Six things I’ve learned in my six years of business

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Yesterday, Stephanie Shaul Events celebrated its sixth anniversary of launching! I’m not always the best about pausing and reflecting (and sharing it), but I figured now was as good a time as any to look back on the past six years and see how much has changed, what all I’ve learned, and how I’ve grown (both in business and in life).

As I suspect we all are, so much has changed since I launched my business in January of 2014. I lived in Washington DC, I worked full-time at a mentoring and literacy non-profit, I was single, I had no idea what I was really doing but had the heart, drive, and skills to take a risk and see how it panned out. I loved weddings, I believed in what marriage stands for (and fervently hoped it was a part of my future), I knew God was calling me to use the skills and talents He gave me… but in a way that was so different from what I ever envisioned, what I went to college for, what I moved to DC for.

Six years later, I still love weddings, I still believe (more than ever) in marriage and what it stands for (and am joyfully, unabashedly in love and married to the perfect man for me), and still believe God is using me to in this work and in the people I get to serve through my business. I live in Raleigh, I’ve worked full time for myself for almost five years now, I fell in love, planned out wedding, and have now been married almost three years, and I firmly believe I have the heart, drive, and skills of a great wedding planner and designer.

So much has changed and evolved over the years, but at the end of the day, I’m still the same girl as I was six years ago who just wanted to bring a little more beauty and joy into the world in whatever way I could, a girl who wanted to a job and a life filled with meaning and intention where I could serve others, a girl who dreamed big dreams and trusted in a big God who would lead the way and provide. Suffice it to say, I am deeply thankful — for where I was six years ago and for where I am now.

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As I’ve reflected on all that I’ve learned and so many ways in which I’ve grown over the past six years in my business, I thought it would be fun to share six things I’ve learned in my six years as a wedding planner and business owner!

  1. Genuine relationships are everything. I believe in this so much in life and in business, too. Genuine, authentic relationships and friendships are the crux to it all, and they take time, intention, and even vulnerability to develop. My relationships with my clients (my couples), with their families and even their friends and wedding guests, with fellow wedding vendors and venues, with my community… they are paramount in my business. I can’t emphasize just how important it is to have wonderful, genuine relationships to everyone around you and on all sides! It makes life and business so much better and richer when you invest in others and when you care more about them than yourself and in any selfish gains. I love getting to know each and every bride and groom on a deeper level (we work together almost daily for, on average, a year!), to serve them wholeheartedly, to get to know their wonderful families. I also don’t think I expected just how much I would come to love so many couples and their families when I first launched my business! Years later, I am friends with so many of my couples and regularly keep in touch with so many more, too. This is invaluable to my business — but even more so to my life and my heart, as I just love these couples and love doing life with them long after their weddings. With vendors, everything is so much sweeter when you have genuine relationships where you help, advise, bless, and encourage each other. All this to say, my business would never be even close to where it is today without the genuine relationships that have developed over the last many years, and I am so, so thankful for each and every person (couples, parents, bridesmaids, vendors, assistants, and more!) who is a part of my life and this business.
  2. The value of integrity and trust. Invaluable! There’s little more important in business — and in life — than trust and integrity. It’s being deeply proud of who I am and what I stand for, along with running every facet of my business with the utmost integrity, transparency, and trust. My couples and their families hire me because they trust me: to live up to their expectations for a wedding planner, to advocate for them every step of the way, to go above and beyond to serve them well, to guide them with expertise, integrity, and their best interests (and not my own or anyone else’s) during an exciting but highly emotional, incredibly important, and very expensive time. I am putting together and orchestrating literally thousands of details for them, along with recommending the very best vendors for them, and there is so much trust that they place in me to do it all even better than they ever imagined… and with their very best interests at heart.
  3. It’s not all about the money. Goodness, no (or you wouldn’t be in the wedding industry, contrary to some popular beliefs!). Since day one, this business and the work that I do has been about the clients that I serve and the weddings that I am honored to plan. People can easily tell when you’re only in it for the money or for selfish motives, and I can only hope and pray that my words and actions never come across that way. It is a business, and it’s my source of income, so I do have to run it as a business, though — and one that is profitable and hopefully long lasting! I am thankful, though, that I (now) wholly believe that I am worth it — that investing in me is worth it to my couples and their families. I so strongly believe in what I am selling, the need for a wedding planner, and the huge value added to the wedding planning experience. It took a few years at the beginning of launching my business, but I am now confident in charging what I firmly believe I am worth as a wedding planner and designer. If you don’t believe in what you’re selling, then who will? For a million reasons, I am proud of the incredible value and expertise I bring to each and every wedding. I am also very proud of how I am personally able to contribute to our little family and have run my business completely debt-free for all six years. All that to say, this business is my job, so making money is, of course, a part of it. But at the end of the day, my business is not all about the money. I think my clients know just how much heart I pour into every person and every wedding, and how honored I am that they chose me to be a part of such a momentous occasion and to lead them every step of the way with love, joy, expertise, their best interests in mind, a servant heart, and excitement for their wedding — and marriage!
  4. The importance of balance and life outside of work. As much as I love my job and the work that I get to do, I have definitely learned so much about balance over the last six years. I don’t think I have ever been a workaholic (no one close to me would disagree!), but there have been seasons of life and this business when I’ve been pretty bad about balancing it all. I do think, especially as a business owner, that there are seasons of hustling and pouring a bit more of your heart and soul (and time) into work, but I also firmly believe that hustle is not sustainable and shouldn’t be coveted, either. When I first launched my business six years ago, I was working a busy full-time job as a project manager in Washington DC and worked on launch and growing my business and planning weddings at night after I got home from work (and hanging out with friends). For a little over a year, it felt like I was working two full time jobs, as I worked late into the night on wedding planning. But I also knew that it was for a season — and I was so excited to finally have launched a business and to be planning weddings! But as the years have progressed, and especially once I had moved to Raleigh and gone through such an exciting, busy, full season of growth here (in late 2015), I knew it was time to make a change. That also aligned to when I met Rob, who clearly filled much more of my time! For the last few years, I think I’ve gotten to be quite good at balancing work and life, and I’m really happy with the balance there. As much as I love my job and my work, this business serves my life and the life that we want to live – not the other way around. This can almost be hard to say as a small business owner and creative, but it’s actually so true for me. I love my job, and I think that’s pretty apparent to my clients and anyone who knows me. But I love my life outside of my job even more. I love spending quality time with my husband, I love talking about more than just work and weddings, I love our community and friends and our families, I love game nights and girls nights and book club and articles club, I love our community group and church and volunteering, I love reading and going on walks and traveling… and I have found that I am most filled when I have a happy work-life balance. I can pour everything into my work during work hours and on wedding days, but I also have ample time to pour into my life and those whom I love. And that’s the sweet stuff of life for me!
  5. Learning to lean into what I’m best at and to stay in my own lane. Over the years, especially as my business has developed and thrived, I’ve learned that it’s best for me to lean into what I’m innately best at and to be okay with sticking to my own lane. I try so, so hard to not compare myself to other wedding planners and designers and to just do what is best for me/for our family. This isn’t always the most popular or trendy thing, and it’s definitely not always the easiest thing to do, but it’s best for my heart and for us, I firmly believe. There’s a lot I have to say about this, but I try to create and plan from my heart, to lean into what I’m best at, and to not try to keep up with what everyone else is doing. I think it’s okay to say no, and I do this regularly in various capacities. After much thought and prayer over many years, I still do not want to grow my team — it’s just me (and a couple incredible day-of assistants!). In my heart and also in my business model, I don’t want to be the biggest and most popular wedding planner in the world or in the south, which may be an unpopular thing to say — but something I’m passionate about for my business. I want to be the very, very best wedding planner and designer I can be to my couples and to my future clients and to serve them wholeheartedly with everything that I have. But I don’t want my business to grow beyond my control or where I feel stretched too thin and am unable to serve my clients at my absolute best — the most important thing in my business. I believe my clients are hiring me for me — for what I bring to the table, for who I am/my personality and heart, and for my specific, unique planning and design skills. It’s okay (and great!) to evolve over time. For me, this means that I no longer do flowers for weddings (once upon a time, I did all the flowers for several weddings), as it’s too much time, expense, and too few hours in a day to be the wedding planner, designer, styling, and florist as a business of one. I’d rather work with one of the many incredible florists out there! I also do not offer partial planning anymore (one of my wisest business decisions ever) and take on one month-of coordination wedding per year, at the most. I could write a whole lot about these decisions and why, but I have learned over time that full scale wedding planning, design, and styling is my forte and what I’m best at — and what I love the most. I love looking back and seeing just how much my business has developed and grown (or even scaled back, in some ways) to make room for what matters most for me and how I can serve my clients to the best of my abilities. I am thankful for the freedom and flexibility of owning and running my own business, as I am able to choose what works best for us. And I have gained so much wisdom from mistakes I’ve made, trajectories I’ve changed, and ways I’ve grown (and am still growing) over the past six years!
  6. The belief that the hard things are worth it and believing in yourself. Launching, owning, and successfully running a business (in whatever way success looks like to you) is hard work, y’all. It really is, and it was never something I planned for myself. But I firmly believe that the hard things in life are worth it. And believing in yourself — that you are capable and worthy and valued and valuable — is a beautiful thing. I am grateful, more than words can ever express, to have the best and most supportive husband, family, and friends who believe in me, cheer me on constantly, hire me, refer me, and support me in a myriad of ways. I truly could not have done it without them, and these people have believed in me since day one. There is so much I’ve learned about myself and what I’m capable of through owning and running my own business, and when I step back to look at the big picture, it’s pretty stinking awesome in so many ways and a total dream. I’m PROUD of myself, though I cannot take much of the credit.
  7. Bonus! My business is to glorify God and to celebrate His goodness and love. From day one, this has been true, and that’s why I can’t really take any of the credit or brag about anything. In every single decision, I aim to run my business and to do the work that I do for the glorification of God and not for man — and certainly not for myself. Through Him, I can do all things. I also believe in the transformative power of love because He first loved us. His unconditional, never-ending love is why I believe in love and joy and marriage and lifelong commitment and intentional living and and sharing others’ stories and celebrating the goodness of life and beautiful legacies so much. His love has changed the world, it has changed my world, and I can only hope that all of these beautiful weddings and marriages that I am pouring myself into can bring a little more love, beauty, and joy into this world in any way possible.

You can read more about the heart and mission of Stephanie Shaul Events and celebrating six years of SSE (January 2020), too!

As always, many, many thanks for following along and celebrating six years of Stephanie Shaul Events with me! I am so deeply grateful and excited for what’s to come!

On Having a Business Journal

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photo by Blue Barn Photography

I was having coffee with my friend Annie, of Greatest Story Creative, and she told me about having a business journal. I immediately perked up, and this idea gripped me! It might seem so simple, but I also think it’s so important and couldn’t wait to implement it myself. Once a month, Annie uses a Google doc to record what has happened over the past month in her business. She writes down the positives, the negatives, what went well, and what could be improved upon. It’s easy (often just bullets or basic sentences) and doesn’t take but a few minutes — but it’s something that is so powerful to look back upon over time!

I started my business journal a couple weeks ago, and like Annie’s, it’s really just a basic document with bulleted lists for each month. But I am in love with this idea, and I’ve already shared the idea/concept with so many friends and fellow creatives and entrepreneurs! Sometimes we forget about all that actually can take place in a month, and any success (especially when you own your own business!) is worth celebrating and remembering. I know I am guilty of focusing on or remembering one negative thing that may have happened without giving weight to the dozens of things that did go so well for me or for my business. And I love, love, love the idea of being able to look back – months or even years from now – to see how far I’ve come, what things fired me up early on, and remembering just how excited and grateful I was at that point in time!

Thanks so much for sharing this brilliant idea, Annie! And y’all will have to let me know if you decide to implement a business journal into your monthly routine, too!