Lisa Vorce of Oh, How Charming!

Wedding planners are known to be a pretty flashy and fabulous bunch. Think Franck Eggelhoffer, Bobby Trendy… J.Lo. And while her events convey all of that creative sparkle and whimsy, Lisa Vorce is surprisingly easygoing; an attitude that belies the true tour d’force she is. Amongst wedding enthusiasts, Lisa’s events are known for their incredible attention to detail, taste level, and personal touches. Weddings produced by her company, Oh, How Charming!, are frequently featured in the top magazines, and Vorce herself is an advisor to Town & Country Luxury Weddings. But Lisa would be the last person to tell you all that. She is much too busy trying to figure out how to get 2,000 fresh macaroons from Ladurée in Paris through customs in Bali for her client’s wedding next month.

Lisa and her small tight-knit team regularly pull off the most mind-blowing events in the remotest of locations. Working with Lisa is an adventure in possibility. While she has assembled around her an incredible team of vendors, she is the heart and soul driving an operation known for defying the status quo. While to others some ideas proposed by clients might seem impossible or a theme unlikely, Lisa herself came into the business with such an unusual background, she seems to be unfazed by the challenge.

On a personal note, I had the pleasure of working with Lisa planning my wedding, and working with her and getting to know her became one of the most meaningful parts of the whole experience. There is so much I learned from our time spent together that I have taken with me into my life, especially as I have started my own business.

Full name: Lisa Vorce
Age: 41
Current title/company: Creative Director of Oh, How Charming! by Lisa Vorce
Educational background: Bachelor of Arts in Rhetoric from the University of California at Berkeley

What was your first job out of college and how did you land that position? (By applying directly to the company? Networking? Job search engine? Etc.?)
My first job was with Intel Corporation in New Mexico. I moved to New Mexico to renovate a historic adobe home with my boyfriend at the time. One of his friends from high school worked at Intel and helped me get my foot in the door. I managed an “intranet” for one of the IT groups there. IT was never a dream of mine – and frankly… I hated it – but it was a safe route to take – and at the time – I valued safety and security over happiness.

When and how did you discover your passion for event design and production? I kind of fell into it. What were you doing before you began Oh, How Charming! ?
While in New Mexico working for Intel, I was recruited by IBM. I moved to Colorado to work for IBM as an IT consultant and did COBOL maintenance programming for IBM (yes… my COBOL skills played a minuscule role in saving the world from the disastrous Y2K bug). Clearly both IBM and Intel are extraordinary companies, but sitting at a desk 8 hours a day doing programming was living hell on earth for me. Fast forward about a year when a crazy blizzard in Colorado led to me meeting James (now my husband of 12 years). It was love at first sight–so I quit my job, and moved out to LA to be with James. While in LA, attempting to find my calling (which was NOT anything related to IT consulting!) … I began throwing parties for James’ uncle who is a well-known talent agent. My first party was for George Clooney’s mother. Guests asked for my card that evening (which ended up being my cell phone scribbled on a cocktail napkin). Referrals came from that event… and the rest is history.

Discovering my passion for events came from realizing I could help create wonderful memories for people by creating incredible events for them.

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? What advice do you have to others looking to succeed in it? What changes have you noticed from when you first started out to now?
The industry is extremely competitive – but there is so much work for everyone. I operate in my own little blissful bubble and very rarely look at what other people are doing. I firmly believe that if you are passionate about what you do, maintain your own identity and style, and operate your business with integrity and grace – then success will follow.

In terms of changes in the industry from when I first started… it saddens me to say that I think people are losing their creative drives due to information being so easily accessible and the Internet being so saturated with imagery. The Internet is such an amazing resource – but I feel like events are becoming regurgitations of each other and we’re losing site of unique concepts and ideas. We should use the Internet as a source of inspiration – rather than a blueprint.

After you made the decision to launch your event planning business, what was your first step to make it a reality?
Since I knew nothing about the industry and had zero experience… it was baptism by fire! I had to learn everything on my own and I just had to figure things out a long the way.

How has your business evolved since you first began?
Now I legitimately know what I’m doing!

Not only do you plan incredible events, but you do so while traveling the world! What made you decide to specialize in Destination Weddings? What challenges, if any, has that brought to your business, and what benefits?
My decision to specialize in destination weddings stems from my adventuresome spirit. I get bored if I work in the same location more than once. I love to travel and explore new locations, experience new cultures, etc. I’ll take the challenges of a foreign country with language barriers, customs issues, and limited resources over an easy event in the US any day of the week. The more challenging and the more remote the better! I love the challenges destinations weddings present (too many to list!), and I love that I always have to be on my toes. For the long list of challenges – there are benefits that greatly outweigh each challenge. I have made invaluable connections all over the world and have been touched by so many different cultures. Whether I’m designing in the States or overseas, I’m able to draw from my experiences around the world, and the brilliant artisans I have met along the way. I am beyond fortunate to be able to do what I do.

You are also on the Town & Country Weddings Advisory Board. How long have you held that position and how did you receive the opportunity?
Since 2010. They approached me which was flattering and delightful.

You have a cap of producing fewer than ten events a year. What is your reasoning behind that rule, and have you always had that limit?
When we work with clients, typically they are contracting us to design and produce three or more events for them (i.e. welcome reception, rehearsal dinner, wedding, brunch, etc). So it ends up being more than 10 “events” per year. I already work 17-hour days and spend half my time on a plane… so I wouldn’t dare take on more than 10 clients a year.

What are the positives and negatives (if any) to this cap?
The only negative is that it’s difficult to say “no” to potential clients when I’m at my cap!

Your work has been featured in publications such as Martha Stewart Weddings, People Magazine, and InStyle, among others. What would you say sets your events apart from others?
I think each of our events have their own personality and are perfectly fitted for each client and for each location. This keeps our events fresh and different each time. I think it’s important to maintain the authenticity of the selected event venue so that plays a huge role in my design process as well.

What would you attribute to reaching the level of success and recognition that you have?
An insane work ethic, a constant quest for perfection, a true passion for what I do, and a genuine love of making people happy.

In addition to that “recipe” – I owe so much to my staff and amazing team of vendors. We are a small and tight group and I would be nothing without them.

In the beginning stages of launching your business, how did you support yourself?
I worked multiple jobs while trying to launch the business.

Did you ever work for free and would you recommend others do as well when they are starting off?
I never had to work for free – but I do think that is a wonderful way to get a foot in the door if needed.

How did you handle marketing your services when you were just starting out?
My marketing strategy has always been word of mouth – even in the very beginning.

I’m careful about how I market myself and who I choose to associate myself with. I’m on the fence about Facebook, Twitter, blogging, etc. I have accounts for all, and I tweet every now and then – but I still can’t decide if I want to fully engage. I love that there is a bit of mystery about my company and that I’m not super vocal about what I do. We produce multi-million dollar productions yet you’ll find me in my pajamas or workout clothes more times than not, and you’ll hear my two dogs barking in the background while I’m on the phone with you. I’m human, and I have a life. I have great days and not so great days. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and my personal persona and my professional persona are one in the same. I’m 100% myself all of the time and whether I’m working with Kobe Bryant or one of our brides from Alabama – everyone gets the same treatment and same elevated level of service. Although this is not a marketing “strategy” per se – I do think it is how we attract the clients that are right for us. I am a very laid back person and extremely relatable. Brides want someone they can relate to and someone they can have fun with!

What is your favorite part about running your own business?

Being my own boss and setting my own rules. I’m not sure what I would do if I had to get up each morning and report to someone other than myself. I love that I can change my business model on the fly and adjust things within my company to keep things interesting and to keep my passion level at a constant high.

What is the most challenging part?
Being the one in charge ALL of the time.

What advice do you have for young women looking to start their own company?
Buckle up and get ready. It’s a tough ride. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world–but it’s not easy.

Tell us about your team and how it’s 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?
I adore my team. They work so unbelievably hard and I’m so proud of of them. They are affectionately referred to as “the Charmers” by my clients. Full time in the studio, I have Sarah, Laura, and Corinne. Sarah handles all our production. She brilliantly builds our events from the ground up and is an amazing “big picture” person. She keeps me in line and I simply would not be able to run events without her.

Laura manages all things related to paperie for our clients. Paper suites have always played a huge role in my design for each client – from the save the dates to the welcome notes – Laura manages the paper process for each client. She manages all guests lists, tracks all RSVPs, handles all special requests from guests, etc. Her brain works so differently then the rest of ours. She is certifiably OCD (in the most wonderful way) and by far the most disciplined of the group. While the rest of us lose our keys and cell phones once a week, Laura will never misplace hers – and she certainly would never let an invite go out with an incorrect zip code!

Corinne plays too many roles to list. She is my girl Friday, our head “Bridal Handler” and is a creative genius. In the studio – she assists me on anything décor related – from pulling fabrics downtown to designing welcome gift concepts. At events, she brilliantly manages the bridal parties – and can sew, steam, and pretty much get a stain out of anything.

On contract – I have Jackie who is Corinne’s brother – and our much-needed dose of testosterone in the group. He keeps all the ladies in check. He does in-house graphic design for many of our client paper suites, and does a large portion of our specialized carpentry for our events.

And last but not least… is my husband and silent partner James. He’s behind the scenes, but without his support and his tolerance for my insane schedule – there is no way I could do what I do.

Best moment of your career so far?
The recent wedding Mindy Rice, Aaron Delesie and I all did in Vietnam together. It was a “wedding for 2” and we planned in “guerrilla style” (i.e. we landed in Vietnam 5 days before the clients and sourced and planned everything within that time frame). It was one of the most difficult creative challenges I’ve had yet – and I’m so proud of what Mindy and I created together. Aaron shot it so beautifully. It’s truly an incredible photographic story.

What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
It’s the same advice I give my 41 year-old self…. Try to maintain balance between your work and life. Keep your priorities in check. This industry is so fast paced and can be so grueling and demanding – time passes so quickly and it’s easy to put your personal life, family, and friends on the back-burner.

(For the record… neither my 23-year-old-self, nor my 41 yea-old self has mastered the work / life balance thing. Both are still working on it!)