» Growing Pains for Small Business Owners

This post is by Jennifer Reitmeyer. Jennifer has worked in the wedding industry since 1997. In addition to owning MyDeejay, an award-winning wedding entertainment firm serving the Washington, D.C. market, she also maintains a wedding business blog, WeddingIQ, and a blogging and social media service for wedding businesses, Firebrand Messaging. Jennifer is available for small business coaching, speaking, and writing opportunities. Read more at jenniferreitmeyer.com.

Entrepreneurs are a unique bunch. For those of us with “business in our blood,” the exhilaration of forming and operating our own businesses is addictive. Unfortunately, as exciting as it may be to become your own boss, the ugly truth is that, per Bloomberg, 80% of new businesses fail within the first 18 months. What a terrible statistic, right?

Small business growing pains for wedding professionalsWedding professionals aren’t exempt from the odds, but we also have some special qualities that can help us beat them. For one thing, most of the wedding business owners I know are super invested in what they do. Unlike, say, someone who distributes widgets (are those a thing?), people who choose to work in the wedding industry seem especially passionate about their service or product. They also, for the most part, seem to truly care about their clients. We all know how important our couples’ wedding day is to them, and we want to make it perfect.

So, how can we leverage that passion, that investment, and succeed as business owners? I’d say the magic formula lies partly on the “outside” – your branding and marketing, your selling techniques, and how you perform your services on the day of the wedding – but, perhaps even more, on the “inside.” Success comes from your head and your heart. It’s balancing being ambitious with being realistic. It’s anticipating the challenges ahead, and having a game plan to overcome them. It’s mustering the discipline to keep going when the business isn’t fun anymore. It’s finding ways to make it fun again.

It’s treating the growing pains.

We all deal with them – no one is immune. Paying attention to them, learning the lesson that comes with them, and adapting your business for the better are what will keep you going long past that 18-month lifespan of most new businesses.

Here are some typical types of growing pains for small business owners, and the treatment:

What Hurts: The thrill is gone. You were so driven when you started, and you were so energized by the whirlwind of the startup: naming your business, ordering marketing materials,  and sharing your excitement with those around you. And now, your business has been around a while, and it feels like all you do is sift through emails, answer the same old client questions, and pay bills. It no longer interests you.

The Rx: There are a few things you can do. You can figure out ways to work with more of the people you like, and weed out people you don’t. Working with “your people” automatically makes anything you do more rewarding. You can look for opportunities to expand or refine your services to renew some of the sense of challenge and excitement. You can seek new sources of inspiration: a great book or blog, a mastermind group, a session with a business coach. You can focus on other areas of your life – sure, work takes up a lot of time, especially for business owners, but it’s not (or shouldn’t be) all you do. Maybe there’s a new hobby you can pursue, or an old one you can pick up again. Maybe there’s a great cause that could use some volunteer help. Diversifying your interests can go a long way toward addressing entrepreneurial ennui.

What Hurts: Your brand feels stale. You perceive that your competitors’ marketing is sharper, cooler, prettier or more effective than yours. Those beautiful business cards you were so excited to hand out? Now you’d rather leave them in the bottom of your bag. You don’t feel motivated to try to drive more traffic to your website, because frankly, you don’t really want any more eyes on it than necessary. Even your business name doesn’t sound right any more, and you find yourself wanting to skip over it when you’re networking with new people.

The Rx: There are lots of fantastic branding agencies out there, including many who specialize in creating fresh, relevant brand identities specifically for wedding businesses. If you can afford to engage one of them, I can’t recommend it enough – it’s an investment that’s so worth making, as you’ll not only feel proud of your business again, but you’ll be attracting those dream clients we all seek. If you can’t swing it now (do consider budgeting for it in the future, though!) you can still browse these agencies’ sites for inspiration, and can seek out less expensive resources. Sites like Canva (graphic design) and Squarespace (website templates and hosting) can enable you to play around with new marketing collaterals without a major expense. Even if you don’t wind up with anything you actually use, just exercising the creativity can help get you unstuck when it comes to your brand.

What Hurts: Partnership doesn’t seem so great anymore. Maybe you started your business with a partner – a spouse, a colleague, a friend. It was fantastic at first, with both of you sharing all the excitement that comes with launching something new. You motivated one another, were accountable to one another, and created a better business together than you ever could have as an individual. Yet, months (or years) later, you’re driving each other crazy. Neither of you feels the other is holding up his/her end of the bargain. Deadlines are being missed. Opportunities are passing you by. Energy is waning. It’s starting to not seem worth it anymore. Why did you tie your own success to this other person?

The Rx: First, you have to face facts: working with someone else is hard. For every aspect of business ownership that seems easier with another person, another is made more challenging by having “too many chefs in the kitchen.” Taking time to reflect on why you chose to go into business with this person can help put things back into perspective. What are your respective strengths and weaknesses? What kind of schedule do each of you keep? What tasks do each of you love and hate? Take stock of these things and you can identify new ways to define each of your unique responsibilities when it comes to the business. If you can also find a way to renew that creative, collaborative spark, all the better – maybe you and your partner can attend a conference or workshop together, or schedule a planning retreat (even “staycation”-style has benefits!) to get back on track with your working relationship and your goals.

What Hurts: You can’t set boundaries to save your life. When you started, the excitement of receiving inquiries was off the charts. It was incredibly validating and flattering to have people want to work with you, and you prided yourself on providing the best customer service available, being the most responsive to other vendors, and never saying no unless you absolutely had to. No one was more accessible, or invested, as you. And yet, as your confidence grew (along with your workload), the shine wore off. Now you’re feeling stretched too thin. Even resentful. You’re working all the time, and the more you do for people, the more they expect. You can’t take it anymore.

The Rx: Overextending yourself early on is so common, and it can feel like you’ve set a precedent you can’t ever change. It’s so not true, though. Sure, you may not want to go from being available around-the-clock to being unreachable. But you can definitely take steps toward setting boundaries for yourself. When a client or colleague asks you for something, set your own deadline whenever possible – if you communicate clearly when the other person can expect to hear from you, it’s liberating and is often more well-received than you might expect. Too busy with events to respond to emails on the weekend? Use an auto-responder, and schedule time during the week to catch up on messages. And when something feels wrong, get comfortable with addressing it. I encountered something online recently, with no source attributed, that resonated with me – it was referred to as “the assertiveness pattern,” and it included the following script: “When you                 , I feel                     (as if you don’t                ). I want                               .”  It isn’t an easy message to deliver, but it’s a powerful one.

What Hurts: Your pricing isn’t sustaining your business. It sounded like a lot when you started – were people really going to pay those rates to a brand-new business? And yet, now, you’re working harder than ever, producing great events, and you have little to show for it. Your booking volume is great, but it’s most likely because your prices are rock bottom. You can’t keep up with the workload and you’re not making ends meet.

The Rx: This is very much a confidence issue. Charging what you’re worth feels risky. And yet, when you can become comfortable with the concept of abundance, and with trusting in yourself to command the prices you deserve – and that will support your business in the long run – something powerful happens. You begin attracting better clients, delivering better service, and doing so more happily. There are a couple of ways to build your pricing confidence. One is to look closely at all of your costs of doing business. When you consider the time you’re putting in, your operating expenses, and the quality of what you’re providing to your clients, you may feel just indignant enough to realize you’re totally owed a raise. Another is to take inventory of everything great you’re doing for your clients. Don’t be modest! Puff out your chest and really own your talent, your level of service, and the fact that your clients would be lost without you. (That’s true, isn’t it?) Either of these approaches can help you feel more comfortable increasing your prices and staying solvent in the long run.

What Hurts: The sting of rejection. Sure, getting used to not booking every sale was something you did early on. But over time, you’ll encounter people who are really your dream client, and you’re dying to work with them. You have a great meeting, provide an incredible proposal, and everything seems golden. Then, they choose someone else. Sometimes they blow you off without an explanation. Another form of rejection is the client for whom you work your tail off, going above and beyond, delivering everything they asked for and then some. And then they leave you a lukewarm, even negative, review. Trust me – if it hasn’t happened yet, it will. It can really hurt.

The Rx: This is 100% a mindset thing. There’s nothing really to do to avoid it. (Sorry, not trying to be unhelpful.) Even the perfect client sometimes doesn’t hire you. Even the best weddings sometimes don’t get the credit they deserve. And clients are humans too; usually, their behaviors and choices will have absolutely nothing to do with you. Realistically, you just need to hone your ability to put things into perspective, move on from perceived failures, and focus on the next opportunity. This is a skill that will benefit your business, and your life in general, in so many ways.