Founder and President, A Perfect Event
Debi Lilly will be one of our featured speakers at Ladies Who Launch LIVE in Chicago, taking place on May 10. Click for more info.
While some people are hesitant to admit they’re perfectionists, Debi Lilly sings it from the mountaintops. The Chicago-based event planner is the founder of A Perfect Event, unabashedly revealing her modus operandi in the company name. A Perfect Event is a nationally recognized superpower when it comes to planning weddings, corporate events, and other special parties. Debi’s fingerprints are on every piece of the job, figuratively if not literally. From flowers and invitations to venue selection, catering, music, photography, gifts, transportation, staffing and more, Debi won’t stop until it’s all, you guessed it, perfect.
Her trial by fire involved the most coveted client anyone could have, Madame Oprah. Planning Oprah’s televised 50th birthday party in 2004 was the (sky-)high point of an ongoing relationship with the lifestyle diva. Debi’s client list also includes Brooke Shields, Debra Messing, Cartier, Bvlgari, Wolfgang Puck, and People magazine.
What we learned from Debi: Your passion for your business will shine through in your voice, your eyes, and your whole person. When you pour your heart and soul into your enterprise, you radiate positive, confident energy and the law of attraction works with you, opening doors and creating opportunities.
“I was a hostess ever since childhood. I’ve always loved celebrations. When my elementary school friends went on vacation, I’d throw them a bon voyage party. When they moved, I’d do a housewarming. As soon as I was old enough, I’d do school parties, dances, and proms.”
Slow and Steady
“I had a day job for the first five years while launching my business on the side. I ran my business out of my home. Clients loved coming to my house.”
Pop the Question
“When I was just getting started, I’d network through organizations and events. I’d meet people and ask them, ‘How can we work together? Let’s do an event. What can we do?’ If you don’t ask for the order, you’re not going to get the order.”
“You can’t be humble. You have to toot your own horn. No one will build your name like you will.”
“I love being a resource for everything a perfect event needs. I really love doing as much as possible myself. It sets us apart as a one-stop center. In our boutique, we have a library that showcases venues, caterers, photographers, bands, and more of our preferred partners.”
The Big O
“A few years into my business, I got a call that Oprah wanted to throw a baby shower. Two of her staff had worked for me during the summer and that’s how she found me. I was still working from home then. It was a wonderful alignment of the sun, moon, and stars—some luck and some skill.”
Off to the Races
“Oprah put the baby shower on TV. It was an unimaginable testimonial and association to have. The business built so much faster with her name behind us.”
Everyone’s on the A-List
“We make everyone feel like Oprah. We’re a service business. If you don’t provide great service, you’re nothing.”
Moving Out and Up
“Four years ago, I moved the business out of my house and into a commercial location. It was an important step in building the business.”
PR and Staff Investment …
“In 2006 and 2007, I invested in a lot of PR to build the brand. At the same time, we were becoming established in our location. I also hired new staff and they settled in and hit their stride.”
… Pays Off
“Business has been very good. Revenue doubled from 2006 to 2007. My business is cyclical and I barely made it through many winters. Finally, in the 12th year of business, I had a good winter.”
Studying the Numbers
“I learned that I couldn’t attribute everything to the cyclical factors. I had to keep an eye on revenue and scrutinize the business.”
“I’m now taking a salary, finally. I don’t think it was a good choice for me to make in the beginning. You need to reward yourself first. You’re the most important team member.”
Division of Labor
“I’ve also learned that instead of trying to do it all, you have to invest in talented people. For years, I tried to do the accounting, sales, floral design, graphic design, you name it. Eventually, you have enough revenue to hire people or you invest in people from the start.”
“I started my business on a hope and a prayer. Looking back, I’d recommend that you pay yourself a salary, write a business plan, and get a commercial loan. This will get you started on the right foot from the very beginning.”
Parting Thoughts …
-”My most rewarding moment is … to celebrate special occasions in people’s lives and make them all they can possibly be.”
-”My scariest business moment was … when I did a large wedding at a church that had double-booked another big wedding party. I was not going to have my party kicked out. I succeeded. We stayed.”
-”My biggest coup is … having worked for someone like Oprah for 10 years.”
-”I am happiest when … I’m with my family.”
-”My business would not have happened if … not for the support of my husband.”
-”Every entrepreneur should … follow your heart and do what you love.”
This Featured Lady was profiled by Andrea Adleman, a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist.