Curious Lola

3 Ways your Inexperience will Help You Succeed in the Wedding Industry

It sucks to feel like a sputtering, throbbing amateur. It can feel like everyone else around you has figured it out and you are still groping for clarity. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my last 7 years of event and floral design, it’s that, unfortunately, there isn’t a manual and there’s no right way. I get into wrangling these anxiety-inducing topics in my new ebook Be Fearless Scared, But Do It Anyway . BUT I also know that there are three key areas where you have the ADVANTAGE by being a newbie.

Hooraaaaay! Seriously.

Because in uncertain times we need to acknowledge and be grateful for all the wins we can muster, right?

This applies to you if you are a burgeoning floral designer, event designer, planner, invite person, or if you make things I can put in my mouth. (I especially love the latter). Basically any service or product you can take a picture of.

Apparently, my mouth is ALWAYS open and my glasses are ALWAYS halfway falling off my nose. Take action baby.

Oh look, here I am (again) with my mouth wide open teaching folks how to make gardeney bouquets last year.

These three ways where your inexperience helps you are meant to empower you to take action and feel willing (note I did NOT say confident) to put yourself out there. It’s all too easy to observe, not get in the game, and chalk it all up to quietly gaining experience.

BUT that’s just fear talking. The fact is, the faster you start digging around, the faster you will figure it out, the faster you will gain clarity, the faster you will be profitable. In my ebook, I talk about my journey and how it took me five years to feel like this business was going to be okay.

THAT’S FIVE YEARS OF SLEEP ALTERING NAIL BITING!

You can do it in less and I want to help how I can.

These three facts are based on my own experience. These are things I did and they worked. They are based on forgetting about your problems, and solving the problems of others.

So here we go: 3 Ways your Inexperience will Help You Succeed in the wedding industry.

  1. Local Wedding Media Loves the Newbies.It’s true. Your local wedding magazine loves to feature new designers. It’s how they feel they are staying fresh. As a crusty, well worn designer reading through my local wedding mags, young whippersnappers such as yourself make up about 30% of what I’m looking at. All you need to do then is be seen.

Oh, and you are in luck again because their staff and interns are clammoring for new media to put up on their online platforms. Be nice, be generous, take some great shots of your work, or write a little article about something cool for them to put up on their FB page….. like, how to use write guests names on clam shells or something. Or how to make a veil out of bark…. don’t do that. Mention that you would love to be considered to participate in an upcoming feature should they need help with anything.

We were lucky enough to be featured in Seattle Met Bride and Groom and Seattle Bride early on. AND far before we could ever afford purchasing an ad. So, it works.

2. You Are A Blank Slate and You Listen.

After nearly a decade of doing this, I’ve sort of learned a way that works for me. I’ve learned I need a minimum budget for me to feel like we can deliver a stellar product, I’ve learned that we need a lot of responsibility and creative input regarding the entire event. We’ve learned what styles and what sorts of folks are NOT a good fit for us.

But you may not know that yet, and at least for getting work and developing relationships with other professionals and venues, that’s a GOOD thing. It means you can be truly open to listening how the other person likes to work, how they like to run their events, what their clients and audience is like.

You are in a perfect position to let the folks you meet with to feel like you really understand them. You are their person. They WANT you to succeed, so they will likely push work your way.

PS, how do you meet these folks? You call them… or email if you are telephonophobic like me:) It’s a modern cold call… don’t freak out.

PPS, don’t ask to meet them and show them what you do. Ask to meet them to learn about their venue/ practices/ approach, etc. Then work in your stuff but it’s not the point of the meeting. The point is for you to learn about THEM.

The last one is a big one and is a little hard to feel comfy with but is so important. In fact, we talk about it a lot more in my ebook. (See giant link image below:)

StartHere

3. Sell What They Actually Want, Not What You Think They Want.

When I first began, I thought I knew what people wanted beautiful florals chock full of creativity, unexpected materials, and unusual flowers- preferably local. I was stressed out of my mind to make more stuff so I could have a stunning portfolio. After all, a great portfolio was going to get the work right?

Wrong.

I didn’t have a great portfolio, as a matter of fact my first floral designs were awful. What I did have was a background in project management. So I talked about that.

Ding. Ding. Ding.

As it turns out, my clients didn’t want the best floral designer. They wanted someone who was organized, responsive, who wasn’t going to make an ass out of themselves on site, someone who was going to show up, get sh** done and leave. They wanted someone they could trust to make their jobs and day easier.

I could do that. I could show that through my communication with them, by the way I presented my material, and later, in every aspect of the event day.

That right there was a revelation for me and became our basis for selling for years…. still is. Our process and execution is paramount. Are we the best designers? meh. doesn’t matter- at least not as much as trust to my clients.  (though we are pretty damn good…obvs:)

So think about the process, execution, client relationships, conflict resolution, all the things that can be trouble for your client and communicate how you plan to resolve them, or even just show that you take those aspects just as seriously as the actual creative work.

Get Deeper Into This Topic

If you’re interested in delving a little deeper into this topic and are curious about the challenges I faced starting out and how I dealt with them, check out my FREE eBook, “Be Fearless Scared, But Do It Anyway.”

This will give you some perspective, and will show you how this beautiful (and humble!) creative took action and worked her way through the maze and reached the other side.

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.

Experts

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.

poo

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

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Photo by Raney Day Photography

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
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Photo by Raney Day Photography

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.

 

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.

Pruning!

Photo by Angus MacRae

Photo by Angus MacRae

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.

Event Design

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.

Floral Design

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.

Photo by Alante Photography

Photo by Alante Photography

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.

The Problem with Creativity/ 7 ways to tackle your block

Creativity paint mess

The problem with creativity is… it’s messy. Not in the tripping over boxes, duct tape stuck to my sneaker, branch in the eye type of messy (that’s the type I can tolerate), but messy in terms of delivering something tangible from a bunch of buzzing farts of ideas. You have a deadline, a bunch of half-baked thoughts, some doodles, and dang it, you are hungry. Maybe you just need a little snack and then you’ll be ready to go. Uh- oh.  Below is a mish mash of problems I face, and things my inner #girlboss tells my whiney, playful, and sleepy parts to get my act together.

1. I have too many ideas. If you are like me, your thought process is not a straight line. It’s not even a circle. It’s like a suckering shrub with tangents sprouting off to produce their own family of ideas. Sometimes it’s difficult even to figure out where it all began. At some point, I have to tell myself to stop. From the suckering idea shrub, I connect the lichen growing on one branch over here to the sprig over here to the root over here and, BAM, a thing/ idea. It’s an overwhelming thing to begin but it is my process.

My best lesson was taught to me by the creative director at the first firm I ever worked at. I was designing a courtyard for a condo. He told me I had four hours to have an initial concept over to my new client, my eyeballs nearly fell out. After four hours I was still drawing like mad and grumbling that I needed more time. My director ripped the drawing from my hand, scanned it, and emailed it directly to my client, incomplete. I needed that lesson in order to learn how to give myself limits. At some point, it’s time to stop and move forward with the material in front of us.

2. I need better tools.  I find myself using this excuse a lot. The fact is, I can probably use what I’ve got and the restriction may even produce something even better than I had imagined. Needing more or better tools won’t solve my procrastination problem, but if may create a money problem.

Caren-Morris-photography-UW-26

3. It’s so big, I can’t begin (enter procrastination). This is halfway correct. It is big. So, I must begin. My favorite quote is this: “It’s such a big dream, I can’t see it all.” by Edward S. Curtis- Seattle pioneer and photography adventurer. I know from experience that I always come up with something. And I can count on one hand the number of times I knew how it would end when looked at from the starting line. So… GO! If you are having trouble figuring out how, maybe this video will help you. I mean, if George the Poet can do it, you can too.

4. I have so many things to do. Multitasking is an illusion. Great multitaskers are just those people who can break focus, focus on something else, and then swap over to a new task. It’s not that they are doing many things at the same time, they are just doing many different singular things in a small amount of time. But at any one time, they are doing only one thing. When I am doing too many things at once, I am most likely doing them poorly and more slowly. Practice juggling.

5. My client/ boss’ control problem is stifling my creativity. Oy. Well first, the real problem to first apply your creativity to is the client’s project problem, so try shutting out any of the human drama.  Apply your creativity within their constraints without the ‘don’t tread on me’ feelings. Then have a conversation or find a new boss or client to explain how you best work.  Employers want their people to do their best and need to know when they are holding things back. For clients, at some point you’ll be able to build clients that trust you. For me, my best work comes when I can follow a thread of an idea and just see where it leads. Instead of madly trying to come up with interesting combinations of ideas under duress, the process is more exploratory. This is when it becomes really fun for me and my best clients know they will get way more than they paid for.

6. I’m stuck. Ya, it happens. Probably your brain needs to work on something else. I know I make the best connections while driving or after a nap. Maybe your brain needs a bit of time and a change of activity in order to organize your thoughts into genius. If I haven’t even started, a trip to the art museum or a coffee and copy of bomb or elle decor will usually give my brain a new direction and unanticipated focus.

7. No really, I’m stuck. My desk collapsed on me and I can’t get up.
Oh dang! Sorry buddy, that’s all you. Do you have any of those tools we discussed handy?

 

 

 


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