Today is the beginning of a little regular feature that I am planning on bringing to the blog - the 'What I have learnt' series. I know, so professional. I do not fancy myself as an expert on anything (apart from nail varnish - which I am pretty expert on, to be honest) least of all running a business, but when I first had this little sparkle of a dream that I wanted to run my own business I was so bowled over by all the decisions, options and information that the overwhelm was too much and it put me off doing it for years. So if I can give some advice that might stop someone feeling like that and make them take the step to starting up then I will dish it out until the cows come home.
The first of this series is the What I have learnt in my first year of business post. As you will know if you are a regular reader (do I have any regular readers?! If I do...I love you) or follow me on Instagram/facebook, Oh Wonder had its first birthday on the 5th of January (and there was no cake or bubbles, so sad, next year there will be) which is crazy because it feels like its only been a few months. I have learnt ALOT in my first year of business, so I am going to attempt to break it down into little wise nuggets of information that hopefully someone out there will find helpful.
COMMUNITY IS SO SO SO IMPORTANT. Build a tribe of like-minded people because they will help you out, give you insanely good advice (my tribe are uber intelligent), listen to you whine/moan/cry/swear/gush, make you feel less lonely and probably at some point talk you down from a ledge. YOU CANNOT SURVIVE WITHOUT THEM. I have a community of wedding suppliers who I am 100% certain I would not be where I am today without and I have a community of stationers who are superstars and collectively I am pretty sure know everything. They help me out with 'argh how the hell do I do this' moments to advice about my sons eczema (mum squad for life), it is truly wonderful. They are awesome and I would be hella lonely without them. I am lucky enough to have met calligraphers who instead of calling competitors I call friends and share jobs and advice with them. It is like living in a world full of wedding and stationery unicorns and rainbows. These people are the first to celebrate my wins alongside me and pick me up after my losses. Remember community over competition always.
This is following on from the community section. Networking is key. It is so easy when you work for yourself from home to hide behind your computer and never actually meet anyone. Attending industry events and meetups is so essential as you meet other suppliers you can collaborate with and can even bring you work. Plus others may have valuable insight into the industry that you are yet to learn about. In 2016 I attended The Hub which was fabulous and also a networking event at Bloved Hive. Networking on social media is also great - I have made some great connections through Instagram and facebook with people who have turned into clients, referrers and friends. Never be afraid to send the first message and introduce yourself it might just be the start of something wonderful.
One of the biggest lessons I have learnt this year is that in an industry like the wedding industry it is really important to be yourself and not just a faceless brand. Your clients are buying into you as a person as they are trusting you with a part of what will hopefully be the most amazing and important day of their lives. They need to know that they gel with you and relate to you to build that trust. When I first started my website I tried to make myself sound bigger than I was - a whole business as oppose to just me. It was unrelatable and I very quickly changed it. Being honest and authentic, and saying this is me and it's just me but that doesn't matter because I love what I do and I will do whatever is in my power to make you exactly what you want and need (I might be fighting a toddler and sausage dog at the same time but I WILL do it!) brings me so many more enquiries and clients.
Valuing yourself is so important. In those first few months (ahem year) it is so easy to doubt your prices and wonder constantly is this too much? But always know that your work has a worth and you need to recognise your value. If you can't value yourself then it is much harder for others to value you too. We all do bits for free and at the beginning, it can be tempting to do work for free in return for exposure...but only do these jobs if you REALLY KNOW that it aligns with your brand and your vision and that what you are putting in your getting back out of the deal.
SYSTEMS AND ORGANISATION
Having good systems in place and being organised is key...I can't really comment on how easy it will make your life as I am yet to feel totally organised, but the parts of my work that I have managed to organised save me so much time flapping around. I use a paper planner and trello which I have on my phone and laptop so I can keep up to date with work and deadlines. I also have a notebook (s) that I put all my workings out etc in so they are all in one place should I need to come back to them. I am currently working on getting my accounts together in one hell of a spreadsheet which I know will save me so much time in the long run too. My business advisor said to me recently that if I get hit by a bus (cheers - lovely thought) then someone should be able to pick up my books and know exactly what my business is doing and where it is at.
NOT EVERYONE IS GOING TO LIKE YOU AND YOUR WORK
This was a hard lesson for me to learn as I am a people pleaser and I want to make everyone happy but everyone has their own tastes and preferences and these aren't always going to align with yours. It isn't personal and you just have to get on with it. Do not let it affect the bigger picture or to knock your confidence. There are plenty of people that are going to LOVE your work and there are plenty of people that are going to go with other people over you...concentrate on the wins not the losses as in the long run they really don't matter.
LEARN TO SAY NO
As mentioned above I am a people pleaser. Saying no to things does not come easily to me but I have learnt that I NEED to sometimes. I wish I could say yes to all the things and do everything but at the end of the day there are only so many hours in the day and I cannot do everything. So learning to recognise which jobs/favours/shoots/events are in line with your brand and realising when maybe they aren't is really key to making sure that your precious, precious time is spent wisely doing the best for you and your business and that you don't miss out on too many bath times or glasses of bubbles.
NOTHING IS SET IN STONE
You can change your business description/website/bio/name/branding if it becomes irrelevant or what you do changes. In the first year of business, you will do SO much self and business discovery. Something you do as a test to see if it works might turn out to be your biggest love and there is nothing wrong with that. Although I don't suggest rebranding every month changes and tweaks to websites and job descriptions can be done whenever, it is all about business growth. I must tweak my website at least once a fortnight. Sometimes it's just a word, sometimes it's adding in a whole new page, it is all part of the process and one of the reasons I LOVE Squarespace and having control over my website myself. Never be afraid to explore a new avenue...it can all be added into your business model (within reason if you're a calligrapher and want to also add farming then separate brands might be an idea). It does not have to be perfect before you launch, it is so easy to get caught up in the details but this will change as you grow so there really is no such thing as perfect to begin with.
JUST DO IT
For me, it took having my son to really give me a kick up the a*** and set up Oh Wonder. He is my drive and my inspiration and I thank him for that every day (mind you he has no idea what I am saying - his new favourite word is poopies #mumlife and that is his response to everything so my emotional words are pretty lost on him). After years of being ruled by fear and overwhelm, I suddenly realised that I was bigger than that and I didn't want to be ruled by it anymore. Plus I had given birth (which did not go to plan) and kept a tiny person alive for 8 months...things don't get much scarier than that and I felt unstoppable. So if you take anything away from this, if you haven't done already then do it. Just do it. I promise you it won't be half as scary as you think it will. You are capable of great, great things if you just start.
I feel like I have gone on and on and I could probably continue but I will stop here before my post turns into a book. My first year in business was a rollercoaster but it was more than I could ever have imagined. I am not a business expert and everything I have written here might be seen as total twaddle (what a fab word) but it is completely truthful and things that I wish that maybe someone had told me 3 years ago so I could have set my business up then.
I have lots of posts planned for the WIHL (yes I even decided to give it an acronym) including Instagram, balance (LOL - that one is planned for much later in the year hopefully once I have worked it out), SEO, fairs, branding, marketing and lots more. I hope that you have found at least one nugget of interest in there and if you have then PLEASE let me know that I am not just waffling on to myself.