Decision Dialogues Ep 32 - Belinda Aquine

On episode 32 of Decision Dialogues, Mark Willoughby and Mindy Neira talk to Belinda Aquine of Sovereign Bee Events. Belinda has had a fascinating career journey, from working for a Spanish-language radio station in New York, to a career as an executive assistant, before settling on her current full time entrepreneurship as a wedding and event planner. She stresses the importance of networking and putting out positive energy in order to attract opportunities.

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Transcript

The summary below has been created by a professional transcription vendor upon review of the recorded presentation. Please excuse any typos as well as portions noted to be inaudible.

Thanks for joining us on Decision Dialogues. We’re thrilled to have you along. My name is Mark Willoughby, and I’m a Principal and Wealth Manager at Modera Wealth Management LLC. Today, my colleague Mindy Neira, who’s a Principal and Wealth Manager at Modera as well, will be chatting with Belinda Aquine of Sovereign Bee. And I’ll hand it over to Mindy to introduce Belinda.

Thanks, Mark. Hi, Belinda. Good morning. 

Hi, good morning. Thanks for having me.

I’m glad you could be here. So let’s get right into it. Tell us about Sovereign Bee. What do you do?

What do I do?! So I am an event planner. Lately, I’ve just mostly been focusing on weddings, but I do all types of events, from concerts to press junkets to movie releases, and mostly to weddings. And that’s where I met Mindy.

That’s right. The infamous 2020 wedding planning. So yes, good times.

That was canceled, that was rescheduled how many times Mindy?

Maybe three times?

Three, yeah.

Two weddings, three reschedules? And Belinda was my rock during that time. So you’re very good at what you do. 

Thank you.

But this isn’t what you’ve always done. So talk to us about this journey. In 2008, you were with a radio station. Is that right?

Yes. So I was a street team manager, right? A promotions, street team manager. And what I handled was their marketing, like the marketing for WSKQ, SBS. So they’re a Spanish broadcasting system. And the radio station in New York competed, actually, with Howard Stern. And we actually beat him out like in two books, right? So I’m proud to say that I was part of that team. 

Wow.

And I worked there for a while. And then I became an executive assistant. And that’s basically what I’ve done for most of my career.

And so in 2008, we’re talking, you know, the other day about kind of, that journey and what it looked like. It was a tough time, right? The recession came. And what happened with the radio station? How did you get into event planning?

So when the recession hit, I lost my job. So I lost my job at WSKQ. I lived out in Princeton, New Jersey, I remember I used to commute every day. So for those of you that don’t know, it’s like about an hour commute, maybe more with traffic, from New Jersey into the city. And I was beside myself. I did not know what the heck I was going to do. I was like, “What am I going to do now?”

So one day, I was walking to work, because like, they gave me they gave me some, like about  like two weeks before I had to leave. So to pack my stuff. And I was walking in next door and there was his flower shop. And I used to always see the flower shop, and I used to always see, you know, fancy cars pull up and go inside, and I’m like, “I’m gonna go in there. I’m gonna see what he does.”

So I go in there, and I’m like, “Hey, I’m about to lose my job. And I want to do something different. Do you have any work here? Like, can I learn how to do flowers, whatever?” He’s like, “Sure, come in.” So I started like an apprenticeship with him, and maybe like two months in, I said, “I’m going to start calling every artist that I know—I’m going to contact their manager.” So I contacted their manager, and I was like, “Hey, I can decorate rooms.” And they’re like, “What?” 

Back then, green rooms were a big thing. So when you were Marc Anthony and you pulled into Madison Square Garden, you wanted your room decorated a certain way, so you have that, you know, that whole vibe backstage before you come out on stage and, and hang out with your friends and so forth. So that’s what I started doing, and he was one of the first persons that I started decorating, was Marc Anthony’s backstage. So I started doing that.

And then after I was like, “I don’t really like this flower thing. I think I’m more of a coordinator,” and somebody happened to suggest—refer me to a wedding. And I did my first wedding. I think it was in Long Island, in the VIP Country Club. And I did that, and I was like, “Oh, I like this. I can get into this. And that’s how I started to become an event planner.”

I have a question I have to ask here, Mindy. I apologize.

Yeah, go for it.

Did you know anybody in the artist world before you started making those calls, Belinda?

Yeah at the radio station I worked at a radio station so I—

So you had some connections.

Yes, I did have connections. Yeah, I knew their their managers, mostly.

I missed the connection with the work already. So the radio work actually set you up to have a shot at reaching some people. 

Yes, yes it did.

So, and what did you do? Did you you just call their managers and said—

Yeah, I just kept on knocking on doors and I was like, “Hey.” And then I remember Marc Anthony’s publicist, she was always very fond of me. She was like, “Yeah, sure, let me put you in contact with the people,” and then I started doing that, and I started doing like a bunch of all the Latino concerts that happened in Madison Square Garden, I would do the backstage.

Wow. And just thinking about, you know, other entrepreneurs who might be listening in—that’s really, that’s your networking skills, right? 

Yes.

You’re calling people putting yourself out there making connections.

I always tell my son that that’s, that’s, you know, besides having an education if for those of you that wish to have one, right, networking is the next step. And like, there are tons of people, I always use as example, that can sing like Beyonce—tons of people. Now, do they have the right connects? Do they know where to go? They don’t. But by networking, by me meeting you, you meeting, you know, like, I didn’t know what to do with my IRA. Right? So you network with people and you learn different fields that you would not normally be introduced to, or someone you might not know.

You know, like, I never knew about event planning when I worked at the radio station. I never even knew “wedding planner” existed back then. Right? I was fresh out of college working at a radio station. What did I know? I’m like, I’m just starting, like, to know what’s going on. And that job set me up for my life. I want to say. Because I’m here, now because of that job. Right? I think like, everything stemmed out from there, like everything.

And then—let’s, so that was, we’re talking 2008 recession, jumpstarts your career into event planning, etc. And then fast forward to 2020. Until that point, you were still working as an executive assistant.

Yes. So I always did it on the side. So I never, I never took that leap of faith. And in 2018, I was approached to do Marc Anthony’s 50th birthday party, but I had to be a corporation or LLC—I had to be an official business. I couldn’t do it as a freelancer, right? So I had to have the insurance and all that stuff.

So I was like, “Okay, well, it’s now or never.” I’m like, “I’m gonna get this birthday party. So I’m going to register my company,” and I registered my company. And then I remember speaking to my boss at that time, and I told him, I was like, “Look, I want to become an entrepreneur, I just wanted to this, I want to have my own business.” And he’s like,” Well, you need to have certain steps in place, blah, blah, blah, all this stuff.” Fast forward, 2020 happened. So I was forced to jump off the bridge. And I swam!

Great! So 2020 came, lost your job as the executive assistant. And then what do you do? What kind of decisions did you make in 2020?

So I threw any savings I had into marketing. I learned how to use social media—I was never a fan of social media—like I would post. But I never was strategic about it. Right? I would just post a post like, “Oh, here, I’m in the park with my son, or I’m here having a party,” but I never planned the whole process like I do now. Right? Like you need to plan your content, you need to target your audience. 

So I used that money that I had, and then I got an SBA loan. Thanks to you again, Mindy. Like “Hey, Belinda, why don’t you apply for this?” And I’m like, “I don’t think I’ll get it.” She’s like, “Why not? You never know. Just apply.” And I applied. And I did get a grant. So I use that money to invest in my new business. I purchased new uniforms. I did you know, everything. I have little like gifts, I sent out gifts to my clients, and I did the whole social media. I had somebody help me with like, captions, stuff like that. And that’s how I blew up in 2021. It was crazy. I went from day to night.

That’s right. And you said, I remember you saying ten events and weddings were scheduled for 2020. And then…?

Yeah, I used to do about 10 events, and maybe like two big corporate events like that. And one of my clients was ASCAP, and that’s the Association of Composers and Publishers. And I used to do their award show. It was held, like every year was somewhere else—it was like Puerto Rico, L.A., Miami. And then another client of mine was Warner Latin music. So between those two and my little ten side wedding gigs, that was it. That’s what I did every year, since I started, like, I would do like little things like that.

And then I went from ten, I’m up to like 45 right now for this year? 

That’s great.

So and this is all I do. Now. I don’t I don’t work as an executive assistant. I don’t have a part time job.

Quick question. The awards show, Belinda—did you organize that yourself? Or did you get help?

Well, I do the logistics part of it. That’s what I would do. Right? They would get the artists and stuff like that. But the way that they ran, it was me. Like, from the artist arriving on the red carpet to where they’re seated. So I do more logistics as far as in that event. Some events, I do more planning,

So you didn’t have to bring in your own people to help you. You sort of just—

Yes.

Gotcha.

Yeah, I use what they give me, you know, who they give me, whoever they give me, I use them.

Gotcha.

Now, so thinking about your current business and some financial decisions that you made. So you talked about one in 2020, the decision to invest the money that you did have into marketing. What sort of decisions have you made since then? I remember, you mentioned the other day, maybe someone part time, thinking in the future…

Right. So right now, I think, because they hit me as a surprise, right? All this business coming in. And then I realized, I’m like, “I cannot do this by myself.” So I hired someone part time. And now I’m looking into being able to hire her full time. So I’m going, you know, looking into how do you get insurance for your employees? How do you put them on payroll? How do you have them, like, invest in a 401(k) and stuff? So it’s like, it’s a lot going on right now. But that’s what I’m trying to do. It’s like, fake it till you make it kind of, you know?

Well, you’re doing a great job. And just for those who are listening in, you don’t run these weddings and events by yourself, and for the most part, you’re bringing in freelancers, right?

Yes.

So you do have a team that, you know, is works with suburbia as freelancers. But now this would be a full time worker under you.

Right. Yes.

Which, your team is wonderful. 

Thank you!

And so now, what is all this for? Why make this business work? Why bring in the money you’re making?

Well, I have a son that goes to an expensive college.

That’s a good—that’s a good motivator!

I think it was something when I was speaking to you the other day, I was like, in 2020—I didn’t have a savings for him for college. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was like, “What am I going to do?” I’m like, “How am I going to pay?” And he was like, “Are you gonna have enough money for college? Like, I’m gonna get some scholarships.” But so you know, so we did that whole FAFSA. And I was like, “Oh, my God, I’m like, how am I gonna do this?” And now it’s like, “Oh, do you need any more money?” I’m like, “Are you good?” You know, so he is my my motivator, right? I want to set him up for what I didn’t have. Right? Like, I’m like, You’re not gonna purchase a car, when you get out of college, you’re gonna purchase a house.

So like I try, you know, I’m trying to set him up, so he is my sole motivator. Plus the fact that I love love. So I love people falling in love. I think that everyone, even though a lot of us say, “Oh, I don’t want to partner, or I don’t want to get married, or I don’t want…” we all need somebody to come home to and to speak to, right? Like, even if you live in separate houses, whatever. But everybody needs some sort of love in their life. And I’m not talking about parental love. I’m talking about love from another individual. So I love to see people in love.

I love to see people partying—I’m a party animal at heart. I’ve been you know, I remember my parents, they’re—I’m of Cuban descent. And they used to bring me to parties when I was nine months old. And people are like, “Oh, you know, lower the music.” And my parents would be like, “Don’t lower the music, she’ll be fine.” And thanks to them, I’m a party animal. And I can, I can sleep in any room with whatever noise going on.

So I think that’s what, you know, that’s what motivates me. And that’s why I like event planning. I don’t, you know, the only other thing I would go into would be of counseling of some sort. Because I’ve seen, as well as I see so much love, I also see the other side of that, when people do get divorced. So I do see that, and I see problems when people are working to plan their wedding. And I’m like, “I can be a therapist or a counselor, right?” I’d like to help as a marriage counselor before you get to that stage before you get married.

Yeah. Well, a lot of what you do involves that, right? So you’re, you’re talking to couples, you’re talking through things. So when we get to make hard decisions as a couple planning a wedding, you’re there to be that referee and bring the memories into the conversation. You know, you sort of are already doing that.

Yeah, yeah, I kinda am.

So for any of the entrepreneurs who are listening in, what is your best piece of advice for them?

When you feel it in your gut, go for it. Don’t wait, don’t make excuses. Just do it. I’m like, “If I would have been doing this ten years ago, God knows where I would be,” right? So I’m like, Just go for it. Just take that leap.

You know, and I don’t have a support system at home so I don’t have somebody cuz I don’t have a spouse. So I don’t have someone else to like depend on like, “Ooh, well, he’s making money and, or she’s making money and I’m okay.” No, it doesn’t work like that. So it’s just me and my son. So I took that leap of faith. So I just tell them just go just go for what you feel what you want. And it’ll all work out in the long run.

Along those lines, actually too, Belinda, I’m just thinking of you when you started making those phone calls after the radio job. And I think we see this in a lot of entrepreneurs. Can you talk about—I’m sure not every phone call that you made went well, right? You probably got some no’s along the way. What was your mindset about just making the calls, even though you knew, or you experienced, kind of pushback from certain people? What was your reaction? What was your mindset?

I think it’s always been this. I’m like, everything’s not for everyone. It works the same way now, right? I get maybe 20 inquiries, and out of those inquiries, five of them will stick. Five of them will be my clients. So I just keep going with the same strategy that I’ve been doing, and whatever is meant to be, will be. 

So whatever is meant for you is going to come to you. So just because people said no, I didn’t care. I’m like, “Okay, I’ll call the next person. And then I’ll wait a little while and I’ll call the next person, or I’ll find, I’ll network with somebody that might know someone.” Like, okay, so Mindy knows more, let me speak to Mindy, maybe she can put a good word in for me. And that helps as well. Because sometimes, you know, you have mutual people in common. And then that’ll assist you getting that yes that you need. 

But just keep on going, you know, how many actors get told no, and how many entrepreneurs are told no, and they still, they make it, you know?

It’s really good guidance. I mean, that’s what we see from people who are successful, like you, they just, you know, they know they’re gonna get pushback from certain people, and it just doesn’t deter them. They just keep on going.

It’s just like a bad review, right? Like, I’ve gotten bad reviews, it happens, right? You know, it’s just how do you come back from that defeat? Like, what do you do? Like, do face it? Do you run? Do you give up? I’m like, I just face it. It is what it is right? We’re not perfect. I have bad days, I have off days. Things can happen. Now, do they normally happen? No, that’s not you know, if you would take it in a ratio, that’s not common for me. But it does happen, you know, and you just got to pick up and keep going.

And I think another just kind of on the same topic of networking, because it’s such an important part of building a business, is you also connect other people. So in addition to, you’re looking for your own connections, you’re a connector yourself. Do you find that that has helped you?

I have, I was just speaking to one of the gentlemen that I use for videos. And I was telling him, I’m like, he’s like, “Oh, thanks for pitching me to so and so.” And I’m like, “Who’s so and so?” What happened was I had a call with them, I pitched him as a videographer for what they were looking for. And they contacted him—they didn’t hire me. But they contacted him. And I’m like, hey, at least one of us is winning. Somebody is winning in this process. Right? You know, so and he’s grateful to me for getting them that but I never even knew that they booked him.

So I just, for people that are in my life. And you know, and I appreciate what they do. I appreciate you know, their relationship. I just put them on, as they would say, as my son would say, I put them on to someone else. Right? So I refer people that do good work, and I think that that all comes backIt’s like that. What do we do at Starbucks? What does that call Pay it forward.

Pay it forward, yeah.

Yeah, I pay forward. I’ve always been a firm believer in pay it forward.

Without the expectation that it will pay back.

Correct, without the expectation, right. 

But generally it does, right. Yeah,

it does. Yeah, it does.

Yeah. I think that’s a big part of it, and a lot of people are scared to network and to go out there and put themselves out there, and talk to people they don’t know, or ask for, you know, help or, you know, all the things that you’re doing. But as you said, even if you were told no, it’s still worth it, keep going.

And something else that stood out to me is that you said you have a process. So in the way that you’ve worked with people along the way, building connections and making referrals, getting referrals, there’s a consistency behind that, is that what I’m hearing from you?

Well, I’m consistent in that I’m not just using people, right. So it’s not like I you know, I build true genuine connections. It’s not like it’s not, “Oh, Mark. So you, you work here, okay, I’m going to speak to you so you can…” I don’t do that. It just happens to fall into play. Right? It’s not that I’m looking for specific people. I just, you know, you gravitate to certain people.

When I’m at a wedding, people come up to me, I start speaking to them, we exchange numbers. It’s not that I—I don’t even know what they do. They’re just like, “Oh, we want to invite you to our family barbecue,” and that’s where it comes from. So it’s just it’s my personality, I think more and I’ve just tapped into that part of my personality. I’m like, “Oh, this works. This is this is who I am.” 

Like before I used to be a little bit more timid. Like, I think I’m too bold, right? So people would be like, get taken aback like she’s too tough, or she’s this. Now I embrace it. I’m like, “Yeah, this is who I am, I’m a queen. And I’m going to keep on going, you know?” And, um, if they say no, that’s fine, but there’ll be somebody else that will say yes to me, you know,

And, you know, the thing I’d add too Belinda, if I’m hearing you right, and I think I am, is that there’s no expectation on your side. And for me, when people sense that, that builds trust quicker with other people is if they don’t think you’ve got an agenda, that you’re just being yourself, and you’re just trying to help people. I think people have a tendency to trust people like that quicker than if they think, “Ooh, this person is after my business or they’re in for something.”

You are absolutely correct. I have a little anecdote. So this just happened recently—I was introduced to a DJ many years ago, like ten years, but only by a phone call. One of my friends was like, “Oh, I think you and this guy should hook up, you know, I think you’d do great business together, this and that.” I wasn’t into the wedding planning like I am now. So I told her, I’m like, “I don’t really want to take anything else. Because I have this full time job. I’m not trying to bring in more business. So that’s great.”

Fast forward, last year, or this year, I had a meeting. And he had branched off and he has a café. And I walked into the café, and he looks at me and he goes, “I know you,” and I go “And I know you.” We never spoke after that, like, you know, like, we never spoke that day. We just giggled, we kept on going, he was working.

Then he started following me on social media. One day, he said to me, “Oh, come by my office, I want to show you my office space. If you ever need to have a big meeting, I have a conference room that you can use.” I go to his office. His office is three floors. It’s beautiful. It’s like any planner’s dream. And we create this Tiktok. We do a Tiktok, which went viral, went viral. And we kept in contact, just going back and forth on social media, like “Oh, I liked that party you did, this and that.”

And one day, he calls me and he’s like, “Do you have an office?” And I said no. And he goes, “Well, you got one now. Pack your stuff up.” And he moves me into his office. I’m like, “What?” is going on here? And of course, I don’t ask any questions. I pack my stuff and I go, and I’m, and I’ve been there now what, two weeks? But it’s been an incredible experience. I’ve already had like three new clients come in because of it. And I’m like, “This is crazy.” And this all was from “I know you. Yeah and I know.”

You just never know.

You never know. You never know.

Wow. So one more question. Do you have a financial hardship that has happened over the course of creating your business that you’ve learned from, that you’ve grown from, that you want to mention or talk about?

Credit. So that was one of my biggest financial hardships. I used credit, like when a teenager goes to college. I was throwing credit cards here, buying stuff that I didn’t need, and I didn’t realize the value of having a good credit score. So by me fixing it, like starting in 2018, when I started my business, it’s helped me so much now, right? Because I’m sure I couldn’t have done the things that I’m doing now, back then, because I didn’t have credit. 

So although I’m not where I want to be, that’s one thing that I would tell people to protect, because if you have a business, you can get a lot of credit to help you start, you know, if you have good credit. You can get a lot of stuff financed, and you have a whole other set of doors that opens up for you.

And how long have you been—so it’s been since 2018, that you’ve been working on it. Thinking about someone who might be in that situation where they have bad credit almost feels like you can’t get out of it? How long is it going to take me to get out of this?

Well, I still think, I’m like, “Wow, this is taking forever.” And I’m always asking people and they’re like, “It’s just, you just gotta keep going, you gotta be consistent.” And that’s what I’ve learned is, every time I’m consistent, consistent, and it just all of a sudden, that number goes up. And I check it again. And the number goes up. And I’m constantly checking it to see if anything is on there. And I froze it for a long time, didn’t open anything, didn’t inquire about anything, just so I can clean up the mess that I had, you know? But it’s just been consistency. And you know, you come out of everything, right? Like, what doesn’t make you breaks you right? So you just gotta keep on going.

And the next step after you get past the credit issues, Belinda will be the savings. 

This is correct.

And guess what? Consistency is going to get you over the finish line on the savings part and get you toward financial independence ultimately. If you keep going as you’re going now, consistency is the key.

That’s the goal, Mark!

Yep!

Alright. So our last question—this is a fun one. What is the last decision you’ve made, that was non-financial?

Last decision I made that was non financial. I feel like every decision… I got myself a brand new Audi—no—I moved into an apartment!

it stumps all of our guests.

Wow!

Yeah!

Non-financial. I know! I signed up to a dating site.

Oh!

Well, that’s exciting.

There you go, that’s it!

I want to know the details.

Offline! Offline!

That’ll do it!

And a paid one. Not the free ones. Like I’m serious about it. But oh, that’s financial too? I paid for it, right.

No, no, we’ll take that.

Okay, okay!

Alright!

Thank you, Belinda.

Well, thanks very much to Mindy and Belinda for letting us listen in on their conversation. We appreciate their time and perspectives. And thank you, our audience for tuning in. We hope you’ll join us next time on Decision Dialogues for more stories from successful business owners. So long for now.

 

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About Belinda

Portrait of Belinda Aquine

An Event Manager, Marketing Coordinator, Executive Assistant, Planner and Producer, Belinda Aquine‘s experience is varied and ample. She is the founder of Sovereign Bee Events, and among her event planning highlights are Marc Anthony’s 50th Birthday Celebration at the Perez Museum in Miami, El Gordo y La Flaca’s reporter Gelena Solano at Cipriani NYC, the Warner Latin Music Grammy After Party at the Encore in Las Vegas, a televised wedding for Despierta America, joining the production team for the Bad Bunny mobile concert in New York City, and press junkets for Romeo Santos, Ozuna, and Wisin y Yandel.

Her ability to thrive in a demanding environment requiring a high degree of deadline-driven productivity, commitment, adaptability, communication, initiative and follow-through has ensured her success over the years. A networker, Belinda specializes in bringing people together.

Belinda is fluent in English and Spanish.

Disclosure

Modera is an SEC registered investment adviser which does not imply any level of skill or training. For additional information see our Form ADV available at www.adviserinfo.sec.gov which contains a full description of our business, operations and service offerings including fees. Statements made in the podcast are not to be construed as personalized investment or financial planning advice, may not be suitable for everyone and should not be considered a solicitation to engage in any particular investment or planning strategy. Statements made are subject to change without notice.