We had the good fortune of connecting with Whitney Downs and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Whitney, what’s the most difficult decision you’ve ever had to make?
In my career, as it has evolved, the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make would still be whether or not and when to leave my salaried job to pursue my dream full time. I started my company on the heels of having my second child and working full time for a company that is in the events industry, and to say I was over worked and stressed is an understatement. I realized that I couldn’t do everything for much longer, and after some hard discussions and budgeting, I made the leap to quit the safety of my ‘job’ to work on Whitewood Events full time. This allowed me the ability to be a more present Mother as well as Planner to my clients, which by that point my clientele had grown to a point where I felt a little more at ease moving forward. Since then, I’ve spoken with many other creative entrepreneurs who have or are going through the same thing. It’s a different answer for everyone, but it certainly is an amazing feeling to have your ‘side hustle’ turn into your chosen career.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
What sets me apart – I like to tell people that if they aren’t having ‘fun’ while enduring the process that is planning their event or wedding, then we are doing it wrong. It should be enjoyable and exciting, and it’s much easier to do that with someone who listens and guides with a gentle yet firm hand. I am told by my clients that I have a calming nature about me on wedding or event days, and I think it’s important to exude calm confidence in order to ensure everyone feels at ease. I prefer to call my vendors ‘friendors’, and I prefer to foster friendships with my clients, which is why I do lean into more Full Planning vs Coordinating only. I believe you can only create a special and unique experience if you understand and listen to your clients and remain honest with them always. I still talk with many past clients and genuinely miss them regularly! What’s not easy – This isn’t to say that there aren’t challenges that come with this mentality. Being a friend and planner is a soft line in the sand, and so it’s very important than I remind myself that there is power in ‘No’, and sometimes I do have to exercise boundaries. So, if we are working together, as a client, you can’t text me past 6 pm about your wedding. However, you can text me to share your new favorite wine or to say ‘Happy Friday!’ It’s all about mutual respect, and my ideal clients understand that. Without boundaries and mutual respect, you end up saying yes to everything and running yourself into the ground. I know some vendors, as well as myself, who have done this and have run into feeling resentment and lack of gratitude. It’s not a healthy way to work or live! Bottom line, set healthy boundaries and remember that kindness is key. Foster those relationships but don’t sacrifice yourself in the process.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Living in and being from Athens, Georgia means I know a lot of great things to do here. Athens is sort of known for its music scene but has also come up into the foodie scene with blinding appraisal! I think every city experience should involve food, so I’d make my itinerary based on where we are eating next. If you are visiting Little A, you absolutely must experience Seabear, Donna Chang’s, Chuck’s, and The Five and Ten, to name just a sliver. Favorite lunch spots include Marti’s at Midday, Trapeze, as well as Homemade and Heirloom Cafe. Since brunch is my favorite (who disagrees?!), Mama’s Boy, Last Resort, and South Kitchen would be on must haves as well. Once we are allowed to safely gather for live music again, I’d recommend a show at The Georgia Theatre for a more exciting evening, or even Hendershots for a more low key vibe. If it’s a beautiful day, The Botanical Gardens and North Campus are lovely spots to wander, and there’s always something new to explore, no matter how many times you’ve been. Athens has truly become a destination wedding location. For my clients who met while in school at The University of Georgia, coming back here to celebrate with family and friends has become a treat for everyone involved, as we get to share with their guests all of their favorite things this city has to offer.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
The saying, ‘It takes a village’ applies so heavily for me in life and especially in all of my successes. I’ve had the most supportive family one could ask for. My husband took the leap with me, and my friends have been supportive since day one. My mom is my biggest cheerleader, and she’s even taken to helping homeschool my eldest daughter since COVID stopped us all in our tracks. I can’t thank her enough, as this has single handedly allowed me to continue working on my dream and fulfilling all that goes into this business. Without her, I wouldn’t be able to continue, literally. Another individual who has opened up my world and taken me along on travels and helped to foster creativity is my dear friend, Britt Vasina. Without her, I wouldn’t have had nearly as many opportunities to see the world in such an adventurous way. She’s all the way across the country now, but we still cheer each other on as strongly as ever. Who knows where we will travel to next, when we are safely able to do so, but wherever it is, it’s bound to be energizing and refreshing and full of story collecting. Lastly, I can’t neglect another dear friend in this shoutout, as she is always there when I need her. Ashley Stalvey, who has been a planner, designer, entrepreneur, philanthropist, confidant, and so much more, likes to tell people that she is the Gayle to my Oprah, and she means it. She’s there always to listen and support and show up, and I can’t thank her enough for that.