QC Event School graduate Ayla Otto Feature Image

QC Event School Graduate Spotlight: Ayla Otto

Tell us a little bit about yourself, Ayla!

I’m Ayla Otto, owner and founder of Events by Ayla, LLC, a full-service wedding design and planning company based in Alaska. My husband, Kyle, and I were both born and raised in Homer, Alaska. Kyle and I met when I was 18 and we’ve been together for 11 years! We currently live in the MatSu Valley with our three sons (who are all four years old and under).

In 2017, I graduated with my Bachelors in Hospitality and Event Management from the University of Alaska, Anchorage. In 2019, I started dreaming of a way I could help people while also incorporating my passions. That’s when Events by Ayla was created! I’ve been in business for four years and love it more every single year!

I’ll be the first to say: women do NOT have to choose between having a family and a successful career!

Here are some fun facts about me:

  • My name Ayla is pronounced Kayla without the K (ayy-luh).
  • My favorite drink is anything champagne—Aperol Spritz, mimosa, you name it! 🥂
  • I received a full ride scholarship to pursue music from California State University, San Bernardino. However, I decided to do my first year of college at New Mexico State University, studying entrepreneurship.
  • My senior superlative was “class clown”. My whole life, I’ve always loved to make people laugh!
  • On top of working full-time, I stay home with all three of my boys. I can say, without a doubt, that moms are truly the best multitaskers in the world!
  • We have a black lab, Oakley, who is 8 years old, that we adopted when he was 7 weeks old.

Why did you decide to become a professional wedding planner/designer?

I’ve always loved planning events/parties since I was in elementary school, and throughout college. When I was in fourth grade, I won an award for this young entrepreneurship competition. That’s when my parents said they knew I would start my own business someday!

When my husband and I were planning our wedding in 2015, I absolutely loved the planning process. During that time, I was still in college, so I decided to declare my major as Hospitality and Event Management. I’ve always wanted to own my own business, and I also knew I could never work for someone else. I hated the thought of having to ask someone else for time off to go on a vacation, or only have a set number of dates per year for “sick leave.”

What made you decide to pursue your certification training online (rather than in-person)—and how did you hear of QC Event School?

I actually do have in-person certification: my Bachelor’s in Hospitality and Event Management. But I believe continuing education is so valuable. So, that is why I decided to take courses from QC Event School!

I loved the convenience of doing a training online—rather than in-person—because you can do the course a little bit at a time, whenever it’s convenient for your schedule.

RELATED: Want to learn more about the self-paced, online certification courses offered at QC Event School? Here’s the full list (plus each course’s curriculum)!

Photos by Cindy Maiyer Photo.

Why did you ultimately choose to enroll with QC Event School? (E.g., What was it about our school that won you over, compared to other online event/wedding planning schools out there?)

I liked that it was all online. Plus, I had a long time (2 years) to complete the course. The price was also very affordable!

You’ve graduated from QC’s self-paced, online Event and Wedding Planning certification course and earned your International Event and Wedding Planning Professional™ (IEWP®) certification + designation. What was your favorite part of this program – and what was most challenging?

Actually, just finding the time to sit down do the course was probably the hardest part. But once I blocked out time and did each section, I loved diving into the course materials! I loved how everything you were learning was broken down into categories – that made it very simple.

You’re also a QC Event School graduate of our Event Decor Course; having also earned your International Event Decorating Professional™ (IEDP™) certification. In your opinion, why does event decor training make you an event stronger industry expert?

There is SO much more to how things “look”! Rather, it’s the psychology behind why things are aesthetically pleasing to people’s eye (or not).

Another example is when couples think, “I want a lot of flowers!” However, they don’t realize that if they have these huge, floral centerpieces, guests won’t be able to see over them or make conversation during the reception… And that’s a total vibe killer! You either need to have smaller, eye level arrangements (like bud vases)—or large arrangements that are elevated on a stand, like this:

Photo (left) by Theresa McDonald. Photo (right) by Chugach Peaks Photography.

PRO TIP: Here are just 4 quick reasons why event decor training is ESSENTIAL to your wedding and event planning career!

How would you describe your style as a wedding planner?

Timeless, classic, romantic, elegant, beautiful, and intentional.

What made you decide to take the leap and open up a business of your very own?

I had a few jobs once I graduated from college, and let me tell you, I absolutely HATED working for someone else! Totally naïve of me to think, but I couldn’t fathom having to ask someone else to “approve” my time off.

I realized on day one that I was always meant to own my own business and work for myself! At the time of starting my business, I also knew that I wanted to be able to have the flexibility to work from home and stay home with my kids—as opposed to putting them in daycare and working for someone else’s dream.

What were the most challenging parts about launching a business, and how did you overcome these challenges?

Originally, launching my business was fairly straightforward and involved:

  • Forming an LLC
  • Buying a business license
  • Designing my own logo and branding (and then eventually, a few years later, I made the best business decision thus far: to invest into professional branding/logo by HoneyFig Studio)
  • Creating a website
  • Starting my social media accounts
  • Putting together the packages I wanted to offer
  • Signed up with HoneyBook (and from there, creating my contract, questionnaires, etc. using their platform)
  • Becoming very comfortable working on Canva in order to create design boards, vendor proposals for my full service clients, etc.
  • Launching on August 8, 2019
  • Connecting with other local vendors to network and collaborate
  • Starting to build my portfolio and clientele by doing lots of styled shoots, etc.

The most challenging part now is balancing all three of my kids AND work (especially during the summer/wedding season). This is particularly challenging as they get older, and has definitely been an adjustment. During the summertime, neither one of my older boys are in school and are really both involved in lots of sport sports (soccer, t-ball, etc.).

As you can probably assume, I have a very structured and organized personality—not only at work, but home, too. Adults thrive off schedules, as do kids. That’s the only way I get any work done. I prioritize my kids’ schedules while we are at home during the week, and 95% of the time I stick to their 7:30PM bedtime. That being said, most of the time when I’m working, my kids are either sleeping during their daytime nap or I’m up before them/staying up after they go to bed.

I also especially try to be present with them and not work while they’re awake. I realize this doesn’t always happen, but I make a conscious effort to be doing either one thing or the other. My three-year-old and four-year-old will both be in preschool this fall. So, come August, I will have a lot more time to work during the day!

My hubby and I are pretty “old school” and don’t allow iPads, tablets, etc. in the house at all, whatsoever. We finally caved a few months ago and bought ONE tablet for the older boys to share (and ONLY when we travel on an airplane or during a long road trip that’ll last more than a few hours). We still allow occasional movies throughout the day on our big TV. So, that’s when I’ll sneak in some more work during that time, too.

I really think there’s so much value to letting kids be kids; playing outside, getting dirty, and not being glued to a screen all day. Being a working mom is such a balancing act. So, to any mom out there who is struggling with mom guilt/having too much on their plate, etc., just know you’re doing an amazing job… And your kids are SO lucky to have you as their mom!

Photos by Donna Marie Photography.

In your opinion, what are the most rewarding aspects of owning/operating your own business?

  • Financially providing and supporting my family!
  • Being able to say that I started this business from the ground up (from absolutely nothing) to now making 6 figures within my second year of business. That is something I’m definitely proud of!
  • When my couple sees the reception space for the first time, and all the little details we worked so hard on come to life!
  • Relieving stress from my couples during the planning process, so I can make the planning process just as celebratory as the big day itself!
  • Seeing my couple out on the dance floor at the end of the night, with a drink in their hand and a smile on their face. This just brings so much joy to me on both a professional and personal level!
  • Meeting and working alongside other wedding vendors; some of whom have now became really good friends of mine!

Tell us about the wedding planning services you currently offer clients!

I offer three packages:

  1. Month of Management
  2. Concept + Design
  3. Full Service Package

Month of Management

You have booked the vendors, as well as put time, creativity, and heart into the planning process. However, you need help executing your vision and want to relax on your wedding day.

So, we will make the vision that you worked so hard for come to life for you! As your wedding gets close (about 2 months before), we will go over the important details and tie up any loose ends and on your big day. Moreover, we will be there to coordinate all the logistics and details with your vendors in order to ensure that everything goes effortlessly.

If you’re thinking it would be better to hire a professional so you and your family can enjoy EVERY single part of your day, this is the perfect collection for you!

Concept + Design Planning

You’ve chosen your dream venue and photographer, but you’re struggling to bring all the details together. Thus, this package is perfect if you desire to have a large part in planning your wedding, while still benefitting from having the organization and advice a professional can offer. We will start working together about 6 months before your wedding date.

This collection is ideal for the couple that wants to be involved, but would like our qualified expertise. The combination of these two things will ensure that your day is perfect… And that the months leading up to your big day are stress-free!

After all, we know that executing your ideas can be hard, and developing a vision for your wedding is often overwhelming. So, if you want help defining or creating a vision for your wedding day, this package is ideal for you.

Full Service Package

Our most popular and extensive planning package covers:

  • The planning logistics;
  • Full design and styling;
  • And complete vendor communication and management.

From beginning to end, we will ensure that every little detail is planned. This way, you can enjoy your engagement and wedding day!

This package includes everything from finding the perfect venue and vendors, to logistics and budget management, etc. These are a just a few of the tasks we will carefully manage with you. Working one-on-one with each of your wedding vendors and expertly overseeing the process, you are involved in the decisions… But you are also able to focus on enjoying your engagement, care-free!

RELATED: How much should you charge for your event planning services? Here’s everything you need to know to price yourself accordingly!

Often times, prospective clients are hesitant to hire a professional wedding planner because they’re not fully convinced that it’s worth the money. Speaking as both a QC Event School graduate and an industry professional, can you tell us why YOU believe hiring a professional wedding planner is worth the cost?

I am always working to be my couples’ biggest advocate. Sometimes, when couples first get engaged, they truly don’t realize that planning a wedding is a full-time job. Usually for couples, this is the first (and only!) time they will be planning a wedding. So, they have no insight into the process or a grasp on what to expect with planning a wedding.

This is where I can step in! Not only can I offer insight; I can also save you money as well by thinking outside the box.

For example, let’s say a couple was quoted $10K for flowers, but only budgeted $5K. I’d be able to look at that breakdown of the flower list and say, “Okay, here is where we can save money/cut costs!” Another example would be to suggest an “off season” wedding or a weekday wedding. Most venues offer a discounted rate for couples who book during the off season/weekday weddings.

I sometimes joke that wedding planners are like relators… Namely, that we are so submersed into the wedding industry and have so many connections that it’s SO beneficial to our couples!

Do you remember what your very first wedding with a legit client was like? Tell us about it! What did you learn from it, what went well, what didn’t go as planned, etc.?

The entire wedding itself went off without a hitch! However, I learned that I will absolutely never do “clean up” at a venue ever again. Now, for my full service clients, “tear down” is included. This means taking down my couple’s decor that they brought into the venue, etc.

But for the first wedding that I did, I was straight up sweeping, mopping, washing dishes, and cleaning toilets until 1AM. And let me tell you: never again! In fact, I now have that specifically added into my contract (that I do not do “clean up” at venues anymore). This is not uncommon for other planners in Alaska, either. Most of us just do “tear down” as opposed to “clean up”.

Photos by Theresa McDonald.

What are your business strategies when it comes to: finding/attracting clients, marketing/getting your name out there, networking, etc.?

Social media, social media, social media!

Also, getting your business professionally branded is an absolute must! Without a doubt, my brand girl, Janelle from HoneyFig Studio, took my business to the next level. Your business and brand are so much more than a logo, which a lot of business owners do not understand.

When it was all said and done, I had an 81-page branding guide AND brand strategy that completely changed my business. We went into everything, such as…

The Heart of My Business:

  • My vision
  • Mission
  • Purpose
  • Core values
  • Goals

My Audience:

  • Audience analysis
  • Ideal avatar
  • Problems they’re facing
  • Priorities

Brand Positioning:

  • Keywords
  • Tone of voice
  • Elevator pitch
  • Benefits
  • Unique selling points
  • Niche

My Visual Identity (my logo collection which included):

  • My primary logo
  • Variation logos
  • Logo marks
  • Icons
  • Logo colors
  • Color palette
  • Color codes
  • Type suites
  • Textures
  • Patterns

And Finally, The Inspiration Behind My Brand:

  • My aesthetic inspiration
  • Vision board
  • My ideal client

Because of my professional branding, as well as the expertise I bring to my clients, I feel confident changing $10,000 for my full service package… Which is my MOST popular package!

PRO TIP: Learn how to brand your wedding planning business from start to finish!

Events by Ayla, LLC has received awards from both Wedding Wire and The Knot! Tell us more about these amazing awards!

Yes! I received both awards from Wedding Wire and The Knot three years in a row: 2021, 2022, and 2023. In order to be eligible for each of these awards, you need to get at least five separate 5-star reviews from couples on The Knot and Wedding Wire as well.

The official press release says: “Wedding Wire Couples’ Choice Award and The Knot Best of Weddings are accolades representing the top wedding professionals across the board in quality, service, responsiveness, and professionalism reviewed by couples on Wedding Pro. Events by Ayla, LLC is honored to be one of the top Event Planners in Alaska on Wedding Pro.”

You’re located in Wasilla, Alaska, where the population is just over approximately 10,000 people. How much competition are you facing in and around your area? Furthermore, what are you doing to (1) make your business stand out, and (2) attract your target demographic successfully?

There are not that many other wedding planners in the surrounding areas… Maybe just a handful of us!

Here are some of the top things I feel makes my business stand out:

  1. When I first started my business, one of my core values was—and continues to be—quality over quantity. I believe in giving each one of my couples the attention to detail that they deserve. This is why I only take on a certain number of weddings each year.
  2. I have been a recent bride myself. So, I can relate in that way to my couples; having also been through the wedding planning process.
  3. I’m a business owner and a mom. Trust me when I tell you, moms are the ultimate multitaskers—and this goes for both things at home AND during wedding days.
  4. I created the OG Wedding Welcome Guide that I send to each one of my couples—no matter what package you book with me! It’s a nearly 40-page Welcome Guide that I created exclusively for my couples in order to get a better sense of what to expect while working together. Moreover, it includes so many frequently asked questions (and answers) throughout the planning process. I usually refer to it as an “All-Inclusive Alaska Wedding Planning Guide”. It has recommended vendors, all broken up into categories with clickable links to social media and websites. This Guide also offers a planning checklist timeline, what to put on your wedding website, how to apply for a marriage license, how to change your last name, and more. Seriously, it has ALL the things!!
  5. When you choose to work with me, I am the ONLY one you’ll be working with throughout the entire wedding planning process. I will be the one who is present on your wedding day, rather than an “associate planner”. Personally, I think this brings so much value. After all, we work together so closely together that I’m aware of every single, little detail. Whatever it is, I have a complete picture of not just your wedding day, but you two as a couple, your love story, what makes you unique, your family dynamic, etc.

Through our detailed consultations, thorough planning and organization, persistent accountability, fierce leadership, and complete dependability, I’m your ally for better, for worse!

In terms of how I successfully attract my target demographic, again, social media is SO important! For instance, I post stories with my face so that people can see the person BEHIND the social media accounts. Also, investing into my re-brand really helped me feel confident to raise my prices.

In addition, I also have a very thorough questionnaire that I send out to my couples BEFORE I book a consultation call. This not only helps us all find out if I’m the right fit for them or not—but also helps us make sure they are the right couple for me to work with, too!

Photos by Joshua Veldstra Photography.

What do you love MOST about working in the wedding planning industry?

  • Each wedding is so different. I love getting to know each one of my couples and their unique love story/how they met!
  • The creative freedom my couples give me to help design their wedding!
  • Being a mom to three boys, the mother/son dance gets me every single time!
  • I am someone who has very strong family values. I love to meet my couple’s mom, dad, grandparents, siblings, etc.
  • The flexibility it brings me to stay home full-time with my kids, while also contributing a full-time income!
  • Keeping up with forever-changing trends in the wedding industry!
  • All those hours scrolling Pinterest, all the decision-making, all the special little touches and details… I get to make them come to life, which brings me so much joy!

What’s your favorite kind of wedding to put together/design and why?

Definitely ones where my couples and I really vibe together, with regards to our similar style. Also, I love working with couples who have a really large budget and don’t want to skip the smaller details that really can transform a space. For example, nice chairs, custom stationery, an abundance of flowers, etc.

In terms of event design/decor, what’s your (personal) favorite style?

Simple and classic! Although, currently, I do love very modern/trending styles. That said, typically, I tend to gravitate towards a more timeless look that’s never going to go out of style.

What advice would you give to aspiring wedding planners and other QC Event School graduates alike who dream of starting their own business?

Just take the leap! There’s never going to be the “perfect time” in your life, where every single thing is lined up and “ready”. In reality, you’ll learn as you go.

Furthermore, take a lot of pride in your work! Make every single couple you work with feel like they are the ONLY couple you are working with. Do NOT copy what other planners are doing/posting/etc.! I have had this happen to me and it’s a gut-wrenching feeling.

Rather, be original with your ideas, social media, packages, etc. Do the work yourself. Trust me, it’s worth it to be original!

RELATED: Maximize these seven key tips for landing your first wedding planner job!

Speaking as a QC Event School graduate (and multi-graduate in general), why do you feel it’s important for wedding planners to have professional certification training?

To stay up-to-date on current trends in the industry, as well as to give clients the best service possible!

Overall, as a QC Event School graduate, why would you recommend QC’s self-paced, online training to others?

The courses were very straightforward. Plus, the overall support you receive from people on the backend of QC Event School is unmatched!

To date, what’s been your proudest moment so far?

When my husband and I sat down during tax time, my second year in business. Our tax lady said, “Holy cow! You were SO successful this year (2021). You made a lot of money!”

Not that this was my sole intention when I started my business, of course… But it gives me a true sense of accomplishment, as well as purpose, to financially support my family with a full-time income. I had worked so hard that year to build my business. As a result, I was out of town a lot for work, traveling all over the state of Alaska.

So, it was so rewarding for me to see that all my hard work had paid off!

Photos by Emelia K Photography. Venue: AK Diamond J Ranch.

What about your favorite wedding to date? Tell us a bit about that!

Oh gosh, this is such a hard question, as I have so many! One of my favorite wedding to date, I think, would be a winter wedding I did for M + H at Alyeska. (I’m not stating their names because they’re very private people.)

They had an extremely large budget. So, whenever I sent them a potential vendor proposal, they were quick to make a decision based on that vendor’s style and how their personalities fit, rather than who best fit their budget. It rained all morning, and we almost moved the ceremony inside. However, about 30 minutes before the ceremony, these unbelievably huge snowflakes started to fall, practically in slow motion.

The whole time, we all felt like we were in this fairy-tale, winter wonderland snow globe! It was such an incredible memory!

Another reason why it was one of my favorite weddings was because my couple and I formed such a strong relationship through the wedding planning process. They were like, “Let’s hangout after the wedding!”

And we have, actually! We went and got lunch/drinks a few months ago. It was so fun to hang out with them on a personal level and catch up. They also have a little girl who is only a few months older than my youngest son. So, it’s been so fun to see their family grow, and their titles change from fiancés, to Mr. and Mrs., to mom and dad!

What’s in store for Events by Ayla, LLC the rest of this year and beyond?

As my kids get older and go to school, I plan to take on more of a workload, while still maintaining one of my core values: quality over quantity. I would love to travel more around the state, as well as go to some wedding conventions, like the Wedding MBA in Las Vegas!

Ready to pursue YOUR dream career like Ayla did? Enroll with QC Event School today and become internationally-certified in as little as 3 to 6 months!

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