Archive for June, 2009

The Upstart ~ If you are Starting your Business

Cake by Blackbird Bakery

Cake by Blackbird Bakery

In these two weeks we are discussing the special situations of any business.  Chances are that your business falls into one of these circumstances.  Today, we’re focusing on the upstart.

I started mmm… paper in a one bedroom apartment in Hollywood.  My husband also worked from home so between the invite assembly zones in the living room and dining room and his skype calls with the UK, our little abode was insane.  But it was fun and magical and I have awesome memories of my entrepreneurial onset.  And, eventually it led me to being in business for 5 years with an awesome studio full of gorgeous drawers of paper.  I feel very fortunate.

So now… onto you…

Congratulations!  You have made the decision to start a business!  Woohoo!  That first step is sometimes the hardest.  It takes courage.  So, now what!?  I’ll break this down into a three parts: Organizational, Strategic, and Inspirational.

Organizational Advice for the Upstart

You will need some “official stuff”:

  • a business license
    Check with your state and/or city’s requirements for business licensing.  My tip is to google “(state name) business license”.  Skip all the services that want to do it for you, and go straight to the state website and do it yourself. (You can do it yourself rather than paying a service to do it.  It’s quite simple once you find the site.)
  • a business bank account
    Since you are starting out I recommend a free checking account.  Shop around to see which banks offer this. (Wamu-now-Chase and Bank of America both offer free business banking as do many federal credit unions.)   If your banking becomes complicated, you can change to a bank that has more options.
  • a brand name
    What is in a name?  A LOT!  Spend some time working on this.  You may think that your name is original, but a little research may determine that there are 45 other photography businesses with your ideal name.  You’ll also want to run your name off friends and family: Is it easy to say?  Does it communicate what you do?  Do you have to explain it to people?
  • a logo and business cards
    Once you have a name, get a logo in place.  Paying for branding can be expensive when you don’t have any income from the venture, but it is vital to the success of your business.  If you want something temporary until you can afford Crispin Porter, start small.  Check Craigs List.  There are numerous budding graphic artists who are trying to grow their businesses and you may find a talented one at a discounted rate.  (There are also a large number of talented people right now who are underemployed and looking for “side jobs” on Craigs List.)
  • a business email and url
    If you thoroughly researched your name, you’ll see that no one has purchased the domain.  Buy the domain (through godaddy or another domain service) and setup your email accounts.

Strategic Advice for the Upstart

You will need to strategize a bit…

  • You will need a business plan

You may hear people say that they launched their business without a business plan and have been successful for the last 25 years of wedded business bliss.  Here’s a note of caution: these businesses are NOT the norm.  The norm paints a not-so-pretty picture of small business.  Statistics (from Small Business Administration) show that two-thirds of new employer establishments survive at least two years, 44 percent survive at least four years, and 31 percent survive at least seven years.  And, these same statistics show owners with a plan, have much more likely hood of succeeding.  Write your business plan.  Give yourself an edge over the others that will unfortunately fail in this industry.  If you feel overwhelmed by it, it is OK.  Start somewhere.  Even if it’s just random bullet points with goals for the next year.  It is a start.  Revisit the plan every few months.  Here is the Sage Wedding Points 13-point business plan.

  • Where will your business be based?

You’ll need to determine where your business will be based.  Most will start their businesses at home.  But, if you are setting up shop and taking on a workspace or retail environment, make sure to research.  This should be comparable to buying a home.

  • How will your business be financed?

Your investment into your business may be small or large, but you will require some funds to get started.  How will you finance your upstart?  Here are some recommendations:

    • Keep your dayjob until you can go out on your own 100% (we’ll discuss this in the next few days) and squirrel away some savings to invest
    • Seek an investor.  An investor can be a major player in the market or a small micro-lender (link) who is excited to help an entrepreneur.  Write your business plan.  They’ll want to know what your plans are.
    • Talk to your family members.  Ooooo… this one is the scariest to me, but if done right, it can be very helpful.  If you have a family member that is passionate for your upstart dreams, they may be interested in helping you with your seed money.  But, do it right: make sure it is all on paper and make sure it is an amount you can pay back.  Virgin Money (one of Richard Branson’s babies) has a super-cool service to negotiate loans between loved ones.
    • Take out a loan.  It is hard to get financing from banks these days.  But, if you have a business plan, you can still get financing.  Credit Unions may have a bit more flexibility right now and you may be able to get a better interest rate.
    • Should you use a personal credit card? My advice is not if you can finance the business otherwise.  I think credit cards are purely evil and that starting a business on a personal credit card could be damaging in the long run.  But, if you must (and god knows we’ve all had to do this in the start up of our business) set a reasonable “MAX” for how much you will allow on your personal credit card.  If you think $3000 is enough to start out and feel confident you will be able to pay it back in less than a year, then maybe using a credit card is an option.  But, watch out how much you lean on that credit card.  You may end up financing much more than the start-up.

Inspirational Advice for the Upstart

  • Learn from others
    There are a number of AWESOME resources in the wedding industry.  Learn from these experts.  Many of them are detailed on the right of this blog.  Check them out and learn from their awesomeness.  Also, reach out to small businesses in your community.  Some people will be hesitant to share proprietary details and you should be respectful of that.  But, there are a lot of businesses that are happy to help a new one get off the ground.
  • Find a mentor
    A mentor can be sooooo helpful.  If there is someone you trust and look up to, ask them if they will help guide you in the maze of entrepreneurship.  If you don’t know anyone, SCORE (Counselors to America’s Small Busineses) offer a mentor matching service.
  • Join a networking group
    A networking group such as Business Networking International does not only provide you with a network of professionals that will help you sell your services, but also gives you a net of people that will support you and your endeavors.  This can be like having a mentoring group.
  • Start a support group
    When I started my business, I just wanted to be around other people that were having the same trials and tribulations of starting a business.  I started a little support group.  We met every couple weeks to talk about our challenges and how we were going to make our dreams a reality.  I loved it!  When, I moved to Seattle, our group disbanded but those women continue to inspire me.

And… my biggest lesson is this… you are not alone!  Every single business was an upstart at one point.  Use your passion to fuel you and your determination keep you charged.  Welcome to the club!


June 30, 2009 at 7:51 am 8 comments

You are SPECIAL!

I’ve gotten several requests from readers with an urge to address their special situation… TA-DA!!!  For the next 2 weeks, I’m going address special circumstances, including the following:

  • The Upstart – if you are just starting out
  • The Recessionista – if you’ve had to cut back in your business
  • The Mompreneur – if you have kiddos!
  • The Plateau – if you’ve reached a flat point in your biz
  • The Shy One – if your own ambition scares you
  • The Side Business – if you have a job, but want to go full-time into your biz
  • The Jack of All Trades – if you are having niche focus issues

I’m going to do a series like this every few months, so if you are interested in specific topics,PLEASE fill out this form:
Sage Wedding Pros Survey


See you back here tomorrow… for The Upstart!

June 29, 2009 at 6:00 am 3 comments

Pricing and Selling for Profit – Photography

Michael Rosenberg Photography

Michael Rosenberg Photography

I’m sharing this information for Photographers in Seattle…

Michael Rosenberg is having a seminar on Monday
regarding Pricing and Selling for Profit

Pricing and Selling for Profit
Monday, June 29th, 2009
9:30 AM to 4:30 PM
Only 5 spaces left!

Here is some more info from Michael…

The profession of wedding and portrait photography is in crisis. Things are changing rapidly. We are responding to market pressures by dropping prices without understanding the imperative relationship between what it costs us to be in business and a price list that will sustain us.We have to price our work for profit and we have to be able to sell our work at those prices.

The one day workshop we have created is designed to help you increase your bottom line, plain and simple. We will discuss pricing for profit and how to create a realistic and profitable price list. We will discuss how to present your price structures without pressure and without apologies. We will cover pre-qualifying your clients, preparing them to buy from you and the use of scripts to manage objections.

We will be covering the sales session through in-depth discussions and demonstrations as well as the use of projection to increase both the size of the images you sell as well as the size of the orders your clients will purchase. In addition we will talk about the importance of branding in today’s market. We also will explore your resistance to asking your clients for what you are worth.

This workshop is for any professional portrait or wedding photographer who wants to increase their profits, increase their bottom line and tackle the art and science of pricing and selling.

This workshop is open to the first ten people who sign up. The cost of the workshop is $250 and includes lunch. In addition, I will be available for 30 days following the workshop for brief phone consults or by email to assist you in implementing what you have learned. The workshop fee is due at the time of registration and is non-refundable.

To register please call my studio at 206-224-9828 or email me at .

I am really excited and looking forward to sharing with you the experience and knowledge I have acquired over the years and have found to work successfully.

I look forward to seeing you and collaborating on getting successful.

via Michael Rosenberg | Pricing and Selling for Profit, Seattle, WA.

June 26, 2009 at 1:17 pm Leave a comment

Insider to Insider: Whitney Speir, Owner Brown Sugar Design

Brown Sugar Design

Brown Sugar Design

A few weeks ago I wrote about knowing your competition.  I told you to hug your competitor because he or she can be your greatest ally in knowing the specific niche for your business.  This week, I introduce to you one of my FAVORITE competitors: Brown Sugar Design.  Whitney and Jonathan Speir are co-owners of the invitation business and their work is exquisite!  They have elegance and beauty in everything they produce.  And they are really sweet too… sorta like brown sugar.  Here’s my interview with Whitney… enjoy!

Whitney Speir
Co-owner of Brown Sugar Design
Based in Seattle, WA (sell worldwide)
Established 2002

What is your favorite thing about weddings?

We love seeing details come together to make a wedding uniquely personal. Since we work with brides and grooms pretty early in the planning process, we get to hear them describe their perfect day…and as time goes on, and we work closely with them from save the dates to invitations to day-of items…we get to see their vision become a reality.

What is your best tip for time management?

Time management has been an ever-evolving project for us. Since we love what we do, we tend to work 12-14 hour days without even noticing. We’ve learned to discipline ourselves and to stick to a specific work schedule so that other important aspects of life don’t fall by the wayside.

With individual projects, we’ve found that two secrets to successful time management are 1) setting a timeline and 2) communicating that timeline with our clients. After all, we’re dealing with a hard deadline: the wedding day. Communicating deadlines for receiving content, sending designs for review, and the like at the start helps our clients feel at ease and keeps every part of the process moving at the proper pace.

What is your little marketing secret?

Our blog ( has been a great way to introduce new projects and keep people interested in our freshest work. We’ve also tried to be diligent to create and maintain relationships with other bloggers out there so that when we have something exciting to tell the world, they’re ready and willing to help us shout it from the rooftops. This has been such a wonderful source of business and press for us – and it’s free!

What is the funnest trend you are seeing in the industry?

In the invitation industry specifically, we love seeing the use of unexpected materials and techniques. Metallic foiling on chipboard, blind letterpress on wood veneer, screenprinted fabric, etched plexiglass, laser-cut details, die-cut shapes – there are so many new and interesting ideas out there!

If you were starting your business all over again, what would you have done differently?

We would have been much more diligent from the start in keeping tabs on our accounting. While we’ve always monitored it satisfactorily, it’s only been in the past year that we’ve really taken more of an interest in carefully planning every dollar in and every dollar out. It’s been such a benefit to us that I wish we had started much sooner.

Thanks Whitney!

June 26, 2009 at 6:00 am Leave a comment

Protect Yourself: Working with a Financial Professional

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License

You are a professional and expect engaged couples to hire professionals.  Why wouldn’t you do the same for your personal finances?  This goes along with the idea that you would never operate on yourself because you are not trained to practice medicine.  Why would you try to manage your personal finances if you haven’t had this training?

Stacy Willoughby, Financial Advisor for Waddell & Reed says that “a financial advisor allows you to tap into a professional’s expertise and frees up your time to find more new clients, do more marketing, and spend more time with your family.”

Stacy adds, “A good financial professional will want to be there for you as a coach and accountability partner as you work towards your goals and dreams.  They can also work as a quarterback for the other financial professionals on your team:  your accountant, your bookkeeper, your insurance providers, and your attorney, to make sure that all of these pieces are working towards your goals.  “

How to find a good financial advisor

In the wedding industry, we expect the customer to do their research, to ask for recommendations, to hire professionals.  This is the same of seeking a financial advisor.  Here are some tips that Stacy offers in hiring a financial advisor:

  • Ask family and friends for recommendations.
  • Inquire about the nature of the work they had done, how long they have been in the field.
  • Ask the same questions you would ask any consultant:
    What is your background and training?
    How long have you been in the business?
    What is your particular area of expertise?
    Are you member of a professional association?
  • Clarify expectations of what you are looking for in an advisor and what they expect from you.
  • Ask about the fees associated with the types of serviced provided.  Make sure that you understand how you will be charged.  (You should also know that you have choices as to how you are charged, either a sales charge or fee-based.)
  • Compare the services that will be provided.  Remember, cheaper isn’t always better.  Look for value and experience.

The financial advisor will be key in helping you put all the pieces together.  They’ll jump-start you on the path to building an emergency plan, a retirement plan, and an insurance plan.  And, as wedding professionals, we all know the value of hiring professionals!

June 25, 2009 at 6:00 am Leave a comment

Protect Yourself: Insurance for the Small Business

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License

There are a number of crazy things that can happen to you and your business.  We could play the “what if” game for hours but the bottom line is that you need to be properly insured to make certain that no one sues your pants off and to protect yourself from a catastrophic event.  This is as important for home-based businesses as it is for owners of businesses that have an office or retail space.

Business Insurance

There are a number of insurance options to safeguard your business from liability associated with the injury of a client on-site.  This is the same risk whether you have a business in-home or out of your home.  Stacy Willoughby, Financial Advisor for Waddell & Reed states that “If your business is home-based, you may also be at more risk than you realize.  For example if a prospective client slips and falls on your porch, your homeowners insurance may not cover the incident because it was business related.  This could put your personal assets at risk.”  You also have various risks from natural disaster that could impact the recovery of your assets and inventory should “the big one” strike.

Stacy recommends that you discuss the following insurance options and your business needs with your insurance agent:

  • professional liability or product liability insurance
  • corporate insurance if your business is incorporated
  • automobile insurance if you use your auto for business purposes

Disability Insurance

Disability insurance safeguards you from the catastrophe of personal injury that would prevent you from running your business.  Stacy brings up the following important (and scary) questions:

  • What happens if you are a photographer and you break a leg and are now physically unable to perform your job?
  • What if you are expecting a baby and there are complications?
  • What would happen if your paychecks suddenly stopped because you were too sick or injured to work?
  • What if you couldn’t work for months, or years?

Stacy emphasizes this type of insurance as extremely important: “Disability Insurance protects your most valuable asset, your ability to earn an income.  All of your monthly bills, including food, utilities, house and car payments still need to be paid. When you also consider things like tuition and retirement funding, it’s easy to see how savings could quickly disappear.”

Talk with your insurance agent about your business and personal insurance needs.  Chances are you are under-insured and putting your business and well-being at risk.  Tomorrow, we’ll discuss how to put this in the hands of a professional.

June 24, 2009 at 6:00 am Leave a comment

Protecting Yourself: The Retirement Plan

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Creative Commons License

This week, we are discussing how to better safeguard your personal finances.  Yesterday, we discussed the importance of creating an emergency savings plan.  Today, we’ll uncover retirement options for the small business owner.

Stacy Willoughby, Financial Advisor for Waddell & Reed says “It’s easy when you are working for a large company to contribute to a retirement plan that they have set up.  It doesn’t have to be that different when you are in business for yourself.  Actually, you have more choices available to you as the business owner.  You can choose the investment company, level of service, and type of retirement plan that works best for you.”

Determining your retirement needs

The type of qualified retirement plan depends on your adjusted gross income, retirement goals, and your business structure.  Do you have the right retirement plan for you and your business?

Stacy recommends asking yourself these questions to determine the right retirement plan for your business:

  • How is your company structured?
  • How many employees do you have?
  • Do you have a current retirement plan?
  • If you do, what would be considered an improvement?
  • What is the main reason that you want a retirement plan?

Specific types of retirement plans

These days, the small business owner has so many great retirement plan options!  Stacy discussed with me the following retirement plans for self-employed individuals and small businesses:

  • Payroll deduction IRA plan: A payroll deduction IRA plan is a type of arrangement that you can establish to allow you [and any employees you might have] to make payroll deduction contributions to IRAs (traditional or Roth).
  • SEP plan: A simplified employee pension (SEP) plan is a tax-deferred retirement savings plan that allows contributions to be made to special IRAs, called SEP-IRAs, according to a specific formula. Generally, any employer with one or more employees can establish a SEP plan (although it is best suited for the self-employed, or a sole proprietor or partner with net business income).
  • SIMPLE IRA plan: A SIMPLE IRA plan is a retirement plan for small businesses (generally those with 100 or fewer employees) and self-employed individuals.  It is established in the form of employee-owned IRAs. The SIMPLE IRA plan is funded with voluntary employee contributions and mandatory employer contributions.
  • 401(k) plan: The 401(k) plan has become increasingly popular for sole proprietors and solely owned corporations. With individual 401(k) plans, the business owner is typically the only participant in the plan and they can make the employer and employee contributions. The appeal of individual 401(k) plans dramatically increased as a result of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, which (a) increased the maximum deductible profit-sharing contribution from 15 percent to 25 percent, and (b) allowed employee 401(k) deferrals to be deducted separately, in addition to the maximum profit-sharing contribution. These changes allow a much larger deductible contribution than was permitted under prior law.

Dream a little dream…

The purpose of your retirement plan is for you to RETIRE!  You do not want to be working your business for the next 92 years of your life.  If you plan on retiring, you need to start ensuring your retirement.  There is no time like the present.

Tomorrow, we’ll get into business insurance – why it’s important and how to get it.

June 23, 2009 at 6:00 am Leave a comment

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