Passion to Paycheck: Michelle Summers quit 9-5 job to start event planning company

Owner of Your Signature Designs and Events shares struggles of building successful business

Passion to Paycheck: Michelle Summers quit 9-5 job to start event planning company

Summerville, S.C. (WCSC) - The only thing better than the ideal job, is owning your own business. Some people in the Lowcountry have done just that, after quitting their 9-5.

But, the road to success has plenty of potholes as event planner Michelle Moultrie Summers discovered. She is the owner of Your Signature Designs and Events.

She creates breathtaking settings for weddings, anniversaries and other celebrations. But her first assignment of planning her sister's wedding, was no fairy tale.

"Everything went wrong. Pastor showed up at wrong time, my mom ended up doing the ceremony, the reception was horrible, but she loved it, and it was the craziest feeling, but I was like I want to do it again, I think I can do it again, and I can do it better," Summers said.

And for more than eight years now, Summers has been doing it better. After her sister's wedding, she began coordinating parties and other functions for fun.

She started her business part time, while working full time as an electrical lighting engineer designer for an engineering firm.

"So I designed any lights, the fixtures in the building. That was me, to make sure that proper rooms were illuminated, whatever they need, even the streets and parking lots, I created that and designed that," Summers said.

For four of her 10 years, her bosses allowed her to work a 4-day workweek. But one day, she was informed, the company needed her five days a week again.

"That was the day that I walked out of the office and I quit. And I went and sat back at my desk and 'Oh my God, I just quit my 9 to 5. Oh my god, I did not talk to my husband about this,'" Summers said.

Doing what she loved was one thing, but running a business wasn't going to be easy. There were tough, expensive lessons.

“One incident with even purchasing some chairs for the business, and I ended up losing out on about $10,000. I lost $10,000 and there was no way to track it,” she said.

She reached out to other small businesses for guidance on how to correct her mistakes.

“Not understanding what I need to charge for the product, what I need to charge for the labor,” she said. “What I needed to charge for renting the trucks, cause at that time I didn’t have trucks, so I had to rent my trucks to transport my items.”

And with a husband and two kids, building a business also put a strain on her home life.

“It did get tough of us, me and Herbert. But um, we found a way. I don’t know how that first year. We found a way to press through,” Summers said.

But halfway through the second year of being full time, business really started to blossom. She now employs two full-time workers and 20 part-time employees.

And now to help others avoid the truckload of problems that she had in building her business, Michelle now teaches classes to up and coming designers hoping to make their ride to success a whole lot smoother.

It's the overwhelmingly emotional reaction from couples, when they see their wedding reception venue for the first time, that puts a smile on her face, and reassures Summers, that turning her passion into a paycheck was worth it.

Summers says if she had to do it all over again she would have:

  1. Saved more money before quitting her job
  2. Attended design workshops
  3. Taken business classes

She financed her business with personal savings with the help of her husband, who continued to work full time, as she built up her clientele.

She offers free online floral designing sessions every Thursday between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. You’ll find the classes on Facebook at Your Signature Designs by Michelle Summers.

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