What do a boutique planning company, wedding vendor guide, and destination management company have in common? First, they're all companies producing celebrations rooted in guest experiences. Second, they are all founded and owned by the dynamic Stephanie Martin.
It all started when Stephanie was a Sales and Events Manager at a resort in the Tahoe area, and upper management planned to undergo a significant renovation. Instead of waiting for things to happen, she decided to dip her toes in the adventure sports industry. But the wedding industry kept calling her back, and her passion for providing a personalized planning approach led her to open One Fine Day Events in 2009. Following its success, she launched its sister company called Tahoe Unveiled to help couples find reputable vendors and real wedding inspiration in Lake Tahoe. RUNE followed soon after, which specializes in experiential corporate retreats and rewards trips.
Like most entrepreneurial journeys, Stephanie faced many challenges along the way. She drove long miles and worked long hours to put her business on the map, and success didn't happen overnight. So what kept her going after hearing the word 'no' a lot, and what advice would she give to women interested in following a similar career path? There is only one way to find out!
Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I'm a pretty impulsive person, and I didn't plan on starting my business. I was young, naive, and eager to do something different. At the time, I was the Sales and Events Manager at PlumpJack, and upper management planned to undergo a major renovation. I knew I would be out of work, and I had grown tired of working at the same venue. I loved the planning component of my job, as well as working with our clients. I took a summer to work in the adventure sports industry. I then missed weddings so much that it seemed only fitting to open a boutique planning company. I loved the hustle and learning the many, many intricacies of running a business. And little did I know, this would be my job for the next 12 years!
What challenges did you face along the way, and how did you overcome them?
Oh boy, where to begin! I was young, naive, and I didn't have a plan--all big mistakes. But I was so eager and motivated to succeed. My passion and motivation for sure won here, but there were so many challenges. Like money - I had a little over a few hundred dollars, and I spent it all very quickly. I hustled bartending and serving on the side to make ends meet and save for advertising, web development, etc. I worked 16+ hours a day researching, blogging, and figuring out how to put my business on the map. I traveled to every venue possible to get on their vendor list, and I even drove four hours to meet with a prospective client in person. I heard 'no' a lot at first. I realized I was reaching for the top of the Eiffel tower but hadn't built my foundation yet. And my generic sales pitch, "I can do everything while planning a seamless wedding for you," was stale and basic. So I started trying a few things like creating design boards for prospective clients before they booked and providing venue options that I think would be a great fit. Then, all of a sudden, the quick calls grew longer. I wrote down what people responded well to, where they found me, and their budget. And I started creating the "ideal customer" profile. And slowly but surely, I built my foundation and created an identity for my business.
How do you differentiate yourself in this challenging industry?
I have always felt there is plenty of business for everyone, and I love that there are many planners for couples to choose from in Tahoe. We tell our couples to make sure they feel comfortable working with us - they like our style and personality. We differ from the many talented planners in this area because we are a Planning, Production, and Design company. We specialize in outdoor weddings at private estates and outdoor venues. With these venues comes the need for a lot of extra labor and equipment. We have a rental collection consisting of custom pieces we have built or sourced for our clients. We also have a production crew that makes our equipment and sets it up on the wedding day. Our service is very comprehensive. In addition to all of the pre-planning work, we are very hands-on throughout the event weekend. Private estate events require three days - Install day, Wedding Day, and Breakdown Day. We are the first to arrive and the last to leave on each of these days. They are full and long days, but it makes all the difference, and we get such an adrenaline rush from events, which keeps us chugging!
What or who has been the most significant influence in your business and why?
Gosh, hard to pinpoint just one person as there have been so many. Early on, I attended workshops and events with incredible speakers like Tara Guerard, an impeccable event planner in Charleston, Nancy Liu Chin, an uber-talented florist and business owner in San Francisco, and Leila Lewis from Be Inspired PR. These events opened my eyes to what I could create and the events I could produce, and they lit a fire inside me. I remember feeling so empowered, I came home and started my second business, Tahoe Unveiled. I have also hired several mentors and business coaches along the way. For example, Candice Coppola helped direct me during challenging times as a business owner.
Do you listen to podcasts or read motivational books, and if so, which ones do you recommend?
I love podcasts. My favorites lately are @Jasmine Star, @Jenna Kutcher, @NPR's Up first, and @The Legal Paige. As for books - I'm a business nerd, and I tend to only read biz books. However, I love Difference by Bernadette Jiwa and Seth Godin's "You are a Badass." This was gifted to me, and it was such a great gift.
What advice would you give to women who are interested in starting their own business?
- Start with a plan first. Do not jump in without a plan and with no money saved. You need savings to help you pay your bills for a few months and support your budding business. Every business needs to be marketed in several places. Instagram is a great place to start, but you need to diversify. Advertising in different places will help your SEO as well as put your name on the map. Building a solid website and hiring a logo designer are two musts!
- Don't copy other businesses; create your own identity. You are unique so show off your strengths. Figure out why you are different and sell that. Create your own taglines and market your own photos.
- Network! Attend networking events, and get together with people in your industry. Also, find out how you can support other businesses instead of just asking them to send you biz. Community is everything!
- Enjoy yourself! Starting a biz is challenging and can be lonely. Try not to lose sight of your why and your purpose. Make time to step away and close the doors every day!
To learn more about Stephanie's business ventures and how she continues to leave her mark in the entrepreneurial world, visit her vendor profile here. Also, stay tuned for more entrepreneurial journeys coming your way over the next few weeks!