Meet Hannah Nicolet, who following her own wedding in France, was inspired to set up a wedding planning business drawing on her successful career in live event production in the UK. If you dream of setting up a business abroad, Hannah has some great advice for you.
House of Coco: What inspired the creation of Noble Nuptials?
Hannah: My own wedding here in France. Many of the guests said that they’d never been to a wedding like it – it was very animated with African, Scottish and French music and dancing – and that I should plan weddings for other people.
It’s wasn’t something I had ever considered before, but with my background in production and live events, and no other planners in the area, I decided to test the water and see where it took me. I had hoped to start small, but had 8 weddings booked in the first year which was amazing.
HoC: What is Noble Nuptials philosophy and why is that important to your business?
Hannah: I have two. When I first set up the business, I decided that I only wanted to work locally and with local suppliers and produce. I have managed to keep to this, even though I get offers to work all over France, I like to work with people I know, and give back to the community where I live as much as I can.
The second is the one on my website which reads: ‘Barefoot Elegance with a Luxurious wink.’ When I came across this quote by Francis Ford Coppola, it made my skin tingle as it summed up perfectly who I am as a person, as well as what I wanted to create with Noble Nuptials.
Less is most definitely more, but the ‘less’ has to be of the highest quality and ethically sourced wherever possible. I apply this to all areas of my life, including my business.
HoC: What led you to France and what is it about France that makes it your favourite place in the world?
Hannah: I love how spacious it is. There is so much open countryside and it is very rare that I ever find myself stuck in a traffic jam, other than behind the odd tractor every now and again.
This is one of the main reasons we came to France. Before moving here we lived sandwiched between two pubs in Wandsworth and without any outside space. On Saturday nights, punters would rest their pints on our sash windows and we could hear them singing Robbie Williams or Oasis at the tops of their voices as the bars closed every weekend.
When I fell pregnant with my son, we decided it was time for a change. Having grown up in the North East of Scotland, and wanting to take some time off work to be with my son, I was keen to move back to the country. With my partner only working weekends and with a deep love of France, he suggested that we look at living and commuting from there instead.
It took us 6 months to find the perfect house within an hour of Toulouse airport and 6 months later we had sold up in London and moved to an old farmhouse surrounded by woodland – it was bliss! I have since moved to the beautiful medieval village of St Antonin Noble Val (only 10 mins away from the farm) and love the fact that an app on my phone tells me every morning that I only have a 6 min commute to work (my studio is a short walk from my home) and that there aren’t any delays.
HoC: What do you think makes the perfect wedding?
Hannah: This may be a little controversial, considering all the work that goes into the planning and styling of a wedding, but the energy between the guests and the couple! I have done weddings where the location, décor, flowers, food, wine and music has been amazing and everything has gone 100% to plan, but walked away feeling that it lacked oomph.
It’s very difficult to put your finger on, but my assistants have remarked on it too, and we all agree that when you get the right combination of guests (mostly those who are very close to the couple, and/or have known them for a long time), it can take a wedding to spectacular heights. There’s ‘buzz’ in the air – you can feel the love for the couple – and that’s when the magic happens.
Personal touches are very important too. I tend to get a lot of feedback on this from my clients who will tell me about weddings they have been to where they have been bowled over by the location and grandeur, but at the end of the day, were left feeling that it was all a little impersonal and that this is something they want to avoid.
For me, the perfect wedding has to have ‘soul’ and all of the above contributes to that. I know when I’ve witnessed the ‘perfect wedding,’ as it is the one where I have wished that I was one of the guests joining in the fun, rather than the planner watching from the sidelines.
HoC: What do you think are some of the challenges of running a wedding business in 2019?
Hannah: Brexit and the uncertainty of the pound has had a big impact on where my bookings come from at the moment – I currently have more clients from the US, Australia and France than ever before.
I think that many couples from the from the UK are worried about how the fluctuation in the exchange rate will affect their budget over a 12-18 month period. To counteract this, several of my current couples from the UK have gone for the security of a ‘forward contract’ so that they can fix the exchange rate throughout the duration of the planning process.
There are many companies out there that do this now, including ones that are specially set up for weddings and the paying suppliers abroad.
HoC: What would you say to our readers who might be starting to think about their wedding and feel intimidated or unsure of where to start?
Hannah: The first thing to do is create a budget that feels comfortable for them, then to break it down into all of the areas where they are planning to spend. A wedding planner can help with this, and based on weddings in the last 12 months, will be able help allocate the right amount to each area.
They will also know which venues will work perfectly with their budget and where there may be hidden costs, like extra refrigeration and toilets for example. There is a lot of flexibility within any budget and a good planner will be able to tell a couple where money should be spent and where money can be saved, based on the couple’s preferences.
HoC: What piece of advice would you give to our readers who want to set up their own business abroad?
Hannah: Speaking the language helps! I didn’t start my business until I could speak fluent French. Failing that, there are people who can be employed to accompany you when starting up, who will be able to help you navigate through all the red tape.
Another useful tool is Facebook. There are plenty of Facebook groups out there for people running businesses in France and the support they give is invaluable and inevitably can save you a lot of the legwork. I am part of several, including ones for weddings suppliers in France, and we all help each other.
HoC: What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given in setting up your business?
Hannah: Don’t try and be all things to all people, or ‘vanilla ice cream,’ as my mentor once said to me during a coaching session. When I first started doing weddings, I wasn’t quite sure what made me stand out from other planners, but I do now, and that’s what I sell: my own unique flavour of ice cream.
Discovering this has changed the way I do business and the kind of clients I work with. Be true to yourself and what you believe in and your business will flourish.