Courtney Ajinca’s body of work is an example of the beauty that can happen when passion and creativity come together. The expert event planner and interior designer is known for turning fantasy concepts into the most vibrant events, landing her in front of high profile celebrities like Cynthia Bailey, Quad Webb-Lunceford, Rasheeda Frost and major networks. When Ajinca discovered that she had a passion for event planning and interior design, it was a few words of encouragement from her husband that got her going.
But like a lot of other industries, the event planning business has sharply declined due to the impact of COVID-19. Although in-person events have come to a halt, Ajinca is still helping people give their virtual events a special touch. Ajinca spoke with Her Agenda about her journey and what she’s doing to shift her business while helping clients in the midst of social distancing.
Her Agenda: When did you know that event planning and interior designing was a passion of yours? What steps did you take to pursue it?
Courtney Ajinca: I kind of fell into event design. I was doing events for family and friends. I started to really love it. My husband noticed and he said, “You should take it seriously.” So I did. In order to start, I just jumped right in. I started taking some classes and I got certified as an accredited event designer. There is always room for improvement. The event industry is ever-changing and is always constantly evolving so you have to stay on top of the current trends.
In terms of interior design, I really feel like event design and interior design kind of go hand in hand. Design, in general, is just a passion of mine because I’m a creative person. I would say that interior design I started on the back of event design.
Her Agenda: What are some things that you do? Or strategies that you use to constantly push yourself to the next level?
Courtney Ajinca: Every day, I try to sit and meditate. I envision different event elements and designs that I want to do. I write them on paper, I draw them out. I like to sketch even though I really can’t draw that well. I usually try to put them into a digital software so that I can envision them. Then, I’ll go try to make it a reality. I also look to my mentors. I’ve been mentored by some of the top event designers in the industry. I do look to them to better myself. I also try to set trends on my own and not try to follow them. But it is important to present certain trends in the industry to your client.
I also look to my mentors. I’ve been mentored by some of the top event designers in the industry. I do look to them to better myself.
Her Agenda: These critical and unprecedented times have really shifted how we work and think. Events have come to a halt. Many events have gone virtual. So what are some things you are doing to adapt to this new way of living?
Courtney Ajinca: These are really unprecedented times. I’ve been really affected by event cancellations and postponements. A way that I have shifted my design business is I now offer virtual weddings and events. I will completely plan your events virtually. If you’re local, I can go and do a small set up for you. If it’s a bride, I’ll do a small set up for her. We can plan things on Zoom and Instagram. I also offer online training for professionals as well. I have my masterclass and one on one mentorship to help people get through this time.
Her Agenda: What does your masterclass consist of?
Courtney Ajinca: In my masterclass, I give the blueprint for what it takes for me to go from a design concept to reality. I give people the tools and resources that I use to plan my events. I walk them through it step by step. I also have video tutorials where I teach floral design, draping, and other event elements to enhance their events. If they want additional mentorship, that’s also an option.
A way that I have shifted my design business is I now offer virtual weddings and events. I will completely plan your events virtually. If you’re local, I can go and do a small set up for you. If it’s a bride, I’ll do a small set up for her. We can plan things on Zoom and Instagram.
Her Agenda: What are some tips that you have for other entrepreneurs, regardless of their field for adapting to this new world that we’re in?
Courtney Ajinca: My biggest piece of advice is to continue to create. Not everyone is in this industry but you can continue to innovate and create within your field. Constantly stay moving and producing content because after this is all over, your business has to sustain itself. I think the biggest thing is to not get lost in everything that’s going on. Try to stay focused on presenting your ideas and promoting yourself. We’ll all get through this eventually. We just have to stay strong. But another thing is that you don’t always have to feel like you’re creating. It’s also important to practice self-care during this time because it’s very overwhelming.
Her Agenda: Without giving away too much, what are some starter DIY tips you have for people who want to host their own events?
Courtney Ajinca: If people want to plan DIY events, I have some nice tutorials on my page showing how to do some arrangements. They can also get custom party favors from online and other places. Try to make the event feel as intimate as possible without having your guests be there. Another thing that I promote to my clients are nice backgrounds. You add certain elements that you would have at a regular event. A lot of vendors are offering drop off delivery such as balloons, floral designers. So, you can still add those precious elements to your events to make it pop.
Her Agenda: What are some of the biggest lessons entrepreneurs can really take from this moment?
Courtney Ajinca: The biggest lesson is that you need to have versatility and diversification within your business. I know we never ever thought something like this would happen. Even when all the COVID news came out in China, it didn’t really occur to me that this could really affect my business. Make sure you’re ready. Even if you don’t have that versatility, make sure you’re mentally prepared, put plans into action to be able to create and innovate new ideas.
Her Agenda: How is it balancing your new normal as an entrepreneur with being a mother?
Courtney Ajinca: My productivity is extremely affected. I’m usually on a plane 2-3 times per week. But being able to stay home with the kids has really been a blessing for me. Yes, when it comes to homeschooling I’m not the best teacher. It’s really taxing and has been a huge adjustment. But I’m really grateful for this time right now because it could be completely worse. I’m grateful for health, life, and the time that I’m getting to spend [with my children].
Her Agenda: What are some tips you have for other women hoping to become entrepreneurs but don’t feel like they have the resources or don’t know how to start?
Courtney Ajinca: Put out good content. Instagram is an amazing tool. Before I had my business, I said: ‘Why do I need Instagram?‘ But Instagram has been one of the biggest factors in marketing for me and promoting my brand because you are able to be seen by celebrities, by people all over the world who you normally would not have connections with. I would say put out some good content, try to take some good pictures. Phones these days take amazing pictures. That’s what I’ve taken my content on lately. Another good tool is Canva. You may not have money to hire a graphic designer. It’s a good tool if you need graphics to put out. There are a lot of free tools around the internet that you’re able to use to put out good content without having to break the bank or dip into any funds that you may have.
Her Agenda: What’s your motto? Your day to day motto that keeps you going and keeps you grinding?
Courtney Ajinca: My motto is “As I desire, so it shall be.” That means, if I want it, I’m going to get it. I’m going to do everything it takes to go for it and get what I want.
[Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]