We had the good fortune of connecting with Keith Willard and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Keith, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
They say that entrepreneurs are born that way. I believe that wholeheartedly. Throughout my career, I have always leaned towards positions that allowed me a lot of freedom. In my twenties, I was the Executive Director of a small not-for-profit. I made my hours and had few limitations. The success of the organization was dependent on whether or not I was successful.
When I moved into the world of event planning, I aligned myself with a company that provided the same foundation. My hours and my success were totals of my own making.
At the age of 34, I decided to change my life completely and moved to Florida. Being new to the area, I took an entry-level catering sales job at the Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty Six. Again, my boss was all about allowing me the freedom to come and go as needed. The difference with this particular position is that there was a support structure that when used correctly, propelled ME quickly up through the ranks. Within four years, I took on the role of Director of Catering for a property that had recently come out of bankruptcy. Again, the success of the business was dependent on my success. It took less than two years for the catering department to become hugely successful, so much so that Ritz-Carlton took interest and bought the property. I was the only Director that they asked to stay on.
This would also be the first time that I worked for a company that had very specific guidelines to my job description, including hours that I was expected to be on the property and a stringent sales process. This was incredibly difficult for me to conform to since I was so used to having total freedom. For two years, I trudge through, still successful but not joyful.
It was only then that I realized that throughout all of my years, I was yearning to be my boss. The roles I took on through the years gave me the semblance of that, but it was completely true.
I knew that no matter what the challenge, that when left up to my devices, I would be successful. I just needed to make the jump.
That was five years ago, and for the first time in my life, I feel like I’m both successful and joyful. That all of my hard work is going to support me and my business. It feels a lot like the difference between renting a house and owning a house. Both give you access to the property. You fill it with beautiful things. You work on the garden to make it your own. But, one of these ultimately belongs to someone else, and the other belongs to you.
What should our readers know about your business?
I am the owner of a wedding and event planning company – Keith Willard Events. The first four years of my company had a pretty good year-over-year growth. I had built a foundation of excellence with nothing but five-star reviews and raves from clients.
Then Covid hit and everything stopped. No new clients, no events, no revenue. But, I had clients and there was work to do on their weddings. Contracts had to be renegotiated, dates had to be moved, vendors needed to contact. What struck me is that I started getting calls from couples that were not clients. These were couples that had been planning their wedding. They had no idea what to do. How do you tell your guests, what do you do about your deposits, what happens with their contracts… lost.
I knew I wanted to figure out how to help as many people as possible, but how to do that in a way that would be effective. So was born Behind The Veil – a weekly show where couples could ask questions and get answers from the experts. In the beginning, it was done on Zoom and pushed out live on Facebook. I had other event planners, florists, and hotel representatives on so that they could answer the plethora of questions coming at us. As the weeks went by, I realized that the needs were much broader than I could have imagined. So I changed the show and started inviting other professionals. One week I had a psychologist on talk about mental health and wedding planning during covid. On another week, I had lawyers on to talk about contracts and how to go about renegotiating.
Week after week – a new show with a new subject. Before I knew it, we were getting between four and six thousand views! Like my business, I pivoted the show to be able to handle the increasing complexity. Changing from Zoom to online production software, updating the graphics, moving to YouTube, and adding a podcast version.
It gave me something to focus on and kept me relevant. The show also increased my PR and the guests were teaching me things about business that I would have never learned in a normal world.
Now that we are coming out of the pandemic, my business is busier than ever! I’ve taken all the suggestions and knowledge from 16 months of shows and added it to my day-to-day practices.
What could have been a moment that ended my business turned out to be exactly what I needed to take me to the next level and create a foundation for even more growth!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Le Tub – this hole-in-the-wall burger joint is one of my favorites. Located in Hollywood, Florida, and right on the intercostal. If you want to show someone something unique and have the best burger of your life – this is the place to go!
Rosies Bar & Grill – I love this restaurant on so many levels. They gave me a job when I first came into town. I immediately felt like a member of the team. The owners – John & Cliff – were amazing to me as well. Allowing me to lead and to leave without any bitterness. I still see them all the time and always with gratitude in my heart and a smile on my face!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My life has been mostly built on having good managers. Russell Holloway was the owner of Feature Presentations – the first event company that I ever worked for and allowed me to find my passion in life.
Scott Schaefer was my boss at the Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty Six. He was tough, but also gave me a lot of room to be successful my way. He would say as long as you are making your sales goals, I don’t care when and when you are not in the office.
My husband Jacob Aronin, as much as it scared him, ultimately supported my decision to go to work for myself.
Brooke Logan Stoner – My first employee. For the first two years, I would do almost all of the work for a wedding the day of. She allowed me to be able to focus on the growth of the business knowing that the logistics of the actual event would happen.
Glenn Weinzimmer – He gets enough accolades without me adding yet another one LOL… but as friends go, he’s the best and I get to see a side that others just don’t. He’s kind, funny, smart, and a little evil! In perfect combination.
My Mom – Veronika Willard – came to the unites states as a young teenager not knowing the language. Not only did she learn the language, but she also excelled at everything! Graduating from high school, she gets an engineering degree, then to go back and gets her law degree! Not only is she impressive as a person, she believes in family and will do almost anything to protect those around her. She might not like it at the time but she is going to make sure you are safe first.
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