We recently had an “a-ha!” moment after hearing one of our Braid Ecourse creative entrepreneurs, explain the difference between being understood (and hired) for what she “really” does, instead of misunderstood (and hired, yes, but perhaps not as happily) for what she “almost” does. Brooklyn-based wedding designer Michelle Edgemont is all about quirky, fun, modern wedding design, yet serious about defining her own business and expertise. This is her Dream Customer Catching ECourse takeaway:
“I learned it’s okay to say ‘no’ to clients I don’t want to take on. I put this into practice the other day with a bride looking for a designer/planner. I don’t want to plan weddings – just make them look cool and pretty. At first I was terrified of giving up the money, but it let me keep that weekend open to be hired to decorate a wedding instead of plan one.”
Just let that sink in for a minute. It’s a perfect example of how saying “no” to the not-quite-right opportunities can propel you forward as much as saying “yes” to the right opportunities. It’s a powerful reason to define that difference right up front, so the opportunities (i.e. your potential dream clients) know what to expect from you – in Michelle’s case, not a planner. It also shines light on a struggle a lot of entrepreneurs have: how to turn down paying work when it doesn’t feel right, but would pay some serious bills!
Kathleen also recently blogged about another sticky aspect of defining what you do: job titles. Titles can be tied up in status (especially for those of us who started out in the 9-5 world), they can limit potential engagements, or ultimately be arbitrary for creative entrepreneurs. But while you don’t necessarily have to give yourself a title, you do need to define what it is, exactly, that you do and do not do. More with Michelle about what she “really” does vs. what she “almost” does, the importance of defining the difference for clients, and if and when it’s okay to break your own rules.
How do you explain what you "really" do vs. what you "almost" do?
Michelle: My clients, brides and grooms, are unique from clients of other business because this is their first (and most likely last) time they will be shopping for creatives to help them put together a wedding. Imagine that you have never bought a pair of jeans before and you feel as though you must buy The Best Pair Ever because they will be The Last And Only pair you'll ever buy. Now imagine that the store you are shopping in is the whole internet and that you will spend the most money you've ever spent on something in your life. Stressful, right? Welcome to the minds of my wedding clients.
They have a lot to digest when putting together a wedding, which is why I like to keep what I "really" do and what I "almost" do very simple. I say this a lot, "I decorate your wedding. I do not plan your wedding," and, "My best work is colorful, quirky, modern, and unexpected. It is not normal, traditional, pastel, or Anthropologie-inspired." What I "really" do is design modern-quirky decorations and flowers for creative couples. What I "almost" do is design and plan weddings with traditional decor and flowers.
The job of a wedding designer is also a sort of made-up role. There have always been florists, but what florist will create a photobooth backdrop for you out of 1000 sequins? Not too many. That's where I come in. The main goal of my company is to offer couples a vendor who will conceptualize, design, create, arrange, and set-up the decor and flowers at their wedding.
Where do you find yourself answering this question of what it is you do, exactly? In person over coffee? Via email to interested potential clients? In your website or social media content?
Michelle: With other wedding industry folk, it's at networking events and over coffee where I can explain in person and in detail that I'm an expert in providing custom designed decor that has a modern, colorful look and that I don't plan weddings.
With prospective clients, I can tell from the first email they send me if they are actually looking for a wedding planner, not a wedding designer. When this happens, I gracefully explain to the prospective client what I do and recommend a wedding planner.
I admit, if I was more specific with what I really do vs what I almost do in my content, especially about my personal design aesthetic, there would be a lot less confusion.
When you are tempted to go ahead and take on the "almost" projects? How do you resist?
Michelle: Oh man, this is a hard one. Turning down a paying client is tough, although, if the design aesthetic that they love is not what I'm an expert in, then I'm not going to do my best work and they would be better served by one of my peers. Growing a small business is difficult and one of the ways I try to make it easier it by making sure I'm always excited by clients that I take on. Either our aesthetics are a perfect match, or I really resonate with an aspect of their personal stories, or they are getting married at a really interesting venue. In order to keep my client experience very personal, I only book one wedding per weekend. Saying no to something I "almost" do will open up a weekend for a couple to hire me for what I "really" do.
When do you let yourself break your own rules and go ahead and do something that's a bit out of your core genius zone?
Michelle: When something about the couple really resonates with me, I'll make an exception and work with a more rustic/vintage aesthetic. If a wedding is in the off-season, which in NYC is December-March, I'll make a slight aesthetic exception too. Those months can be slow and any income is greatly appreciated. Although, I don't budge on "almost" being a wedding planner. I'm capable of planning a wedding, I just really don't want to.
And that's why we've all worked our butts off growing our own businesses, right? So we don't have to work on the projects we don't want to work on.
We love featuring creative entrepreneurs and their stories. Sticking to your core genius isn’t always easy. How much do you bend the rules, and often do you stay true? Tell us on Facebook.
If you’d like your content to better explain what you really do vs. what you almost do, our Braid ECourse: Shape Up Your Content, Tame Your Ideas & Tell People How To Buy You, is $75 and open for registration. The course begins April 25.