Building Your Business is Like Planning Your Wedding
When you planned your wedding, it was exhilarating and all-consuming. You knew what you wanted, what mattered most, what you could afford, where you could compromise. It was a pivotal life moment that set the tone for your marriage. You weren’t going to mess up or miss out, but it was so easy to get carried away. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and you intended to take full advantage.
Building a business is a lot like that. So big. So easy to get lost.
Beyoncé or Adele?
No doubt about it, the bride is the star of the show. The groom is essential, of course, but weddings showcase the bride. When you envisioned your big day, how did you want to show up?
Beyond the dress, jewelry, bouquet, and reception, what was the overall effect you sought?
I was going for “Beyoncé on Vacation.” By that, I meant I wanted my dress to highlight my curves, accentuate my skin tone, and be a riveting showstopper, but I wasn’t looking for a costume or a performance. I wanted to be relaxed, at ease, crazy in love, and radiant, in that way that you glow when you’re caught up in the moment and have absolute confidence in your decisions.
Your role as CEO needs to be similarly succinct. As founder, you are the star of your company. What you sell, how you sell it, who you sell it to are essential, of course, but you are matchless. In the early days, you will drive strategy, inspire execution, set the tone, embody the culture, be the brand, and so much more.
How do you want to show up? Not what you want for the business, not what you want for the brand, but what you want for yourself as CEO? I’m going for “Adele in the Studio.” Now, I haven’t seen her in the studio any more than I’ve vacationed with Mrs. Carter, but here’s how I imagine her: Utterly poised, a force of nature, undeniable talent, focused, sure, ready, in her element, and made for the job.
Love and Marriage. Love and Business.
After the bride, the budget is the next, most foundational aspect of a wedding. Let’s get real. Some of you may have had $50k+ weddings, but most of you didn’t.
Here’s the good news. Limited funds leads to strategic decision making, creativity, and resourcefulness. There’s no joy in having everything. Aspiration can be delicious.
You probably had to pick a handful of non-negotiables and compromise on the rest. For hubby, it was the date — had to be July — and the food — had to be BBQ. He was open to negotiation on the rest. For me, it was the ring — had to be cushion cut — the location — had to be outdoors — and the honeymoon — Europe.
We had our reasons, and we didn’t struggle with these or other decisions. We shared our preferences and made aligned choices. We shared a vision for the day, for the marriage, and, ultimately, the partnership. We were going for a mixture of Eric and Tami from Friday Night Lights, David and Maddie from Moonlighting, Carl and Ellie from Up, Big and Carrie from Sex and the City, Seth and Summer from the OC, and Chuck and Sarah from Chuck.
We’ve since added Barack and Michelle, and of course, we’re also embarrassingly part Rob and Sharon from Catastrophe. We didn’t spend $50k either, and didn’t feel like a compromise because our needs had already been met. And spoiler alert, it doesn’t feel like compromise now, 11 years later, because we’re still committed to that very same vision.
What’s your vision for your business? How can you meet your business needs from the start and in the future, so that the inevitable compromises won’t feel like such a big deal? If it will take a while to make some money in your business, how will you find your groove in other ways and stay the course? What are the non-negotiables, the nice-to-haves, and the compromises you can live with? What are legitimate investments, vanity projects, and what will make a difference?
There are so many questions, and it’s easy to over complicate it, or fixate on what you can’t have or don’t know. But if you create your vision and stick to it, all decisions will flow from where you’re headed. You’ll be able to embrace what you do have and make it work.
We wholesaled our flowers and saved a fortune. We got an up-and-coming photographer who has since become wildly in demand, we bootstrapped a lot, and we spent on our priorities. When you know what matters and you fund accordingly, you’ll always be aligned. It will be easier for you to understand your next move and keep focused on the big picture. When you don’t take outside funding for example, you don’t give up control or upside. Maybe that doesn’t matter now, but it might later. Keep the vision in mind.
Integrity and Commitment.
When you’re so focused on the big day, you can lose sight of why you’re doing it. It’s a celebration for sure, an opportunity to share your love and hope with the family and friends who’ve influenced your life, but it’s more than that. It’s also a vow and a ritual. It binds you to someone for life.
No matter how well you know each other, no matter how much you’ve shared, no matter your plans for life, there will be surprises. Each time you’re thrown for a loop, it’s up to you to reevaluate and recommit.
Your brand deserves the same integrity. Don’t lose sight of why you started your business. What promise are you making to your customers or clients? When they disappoint you or you disappoint them, will you abandon the relationship or capitalize on the opportunity to recommit ? What do you want for or believe about the world that influences how you do business?
I’m an entrepreneur — I never say small business owner. There’s nothing small about my worldview. I may not be achieving it at the levels I envision yet, but I didn’t create my business simply to meet a need in the marketplace. I created it to give working women what they were missing: another, more sustainable option to live life better. But I also created it to influence systemic change.
Likewise, we wrote our own vows. I’ll be damned if I was going to repeat anything about serving or obeying, and we wanted to deliver our own vision, one that articulated a marriage on our terms, full of love, joy, happiness, but also respect, inspiration, and adventure. Eleven years later, it’s evolved, just as my business is continuously evolving, just as we refine our expectations over time.
Timing is Everything.
I joke that I wish I would have met my husband in high school, so he could have known me in my teens and 20s when I felt invincible. It’s not fair that he didn’t know me when I had six-pack abs, the perfect tan, and was carefree. He says I wouldn’t have loved him then, and he’s right. I wasn’t looking for quality then. I wasn’t ready for what we have now. That didn’t stop me from dating. For better or worse, I dated some jackasses, had my heart broken a few times, made some idiotic moves, and learned a lot about myself, about love and trust, and so much more.
Many want to wait to build their business, until they have more money, more resources, more time, more experience, better health, until the kids are older, until they have a perfect idea, until their ducks are in a row. You don’t get valuable life experience by lining up ducks.
You get it by dating the wrong guys, by effing up big time and forgiving yourself, by getting yourself out of sticky situations, by figuring stuff out, even when you’re in way over your head with limited resources. It’s not always pretty, but it’s valuable. And here’s the thing: No matter when you start, how hard or effortless your journey, you will reach a point one day where you think “it’s not fair that I didn’t have this level of success, influence, money, impact (pick your metric) when I was young, gorgeous, and carefree.”
That’s how it goes. It’s too complicated, and yet, looking back, it will never be this simple again. It will never be this good again, and, AND, it just keeps getting better. Life is such a paradox. You don’t know what it takes, and you have everything you need. That creative tension, the dichotomy is always there. So in business, as in love, go for it. Risk vulnerability and visibility, show up for it, follow your heart, and live for the moment. Just go.
Cheers! Congratulations on your wedding and your launch.