Business Owner Story #22 – Honey & Twine

Business Owner Story #22 – Honey & Twine

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While planning her own wedding in 2009, Tria Chang realized something interesting: most of the big wedding vendors were women who owned their own businesses. Being the creative and imaginative person that she is, she immediately saw an opportunity to be part of this design-oriented industry full of female entrepreneurs. Now, Tria is the owner of Honey and Twine, a successful wedding planning company that offers full planning, month-ahead & day-of coordination.

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The Start

I was doing freelance design work on top of my day job, and I worked with a couple clients who needed wedding stationery. There seemed to be a pretty high demand for that kind of work, and I enjoyed designing for weddings because there’s always such a beautiful story to tell. There’s so much room for creativity and thought.

So I quit my day job, started this business as a wedding stationery company, and started to work with a couple clients. Then in 2012, I was joined by my business partner and we decided to set it up officially as an LLC partnership. She had a background doing PR and events, so it was a perfect “marriage” of our skills— she handled logistics, schedules and budgets, and I handled the creative direction of the company.

How did you fund your business in the beginning? Have you taken on any additional funding since?

We really didn’t have a lot of overhead costs, so our biggest cost was our time, of which we spent a huge amount. My partner and I each contributed $1,000, which was enough to get us started.

Running the Business

How did you learn to run your business?
In the beginning, we both read a lot of blog posts about running wedding businesses, particularly wedding planning companies. We talked to other business owners in the industry and tried to educate ourselves as much as possible. Once it came down to it though, I think we learned the most by just diving in and doing, because as much as you read or research, it really doesn’t stick in your mind until you’ve done it.

I was also very lucky to have a partner who was so organized. She set up systems that I was able to learn a lot from and am still following today, though she is no longer with the company.

Who was your first customer?
Our first client was a really sweet couple who was referred to us through our network, and they came to us with nothing planned for their wedding. They said “we want to get married, and we’ve picked a date.” The date was less than 3 months out, so it was a very, very quick timeline. They had no idea what they wanted, but we had a meeting with them and we just clicked! They didn’t even ask us about our previous experience or how many weddings we had done. They were such a joy to work with and it was an exciting first project, with a particularly short deadline (usually you have about a year). We were extremely motivated to do a good job and felt really invested in their happiness. We’re still in touch with them today!

What’s the smartest thing you did in your first year?
The smartest thing that we did was also one of the scariest things. In the early days, we weren’t sure how many clients we would be able to attract. But close to the beginning we had an inquiry from a couple and we just knew that it wasn’t going to be a good personality match. It was stressful to even exchange emails with them. With weddings, you work with a couple for a year or over a year, and we could just tell that this couple would pretty much make our lives miserable for that year. It was really scary to turn away business, but I think our best decision was to set a precedent of being a little bit picky about who we worked with. We were very happy with this decision in the end because we were able to book other clients that were a better fit.

What’s the most rewarding thing about running your own business?
The most rewarding thing is the pride and knowledge that we were able to start something from the ground up. It’s a company that has a really positive impact on our clients’ lives, and this makes us really happy. It’s definitely rewarding to see the families of the bride and groom, and of course the bride and groom themselves on the day of the wedding, to see how excited they are, and think that we were able to step in and make their lives easier. It’s just incredibly gratifying.

They say that there are thankless jobs out there, and ours is the exact opposite because everyone shows so much gratitude towards us and it’s so heartwarming.

What’s the most difficult/challenging thing about running your own business?
The most difficult part of running a business is creating a vision for the future of your company, while taking into account the fact that life is full of uncertainty. I operate on passion and inspiration, so I want to be excited about the future that I’m mapping out for Honey & Twine. At the same time, I don’t want to be so attached to this vision that I can’t adapt to changing conditions. For example, my business partner had to leave last year due to unforeseen circumstances. Our branding and direction was based on the fact that we were a partnership of complementary skills, so I had to quickly detach myself from that vision and see what was best for the company next. It turns out that instead of finding a duplicate partner to maintain our brand, it was better for me to assemble a team. So that’s the direction I’m going in now, and while I’m thrilled and committed, I’m also aware that circumstances down the road may call for a different approach.

What’s the most surprising thing about running your own business?
The most surprising thing to me was that we didn’t have to put any money into marketing and advertising. Getting clients ended up happening really organically. I took care of the design of our brand, website and logo, but beyond that, word of mouth was hugely instrumental for us. Then Yelp became incredibly helpful, and after working at certain venues we were put on their preferred lists. Our vendor networks would also refer us out, and being featured in wedding blogs was a really great way to gain exposure too. We were able to find many opportunities for free advertising.

What business owner or entrepreneur do you admire most?
There’s actually someone who was a classmate at my university, Carnegie Mellon, named Lily Liu. She started a company called PublicStuff. She’s been doing really well, and it’s inspiring to see somebody that you went to school with take charge and succeed in that way. I met with her early this year and she’s just so sharp and so driven, her company is doing great, and she’s always thinking ahead to her next move.

What I’ve Learned

What do you wish you had known before you had started your business?
I really enjoyed the learning process of getting this company up and running, so there’s nothing in particular I wish I had known prior. Something I’ve learned that I will take moving forward though: you don’t have to do everything yourself. In the beginning I prided myself on getting my hands into absolutely everything so I could learn how things worked. It became too burdensome to be responsible for everything though. Running a business is so time consuming that it’s much smarter to focus your time on tasks that require your particular strengths and skills. There are certain parts of the job that you feel like “Ah ha, I’m the right woman for this job.” Anything beyond that, you have need to be honest with yourself about your limitations and find someone who can do those things better than you. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t push yourself to grow, but you will have to make choices about which areas you have time to grow in. For the sake of your sanity and the quality of your company, you can’t do it all.

What advice do you have for others who are starting their own businesses?
My advice is to be realistic and not expect things to take off overnight. Be prepared to really put in the time and the work because that’s the only way it will happen.

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About the Author — Ashley Sweren is a freelance marketing writer and editor. She owns her own small business, Firework Writing (http://www.fireworkwritingonline.com/), located in San Jose, California.

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