Wedding Business – The Hard Way
Wedding business – the hard way… With the recession, cuts and redundancies came a wave, nay, tsunami of small businesses and start-ups. Some still here, a lot, sadly not.
I do think (as I did a little bit…) people have a romantic idea of working for themselves. The slap round the face that it’s actually much, much harder than what you came from was needed but stomach churningly scary.
I never wanted to run a ‘business’ or be a business woman – to all intents and purposes, whilst I wasn’t the head honcho, that’s what I came from. Budgets, hiring, firing, skips full of paperwork – it’s not something I relish. My one and only reason to leave a good job was to be creative. Unfortunately you can’t go it alone and not embrace all aspects. If you neglect one side, whether it’s the creative/the product or the numbers side, it can all fall down.
Whilst I’ve managed to come quite far in a fairly short space of time, I’ve made a LOT of mistakes. Bearing this in mind I thought I’d put down a few things – some I knew, some I wish I’d known (or should have known!).
- Is your USP strong enough?
Before you even start you need to be realistic. Is your product good enough or different enough to make people come to you above everyone else? If you are wanting to jump on a bandwagon that’s already heaving, unless you have an unlimited marketing budget or are able somehow to undercut everyone, you are already dead in the water. I suppose from my arena, cake businesses have been a massive growth area, fairly easy to do and set up. However, thousands are thinking and doing the same thing. Unless you have a bullet proof USP you may get a few years out of it before the supply way, way outstrips demand or a trend fades. Starting a business is the relatively easy part – longevity is the hard game. And it is hard.
The one and only reason I’m still here is that luckily it turned out I had a strong talent for the design. Anything less and I’d be looking at shutting the doors soon.
- Plans are great but be prepared to change, fast.
My plan was to sell wedding cakes around Sheffield where I lived at the time. It soon became clear that I would never achieve the pricing I was aiming for in that particular market. After even just a few months of my website going live I had already been featured on a couple of national blogs which changed everything. Before long I stopped targeting Sheffield all together and concentrated on the South where there was a more developed luxury market. The initial year is when a lot of this should become apparent, be ready and willing to rewrite everything. I now live in the South. I started late at 40 – I was already aware that I had to move quick if I needed to, I know I don’t have the luxury of another decade to get it right – but it’s a great way to think whatever age you are.
- Do your homework
Of course if I’d done my homework properly beforehand and found where my designs sat in the market I’d have saved myself at least a year…
- Learn, learn and never stop learning
You have to be constantly improving to stay ahead of the game. Push yourself learn new techniques, learn to do something completely different. You have to bear in mind pricing to allow you some time to close the doors and spend time on your product. If you get to where all you are doing is churning out at breakneck speed what you did last year, things can come undone pretty fast, especially at the top end. Diversity can be a lifesaver, don’t back yourself into a limited corner.
- Be prepared for a rough ride
I’m four years in and just getting there. It takes time to carve your niche and the journey can be what makes some give up pretty early on. You need to have buy in from those around you. My husband and family have been absolute rocks but it’s been hard on my husband especially – we sometimes haven’t had the income or time to just do the things we want to, proper holidays etc. There have been arguments, stress, tears, and horrible guilt. Be sure you can weather this if it comes to it, keep your goal in mind but don’t let it destroy the other good things in your life. To Jo Public, make like the swan – underneath all hell is breaking loose, on the surface all is well, all is as it should be. Everyone experiences a few bumps, but it shouldn’t affect your work – when it does, take a step back. Never complain publicly (I’ve deleted lots of tweets, no-one is interested in your personal life/dramas) Just. Get. On. With. It.
- Keeping sight of who’s important
Clients, clients, clients – end of. It’s easy to get carried away with trying to get yourself under the noses of industry peers, amongst others, and forget the ones who are actually going to pay for your services.
Be careful what you give away. Whether it’s producing work for a shoot, giveaways or gift runs, think carefully about what it will acheive. There are people who you will want to notice you and there are collaborations that will be worth it if only to get some good product shots or add a name to your website, but really think about what you will gain from the outlay – every hour/day you spend on putting something together and every item you produce equals cold hard cash. I’m not saying these things don’t work but ask yourself, would the costs be best served using Google Ads instead for instance? You, your time and your product are worth more.
- People will piss you off and be generally be a bit dodgy at times
I’ve had bogus pricing and other info gathering emails (thanks, I love wasting my time…), products and designs copied, ‘fishing’ meetings/phone calls and even (I’m pretty sure) a bogus consultation in my own home a few years back… I’ve encountered snobbery and rudeness and a fair few porkies over the short time I’ve been in business. Do not get angry, do not take it personally. Keep a good eye on any copying, take action if needed and move on. Everything else, ignore.
Business is business – don’t expect anything more and you won’t be disappointed.
- Never entertain mediocrity
- Be confident
Creative products are not needed, they are wanted. We need to work hard to create a market not serve one. Putting what’s in your head out there and hoping people will want it enough to pay a lot of money for it is terrifying. Confidence is something I’ve struggled with but something after years I’m finally starting to come to terms with. It’s amazing the difference this makes, in both you and your work. I’m not confident I’m ‘there’, there is always more to do to improve (see #4) – but I’m confident I can learn, create without limiting myself and ultimately keep up in an incredibly competitive industry.