorite part about running your own business?
I can do anything I want, anytime.
What is the most challenging part?
I have to make everyone—clients, employees, vendors, etc.—happy at all times!
Best moment of your career so far?
Every time I see my visions come to life and every time I make a bride overwhelmingly happy.
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
Save your money.