Business Takeoff: Know Your Peers
If you are just joining us for the Business Takeoff series, I recommend you start right on over here:
Step 1: Intro Post
Step 2: Define Your Style
Step 3: Create Work
Step 4: Know Your Peers
I often get asked how I was able to get my name out there so quickly when I first launched this company a few years ago. The Big Secret: I put it out there. I networked. I met people and became friends with them. I spent too much money on ridiculously awesome business cards, which helped me be remembered by many people I met. Here is what worked for me, and I hope, will work for you too.
Besides your past clients, your peers will be the people that spread the love for your brand and refer you to their clients, friends, and inquiries they aren’t able to do. By working together, you can all provide a higher level of service to the couples in your area, make more money, and do more satisfying work.
Go to a few conferences
Ah, conferences and workshops. Seems like everyone is starting one these days, right? Which is great for you because you have a ton of choices of which ones to attend! Please promise me that you will attend at least one outside of the wedding and event world? When I went to Making Things Happen in 2011, I became friends with girls that have been my biggest cheerleaders and business coaches to this day. I attended AltSummit in January of 2012, passed around my business cards and told anyone that would listen about my business, which led to working with HGTV and being introduced to colleagues that I work closely with all the time. Neither of those conferences are necessarily wedding and event related, although knowing people from other industries has helped me create revenue streams for my business that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
Embrace Social Media
Guys, this one is a no-brainer. Social media has been around for years and it’s not going anywhere fast. My best industry friends, in NYC and around the country, have come from conversations on Twitter and comments on Instagram. This doesn’t mean that I’m refreshing Twitter and Instagram every five seconds. I would never get any work done. Pick a few ten minute periods in your day – maybe over breakfast, over lunch, then once at the end of your work day. Check out your streams, comment and tweet with substance (more than “omg, I love it!”) to your peers that you admire. If you see someone looking for a talent that you have, say event design, write back and let them know you’ll do it for free. That’s how I became friends with Meg from A Practical Wedding: I tweeted her in early 2012 that I would design her Brooklyn book tour party. Now I’m a regular contributor to her site that I’ve gotten awesome clients from. Same thing happened when I was chosen to decorate blogshop twice when it came to NYC. Social media is simply a tool in your tool bag to build brand recognition and relationships.
Attend Networking Events
Yes, I know, sometimes they can be painful. You don’t know anyone. It’s awkward. Everyone else seems to be best friends with each other and you feel like the weird new kid. I promise you, it won’t be like that forever. These events are important for a few reasons: A) when you’re company is brand new, you can introduce your awesome self to your local peers, B) as you get to know people, you’ll become actual friends that go to lunch and work together, C) a few years in, being seen at local networking events remind others that you exist and keep your company at the forefront of their minds.
Collaborate on Shoots
Remember all of those rad people you met at networking events? Invite them to collaborate with you on an inspiration shoot. You’ll get to know each other better, be able to be creative, produce work that will be professionally shot, hopefully get published, and then sing each other’s praises via social media. You’ll also gain a group of cheerleaders who will refer you to their couples and vice versa. Spread the love!
By attending a few conferences, becoming a presence on social media, taking part in local networking events, and collaborating with fellow creatives, you’ll slowly build a group of people who are all running their own businesses to support you.
Business Takeoff: Get Online
If you are just joining us for the Business Takeoff series, I recommend you start right on over here:
Step 1: Intro Post
Step 2: Define Your Style
Step 3: Create Work
Guys, I’m having so much fun with this series. I love your emails! All of these budding event designers will make the industry so rich with talent and education for couples. It’s the coolest.
So far, you’ve figured out your company’s niche aesthetic and put that aesthetic to work with your first inspiration shoots. Now, let’s build a place for all of your awesome work to live. Your website is the door to your world. It’s how you show off your work, explain your story, rope in your soon-to-be-clients, and give that all important first impression.
Websites are scary. They are written in a strange language that only the coolest dudes and chicks can understand. “<a></a>”…huh? I have no clue what that means. Unless those are a new emoji I don’t know about, I want no part of it. Since I’m assuming you don’t know how to write code either, there are a gazillion options for how to get your site designed and working on the web. I’m going to explain my favorites and the pros and cons of each. The back end (aka the nuts and bolts, the code, how your pretty photos end up on a computer screen) of your site will need to be decided on first, so let’s start there.
Options for getting a website:
*disclaimer: I am not a web designer. There are so, so many options for websites out there, these are simply the ones I’m most familiar with.*
- Custom Site: My site is a completely custom site that works on WordPress. My brand designers, Making Brands Happen, sent my brand book to Flosites. Flosites then designed this website from scratch according to inspiration I sent them, my brand pinterst board, and my brand book. A brand book is a summery of the visuals of your brand: the fonts, colors, logos, and textures. Pros: your web designer will design a site just for you that looks like no one else’s, you have complete control over every graphic/font/color/background, the sky is the limit when it comes to creativity. Cons: Most expensive option. A great web designer can run you a few thousand bucks. Takes the most time. This site took about six months to design, code (special language that computers understand), and populate (me uploading all of the photos of my work and copy).
- Squarespace: This is a very simple drag and drop platform where you can essentially design your own website using their templates. They have beautiful, contemporary options that can be easily customized to fit your needs. You could even hire a designer that specializes in Squarespace sites if you don’t want to do it yourself. Pros: Modern, contemporary pre-made templates, affordable monthly price, good customer service. Cons: takes time to figure it out, might be hard to make a decision on templates without a second opinion.
- WordPress.org: Similar to Squarespace, WordPress has templates you can either find for free or for purchase. Then, you fill them with your own images and copy. Pros: free templates available, inexpensive, fully customizable if you know how to code. Cons: need coding knowledge to make simple changes to templates,
This is the hardest part. Have you ever tried to write a bio? It’s impossible. Whatever I write always sounds too braggy or too humble. It’s getting that sweet spot of boasting of your accomplishments, telling your story, and not sounding cocky that’s difficult. I’m a serial reviser. Meaning, the copy is always different on my website because I keep rewriting it. In that process, here is what I’ve learned:
- Do not plagiarize: Recently, just by following links to other designer’s awesome work from wedding blogs, I came across three other companies that plagiarized my services descriptions word for word. You are your own person. You are enough! The words to describe what you do should come from your brain, not someone else’s. I promise that what you write will be perfect for your brand and your vision.
- Write as you speak: Just write as you would talk. Anything else reads as fake and contrived. Do you curse a lot in real life? Then curse on your site. Don’t pretend to be someone else on your website in fear that other’s won’t like you. Use the words on your site that you use in daily conversation. It’s easier, will read more natural, and helps readers feel like they already know you.
- Proofread: Ok, this part is a chore. Have your friend, partner, spouse, proofread what you wrote for grammar and spelling errors.
- Key Words: Remember those top ten words you wrote down? Sprinkle them throughout your writing.
- Finishing touches: It’s not only the paragraphs of descriptions of your services and about page that need branded copy. Pay close attention to the wording on your contact form and anywhere else there is text on your site. Should it be funny? Quirky? Serious? Formal? Make that choice depending on your brand.
When I was planning my own wedding in 2009, way before I started in this industry, my biggest pet peeve was companies that did not list their starting prices on their website. Typically, this is what would happen: I would fall in love with someone that didn’t list prices, I email them, they email back with pricing that’s way over my budget, I got sad. Many wedding creatives will disagree with me when I say PLEASE PUT YOUR STARTING PRICES ON YOUR WEBSITE. As a consumer, I felt like I was being sold to when the pricing wasn’t listed. As a business owner, it’s transparent to list a starting price. Transparency equals trust. Trust equals booked clients. Being secret about your pricing is not doing anyone favors. It’s giving you more work to respond to inquiries from couples who can’t afford you, makes clients with a lower budget sad that they can’t afford you, and wastes the couple’s time if they have to email a million people just to get a price.
Wedding design is tricky because each client’s bill will be different depending on what types of decor they want. List a price range, instead of a starting price, so they can start to gauge how much it might cost to work with you.
Of course, every one of my opinions has exceptions. One is if your dream clients are having million dollar weddings. If those are your people, they are used to making purchases without seeing the cost. It doesn’t matter because they can afford you no matter what. Another exception is if your services are truly, completely, customizable. Meaning, you’ll design something that costs $500 or $50,000.
With these three main points of your online presence, I hope that you create a website that serves your purpose and tells your story. Have you had any struggles with website, copy, or listing pricing? Next week we’ll be talking about networking, submitting, and working with other creatives.
Business Takeoff: Create Work
Now that you have your style defined with a Visual Mood Board, a Client Mood Board, and have your ten descriptive words written, the fun starts! My biggest challenge when I decided to start an event design company was that I didn’t have any work to show off. No one is going to hire an event designer who has a blank website. No one is going to hire (and more importantly trust) you to create your best work if your website is filled with birthday parties and events you did for your friends for free. Friends are awesome, but they might not have the same style that you are trying so hard to cultivate, leading to a mishmash of styles on your site that only lead to consumer confusion. Do you hate mason jars? Then for goodness gracious, get them off your site already. Do you crave to produce small, intimate dinner parties? Then only show examples of those.
The best tool to show off your creative talent is to produce a few inspiration shoots that 110% scream who your company is. I recommend doing two or three small shoots. Don’t try to re-invent the wheel here and don’t try to art direct a magazine-level production your first go ahead. Keep it simple and effective.
The main purpose of these shoots are to elevate your brand. For example, retail companies shoot their tangible products each season for their websites. As event designers, we sell a service, and our service needs example images of our artistic style. Keep that, along with these goals in mind:
1. To show off your best work
Show the world your individual style. Scream about it. Be bold about it.
2. To create relationships with your peers
Depending on your skill set, this is the perfect opportunity to connect and collaborate with your peers. You’ll definitely need a photographer and a venue. The rest you can either do yourself or bring on others who are specialists in those areas, such as florals and stationery.
3. To practice
The process of producing shoots will teach you the best way to schlep (because, really, the schlepping is 75% of our job), how to source supplies, what it feels like to be your own boss, and how to work against a budget.
4. Get published
Why not try? It’s not your main goal with these shoots (that would be #1) but it would be delicious icing on your artistic cake to see your work on a popular blog.
This is how to get there:
1. Build A Concept
I could really split this one step into it’s own post. The internet chatter has recently been amok with conversations about where us wedding creatives get our inspiration and how to avoid copying off of each other. Marcy Blum said it best in an interview published on Think Splendid, she said: “…that’s why everything is cannibalizing everything else, because we’re all looking at the same stuff. It’s an exercise in discipline not to go on Pinterest or Google.” Long story short: get off pinterest, get off other designer’s websites, get off google images, get off wedding blogs. Get on art museums, fashion runway shows, fine art, and other creative industries that have NOTHING to do with weddings or events. I’m honored to be asked to participate in shoots a few times a month. My biggest pet peeve is when the person emailing me, the one producing the shoot, sends me inspiration images of OTHER SHOOTS. ZZZZZZ…..I’m bored. Using photos of other weddings or events as inspiration for your shoot means it’s already been done.
The concept of your shoot should be clean, concise, presented in a way that’s easy to understand, and looks like the feel of your brand. In the concept should be an inspiration board, color palette, and sketches of your artistic ideas. It can be a simple few page PDF or even a Word doc with images. Use whatever program you are most familiar with.
2. Get Your Team
Most importantly, please, please, please have your work shot by a professional photographer. Take that concept you created and email it out to a photographer you’d love to collaborate with. Yes, they might say no. So what, move onto your next choice. The least that will happen is that they will see how amazing you are at conceptualizing design and will start to get familiar with your name. Do the same with any other creatives you need to bring your vision alive. A florist, venue, and stationer are a good place to start. Ask if they’d like to collaborate with you on an inspiration shoot you are producing for your soon-to-be-launched awesome website.
3. Make Your Budget
These shoots will cost you money. Investing in work that will show people your talent is worth it. You might end up paying to rent the venue, for models (not necessary), for the florist’s supplies…etc…in addition to your own supplies and transportation. Budget at least $500, although closer to $1k is more realistic. I’ve done shoots where everyone involved simply collaborated by donating their time and talents. I’ve also done shoots where I’ve traded my talents with other professionals who I really, really, really wanted to work with.
4. Get Published
Yes, you produced these for your own business growth, but submit them anyway. I get asked a lot how my work has been featured on so many blogs when I was first starting out. Simple answer: I submitted it along with a very short and sweet email. Emphasis on Very Short Email. Camille Styles posted my first inspiration shoot. All I did was ask.
You’ve defined your style and I bet your brain is swirling with ideas on creating work for your website. Next week we’ll talk about cultivating your online presence.
Have you guys produced shoots yet? Any good or bad experiences? Questions on the shoot process you’d like answered? Ask away!