Posts filed under ‘Productivity’

Productivity Lessons I’ve Learned…

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This week, I want to share with you some of the good, bad, and ugly things I’ve learned while having a small business in the wedding industry.  My reasons for starting this blog include sharing my experiences with those of you who are newish to the business in the hopes that you can learn from my triumphs and even, from my tribulations.  And, maybe those of you who are not-so-newish can share your stories too.  I’m going to break this down over the three days into the following lessons I’ve learned: productivity lessons, people lessons, profit lessons.

Productivity Lessons…

My business has gone through many iterations of time management.  When I first started my business in 2004, I was balancing a job as a merchandiser for Coach Handbags, doing a little market research reporting for my uncle-in-law’s Hispanic Research Business, teaching Spanish to little kiddies, and a few other odds and ends.  I learned quickly how to get lots done in the late hours of the night.  At this time I was launching my business so everything was new and exciting and sleep was overrated.  (Plus, I’m a night owl.)  Time management for me was balancing all aspects of my business: business planning, designing, meeting with clients, production, delivery, etc. while balancing a few jobs.  Life was crazy and fun.

But, this was certainly not forever.  I strove to build my business into my full-time gig.  As my business has grown, I’ve been able to hire AMAZING people to help me with some of these responsibilities, particularly assembly production and some administrative tasks.  My role is more of a company “visionary” and I am still the primary client interface and designer.  And, while I don’t have a day job anymore, I was blessed with the role of motherhood in 2007.  This has introduced a whole new equation of time management and productivity.  And, so with that, I give you my…

…5 Lessons Learned in Productivity

1 – Keep detailed calendars, lists, and schedules.

This isn’t news.  But, take it a step further by including follow-up dates and deadlines on your calendars and to-do lists.  When you are communicating with various clients, vendors, and contacts it isn’t good enough having them on your list.  You need to be on top of every detail.  I use google calendars for everything and I have clients’ info on an Excel sheet or google spreadsheet, so that I can sort by follow up date.

2 – Don’t overschedule

I don’t schedule more than 5 client meetings per week and no more than 3 “other” meetings (vendor, philanthropy, networking) per week.  This is maximum… (optimally, I won’t schedule more than 3 meetings in a week and 2 meetings in one day.)  I know that if I overschedule myself I’m doing too much catch-up of my real work.  And, I start to feel burned out quickly.

3 – Act immediately

I try to respond to email as soon as I see it.  It doesn’t mean that I’m sitting by my email waiting for it to arrive.  This means that as soon as it comes in, I provide the sender with some sort of response.  That way their need is taken care of immediately.  If I need to do further work for them, I simply respond that I will have an answer for them in a stated time and I add that to my to-do and deadline list.  For example, if a client wants an invite revision that I know I cannot pay full attention to immediately:

“I’d be happy to send you a redesign in the next 2 days… so be on the lookout for that!”

I don’t know how many people I email and don’t respond to me for a few days.  This is irresponsible. If you don’t have an answer, just let me know you’ll get back to me.  Communication is the key.  (Which brings me to my next point…)

4 – Communicate!

Part of managing your time is managing expectations.  If you are slammed with work and cannot satisfy an inquiry, let the client know that.  You don’t need to give them the dirty details, but let them know that you are on top of their request and will give them further information in the days that follow.  This sort of communication also works for balancing personal needs vs. work needs.  Most people don’t expect you to work on their wedding 24/7… but, if you communicate your boundaries, this works much better.  For example, I tell clients that I will meet with them on the weekends only if a weekday/night time is not possible by either of us.  Weekend time is family time for me.  Every client I have ever worked with is very respectful of this.  And, if someone is only available on weekends, I’m happy to meet with them.  This is an exception, not the rule.

5 – Why am I procrastinating?

I’ve learned that when I’m procrastinating there is usually a good reason for it.  So now, I ask myself: why am I holding off on doing that?  Sometimes it is because I’m burned out and need a break.  Sometimes it’s because I have a fear of trying something and failing.  Sometimes it’s because I am uninspired.  I’ve learned to identify times where I’m just spinning my wheels (or internet surfing) instead of tackling my to-do list.  So, now I stop myself and ask: why am I procrastinating?  I take a step back, go downstairs for some lunch and think of the one thing I need to accomplish when I get back to the office.  Works like a charm!

I could list a gazillion more… but it’s your turn now! What are your productivity lessons?


July 21, 2009 at 6:00 am 2 comments

Insider to Insider: Laurel McConnell, Owner of Laurel McConnell Photography

Photo courtesy of Barbie Hull Photography

Photo courtesy of Barbie Hull Photography

Laurel McConnell is seriously one of my favorite people in this industry.  Her photography is amazing, gorgeous, incredible, delightful and talented.  But, it’s Laurel herself that I adore even more.  She is funny and smart.  She is witty and bright.  And, she has an incredible spirit and fire.  Laurel is a marketing maven and any wedding business could learn a lot from her on branding, niche, and having a “company voice”.  (You’ll know what I mean if you read her blog and once you read her interview below.)  Her personal flair is on everything she does… and that’s what makes it so special.

Laurel McConnell
Owner, Laurel McConnell Photography
Based in Seattle, WA (but travels worldwide)
Established 2001

What is your favorite thing about weddings?

Other than the obvious (happy giddy love and gooey gushy moments & feelings) it’s the anticipation of what exciting things could happen and the cool things we’ll find. Each time we change locations or focus on a new part of the day a whole new world explodes in front of us, waiting for it’s turn to be documented.

It’s like each day is a scavenger hunt- I put all of my energy into finding the light in each situation, absorbing the energy of the people around me, and being in the right place at the right time for the moments that are happening before my eyes. Bride bathed in the most beautiful light that it takes your breath away, CHECK. Ring bearer picking his nose, CHECK. Dad crying when he thinks no one can see him doing it, CHECK. Series of a surprise proposal during the reception of his best friend’s wedding, CHECK. Talk about an exciting day.

What is your best tip for time management?

I’m probably the worst person to ask about this because photographers have SO much pre and post production for each shoot and client that we drown and end up missing dinner, but I like to save a little bit of time each day for my “research” (blog reading, newsletter reading, market trends, social networking, etc) so I feel like I got a treat and got to “goof off.” I got to have a little bit of fun and can move on, and really get stuff D O N E. But really… I turn off my email and phone, lock the door and shut the curtain, and work solid straight through lunch and sometimes dinner: I call this my little Workcation. You can always tell when I’ve had one because there are like 5 blog articles in a row, and then hear nothing but crickets for the next three weeks while I face the music of the missed calls and unanswered emails!

What is your little marketing secret?

If I told you, it wouldn’t be a secret, now, would it?! But I can give you two hints:

1. Being genuine in your personal relationships with other people in your industry when you network. Your network of other photographers and professionals is your biggest ally and loudest cheerleading squad.

2. Finding something people generally like outside of what you do for work that you can write about on your business blog to keep folks coming back for more. In otherwords: yep, you guessed it, CUPCAKES are my little marketing secret.

What is the funnest (most fun) trend you are seeing in the industry?

The wedding photography industry is so ridiculously trendy, it’s dizzying and distracting, so I’m going to be a little abstract here. The one thing that stands out once you take away all the photobooths, generic post-processing ready-made actions, and retro-vintage-thingamabbobers is CREATIVITY AND INGENUITY. The hottest new trend is to be creative and differentiate yourself from other photographers with a difinitive STYLE. People are trying new things outside of their normal realm of shooting, marketing, image-processing, writing, reading, listening, and letting it inspire them to carve out a niche and style that is highly marketable to the types of clients they want.

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

Not a dang thing. There are millions of awesome workshops, blogs, and chatty photographers who are willing to share more now that what was available when I came out of commercial art school. Heck, you don’t even need to go to school anymore, most budding photographers I meet aren’t or didn’t. But you know what…. I feel like the route that I took, learning things the HARD way, finding my own way to do things, shaped and molded my style, business skills, and personality in such a way that if I did anything differently, I just might blend into the masses.

YAY!  Thanks Laurel!

July 17, 2009 at 6:00 am 4 comments

Insider to Insider: Susan Alexander Shapiro, Owner of Bravo Bride

Susan Shapiro (and hubby!)I met Susan Alexander Shapiro through Business Networking International.  She has a phenomenal design business, Susabella, that specializes in web sites, e-newsletters, logos, stationery, corporate branding, brochures, advertisements, promotional materials and much more.  Last year I was amazed when this smart woman launched Bravo Bride, a website where brides can buy pre-owned wedding items.  Not only do brides get great deals on things that were often used for a few hours, but also customers get the satisfaction that they are doing good for the environment by reusing, recycling, and reducing.  And, we like that!  BRAVO, SUSAN!  BRAVO!

Susan Alexander Shapiro
Owner of Bravo Bride
Based in Seattle, WA (sell nationwide)
Established 2008

What is your favorite thing about weddings?

That’s a hard one, there are so many wonderful things about a wedding but I have to admit my favorite is watching the bride walk down the aisle in her wedding gown. I love to watch the look on the groom’s face, that is such a special moment.

What is your best tip for time management?

Time management, what’s that? Just kidding :). Everyday I make a to-do list and cross things off as I go. This makes me stay focused and helps me feel like I am accomplishing things. I recently started adding not only work items on my to-do list but also personal items such as grocery shopping, going for a run, etc. It easy to put those things off if they aren’t on my to-do list and it feels just as good to mark those off too.

What is your little marketing secret?

I don’t know if you could call it a secret but I believe that word of mouth referrals are your best marketing tools. If someone likes your service or product they will tell everyone they know and that’s the best type of advertising you can have.

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

I love how brides are wearing different colored shoes under their gown. Here are a few on BravoBride that I love:

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

We have some new features on the site such a forum for brides to chat, our blog and a new messaging system. These would have been great to have when we launched the site but I am learning as I go that BravoBride will evolve and change as time goes on. Hopefully the best is yet to come!

Thanks Susan!

July 10, 2009 at 6:00 am Leave a comment

The Mompreneur (or Papapreneur) – if You have Kiddos!

courtesy of Barbie Hull Photography

courtesy of Barbie Hull Photography

Let me begin this post by saying that I have been a parent for 21 months this Saturday.  I am definitely not an expert in parenting, nor am I an expert in being a mompreneur.  This is where I’m going to ask those of you that have children to chime in.  I’d love to know what you consider to be the best advice you could give another parent who is also a business owner. (Psssst… post a comment below.)

So that you know where my “tips” come from… and so that you can apply which ones work for you… I’ll preface by saying that I have had a mix of parenting/working experiences:

  • full time parent / full time business owner (no outside sitting/nannying) – we simply refer to this as “INSANITY” in our house
  • part time parent / full time business owner (my husband and I were both sharing in baby caring equally or a sitter was hired part time)
  • full time parent / part time business owner (I was at home for the first 2-3 months of Lili’s life and working less hours)

I am in the very fortunate situation that my husband is also self-employed and is an equal partner in the insane baby/work balancing act.  He is quite the pinch-hitter in times that our little team has been in need.  (I can’t believe I just made a sports analogy… did I even do that right?)

What I do have to offer in this department is some
habits that have been REALLY helpful for me in my baby/business (ad)ventures:

  • Take care of yourself
    If you are running the machine and you break down, who is going to run the machine?  You MUST take care of yourself so that your child, your family, and your business can continue to thrive.  Whatever it is you need to do for yourself (a glass of wine, 15 minutes with the newspaper, a shower, a walk around the block) do this every day so that you stay grounded.
  • Don’t forget about your spouse or partner
    It’s easy to forget about your spouse or partner when you are so busy keeping everyone else happy.  But, what about them?  They are your partner in this.  Remember that you two are the team captains and that most daily occurrences are just silliness.  If you can laugh about it with your spouse, your relationship will thrive.  (And, so will everything else.)
  • Manage your “wasted time”
    The Mompreneur blog on has awesome resources.  I love a recent post they did on managing all the technology that ends up zapping our time.  Read here.  I’m a sucker for facebook and twitter (you probably see me there all the time)… but learn how to manage those social networking tools to work for you, not to make it another endless websurfing competition.
  • Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize
    There are only so many hours in the day and you are doing the jobs of 2-7 people.  So what are you going to do first?  Is it the pile of laundry?  Is it the emails that arrived in the last hour?  Is it the phone ringing?  Or is it the order of wedding invites that needs to go out Friday?  It’s important that you prioritize most important and most urgent first.  (Hint: laundry is not urgent, email is most likely not urgent)
    It’s also important to batch your work.  If you are stopping to pick up the phone every time it rings, you will never get through the proposal you are trying to write.  Batch your proposal-writing time, email time, phone call time, appointment time.  Prioritizing and batching will make your life so much more efficient.  Lisa Druxman addresses a similar philosophy in her Mompreneur blog.
  • Don’t overbook commitments and appointments
    Set limits on how many appointments you make each week and how many networking events you attend.  It’s hard to believe, but if you can’t see a client THIS week chances are they will be OK seeing you NEXT week.  As for networking events, do what is reasonable for your business segment and for your family.  For me, I try to limit these to 1 event every 2 weeks.  I’d rather have the time with my family or just to myself or working on my business plan.  Otherwise, I’m not effective.  Wish I could do more, but it’s all about prioritizing.
  • Wake up an hour before your kids do
    Believe it or not, I started enforcing this only a couple months ago when I was writing posts about productivity.  In talking with my good friend Jean Louise Paquin Allen of Juniper Flowers she mentioned that she woke up before her son so that she could get a start on her day.  I thought she was crazy.  (I am a notorious night owl who is fueled by the darkness and detest any form of morning.)
    But, it made me realize that I was using Lili as my alarm clock which meant that I woke up when she did… and I started my day on her terms (breakfast, dress, diapers, “mama play”, tantrum, time out, read, sing, dance) instead of mine.  My day didn’t begin until all that crazy morning ritual had passed (somewhere around 10am or 11am).  By waking up an hour or two before her I get SOOOO much done.  It’s not something I do every day.  (I still LOVE to sleep in.)  But, on the days where I know I have to be a work maniac it helps to do it.  It makes me a better mom too because with some work done, I can focus on her and have fun.

Well… there you have it… a list that is by no means complete… but, probably represents my most important lessons learned and habits aquired.  Now, it’s your turn… what are your sage mompreneur and papapreneur tips?

July 2, 2009 at 6:00 am 6 comments

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

Insider to Insider: Beth Helmstetter, Owner of Beth Helmstetter Events LLC

Beth HelmstetterI’ve been a big fan of Beth Helmstetter’s work for a few years now.  Little did I know she is as smart in business (armed with an MBA) as she is stylish with weddings!  As a wedding planner to a growing list of celebrities, Beth has so much to share about her success.  In addition to her achievements in the weddings industry, Beth is also a contributing writer and featured expert for many publications including In Style Weddings, Destination Weddings & Honeymoons, World Bride Magazine, Destination I Do, Destination Wedding Style and many others…

Beth Helmstetter
Owner, Beth Helmstetter Events
Beth is based in LA, but her business also serves Hawaii
established 2005

What is your favorite thing about weddings?

EVERYTHING! I love the flowers, the food, the music, the photography, the linens, the stationery, the lighting, the logistics and of course the romance! When I found out I could have a career that incorporated all of the different hobbies and passions I had in my life, I never turned back.

What is your best tip for time management?

I schedule most calls with my clients. I’ve found that I can be a lot more efficient and give each client my full attention if I schedule conference calls with them rather than having mini calls throughout my week with each client. Of course things come up and I always try to be available when they need me, but for planning questions and sessions scheduling the time in my calendar helps keep me on track.

What is your little marketing secret?

Don’t be afraid of the word “no.” I send my work into editors, bloggers, publicists and even television producers on a regular basis. Often I am ignored or even get a “we’re not interested” response, but just as often I find someone who does like my work. And, even if they don’t feature whatever event I am sending them at that time, they become familiar with my name and I know the door is open to send them others that may be more their style in the future.

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

It’s hard to name just one. I think I really love the In-N-Out truck that is making regular appearences at my Southern California weddings right now. They pull up at the end of the event for guests to get their In-N-Out fix. It’s obviously great for any Southern California guest, but even better if you have people travelling in from out of town who can’t get In-N-Out in their state.

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

I would have taken the time to get all systems in place before advertising. When I started my business, I thought it would take six months or more to get my first client so I started advertising anticipating plenty of time to take care of the other stuff. In reality I had my first client in two weeks and got too busy to put my initial systems in place. Because of this, it was a rough first year, but I learned a lot!

Thanks Beth!

June 12, 2009 at 6:00 am 2 comments

STOP! Are you checking your email?

Morning Coffee, Not Email (Creative Commons License)

Morning Coffee, Not Email

I love the time management book “Never Check Email in the Morning“.  In it, Julie Morgenstern gives some really great tips for being more productive.  One of her strategies is to never check email in the morning.  I can hear you now: “GASP!  Did she really tell me not to check email in the morning?  My customers would die.”

In her book, Julie explains:

Email is the biggest time-suck of the modern workday.  We interrupt ourselves every five minutes to check our in-boxes, hoping for something more interesting, more fun, or more urgent than whatever we’re working on in that moment.  How many times before making a difficult call, or starting a challenging project have you said, “Well, let me just check my email first”?

GUILTY.  I am guilty as charged.

Not so fast, Trigger…

Joanne goes on to say:

Email plays a leading role in the development of our supremely impatient culture, where everything has to be “now, now, now!”  People expect immediate responses, because an immediate response seems possible.    Not everything is urgent. You need to fight this unhealthy speed-freak impulse and press your internal pause button.  Don’t let technology take away your time to think and apply your higher-level self to tasks.

Again – GUILTY.  In fact, while writing this post, I checked my email at least 3 times.  (And, my facebook, and my twitter.)  I have a real sickness.  I need to get back in tune with this practice of not being so impulsive with the email trigger.

We have gotten into the habit of checking email because we think the world will fall apart if we don’t.  We have trained ourselves to think our clients will shrivel up and die – or worse: hate us – if we do not respond within the second.  The truth is that most people have a 4-24 hour response time on email turnaround.  Most things that are urgent are addressed with a phone call.

Avoid email for one hour in the morning…

Joanne goes on to say that we should completely avoid email for the first hour of the day and spend this hour doing a critical task. These are the benefits of doing this:

  • You will be taking control of your schedule and your priorities.
  • You will begin your day in charge of it, instead of your email in charge of you.
  • You will be able to start the day ahead of your to-do list, rather than behind.
  • You will have an hour of COMPLETELY UNINTERRUPTED work.
  • You will achieve quiet work, without the frenzy of your brain running towards all the tasks introduced by the emails.
  • You will complete your most difficult task before the day has even begun instead of being haunted by it all day.

An exception to the rule…

But, what if your business requires that you check email first thing in the morning?  Jean Louise Paquin Allen, the very amazing designer and owner of Juniper Flowers, threw a monkey wrench in my “no email for the first hour rule” by reminding me that her day begins with having to check email for orders placed by her ecommerce website.  Joanne goes on to say that if this is the case, do your checking and then create your “no email zone” during another time, possibly the second hour of your work day.  She does warn that it is hard to turn yourself off once you are open for business.

My challenge…

So I dare you… don’t check your email for an hour in the morning! Chances are it’s a little too late for that today… but try it tomorrow.  How much are you able to get done?  I’d love to hear from you and see what your morning is like!

April 22, 2009 at 6:00 am 3 comments

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