I’ll admit when I started my “cute, little” wedding business – 14+ years ago – I didn’t know shit. I, 100% get how hard and scary it can be to run a business and not know what the next move is. I kept asking myself “I wish there was a place that I could go to and actually talk to other business owners. A place to ask all the questions and meet people who can help me figure this stuff out.” So I started attending business classes at a local college –
Immediately I felt like everything they were teaching was designed more for… men. I know that sounds silly, but I was one of two women in the class, the class was right in the middle of the day (yup, had to hire a babysitter), and the examples were always tech-based businesses. I felt like I didn’t belong and it sucked because I was more focused on how uncomfortable I was during the class than the curriculum itself. The room itself was a traditional classroom – I’m sure you can imagine – definitely not warm, welcoming, and encouraging. It just wasn’t for me. It was a giant waste of money. So I tried the online thing. FML. For fun, Google “How to Start a Business”. Good luck.
I picked a site that was Virginia-based and started reading. 2.3 seconds in and I was lost… too many big words. I had to look up the definitions and then google those words, and round and round I went and not any closer to understanding what the hell I needed. It was awful. Out of frustration and defeat, I said ‘Screw it, I’ll just fill in what I think is right on these licenses, insurance, and tax forms. What’s the worst that can happen?’ Moral of the short story – the worst can happen if you don’t know what you’re doing. But it’s like the chicken/ egg scenario. How can I know what I’m doing if I don’t know what I’m doing!?!?
This was just one of many scenarios I found myself thinking my original thought – “I wish there was a place that I could go to and ________.” I didn’t know it at the time, but I was starting to form the Business (Mission) Statement for A Wedding Loft. Time + frustrating experiences started to narrow that business statement to “I wish there was a place I physically could go and talk to other female business owners. A place I feel comfortable to ask all the questions and meet people who want to help me figure this shit out.”
The words in BOLD are all the additional elements that became incredibly important along the way.
Over the years, I would find myself saying over, and over, “why isn’t there a place where I can _____? I mean, just fill in the blank: Meet clients. Take classes. Grow my portfolio. Go every day to work and stop feeling so lonely. Talk shop. Vent and cry. Feel supported. Be around people who get it.“
Like pretty much every new business owner, I lost a shit ton of sleep agonizing over clients. Having “that place” would have really helped with the learning process and made the mistakes a little more manageable.
But then came experience and I eventually matured into my business, ultimately realizing that as hard as I try, some things are just out of my control. The sun will rise again after a bad review, a financial blow, or a missed timeline. And we take those lessons and carry them with us, making us better for the next battle. I also learned that sometimes, people are just stupid and I’m not a mind reader. I also learned to stick up for myself and that the client is, in fact, not always right. Sometimes they’re just really unhappy assholes and they’ll never be happy – that’s a THEM problem, not a ME problem.
At about the 5 year mark of my business, I started to feel really lonely and bored in my creative business. Luckily, The Rising Tide Society entered the creative scene and blew the whole “Community over Competition” out of the park, and the Creative at Heart conferences launched. I felt like all the founders of those companies and alike were onto something that we, as women needed to navigate really tough industries. So I admired… from my side of the computer screen.
For me, it wasn’t realistic or possible – being a new mom quickly made my networking circle and work schedule even smaller. I couldn’t leave for X days to go somewhere fancy and recharge my creative juices. Plus I’m an introvert so that shit overwhelms the hell out of me. I’m the type of person that needs to physically go somewhere to feel the real support and connections; I also couldn’t afford to spend a ton of money that I didn’t have. So expensive, overnight retreats weren’t an option for me. I was slowly adding to my “why isn’t there a place…” list but I couldn’t figure out the big piece that was missing until… life happened.
We had taken out a personal loan, and thanks to my dad and brother’s love and awesome carpentry skills – we were able to turn our basement into my very own stationery studio. It was incredible and convenient and all mine. I was proud of it and my “cute little business” started to grow at warp speed. But you know what they say about plans…
My marriage was over. So as you would expect, we had to sell the big beautiful house – with the basement that included my made-from-love studio plus any plans I had of scaling my business. I was forced to take 10 steps back and work out of a closet-sized room in a crap townhouse I was renting. I struggled to keep from collapsing into myself while I learned how to raise my two baby girls as a single mom, juggle a full-time job, and keep my business alive – it was really the only thing that kept my spark alive at that time.
So there I was, back to the drawing board – in a new town, with an entirely new group of local vendors – that meant zero network and zero business support. I missed the spark that came from being around other creatives. I knew I needed to do something before that spark went out completely – and fast.
I had heard of Collectives, online and location-based. So I did a little online searching and submitted some inquiries. As luck would have it, I got a phone call from Genevieve Leiper, asking if I would be interested in joining the collective at A Little Wedding Studio in downtown Leesburg. The ladies were so welcoming and friendly – I felt like I finally belonged somewhere again. When I think about that day, I smile because they truly were my salvation. I am so honored they let me join.
And that’s when it clicked.
All of it. My “why isn’t there a place…” list was complete! Space to operate + community + education.
After years of working in the wedding industry and mulling the business concept around and around in my head, I realized one thing: Women need this.
But I was scared. How could I do this? I had no money, no time, and honestly at that point, no self-esteem.
It’s funny how life works. It was kinda around that time that I met my business partner – who actually believed in the idea and believed in me and (for which, I am eternally thankful and grateful) gave me the push to jump.
Well – that and anger. I was really angry. For a lot of reasons – personal and professional. One of the reasons being I was SO tired of how wedding professionals were being treated in the industry – by both clients (brides, MOBs, occasional grooms, but really MOBs) and other wedding pros.
I was tired of the toxic bullshit we were all throwing at each other. I was over the fake “there’s enough business for all of us” talk because when it came down to it, who was actually in your corner when there wasn’t a buck to be made. Sometimes it felt like fake, mean girl bullshit I thought I left when I graduated high school. Either way, I was done.
This is the ‘MOMENT I MADE THE CHOICE TO GO FOR IT’ story. I’ve told this story a few times over the last 3 years, and every time I do my skin still gets hot.
______________________ It was on a rare occasion that I was actually at a wedding – I was placing circle, laser-cut menus down on the chargers – just lost in thought about the ridiculousness of it all – when I looked up and saw the floral designer who was clearly trying their hardest to keep it together. But honestly not doing a very good job. I asked what was wrong, and if I could do anything to help. They said they were ok, but clearly, they weren’t because, with this huge heave of emotion, word vomited their entire day prior.
They had just arrived from attending a local floral design workshop, taught by an instructor with a larger presence in the area. Without me giving away personal details, let's just say that the floral designer left the workshop feeling so small and belittled. The instructor basically said their work wasn’t good and should probably explore other opportunities for a career. I was so angry for them. It was everything I hated about what had become of industry "experts", community over compeition fakes, and maybe the wedding industry as a whole. I kept thinking “Why the fuck would you use the large platform and influence you have, to hurt other people?” Then I went down the rabbit hole, obsessing over why insecurities oftentimes result in putting other people down, making them feel bad about themselves. I went way down the hole. And I was MAD. If a educational workshop isn’t a safe place for vendors to learn, create, and grow, then where the hell can we go? For fuck sake – it shouldn’t have to be this damn hard!! ______________________
That’s the very moment I made the conscious decision to press ‘GO’ on AWL. I had to channel my personal and professional anger into something that would make a difference and create change. God knows I had enough of it to move mountains. I knew I needed to really dig into the Research and Development if I wanted to be taken seriously and stand any shot at launching.
So for three years, I kept my head down and worked on nights and weekends. We held focus groups, think tanks, and so many 1:1 coffee “can I pick your brain” dates. I sat with numerous female business owners, creatives, and entrepreneurs in all stages of their businesses.
From experienced Hair Stylists and Makeup artists to brand new pastry chefs. Wedding planners that were 2 years in up to 25 years and still building. I spoke with photographers, business coaches, designers… you name it.
And during each and every meeting, I would ask them 2 questions:
Question 1: “Tell me about the biggest challenge you have running your business…”
And then I would explain the concept of AWL. Then I would follow with
Question 2: “Now that you understand the vision, how can this concept fix that problem…”
From there, I was able to pinpoint what each creative category needed to operate better.
For example, Hair & makeup artists struggle to find clean, safe locations to perform their trials and services, resorting to either performing services at the clients’ house or their own home. Both scenarios can be inconvenient or incredibly dangerous! So… BOOM! Let’s fix that by offering rent-by-the-hour consultations areas, and let’s make them prettier than a regular co-working space.
I found that across the board, all women had the same hurdles when it came to operating and growing their businesses. SPACE! They all struggled to find an affordable space that they were comfortable enough to work, perform services, and meet with clients.
But it went further than that. They all needed SPACE to belong to a community. A space that houses industry experts & brand new business owners and everyone in-between. A space that is free of judgment and does not tolerate negativity or competition.
In July 2019, we held a proof-of-concept open house. I knew the wedding industry needed this space. But just because I thought something would work didn’t actually make it so. But what happened was so unexpected it was the cause for one of my first (of many to come) “Oh, crap!” moments.
A photographer attended and asked if she could join, but she wasn’t a wedding photographer, but really needed this because she needed the studios and the community. “Oh, crap!” was my thought. “The name isn’t going to work!” It was too late. I certainly couldn’t introduce a new concept for people to understand + a name change!
The positive was – the open house was so incredibly successful! Thanks to so many wonderful women who helped me put it together. We also quickly found out that we were right! Not only did the wedding industry need this, but WOMEN as a whole did need, want, and would pay for this! Women were practically throwing money at me for hypothetical memberships (we were upside down – we had the product, but our business itself was… not really set up – again, a story for another drink)
We officially opened our doors to the public in November 2019. We went 3 months where we didn’t charge for membership – we basically did a ton of studio test runs, quickly worked out as many kinks as we could.
We quickly discovered the company’s name ‘A Wedding Loft’ was a great name for wedding vendors and private events, but horrible for marketing. We’ve had so many walk-ins with people thinking we are wedding planners, dress shop, wedding venue, etc. We aren’t any of those so we just point them to our membership list and say, “here you go, hire one of them”.
So cut to the present-day…
We’ve launched our sister company AWL Creative – which I’m hoping will solve our name issue and still allow up to keep the hold we have on the wedding market.
At its core, AWL Creative is truly a unique collaborative concept for female entrepreneurs. What sets AWL apart from other collectives or collaborations is the actual physical location. If you look closer, everything that goes into the walls of AWL Creative at A Wedding Loft already exists – separately. So what’s really cool about this concept is, we’ve put everything together, all in one place – a one-stop shop for both the business owner and their client. But really… it’s so much more than that! We are providing a safe space for female entrepreneurs and creatives, equipped with all of the education, resources, and supportive community they need to learn, create, and grow their businesses.
I’m so incredibly thankful to and for everyone who has helped me get this far. I could not do this alone. I’m hopeful for the future and I know that AWL Creative at A Wedding Loft is going to be a national name for female creatives in the next few years. I can feel it in my bones, and because I’m like a dog with a bone – I don’t quit when I set a goal for myself.
I also listen. I pay attention to what’s going on around me, even when others think I’m not 🙂 I know women need this space and deserve this place. Women deserve a safe place to operate and grow their business, that also houses an honest-to-god, truly supportive community of other like-minded women (and select men). Together we can go far and I’m excited to see just how far we are going to go!
Thank you for reading my story! I hope it made some type of sense to you and you were able to connect to some parts of it. 🙂
We are currently looking for funding and investors for our next space, so if you or anyone you know is interested in adding AWL Creative to their portfolio, please contact us and we’re happy to show you our plans!
August 2, 2021