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Diary of a Wedding Planner, Excerpt 1

PC Shelley DeJager

PC Shelley DeJager

Dear Diary,

Before I started my business I felt that there was a large distinction between small businesses and large businesses. Trying to unpack why this is the case has been a very complex process for me for many reasons, but one of note is that when I was in the single digits of my life, my family started a business creating and selling beeswax candles, lip balm, and other natural products at farmers markets, boutiques, and online. My brothers and I learned from our parents the entire creation process of these products, along with the hustle of packaging and marketing. To me, we were a small business. I understood the importance of turning a profit, because the products we sold had initial costs and took time to put together, but I also knew that we weren't making much money based on the amount we sold each week. We eventually stopped producing and selling these products and closed our business; it was an invaluable experience for me, and I've since gone on to start multiple small businesses myself, but that initial experience gave me the impression that unless a business is huge, it is incapable of turning a sustainable profit. That is, one to live on.

At least, this was my opinion of businesses that sold products. Maybe this explains why I've gravitated forward the service industry instead of the product industry, since it becomes a matter of selling time and effort rather than a product that is the result of time and effort. For whatever reason, people will spend a lot more money paying for time and effort than they will for a product, which--I imagine--is partly because a product is only as valuable to its buyer as its benefits are. To its producers, however, it's price tag pays for the wage of workers, the cost of the product's parts, the costs of marketing and business, and a little extra to make it all worthwhile for the business owner. Two very different perspectives on the item's cost that will only sell sustainably if both seller and buyer consider the same cost to be reasonable. 

Maybe it's not so different as I make it out to be, though. In many ways, being in the business of selling my services, I am the product people are buying. The stakes are higher this way, since unsatisfied customers will be directly unsatisfied with me; however, it connects the value of my clients' money to a person, and it forces them to understand that business is...well, personal. I am a person. The effort that I make has human constraint, and is limited by the fact that--as a person--I have a personal life in addition to my business. 

Being a small business owner, I am not branded enough that--like Target, or Krispy Kreme, or Clark Pest Control--when you think about me, you imagine a business made up of effective products, professional phone answering services, or locations characterized by standard logo colors and lit up text above the doors. The reality of my business is that it's just me. I work on my computer. I designed and run my website myself. I take my Instagram pictures, choose the filters, and think of my own captions and hashtags. I answer all of my business phone calls, texts, and emails; I pay for the gasoline that it costs my car to meet with my clients, and I write it off as a business expense on my taxes. I do my work at my desk when I'm home, on my phone when I'm out, or on site with clients, and I do it simultaneously with my private everyday life.

Amidst all of this meshing of business and personal life I have felt that I struggled to keep my personal and professional lives in separate boxes. Sure, I lived in the same place that I worked, but if other brands could keep things clear of any evidence that it was run by imperfect people, why couldn't I? 

And that's the punchline, everybody.

Every business is run by imperfect people.

Nothing about it is actually mechanical--the Trader Joe's that my boyfriend used to work at is always stocked with well-organized, priced, and labeled food during open hours, but delivery trucks--driven by people--come after closing and deliver food for the next day that is unloaded and restocked by people--people who are ready for their shifts to end so they can go home to their personal lives. 

This last Black Friday, everybody shopped, trashed aisles, and stood in long lines for checkout that were controlled by employees who probably would rather be sleeping, but have expenses their jobs need to pay for. The traffic that we faced trying to get places this holiday were filled--from bumper to bumper--with mere people. The Trader Joe's employee behind the car of a business owner, behind the car of someone who just lost his job, behind the car of a woman in labor trying to get to the hospital, behind the bus of dozens with individual stories, grievances, and joys. 

My point is that large businesses and small businesses are separated only by sophisticated marketing techniques dependent on keeping the buying and selling process impersonal, because this keeps the focus on the product and the buyer's need for the product. It plays on human self-centeredness to encourage people to spend money on themselves. It's a brilliantly successful strategy that has tricked buyers into believing that the needs that their purchases are meeting are being met by money, and not people earning this money.

Do you see my point? Big businesses are like plastic to buyers. They're just businesses, as if businesses can run themselves. They maintain professional, impersonal, robotic brands that have tricked us all, and they've given us small businesses the false impression that we must maintain the same plastic branding to get the same official stamp of realness. To feel that we have grown from a "small business" to a "large business" from more than just the brackets on our tax paperwork. 

The difference between general blog posts and personal diary excerpts is that the blog posts have to have a point. This doesn't really, although that doesn't prevent it from having meaning to me. Having been trained in marketing, I understand the branding and marketing process to a far enough extent that I shouldn't have been fooled for so long about this--that the authenticity of a business isn't dictated by my ability to be impersonal while working. It is personal.

Yesterday my client texted me asking if I would help her order a product on Amazon ASAP and I told her I would have to do it after I finished Black Friday shopping. I ended up working on and completing the task between stores on my phone. My client said she totally understood, and I was happy to help her the moment I could--but I felt that the situation forced both of us to acknowledge the nature of my job, and how all over the place it can make my life sometimes.

Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love my job, and I chose it specifically because I enjoy connecting personally with people that I work for, and I enjoy working during unusual business hours as the behind-the-scenes orchestrator of weddings. My job is perfect for me, and I gladly let it consume the majority of my time. 

What I have realized and decided, however, is that the nature of my job as a business owner requires not that I make my brand another, plastic corporate operation, but that I keep it manageable as a lifestyle. And given that the bulk of my work as a wedding planner includes clear communication, healthy and compassionate relationships, delegation skills, and teamwork, I would argue that keeping things honest and relational is absolutely necessary. 

Is that really so unprofessional and bad? I think that clients WANT to hire a wedding planner that they can connect with. They're going to share with me--over the course of the months, sometimes years, that we work together--personal concerns and aspects of their lives that they will desire and need me to respond with empathy, relatability and humor to. They need responses like, "I love that idea! That sounds like so much fun!", "I understand that feeling, I've felt that at X time in my life too. It's totally normal, don't worry.", and "It's okay that you're fifteen minutes late! I know how stressful life can get." 

This works for me. I find, to my utter joy, that my clients will extend the same grace to me as well, like when my client yesterday understood that I was Black Friday shopping, and told me to have a great time. The relationships I build with my clients become ones of mutual respect, patience, and honest enjoyment. The client I spoke with yesterday is a wonderful woman getting married next week, and we are both sharing in the excitement of it together. It's not just a job to coordinate her wedding for me, but a personal investment, because I WANT her wedding to be beautiful and perfect. I bought her and her fiance a wedding gift, and I feel sad that in a week we will be done working together trying to find deals on centerpiece flowers and backdrop curtains.

Wedding coordinator to bride, she is my client, and I am professional. But woman to woman...I kind of want to go to coffee with her sometime.

Will I ever? I'm not sure, but it makes me happy knowing I have these kinds of relationships with people that I work with on a regular basis. I know I'm very lucky to have such a pleasant working environment. 

I love my job. I LOVE my job. Here's to staying personal and keeping the hustle real.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

~ MaKenna 



Starting Your Own Business 101



This isn't what you might expect. Most articles on the subject of starting a business are about how you first need to get your business license, that you immediately need to take out a loan, or that you probably can't do it at all because...what do you know?

This article is different. I am only 20 years old, and I have recently taken the leap into business ownership as a wedding and event planner. I don't even have a college degree; I haven't taken out any loans or involved any investors. Clearly, I'm not here to say what dozens of other articles showing up on your google results have already said. 

In my opinion, starting a business is more than coming up with a clever name, putting up a website and waiting for customers to knock down your door. It's also much more than investing tens of thousands of dollars in professional advertising and patenting your idea. Starting a business is an emotional experience--one that I feel is vastly overlooked by most of the other articles on business out there. For your business to succeed, I believe it is necessary for you to do the following five things.

1. Believe in your idea.

Confession time: when I was first toying with the idea of starting my own business, I was plagued with doubt. It was not myself, but my boyfriend, who originally built me up and made me believe in my idea. For a long time, I'd been making career choices that made financial sense, but didn't make me happy. I kept saying things like, "Well, I probably should keep my job at xyz..." but my boyfriend stopped me and asked (repeatedly), "What do you WANT to do?" ...Not what makes the most financial sense. Not what everyone expects. Not necessarily what is safe. 

It's a very good question, one worth repeating. What do you want to do?

Here's another good question, one that I literally found after I googled "Should I keep my job or start my own business?", which--in the end--convinced me to take the plunge. In ten years, what will you regret more: not starting your business, or starting it? 

I, for one, would regret not starting it...because I would be left to wonder what would have happened. Maybe I would've been successful. Maybe I would've become a much better person. It made me realize that the worst that could happen was failure, and even failure isn't so bad.

My biggest hurdle has been to convince other people that starting a business at the unripened age of 20 is a sane idea. I've managed so far by reasoning that--sure, I'm really young--but I'm also the most financially stable that I will be for the next decade. Think about it--I still live at home, and nearly all of my expenses are paid. In five years, I might be more experienced, but I also will be living on my own with a handful of bills that need paying. Is it really smart to start a business then either? A better question--is it ever circumstantially ideal to quit your job and start from the bottom with nothing but an idea? 

The truth is that there will always be people who think I don't know enough to start my own business. And the odds are against me that it will ever appear to 100% of people watching that it is financially-wise to invest money into starting up my own gig. No matter which way the dice rolls, it will most-likely always take a lot of time and effort to get a business off the ground. No matter how many years older I get. You see? The hurdles don't go away, so why wait any longer?

With this in mind, as a start-up business owner, it is imperative that you become your own cheer-leader, and believe that you can do it. Believe that you are valuable asset to the economy and smart enough to start your own business. Believe in your idea! After all, every great idea we have today started out as...just an idea. And yes, for every single one, there was somebody who thought it was rubbish. 

2. Get a support group.

Being your biggest fan is the first step, but the second is to surround yourself with other fans. It is frightening true how similar to the people around us we eventually become, and if you're constantly around people who think your business is stupid, you're not going to feel empowered to keep going when the newness hype wanes and your website gets no visits for a month straight. Networking with like-minded individuals is essential to your mindset, which sometimes means networking with fellow competitors. Friendly ones will understand perfectly the struggle you're experiencing, and may be able to share advice, research, and much-needed encouraging words. Remember that hater's gonna hate, but you don't have to listen to them. 

3. Be fierce. 

Starting your own business takes guts and determination. Quitting your job is hard. Explaining to everyone who asks why is sometimes harder--it sure has been for me. This is just the first hurdle you'll be dealt, however. You must be brave enough to invest your money and time into making your business real. Research what you need, travel to necessary offices for that paperwork, network with everyone you know. Everyone. Dedicate yourself to working at your business everyday, even when you feel like it's stagnant. Don't be afraid to advocate for yourself, your idea, your services, and everything that your business offers. Even when dealing with a personal confrontation, take it in stride--he won't be the last business confrontation you're likely to deal with.

4. Be creative.

Don't depend on others to make a huge part of your business take shape. Be willing to work hard and use any resources you can (hello Google) to figure stuff out. Take advantage of all the social platforms we have available through the media. Advertising doesn't have to cost thousands of dollars. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Reddit, Tumblr... They're all free. And they're all easy enough for YOU to use to market yourself and your idea. Consider building your own website, writing your own ads, creating your own logo, investing in the tools necessary to build your own product, etc. You might discover some new talents in the process of saving yourself a load of money. Use the internet to teach you everything you need to know, because it's ALL out there. You don't need a business degree to start your own business, because everything a business degree will teach you is out there somewhere on the internet; the only difference is that a business degree has gathered all the information for you, and gives you a diploma once you learn it all. Not convinced? Consider buying books, even old editions of college textbooks on Amazon, Half-Priced Books, or other sites for sometimes pennies. Don't get played by the businesses that make their money off of convenience. Be resourceful. Do the work and save your wallet. 

5. Be patient. 

Building a network takes time and continuous effort. It's important that--in the process of starting your business--you continue to cultivate it even when things get slow, look bleak, don't get any attention, or even face ridicule. It's okay; just wait. This doesn't happen overnight, most of the time. In the meantime, keep busy. Set new goals, keep on researching new ways to market yourself, improve your product or service, and make sure that the whole process is shaping you into a well-developed, fully-rounded person. Focus on your process, not just the results. For inspiration, learn about other great thinkers who developed ideas and experienced failure along the way. Did that stop them? Where are they now? Can you see yourself grouped amongst those people?

You should. We need more people like them in the world. 

As emotional as the business-ownership terrain can get at times, when all is said and done, you've started a business, so you're pretty cool. Speaking of cool, let's network! If you're just starting out with your business, send me a message, or connect with me on LinkedIn! If you're local, maybe we can swap business cards.