Many people do not know the story behind Caitlin Elizabeth Bridal and Alterations. So I'll share...
My mother actually taught me how to use her sewing machine in high school. I never had home economics or any formal training. After graduation from Western Illinois University in December 2008, I struggled to land a job. As many of my fellow 2008 classmates, it took time for the job market to strengthen. While randomly working part-time jobs, I decided to take a leap and try something different. I contacted a local seamstress that I knew during my childhood and asked to shadow her bridal alteration business. Over a course of 12 months, I learned an array of skills from bridal garment construction to properly fitting a garment. Once I started my full-time career in 2010, I decided to continue doing bridal alterations as a hobby. Little did I know it would morph into what I have today.
Every year since, my business expanded -- and that was not by mistake. I worked very hard to strategically grow my business, my brand, my client base, and my relationships -- both in person and online. Each year got better and better; bigger and bigger; and ultimately more demanding. As flattering as it was to have people demanding my services, it was very clear that this year I had to make a decision.
My clients were always shocked to learn that in addition to owning and operating Caitlin Elizabeth Bridal and Alterations, I also worked full-time. I thoroughly enjoy working in digital and social media marketing, which is why I focused on both passions for more than six years. Much of my success within my small business stemmed from things I learned both from my full-time career and MBA experiences through the University of Iowa. Being one of many small business owners who also work full-time, I know the following dilemmas happens to many of my fellow girlbosses.
- Do I grow and pursue one career over the other?
- There are only so many hours in a day. Do I limit my business inquiries?
- Where do I want to spend my talents and efforts?
After reviewing my priorities, my lack of work/life balance, and my career goals, I realized that I am not as committed to my small business as I am committed to my full-time marketing career. The decision had been made! Caitlin Elizabeth Bridal and Alterations' last bride is getting married on December 31, 2016.
As I close this chapter in my life, I have no regrets with the time I invested growing my business, building long-lasting relationships, and collecting experiences that only I could encounter as a small business owner.
With my business, I cannot define any real 'failures' as every experience was valuable to my professional and personal growth. Although I had failures, it is more about going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.
Four key take-aways from my entrepreneurial journey:
Learning how to say 'yes' to saying 'no'
Although I wanted to help every bride, bridesmaid, and mother of bride who had an ill-fitting dress or wedding emergency, I just could not keep saying 'yes' to everyone. The inability to say 'no' can hold you and your business back. Taking on too much can cause mistakes and increased stress. I slowly accepted the concept of saying 'yes' to one thing simply meant saying 'no' to somethings else. There were times when I was not taking care of myself, therefore, I was lacking the ability to take care of others around me.
By prioritizing, it is much easier to say 'yes' to things that really matter to me -- the things that reflect what I want, who I am, and what I believe in.
The customer comes first
My customer's journey may be a little different than other small businesses. My customer, the bride, has spent:
- a lifetime thinking about her wedding day.
- months scouring the internet and visiting bridal boutiques to find the perfect wedding dress.
- weeks preparing herself to leave her beautiful wedding dress with a total stranger -- the trusted seamstress.
In the bridal industry, it is always about the customer. My business was very customer-focused. Every bride envisioned 'beauty' in her own unique way and it was important to make sure she felt confident and beautiful in her eyes. Unlike some bridal vendors, I was fortunate to spend a significant amount of time with my clients to build personable relationships over a period of months. I got all the details including how she met her true love to every intricate wedding detail that still had to be planned.
Brides sometimes do not always know how to communicate exactly what they want, but active listening and communication allowed me to successfully and repeatedly have happy clients. I strongly believe that this skill is essential for any professional. I am proud of the 50+ five-star reviews on Facebook and Square accumulated over just the last few years. These authentic and transparent reviews share why I always put my customers first!
Successful Entrepreneurs can't do it alone
One of my favorite aspects of being a small business owner is the community! Networking and building relationship comes natural to me. I am fortunate for the amazing relationships with both bridal and non-bridal business owners across the country. I valued the strong support system of others who were experiencing the same hurdles, questions, and journey as myself. In 2015, an international movement, the Rising Tide Society, was risen and helped me meet even more creative entrepreneurs and small business owners. I loved -- and still love -- their foundation of 'community over competition'.
As I transition, I expect to continue being a resource for others who want to invest in growing their social media and digital presence. As my full-time career has allowed me to be an expert in this space, I look to continue supporting small businesses.
BE passionate about what you do
It is not all about money. Yes, money is a great perk. However, the time I was investing into every aspect of running my business -- in addition to the time spent behind the sewing machine -- just did not outweigh the life I was missing. I realized as much as I loved the work I did, the relationships I have built, and the experiences I lived, I was not as passionate about this work.
A lesson from my Leadership and Personal Development course in my MBA reminds me that if you truly love what you’re doing, the work won’t seem like a burden and your passion will shine through in your day-to-day life.
What does Caitlin's future look like?
Passion is the difference between having a job and having a career.
Looking into the future, I am excited to dedicate more time to my full-time career. I am very passionate about digital and social technology and how it has changed -- and will continue to change-- the way we live, communicate, build relationships, operate, educate, etc.
I look forward to spending more time with my current hobbies -- and adding more to my list -- including photography, blogging, traveling, and energized lifestyle activities like hiking, Crossfit, rock climbing (thanks to my brother), and cycling.
Thank you to everyone who ever supported my dreams. I am so lucky to have you in my life and your support will never be forgotten.
Signing off! As always, thanks for reading.