Designing Events, With A Pinch Of Wonder
I was going through images last week and came across this book arch we created a few years ago. I always thought this was so cool, and people went crazy.
With wedding madness in full swing, I thought the book arch would be a good reminder of how powerful this business can be.
Much of the time we get caught up in running the business:
- Has everything been ordered?
- Is everything ready to go?
- Are all the subcontractors prepped?
- Is there enough staff?
And for set pieces like the Book Arch:
- Do we have the materials?
- Do we have the welding equipment?
- Are we sure it’s going to be stable?
- How does it look?
It’s easy to get caught up in the mundane–albeit necessary–aspects of getting the job done.
When I come across images of events that really worked–and that had such a wide impact on people outside the event–it is a good reminder of the purpose of what we’re really doing: we’re adding that wee pinch of wonder that makes the difference between a serious yawner and a “I can’t stop gawking at how amazing this is” experience.
When we’re at our best, we take a profound moment in someone’s life and insert a bit of magic. It’s incredible what can happen when everything lines up.
Things I Wish I Knew When I Began My Event Business, Part 3: Support
You don’t know what you are doing, but you probably have an idea of what kind of business support systems you will need.
But before you add yet another thing to your to do list, I’d like to review some of the systems and networks that are help and those that do not.
Some things look like a worth time and money investment but actually end up helping somebody ELSE with what they need.
We are in about the middle of our “10 Things I Wish I Knew Series”. Links to the other pieces are at the bottom!
Here is a list of the kind of support you will NOT need:
I know that you’ll probably want to try a few of these out anyway. Hopefully, this list will at least make you aware of when something might not be working out and needs to be purged from your attention.
NO: A Group Of Like-Minded Individuals Also Just Starting Out
While this can help you feel safe and calm your fears, it is far better to gain that information from people who already passed through your stage in business.
Networking with established business is scarier but trust me: most of them remember being where you are, and will tell you what you want and need to know.
The event industry relies on each other within our own disciplines and across other disciplines.You know you will need the kind of emotional support that will allow you to keep moving forward even when your motives start looking a little blurry. You need someone to remind you that the trade-offs you are making in your personal life are worthwhile to gain a wildly satisfying living.
In the beginning, there is a lot of struggle.
This often leads to looking at the success of others as a reminder that you aren’t succeeding. While it may feel good to know that you are not alone by surrounding yourself with others who are in a similar position, it’s not helping you progress–it’s helping you feel safe where you are now. The catch is: You don’t want to feel safe where you are! Assuming you’re not planning on staying in that struggling, beginning stage for very long, you want to use that discomfort as a motivator for moving forward.
YES: A Group Of Seasoned Business Owners…
…even if they’ve been in the biz only a little while.
They don’t even have to be in your exact industry. In John C. Maxwell’s book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, he writes that the environment in which you choose to place yourself should have the following characteristics:
Others are ahead of me.
I am continually Challenged,
My focus is forward
The atmosphere is Affirming
I am often out of my Comfort Zone.
NO: A Group Of The Wrong Kind Of People
I was a group junkie when I first started out.
I thought there might be a group of people who could help me grow faster and give me the answers I needed. I thought that I could cross promote my business through other businesses. I’ve checked out mastermind groups, the kind of groups where other people are required to refer your work and you are required to refer theirs regardless of whether or not you actually think they are the best at what they do, industry groups, and women business owner groups.
It turns out that in my specific creative business of event design, there are only a few people at very specific times who are ready to make the decision to hire me. Cross promoting with businesses who don’t serve this laser focused person is a waste of resources.
If the group you are in is not a challenge, if it wastes too much time, if it’s filled with people who cannot get you the kind of work you want, people who are not stretching themselves and reaching, people who do not understand the necessity of finding your ideal customer, then it’s not the right group of folks for you.
YES: Tangential Interest Groups
Try groups where you can causally network and show them what you do.
That may not be business owners–this may be places where your clients hang out.
Maybe you are a floral designer and you are hired by wedding planners–join their planning group.
Maybe you do non-profit fundraisers–join a fundraiser’s education group.
Perhaps you want to target restaurant owners or hotels–join a chamber of commerce.
Maybe you need to access wealthy women who entertain regularly. Heck, join their local yoga studio. Win win.
The point is, go to the people who likely have a problem you can solve. Then stay connected.
NO: Financial Support In The Form Of Debt
The beginning of a business is a little experimental and can feel frantic. It’s easy to get caught up in feeling like you cannot begin unless you have the right tool/ training/ mentor/ webpage, etc.
There are so many people trying to sell you something with great stories about why their ad, their whatever will help you sell more.
Before you have figured out what makes you special and who wants to buy your kind of special, you are better off saving your money.
You may find that what seemed like a great tool at the beginning, is actually not necessary. You may find you don’t want to offer a service that you thought you would offer, you may in a month, discover a totally different message than the one you spent money on.
Give it some time. Get your hands dirty first.
When I first began I had visions of an event design firm that worked side by side with a landscape design and build company. I would, of course, do both. I soon realized that these two services required directing my attention to two totally different markets.
My attention and effort would be split and that could not be good if I needed to be profitable within a year. After about 3 months, I had to revise my website, and get new business cards.
Save yourself the agony, and figure out what your business is, who it serves, and why customers should buy from your instead of all the other choices in the marketplace before you spend money on the next major money-printing widget.
YES: Creative Means Of Covering Your Needs
Will you need some sort of financial safety net? Yes.
And most people I know do not have a sugar daddy/ mama or their own nest egg.
I’ve met business owners that moved into their parent’s basement when they first started. People have become nannies. Maybe you could do it just by growing more slowly than I did and implementing the systems I will talk about later. Maybe you could quit your full-time job and get a part-time job.
What you can do by not taking on more debt, you should do.
NO: Misguided Friends And Family
Your friends miss you. They miss going out to restaurants and spending your paychecks on food and that botanical infused locally made gin cocktail of the day. They miss going on vacations with you in the summer. They miss you not being stressed out. The miss griping about their jobs with you.
To this group of risk averse friends, this thing you are doing just looks like something that is making you LESS financially secure and more stressed out.
You will hear things like…. “what’s the good of money if you can’t enjoy it.”
And “We never see you anymore” and “You’ve just got to relax, I’m worried about you.”
This is brain noise you don’t need.
You already have your work cut out for you with quieting your inner critic. Be clear with them on your intentions, or just nod your head and let it wash past you.
YES: Be On The Lookout For New Go-Getting Hustlers Like Yourself Who Are Inspired By Working Hard On A Risky Venture That Could Pay Off Big-Time.
Seek them out and surround yourself with them. They will help move you forward, and will be a source of energy when it feels like your well of spirit and hustle is running dry.
As for the friends who can’t help themselves from pulling you down? If they cannot let up, it’s time to get some new friends.
You don’t need to necessarily toss out the old ones, just improve your relationship with the ones that can be excited about your path, and who will point out for you all the ways you are progressing while you’re slogging through your startup swamp.
NO: Service And Professional Support
If your financial resources are sparse, know that you don’t need much in the way of professional help. The IRS is likely not interested in a business as small as yours and when starting out, you won’t need to pay taxes until the end of the year.
Don’t stress about an accountant. So depending on when you start, you’ve got some time. Bookkeeping, labor, graphic design, web development, these are all things you can do yourself with inexpensive or free apps or by friend-sourcing.
YES: Find Free Or Cheap Ways To Get What You Need.
I’ve found that an invoicing system was necessary to prevent mistakes.
- Freshbooks has a starter version that is reasonably priced.
- Canva will help you create images for free to help you look pulled together.
- Upwork or Fiverr can help you source graphic help or any tech help online from people all over the world eager to work with you.
- Google docs in lieu of Microsoft Office.
- Cute PDF Writer in lieu of Acrobat.
The point is, it may take a while for you to see financial promise–it took me three years. It took another two years to see that it could be sustainable at the level that I felt we were all being taken care of properly.
I’d like you to feel secure in your company sooner.
You are an observant person and you’ll gain knowledge from any experience in which you place yourself. My job here is to help you get the most useful stuff faster in order to raise you to that comfy place.
Sign up to our mailing list to ensure you don’t miss any of the next posts on “10 Things I Wish I Knew”. If you’ve missed the last ones, find them here:
Part Three: Creating Systems
Part Two: The Expert
Part One: Marketing
Do You Excel At Chaos? Me Too! And This Is How I Turned Chaos Into Success
The Ugly Truth…
I’ve been called a slob before- my whole life actually. Just messy. I’ve lost roommates over it, enraged parents, and disgusted employees.
The fact is, I only clean for three reasons:
- To make space for another mess
- To avoid social humiliation (say if I’m having party)
- To avoid strife between me and my spouse and employees.
If left to my own ways, I would end up like that hoarder muppet in Labyrinth.
As I’ve built a growing business, it has become clear that a certain level of organization, rules, and operation systematization is crucial to help me deal with the overwhelming chaos. It also allows me to live in a world with my much more organized counterparts. You could say, I am a reformed slob.
What did I do to solve it? Systemize!
What Does It Mean To Systemize?
A system is just a documented, repeatable way of doing something that achieves a desirable goal.
Documented so the system can be followed, measured so you know if it’s successful, and flexible so it can be improved. Once a system is in place and is generating success, you don’t have to think about the tasks to achieve that success–as long as you follow the system, the system will bring the outcome you want!
I view systems now as mechanics- and I can geek out about mechanics.
I ask myself, “How can I ease this operation so that as much decision-making as possible is automated?” I walk through the steps, document it, and try like hell to use it every time I have to do that task.
Voila, a system!
This way, all my creative fuel can go into less boring parts like actually forming and executing new ideas.
Approaching a boring task used to be like this….
“Ugh, so tedious, where was that thing I did before? So much to do. I have to move this stuff out-of-the-way first. So much stuff… Maybe snack first… I love snacks. What was I doing?”
And this would continue until the actual amount produced that day was a shadow of what I knew was possible.
As it turns out, there are some studies in this area. They call it willpower, however that to me sounds like some sort of superhuman strength. When we mortals try to harness willpower we can only expect disappointment.
Really, willpower is only making the decisions that get you closer to your goal. And with systems in place this doesn’t require some sort of superhero strength.
Good Decision-Making Can Be Automated
You read that right: you can build systems to automate good decision-making.
That’s great because in Tierney and Baumeister’s studies on willpower in their book called (ahem) Willpower (non affiliate link), they talk about our brains having a finite ability to process information for that day. With every decision, you reduce your ability to calmly process data and come to a good decision.
Even small decisions affect your reserves.
That means, toward the end of the day, you have severely depleted your resources. In the morning, you fully intend to exercise, draw up a new proposal, and eat well. Around 5pm you are now sitting on a stool at happy hour eating cheese fries having only doodled over the cover of your notebook.
What can you do? Eating, sleeping, exercising, meditating, these are all things that can boost your metaphorical fuel tank. But, what can you do to preserve your fuel from reducing in the first place?
You got it! Systemize! (also called routine, but that’s boring.)
For example, if your goal is to get out of the house in a way that will not repel other humans, you will want to follow this system. I call it, the How To Leave Your House Without Being All Nasty System (patent pending):
- Get out of bed
- Take a shower
- Get yourself clothed
- Eat something
- Brush your teeth
- Fix your hair
- Get your stuff and walk out the door.
Congratulations! You have just completed creating systems and have not reduced your ability to make much more difficult decisions later on in the day. This list represents an automated system you have repeated and mastered to the point that it is not a chore.
And you can do the same for MOST business tasks and operations.
Where Can You Find Systems?
Once you start looking for systems, you see them everywhere. Systems are routines you follow to get stuff done. (If it still doesn’t make sense, refer to the above example of How To Leave The House Without Being All Nasty.)
Once identified, then the critical task is to document it.
Here’s what putting together a flower arrangement looks like in our shop:
- Start timer
- Clean off workspace
- Assemble tools and compost bin,
- Get flowers and raise them up so I don’t have to stoop. Everything should be easily reached.
- Assess goal size and shape.
- Prepare container and Go. I even have a system for how to start flower arrangement which you can review here.
- Stop Timer.
- Assess time spent and see if it is in line with how much time I have left to complete other tasks. If I don’t have enough, I need to go faster or reduce a step. If I have time left, yay, I can go home early.
- Count flowers used of each type of flower.
- Document on my FLOWER RECIPE average time and any alterations to the recipe.
- Take picture.
- The picture, flower recipe, and time is filed away so that next time when I have a similar arrangement, I know how much time to budget, how much of what to buy, and what it looks like, each time I use this recipe, I document for which job it was used.
- Repeat steps 1-7
Later I view the receipts to ensure that my flower recipe is priced appropriately and make any necessary notes for next time.
By doing this, it’s easy to start work. More importantly however, with each iteration, I’m honing my profitability and can accurately estimate how many employees I need for how long.
My employees can also get into the habit of using this system and develop a sense for ways to make things more efficient. When you’re doing your quarterly or yearly review to gauge how profitable your jobs were, oh man it’s nice when they line up exactly where you planned them to be (or better).
That’s some serious satisfaction.
Where We Use Systems
We try to use systems whenever we can. Here are a number of areas:
- Pricing: How to charge for what you do!
- Mobilization and Load In: How we get everything ready to go, how we get it packed, and how we get started on site.
- Payroll: How we track hours and get employees paid.
- Invoicing: How we get paid!
- Information sharing: How we share information internally.
- Packing: How to ensure you aren’t running around looking for something on site.
- Site and Venue analysis: What to look for, what to ask about, how to make a map.
- Flower care: How to ensure flowers stay fresh and open nicely.
- Yearly strategizing for labor, marketing, and expenditure budgets.
- Flower ordering: How to make a flower recipe and ensure profits.
- Proposals: What we show, and what we don’t,
- Client Intake: What happens after we get an email inquiry and how do we make sure that inquiry is not lost
- Client meetings: what we talk about, what we don’t, what info we collect, what processes happen next.
- Photographing jobs and systems for naming files so we know who the photographer, client, and venue.
Need more info on how to systemize your operation? The first book I read on the subject was the E-myth. We’ll also be putting together a ‘Nuts and Bolts’ training system that will show you our backend systems.
Let us know what you are curious about in our operation and sign up to our email list to be notified when that is out.
This is part THREE of our ten part series: Things I Wish I Knew When I Started My Event Business
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.