30 Days of Gratitude: Altar Ego Weddings Style!

Mercedes Morgan Photography

Hello!  I’m Jennifer Ashford, the owner of Altar Ego Weddings and I have a special post to share with you today!  It’s straight from my heart.  You’ve probably seen “30 Days of Gratitude” that graces Facebook, Instagram and the other social media websites during the Thanksgiving season.  As we at Altar Ego Weddings are gearing up to celebrate 10 years in business on January 1, 2017, I thought it would be a lot of fun to write “30 Days of Gratitude: Altar Ego Weddings Style.”  10 years have provided an abundance of blessings, relationships, joys and challenges that I want to share and celebrate.  Some of them are heavy-duty and some are more light-hearted.  Please read on, as I hope these tidbits will bless you, no matter what hat you are wearing as you read this.  This goes out to our brides – past, present and future, their families, their guests, my family, my team, colleagues, vendor friends, AKA “friendors” and most of all, The Lord.  Without further ado, here you go: “30 Days of Gratitude” by Jennifer Ashford, the incredibly blessed and grateful owner of Altar Ego Weddings of Dallas and Austin.  Yes, I'm a Dallas wedding planner and an Austin wedding planner!  Here’s what I’m thankful for:

1. God has blessed my business.  He has allowed me to use my gifts and passions to make an impact on one of the most meaningful days of couples’ lives.  He strengthens me, encourages me and picks me up when I’m down.  He has allowed me to make a career out of something I love and gives me the fortitude to keep going.  The underlying method of how I do business is Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters….” 

 Mercedes Morgan Photography

Mercedes Morgan Photography

2. My husband Justin.  He encouraged me to start my business.  He noticed my knack for working with brides and managing weddings when he saw me pick up tasks at our friends’ weddings.  He is my #1 supporter, business consultant, lawyer and partner in all ways.  He helps me walk through situations when the emotions of planning weddings get all tangled up.  Yes, that happens sometimes.  This is an emotional business!  He’s been there through it all

3. The flexibility my business allows.  We have two wonderful sons – Jared (8) and Jake (6).  I am grateful to be with them while they’re young!  I can be at home with my kids and work at the same time.  Owning my own business has provided me the opportunity to be fulfilled professionally and on my own schedule.  I get to be wife, mommy, business owner and wedding planner all at the same time.  Is that easy?  Not particularly, but I love having the chance to try.

4. My in-laws!  My husband’s parents, Rod and Brenda, have supported our family and my business from the get-go.  They provide me encouragement and childcare for our dudes when we need it….and sometimes when we don’t because they just love our kids!

5. Income!  Of course I enjoy making money!  Doesn’t everyone?  Sometimes I’m still flabbergasted that I get paid for doing what I love.  What’s the saying by Confucius?  “Choose a job you love and you will never work a day in your life.”  It’s true!

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 Mercedes Morgan Photography

Mercedes Morgan Photography

6. Our brides!  It is such an honor that brides entrust us with their wedding days!  In the last 10 years, more than 100 brides have trusted Altar Ego Weddings to plan and execute the day they’ve been dreaming about their entire lives.  I am passionate that our brides enjoy this day and focus on the purpose of their wedding!  Celebrating their marriage!  My team and I will handle the details!

7. My team!  God has given me the most amazing women on the planet.  Heidi and Kiersten have the same heart for brides as I do. There are no two ladies who are more genuine and compassionate as they are.  I am honored to have them run the Dallas office while I live in Austin.  God put them in my life for a reason and I’m so appreciative of their work!  I have never had to recruit people to work for me.  They just show up!

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8. The American Association of Certified Wedding Planners.  I serve on the AACWP Board of Directors as Education Chair.  AACWP’s mission is “to educate wedding planners and to promote wedding planning practices of the highest quality to ensure the client expectations are surpassed.” 

This organization has provided so many opportunities for me and has, in turn, allowed me to provide others opportunities.  Altar Ego Weddings planners have completed the AACWP training course and maintain active status in the organization.  As members, we are required to adhere to a stringent code of ethics that ensures we will do business in a fair, honest and transparent way.  Is there any other way to do business?  I have been honored to serve AACWP as a board member, mentor, course facilitator and instructor.  I will reach a milestone with the organization in 2017 as I will be eligible to apply for CMWP (Certified Master Wedding Planner) status.  There are less than 10 CMWPs in AACWP.

9. Mentors!  I was a new wedding planner 10 years ago and I am so thankful I had mentors to invest in me!  I am truly honored these ladies spoke wisdom into my life and business.  Now – I’m going to link to some of my competition here, so this is legit!  If I’ve learned anything in this industry, it’s that there are plenty of weddings for everyone, so I’d like to honor my stellar wedding planner colleagues!  Chelsey Arnal, CWP, of Events & Experiences was the first to give me guidance.  She had a formal apprenticeship program, but I’m pretty sure I got way more than that.  The most valuable time we had together was the one-on-one time when I could ask whatever crazy questions I wanted.  Let’s be honest – in the beginning no one has any clue what they’re getting into when they say, “I want to be a wedding planner.”  Second and third – Wendy Kidd, CMWP, owner of Each and Every Detail, and incoming AACWP president, and Shari Johns, CMWP, founder of As You Wish Events and one of the AACWP founding members.  Both of these ladies inspired me to work hard, serve brides well and charge what I’m worth!  It has been so much fun to shadow these amazing women and see how they run their businesses!

10. New planners!  Crazy, right?  Let’s be honest – new planners are a dime a dozen.  People can jump in and out of our industry like it’s nobody’s business.  I am so excited to meet hungry and motivated new planners!  The ones who are truly gung-ho and meant to serve brides!  I am humbled to be the Chelsey, Wendy and Shari to new, passionate planners who are eager to learn what owning a wedding planning business means.  You cannot be a successful wedding planner without a servant’s heart and I love sharing that!  What Chelsey shared with me is true: “Your trainees’ success is the utmost compliment in business!”  I recently had the privilege to mentor Jenny Lee Hines, a brand-new planner in the Wichita Falls area and owner of Sharp Arrow Events. It is so fun to see her and those like her grow and flourish!  Check out her and my Dallas planner Kiersten’s new blog Radiant Joy to see a mentor post I wrote.

11. Referrals from past clients.  I don’t know if there’s anything cooler than seeing former brides at current brides’ weddings!  It’s a privilege to have a client so happy with your services they want to send their friends.  I’ll never forget a 2-3-year span when one sweet bride, Lindsay, sent all her engaged friends to us.  They were a fun crowd and I enjoyed seeing them all repeatedly.

12. Austin – 2.5 years ago when I moved here this was my experience: “OMG, I’m an experienced wedding planner in a brand-new market where nobody knows me.”  I so appreciate Kelly and Wendy of Life Styled Events who met with me and lent their Austin experience to this transplant from Dallas.  Y’all have no idea how you encouraged me and gave me what I needed to succeed in a new place!  Moving from my home market was such a humbling experience!  You must be willing to humble yourself to grow.  We will never know everything and need to open our minds and hearts to others who may know more than we do.

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13. Brides of Austin – I’ve so much fun spreading my design wings creating beautiful styled shoots for the magazine and website.  Through this magazine I was able to introduce myself to the best venues and vendors in Austin and the Texas Hill Country.  I have been able to prove my experience and show my longevity and perhaps most of all, I’ve learned I have some pretty rockin’ design skills.  Who knew?

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14. Weddingwire.com – Yes, I’m thankful for a website.  I am a diehard Wedding Wire fan!  I believe 100% in what they stand for.  They are at the forefront of technology and constantly bring us, as vendors, and brides modern wedding planning experiences.  My absolute favorite thing Wedding Wire provides is an honest, open and RIGID review system.  When you visit my Wedding Wire storefront, you are reading what real brides are saying – the good, the bad and the ugly.  I’m humbled to have received the Couples Choice awards for 8 years in a row and maintain a 5.0 rating!  I guard this rating with my life because it shows my reputation.  Ultimately, the product I sell is me and Wedding Wire helps my future brides gauge my level of service, personality and performance.

15. Facebook, yes Facebook!  Over the last 10 years, we all know social media has exploded.  We are now more connected than ever.  Facebook has birthed vendor communities where we can get together virtually.  We can share our experiences, ask for help and talk about the issues facing our industry.  I always enjoy getting to know my vendor friends through the Dallas and Austin vendor and planner Facebook groups!

16. Vendor partners!  Oh my goodness – we could not succeed without a cohesive and communicative vendor team!  I have enjoyed working with like-minded, talented vendors who work with us to serve our brides!  I am privileged to be the leader of amazing vendor teams.

17. The people in the wedding industry!  Make no mistake, the wedding business is like no other.  Ours is a stressful, emotional, high stakes industry.  Nowhere else are you required to provide perfection and you get one chance!  We deal with emotions and stressors from everyone – brides and grooms, families, guests and our vendor colleagues.  Most those in our industry and who persevere past five years are genuine and have an innate passion to serve brides and provide the highest quality of customer service.  They are also compassionate people.  I have seen my wedding industry colleagues come together to support “friendors” in need.  There have been sick babies, brain surgeries, venue floods, venues and vendors going under and that’s just the beginning.  I am blessed to be in an industry that bands together in times of need and/or tragedy.  We support each other and want to help each other.  We are a team of people who uniquely understand each other and what we face in our emotionally charged careers.  We love and care for each other.

18. Unbelievably awesome venues!  I‘ve had the privilege of working at some super-cool venues over the last 10 years!  I now have the experience of working in two bustling wedding markets in Texas.  I’ve done weddings at rustic ranches, glitzy hotels, urban lofts, art galleries, private residences, in churches, in fields, on lakes, in the middle of downtown Fort Worth, traditional country clubs and rooftops to name a few.

I’d like to share some of my favorite places I’ve done weddings.  Now venue friends, you know I love you and this list is by no means comprehensive.  I want to work with you all.  Love all around, friends.  I appreciate you trusting us with your clients and hope to have lots more weddings in your spaces!  In both Dallas and Austin there are hundreds of venues!  In the Dallas area, I’ve enjoyed working at the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek, Arlington Hall at Lee Park, The Room on Main, The Filter Building, Four Seasons, Hickory Street Annex, Classic Oaks Ranch, Renaissance Worthington, Artspace 111, Ashton Depot and the Sundance Square Pavilion

Austin and the Texas Hill Country!  Dripping Springs is known as “the Wedding Capital of Texas.”  There are so many venues in just a small portion of land out there.  My favorites in the Austin area have been Ma Maison, Pecan Springs Ranch, Red Corral Ranch, Addison Grove, Brodie HomesteadFour Seasons Austin, Star Hill Ranch, Vintage Villas, One World Theatre and the new JW Marriott Austin.

 Grant Daniels Photography www.grantdanielsphotography.com

Grant Daniels Photography www.grantdanielsphotography.com

19. Venues and vendors who refer us!  It’s such an honor when our respected colleagues send us their brides.  Thanks so much to Ma Maison, Pecan Springs Ranch, Red Corral Ranch, Nine Photography and Rebel with a Camera for the clients you’ve sent us this year!

20. Crazy-talented photographers!  Dallas and Austin are home to some of the most magnificent wedding photographers!  I am thankful for these talented pros who capture my beautiful brides’ moments and document the details of our work.  Shout out to (again, not a comprehensive list – love you all!) Nine Photography, Mercedes Morgan Photography, McGowan Images, Rebel with a Camera, Al Gawlik Photography, Sarah Goss Photography, Grant Daniels Photography, Gloria Goode Photography, Melissa Glynn Photography and Joshua Aull Photography.

 Matt McElligott Photography

Matt McElligott Photography

21. DJs who know how to bring the party and know how to work as a team.  DJs tend to be the face of the wedding.  He or she leads the night by keeping people informed and keeping them on their feet.  I am blessed to work with fabulous DJs who know how to work with me as a planner.  No cheese here and no DJs who go rogue.  We’ve worked with a bunch over the years and here are some of my favorite party-makers in Dallas: all the team at LeForce Entertainment, Rod Baker of DFW Parties, DJ Jason Esquire and Randal Stout.  Although Austin is the “live music capital,” our DJs are masters at their craft.  Thanks to the Altared Weddings and Events team, Greenbelt DJ team and Jeff Hudson of Spacecraft Entertainment.  You keep our clients celebrating!

22. Cake, cake and more cake!  We get to eat lots of cake.  There is no shortage of talented bakers in Austin and Dallas.  They make beautiful cakes that taste good, too!  Let’s hear it for some of my faves in Austin – Sweet Treets, Classic Cakes by Lori, Cakes ROCK and Hill Country Cakery.  We can’t forget the DFW cake friends – Panini Bakery, Frosted Art, Fancy Cakes by Lauren and Crème de la Crème in Fort Worth.

 Mercedes Morgan Photography

Mercedes Morgan Photography

23. Simply Personal paperie.  A few years ago, I added a fun invitation tool to our offerings.  I adore Susan Graves, the owner of Simply Personal.  She has developed an online interface that allows us to help brides create custom or semi-custom wedding invitations and paperie.  Our clients can choose colors and types of paper, printing and designs.  We can carry the design throughout the entire wedding!  Through Simply Personal, I have my own graphic designer at the other end of my computer and she goes through multiple iterations until we get it just right for our couples!  

 Jackson Wedding Studios

Jackson Wedding Studios

24. All the colors!  When I was planning my own wedding almost 14 years ago, I quickly realized how difficult it was to settle on a color scheme.  You can only pick one because you only have one wedding!  Now I get to have weddings up to 15 times a year and they’re all different.  I love color!  Colors make people feel all kinds of things.  There are no rules.  If you want a pink-and-purple-polka-dotted wedding, I’m going to make it the most beautiful pink-and-purple-polka-dotted wedding you’ve ever seen!

 Joshua Aull Photography

Joshua Aull Photography

25. Diverse styles!  I like all styles of weddings!  Many of my wedding planner cohorts focus on particular design aesthetics.  I think that’s great, but for me – I want to do them all!  I want to plan all the weddings – rustic, glam, casual, laidback, posh, urban, modern, traditional, girly, romantic, floofy, industrial, whimsical, organic, boho.  All of them!  My favorite thing to do design-wise is mesh different styles.  Boho-glam – sure!  Romantic industrial – yep!  The most interesting and challenging design I did recently was for Juliann and Solomon.  They are a gorgeous and thoughtful Indian couple.  One was from northern India and the other was from the south.  What was so interesting about them and their wedding was that they had a whole bunch of different influences they wanted to include.  There was the Indian aspect, for sure, but they were also Pentecostal Christians.  Solomon is a United States Marine, so that appeared in the ceremony along with Juliann’s traditional American white wedding dress.  She also wanted fall colors and rustic touches.  We pulled it off with the help of some amazing vendors!  I can’t wait to receive the photos from their wedding!

26. Learning different cultures.  I’ve had the pleasure of serving couples from all types of cultures and backgrounds.  I already mentioned my fun Indian couple, but I’ve also had Mexican, African-American, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, Jewish and Russian clients.  It is so fascinating to learn the traditions and infuse them into my clients’ wedding days.  There is so much to learn!  From the lasso in the Mexican heritage to jumping of the broom in African-American culture, the tea ceremony in Asian cultures and the abundance of traditions Jewish people enjoy.  I love it all and look forward to creating more beautiful and meaningful weddings for my clients, no matter their background.

27. My emergency kit!  Y’all know how invaluable a good wedding day emergency kit is!  I’m on my 3rd version.  My 2nd one was stolen at a venue.  It was a fishing tackle box and I suppose someone thought it looked like a toolbox and swiped it.  Imagine their surprise when they opened it and found feminine products, hairbrushes, breast tape, floral wire and all the other goodies!  I use something from my kit at every wedding.  I didn’t even know why I had some items in there, but I learned over time why.  For example – I have a hairdryer in there.  I thought that was strange to add because typically there are professional hair and makeup people on-site.  Well, I learned why I had it when a groomsman spilled beer down the front of his suit right before the ceremony!  Wedding planner to the rescue!

28. I’m grateful I’ve made it to 10 years.  Not many people can stomach being a wedding planner for one year, let alone 10.  I count myself privileged to be in a group of just a few who have stood the test of time.  Several of my planner friends also started their businesses in 2007 and I’m honored to celebrate with them!  Wendy with Each and Every Detail and Meredith with Significant Events of Texas, I’m talk to you!  Love you ladies!

 Lydia Royce Photography

Lydia Royce Photography

29. The never-a-dull moment nature of what I do.  Drunk best man almost falling over during the ceremony?  Been there, done that!  Hauling a naked mannequin at the end of the night – done that too!  For what it’s worth, it wasn’t naked the whole night.  Previously she had been modeling the bride’s mother’s wedding dress.  Having to decide if we’re having a reception or going to the ER because the bride is throwing up blood.  Unfortunately I had that situation, too.  The sweet bride had the flu, but persevered and felt better once she sat down and hydrated.  

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 Jennifer Yarbro Photography

Jennifer Yarbro Photography

30. Touching reminders of the fact that what I do impacts people’s lives.  I touch their histories and give them moments they will cherish forever.  My favorite story and the one I’ll leave you with is the following:  I had a wonderful bride in Dallas who realized very close to her wedding that her grandfather would not be able to attend her wedding due to his declining health.  She was desperate for her grandfather to see her get married.  I came up with the idea of live-streaming the ceremony so he could watch and nailed down a vendor to provide this service.  It was a cost the couple hadn’t anticipated, but ultimately she decided whatever the cost, it was worth it to have grandpa see her tie the knot.  The wedding day went off without a hitch and the bride was thrilled her grandfather got to witness her getting married.  Flash forward to the next day.  I had some items that belonged to the couple, so I went to their townhouse to drop them off.  I wasn’t greeted by a bubbly, blissful newlywed bride.  My sweet bride had a different countenance and I knew something was wrong.  I gave her a hug and asked if everything was OK.  She informed me that her precious grandfather, the one she went to great lengths to include in her ceremony, had passed away overnight.  My heart dropped and I started shivering.  I felt so incredibly humbled that I facilitated that special moment for her and her family.  It still gives me chills to this day.  

What I do matters!  Sometimes people consider the job of a wedding planner to be frivolous, extravagant or wasteful, but I make memories for clients.  I allow them to fully experience their wedding days.  I give them the peace of mind that they spend their budget well, have the appropriate vendors and have the right team lead in place on their wedding days.  I am in the business of providing stress-relief.  That is the #1 thing I sell.  You will see a lot of faces on my website and marketing paraphernalia.  That’s because my product is a happy, carefree bride enjoying her wedding day with her groom, family and friends.  Those memories last a lifetime and I’m humbled (I keep saying that word!) I get to be a part of it.

Happy Thanksgiving from Altar Ego Weddings to my family, friends, team, past, present and future brides and to my vendor partners!  I love you all and look forward to making memories with you in the next 10 years!