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.
If You Were A Bouquet, What Would You Wear?
Call me old fashioned, but I’ve always enjoyed nude bouquets.
Photographer/Artist/Philosopher Miguel Vallinas may have just changed that.
One thing true of all great artists is that they see the world a little differently. Vallinas is no exception, and if you haven’t seen his creations before you’re really in for a treat.
Vallinas sees things very differently.
And it’s powerful.
It Started With Animals
Vallinas is well known for his series named Second Skins, in which he takes portraits of animals, then “dresses” them in outfits that match the animal’s personality.
If you haven’t seen Second Skins before, you need to check it out.
Not only does Vallinas hit the mark in every portrait–seriously, the personality of each animal is perfectly captured by the outfits–some of the images are full of emotion and, dare I say it, humanity.
It’s amazing how Vallinas can look at an animal and come up with an outfit that really suits it. And it’s more interesting to think that if we can look at an animal dressed in human clothes and say, “Yes, that outfit really works for this animal”–that’s a pretty powerful statement about each of us.
But I digress…
What Do Animals Have To Do With Bouquets?
But Vallinas came out with a new series that dresses up floral bouquets, and the result is spectacular.
Here are a few of my favorites.
This bouquet is a jewelry designer and she makes accessories out of petrified wood. She also has a blog documenting her hikes and geode collection .
This bouquet is the president of toastmasters. He always holds open the door. Sometimes people thinks he’s fake because of his watch and shoe collection and permanent smile. But he just loves people. and his mom. He calls her every day.
This bouquet is a vegan grad student off to fundraiser for estuary restoration.
This bouquet has a thing or two to teach you about the dangers of forest fires.
This bouquet has finished her mid morning tea and thinks her cats Pearl and Snackers could use a younger companion cat to bring out their youthfulness.
This bouquet is super happy that his chrysanthemums are going to be featured at the next flower show.
This bouquet can’t decide where to book her next trip. And she thinks she’ll have to buy a new swimsuit.
This bouquet is super psyched about his interview with Microsoft
This bouquet can’t find her keys again, or its cell phone. It’s not too fussed about the cell phone anyway because her kids made her get the phone.
I absolutely love what Vallinas is doing, and I love the creativity.
I’ve only shared a fraction of the goodies that are on Vallinas’s site, so check it out if you have a few spare minutes.
You won’t be disappointed!
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
Tips To Communicate With Your Designer
Recently, a fellow designer asked me the following…
“How do you help your clients feel less intimidated in telling you their ideas.”
I was blown away. It had never occurred to me that people might be intimidated to tell their true thoughts to the designers they hire.
Once this designer said that, I immediately thought how dangerous this situation could be.
To let a free-associating, visual stimuli addict run wild is just dangerous.
People could be wasting money, ending up with a design related to my favorite color of the day (orange) mixed with the origami something I made out of my pastry napkin from my morning coffee mixed with the slick detail from an airstream lunch trailer. However cool that may be, it may not relate to you. Somewhere down the road, you may look at my design and suddenly think…
“What the hell is that?”
Nobody wants that, so here are some tips on how to communicate with your designer to ensure you don’t have any “what the hell is that?” kind of moments.
Inside Every Designer’s Mind
In order to prevent such disaster, allow my to explain how a designer’s mind may work (ahem).
And this doesn’t just go for me, but most designers I know (and, therefore, it applies to every designer everywhere).
We view everything as if it has some useful information. For that reason we inspect how things are made, how colors change in different light, how long it takes for a pumpkin to rot… All potentially useful information. These things zip around, running into things, tripping over each other, or sometimes just waiting. They are in there because we know that one day we will be sitting in front of you.
You will say something that will connect with something else and BANG, a great idea for you.
Or so we think.
Your Willingness To Be Open With Your Designer Is Critical To Your Happiness… Seriously
I’m not saying you won’t be happy on an existential level. You still might be happy, deep down. But you might not be happy when you see the results… know what I’m sayin?
Sometimes an essential part of design is just figuring out where your brain is at.
What will freak you out and what won’t. In that case, we may throw out a lot of ideas. Don’t worry, we will not jam pack your event full of nonsense. We’re just gauging your reaction.
What Can I Do?
Over the years, I’ve gained confidence that I am pretty darn good at nailing someone’s design boundaries and style. But what makes this process better for both of us is the following:
- Bring images of rooms, clothes, events, flowers, hairstyles, vacations, whatever that reminds of the vibe you want to achieve. It can really be anything that helps us learn about you.
- Tell us what you love, and tell us what you DON’T love and why. (it’s okay if you don’t know why)
- Come with an open mind.
- You can’t hurt our feelings, so just be direct if you have any reservations about a path we are taking.
- Let us know what your priorities are.
That’s it, pretty simple. If you bring an open mind along with some of the above items, you can be sure your design experience will be that much closer to dream-making–and not of the nightmare variety!
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