This is “Featured Soloist,” a feature that appears every Tuesday at The Solopreneur Life.
The purpose of “Featured Soloist” is to give all of us a glimpse at how other solopreneurs operate their small businesses. This week we meet Shayna Walker, who operates a weddings-industry business in Virginia. If you would like to be the “Featured Soloist,” please send me an e-mail, Larry@TheSolopreneurLife.com.
Name of solopreneur:
Name of business and city:
Williamsburg Wedding Design in Williamsburg, Virginia
Web site address:
Type of business:
Wedding Planner (which is an oversimplification—I’m also a blogger, a speaker, an educator…but my field is wedding planning)
When did you officially go into business:
full time in 2004
Why did you start your own business:
I discovered around 2002 that I had a developed a permanent disability that would prohibit me from working at a “normal” job (I had previously been a legal secretary) and from living where I was in Los Angeles. Not working wasn’t an option financially or emotionally so I had to find a job that fit my altered lifestyle. For various reasons, wedding planning was a great fit that let me use talents and skills I had already acquired while giving me the flexibility I needed to live with my new challenges.
What was the best thing you did when you were starting up your business:
I immediately launched my own small bridal shows. As events they were well-received but not spectacular in terms of attendance. But the vendor relationships I made during the production and publicity of those shows were invaluable.
What is a mistake that you made that you have learned from:
I accrued personal debt to finance my business during a time when my personal life (i.e. my former marriage) was very unstable. It magnified an already bad situation and contributed to years of financial instability which I still see traces of now. I learned a lot from those early mistakes.
What is your biggest current challenge in the business and what are doing to try to solve it:
Cash flow for projects beyond the scope of the day-to-day business is my biggest challenge. I have some great specialty things in the works, but it’s always tough to fund the new stuff. Bootstrapping has its appeal and is full of learning experiences, though.
What are your goals for 2010:
My goals for 2010 are to re-launch a print product (which I actually successfully completed this month); to market, fund and execute a 50-state, 14-month tour of bridal shows as research for a 2011 writing project; and to establish the foundation for a professional speaking career.
Where do you want to be with the business in five years:
In five years…that’s a question I’m supposed to be able to answer, right? I have a one-year goal, which is realistically probably closer to a five-year goal, to derive half or more of my income from paid speaking and writing, with a decreased reliance on actual planning jobs. I want to stay active in my industry while pursuing opportunities to educate, to travel and to expand my influence. I’m actively and daily working on things like the national bridal show tour and my three blogs to help make these goals reality. I’m dynamic and the best thing about being in business for and with myself is the flexibility to experience so many different things at once.
What are your main software programs:
I use Office 2007 (primarily Word, Excel and PowerPoint) for almost everything I do.
What’s your advice for aspiring solopreneurs:
Read, network, try and fail; it amounts to seeking as much education in your field and in business as you can, developing more connections than you could possibly ever conceive of needing, being open to new experiences and banishing a fear of failure. Read, network, try and fail.
What lifestyle choices have you had to make to stay in business?
The biggest lifestyle choices have been to forego medical care for myself (my children are covered by their father) and the sacrifice of a lot of time over the years, especially the early ones; it’s time that I could have spent exclusively with my kids. Being a solopreneur has been as much a benefit as a sacrifice on that front, though. I have the flexibility now to be a part of my children’s education and daily life that I wouldn’t if I were stuck in an office job. Also, my kids are being raised in a culture of entrepreneurism that has already given them confidence and a free spirit unlike other kids their age.
I also drive an old, kind of decaying vehicle, rarely take vacations and I live in an apartment instead of a house. I hope that I’m on the path to financial freedom at some point, but in the meantime, I sacrifice a lot of the “shiny” things for a freedom of a different kind.
What are your strategies for staying competitive?
I pursue as many educational opportunities as I can possibly afford each year. My greatest pleasure is attending conferences (I keep trying to figure out how to do that as a career), meeting people in my industry from every corner of the world and exchanging ideas. I also view competitors as colleagues which has opened up whole new worlds of opportunity.
If your business should fail, what is your fallback position?
If the business failed, I would have to search for a job that can accommodate my disability. Thankfully, what I do is diverse enough that I have a lot of options before that would become necessary.
If you could start your career all over again, with that you know now, what might you have done differently? Why?
There are advertising choices and product development that I wouldn’t have pursued which would have saved me a lot of money. I probably wouldn’t have secured the office space that I did for three years which didn’t result in an increase in income as I’d hoped. I would have read my phone contract more closely (stuck for years!) and probably wouldn’t have contracted for a merchant credit card terminal when there were other suitable and less expensive options. There are people I wouldn’t have trusted, and others whom I would have worked harder to know. Lots of little things, but most of them were simply learning experiences and I am definitely a better business person having gone through them first-hand.
Oh, an accountant. I would have found a business-specific accountant to handle my taxes much, much earlier than I finally did!
Are you glad you became a solopreneur? Why or why not?:
I have learned so many life lessons, and so much about myself from this solopreneur adventure that I’m definitely glad. It has not been an easy path, but it has been rewarding in so many ways. I may not stay “solo” for life, but for this round it’s a perfect place to be.