Things I Wish I Knew When I Began my Event Business: Part 1- Marketing
Starting my own business has been the best education I’ve ever gotten. When I first started, I gobbled up all the advice I could from in person meetings, books, online- I’d even frequent a coffee shop that I knew had amazing flowers delivered so I could stick my hand into the arrangement and visualize how it was made. I’d then go home and try to create something similar. Some of that early education and advice made a lot of sense and I’d hear it over and over- like ‘don’t discount your services.’ However as someone trying to break into a new industry, I found it hard to be firm on anything for fear of losing the job.
Now that I feel established, I’m pretty happy with where things ended up and are going, BUT a few of these things I wish I had implanted into my being from the get go. I wish I’d tattooed it on my palm and looked at it every 5 minutes. Who knows what difference that would have made, but I can only guess that I would have discovered and marketed my strengths better earlier and shaved off at least a year in my journey toward profitability. This is the first part in a series of tasty bits I’ve learned over the year for those of you starting in, not only the event or floral industry, but any creative industry that relies heavily on community building. Part one involves marketing.
So, from me to you, striving entrepreneur, here are some marketing tips I know for sure.
“There are more ways to spend money than there are to make it.”
The number of ways there are to market yourself is overwhelming and in the beginning, most can sound like a great idea. With pockets light and desperation high, many marketing ventures may seem like a sure way to get more business. The fact is, if you are new, you may not know who your ideal client is yet and you probably don’t have lots of moolah. Most of these marketing options are little pirahnas that can turn your zest and meager resources into a skeleton in no time. My experience is that most are not for you and nothing is more discouraging than throwing money at something that yields so-so results. Here’s my checklist of questions to ask to see if any marketing endeavor is a good fit:
Do I know them? Have I read their publication, been on their tour/ show, know of their business? Used their resource/ product? If the answer is no, I postpone until I can assess. Also, if I don’t know of them, it makes me question how they know of me. Are they looking for just anyone to fill a spot and if so, are they equally as blase about curating their audience?
Is their audience/ guest list full of the exact people that will be hiring or referring me? For me, that means other event professionals, venues, catering managers, or in the wedding industry, couples. Not the couple’s parents or friends, not somebody who works for a company that I’d like to work with, not their administrative team, not even the executives- but the people who are wired to look for the exact service I provide. People who will see me, appreciate the work, and have the authority to hire or refer. For everyone else, I am just ambiance.
How will I be seen? I need a bold presence. If I’m asked to join in on a marketing event, I need to be there to make an impression face to face. If it’s online or in print, I need it to read loud and clear that it is my company. Just being mentioned onstage at the beginning of a dinner for which you’ve just donated 30 centerpieces and in the program at the bottom of someone’s purse, isn’t going to cut it.
Is their audience big enough? If you don’t have an audience established, you rely on those of your partners. Make sure the folks you are partnering with have a large following. It shows that they either spend a lot of effort to reach out to and engage people, they provide a great service, or both! For example, if you are considering being part of a wedding tour and there are 400 expected attendees, maybe 100 of those people are in a position to make a decision to hire you. Maybe half of those people are ready to ‘see’ your particular service as something relevant to them in their particular process, and for maybe 1/10 of those people you are a great fit for in style, price point, etc. Even still, maybe you only get in front of 1/2 of those people to make a memorable connection. So out of 400, maybe you get 2-5 inquiries. Of those, 1 or 2 are a good fit for YOU and turn into jobs. That is about typical for me. Depending on the audience and the effort expended on the event, it may or may not be worth it. The exception here is work done for other companies, event pros, and organizations that I know are avid cheerleaders for my company. We will always go out of our way to help those with whom we love to work with and who consistently refer us to their clients.
Keep in mind that for online marketing, you have even more of a need to make a memorable connection and most likely less people in 1. a position to hire you, 2. at a time in their planning or mental process to hire you, 3. in line with your style and offerings, 4. a good fit for YOU. So your audience will need to be much bigger to dish out lots of moolah.
Here’s another thing I know for sure:
“The thing you are selling, may not be the thing they are buying.”
When I began, I was a floral designer that sometimes dabbled in larger construction and installations. I thought people were buying my floral designs because I was a good floral designer and because my prices were reasonable. I was incorrect on both accounts. When I started, I’m pretty sure most everyone was a better floral designer than I was. It wasn’t for another year or two that I felt like I had gained some mastery. I don’t even like to look at photos of my work during the first year and a half or so. What people needed and were buying was the following:
- Our project management process: I was a proven manager with a documented process that put people at ease. Where event managers and planners had been burned with products and teams that did not meet their expectations, I could help them visualize what they were getting, and better still, could offer documentation that they could show their managers. They were in the know, they had a part in the design process, and because of that, I made them look good to their higher ups. Without a giant portfolio of great work. This one thing opened a lot of doors.
- Uncommon designs: They knew that what they were getting from me was pretty different than what else was available. We gave them choices and they got to decide what they wanted.
- Versatility: Our clients hire us because we can make or know who can make pretty much anything. Our best clients now are those people who came to us because they wanted something different and had no idea how to go about it. They also like that when SH** goes down (and sometimes it does), we fix it. Done.
- Our Story: People like that we hire artists. They like that we will research a wild idea. They like that we are a bit scrappy. They like our dedication to local and sustainable materials. They like that our workshop is 1/3 woodshop, 1/3 floral studio, 1/3 strange gallery. It’s 80% chaotic, 0% pristine showroom; and 100% an inspiring feast for the eyes. For whatever reason, our story fit with their organization’s story, or more likely, our story resonates with the person on the other side of the table.
Look at your own set of skills and promote them, even what you may think is boring but always shows up in your process. I’ve seen people geek out over checklists, or maybe your potential client happens to be a clean freak and you can promise a clean install…You never know what people’s pain points are. Chances are they aren’t hiring you simply because they like the line item on your invoice.
This is the first part of a series of 10 conversations about the struggles faced in the early parts of business development. If you’d like to make sure you get the other 9, sign up for our mailing list below! You will also be able to download all 10 topics for free so you can put them in a place to remember. (tattoos not required). Sign up below!
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Creativity and Baby Making.
Always be making. This is kind of my maxim. It’s not really a motivational thing so much as just the way things are.
The drive to play with materials and make something is why I started Lola Creative and why I can say I’ve got the best job ever. Last week we made a giant 12 foot octopus. This week it’s vintage computer geekery. For the last seven months, I’ve been making my first human.
Human production, as it turns out, reduces one’s available brain space for most everything else. Add onto that the daily requirements of a business and there’s just not much left for free-creating- making stuff for fun, making stuff not related to my business projects. About all I have energy for right now is to make these here Skittles, sitting next to me, into painting apparatus with my own spit and draw smiley faces on my humpty-dumpty belly. (I mean, if I weren’t pregnant, at least they’d be an impressive design).
and then there’s the fear that once this squirmy bump IS actually a human, what if I have even LESS creative mojo? Oh man! Is creativity like love, it just grows to satisfy a greater desire to give it? A muscle? Just plain old discipline and habit (ergh)? I’m hoping for the first since that seems lovely and easy. But just in case, I’m inviting myself to casually make with whatever is available.
The wise woman in me says, “Oh honey, a creative outlook doesn’t go away, it’s just cast upon whatever you are doing. You will never be wanting of creative outlets that satisfy and inspire you. ” The neurotic pushy person in me says, ” Better get to making or your abilities will dry up like pregnant feet in flip flops made of asphalt and good intentions.”
This is what wise woman probably looks like
Now I’ve learned that the wise woman is usually right and the pushy person is lovable but misguided. But a little casual making never hurt anyone, right? So here’s my first share from a trip to my sweetie’s family cabin of making just to make. Materials are whatever is in front of me. Thanks nature for the materials.
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Happy Cinco de Mayo! Mexico taught me this…
The central highlands of Mexico are some of my favorite places to be on Earth. (I haven’t been to ALL the places on Earth, but I’m pretty sure it would still be on top). The combinations of weathered raw materials, handcrafted everything, and bold colors and textures still inspire many of my designs. Stories are everywhere. In fact, one of them is story I tell as a pivotal moment in my early twenty-something life that rocked what I knew to be true about achievement, community, and self-sufficiency. Read it below amid a peppering of our Cinco de Mayo lunch table setting. Happy Cinco de Mayo!
I spent a quarter of my last year in college in Cuernavaca to assist our architecture department in building a kitchen for an elementary school in an ‘underprivileged’ community outside of town. As we worked with and spent time in the homes of this community, it became obvious that this town was rich in ways that were unfamiliar to me.
My American upbringing and education seemed to be one giant helping of the following message repeated over and over in different ways:
- You are here to express yourself as a unique individual.
- You are special and above average.
- You can be anything you want.
- You can and should achieve as much success as possible.
In this community, we are irritated with stagnant growth, frustrated that we are not receiving the support or resources we need due to our circumstances, or the government. Frustrated that we are not recognized for our obvious above average-ness. This community can be lonely and endlessly interested in what happens next. We are obsessed with our wins and others failures.
Contrast this with what I perceive as the Mexican message to their kids:
- You are an important and useful member of this community.
- You are, and always will be a loved and involved member of this family.
- You can and should learn lots of varied things that will bring you joy, and support your family and community.
In this community, the people make and do the things that their community needs. If there’s a gap, they fill it. For the most part, they don’t rely on anyone outside of their own community. This community is vibrant, connected, and really, really happy because their measure of success can be achieved now and for the rest of their lives.
One message prizes individuality, connects happiness with future success, and assumes that if you haven’t achieved what you want, you are not doing it right. The other message prizes connections and supports the idea that things are great now, if things get bad, we can figure it out together, and please pass the mole.
So, every Mexican celebration, I give thanks to one of the happiest, supportive, and inventive communities I know. Whenever I get frantic in pursuit of a dream, I am reminded that things are pretty great now. Ultimately, there is no need to push. There are people to be loved, and connections to be made and cherished, for a life of daily success. This week, success included lunch on my sister’s patio with some old and bold table decor.
Lola Floral Design Workshops!
When I began floral design back in 2008, I looked around for workshops and training sessions for the kind of style I was into; Naturalistic and a bit wild with a little bit of sculptural interest. Always with unique flowers that looked like they were clipped out of a plant collectors garden. There weren’t any. The workshops that did exist looked as if they’d been running for half a century with mass produced South American flowers.
Now, I’m happy to say I can give you, growing floral designer, the workshop I wished I had. Whether you are just starting out, are in the wedding industry and want to expand your offerings into floral, or have been traditionally trained and are looking for a fresher look, you’ll want to sign up for this class!. I would be so excited to have you.
We will build one large, lush arrangement in a footed compote that you can keep. Each person will have over $100 in the most beautiful and unique local and sustainably grown flowers available. We’ll be using sustainable methods for building structure and will cover cost data (!!!) and transportation issues. Did I mention you will be overflowing with flowers?
This arrangement will be challenging to build, but I always learned best by jumping into something challenging. Then all the easy stuff is… well, easy.
Here are some images from our last workshop- floral design. And I must say, it is an honor to be able to see so many great people walk out of the class with arms full of fantastic floral designs. Teaching all of you reminded me of my own journey from desk job to dream job. I remember worrying, ” What if I am giving up a career I’ve worked so hard for – for another career I know little about but I think I’ll be happier with…. What if I’m still not happy?” It was the right move for me and I love my life. I’m so happy to share with you some hard earned knowledge about how to create beauty for your events and life with a focus on building this into a career.
Sign up for our May 7th floral class in Woodinville here! (there are discounts for multiple tix!) For more photos, follow us on instagram for some behind the scenes shots and a preview of your floral goodies!
All photos in this post were shot by Krista Welch with Love Song Photo! You should go check her out and give her all sorts of love.
And if you’re on the fence about the floral design workshop, let me just tell you that there are adorable sheep on view from our window. Nuff said.
Five Sustainable Floral Products to Green Your Designs
Let’s face it, weddings and corporate events can be massively wasteful. But your floral shop doesn’t have to be. In fact, in the upper left corner of this country, it’s a selling point to operate a greener floral studio with sustainable products and techniques. Our clients seek out ways to live more responsibly and love knowing that their decor isn’t unnecessarily wasteful.
We gauge wastefulness by weighing the material’s life cycle. Start of life, during life, and after life. So with this in mind, something like bioboard is less wasteful than styrofoam or foamcore. Floral Soil is less wasteful (if at all) than floral foam.
At the start of life, how was the material created and what pollutants and general yuckies were created by its production? Was it grown? Super. Was it grown locally without chemicals and practices that might pollute waterways and harm insects? Super Duper!!! Was it made from previously recycled content? Love that. How was it shipped?
During it’s life in our studio, how many times can we reuse it? Can we make it into a quality, long-lived piece that our clients will want to keep? Does it give me a mysterious rash? Can my dog eat it?
When we are done with it, where does it go? Can it be recycled? Can it be composted? Can we rent it out again?
Now I’ll admit there is a stockpile of adhesives and paints in our studio that are nowhere near Super Duper, Gold Star Life Cycle Rating, but we do what we can where we can and are always on the lookout for materials that better fit our goals.
Here are a few materials you can be confident in and start using immediately that won’t raise eyebrows.
1. Bioboard: Made originally for printing, this stuff comes in 1/4 inch to 1″ thicknesses and 4X8 foot sheets. It’s extremely light and strong. We use this in place of foam-core, styro sheets, masonite, and even sometimes wood. Don’t get water on it though, because it will dissolve fast. We use this to build scenes, 3D shapes, and support for flower walls. Photo is provided by Laird Plastics, our Seattle source for BioBoard.
2. Floral Soil: currently ramping up production is floral soil solutions, a water- holding, bio=based compound that will replace toxic floral foam. Get on the list to get your own stash and experiment with how it works, including tall arrangements that were once so improbable in a studio without foam. It can be reused for a time, and then tossed into your compost nary a concern. Photo sourced from the Floral Soil Website .
3. Sticks: So versatile, seriously. ‘Le Stick’ is practically used everyday in our studio to create volume and a transport- proof armature in which to stick our stems. Even in low, wide arrangements, a tape grid and a stick armature is all you need to create a secure centerpiece with volume. Haven’t mastered ‘Le Stick’? Try it out in our centerpiece workshop Coming up May 7th! Click Here.
4. Moss: Nature’s natural sponge that holds moisture for days. Use as a matrix for holding stems in place over an opaque container or mass into a ball for a natural sculpture. Both uses eliminate the need for floral foam.
5. Local Flowers: They’re not just prettier but they haven’t traveled long distances. Local allows you to have greater knowledge of how your flowers were raised and supports local business. With the right growers, you can work together to ensure you are getting all those great, strange flowers that are extra special. Nothing conveys specialness than pointing out a flower and telling them about the person who grew it for them. That’s just love and specialness all over the place.
Again, if you’d like to learn more about sustainable floral design practices and all sorts of behind the scenes fun, join our community by subscribing to our email list. Also, if you know of someone else who may think this is helpful, please send it to them!