BABE #185: SARAH WHITE, Owner, The I Do List
Sarah is a firm believer that everyone can have their dream wedding without breaking the bank. As the owner + operator of The I Do List, she helps couples plan and coordinate their big day, no matter their budget. Her fully digital business allows her the freedom to work with anyone, anywhere, at anytime (which cuts down costs and makes for more cash money toward the perfect day for lovebirds everywhere.) When she’s not curating magical moments for her clients, she’s managing the Atlantic Beach Urban Farms event space, ghostwriting for other wedding professionals and writing for various wedding publications. Talk about a hustlin’ babe.
Babe you admire and why?
Sara Blakely, because overall she’s just amazing. But, she also founded Spanx with $5,000 in her bank account, hustled hard and grew Spanx to the brand it is today. She didn’t have a background in business. She never brought in investors. She relied on her gut and her smarts and became the youngest female self-made billionaire. Pretty amazing!
How do you spend your free time?
Working on our house. We’re in the middle of a kitchen and living room remodel that we’re doing ourselves, so right now all free time is devoted to that. Otherwise, I like hanging with my pups, binge-watching “The West Wing” for the hundredth time with my husband, and cooking.
Favorite app, website or blog?
Go-to coffee order?
Bulletproof coffee with Vital Proteins Collagen at home. If I’m out, I usually do a hot green tea.
Go-to adult beverage?
Red wine (or French rosé in the summer).
What is something you want to learn or master?
I’ve always wanted to learn Italian.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
I’d start with cheese plate, followed by New York-style pizza and finish it with red velvet cake. And wine, of course.
Tell us about your hustle.
I’m a wedding and event planner by trade. It’s the only industry I’ve ever worked in and I joke that if it ever went away, I’m trained for nothing else. After seven years in the industry I kept noticing one big gap in the market: If you didn’t have the budget for a full-service wedding planner, you were left to navigate the planning all on your own. So, I set out to create a solution. I founded The I Do List in 2016 and leveraged my knowledge as a former catering manager, venue coordinator and full-service wedding planner to provide wedding consulting services to couples everywhere, no matter their budget. I specialize in exclusively virtual planning and design services, which allows me to keep costs down and serve more couples. In addition to that, I manage Atlantic Beach Urban Farms event space, ghostwrite for other wedding professionals and write for wedding publications.
What does your typical workday look like?
I wear all the hats and, as I’m sure most babes will tell you, there’s really not a typical workday. The only thing consistent in my day is my 5:00 a.m. workout. Workdays typically start about 7:00 a.m. and vary based upon what’s most important that day and what deadlines I have. Most days are spent corresponding with clients either via text (for quick questions) or on calls (for quarterly planning). There’s usually a good bit of writing involved in my day, connecting with new potential clients and general office work.
Have you always had a passion for wedding and event planning?
I have. I’ve never wanted to be the girl that got dressed up and went to the party. I always wanted to be the girl behind the scenes running the show. I vividly remember being invited to my first all-out birthday party for a girl in my 6th-grade class. It was in a big gym with a DJ, uplighting, huge cake—the works. Everyone was dancing, having fun and I was standing in the corner rearranging the layout to be a more effective use of space and thinking what I would have done differently.
What makes The I Do List different from other wedding planning companies?
There are two main differences: One being that we aim to provide personalized planning services to couples with low- to average-sized budgets. The other being that we work with all clients virtually, which allows us to keep prices lower and work with anyone, anywhere.
How did grow the business digitally?
Just like starting any other business, it’s all about making connections. Even if you can serve anyone, anywhere, start with making local connections. Lean on the people who already know you and your skillset. In today’s day and age, people know people everywhere. Focus on providing exceptional service and word will travel quickly. Also, make connections online. Something that has been great for me is finding and connecting with couples in Facebook groups where they’re already seeking planning advice.
How do you stay organized and on top of deadlines amidst such a heavy workload?
Lists on top of lists on top of lists. Right now I’m using Trello for keeping to-dos and deadlines organized. But, my method of organization is always evolving into what is keeping my head clear and focused at that moment.
How have your academic and professional experiences prepared you for the work you do today?
I’m a big believer that you can learn something from everything you do. Past internships have showed that doing the simple things like showing up on time, not making excuses, working hard and meeting deadlines get you noticed, even if you aren’t the smartest in the room. Previous jobs gave me insight into the industry, showing me how other vendors work and giving me a great base of knowledge for working with couples directly. Even with everything school, internships and previous jobs taught me, I don’t think anything can really prepare you for starting and owning your own business. You can try and prepare yourself but every journey is different and the best way to learn is to jump in feet first.
What’s been your biggest career milestone?
It’s actually something that happened quite recently: when I found out I was going to be quoted on Martha Stewart Weddings. It was one of my goals for the year—and it’s Martha Stewart!
How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
I don’t feel it has. The wedding industry is heavily dominated by women, so being a woman in this field hasn’t created any specific challenges or hardships for me. I have, more than I ever thought I would, experienced some cattiness from other professionals, which can be discouraging. But at the end of the day, I think it’s important to remind yourself to focus on your mission and what you’re doing. Not everyone is going to get it or support you, and that’s OK. There are plenty of people who will and they’re the ones who matter.
What is one of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your work?
As I’ve expanded to focus on primarily virtual services, one of the biggest obstacles has been getting other industry professionals to understand how this new service is not only needed by couples, but that it benefits them in the long run. Additionally, changing the mindset that only high-budget weddings can afford a planner has been a struggle. There’s a natural instinct when you’re a bride or groom to hear the term “wedding planner” and automatically assume it’s out of budget. It’s my mission to change that—and change takes time.
Who are some women in your field you look to for inspiration?
Martha Stewart because she is forever changing, expanding and consistently staying relevant among all generations. I also look to local vendor friends for inspiration every day. There’s a strong group of wedding professionals in Jacksonville who are constantly pushing the boundaries of what people think they should be doing as wedding pros and defining their own paths creating creative business that will serve many lucky couples, all while being the biggest cheerleaders and advocates for everyone else in our industry.
What advice would you give to a babe trying to break into your industry?
Never underestimate the power of connections and hands-on experience. As I tell everybody, what we do isn’t rocket science, but there is definitely an art to balancing the emotions of your clients, everything that goes wrong and making it all seem perfect. It’s a skill that can only be learned through experience. Also, the authentic connections you make with other planners and wedding pros will take you farther than you ever imagined. Be their cheerleader and they’ll be yours. Together you go further than if you did this all by yourself. (And you’ll have more fun.)
What is your philosophy on work-life balance?
Work-life balance is incredibly important. It’s one of the reasons I’ve always wanted to own my own business. While the work is never done and there’s always one more thing to do, setting designated work hours and creating separation helps me balance that. I think it’s important for mental health, too. At some point you have to shut down and do something just because you enjoy it, not because you’re getting paid to do it.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Don’t stop. There will be times when it’s hard and it feels like it’s never going to work out but don’t stop. Don’t stop taking action. Don’t stop making connections. Don’t stop working towards what you want.