Nicole Hillman: Entrepreneur & Events Manager, Minneapolis Institute of Art
WFU Class of 2013
Nicole HIllman catches us up since her graduation in 2013. The entrepreneur and events manager enlightens us on both fields she covers, life in Minneapolis, and much more!
DeacLink: Please walk me through your path from graduation day to your current job.
Nicole Hillman: I knew from the moment I was done with school that I either wanted to take the entrepreneurial route or get into events. I reached out to a few event planners, and I met with managers of venues and followed people around. There are a lot of planners in this world, but that doesn't make you a good one. To start out, I worked for a party rental company (think linens and chairs). My goal was to do all of the installs. I was going to every venue in the city and seeing corporate events and weddings. I got to see all of the different types of layouts and meet all of the venue managers in the city. Then at the rental company, I started to work with planners- there I met Sara Trotter, who is the best in the state. I asked if she needed an assistant, and thankfully there was an opening so I was able to work for her. I made it my goal to be the best of the best. I quickly got bumped to lead coordinator, and five years later I partnered with her. So I do that, and she transformed my role, and eventually told me to start my own wedding planning company.
I started my own company, Nikki Hill Weddings and Events. That led me now to open an even larger marketing, branding, and production company called We are Active. We do everything from weddings and events to production stuff. We handle a lot of different restaurants and small companies’ Instagrams, making their videos and taking their photos. I started working with one of the biggest venues in Minnesota called Aria, which has been one of the top fifteen venues in the US the last five years. The Director of Aria actually brought me along with her when she took a job at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA). I was brought into a role here to introduce larger scale events to the museum. Previously, they didn't do corporate events and did not allow weddings. It’s been my job to take it past the Director, Kaywin Feldman’s, donor tours and luncheons. I've trained in a team to do weddings, which are unbelievably beautiful, and I am helping them throw bigger and better galas, which helps them raise more money. It’s been great to have them trust me with that responsibility. It’s been a wild and crazy but fun ride.
About three years ago before I started, I had never been to the museum. Most people don’t know it is one of the top eight most visited museums in the US. It's incredibly beautiful. We have a new exhibit opening next week that is supposed to bring in a quarter million people. As a whole, we want to make the community and city more aware of the incredible building we have.
DL: How much did your studies and general experience at Wake inform or drive your career path?
NH: Honestly the biggest part of what really shaped me at Wake was the career classes that I took. My professor did an incredible job teaching me to check my personality and be a better salesman in interviews. They had intensive interviewing courses, you were required to reach out to alumni in the network to do informational interviews. I had chosen more New York corporate people to chat with, and it helped me think about what I wanted to be doing.
DL: What brought you to Minneapolis?
NH: I actually am from Minneapolis, and I never thought I would return after Wake. I always dreamed of living in New York, but my family is here. Once I got into the wedding industry here, I realized I could hone into a different type of clientele. I have also fallen in love with the museum, and there’s so much to be done here and don't see myself leaving anytime soon. Just recently, we met with the Metropolitan Museum, and we are working with them to get a sense of their best practices for events, how they do their beverages programs, things like that. It’s so cool that we can turn to them as a partner!
DL: What advice do you have for students looking to work in events?
NH: Coming from Wake, the education you get there, it’s beyond anything else, and you are prepared to take on whatever. Students coming out of Wake should not be afraid to take a leap of faith. Starting your own event company is very different than a traditional business. You are talking to different people every day, no two events are the same, budgets and clients are completely different. My schedule is pretty packed. I have meetings with clients from 7am-9am, I am at the museum from 9am-5pm, and then 5pm-11pm I’m with clients again, then I’m sending emails until 1am, so it’s a lot. As long as you do well under stress, you can do anything. No matter how much you plan, events will always change, someone will change their mind, and something won’t go right. You just have to be flexible.
DL: What tips and suggestions do you have for the student audience on networking, interviewing and applying for jobs?
NH: Don't be afraid to network and reach out to a lot of people. Each person in the event world has different ways to do things, different styles or visions. So be patient in the process, and know where your focus is. You have to meet with a lot of people, work with a lot of partners to figure out where you fit in. I am one of the only event planners in Minnesota that brings a very traditional design sense into my weddings and events. Minneapolis is very up-and-coming, modern and hip, and I am more of a traditionalist in terms of my floral and decor. You meet a lot of people and they will see things and envision rooms and flowers very differently than you. That’s okay, you just need to find your own style. Don't give up and make sure you meet a lot of people. Unlike investment banking, where the only change is the client, you need to position yourself to have the right clientele, and long term that will make things much more enjoyable.
DL: What could Wake have done better to prepare students for life after graduation?
NH: I would have loved to have had more accredited courses on entrepreneurship. Starting a business is so different than going into the corporate world. There are lots of things I wish I could have learned about before just jumping in. I have done lots of studies on my own to figure out how to do this successfully, but it doesn't always go that way. Ninety percent of business fail, so it would have been helpful to have had have more experience prior to graduating.
More generally, it would have been great to have had more classes in the arts just so I could have more of a basis in terms of what we are doing here. The work we do is so cool and really has a community focus. Admission is free for the community, and we really do focus on giving back and getting them to know more about the art and dive into different cultures.
DL: What is your favorite part about working for MIA? Any perks or cool experiences from the job?
NH: It has been eye opening and inspirational to learn about the different arts we have at the museum. It has really opened up the creative side of me, even when it comes to events. I also have one of the most incredible bosses in the world. She is so inspirational and motivational. She is a shark at sales, and that’s her expertise, and then I am there to support her and make those visions come to life. It is really fun.