The event planning world is cutthroat and supersaturated – but that didn’t stop Courtney Ajinça from venturing out and putting her own mark on the industry. Wife of professional basket player Alexis Ajinça, Courtney comes from humble beginnings and decided to let go of an unpassionate career selling hair extensions to build her own empire as a celebrity event planner and interior designer. With a growing Rolodex of top brands and clients like NBC, Seagram’s, CVS, and Real Housewives of Atlanta’s reality star Cynthia Bailey, Courtney is busy designing product launches, brand activations and now weddings for the biggest and best.
Courtney is hustling her way to the top and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. In this interview with BAUCE, Courtney Ajinça shares her journey to getting started in the event planning business and her tips on how to attract premium-level clients.
How did you get started with event planning? Did you have a plug that helped you secure celebrity clients?
Courtney: I would like to say event planning kind of found me. I used to do little stuff for family and friends here and there and then my husband started taking notice and he was like, “Hey, you’re really good at this. You should really take this seriously.” And I was like, “You know, babe, like you might be right.” And so, I just went forward with it. I [eventually] connected with Danika Barry who is my amazing PR. And, I think my first celebrity event was for “Dutchess” from Black Ink after that. And after that, when people started taking notice, it was just kind of like a domino effect from there. Once people saw the things that I could do, I just started attracting celebrity clientele through referrals. It only takes one person to connect you and put you where you need to be. And then the rest, just kind of does the work for itself. And I really feel like I’ve found my passion in event planning.
What were you doing before fully transitioning into celebrity event planning?
Courtney: I actually owned a luxury hair boutique in Charlotte, and I imported hair from Russia. It was like the number one boutique in Charlotte. I also supported my husband and his career, you know, playing basketball. I traveled around with him and then I still had my boutique on the side. But there just came a time when you realize that something is not your purpose. When something is your purpose, things flow easily and things begin to align for you and when something is not your purpose, you are hit with roadblocks. And that’s what happened there.
I ended up just letting it go because it was becoming more of a burden than it was a passion for me. After I closed it, I took about a year off to you know mentally prepare and then I just decided to jump, you know, seat first into event planning and I haven’t stopped and haven’t looked back.
In your opinion, how much do you need to invest upfront to start an event planning business?
Courtney: Honestly to have any event planning company, you don’t have to invest much upfront. You may have to invest in your brand as far as, you know, your website. For my website and my branding suite, I probably invested about $10,000. But otherwise, you just need people to invest in you and to believe in you and in your product in order to grow and get to where you want to be. When I started off, I was doing events for free. I was doing events for like $500, you know? You just have to believe in yourself and invest in yourself. When you’re investing in yourself, you have to trust yourself. An investment is not always about money. You know you have to get people to invest in you, to trust you, in order to move forward and be able to grow.
What are some of the biggest business challenges that you have faced in the event industry?
Courtney: In every industry, there’s a lot of competition. These days everybody is an event planner. [Laughs] I think that’s probably the biggest thing is your competition and securing your clientele. But I think once you get to a certain level, people don’t have the same clientele as you. So, truly the hardest thing is being unique from your peers, keeping up with what’s current in the industry, knowing the latest trends, and not getting left behind.
You are leading the event planning for Cynthia Bailey’s wedding! What do you think are the top wedding trends for this year?
Courtney: Up until now, at weddings, it’s been really about the huge, lush florals. But right now, what I’m seeing a lot of is organic and whimsical looking florals, whether that’s pampas grass or like high plants like delphiniums. Things like that are being used a lot nowadays to create more of the organic feel instead of a completely composed floral feel. Another thing is that people are going more sustainable at weddings. That’s not my style per se. I love the environment, but I like the luxurious feel. Luxurious chairs.
I’m huge on neon signs. I like to incorporate vibrant, edgy, modern things. I like things like LED tubes with events because it just creates that modern Instagram-able moment that will make your design pop. We’re going away from linens on the table. You want to have more like a mirrored table, mirrored aisles, as opposed to having table linens and sequined table clothes, which I’m sick of seeing. Mirrored tables are an exclusivity type thing. Like if you can get your hands on these mirrored tables for your event, then you know, your event is doing something.
What if I don’t have a celebrity budget but I want a fabulous affair? How can I get a luxe wedding for less?
Courtney: I think it’s good if you can just incorporate like certain luxe elements of the event. You have to pick and choose. So maybe if you can’t afford that huge aisle with massive florals, you can afford maybe a backdrop with beautiful florals and like a neon sign or you can afford a beautiful table arrangement as a focal piece. Just incorporate small elements that would give your event that [luxe] look. It’s just like in fashion, you can go high-low. So, you can have like, high pieces that cost a lot of money. But then drawback in areas that aren’t so important. Maybe you have a lot of florals on your sweetheart table, but on the rest of your tables, you have candles. It’s just about having a balance. It’s not worth it to go broke on your wedding day.
What’s one thing you would say to avoid in order to have a good event?
Courtney: Don’t choose the wrong vendors. Your team can make or break your event — the vendors that you choose. You just want to make sure that you have the right type of professionalism around you at all times and have people that are able to execute your vision. I would say that’s my biggest thing and that’s like the biggest downfall because you can have the biggest design in your head, but if you have the worst vendor team that can cause your event to fail. You really just have to build a rapport and build trust with different vendors. And you know, once you build that trust with them, it helps them go above and beyond for you as an event planner. I’m big on energy and vibes. So, if I can’t vibe with you as a vendor, I can’t work with you because I know you’re going to throw off the energy of the whole day.
Thanks, Courtney, for keeping it real with us! What is your advice for someone who is interested in starting their own event design and planning agency like you?
Courtney: Even if you have the talent, it’s important to invest in good pictures of your work; that can help you with attracting the clientele that you want to have. You can have the best work, but if your pictures are trash, then you know, your potential clients are not going to see the complete value in working with you.
And just go for it! Don’t look back, you know, if that’s something that you’re passionate about, just jump in and go forward and do your research. Follow your creative passion, take time to mentally visualize every day to come up with like dope ideas and designs and write them down!
Want to see what magic Courtney creates next? You can follow her on Instagram here.