After 19 days of moving, loading, unloading, driving, sanding, painting, measuring, cutting, drilling, planning, thinking, sticking, folding, washing, scrubbing, hanging and sweating the second walk in love. store is officially open for business. I am pretty exhausted. My legs, feet, shoulders, back and neck are all aching. It’s hard to describe my feelings as I stand in the store and type this post but I wanted to try and write this now while the thoughts are fresh, or as fresh as they can be after 19 days.
The other day I told Brooke to think of all the verbs that we had completed in the past few weeks, a few of which are typed above . It’s truly an amazing feeling to see something you’ve created completed. The Bible says that humans were created in God’s image. That thought can be overwhelming because God is so big, unimaginable and well…God. I can’t handle it all at once so instead of thinking about it all I try think of different aspects about God. A great place to start is the beginning and the first words used to describe Him. ”In the beginning God created…” It’s the first verb in the Bible – - Created. So as I stand here reflecting on my creation and all the work and sweat that went into it by our team, friends, family, Brooke and myself I keep coming back to one tiny phrase – Created to Create. If you ever come to one of our stores you will see shirts, jewelry, accessories, books, gifts, etc. but what you wont see is this.
You won’t see Mike, Jeff and Tess unloading all the wood from the van to put on the walls. You won’t see Mike and I measuring, cutting and hanging boards. You won’t see Brooke planning out and building displays to make them both beautiful and functional. You won’t see my parents folding mountains of shirts. You won’t see Joyce and Leah hanging tank tops. You won’t see Brooke and I discussing the customer experience and what we can do to make it as good as it possibly can. You won’t see Tess. Brooke and Mike on their hands and knees scrubbing the floor. You won’t see me electrocuting myself while trying to move an outlet. You won’t see the million little creations it took to create the store.
In this day and age of instant satisfaction I think it’s easy to just expect things to be completed and not ever think why or how it came to be. We don’t build our own houses, shops, sandwiches or furniture anymore. Everything comes pre-packaged, built, created and even delivered to us. I think we need to add some of those creating verbs back into our lives. We need to create and realize the importance of every little job that it takes to build something. I so often find myself annoyed by the lack of instant gratification, like I am the center of the universe but as I stand in my shop seeing all that my team and I built I can honestly say that there is not a feeling like it. So I challenge you to create something with your hands, brain and a little sweat because we were created to create.
We have entered the era of the instant business. An instant business is someone who has an idea and a Facebook page – so they put the two together and expect the money to pour in. I have started to see more and more of these instant businesses show up in my Facebook feed everyday. “So and So” Photography has invited you to like his/her page. Your friend was tagged by “Point and Shoot” Photography. I have had enough. So I thought I would write to those people out there who have this idea that owning a camera and a Facebook page makes you a “professional photographer”. (Side Note : I am using photography as my example because I think it’s the most used right now, but this applies to any instant business). It’s like saying because I own a baseball glove and a hat I am a professional baseball player. Or, since I like movies and can post a blog, I am a professional movie critic. Or since I have an oven and like sweets, I’m available for hire to make your wedding cake.
I know that every business has to start somewhere, but I think so many people out there are starting in the wrong place. People have seen the success of their friends, or family members on the internet and think “They just have a website and a Facebook and they’ve made a living out of it! That’s all I need.” That is not all you need to be successful. There are thousands of books and blog posts written on what you need to start a business. I am not saying that my list is the only list you’ll need to read, but I want to try and help every potential business owner out there how to start in the right place.
The first thing you should do is perfect your skill or product. If you want to be a photographer that doesn’t mean the first photos you take are worthy of posting and telling the world you are now a photographer. It means you should shoot your brains out and figure out what works. Look up tutorials online, research gear, talk to photographers who are actually making a living at it, attend workshops and shoot! A couple of years ago, Brooke and I noticed that our friends younger sister was really passionate, fun and had an interest in photography, so we asked her to be an intern. She followed us, shot with us, saw how we edited, shot some more – and now she is on our team and just shot her own wedding! She didn’t start with a Facebook page. Heck, she didn’t even blog or post any of her first thousands of images. She started by learning from people who have made a living out of it and now she is getting paid for it. She will be the first to tell you that if it wasn’t for that internship, editing and second shooting she wouldn’t be the photographer she is today. She didn’t just start an instant business because she could have. She trained, honed her craft and it’s paying off. Literally.
Don’t launch with a Facebook page. Facebook is an amazing tool, but should not be the face of your business (unless your business is Facebook.) Your business should have it’s own brand, look and feel which is impossible to do through Facebook because it’s not customizable. After you figure out what you want to do or sell, then start to think of what your branding will look like. Find a designer friend of yours that can help or give you advice. Put everything you like into a box or a Pinterest board – it will be obvious what colors and themes you like! Find people who will be honest with you. I see so much terrible branding online because people just ask their friends and family what they think. They are your friends and family, they are going to be very generous with their words. Find people who will tell you that something looks terrible.
Don’t copy! Brooke and I have worked hard to create a very successful photography business that is growing both in team size and in reach. We’ve started to see local photographers try to copy or mirror what we do and it’s not going to work because they aren’t us. The way our team shoots, blogs, edits and creates is unique to us and copying it wont work. Your business is going to be unique to you, so take pride in that uniqueness. Don’t just do what someone else does because they are successful, it won’t translate. That doesn’t mean you can’t be inspired by others! But don’t blatantly rip them off. Take that inspiration and use it in your own way.
I think it’s easy to see people on Facebook and think, “I can do what they do.” So we take our camera, shoot some portraits and start a Facebook page expecting the same results. They aren’t going to come. You need to perfect your craft, develop your brand and work hard to get to that point. Don’t start an instant business or you’ll end up being frustrated, disappointed and probably give up.
*For those of you who have recently started an instant business and realize it’s not going super well.
- Don’t be afraid to start this process now.
- Put your Facebook page to the bare minimum while you develop a brand and your skill.
- Ask for help. Most small business owners are very generous and want to see others succeed… so ask for help!
As a business owner it’s hard for me to walk into a store, restaurant, church or any establishment and not think of what I would do differently. It’s hard for me to be on a website and not think about how clean it runs or what kind of branding they have in place. (For those of you who don’t know my wife and I operate two businesses. One is walk in love. – a clothing brand that has one retail store in Lancaster, PA. We have 12 team members and sell a lot of shirts! The other business is a photography business – Brooke Courtney Photography. It’s a five member team photographers that specialize in natural light portrait and wedding photography. Currently there are two main shooters – Brooke and Jeff, a full time assistant - Maddie, an intern -Sam and myself – the manager.) For this blog post I am going to focus on our photography business.
My job, as the manager of the business and team members, is to make sure things run smoothly. That’s the bottom line. I make sure we have all the information we need for shoots and that clients are paying us on time. I do all I can to make sure that brides are happy with the final product. I assist Brooke at almost all of her weddings, and I could very easily transition into being a full time shooter (I do shoot weddings by myself from time to time) but I don’t for one simple reason : We Can Be Better. I think our work is fantastic! Brooke, Jeff, Maddie and Sam are extremely talented and super fun to work with… but I still think we can be better.
A lot of people take offense to a statement like that, (“we can be better” or “you could do better”), when talking about their business. Because when you own a business it is personal and any criticism of the business becomes a criticism of you. But when I tell our team that we can be better, I only mean it in a positive way. I think all small business owners out there need to start looking at themselves the same way. There are times when you need to step back and figure out the weak links in the chain and find solutions to make them stronger. It’s not bad to admit that you don’t do something well — as long as you are willing to do something to change it.
For example: currently our photography team isn’t good at connecting with clients after they get their final product. We see some of them here and there, but now that we have so many clients, it’s hard for us to remember to send out anniversary cards, or go out to lunch from time to time. This is an area where I think our team can be better. It is not something that we can fix instantly. It will, without a doubt, take time and energy. We know this, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t try to get better.
Your business is always a work in progress and you need to start looking at it that way, and if you can’t then you need to find someone who can. Which is exactly what I do for our team. Sometimes I have to tell Jeff or Brooke that they could have done better because I have made myself an impartial viewer. I often say to Brooke, “If I were a bride, what would I think of that?” You don’t have to be a wedding photographer to have that view either, just insert your client into that sentence. For walk in love. it’s “If I walked into this store what would I think? What direction would I go? What grabs my eye right away? Is it easy to understand what things are? etc.” Sometimes just asking these hypothetical questions out loud to yourself, or with your team, will give you the answer quite clearly!
Fix things. Sometimes things that need to be fixed only take minutes or seconds. But, sometimes things are a bit harder and might take money, but that doesn’t mean you don’t start to save to make them happen. Right now walk in love. desperately needs a new website/web store that better integrates with our retail store’s inventory. But, as you can imagine, that is going to take some serious money and we aren’t ready for it now — so we have to work with what we have. And that’s okay. I am not saying that you have to fix every problem today, but you have to at least be aware of the problems and have an action plan on how and when to fix them. Even though we can’t afford the new site now, we have been e-mailing designers to figure out pricing and how much of a budget the project will need and how we will save for it.
Try to stay away from quick, cheap fixes. If you need a new website make sure you find the right designer for the job and not just whoever is cheapest. Because more often than not, you get what you pay for. So even though your new, cheap website might seem awesome right now, you’ll probably want something better sooner than you think. Quick, cheap fixes almost always end up costing more money.
Stay impartial. Critique yourself or your team often, but make sure they understand it’s for the greater good and it’s not mean spirited. If your whole team has the attitude that they can be better, your business will start to take off because everyone will constantly be putting out their best work. Clients will notice.
Don’t be afraid. It’s scary to start pointing out things that need work! Because as soon as you do it means you have to start fixing them. It’s kind of like when you finally admit (out loud, to someone) you have to break-up with your boyfriend/girlfriend. You can act like everything is fine… but, as soon as those words come out they require action. Don’t be afraid of it! And don’t get overwhelmed by it! Some of the things will take time and that’s okay. Acknowledging them is so important though!
Never Give Up. This is one of the most common phrases used in our house. Brooke and I use it for the simplest things — like when we are looking for our keys or planning our budgets! And as a small business owner you have to have this attitude. There will always be something else ahead of you to tackle.
Keep Moving. Whether you are in your first year of self employment or your 20th, it’s so important to never stop moving, adapting and critiquing. I think that when businesses stop moving that’s when they start to go out of business. It doesn’t mean that you have to be changing things wildly all the time, that is definitely not what I am saying. It just means that you have to understand your customer, what you are offering, and the best way to connect the two.
I think that your business is only as good as you let it be. So many business books talk about how you are most likely the problem with your business, but you are also the solution. We Can Be Better is a great battle cry that all business’ should have — and it starts with you.
A couple of weeks ago I signed up for the internet phenomenon Pinterest. I thought it would be a good way to catalog inspiration for upcoming t-shirt collections, photo shoots and business ideas. I made the mistake of following everyone I am facebook friends with and my feed was flooded with an enormous amount of stuff.
I started clicking around through different boards of people I knew and started to get kind of sad. I noticed that as I clicked around on boards labeled “my style” that people were lying. I kept thinking to myself that I have never seen this person wear any of this. I felt like the board was mislabeled and should have been labeled “The style I wish I could have but am too afraid of what people might think.”
I also saw boards labeled “inspiration” and they were filled with photos of skinny girls, bikinis and healthy food. Again I felt like the boards should have been labeled “I wish I was this skinny but can’t practice enough self control to lose weight.”
I also saw a lot of “future project” ideas, which again should have been labeled “Projects that I will put off but still say that I am going to do someday.”
I know this seems harsh and I am sure a lot of people on Pinterest are using these boards to really motivate themselves and get things done. I also know that our human nature tells us to be lazy, boring and stupid. I know that it’s hard to take risks. I know that the idea of starting a project or business can be awesome and exciting, but when it comes to actually doing something about it….well, that’s terrifying. So we just tell people about it and build these massive ideas in our heads that are never actually going to happen. This is what saddens me.
I think it’s time for you to take some risks and to make some of these boards become realities. I know there are always a ton of excuses. They usually go something like this:
1. I don’t have time. What a stupid excuses. If you have time to be on Pinterest for 2 hours planning a project then you have 2 hours to actually do a project. If you can watch TV or update facebook every 45 minutes or take instagrams non-stop then you have some extra time to make one of these boards become a reality.
2. I don’t have money. It doesn’t take as much money as you think to do most projects or at least start most projects. It certainly doesn’t take a lot of money to start losing weight. Stop eating out so much and you will actually start to save money. Then you can use that money to do one of your projects. Boom! Two projects completed!
3. I am not totally sure how to do it. Today we have access to more information than ever before. If you aren’t sure how to do something I am pretty sure there is a tutorial on youtube or the internet somewhere. If you can’t find anything then just try it. If you mess up then that’s okay at least you tried. At least you tried to make your vision a reality instead of always keeping it a vision.
I didn’t start walk in love. by opening a store in one day. It was a lot of little projects and little risks that built up over years filled with mistakes, sweat and hard work. If I could go back 6 and half years ago I would give myself a high five for starting it and for taking it from inspiration to reality (I would also tell myself to go find Brooke and marry her next week). I had no idea what it would become back then but if I never took that step I would not be where I am today.
Pinterest is a great tool for inspiring creativity and vision, but it shouldn’t just stop at the inspiration. It should always be a jumping off point into action. So take that action and start living your pinterest life.
I wrestled in high school. I was pretty good. Not great, but better than most. Wrestling is one of the sports that you love and hate at the same time. You love that it’s one of the most physical demanding things because it makes you feel super hardcore but you also hate that it’s so demanding and you just want it to end. You love how good you look while you do it but you hate that you have to cut weight. If you are wrestling in high school now and reading this know that you will miss it when it’s gone. I never thought I would say that, but I do miss wrestling.
Highschool wrestling matches are three periods and each of those periods are two minutes. There is no harder 6 minutes in sports and if you want to argue that then you obviously haven’t tried to wrestle someone for 6 straight minutes, but that is not the point of this post.
Here is how a full match usually goes.
Before it starts : You’re pumped up and ready to go.
1st Period : LET’S DO THIS!!!!!
2nd Period : You don’t know if you are going to make it and you find yourself thinking, “Why am I doing this? My face is cut up, I have lost 15 lbs. I am constantly hanging out with gross, sweaty guys. I haven’t gone out with my friends in weeks. I am wearing spandex. Why I am wrestling? This was a stupid idea. Next year I am going to play basketball or even better yet do nothing at all. I just want this to end.”
3rd Period : I am so close to the end. I can make it.
After the match if you win : I love this sport. I want to get better.
After the match if you lose : I hate this sport. I need to get better.
Life has second periods, lots of them and I find myself currently in one. It’s the time of life that doubt starts to sneak it. Right now it’s my second period in business and more specifically the store. Things started off great and were exciting and then came the holidays which are awesome, but now it’s January and sales are slow, while bills are still high. It’s the second period and I have two options.
1. I can tap out and quit. Say something like, “It’s the economy.” or “It just wasn’t working out.”
2. I can keep wrestling and hopefully make it to the 3rd period.
The nice thing about wrestling is that the second period was only 2 minutes no matter what, but it’s not like that in business or life. Sometimes we can be in the second period for weeks, months or years and the third period or finish line might seem so unreachable. It’s times like this where faith in God really matters. The second period is what separates the winners from the losers. It showed you who is going to grit it out and push through the pain, exhaustion and suffering and who is going to quit.
While you are in the second period it is awful and you find yourself thinking that nothing good will ever come from this but you’re wrong. Good things will always come to those who push through adversary. Even if I end up failing and the store closes I will have shown to myself, my family, my wife and my God that I believed and pushed through the second period. That I am not a quitter and that in the end all I could do was my best.
When you own a business you’re tendency is to always paint a very beautiful picture about how things are going so your clients don’t get scared but it’s not always like that and I think that’s okay. If you were to speak with anyone who is super successful they would be the first to tell you, but I think they would also tell you that those times were when they learned the most.
If you are out there and you are currently in the second period of life and wondering what’s the point or thinking about quitting. Don’t! Keep wrestling, keep believing and keep moving on because the third period is coming and you can make it.