Some say entrepreneurs are born, not made. I’m proof they can be both! Why? Because I’ve learned the key to success is challenging both my and other people’s assumptions about who I am and what I can—and should—do as an entrepreneur. Whether it’s asking tough questions about a business plan or questioning our own negative thinking, assumptions can get in the way of us reaching our true potential.
Here are some assumptions I confronted and suggest other entrepreneurs do, too:
I grew up in the bridal industry; my mother owned and ran a successful bridal shop in Edina for 25 years. As a child, I loved going to her store and watching brides light up when they found their perfect dress. Mom was, in the truest sense, a collaborative business owner -- if a bride wanted a dress she didn't have, she’d send them to another vendor. She’d also send brides on their way with a handful of her business cards to give to their respective florists and photographers as a way to help her network. Mom didn’t see herself simply as a wedding dress vendor. She saw herself as a networker and relationship builder who helped brides. She didn’t let someone else define her, and in turn, she planted the early seeds for how I would do the same.
In 2010, my team and I launched ForeverBride.com, a top-rated online resource for brides, designed to help modern couples connect with the best local wedding vendors. Yet despite being passionate about all things wedding and having an innate drive to succeed, I, frankly, hated wedding fairs. I swore I would never do one because that wasn’t who I was -- a blogger and entrepreneur.
It wasn’t until my brides and our vendors started asking for a different kind of show that I began to take a hard look at my assumption. After careful research, I discovered I could use my expertise, passion and drive to recreate traditional wedding fairs into something different. Something I could be proud of (more on that in a second). As entrepreneurs, we can’t let our job description or how others define us cage us in and hold us back. Dare to dream and be open to redefining who you are and what you can do.
Another assumption I challenged was that our customers didn’t need anything more than what we were providing. Our site was hugely successful, and we’d built a loyal following (our YouTube channel has more subscribers than Martha Stewart Weddings). Still, our brides and vendors asked for more.
So I started asking questions: What do brides really want? Where do they get their information when planning their wedding? I discovered that brides rarely hire people based on an ad they see in print or online. Instead, they pick their team for their wedding based on who they like and trust. In fact, that can be even more important than price for some brides. I knew we needed to curate vendors who not only offered great products and services but stellar customer service too.
Based on two years of careful research, we decided to create a brand and show where the focus truly is on the customer. In 2016, we launched The Forever Bride Market, which is modeled after an upscale farmers market. It’s a smaller, more intimate experience where brides can get to know our vendors and even book them on the spot. It’s very different than the old-fashioned convention center wedding fairs where hundreds of vendors throw business cards at brides all day. And our brides love it!
Remember, just because you’re running a successful business doesn’t mean your customers don’t need or want anything more than what you’re providing. Be willing to honestly ask your customers what they want and listen to their responses. Their answers may help you remodel your business for the better.
Trust me, spending a lot of money on advertising doesn’t create loyal customers. While advertising certainly can help you get your name and product out there, it can’t be your only marketing effort. After learning this the hard way, I decided to focus my attention on building my brand authentically through my blog and on social media, providing brides with free, real-world advice. And we’ve taught our Forever Bride vendors to do the same.
Social media has truly been a game-changer for the wedding industry because it allows small businesses to compete with big brands. It’s not about who spends the most on advertising anymore, but about who works the hardest and does the best job creating a personal connection with brides. My greatest joy is seeing brides and vendors connect. It’s magic to see these two groups find each other and achieve their goals. Paid advertising will never replace the importance of strong relationships built through networking and authentic social media campaigns.
These are just a few of the many assumptions entrepreneurs make about themselves and others. If you’re looking to grow your business, don’t be afraid to tackle them. The answers may surprise you, as well as be the keys to unlock even more success.
As a former model turned entrepreneur who grew up in the bridal industry, Ashley Hawks is the vice president and creative force behind The Forever Bride Market, an online community for wedding planning and inspiration.