Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Marketing--In the VERY Beginning

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.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Halloween Inspiration: Daytime Segment

Hello Everyone!  This will be one of the last weekends before wedding season hits us in full force, so I can honestly say it feels beyond amazing to have a day, with minimal plans and with my family. BUT (big BUT) being the woman whose wheels are always turning, I'm gearing up for a Halloween Dessert and Fall dessert table in the next two weeks for a wonderful corporate client, which brings me back to a few segments I did for the morning show, Daytime with Cyndi Edwards and Lindsay MacDonald.

This was the first of a few segments that we did and it was an amazing, amazing experience that I will forever be grateful for.

So on that note, enjoy the segment and your weekend!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Meet the Team: Chic Sweets's Attendant/Designer/Stylist...the list goes on.


Very excited to (finally) have a moment to shed a little bit of light into those that help make Chic Sweets happen. People sometimes give me far too much credit for the work we do  and don't get me wrong, I'm always so flattered by the love but it would be dishonest if I ever gave anyone the idea that I do it on my own. And trust me, I'm still there at times, and there are quite a few days (I call them "the black-hole days") where we do everything out of our home and I look like a crazy-mess.  But as Chic Sweets starts to evolve I'm forever reminded of the constant help that we have and in trying to keep it real, I'd be nothing without them.

So let's start with Vanessa. I met Vanessa when I made the decision to collaborate with my dear friends over at MMD Events on a Style Me Pretty photoshoot with Limelight. It's funny, there she was...looking absolutely gorgeous and little did I know that months later, that we would connect again. And I'm not going to lie, I was nervous since up until that point, I had been at every wedding, every event, but  Vanessa managed right from the start (well, the first 5 mintues) to ease any fear that I have.

In addition to being a Chic Sweets' "Candy Girl/Attendant," Vanessa is also helping out on the creative side as well. She has set up tablescapes entirely by herself and her sense of design and style are just plain impeccable. Not to mention her personality makes for great company and well, let's face it y'all, dealing with a 3rd Trimester mommy and "the boss man" hubby is not easy. 

Lookin' forward to working with Vanessa for a long long time and am excited to share more about her, starting with a few questions...

WHAT IS YOUR ROLE AT CHIC SWEETS? "Candy Girl" ;) I wear a lot of different aprons at Chic Sweets; I am an attendant, assistant, candy taster, roadie, expert bow tier, and table designer/stylist.

WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO US? The lovely Amanda Allen asked me to model for a Chic Sweets "Style Me Pretty" photo shoot! I had so much fun posing on rocks in heals while holding a jar full of gumballs that when Amanda contacted me and asked if I was interested in helping out. I jumped at the chance to work with the fabulous Clamp's and Chic Sweets some more!


CHILDHOOD CAREER DREAM? As long as I can remember I have wanted to be an event planner! For about 5 minutes in high school I thought I wanted to be in politics. I enjoy the discussion, but don't have it in me to go that route...parties are much more fun!

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE? In life: Working and being a full-time student for four years was one of the most challenging things that I have done, but I was determined to graduate on time and with no debt! SUCCESS!   With Chic Sweets: Neiman Marcus' Fashion's Night Out event, adults attack candy tables in a way that children never incredibly CRAZY busy that night!!! Out of tons of candy in only an hour and a half!

WHAT HAS BEEN THE BEST PART OF BEING PART OF THE CHIC SWEETS TEAM? This probably sounds cheesy, but honestly I have made two AMAZING friends! Natalie and Steve are awesome and have instilled so much faith in me. They have given me such a wonderful opportunity to learn about the industry and to have a REALLY YUMMY creative outlet!


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Real Party: Chloe's Pink, Grey and Red Dessert Table!


Hey y'all! Okay, I'm just going to come out and say it...we've been burning the midnight oil here at Chic Sweets, so at 34 weeks pregnant I am going to admit that when I'm not working my tail off, hangin' out with the kiddos or decorating Baby Preston's nursery, I'm asleep with my swollen feet raised up under a dozen pillows!

So onto more interesting topics other than my venting, EXTREMELY excited to share with you this latest party. This table was for Chloe's 2nd birthday and was shot by her amazing mother Shay Cochrane, owner of Shay Cochrane photography. We were lucky enough to work with Shay on a previous photoshoot here with Every Last Detail. And if we go back even further, we first crossed paths during Making Things Happen with Lara Casey--a workshop and journey that has changed my life forever.

Shay also happens to be a genius photographer who was able to turn around some great images. I mean, really, I just keep on staring at these pictures...the lighting.....the daisies...the way all of the colors pop...the backdrop...I can honestly say that it's photographers like Shay that help bring my work to another level. So Shay, if you get a chance to read this: THANK YOU.

If you would like to read Shay's original post on her own blog, click here.