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Amidst the best job ever I have as co-founder at Tin Shingle, while also serving as president at Red Branch PR and running a household (of two, but still, it's gotta keep running), I'm currently trying to plan my wedding (also known as #BestDayEver). That balancing act will definitely have to be an Small Business Diary entry of its own (it ain't easy) but today's post is a little takeaway I was telling co-founder Katie about after having made several wedding vendor calls over the past few weeks.
I made it a goal of mine to use as many small and local (to Chicago) businesses as possible when planning the wedding and I'm proud to say that as we lock down the final vendors I succeeded there. What I didn't realize that I'd get out of this wedding planning process were some amazing small business lessons in regards to money, contracts and working in the service industry. Though I'm not going to share any of the businesses I'm working with by name (just yet) I will share a few of my favorite takeaways that I hope you're already using in your own companies day-to-day work with current and prospective customers.
#1 - No Pay No Play - Every vendor that I am working with requires some payment up front for holding them on retainer (often non-refundable), and some require half the payment up front for any service they will be carrying out. I feel that all too often some service business providers feel nervous about asking for this. HELLO?! You don't work for free! And ya don't start work for free either. Once someone is interested in you, you lock 'em in and you require some up-front payment. This happened with my DJ, florist, catering, photographer, wedding coordinator, wedding dress and location. What I liked even more about their payment schedule leads me to the second takeaway...
#2 - No Shame in Your Payment Game - Not one vendor acted timid or shy about asking for a retainer or down payment. It was simply how they worked. Did I argue it? Fight it? Question it? No! It was matter of fact and neither side balked at it. If something was out of my intended budget I simply said no, that isn't for me. I didn't refuse payment. Customers who deserve to work with you will do the same. I was so impressed with the maturity and sophistication that my florist, coordinator and photographer showed while requesting the deposit that I talked to Katie about it. I can't speak for everyone but I often see small biz service providers getting shy about asking for money up front. Does your landlord get shy about asking you for your rent? Or the bank for your mortgage payment? NO! Get with the program. Ask for what is rightly yours with pride and elegance.
#3 - No Contract, No Work - This was the third thing I loved about each vendor I worked with. Not only would they not begin work without a down payment, they required a contract (real, legal, signed and returned) before even holding a date for me. When I hear about a small business starting work without a contract I sigh. I sigh heavily. This leaves both sides unprotected. This doesn't guarantee you anything. If you are a service business without a contract template stop everything you are doing and make a contract! My florist even turned me onto a new way of electronic contract signing called EchoSign by Adobe.
#4 - No Wasted Time - Before any phone calls were made with me, each vendor sent me (many automatically) an electronic form to fill out to get all the information they needed out of me. I loved this! It meant neither side wasted time before the call and that they had information on me before we even started! I encourage you to do the same thing - after all, time is money, and no one here has any of that to waste!
Leave it to me to find business lessons in bridal planning! And with that I leave you to go find bridesmaid dresses that my friends will not hate me for come September!