Things I Wish I Knew When I Began my Event Business: Part 2- The Expert.
I have a strong skepticism of The Expert. People who tell me how to do things are likely to get a polite listen, slow blink, nod, and about face.
This goes for all professions and beliefs people want to share. It’s not that I disrespect their experience or education, I just don’t trust that what they have to say will necessarily work in my life in the same way it’s worked for them.
This wasn’t always the case. When I began my business, I was rabid for information on how to do things right, be profitable fast, figure out how everyone else was doing things. I was sure there was a ‘best practice’ for everything. I felt vulnerable operating my fledgling business, knowing that I still hadn’t learned that nugget of wisdom that would allow me to market and operate as a professional. Until that point, I felt like I might be called out at any moment.
This led to second guessing myself and worse, belittling my own immense efforts and little business in small ways. As if to say, “Here’s my business, it’s a little scrappy, but it’s good. But if it’s not as good as you think it should be then just know that it’s brand new and I’m still figuring it all out.” The veil between confident excitement about my startup and discouragement was so thin I felt that any positive claim needed a cautionary disclaimer. Any compliment received was followed by something like, “If you think we’re good now, wait until I really figure out what I’m doing.” Not a way to instill trust in your clients and just not true.
So here’s the third thing I wish I knew when I began my event business:
There are no experts… Except you, of course.
The only rules to make and follow are those agreed upon between you and your clients. You do what works for you, and your client likes that or they don’t. If they don’t like it, maybe you are willing to tweak your operation or product. Or maybe this isn’t the correct client. And back and forth and back and forth until you have the right balance of what you both want.
Expert advice is useful only to give you ideas of stuff to try. I liken it to art making and art history. Learning about art history can give you knowledge about art, a deeper appreciation for it, a vocabulary to talk about it, but it won’t make you an artist. To be an artist you have to produce, experiment, and go through all the drama that comes with combining materials, ideas, humans, and time. Unexpected outcomes and all.
Expert advice is a giant pile of poo. You and I are poo shovelers. Get digging and see what parts are worth composting in your garden. The success of your garden isn’t going to be because of the poo, it will be because of your care, guidance, and hard work.
Ultimately, you gain the sanity saving knowledge that whatever you need to figure out, you will. This alone allows me to walk into new, strange projects with the confidence to dive in. Added bonuses of this sort of healthy view on experts include:
- less money spent on expert advice,
- appreciation and happiness for others’ triumphs in their business,
- less judgement of other businesses products and operations,
- and a more objective perspective on one’s own successes and struggles,
- The ability to predict if a new pile of poo is even worth reaching for the shovel,
- Big ‘ole sighs of relief.
If you missed part one of the “Things I Wish I Knew” Series and the first two “Things” , here it is!
This is the second 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 8, 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. Sign up below!
If you liked the message here, the kindest thing you can do is share it with others that might be experiencing their own startup struggles.
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!
If you liked the message here, the kindest thing you can do is share it with others that might be experiencing their own startup struggles.
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!
The Pursuit of Ease… (and pruning)
Ease. Just the word alone lengthens in your mouth and softens posture. It’s the word 97% of my clients use to describe their perfect social party. It’s also the word I use to lure my business and personal life along toward success.
Ease is not lazy. It describes calmness and stillness but also connection and alertness. Ease accepts what is happening now and observes, taking on new obstacles as they come up. This is especially important to me in a business that has a lot of ambiguity. Sanity and resourcefulness comes from being able to ease the mind, observe, stay connected, and adjust as necessary.
As I write, I’m wearing a flowey tunic from Free People (clothing to promote ease), and thinking about other ways ease is working (or trying to work) in my life and biz.
Maybe it’s because late winter/ early spring is the perfect time for tree pruning, but I can’t help but think about pruning and its metaphoric application in other areas of life. When you prune a tree, you keep the big picture in mind. What is the natural shape of this tree, where does it want to go? Then you select a few branches as the structural elements that will get your tree to its balanced shape. Remove branches surrounding these branches that are not structurally sound, unhealthy, or even healthy branches that rub (or will rub) against your selected branches. This way, your selected branches will have space, more light, more air circulation, and all the tree’s resources can be redirected to the strong parts. New branches will form on these strong parts and fill out your tree. Finally, don’t remove too much at once or your tree may not be able to adjust in time.
Ease in event design first has a lot to do with movement and space, clarity, and editing. Before guests can be wowed, they must be at ease. Guests can move their bodies and ease easily throughout the space. It’s not cluttered, there is a hierarchy of attention grabbers, and physical and sensory obstacles are minimized. The message is clear and your guests are comfortable.
Ease in flowers comes naturally in the garden. Ease in floral design comes from observing nature and mimicking shape. Floral designs with ease have an air of natural form. There’s also a curvature and sort of supported heaviness that comes from a thin stem working against gravity to hold up a big, fat bloom. It’s appropriately scaled and like event design, ease in floral design limits visual obstacles to a few attention seeking contrasts.
This bouquet for Adrianne and Michael was one of my favorite bouquets. It’s whole air of the day was full of ease. Oh, and it was definitely NOT easy to make. It’s a good reminder that the pursuit of ease takes a lot of refocus.