New business? My top five tips for starting out...
Ok guys...I’m by no means an expert and I am certainly not a multi-millionaire. I’m not a coach and I’m not trying to tout you a guaranteed, tried and tested model for your business, but sometimes it’s just good to hear how someone has managed to succeed with their business.
It’s taken hard graft and more than one mistake along the way to get to the point I’m at now, and there is still so much I want to achieve. But there are certainly a few words of wisdom I have up my sleeve that I would love to depart onto any new business trying to make it in the wedding industry. So if you are interested at all, please read on! I’m sorry...it’s a long one!!
Numero Uno...Figure out your ideal client
Oh my god...I wish someone had uttered those words to me at the very beginning. Christ...I had even worked in advertising sales and marketing for ten years and still didn't think to build my ideal client profile until last year…! I guess when someone has already done that for you in a role working for someone else, you don't automatically think about doing it for yourself. However, figuring out who your ideal client is goes a long way in defining more than your just your style...it can help you figure out where you should be pushing your marketing efforts and it can also gives you a little bit of a clue about potential spend.
Last year, despite booking some of my ideal clients, I attracted quite a few couples who were not necessarily a good fit for me, and I was definitely not the right fit for them. That’s nobody's fault but my own and moving forward, I knew it wasn’t fair on prospective clients. I wasn't advertising in the right places. My design style wasn't clearly defined. My pricing was all over the place. I knew I needed to rebrand, remodel and redesign my standard collections in order to appeal to and attract the right clientele for my business. And I also needed to define who that clientele was.
I built a profile of my ideal client...I gave them a name, an approximate age and a career. I also defined their hobbies, their favourite places to shop, the types of food they enjoy. You might think this is a load of old cobble...but honestly, when you begin to look at your business the way your ideal client would, you can solve a lot of your underlying issues. You should also ask yourself…
- What is your product or service, from your ideal clients point of view? How do they see your company? Is your service clearly defined, and do you use simple language rather than industry jargon?
- What are the benefits of your ideal client working or buying from you? What sets you apart from similar companies who are in the same industry sector as you?
- Are you making it as easy as possible for your ideal client to find you? Where would your ideal client hang out? Instagram? Facebook? Or do they read magazines or blogs? If they do, what blogs or magazines would they read? A lot of this comes back to your aesthetic...are you fine art or boho? Are you traditional or modern?
Two...Community over competition
Please, please, please support your fellow supplier...even if they are a baker, and you yourself are a baker. If you are a planner, support the planner down the road...what’s the hardship?
At the time of the last data collection in 2014, there were over a quarter of a million marriages in the UK alone between 2013 and 2014. That’s a helluva lot of ding dong bells. So why get bitchy about the florist on the other side of town...there is plenty of work to go around...if you are prepared to work hard.
Now, I may have rose-tinted glasses on here, but what the hell. I am part of a 125-member strong wedding stationery collective, and I have made some of my best mates in that group. Since joining, I have not only become bosom buddies with a handful of them but I have also learnt so much about different print techniques, different materials, and also, about other suppliers in the industry...from venues and planners to stylists and boutique owners. We even refer each other to brides and grooms if we cannot fulfil the work ourselves.
It is literally a pool of absolute gold.
I think, personally, if you show support to your industry and community, then you help that industry grow in the right way. In a positive way. An industry built on solidarity, integrity and passion is ten times better than an industry where people fight and battle it out. Community over competition, any day of the week.
Thirdly. Stand by your pricing
Now this is something that I struggled with for a while, but now I stick to my pricing guns. When I first started out, I was desperate to earn money from something I loved doing and I was desperate to quit my job. It really did take time. And it also took me making some stupid decisions to realise that to earn a wage from my job, I needed to work out a pricing structure that encapsulated not only my design time and print/material cost, but also covered tax and other contributions, alongside tech and the other costs of running a business.
I won’t lie and say it’s easy, because it really isn’t. Experience has a lot to do with it and you will make mistakes. You gotta own those mistakes and learn from them!
Clients are perfectly entitled to ask for discounts and you will experience haggling (it just happens). But you also well within your rights to say no. If you do decide to offer discounted prices or undercharge then you are hurting yourself in two ways...you aren’t valuing your time and you are also devaluing your product. Not only this, but you are setting a precedent for other clients who may hear of your services from someone you have previously offered a reduced rate to...and in the wider sense, you are devaluing the industry itself.
Your ideal client will respect your costs, just bear that in mind.
Some people do think that wedding suppliers take the proverbial p...that we whack our prices up when we hear the word ‘wedding’. But this simply isn't the case in most situations. Now there are suppliers on facebook groups, for example, who do things very cheaply. And that is fine if that works for them, but by and large they aren’t aren’t paying tax contributions. Many of them are hobbyists who aren’t running a legitimate business. For those of us who are doing things by the book...standing by our pricing structure is so important.
Number 4...Question paid advertising
Before I elaborate on the above quote, I’m going to be really honest. I am a bit of sceptic when it comes to paying for advertising. This may be because of my background in marketing and advertising sales, but by and large, when I am approached with an opportunity I usually say no.
I always ask for ROI figures. Always. And nine times out of ten, the people who approach me have no numbers to give other than basic website reach or print distribution figures. Which is fine, but because 25,000 people have bought a magazine with my advert in it, that doesn't mean that anyone is going to book me for their wedding. I would rather know how many bookings a supplier has received from that piece of marketing. I’m a business after all...I want to know that the advertisement will pay for itself.
I am on three directories currently; two of which are free, with one of those fitting perfectly with my company aesthetic. The third is the only one I pay for; Rock My Wedding’s ‘Love Lust List’. Again, it fits in with my brand aesthetic and my ideal client hangs out on that blog. Since being listed on there, the listing has paid for itself and then some which is music to my little ears. My decision to work with RMW and pay for a listing didn’t come lightly; I did a lot of research amongst other suppliers to quantify that I could book clients through it. And that's not to say I would never consider paying to be a part of another blog...there are some amazing ones out there. Perhaps once my business has grown to the next level and I can commit to more spend.
In terms of social media, I very rarely pay for promoted listings on Facebook and Instagram. I just don’t think they work...well, at least they don't for me. I am much more focused on ensuring I have good, high quality images on my Instagram grid that perfectly showcase my work. I think, until you have enough money in the pot, you should focus on organic growth on social channels. It's completely free and can be a really engaging space for promoting your brand.
Getting ‘in’ with fellow suppliers who will champion your brand is also super important. But don’t forget...you have to champion them back...remember ‘community over competition’ ya’ll!
And finally, be your own person
People buy into people, not just a pretty dress or a nice piece of jewellery (although those things are nice!!). Being you is your biggest selling point. If you are showing at wedding fairs or exhibitions, be present and be personable. Show your passion!
And not only this...be your own person. Don’t feel like you need to be doing what Joe Bloggs down the road is doing. Find yourself a niche that suits you and your personality, and own it. I spent so much time wondering if I should design what I enjoyed designing, or try and fit in with what others around me were doing. Hell to the no! Have your own ideas and play to your own strengths. I like flowers, antlers and feathers. I leave the clean, modern stuff to people who do that better than me.
I mean, there is no shame at all for sometimes working outside your aesthetic...I offer foiling and letterpress alongside other techniques which don’t fit my usual style...but by and large, people know me for boho, floral and custom-built designs. And that suits me down to the ground. I do what I do and I do it well!
If you made it this far, I salute you! Catch you next time!