Pen to Paper :: 12 Things I’ve Learned in 12 Years

allison-barnhill-designs-blog-pen-to-paper-things-learned

  1. Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing.  —  When I first started my business, I used to think that in order to be “successful”, I needed to be doing everything other vendors that I thought were “successful” were doing.  But, what really made me successful was me…brides connected with my personality, my design, my customer service and work ethic.  They didn’t care what every other stationery designer was doing. Think on that for about two minutes and it will blow your mind.
  2. Have a business accountant that understands your business. — Now, I’m blessed and biased, because I have a husband that is an accountant that specializes in working with creatives.  He knows I hate Quickbooks, but has taught me enough to run the day to day operations.  He has the gift of taking the month to month financials and putting them into terms I understand.  I have a clear financial vision of how many orders I need to complete each month to make the amount of money I want to make.  I know what I can spend on advertising.  I know how much cash will be available to buy supplies in a month.  Basically, it’s information that is invaluable to running a successful business. 
  3. Your design style shouldn’t be like everyone else. — Trends are so popular in the wedding industry…I mean, we are told months before the new year, what the “color of the year” will be.  I’ve been in this business for 12 years and while I’ve seen trends come and go, my overall design style has not wavered.  I have people that get an invitation in the mail and identify my work without knowing it’s mine. And, that is the way it should be — you shouldn’t want to design the same thing that everyone else is designing.  Create your own design identity and don’t apologize for it!
  4. There are enough brides to go around. — On average 542 people get married each day. So, believe me when I say there is enough work out there for every great stationery designer.  And, honestly, I don’t want every client, because every client isn’t a great fit for me.  When I am overbooked, I happily send work to fellow designers that I love and respect.  I know they would do the same and again, there is plenty of work out there. 
  5. Network your own way. — I confess…I’m not a big networker.  I’m a mom and my weeknight evenings are filled with making dinner, shuttling kids to karate and helping with homework.  So, a Tuesday evening at a bar is not going to happen.  I do try to make one or two, but I’ve found my own way to network too.  I make a point of having coffee (during the day, while the kids are in school) with a few fellow vendors throughout the year.  I try to attend local styled shoots that are using my paper, so I can see vendors in person.  And, a few special folks will get some surprises in the mail too.  All of these things are networking and will lead to fostering great relationships and allowing avenues for new ones too!
  6. Say ‘No’ once in awhile. — If any of my former employees are reading this post, then they are belly laughing from this statement.  I went through a stretch (years, really) that I was not able to form the word, “NO”.  Literally, I was incapable.  I would take on every client that came through my door.  I would make paper for every styled shoot request.  I would do every local bridal show.  I would say yes to wedding in a week and risk a mutiny in my studio.  But, I got to a point where I had to say no and it came in the form of taking a hiatus from the business, regrouping and coming back refreshed and re-focused.  Don’t get to that point.  Learn how to say no when it’s not right for you.  Trust me, it’s liberating!
  7. Educate your clients. — You will have a happier client and a better overall engagement, if you educate your clients.  Explain how your process works and why you do it that way. Your experience is a benefit to your clients and you should share that information with them.  Be confident. You are the expert!
  8. Pictures are worth a thousand words. — Brides are visual!  They like to see pretty pictures…hence why wedding blogs and Pinterest are so popular.  Ensure that the photos of your work represent you, your brand and your work in the right way.  Professional photos are wonderful and many photographers are happy to share photos of your work after a wedding, as long as you do not edit the photos and provide photo credit every time you use them. Pictures are worth a thousand words…make sure you are getting your full worth.
  9. Be kind. — I think this one should be self explanatory. I had a fellow designer call me a few years ago to ask advice about a difficult client situation.  I was happy to chat with her, commiserate and provide my advice.  Yes, she is my competitor, but refer back to #4.  Be kind, period.
  10. Don’t be afraid of change. — Those of you who really know me know that I hate change…seriously.  But, my life over the past 12 years has been filled with nothing but change and I’ve learned to roll with the punches.  Did I hate my life during this time that everything was changing? Nope.  I think I hate the idea of change…not really change itself.  About a year and half ago, I realized I had to make a big change.  I was running myself into the ground, missing every special moment with the children and not feeling fulfilled.  So, I changed it!  I took everything back to the basics — namely, me and no studio.  And, honesty, it’s the best decision I have ever made.  I am here for the kids, make dinner every night and can work in my jammies!  All change is not bad.  Embrace the idea of change.
  11. You will make mistakes. —  You will hear me say this many times…I learn something new everyday. Now, I don’t make mistakes every day, but I will learn from every mistake.  Honestly, I have made mistakes and mistakes that compound on mistakes, but it is how you handle those mistakes that makes the difference.  #1 Take responsibility #2 Be sincere with your apology #3 Make a swift and confident correction and response.  Don’t be afraid of mistakes.  Don’t beat yourself up. Fix and move on and take the experience as a learning experience.  We are not perfect!
  12. Enjoy your life. — As a small business owner, it is very easy to make your small business your whole life.  If your name is on the door, there is a compulsion to work and work and work.  Believe me, I did that!  When you don’t take time away from the business to actually live your life and enjoy the people who are around you (significant others, children, family, friends), you are not making your business better, you are sacrificing yourself for the business.  That is not a success.  So, find that balance and stick to your guns!  If a client truly wants to work with you, they will wait.  You are worth it!

11 thoughts on “Pen to Paper :: 12 Things I’ve Learned in 12 Years

  1. I agree completely, Cinnamon. Be kind. It’s pretty straight forward and yet so many forget those simple words. Thanks for reading!

  2. Oh, I think juggling a family and a small business is a constant learning experience, so I’m happy to share – and to hear how others manage too!

  3. Great advice. I love hearing about this from people who have been in the creative industry before the social surge of the last few years because no matter how communication or finding clients changes, certain core principles never do.

  4. I love your list. Especially #9 which is sadly something so many people completely miss. They get so hung up on the stresses and worries and/or emotions and kindness flies right out the window. Its almost becoming a lost art.

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