Friday, July 01, 2016

How to Build a Wedding for Free

How to Build a Wedding for Free

[**I came across this draft in my blog files, so I thought I'd add photos and post it. I'll have my 6th anniversary this year, and it's fun to look back on how we did it all. So grateful to have a lot of loving, creative people in my life!**]

Oh that's a catchy title, no? Now, I know I'm an unusual person and bride... I am happy to do everything on the cheap and not concerned about many aspects a younger or more 'typical' bride would be. But we had a very nice wedding for about 60 people, overlooking the bay, with wonderful food, booze, and cake. We not only paid zero dollars for it, we actually came out ahead. Compare this to my (wonderful and awesome) best friend who chose a castle wedding in Europe 7 yrs ago, and who is still paying for it. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that approach, I was there and it was spectacular. But that's not really how I roll.  So here, I'll share my tips for how we put on a perfectly excellent wedding for free.

Use your Connections!

This is my biggest tip. Everything listed below was possible because of our many friendships and work relationships in our community. If there is anything you can barter for, get at a discount or free from your friends... work it. This is the one time in your life when asking for favors is welcomed. I couldn't believe how enthusiastic everyone was about helping us. Your people love you and want to contribute to your big day. Let them! 

Our wedding location was a building that is run by our local university. It's located right on the bay, facing a beautiful pier full of boats. It happens that my husband was very involved in the building of it. Through his work connections at the college, we were able to rent the main meeting room, with a kitchen and huge balcony, at the student club rate of about $300. This included tables, linens, and setup/cleanup. Hey now! That's amazing by pretty much any standards. We held the ceremony on the balcony overlooking the pier, it was beautiful.

Our wedding officiant was my brother. He did an amazing job, so much so that multiple people afterwards came up and asked him to marry them as well. You probably know someone who can provide this service for you. I don't know the ins and outs, but I hear it's very easy to get certified to conduct weddings

Our food was insane. It was catered by one of my maids of honor and her husband, who happened to own a killer local restaurant. (You might not be *that* lucky, but you might know someone who loves to cook or bake or works at a brewery, etc.) They provided the food, cake, beer/wine, and flowers for cost. Which was awesome enough... but they also had a daughter who was getting ready to drive. And we had a car for sale. So we ended up trading our car straight across for all of these services. I know, it's nuts! But even if we had paid dollars, we could have covered it with the extra money we made at the wedding... which I'll discuss in a moment. 

For our photos, that is one thing I would have done differently in retrospect. I wasn't really that concerned with getting super professional photos. I have a nice camera, so I asked my friend's daughter who is an artist type, to do it for me. I think I paid her $80. Well, I love her very much, but it didn't go well. There were various issues, but I didn't know that until the next day when I looked at the pictures. Ugh I was so upset! It was my own fault totally... I should have communicated with her better, and checked in with her more often. Lesson learned. But! Luckily, another talented friend came to the rescue! My other dear friend's husband is a hobby photographer and brought a huge fancy camera, he took amazing photos all night. He sent them to me, and between the two we had many lovely shots of our wedding. If I had to do it again, I would pay more attention to this aspect for sure.

DIY As Much As Possible

As you know, I'm crafty. I loved doing many of the things myself. If you are not so crafty, I bet you have at least one friend who is. Ask them! Hold a little party to make some things if you can! It's fun, and again your friends will be dying to help out. 

I have already posted about making the invitations, clothing, and jewelry (see 'Wedding Geekout' tag below). I saved a ton of money with just those three things. 

I also made the decorations for my water themed wedding, and I kept them pretty simple. While I was working on my dyed wedding clothes, I used 2 yd lengths of cotton fabric as color testers. So I ended up with a bunch of cloths in the wedding colors, which we used on the tables. I picked up some of those classic spherical glass candle holders, which are all over the thrift stores, and cheap enough to buy new. Then we went to the beach and got sand and shells to put in the bottom (that was fun to do with some of my girls the week of the wedding). Boom, beachy candles for each table. I added a puff of tulle under each one, with a few more shells. It was cute! Then we hung some little twinkle lights in the room, and that was it. Simple, but the room looked nice with all the color on the tables

Our music was provided by a central sound system in the building (you can also rent a sound system fairly cheaply) connected to my ipod. I created two huge music play lists... one slow for dinner, one faster for dancing. Boom done. It was great. Just press play and go on with your fun. For our walk-down-the-isle music, I was lucky enough to have two friends play clarinet & violin. Ok, I'll tell you the secret about them lol. They put together a classical arrangement of the "Uncle Fucker Song" from the Southpark movie, which is "our song" (but that's another story!). Haha now you know. Only our friends who are SP fans got the joke, otherwise it was just a lovely classical song. Talented friends man, what can I say?!

So I think I've covered most elements of our wedding. And now for the big tip on how to pay for your wedding... drum roll...

Hold A Wedding Raffle!

Yes!! Maybe this sounds kind of funny or tacky to some people... but really it was wonderful fun! I have to give credit to my brother, who came up with the idea for his own wedding. (Unfortunately, he ended up with only 2 items to raffle off.) The guests loved it, and many were happy to get involved by providing prizes or competing for the best ones. I loved that our guests were the ones taking home all the gifts! I am getting married at 40 yrs old. I don't need more stuff. I need to pay off my wedding, or have a nice honeymoon.

The prize drawing itself was quite a show. My brother is hilarious!
Here's how I did it:

On the invitations, I put a blurb something like this:
"Instead of bringing gifts, please participate in our Wedding Raffle featuring wonderful items created by our talented friends."

Then, on the rsvp card, there was a line that said "I would like to contribute a prize to the raffle, please contact me," and a space for their contact info. It was amazing how many folks wanted to contribute! Such a great variety of stuff... we had water color paintings, home baked pies, gift certificates, artisan chocolates, framed doodle art pics of Elvis, jewelry, pottery, wine, multiple local food baskets, and more. Some of the items were collected during my craft fairs in the summer, bartered for my own clothing. Overall, we had about 25 prizes

Yes, that is an Obama bobble head.

We used two long tables to lay out the prize display, each one had a description card (what it is, who donated it, etc.) and a mason jar in front of it. We got regular little carnival tickets and sold them for $1 each. People could put tickets into any jar they wanted, as many as they wanted.

Again, your friends and family want to give you stuff on your wedding. This is a cool way to let them give you things they can make themselves or provide through their business (spending little or no money). Or they can give you dollars (any amount, anonymously) by buying raffle tickets at the wedding. And let me tell you, the more the booze flowed, the more competitive and generous people got with their tickets. In the end, your guests have fun and are able to take something home with them. 

Of course, we also got some of the traditional cards with money as well. So that was really nice.

In the end we came out ahead, enough to consider a trip to Hawaii to celebrate. I hope you are able to figure out your own creative ways of getting married without going into debt! I highly recommend it.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Make the Switch to a Business Mindset

Make the Switch to a Business Mindset

You know, it was so long ago that I made this switch, I forget how difficult it can be. I decided in high school that it was possible to make a living by making things and selling them. I'm not sure how I came to that conclusion exactly, I didn't know anyone who was doing that. But at 18 I was starting to believe (as I do still) that anything is possible. Why couldn't I? As an art major in college, about mid way through I decided to quit waitressing and try to work at only art-related jobs. And I did that. So by the time I graduated and started working on my current business, I had already made the switch. I was already used to getting paid for my art skills. I had already started a pre-business during college, selling my crochet hats and beaded jewelry to friends, online, and even a few craft shows. But really, it started when I made that decision in high school. That I could do what I love, what I'm good at, and get paid for it. I never felt the need to explain or defend, I just do what I do.

But in talking with newer art and craft business people, especially, I get a glimpse of that insecurity. The idea is often thrust upon us creative types that hobbies are nice, but work is something else. Even today, I get the feeling often from others that if I'm not suffering a 9 to 5 existence, I must not be doing it right. I'm indulging my fantasies by following through on my dreams. It's rarely expressed directly (though sometimes it is, esp by strangers at shows), but society says so every day everywhere you look. Dreams are for suckers, suffer or starve, etc. I have two words for that... Bull. Loney.

So, anyway, here's what I mean when I talk about Making the Switch. Taking your dreams from hobby to business... it's all in your mindset, your attitude, what YOU say about it, how you present yourself. Here are some things that I believe can help switch you from halfassed dreamer, to respected businessperson. And thus help your business thrive. 

Stop Apologizing
Please. This just breaks my heart. Maybe you aren't expressly apologizing for selling things you make (or you might be!), but I see the general lack of confidence all the time. There is no need to feel guilty or sorry for asking to be paid for your hard work and creative talent. The reason there are SO many craft shows out there, and etsy is SO crazy popular, is because people love and appreciate handmade things!

I know I keep repeating myself, but please don't charge low low garage sale prices! Stand tall, know your worth, use a good pricing formula so you know it's a fair price. Someone who really values it will pay. Choose selling venues that support your price points, your style of work. In time you will learn who the right audience is for what you make, they are out there.

Don't feel bad about charging your friends either. They are your biggest fans and your life long customers. Sure, give them discounts occasionally, donate to their raffles or whatnot. But, if they WANT to support you by buying your artwork, let them!

And please. Please, just because you love what you are doing, and would do it even for free... don't assume it is worth *less*. That's a weird false idea our culture promotes. If you love your job, you aren't working hard enough (or something). Anyone is free to follow their heart, you should be proud and strong that you have made that choice!  

Make It Easy
By this I mean, make it easy for your customers to buy things from you. The main difference between a hobby and a business, is getting paid baby! When someone wants to buy something from you, have a simple way to get it done. 

It's not that hard in today's age of technology. Get yourself a web site, or at least start an Etsy or facebook page. You need a place to send people when they want to buy from you. Everyone has an online presence, or should, because customers expect it. It's free! Have some decent photos there, and a way to order. Tell people what to do, if it isn't obvious.    Inform them about where they can shop in person (shows, galleries, etc). Then, add the web address to your business cards or flyers, share it on fb, add it to your email tag line, etc. This is really basic stuff you must have if you want to sell things and be taken seriously.

Also, make yourself a paypal account. Lordy. I can't believe I still meet vendors who have never used paypal. What?? Welcome to the 90s my friend. Paypal is trusted and easy to use for your customers, they don't even need an account. They also have lots of cool doohickies to take payments on your web site, blog, email, wherever. And even a credit card swiper you can use on your phone when at shows.

And finally... please pay attention now... you really need to learn to follow through! When someone wants to buy something from you, don't dilly dally. Call them back, send them the info, whatever is needed to allow them to follow through with the sale. So your friend at that party last night ooohed and aaaahed over your necklace and kept saying they wanted one? Follow through. Send a message or email in a day or two, offering a simple way to order. "Hey, if you really want a necklace, here's my etsy page. Let me know if you want to see some in person. Great seeing you last night." Done! Nothing pushy about it, they asked YOU after all. Why not at least make it easy for them? I sell plenty of things this way. This also goes for any other possible business connection... someone in your booth wants a custom order, someone with a shop wants to carry your goods, etc. Always get their information and contact THEM. I can't tell you how many times someone told me they'd contact me about such things and didn't. Like 99% of the time. Make it easy for them to do business with you and follow through.

My good friend & great businesswoman, Sandy of Drakes Glenn Chocolate.

Get Your Records Organized
Are you still reading? Because I know this one made you cringe a little. haha. I totally get it! And so far I haven't gotten into the nitty gritty of business legalities, mostly because it will be different depending on where you live, how much you sell, etc. Generally, if you want to work above board, you need a state tax ID (if your state requires one) and to file your business with the IRS. I know some people avoid this for a long time, and I get it. But it's really not that much to do, especially when your business is young. And having a legal business allows you to buy supplies at wholesale prices, and write off all your business and travel expenses at tax time.

 The record keeping part is really pretty simple. You need to keep track of your sales and your expenses. Now, depending on how much you sell, you might not have to file at all or at least not pay out. But, if you do file, you must be able to show what you earned, and also what you spent on business expenses by category (materials, office supplies, travel, etc). For this reason, it's easier to use some kind of accounting software like Quickbooks. But again, today there are tons of easy to use and free options available online. Even excel will do the job. Don't be intimidated. 

Looking at the numbers is definitely not just dirty work, it's essential for seeing what is really going on with your business. What are your biggest costs? What show really worked out the best after travel expenses? Which items should you consider making differently, or not at all? I always *feel* like I have a good handle on what my biz is doing... but going over *actual* numbers is for real. It can really wake you up.

I know this isn't the fun part, but believe me, knowing you have your paperwork under control will help you sleep better at night in the long run.  As well as boost your confidence as a true business owner. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Mermaid Tour 2015: Last Leg

Mermaid Tour 2015: Last Leg

Here's another interactive map of my route west. The east bound map is on my first Tour post (see the tag at the end of this post). It's fun to map it all out like this, I can picture most  of the towns and areas I passed through still in my mind. It helps that I did the same trip just last year, I feel like I know this route pretty well now. 

After a great visit in North Dakota, and a nice breakfast with my mom, I started back west toward my next show in Whitefish, Montana. It was raining when I left, and continued throughout the day in varying degrees. Until around Bozeman, when I hit a big thunderstorm. Like I've said before, I think it's just part of the routine when you drive across MT to hit storms. I got a great pic of lightning in the not so far distance last year. And just like last year, there was a point where the storm was so crazy, the wind so strong, the rain so heavy, and the visibility so bad, that I had to pull over on the highway. It was nuts!! And a little scary. There's always that guy in a pickup truck, young is my guess, who whips by us all like it's nothing. Please don't crash into me, dude! Argh. After a few minutes, I slowly drove out of it, and made my way to my first stop in Butte. 

Driving out of the storm finally.
I reserved a hotel, and had a peaceful night. I ran for some Taco Bell for dinner (my favorite road garbage food, esp in hotels for some reason), and let me tell you. Just do yourself a favor and skip anything even half Mexican once you get east of Spokane. Just. Nevermind. They don't even have green sauce, and everything was just gross. Truthfully, I'm not sure about WA and OR in general. You've been warned.

The next day I arrived in Whitefish, just in time for the start of booth setup.  I knew the routine. Scramble for parking and then haul your stuff a ways into the park in the heat. Bleh. I was pretty excited when a backpack traveler offered to help me for a few bucks. Yes!! Best $10 I ever spent, took him 15 min to do it all and it was no sweat for this youngster. If I was thinking I would have asked him to come back on Sunday for tear down

Tally Lake near Whitefish, MT

I was able to reserve camping this time at Tally Lake a ways from town. As I learned last year, the state campground closer to town is horrible. Too paved and loud (a train hello!) for my taste. In fact, last year I vowed never to stay in another state campground if I can help it. They are never fun! Anyway, even though I picked out my spot online, I did great. It was secluded and quiet...totally worth the 30 min drive to town every day.  

The show itself was fun, but not as good in sales nor as many people as last year. I did meet more cool vendors this time, and had fun visiting with them. Always a highlight of doing festivals for me, making new artist friends.  I even met one person from my fb artist group, which was neat! She came to whitfish after we discussed it on fb. Ha!

My booth at Huckleberry Days.

After Whitefish, I headed further west and spend one night at my friend Bernadette's place in Spokane. We are old friends from college, and she's not only a passionate artist and art educator, she's a great hostess! She cooked me dinner from her garden, and we drank Montana beer and talked and talked. Food for the soul, is good girl talk.

Turk being sweet.

So I made my way through WA and stopped over in Mt. Hood, OR for one last camping hoorah. I love that area! So gorgeous and cooler temps. I camped for a couple nights there and soaked up the trees.

Mt. Hood, OR.

Now, I did have one last show planned on my way back through Oregon... and up until the last minute, I fully planned on following through. But once I looked at the setup info, I changed my mind. It was a new little music festival, which I was looking forward to as a nice relaxing last stop. But they put all the booths on a baseball diamond inside a fence. Bleh. So I'd have to haul my stuff, sit in the dirt all weekend, and be separated from the audience by a fence. No thanks. I was so tired from my weeks on the road, and this didn't sound like fun to me. So I canceled

Killer camping spot near Trillium Lake.

My last last stop was actually the same as my first stop... Leisa's house in Springfield. Yay! Such a good friend to put up with me a second time lol. I was super exhausted and saying weird things, just generally annoying I think. Leisa and her husband were very sweet about it. I spent one night, and then drove the last 5 hrs home to Eureka. Tons of hugs for my dog, and kisses for my hubby. Another killer tour on the books. Whew! Check out my other Tour posts by following the tag below. Woop! Good times.