Monday, November 24, 2014

Engage!14 Recap

Rebecca Grinnals and Kathryn Arce, the co-founders of engage!
engage!14, the semi-annual wedding conference for the luxury wedding industry was this past week in the Cayman Islands. At every engage!, an unofficial theme emerges, and the overarching theme of last week's presentations and conversations seemed to be "you can't get comfortable." No matter how many high-profile clients you have, or well-paying jobs or innovative projects, at the end of the day you have to remain hungry and tenacious and on your toes. Working smarter instead of harder is a myth. If you want to be successful, you have to work smarter AND harder. This isn't always what people want to hear, but in a seasonal, largely non-evergreen industry, it's a reality.

Todd Fiscus

The most viral tweet from this engage! was one I posted with wisdom from Todd Fiscus: "Self-employment is like unemployment because you're looking for a job every single day. You can't neglect that." You cannot get comfortable in the hope that word of mouth referrals will always come, that a press feature will bring in a ton of new business, that a work-trade agreement for a destination wedding will result in half of next year's revenue. Regular business development has to be a consistent part of your business habits.

Simon T. Bailey
Several people, in presentations and conversations, talked about how you can (and sometimes should) let go of a long-time employee who has acted as your right arm, brain and part-time therapist, if it no longer makes sense for what you are doing or if they have gotten too comfortable or arrogant and are no longer contributing in a way that makes sense for what you are doing. Simon T. Bailey spoke about how employees need to view revenue-generation as part of their job description, even if it's not technically what they were hired to do. Whatever level you're at within your company, a small business's success requires that no one get comfortable in a defined role.

Marcy Blum
Marcy Blum spoke about having her best year ever and that not even being a guarantee that the inquiries will continue to roll in. She discussed going back to basics, and that while she’ll take events now that she may have passed on before, she refused to devalue her business or the industry by lowering her fee. Her talk was titled, "The Five Stages of Slumpdom" and she shared that the second stage of a slump (after the first stage of denial) is “compare and despair.” The truth is that everything you’re comparing yourself to is only what you see and that there is no such thing as overnight success. Ellen Black’s family-owned company is over fifty years old and she still has to stay up to date on marketing. Marcy has been in business for over thirty years, Debbie Geller and Mindy Weiss for over twenty. My tenth anniversary in business is next year. Work hard, hustle and charge what your expertise is worth from the very beginning, but don’t fall in the trap of comparing yourself to what appears on the surface to come easily to others. People aren’t instagramming the hours, days, weeks (not to mention dollars) spent with attorneys defending intellectual property. They aren’t posting (for obvious legal reasons) the nitty gritty of employees gone rogue. No success any engage! attendee or speaker has received has been won easily.



Part of running a successful business means taking the time to understand your clients. For my talk I spoke on how millennials relate to luxury and then dove into the four consumer types within the millennial generation and how each relate to luxury differently even though each group still falls under the Gen Y umbrella. It’s not enough to know the generational basics of your clients. If you want to succeed, you have to dig deeper and build a strategy that allows room for nuance and segmentation within this consumer group. I also spoke about the importance of owning your expertise when working with this generation of couples. Millennial clients don't want to hire amateurs — they want the very best team of experts collaborating with them on their event. Owning your expertise means not allowing yourself to get comfortable in the way things have always been done. It means pressing in and knowing that true experts have never truly "arrived" and that there is always more to learn. The other side of this coin is that true humility doesn't hide its gifts. A true expert knows their field cold and doesn't apologize for being the best, all while continuing to improve and pay attention to new techniques, technologies and ideas.


One thing I’ve learned from owning a business is that loyalty means not supporting the knockoffs, even if it’s financially lucrative to do so. David Beahm touched on this, and it came up quite a bit in my conversations with other attendees over the course of engage!. Choosing to knock someone off is comfortable: you don't have to come up with your own ideas and you get to sell something that has been proven to work. Supporting knockoffs is comfortable because participating in a popular concept feeds the ego by making you look important and in demand. Neither copying nor supporting the copycats has a place in an industry that prides itself on artistry and new, creative ideas. Being nice in business does not require someone to allow you to steal or dilute their intellectual property or ideas under some misguided definition of being "generous." They have every right to protect what they've worked so hard to build. Being nice means not stealing their ideas in the first place. If you want people to support your original work, you need to support the original work of others.

When it comes to goal setting, my friend Amy Zaroff likes to recite the mantra, ‘go big or go home.” Brian Worley prefers the line, “go big and stay home.” Ali Phillips, who I can pretty much only contact via What’s App these days as she’s in a different country every twenty minutes, always jokes that she’ll start teaching classes entitled, “Make money the old fashioned way: by working your ass off.” Success may look different to you than it does for others, but it will always mean digging in, working hard, and getting out of your comfort zone.

Photos courtesy the engage!14 photography team, except last photo via my Instagram.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Speaking at the National Stationery Show

If you're in the stationery or gift industries, I'll be speaking at the National Stationery Show again in 2015 as part of their Buyer Education program. My session will be on Sunday, May 17th at 11 am, so be sure to mark your calendars and purchase your ticket in advance, as the class sold out last time.

My talk will be on separating fact from fiction on the millennial consumer (the generation born between 1979 and 2000) so that you can effectively market and sell to them at their current life stages as engaged couples, young parents or savvy shoppers.

You can follow updates on the National Stationery Show on twitter at @stationeryshow.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

On Making It Look Easy

An input of 100% does not equal an output of 100%.

Giving 120% may get you close to 100%, but most likely still short of perfect and on point.

If you want to be known as someone who makes the work you do look easy — if you want it to look like you're winging it and that everything comes naturally to you — you'll need to give much more than 100% on a consistent basis.

Originally published May 2014

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Waiting On The External

The mark of mediocrity:

"When X happens, then I'll to do Y."

We are never in control of the world around us and there is never a right time for anything. Waiting until a list of external factors lines up to start something is a surefire way to live a life fueled by distraction and ultimately regret.

Originally published February 2014

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Everything Old Is New Again

Beverly Cleary, arguably one of the most brilliant writers of the twentieth century and the woman responsible for bringing us Ramona and Beezus, eloped in 1940. Her parents were against her inter-faith marriage but, to appease societal norms at the time, she had two wedding receptions afterward: one at her parent's home in Oregon and the other with friends in California. At her California reception, instead of cake they served individual ice cream to each guest with a personalized library catalog card attached (a nod to her profession as a librarian).

In the 1960's, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy created a mild uproar and began a new trend when she ditched the long rectangular tables in favor of round ones for an official White House event. At the time this was hugely controversial as these types of tables were just not used for formal dinners. She wanted the guests to have a more intimate experience and felt the round tables would better accomplish that goal. The round tables have since become the standard in venues around the world and wedding planners today do anything they can to avoid using them.

Similar ideas come honestly and creativity has existed throughout the ages. A few years ago, the vintage charm of card catalogs lent itself to weddings themed around simpler times. The designers of today's library-themed weddings didn't copy Beverly Cleary's nuptials from 70 years ago, nor did they probably even know the details of it.

History repeats itself. Wedding cake has come in and out of style for as long as it has existed. Ice cream isn't a new wedding dessert. Round tables will make a comeback after they've been retired for a little while, for similar reasons to Jackie O's. Your job as a professional is to deliver work that your clients love. I like to say that imitation is the sincerest form of plagiarism, but don't get so wound up if people have similar ideas to yours — there is very little in this world that is truly "brand new."

Originally published May 2011. Image via JFK Library.