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Shake Up Your Business in 2016!

Posted by on Jan 6, 2016 in Business Advice | One Comment

We are mid-way through the first work week of the new year and nearly everyone is wondering “What can I do to CRUSH it with my business in 2016?”  Well, the answer might be to approach the New Year with a totally new mindset.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit…. Often, we walk into a new season or year with the idea of how to trump our own selves from the 12 months before: an improved version of what has already happened, if you will.   But what if we looked at the start of the year as the first step towards shaping the future of what we want from our lives 12, 24 or even 60 months from now?  Could that set us up to make radical leaps and bounds and not just incremental improvements?

Hear me out for a moment: Mary Hascamera has a photography business (go figure!).  Three years ago she shot 20 weddings @5K each and said, “This is amazing, I’m in business! Next year I want to shoot even more!” So Mary sets up your goals for the year to get her name out there, network more, talk to more planners and she closes out 2014 having shot 40 weddings @5K each.  So going into 2015 Mary says “Ok, now I want to charge more and shoot more luxe weddings.” and raises her price to 7K, and shoots 30 weddings that year.  So going into 2016 Mary says “Ok, now I want to make more money, so I’ll raise my fee a little bit, but not too much (don’t want to drop volume) and try and shoot something with a high end designer to try and raise my profile more.”  Etc., etc.

Those are all really amazing achievements and totally reasonable and respectable goals.  But they are built off of past experiences, not future visions.   In essence they stem from the question of “Looking back, what could I have done better?” A totally valid question, but not necessarily innovative.

But what if Mary Hascamera said to herself “Where do you see your life in five years? What steps can you take this year to get yourself there?”

And, when she stops to think about it, Mary Hascamera realizes that things are getting fairly serious with her and her life partner, and chances are pretty high that within 5 years they will probably be married and likely have at least one kid.  Her partner has a normal Monday- Friday job and she would hate to spend 30 Saturdays away from her new family. But she loves her business and she loves being a photographer… so Mary starts to imagine up what would an ideal career/business look like for her given what she wants to do in her personal life.   She also realizes that while she still can, she wants to make the most of this time she has where she has so few personal obligations.   Mary imagines a version of herself in 5 years that takes a handful of very high end, word of mouth weddings and during the weekdays she does more commercial shoots.  She fantasizes that some of that might be food photography, which she had always has had a passion for. She sets the intention that in 2016 her first steps toward this vision is to book two or three destination weddings with planners whose work she loves- even if she needs to be a little flexible on pricing if the project was right- and to start taking more food photographs both on her own, and even better, when she’s traveling.   In twelve months, Mary won’t just have been better off than the year before, she’ll be 12 months closer to having the future she’s imagined.

As your setting your goals and intentions for the year, rather than just look at the past, if might be fun to ask yourself “What do I want this business to look like in 5 years? What steps can I take to get there this year?” You might find it opens you up to a whole new world of possibility!

New Year, New Inspiration: How amazing is this yarn installation by the amazing artist Gabriel Dawe? Plexis No. 19.

Gabriel Dawe's Plexis no. 19

 

A Year in Review: Some Small Biz Evaluation

Posted by on Dec 8, 2015 in Blog | 2 Comments

At this time of year, we always have a bit of breathing room to do some self reflection, as I’m sure most of us do, on what we did really well, what we didn’t do so well, what we want to do better in the next year and of course, the age old question of “what direction we want to put energy into”… (which is different than what we can do better.)  Over the years, we’ve found that this tends to be a good and simple set of questions to take stock of things and not to get too myopic.

What We Did Well:

  1. We Produced Great Work, Consistently on a Very High Level.  We produced work that was both very good looking and that functioned really well, all throughout the year.  This was partially the result of three business factors that have nothing to do with our unique design talents:  We charged what we needed to make and didn’t try and make projects work that wanted to undercut our fees; We better compartmentalized individual roles in our team from relationship to design to installation and event management; We refined and organized how we present our ideas to clients and to our team. These changes this year helped the wheels to not fall off when life got crazy, but also gave us a glimpse into how much better and tighter a ship we could be sailing. The Knot Gala by AaB Creates
  2. We Got Great Media.  A goal is to always get your work published, but we definitely went into this year wanting to garner some more non-bridal press and were very happy with the results.  We were in GQ rather prominently, did TV for Univision and TLC and were able to parlay a lot of that into other media like Latina.com .   This was a mix of receiving the benefits of a decades worth of networking and relative brand consistency, as well as going out there to get it… but more than anything, it was a positive example of knowing both how to pitch and how to adapt your pitch when approached, and I think we’re walking into the new year feeling good about that.
  3. We Began to Take on More Corporate Projects.  Which in turn opened up a new stream of business that is both creatively satisfying and profitable.  In taking more of these projects we’ve learned to get better at bidding on them to, so that was a win.

    An event we did for #microsoftwedding (that actually, our friend Shannon helped connect us with)

    An event we did for #microsoftwedding (that actually, our friend Shannon helped connect us with)

  4. We Grew JAM…sort of.  We saw some great growth for Just About Married at the beginning of the year that was really strong- both in our social media, our press AND, most importantly in bookings.  We even got a strong start in assembling our new teams for JAM’s Los Angeles expansion.

What we DIDN’T Do So Well (And Why):

  1. We then DIDN’T Grow JAM.  While this seems obvious, to grow a company requires a lot of time and shepherding, and when our internal eco-system (which was much more delicate than we had realized) was fully functioning, we had more than enough time and energy to focus on this.  But as soon as distractions emerged and things went haywire, JAM was left a bit flailing, and we saw that the ratio of thought and time spent on it directly impacted it’s growth… something that’s important to us.
  2. We Worked Much Too Hard.  While I attributed number 1 of what we did well to compartmentalizing roles, we realize by December that last time this year we had only scratched the surface of that.  We were loose goosey in who did what and who didn’t do what, and as such, when life shook the eco-system, we weren’t fully prepared with a plan of how to plug that up.  We also realized that we had no good systems for internal communication that didn’t rely on a ton of built up institutional knowledge, so when pushed or in a time crunch, it made it that much harder to effectively plug in new people because it seemed too hard to “explain things”.  That also revealed an even bigger problem, which is that we realized that we sometimes have been too impatient and our desire to “get things done” has short-changed us in a long term growth strategy.  Complete and  utter exhaustion has shown us the value of re-thinking these ways.

What We Did OK. 

  1. We Had to Put a Great Project on Hiatus.  In a rare moment of forgiveness, we had to put pause on Besties in Business- which we do plan on resuming in the New Year- but it was a) hard for us to admit that we had to take something off our plate, even if temporarily b) was actually building up some momentum as a Consulting business, but we couldn’t put energy into something brand new when our core business needed us and our second business did too.   I put this in what we did OK, because we are over-achievers and this rare moment of “you know what, we can’t do everything” probably was a saving grace.

    us on "The Insider" this past summer

    us on “The Insider” this past summer

What We Want to Do Better In the Next Year: 

  1. Obviously, Internal Systems.  We had always been so organic, but seeing just the mere possibility of what more and better structures and roles can do for us internally is so exciting, I suspect that next year on the outside we will look like a very similar business, but inside it will feel a whole lot different.
  2. Not Shy Away From Discomfort of Change.   Growth means a lot of change and that can make people uncomfortable- both internally as you expand your team or change peoples roles slightly- and externally, as sometimes vendor partners themselves can bristle at dealing with someone new on your team.  We’ve sometimes let this halt or slow us down and I think we are in a new place where the goal is to grow revenue and scale our capabilities, and that requires change in how we do things.
  3. Charge in a New and Better Way.   I’ll elaborate on this more in the new year, but we are looking at how and how much we charge and re-calibrating that against how much work everyone on our team actually does to not only make things more profitable but also more transparent to clients.

What “Direction” We Want to Put Energy Into:

  1. For us, working on more Marketing and Brand related events in the New Year is definitely a priority.  It’s been exciting helping to message brand identities through various projects and it’s kind of fun to think about actively pursuing that business for the first time and what that might mean for us.

    Capital Fundraising campaign kickoff for Brown.

    Capital Fundraising campaign kickoff for Brown.

  2. Putting Energy Into Our Team.  Clarifying Roles, bringing on and training new people, improving how we communicate within and without..   It’s actually exciting stuff.
  3. Putting Energy Into Ourselves.  Because, of course.

Would love to hear your goals for the new year and what you’ve learned in 2015!

How to Evolve Your Career

Posted by on Nov 30, 2015 in Business Advice | No Comments

I’ve  had the privilege of being part of a mentorship program for the past two years that matches alumnae from my University with rising Senior women. This has been (hopefully) rewarding for them, as well as invaluable for me personally, as their very provocative questions never cease to hold a mirror up to my own life and force me to stop and consider things.

Recently Fiora asked me “How do you continue to evolve your career? And how do you know what direction to take?” What I can say for sure is that as business owners, we have had the desire to change paths, evolve, chart new courses and more… the same as anyone with a regular career path. Many times that desire has been met with successful action, but sometimes that desire to change and grow has been met with lots of wheel spinning and little movement.

I hadn’t really actively thought about whether or not there was a “method to our madness” but when she asked, I did realize that when we evolved successfully, there was a formula of sorts that we followed… Since the close of the year often brings with it assessment and analysis of how we would all like to grow in the coming year, I thought I would share it with you…

When we’ve experienced successful evolutions, it’s usually because we are frustrated/bored with the current state of affairs, but rather than harping on frustration, we identify an aspect of the current situation that is making us happy and seek ways to amplify that. When you can identify what you would like to amplify, you have now identified a direction to evolve in, and then the hardest part of change and growth (where do I go from here?) has been hit upon.

Often identifying what parts of a situation that make you happy is a matter of listening to what matters to you most RIGHT NOW in your life. Sometimes that’s money, sometimes it’s recognition, sometimes it’s giving to others… only you can say.  If the evolution is in line with your values, it will always make sense to you even when your path seems to veer off in the eyes of others.

A simple example: when we were still Always a Bridesmaid and found ourselves at weddings every weekend, we had a couple of weekends off and realized “Wow, I’ve been miserable because I have been tired and burnt out. I need more of these amazing weekends. What can we do to make that happen.” The direction was MORE FREE TIME And in a series of moves we started Just About Married, we raised our fees, we rebranded and now we take on more corporate experience events to enable us to open up even more weekends.

When we’ve been less successful, what I can tell you has happened is that the sentence starts and ends with “Right now the state of affairs has me miserable.” Evolution of any kind starts with a combination of any of these three things: boredom/mastery of the current; inspriation/opportunity for something new; curiosity about what else you could do with your talents. If you only harp on the boredom aspect, you can’t see the next possible step to where you might want to go.

Final note: as you think about where you want your business to be- or just your life- remember that evolution and dynamic change are two different things. There is no Genie in a bottle to grant an immediate wish, so if you want to create dramatic life change you either have to be dramatic, OR embrace where you are and where you want to go as a series of dots to connect over a period of time. I’m always curious- what methods have you found that have helped you successfully create change/ evolve over your business life?

LAST BIT! Tomorrow is #GIVINGTUESDAY and Vanity Fair thinks that Cool Culture is a great place to give some of your charitable dollars this holiday season (and I do too! I’m on the board!) Learn more about Cool Culture and all that they are doing for Arts Accessibility and make a donation HERE!
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On Personal Priorities: A Metrics for Time Evaulation

Posted by on Nov 12, 2015 in Business Advice | 8 Comments

I started writing this blog back in 2005- for an amazing 10 years- and it’s interests have always mirrored the interests that have been both my own, as well as those of our business and what I sometimes call me and Mayra’s “collective mind”. There have been times where I’ve felt uninspired, pushed through to keep publishing stuff and discovered a new direction for the content- we went from advice for brides to visual inspirations to just kind of offering up advice for you wedding professionals and business owners out there… because we realized that was who was reading.

While I’ve had weeks where I let it go, I haven’t even attempted to log onto this blog since early August. It’s now November. That’s a whopping 3 months of neglect. What happened?

For the first couple of weeks, it was just season kicking in. We had a killer fall in the works and it was almost as if when the calendar turned from July to August 1, it all just revved up. What’s a couple of weeks right? Then, it was like a giant unraveling of life as we know it. I will spare the details and offer up a summary: Mayra and I are blessed to have a close circle of friends. We have little parties together, we all live relatively near one another, we brunch, we sometimes farmers market, we are woven into each others lives in an easy, daily way… spokes of a wheel of friendship. Sometime in Mid-August one of our liveliest spokes got sick at work and was rushed to the ER. Rebecca, her cousin rushed to her side and several of us girl friends of hers joined her. Unbelievably, at 38 and seemingly healthy, she stayed there for two weeks and never returned. She died on August 27th.

I simply didn’t have a lot to say. Like on Broadway, it’s our business, so the show had to go on at work- we have 5 fairly massive events in October. Our hearts were (are) broken and we had so little energy and so much to accomplish, we recognized fairly quickly that we weren’t going to be able to get through the next two months or so the usual way. There simply wasn’t enough within us to do what we were contractually required to do as business owners and have much room for anything “un-necessary” … and from this forced editing came (for me) a lot of clarity.

I’ve spent a lot of time giving a lot of fucks about things that just aren’t worth the energy. I’ve spent a lot of time doing things because I’ve always done them and I don’t know how to stop doing them. I’ve gone to a lot of parties because I didn’t know how to say no. I’ve taken clients we didn’t want to take because I thought it would help our reputation… I’ve pinned because you are supposed to now use Pinterest and I’ve written blog posts when I’ve had nothing to say because it’s good for SEO. I’ve had so many meals with relative strangers at the sacrifice of making time for life long friends because I felt flattered at the invitation.

Time is too finite for this for me anymore. I don’t know how much I have, but worse, I don’t know how much any of us have either… I don’t know that I didn’t know this before, but I know now that rather than have this be a back of brain piece of knowledge, it needs to be a governing principal for how I live. How is it that I am spending this time?

Inadvertently, I’ve developed a relatively simple evaluation metrics to evaluate if something is worth my time. While on a FamTrip this past week I described it as having four questions, but in reality there is just one… when presented with a way to spend my time (taking a meeting, attending a party, having “drinks” within a connection) I have started to stop and ask myself the following questions:
1) Is this going to directly help us to grow our businesses revenue? (More revenue = more money to either retire to a second career we are passionate about, or money to hire someone new so we have more time to spend with people who we love = time to feed the soul.)
2) Is this something that excites my passions/stretches me creatively? (Creative Growth and passion = feeding the soul)
3) Is this an opportunity to spend time connecting with people that I love? (“ugh, I’m tired, but I miss my girlfriends and I want to see what they are up to so I am NOT going to bail on pizza night” = a great night with friends = feeding the soul)
THE MOTHER OF ALL QUESTIONS: Does this feed my soul? (My day would be more hectic if I went to yoga but yoga always puts me in such a great mental state = you get more done = it feeds your soul)

For me (So Far) this is working. I am, as we all are, a work in progress, but I’ve decided that I am only going to post on this blog when I have something to share that I think might feed your souls as well. Your time is too valuable for that.

I’d love to hear any of your metrics for evaluating how you spend your time. I’d love to hear from you period. I’ve been debating closing the blog, but just when I think about it, people seem to tell me how much they’ve enjoyed it over the years. I think I’m in a spot where I’d rather write less and write more helpfully. I hope you’ll stick along for the ride!

Xoxoxo
Xochitl

Beware Wedding Instagram Charlatans

Posted by on Aug 5, 2015 in Business Advice | 9 Comments

FACT:  Having an awesome instagram and being good and professional at your job are NOT the same thing.   They aren’t mutually exclusive, but maintaining awesome social media has zero correlation to someone’s ability to be an excellent wedding _________.

In some ways, this statement that is SO painfully obvious, it shouldn’t need to be stated, but add this to the long list of statements that are obvious and that we need to remind ourselves of all the time. (My personal running list that includes “Eat less pasta, lose weight.”  “Go out less, sleep more.” Etc, etc.)   But we need to sometimes remind ourselves of these obvious statements because there is something VERY SEDUCTIVE about the “lesser” choice.

There is something seductive about a giant bowl of Carbonara, of being at “the after-party” and associating yourself and your business with someone very “popular” on social media.   The difference is, you can run off the extra pasta and catch up on sleep another day- but putting your business reputation/ your clients’ money into the hands of someone because they have a pretty instagram with tons of followers is riskier business if you haven’t vetted their ability to actually execute their job well.

FACT:  You can’t judge a book by it’s cover. 

Back at Brown, there was a girl who dressed like a hobo- literally.  She was constantly in the same clothes, never had a hair cut, had holes in her shoes- the whole nine yards of hobo-ness.  I of course found out that she was an heiress to a family fortune whose name every one reading this would recognize.   I was surprised, but not, because every mother teachers her kid not to judge people by their appearances.   While most people take this to mean “Don’t assume a boring looking book couldn’t  turn out to be amazing”, we are living in perilous times where we never assume the converse: A very pretty, beautiful cover could be filled with lines and lines of gobbeldy gook.

The importance of having a pretty cover  has made people blind to the reality… until they experience it.

It’s getting more and more common for couples to “pre-shop” on Instagram and other visual social media and come to you with locales and creative partners that they have found and been following that they are interested in working with.   It’s your responsibility (especially if you are a planner or designer) to do the leg work on what’s really happening behind Oz’s curtain.  You know all those annoying questions magazines used to advise Brides and Grooms to ask vendors?  Some of them weren’t all bad.  Before you get caught up with working with someone “IG Famous” and being associated with someone “big” on IG , go back to basics and do some due diligence on them.

FACT: A bad experience stays with people as long (if not longer) than great photos. 

When blogs first became popular I used to say to Mayra all the time “So pretty, but I wonder if it was a good party.” I say that triply so now, when posting 4 selectively staged IG photos can make 5 hour of potential calamity seem like an enchanted dream.   When a “celebrity” caterer is a nightmare or a “big shot” photographer makes a client cry (I’ve had both these things happen over the years- pre-social media), I guarantee you that the client never remembers the day- regardless of how many likes the photos may have gotten- without saying “It’s a shame that _______ happened, it was otherwise so pretty.”

I feel really strongly it’s important to help your clients have an amazing event (if that’s your business) and have a great day, and great imagery should be a part of it, but it should come second to having a team of skilled professionals that are executing with the CLIENTS best interest and experience in mind… not their social media growth.   Going the other way, may NOT completely bite you on the butt, but it may not help you grow your business or your reputation either.

FACT: Strong Social is Good for Business.  

It just is.  It’s how people ID their “dream teams” for weddings in some respect.

FACT: Being good at your job is even better for business. 

It just lasts longer.  It goes beyond trends.  It maintains beyond your latest bit of press and carries you to new places you might not have dreamed you could go.