Being a small business is a funny thing. Sometimes you feel very alone. Sometimes you feel like you are killing it and on top of the world. Sometimes you feel you are the only one that is carrying the business. But, sometimes you realize you have an incredible support system that you have no idea how you got here without them.
My first year in business I was very self-aware of my talent, but also very aware that I had to learn. Outside of the support of my loving husband, family and friends, I consistently was reminded that I was alone in this business. I knew that my love of design and weddings could only take me so far. I had to learn. I attended every conference, near and far, to learn. I purchased, what feels likes, a million online courses. I passed wedding planning certifications. But, nothing, NOTHING, has given me an education as much as attending Engage! The Luxury Wedding Business Summit.
My first Engage! was in Montelucia in December of 2013. Here I was at the end of my very first year of business. This was my final conference for the year. I knew this would be a game changer. But, I didn’t expect what would happen next.
SloMo Booth at Montelucia Engage! 2013
The second I walked into registration, I felt like I was freshman in high school again. A little nervous, a little happy but a whole bunch of excited. But, then the self-doubt slid right in. I really didn’t know if anyone would like me. “What the hell are you doing here, Diane? You are no where near the success of the people around you.” These were thoughts lingering in my head as I walked through registration while I was showered with big smiles and crazy, amazing gifts.
As I headed back to my room, alone, I couldn’t help but want to run back home. That nasty little voice in my head kept creeping back in. I don’t know how, but I gathered enough courage to go to the opening sessions. I didn’t know what to expect.
Well, let me tell you something. I will never forget my very first Engage! (or, any of them, actually!). The opening sessions already provided so much inspiration, I didn’t know what to do with myself or how I was feeling. I remember being super shy at the opening reception and coming into contact with a very friendly tall man (Oh, hey, Dennis!) who was talking to a very bubbly girl (‘Sup, Christina!). I walked by with a shy smile and said “Hey” underneath my breath with a little wave. They literally put their arms around me, said welcome, and we walked to the bar for a drink. We talked for probably 30 minutes about all sorts of things. I was making friends in my high school scenario in my head. Is this real life? These are perfect strangers trying to make me feel comfortable. What the hell is this?
Later on, I was creeping around the dance floor. If you know me, you know I love to dance and I will dance at your wedding if I’m working or not. The music was so good, but what was I to do, dance by myself? Oh, come on. Ok, fine. I’ll just stand here and bop around. Then I see this happy fella looking at me and I could have sworn I knew him from somewhere. He looked SO familiar to me, but I had no idea who he was or how I may or may not know him. He waved over and told me to join his dance circle. We chatted after for a bit and I was so happy to speak to him. So incredibly friendly and so knowledgeable about all things wedding business. I thought to myself how wonderful it was that on Day 1 I made another friend who was probably new in my industry too. So cool!
Fast forward to the next day. Turns out, my new dancing friend was on stage as a speaker and one of the most popular wedding photographers in the world. Ummm, what? I had no idea. I didn’t know who you were Jose Villa, but I thank you for your kindness and including me. I still get so happy when I see you because I remember how you welcomed the new kid on the block. I will be forever grateful.
I was so naïve at Engage! that it was probably a good thing. I was so completely overwhelmed with all these feelings on Day 2 that I cried in my room. I just cried from gratefulness, from relief, from nerves, from everything. What was happening was the beginning of something I never thought would happen: the true beginning of my business. It was me going through a metamorphosis. This was me coming out of my shell. What was happening is that I finally was in an environment that understood me, that saw me for who I was. A safe place to be me and it didn’t matter how many likes I had on Instagram. It didn’t matter how many clients I had that year. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t making the big bucks. In that moment, I learned one of the most incredible lessons I will ever learn: I need not compare my beginning to someone’s middle or end. All of these wonderful people at different stages of their business all sharing their knowledge, no matter their experience.
Rebecca Grinnals and Kathryn Arce have created something so incredibly special. When I first heard Rebecca say in her opening remarks that “great minds don’t think alike, but they really do think better together,” it changed me. It opened my eyes and my heart. I started my wedding planning business purely to help people. Here I was surrounded by fellow business owners that wanted to help each other. I have finally found my home.
If you are just starting out or have been in the business more than you count on both hands, I suggest putting yourself out there. Make yourself vulnerable. Make a choice to be uncomfortable. Erase the negative thoughts and flood your brain with positivity. Surround yourself with those who lift you up. Put yourself in situations where you are forced to grow. Don’t be intimidated by the celebrities of our world, they are people like you. Take it from me, at Engage! egos are checked at the door and peeling the layers of what makes us human is what is celebrated. Attend Engage! Luxury Wedding Summits, even if you are not ready. You will never be ready. But, if the timing is right, you will attract the very people that your business, and your heart, needs at that very moment.
I can write about Engage! for days. There are so many people that have helped me grow my business. But, instead of going through all of my experiences in one post, below you will find a list and some shout outs to those important few that may or may not know the impact they have had in my business. Let’s call it an Open Love Letter to Engage!
These days I don’t feel so alone anymore. I feel that even though I don’t have it all together and I am learning every day, I definitely have my tribe to turn to. Because of Engage! I have been able to grow as a small business owner, conquer fears of failure, submit to new ideas of what success means to me, design events outside of my wildest dreams, but most of all, connect with people that I get to call my friends today. Thank you, Engage! for being the fire in my heart and the family I never knew I had. I can’t wait to see you all again soon!
AN OPEN LETTER TO ENGAGE! ATTENDEES + SPECIAL THANKS
Christina Carnevale, Paper Rock Scissors
It took us being at Engage! in Arizona to meet and we only live an hour apart. Through the years you have been there for me, you have been a voice of reason and the voice of fun. I appreciate you so much and I am so proud to call you my friend.
Sarah Campbell, Intrigue Designs
Where do I start? You are the epitome of “Because of Engage.” You have trusted me with styled shoots and speaking engagements. I couldn’t be more proud to call you my friend!
Kelly Karli, Kelly Karli Wedding and Events
You are the first person I asked to be my mentor in my wedding planning business. Your zest for life is intoxicating and your knowledge never ending. Thank you for all that you!
Carla Ten Eyck, Carla Ten Eyck Photography
Thank you for sharing your heart and letting me know that there is life after loss. You are a diamond. Please always shine bright!
Marcy Blum, Marcy Blum Associates
One time at Engage!, we sat next to each other at the salon for hours and got our hair and makeup done. Thank you for sharing your experiences. You made me feel that I’m doing something right and reminded me that with time, I will grow. Please always keep your sense of humor. It’s the best thing to see on stage while you speak!
Kristi Drago Price, Editor’s Edge
Dance parties at Engage! made us friends, but curating a brand keeps us together. I’m so glad we met and thank you so much for all of your coaching advice. You are a miracle worker.
Randy Fenoli, Randy Fenoli Bridal
As a fellow Jersey girl, I was humbled by your kindness and approachability. You taught me a few things in our short conversation and I will never forget it!
Jennifer Stein, Destination I Do, Editor
During a round table session once, you shared so many intimate things about your life and how hard it really is to be an editor. What an inspiration.
Paras Mehta, Paras Events
We became instant friends and I wouldn’t want it any other way. The work that you do inspires me daily and I’m so proud of you!
Tifany Wunschl, Gourmet Invitations
Your talent shines in so many ways and I’m so happy to call you my friend. You helped me design invitations for one of my favorite parties! I can’t wait to keep working together.
Rebecca Ickes Berg, Rebecca Marie Photography
We always kept bumping into each other at Engage! and finally figured out we should have a real talk. You are wonderful! Keep doing what you’re doing. I love seeing your business grow.
Dennis Kwan, Dennis Kwan Destinations
You are one of the first people I connected to during Engage and I thank you for being you. You are the most fun, the most kind and definitely the tallest.
Chellise, Chellise Michael Photography
Your business inspires me. Your photos move me. You are simply the coolest and I’m so proud of everything you do.