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Business Plan Case Study: Barbie Hull Photography

We feel pretty strongly that a business plan can help you to define your business goals and give you a road-map for the future of your company. But, what makes a company that has used a business plan different from others? How has a business plan made the difference for that business?

Studies have shown that having a business plan doubles your chances of success. It’s not the paper that is magical. It’s the process of writing, thinking, strategizing that puts you one step ahead of your competitors.

Photo Credit: Laurel McConnell Photography

Photo Credit: Laurel McConnell Photography

4 years ago we launched The Simple Plan workshop in Seattle. We follow up with attendees periodically to ensure they are still getting value from the investment they made. Here’s a pretty cool stat: of the 15 business owners who attended the Seattle 2009 workshop, 14 are still operating (and THRIVING at leaps and bounds!)

We sat down with one of our attendees from our Seattle 2009 workshop, Barbie Hull. Barbie is a phenomenal photographer (and a funny lady) who’s been snapping pictures since 2001. Barbie shares what has worked for her in business planning…

Why a business plan is important…

After being in business for so many years I thought it was important to create a new business plan to re-focus my goals. It is so easy to keep your head down and work work work on day-to-day tasks when you should really be keeping your head up and your eyes on the bigger picture. What are my goals? How much do I want to work? What is my exit strategy? For all of these questions – a good business plan helps you create a path to answer them!

A-HA moments during the business planning process…

Well, we had a lot of hahahaha’s at our workshop!! What a fun and super smart group! The biggest A-HA moment I had that couple of days was the outsourcing idea – outsource anything and everything you can – all while keeping an eye on it. This will leave you available to be more profitable and lessens the chance of burnout.

How the business plan helped explore my biggest challenge… 

Pricing. I have always worried about pricing – is it right, will it work, how will I explain the increase to my existing clients. By creating this business plan I figured out my expenses and my break even point – being aware of how much I have to work just to live, really helped give me the confidence to increase my prices and realize that I was worth it. (THANKYOU!!)

How the business plan helped on an on-going basis…

After the Simple Plan workshop – I started meeting with three other business owners, we would meet every other Monday morning for breakfast – kind of like an inspiration group to help keep each other focused. We would talk through creative decisions, bookkeeping & accounting problems, and when we were stuck on a client issue anything business related and I honestly don’t think we would have thought to do this if we hadn’t created our business plan.

Biggest improvements as a result of the business plan…

I feel in the last few years my business has grown quite a bit – not only in amount of work accomplished or funds raised, but also in what we learned from Christy & Blair of Junebug Weddings – about living your brand. I wanted to attract fun clients, ones who are low key and enjoyable to be around. So I started to be a bit more comfortable being my goofy self in public – mailing glittery cards, posting hilarious photos and inviting clients over for a beer or margarita, all of this plus more has helped me to live my brand and in return my clients are all really fun and pretty laid back!

Thanks Barbie!

You can read more case studies here. Find our workshop schedule here.

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December 4, 2013 - 4:18 pm

Anne Bradfield - Yay, Barbie! Great insights from a great business owner.

Are You Prepared for Engagement Season?


Image by Karen Kurycki for The Washington Post

Image by Karen Kurycki for The Washington Post

Roughly 1/3 of all engagements happen between the Thanksgiving and New Years holidays…guys, this is NOW.  This is EXCITING…there is money to be made and you should start to see your inquiries increase during these months.  If you haven’t already, here are some important things to think about as you prepare for engagement season:

1.  Dust off your print marketing materials and consider giving them a facelift – if you have an image from 2009 on a brochure, it’s time to freshen things up.  If your business cards could use an overhaul, take the time to work with a designer to spruce them up.  You’re going to be competing against other professionals, so it’s important that your marketing materials you give potential clients during a consultation are fresh, polished, and enticing to these newly engaged couples.  The materials you give them set the stage for your brand, your image, and could make the difference between whether they hire you or your competition.

2.  Freshen up your website – when girls return to their office that Monday morning after getting engaged, what do you think they’re working on?  Unfortunately for their employers, they’re not doing much work – statistics show that the highest online traffic for wedding industry websites occurs on Monday mornings.  You have 3 seconds to make an initial impression with your website – if you have pictures of burlap and lace weddings on your website, but you’re trying to attract a modern, art deco bride in 2014 then you MUST make sure your website has images that art deco bride will resonate with.  If she sees burlap and lace she’s likely to click off your website immediately.

3.  Evaluate your pricing – most of you should be increasing your pricing for 2014 events.  If you are a Photographer and were charging $3500 for your base package this year, and for the most part your clients gave you no pushback, it’s time to increase your pricing.  If you increase that price by 10% your new base price would be $3850 – that’s a significant increase for you, but most people wouldn’t even worry about a $350 price increase when they REALLY want you.  Keep in mind that you’re valuable to these clients and they’re willing to pay more for you.  You’re WORTH it.  We have a Pricing Test & Sales Plan that I highly recommend to help you test your pricing – it’s just $10 and is an excel spreadsheet you can use to play with your numbers.  This spreadsheet has seriously been life-changing for so many businesses because it reveals how many weddings you need to do to break-even based on your pricing, how many weddings you need in order to be profitable, etc.  Most everyone realizes they HAVE to increase their pricing after using this spreadsheet, if they want to be a sustainable business.

So, let’s all take one day this week (even if it’s 2 hours) to focus ON your business – to get ready for this engagement season, and to prepare to have your best year yet in 2014! Go get ‘em!:)

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November 29, 2013 - 3:40 am

Martina Selvagi - This is so true! Every October/Novmember gets quiet and just when I am about to freak out and start thinking I should consider giving discounts, inquiry craziness starts. For the past two years I’ve noticed that lin the last week of December and first of January we got 50% of bookings for following year. For this reason I don’t consider this time of the year to be a Holiday season :)

Announcing Sage Wedding Pros’ Educational Seminars in 2014

We are thrilled to announce that we will be presenting two educational seminars in 2014. As always, our seminars are solid business education with tools you can use every day. We are solid, no fluff. We don’t talk in theory, we talk in application. These will be the ONLY educational opportunities we offer in 2014.

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TheSimplePlan_square_PMS(RGB)_SWPThe Simple Plan Workshop
February 19-20, 2014 – Dallas TX

We have been producing The Simple Plan for 4 years. We can honestly say there is no other workshop out there like this. (Just ask any of our 300 grads who have attended.) Make sure to check out our video so that you can see what The Simple Plan is about.

This is our 2-day business planning workshop:

  • Strengthen your core philosophy
  • Refine your branding and marketing strategy
  • Create a promotional plan for 2014
  • Examine and test your pricing to achieve your profitability goals
  • Improve your operational strategy
  • Create the next step in your hiring, training, and management plan
  • Analyze your financial history
  • Learn how to make a cash flow plan for 2014

Workshop Cost: $699 (early bird of $499 rate through Jan-10-2014)
(includes 2 days of business planning at the workshop, workshop materials, and lunch for both days)

We are limiting capacity to only 50 participants and expect that this workshop will sell out.

Purchase your ticket here:

$499 early bird rate: 


2 payments of $260
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Location: The Windsor about Hebron Park - 3016 E Hebron Pkwy, Carrollton, TX 75007

Hotels within 10 minutes from the locationaLoftMarriott at The Shops at LegacyCourtyard Marriott at The Shops at Legacy.

We encourage people to fly into DFW or DAL. Email us if you need assistance with travel.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

besage_webBe Sage Conference
August 2014 – Chicago IL

In a few weeks we will be announcing our new business conference. We have been developing a conference for business owners who need to be challenged on a much deeper level. This conference will cover much-needed business topics that aren’t being taught in our industry. (Think: expansion, licensing, retirement, financial leverage, etc.) We will be inviting business leaders, thinkers, innovators to share their expertise with us.

Be Smart. Be Bright. Be Sage.

This conference will be quite different from The Simple Plan workshops. You don’t have to be a graduate of The Simple Plan to attend this conference. But, we think having a business plan can always be beneficial to businesses of every level.

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Using Licensed Images, Artwork, and Graphics for Events and Parties

I’m taken aback when I see something is extremely prevalent and totally illegal in our industry (and more so in the kids’ party industry). I’m talking about the use of licensed images and artwork for events and parties. Here’s the deal… if you are profiting from the use of any copyrighted images, artwork, or graphics (that you do not have a right or license to use) you are stealing from that artist. If you are a stationer or an event designer who is using images from films, cartoons, children’s books, television, trademarked logos, etc. you are doing so illegally. (Yes, cake designers too! Keep reading.)

Image: Creative Commons License

HA!  WRONG!  Image: Creative Commons License

I’m talking about using any of the following printed on invitations, menus, banners, bunting, hats, etc, etc, etc…

  • Dr. Seuss characters
  • Charlie Brown and Peanuts Gang characters
  • Star Wars logos
  • Hello Kitty and her friends
  • Logos relating to luxury handbags (Louis Vuitton, etc) and other designer labels
  • Logos relating to colleges and professional sports teams
  • and… anything Disney (of course!)… pretty much anything that has a (c) or ™ or (r) after it!

Don’t even get me started on the craziness on Etsy and Pinterest in regards to completely illegal use of marks and artwork. OY!

What the Law Says…

Copyright and trademark laws are in place to protect artists from those that may want to profit from copying their work. (I’m pretty sure you’d want this protection for your business, right?)

Here is the law so that you can get all legal-y with me:

(1) Any person who shall, without the consent of the registrant—

(a) use in commerce any reproduction, counterfeit, copy, or colorable imitation of a registered mark in connection with the sale, offering for sale, distribution, or advertising of any goods or services on or in connection with which such use is likely to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive; or

(b) reproduce, counterfeit, copy, or colorably imitate a registered mark and apply such reproduction, counterfeit, copy, or colorable imitation to labels, signs, prints, packages, wrappers, receptacles or advertisements intended to be used in commerce upon or in connection with the sale, offering for sale, distribution, or advertising of goods or services on or in connection with which such use is likely to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive, shall be liable in a civil action by the registrant for the remedies hereinafter provided.

What about “non-commercial” or personal use?

Here’s where people get confused and the lines get blurred… if you are hosting a party for your child and use licensed graphics and images… and you are NOT selling anything or profiting from this… you might be OK. The idea is that if you use the image or mark for personal use, you are not gaining any profit. (This does get really blurry tho because some companies do not condone personal use. Your best bet would be to email the artist and/or company and ask for permission.)  The HUGE mistake that is made with the personal use of artwork is when this private party is published on a blog or website. NOW – the party has turned from personal to commercial. Who do you think is profiting? Maybe it’s you indirectly from marketing exposure? Maybe it’s the site owner from the sale of advertisements? Bottom line: if you are using artwork for your personal use, do NOT get it published.

Cake People too!

And, here is something interesting… cake design is guilty of this too! If you are a cake artist who is asked to do Sesame Street characters, you may want to rethink that. This is a really great post explaining the legality of artwork on cake design. The author of this article, Jason Kraft, makes a great point here:

“You may notice many, many examples of infringing cakes posted online by both individuals and businesses. This may be due to people being unaware of copyright law or simply not caring about it, but it does not mean that copyright law is not being enforced. This law exists to protect the investment of people and businesses who spend time and money creating original works of art, and if you create your own original work you would want to enjoy those same protections.”

Be Ethical. Be Honest. Be Legal.

So, what do you do if your client requests this of you? (This is especially hard when your competitor may have this blazoned on their website as something they offer.) One option is to legally license the artwork so that you are free to use it for this event. (Some artists may be more flexible with the use of their images depending on the scope of your work.)

If you are unable to license the artwork (or it is cost prohibitive), then you need to refrain from using it.  The right thing to do is educate the client on why doing this is illegal and unethical. You will gain far more respect and credibility in the industry if you commit yourself to doing honest business.

What are your thoughts on this? Have you been in a situation where a client has asked this of you? Have you had success in licensing artwork the right way?

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November 18, 2013 - 9:32 am

Angela B - Oh does this come up a lot. The children’s birthday party angle is a big one, but for me it comes up most often with sports ticket themed save the dates. I actually have a competitor that frequently uses sports team logos on their wedding ticket designs- and has sold quite a lot of them. Many people do get why I won’t include their favorite team’s logo on their design, but some of them just go where they can get it.

November 18, 2013 - 6:21 pm

Latrice - Timely & great information. I’ve wondered about this for a while.

Branding Specialist Showcase: Leslie Vega Design

Our  Sage Branding Specialists are people that we have interviewed, researched, and vetted. (Yes, they do pay for us to share their advertisement with you, but we only endorse people that we trust for your business.) We have a new designer to share with you today: Leslie Vega. Leslie’s design style brings a romantic and pretty quality to business branding. Working with wedding pros is a perfect match for her style because of Leslie’s lovely flair.

Get to know Leslie and her beautiful design work…

LeslieVega1Leslie Vega Design
Established 2008
Designing since 2003

What is your design specialty? What are you known for?

I specialize in brand designs for photographers and wedding professionals. (I also have a line of wedding stationery, some of which have been featured on blogs such as Oh So Beautiful Paper and Weddings Unveiled.) I really strive to give the client a pleasant experience as I know their branding journey can be a daunting one. So aside from the client experience and trustworthy turnaround, I’d say my timeless designs and soft approach have definitely stirred up the word of mouth.

Describe your design style. How do you get inspiration?

While my abilities are pretty versatile, from soft and pretty to clean and modern, I’d have to say my designs often lean towards the more classic and elegant. Versatility however is such a key strength for any designer, so I’d like to think that I’ve really embraced that trait. Each project I take on really has endless possibilities based on the client’s style and vision for their brand.

My inspiration comes from a lot places. It’s funny, sometimes you’ll see me discretely photographing my surroundings in a store where the decor and presentation are just too inspiring not to capture. (Anthropologie iPhone-ography adventures are at the top of the list!) From interior design to fashion, textiles, and signage, my creative mind is always going no matter where I am and I often have a client’s brand in mind when I have those light bulb ideas in the least expected places.

What is the process like to work with you? What should a client expect when they hire you to do their branding?

First, I have the client fill out a brand questionnaire to give me a little glimpse into who they are and what they are drawn to. Because as a designer I am visual, another really strong piece to help me get a sense of their style is a mood board. For some clients, this step might be a little overwhelming so I offer assistance with this part if requested as I get to know their style through their questionnaire. But many clients have often found this step to be a really fun one allowing them to see more of their personality in a visual sense, often times discovering things about themselves they never knew!
Once these two things are complete, I begin the design process.

My clients have found that I’m a very patient designer. I understand the overwhelming feeling of knowing that you’re getting your brand just right, so I work with the client to make it stress free. And I’m always there to answer any questions or concerns in a timely manner with the voice of reassurance they need.

Give 3 tips on what a small business should do before they hire a designer.

1-Really study the designer before hiring them. Explore their work and aesthetic to know that they are a great match for you and your style.
2-Have an idea of the direction you want to take, but don’t stress about having it down to the ‘T’ right up front. That is what your designer is for! A good designer can help guide you through the process of designing a brand that fits you like a glove.
3-Schedule out some time. For any wedding professional, life and work can be really busy. If you value this process and want it to be worth the investment, schedule out some uninterrupted time to really explore the initial questionnaire and mood board steps in depth–and allow yourself to enjoy it. You’ll find if you devote the time and research, the special attention to it will produce some amazing results.

Here is some of Leslie’s Branding Work… 


Ashley McCormick Photography
Ashley’s goal was to go very classic with her brand. She is completely in love with old vintage keys and wanted to incorporate that into her brand. I worked with her to create her classic logo and watermark to be executed on all of her brand collateral and promotional products.


Laura Leslie Photography
Laura wanted something very timeless, yet elegant with great use of white space. This brand in particular was very meaningful to the client as the Blue Willow graphics were inspired by her grandmother’s Blue Willow china plates. Her heritage played a big role in her brand and she wanted to execute it in a soft but professional way. I worked with the Blue Willow patterns to incorporate them tastefully into her web design and stationery. (The brand continues to evolve as the web design is still in the oven!)


JBeautique Makeup + Hair Creations
Joey Cheung of JBeautique wanted help with her full brand design from logo to stationery and web presence. She wanted something elegant and soft to showcase her beauty services. I worked with her to create her elegant logo and helped excute the brand as a whole with her high-end letterpress business card and web site elements.


Love & Water Photography
Husband and wife team, Shawn and Adam were excited to merge their love of water photography and wedding photography together to form their joint venture of Love & Water Photography. They wanted something very clean to showcase their ocean inspired work. Using the color palette of the ocean, I created their logo and watermark and stationery concepts.

Thank you, Leslie!


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November 12, 2013 - 10:18 am

Kate - I love her work and I truly hope to work with her very soon !

November 13, 2013 - 1:38 pm

GallantGifts.com - Love her branding Style. As a branding agency we see all types of re-branding work and her’s is super clean and fresh.

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