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Olive Cheche – Sterling Events Kenya

One of the major things we’re missing out on as we are home is going for events. With an additional 30 day extension of the curfew and a ban on social gatherings, its important we know how businesses are doing. I talked to Olive who brought everything into perspective.

1. What inspired you to start an events company called ‘Sterling’ events?

This dream started way back when I was around 11 or so. I watched the “wedding planner” movie by Jennifer Lopez. I was so fascinated about wedding planning and I remember thinking to myself that one day maybe I’d be able to do it.

Fast forward to 2017, in Strathmore University, I decided to do my industrial attachment at an events company because at the time, after attachment in a hotel the previous year, I had decided that the hotel life wasn’t for me and that I could fit better in the events industry.

I went ahead and that was the best decision that I had made because the experience there was what I needed to even be where I am right now.

Not many people know this but during that time, I was so inspired that I decided to register a kid’s events company by the name “Tutus and Ties”. It was soon after I finished the attachment that I felt that I did not want to limit myself to doing kids parties only, so together with the colleagues who had turned into friends during that time, we opened an all-inclusive Events company called Sterling Events. We were five. (crazy I know!) but it seemed reasonable at the time.

We were ambitious and wanted to give exemplary experiences in décor to our clients hence the name “Sterling”.

Fast forward, now the business is run by two people that is my partner Nelly and I. The other three found different callings along the way and opted out. But we stay supporting each other to date.

2. You shared a quote, ‘Creativity is not competition’, what makes you stand out from others in your field?

Décor is décor and I believe many people can do it but what makes us different is the way we deal with our clients, going the extra mile always to ensure that the client is happy and also adding a personal touch to each event that we handle.

Clients are very diverse so we strive to ensure that we are able to give them a Sterling experience through working with us.

3. You partnered with Fashion Couture Affair 2 years ago at Nairobi Railways Museum. What lessons did you pick up from the experience?

Whew! Every time someone reminds me of that event, I get goosebumps because of all the challenges we went through.

We were so new in the industry and to be able to take up such an event and sponsor it as well was one for the books. We ended up spending a lot of money that we did not even have, but looking back, I thank God that we did, because it was then that we learnt about sponsorship/partnership and what to look out for before engaging in them.

4. You recently shared your first video on YouTube what do you have in store for your fans?

I have always wanted to have a YouTube channel on matters to do with events and décor. I had been putting it off for two or so years because I felt inadequate and generally just feared the internet space in general.

When the year begun, I told myself that I had to do it because, I now know a thing or two about what I’m doing. I would like to share it with people to help them know what to look out for when planning their events and to share my experiences as well to inspire someone who may be wanting to start an events business.

Now that I have a channel, I have interesting content lined up for my subscribers and I honestly can’t wait to share.

5. What kind of events do you cover and how did you come up with you events rate card?

All kinds of events from social to corporate.

For social I do baby showers, graduations, bridal showers, weddings and birthdays. For corporate I handle launches and anything corporate related. I cover all kinds aside from the festivals like concerts. We haven’t gone that direction yet.

On the rate card we normally customize the quote according to the client’s need. One client’s quotes doesn’t necessarily work for another despite it being the same event. We are currently putting together packages that give the client a rough idea on what the event will cost depending on a few factors.

6. In a Strathmore interview on Women in Business, you shared that some clients can be difficult. How have you learnt to handle such situations?

We’ve encountered rude and disrespectful clients but we chose to be very polite and cordial. Customer service is everything and not everyone will be a nice or kind person. Some, because they are paying are just nasty. We make sure we treat them with utmost respect especially when it is easy to get annoyed and feel like you don’t want to work with. We deal with each client according to their personality and try our best. When push comes to shove we choose to not work with the person.

Bottom line is customer service is exceptional for good and difficult clients.

7. Is Sterling Events a solo business venture or do you have partners who have an input on how the business runs?

As  mentioned we are two co-directors myself and Nelly but we have other people who advise on how certain policies are implemented.

8. How has the Social Media space aided your business?

We’ve gotten many clients from Social Media platforms especially Instagram. Instagram has been so successful because people can see the work that we’ve done. On Facebook not much we’ve had about 2 clients from there but we’re not active as we’re still trying to figure out the space.

Social Media has really aided in pushing our business further. Of course right now I would have thought that it would have been much further than it actually is but I am grateful for where it is at the moment.

9. How long has Sterling Events been in business?

We’ve been in business since June 2017, that’s when we came together and started the business. I was still in school and there were so many things going on. It was the same year in December we did the Railway Fashion Couture event. Things were a bit shaky but we got our footing in June 2018 a year later. We have been in operation for 3 years this month.

10. During the COVID-19 Pandemic various startups have crumbled, how has this crisis affected you and how will it make you stronger?

We have struggled and its so bad because the first quarter was not as busy and we were banking on the second and third quarter. We had events lined up for April, May, June… and it was going to look like a good year for us until the pandemic happened. We’ve had to cancel some baby showers and postpone some events.

It isn’t funny but right now it’s survival for the fittest, you survive or you die.

At the moment we are coming up with various ways we can restructure the business and now we have time to just step back and look at what we can do better because the events industry is saturated. I’m not saying there is no space for any newbie who wants to come in and start their own business because every person gets their clients and there is space for everyone. But currently we are many and you have to figure out how you are going to stand out from the rest in Kenya.

We have things which are planned and are so excited. We are positive what is in the works is going to be impactful and will get us to the next stage. Our focus is on how you can hold events digitally and make people’s work easier. This is our strategy for now. For some of the weddings towards the end of the year, we’re hopeful the situation will improve. Those going through with them will have to downscale the guests and only invite the people who matter, you don’t have to invite 500 people and you don’t know 150 of them.

It’s all about who really matters and celebrating your union.

11. In a previous interview you shared being in Strathmore gave you a leeway to venture into the business world with the essential skills you acquired such as accounting. What about your undergrad made it more hands on?

At first, I didn’t want to join Strathmore because I thought it is such a stuck up school and I didn’t want to be a snob and wear official and all that people say about it. However, going there was the best decision I could have possibly ever made. It molded me to be who I am today business wise.

Doing hospitality course really glued together my love and passion for events, decor and planning. The school enabled me to get an opportunity to organize an event we had in 4th year called Foodie Forum. I was the lead running the event. I organized the décor among others and the event was successful. Additionally, the school’s Industrial attachment is where I learnt everything! In those three months I learnt what someone can learn in a year. I give credit to Strathmore.

12. Event planning needs a lot of diversity in the color and fabrics used aside from these you need tents, chairs a photographer etc… do you outsource all these services or have you invested in the same?

It is diverse for sure, there a lot needed to make an event successful, it’s the décor, tents and chairs for the basics. Then you need a photographer to commemorate the day, food, lighting, sound, a DJ, an Master of Ceremony all these fall under events organizing and planning. Right now I have invested in a few things in décor and looking into more.I outsource things like tents, chairs, catering services and photography services.

In the future however we are looking at being a one stop shop where you are leaving with whole event plan ie a photographer, caterer, cake, décor, a florist, a tailor for your gown and suit… all in one. That’s our four to five year plan.

13. Your sister is one of you biggest fans and recommended you for this post. Is she part of you support system? And what have you learnt from her going along?

I have two sisters Joy and my elder sister Natalie.

The first wedding I did was Natalie’s, a very small and intimate one. She gave me the opportunity to do it as Sterling Events and it was amazing because not many people can trust you with a wedding if you’ve not done many events before. She continues to believe in me and support me where she can. She shares my work and always wants me to do her events.

My other sister Joy is my biggest support system because alongside believing in me she is one of my team members.She ran my social media when I had things going on. When I sit with her and tell her my ideas she fills them with flesh when I just have the abstract idea and tells me things from a client point of view; someone who doesn’t know me. We share on what a client would want because I may have a one sided approach on what I am giving. She really fuels my fire.

What I have learnt from her is she knows what she wants. Consequently, when I say I really want to do something I have to make sure I do it. She pushed me to start the YouTube channel because I was on the fence about it. I’ve picked her amazing work ethic and she motivates me to move forward.

Finally, my business mentor is Marvin Mathenge Kanyoro, I credit a lot to him. We normally have monthly or bi-monthly meetings where we talk about the business. He guides me through what I should and shouldn’t do and what might or might not work. He supports me and mentors me business wise. We write everything down from what I have done from sales and events, projections, revenue streams and he has been a really big part of where the business is at.

14. What keeps you going when you’re having a bad day?

The life of an entrepreneur is hard and you might end up having more bad days than good days. We move regardless.

First, believing that God didn’t put me in this position to let it slip away, it was for a purpose.

Secondly, my family and my friends play a big part they help me take a step back, removing myself from the business for a day or two and do other things. I hang out with family or go for cocktails (which I love) with friends and I find it refreshing.

Finally, isolating myself (laughs) maybe it’s a bad coping mechanism but being by myself and doing things alone like watching movies and series gets me going.

15. What is the best business advice you have ever received?

Just start. Start with what you have and where you are.

For anyone who wants to start any business in events, note that you don’t have to have a lot of money. I didn’t start with money. We just started as the five of us while ambitious and here we are. I don’t think that you need Ksh. 500,000 to start the business. Start with what you have and where you are.

I definitely loved this interview I hope it helped you understand the business dynamic of event planning be sure to check out the YouTube channel here and Instagram page here. Drop an email on sterlingweddandevents@gmail.com or call 0710101340.

Want to chat? Drop me an email on info@glynismaina.co.ke. Don’t forget to follow me Instagram here like my Facebook Page here and subscribe to my YouTube channel here

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