Alright, y’all– I’m back this week with the continuation in the Making of Creative at Heart series.
Let me start off by saying that I would never have expected C@H to take me where it has, and make the impact on as many as it has! I hoped for it, but never really knew what to expect.
The first two years of the conference we hosted three conferences per year. (I look back now and I see a marketing tactic in that … one I teach to women I coach who are looking to start their own experience.) But at the time I didn’t have a strategy… I simply wanted to host as many as I could!! I loved every part of planning and executing C@H, so before one was over I was already thinking about the next!
In 2015, we visited Staunton, VA, Roanoke, VA and Charleston, SC; in 2016, we traveled to Annapolis, MD, Denver, CO and Memphis, TN. What most don’t remember is that in 2016 we were also supposed to travel to Australia for not one but two conferences. Round’s 4 & 5 were supposed to take place in January 2016 at two stunning Australian venues. Yet after working with a planner over there and doing our best to market the experience, we only sold five seats and had to cancel our trip abroad. I’ll never forget calling each and every educator who was making the trip over and telling them we had to cancel; I was terrified and ashamed and cried during every call. I’ll also never forget emailing those five who did register offering a full refund and telling them the truth: we couldn’t host C@H with five attendees.
It was a humbling season for me as a business owner; and while it’s very clearly a “low” (cancelling is never on someone’s “bucket list”!) it also became a “high” because I was shown so much grace & encouragement from our educators and potential Australian attendees. I felt supported and seen, and that feeling is still etched on my heart.
Even though I was shown so much grace through that season, cancelling those two conferences really set the tone for a hard, hard 2016.
From the outside looking in, our brand continued to grow and conferences continued to be held. Yet behind the scenes, I was struggling to make the conference a profitable business and not just a passion project. Oh, I was passionate about it– that’s for sure!! But I wasn’t being as “business savvy” as I needed to be in order to make it sustainable. In fact, what you likely don’t know is that after our sixth conference in November of 2016, Matt sat down with me to look at our financials and told me if I couldn’t make the conference sustainable in 2017, we’d have to close the doors.
Talk about a hard conversation.
The achiever in me felt like a failure; the wife in me was so embarrassed; and the cool & collected business owner in me felt like a fraud.
Alongside all of those fears & anxieties came a very public outcry. Just before our November 2016 conference, we were also publicly criticized for lack of inclusivity in our educators. Now, I don’t just mean one or two Instagram comments … I’m talking hundreds. The post went viral and even ended up on Huffington Post.
I could sit down and right out an entire blog post specifically on the situation and maybe one day I will. It was a defining moment for me personally and our brand as a whole. It could have easily broken our brand forever, and shredded the trust we had built with our attendee and educator family. Thankfully, God had other plans and He put the right people in my path when I needed it. On one hand, we received insane amounts of negativity; and on the other hand I had a sea of creatives reaching out to offer support, advice, and encouragement– both privately and publicly. The women and men who reached out to me gave the push I needed to keep going, and while I would never wish the situation on anyone it ultimately made our brand (and me!) stronger!!
As if 2016 hadn’t hit me hard enough, it was also the year Matt and I walked through two miscarriages. Our year went a little something like:
July: Miscarriage #1 and then host Round 5
August: Public criticism of the most extreme kind
November: Host Round 6 and then Miscarriage #2
December: Super humbling financial conversation with Matt
I thought a lot about giving up.
I thought a lot about going back to corporate America and calling it quits on the whole “being a business owner” thing.
I share all of this because, well, this was my reality in 2016 and I know some of you might be walking a similar one right now!! It’s easy to look at brands and see “success,” yet “success” doesn’t happen overnight and for a lot of entrepreneurs there is a hard journey to get there!!
I look back at 2016 now and, as weird as it sounds, I’m thankful for both the business hard and the personal hard. All of which shaped me into the woman I am today. I am better & stronger because of 2016, and I know the Lord was molding me through it all! I know He’s doing the same for you in your hard season, too.
Okay, so what happened after the hard? How was 2017, and 2018 and now 2019?
I’m glad you asked! 😉
In 2017, I knew I needed to step back in order to step forward. Based on our public criticism and my humble-pie talk with Matt, I didn’t want to host three conferences like we’d done in the past. I wanted to host one. I knew that as a business, I needed to put all of my eggs in one basket and make it the prettiest, best basket around!! I wanted to pour all of my heart & soul into one experience that would change lives (mine included!)!
Round 7 did just that!
In January 2017 our team of 3 (Matt, Emily and I) launched Round 7 and sold out in just 48 hours. We focused on quality over quantity, and gave our ALL to those 80 attendees. And with that, our three-times-per-year conference became an annual experience. Truthfully, it was the best move for us!! I was no longer stretched thin when it came to planning the experience (even though I love planning!). I was able to focus on what we do well and do it REALLY well! Round 7 holds a very special place in my life because it was the beginning of a new chapter for our brand.
It revitalized me, rejuvenated me and reminded me why I began in the first place.
On the drive home from Round 7 I cried happy tears to Matt and told him that after all this time, we’d found “it”. We’d found our groove, found our people, and I couldn’t WAIT to do it all again for Round 8!!!
We opened registration for Round 8 in January 2018 and sold 80 seats in just 3 hours. I remember crying over milkshakes with Emily that night (ha!) because I could not BELIEVE the response! It was amazing!!!! I was pregnant at the time so we were prepping for the longest break between conferences in conference history; yet knowing our people were STILL exciting to come (even with a long break!) was incredible.
Round 8 took place this past November (November 2018) and the theme for the experience was “home”.
While we physically found our home and for the first time ever we will be repeating our venue in 2019 (and hopefully 2020, 2021, etc!), as the founder and host I also found a sense of home. The 2018 conference was beautiful– there’s really no other way to put it. It was filled with hope & heart & women willing to step out for their business & their faith. I loved it, and looking back, the sense of “home” was overwhelmingly present in every area of the experience!!
Truthfully, my entire journey with Creative at Heart has felt like coming home.
Through the highs & lows it’s been a constant source of encouragement & hope in my life. The lows have made me stronger, the highs have brought me so much joy. C@H is always welcoming me, supporting me, and challenging me to reach new heights and dream bigger & bolder.
I’m excited to get to continue to dream bigger & bolder as our brand grows. This year, that looks like hosting our 9th conference in June (I can’t wait!), opening virtual doors to our first ever membership community (our way of bringing that sense of home paired with practical education to creatives!) and scheming up an Alumni-only event (It’s going to be so good!).
I could keep filling pages & pages about the C@H story, and my own story as the founder & host (and maybe one day I will!); but for now I’ll just say I’m grateful (so, so grateful) and overwhelmed with happiness that I get to do this day in and day out.
Here’s to the creatives, yes, here’s to you!
all images but the first iphone image are by Bethanne Arthur Photography