IMAGE CREDIT: My husband Steve. First chic sweets head shot taken in my home, on the floor of my foyer.
So every now and then, I receive a few emails from other designers wanting to know how I got started in the VERY beginning, how I started up my site with amazing shots and styled photoshoots of my work, referrals to great partners in the industry, and typically I hold off on responding because the truth is, there were quite a few steps in the journey so I thought I would share a bit of personal insight from when I started.
1. Research...Research....Research (FREE): This is a big, okay huge, one for me. I knew from the moment I decided to become a business owner, that I wasn't going to rush the process. As much as I wanted "the now," I was going to take my time. This led me to the big question, of "how the heck do I get myself out there?" I spent hours scouring different businesses in the industry: florists, photographers, planners, wedding blogs, event designers, venues, etc. High-end, low-end, I wanted to soak it all in. I made a spreadsheet with every site I had been to, along with all of their contact information. I also got in touch with NACE, a great organization (along with a few others) that seemed to cater to the businesses I had been researching.
2. Your Visual Brand ($50+): I did spend some time on this, even it wasn't pretty at first. And if you can invest in this step, I say go for it. A few weeks ago, I dove much deeper in the topic of visual branding here. I purchased my domain through Go Daddy and got going through Fat Cow, and had a friend help me with a template (my current site) which had basic functionality, to upload my content and my photos. I designed my current logo using Microsoft Publisher and clip art (if you can believe that). Using my logo, I also created my business cards ($50.00 to $250.00). In the beginning, yes it can be hard, but I told myself that it was more important to just get out there and when I could elevate the look of my product, I would.
3. The Big Plunge, Making Contact ($150.00 to $200.00): I knew off the bat that whatever came out of my hands had to beautiful. At this point, I had done less than a handful of dessert tables with some "okay" pictures but I had to make it work. I went to Staples and got white, glossy laminated folders, clear labels and photo paper. On one side of the folder, I made a personalized letter (not dear Vendor, Dear XX Events) and on the other side, I did a one page collage of the work, along with a mini-bag of jelly beans. I took my Excel spreadsheet of contacts and just went at it. Was this time consuming? Yes! Halfway through, did I want to give up? Um, yes, but then I figured if I stopped then I probably wasn't built to be a business owner in the first place.
4. Follow Up, Follow Up, Follow Up (FREE): Two weeks after my mailers went out, I went back to my list and followed up with EVERY one of my conatcts via email. And it just wasn't any email. Every email was extremely personalized. After my "research phase" I would regularly visit my contacts websites so it was easy for me to say "Hello Amanda, my name is Natalie from Chic Sweets. Hopefully by now you've recieved a packet of information. Can I just say, that I love your latest blog entry from the wedding you did at XXX. Fantastic!....." Or something along those lines. And you know what? I was getting responses back! Once they responded, I went onto the next (scary) step which was scheduling meetings.
5. Face to Face Follow Ups ($20 to $25): Again, kind of nervewracking if you've done anything like this before, but as I mentioned before, I was determined to make things happen. Although there were a few that did not have the time to meet, for the most part I was able to catch up with quite a few. Before I went into each meeting, I always had a plan/agenda in mind:
- Introduce YOU: Be honest. Be yourself. Be Authentic. I made a point from the very beginning to put it out there. I was new; still working full time; still trying to make connections; still working on my (weak) portfolio. And you know what? As humbling as it was to be so honest, there wasn't a vendor I spoke with that couldn't relate at some level, which in return always made for good conversation and more importantly, great advice and further connections.
- Get to know the VENDOR: Not everything can be about you, right? Just like a job interview, I went into each meeting, knowing as much as I could about that vendor. Visited their website, their blog, facebook page, other vendors they had worked with in the past. At times if I felt nervous or that there was a lull in the conversation, I would go back to what I knew about the vendor and take it from there.
- Marketing Materials: Although I was working full time, I didn't want to spend a fortune on creating materials for each visit, so I kept it somewhat simple. Since I'm a "sweets girl" I created a small favor package full of sweets, with not my logo but THEIR logo on the package. I just assumed that I was one of many "newbies" reaching out to these industry vendors on a weekly basis, so why not give them something that was personlized for them? Great response from this AND many times the vendor would go back (after our meeting) take a picture of what I had created for them and post it on facebook or twitter....with something along the lines of "chic sweets visited us today! Yummy sweets" Again, just another small tool that created a buzz.
Okay, so I'm sure there are a few things that I'm missing, but hopefully this gives you a general idea of where I took my buisness for the first few months. Will aim to touch on my experiences with photography, press and advertising in future posts.