Freeform Friday: 12 Tips on Starting and Operating an Invitation Business
February 18, 2011 § 5 Comments
Friday already!?! Wow – time flies when you are having fun. And at Hip Ink, we’ve definitely been having fun (read: insane craziness).
Before I dive into writing this post, let me provide the following disclaimer: I am NOT a business guru, not an expert, and I may be totally full of you-know-what. That said, after 5 years in the business, I’ve learned a thing or two (and mostly from other people), so that’s what I’m sharing today. Your mileage may vary.
It seems that lately there have been a number of people asking me for advice on starting or running an invitation business. My first reaction is to be incredibly pleased and strut around like a peacock for a bit. My second reaction is wondering why they would be asking *me* of all people!?! Surely there are people who know much more than I do, right? Definitely. I can only imagine that it may have something to do with the fact that I’m always happy to share information (yes, even with competitors) and that I don’t sugar-coat things.
So, for those out there that are thinking of starting up a custom invitation business or are just looking to kick things up a notch, here’s my tips – in no particular order:
Make Sure You LOVE It.
You need to LOVE invitations, be passionate about design, typography, paper, all of it. I believe this is one of the key ingredients to becoming a success. This is your baby – you are going to be either working on it, thinking about working on it, or thinking about how you should be working on it almost every hour of the day. It’s rewarding, but it is also tough – really tough. If you don’t absolutely LOVE it, you will end up hating it.
Figure Out Who You Are.
It’s extremely difficult to promote or sell yourself if you don’t really know who or what you are. Figure out your signature style, what makes you unique, why couples would want to work with you, and then go out there and shout it from the rooftops – but make sure you can back it up.
Creating your own wedding invitations is not enough. Creating invitations for 10 friends is not enough. Unless you have a background in design already, go out and get yourself some knowledge – whether its getting a degree, a certificate, night school courses, online learning or buying some books – how you do it is up to you, but do it.
Are you in a bit of a business slump, needing inspiration, feeling like everyone’s work is better than yours (we have ALL been there) – go out and learn something new, try something you haven’t tried before, deliberately do something you are apprehensive about doing – it will invigorate you and your business every time!
Talk to people – not just other designers and stationers, but other wedding vendors as well. Go to networking events, connect on Twitter, Facebook or Linked-in, knock on doors if you have to. Don’t just talk about business, really get to know people, be genuinely interested – the rewards will come in time.
Work With Vendors You Trust.
It can take time to figure it out, but work only with vendors you can absolutely trust – whether it’s paper suppliers, printers or packagers, make sure you know they can deliver, they value you as a customer and they provide top-notch service. If they don’t, call them out on it.
You at some point to need to buy services from other vendors – whether it is logo design, website design or programming, branding etc. Sometimes looks (and “reputations”) can be deceiving – educate yourself on what you are buying, just like you want your couples to – make sure you are comparing apples to apples and make sure you know what you are paying for. Don’t be afraid to ask for references and check out how much experience and what qualifications the vendor actually has before signing on.
Get To Know Your Clients.
Really get to know them – don’t see them as a number, or just another engaged couple. Talk to them about their lives, their style, their event, whatever – but keep them talking. They aren’t just coming to you for your skill – they need your expertise, your guidance and your reassurance. Give it to them in abundance.
Learn To Say No.
This one is so difficult, but so necessary, and you will not have real success until you learn to do it. You don’t want every client out there, trust me. You want the couples who are a good fit, who appreciate the value of what you have to offer, who aren’t going to cause you undue stress – don’t go out of your way to book every couple, because it just isn’t worth it. In time, you’ll learn to recognize the red flags and you’ll learn the only way to stay sane is to “Just Say No”.
There is no way to get rich or successful quickly in this industry – anyone who tries to sell you on the idea that their seminar, book, event or group can make you an overnight success, is a liar. Turn and run the other way. There are certainly lots of good tools out there, but what is ultimately responsible for your success is YOU – there are no shortcuts.
Know Your Worth.
One of the biggest mistakes I see with new designers is under-pricing – this not only hurts you, but it hurts everyone else in the industry as well. Make sure you are charging what you are worth – there are lots of people out there who want champagne on a beer budget, but that doesn’t mean you have to give it to them. Be firm, know what the value of your product is, and educate your clients. Don’t devalue what you (and other designers) do – let the tire-kickers, price-shoppers and dreamers move on to someone else. Better yet, refer them to a stationer in their price range (whether it is another designer, stationery store, online etc.) – they will appreciate it and you will not end up with a reputation for discounting.
Just Be YOU.
The hard truth is that to be in this business you need confidence and belief in yourself. You need to believe that what you have to offer is special, that it is unique, that you are providing a product and service that is quality and no one can provide it exactly the way you do. You don’t need a seminar or a self-help book – you need real, honest-to-goodness belief in YOU – and the only place you are going to find it is within.
Oh, I’m feeling generous, I’ll even give you a bonus, lucky 13 – learn the difference between stationery and stationary. Seriously.