Eight years ago I was twenty eight, and decided that I had what it took to open a floral and event styling business (creativity, blind passion, strong work ethic, eye for the details, genuine interest in the happiness I could create for others with my talents, and a good dose of ignorance for what was before me…and a name).
It all began at a particular dinner with two of my closest girlfriends, Kathryn and Maria. Maria (a small business owner and particularly feisty Italian) asked me why I didn’t start my own business doing what I was so good at and had been doing for so many other businesses and friends for so many years. I defended my stance as I had with many others (and her) before with a long list of reasons that my life would change if I did: I won’t see my friends anymore (including them), I won’t have time to be with my boyfriend (now husband) or create a family, I wouldn’t make any money (true), I’d live in wedding world 24/7 (yep), and that I’d have brides calling me every day stressing me out (and making me smile) as they had for my employers, and that I’d no longer have anything to talk about with my friends but that…and so on. Maria wasn’t having it and exclaimed “Natalie, you could talk yourself out of anything! Why don’t you just try it and if you don’t like it you can quit!” I explained that the wedding business is not like that! If I didn’t like it I couldn’t just get out because it’s a cyclical business that never lives in the moment but rather always looks to the following six months to a year for survival alone. Kathryn, who was then a stationery designer, basically agreed with what I was saying but also encouraged me if it was what I wanted to do and said she’d help and support my decision.
Then, for some reason I cannot recall, we decided that it would be fun to name this pretend business. The next couple of hours went by as we threw out endless ideas, avoiding anything with my name or the name of a flower or anything overly specific in case in the business I wanted to branch out in different directions such as photo styling, fine art photography, or planning. As we drove home exhausted from our pretend plans I said, “I want something that’s old Hollywood..something that you’d answer the phone 'hello darling'.” And that was the beginning. We shrieked, we laughed, that was it! Hello Darling! That had to be it and it had to be MINE! I immediately checked that the name wasn’t taken in the Illinois LLC database and began months of font research and worked on branding ideas while attending small business workshops and talking to people about my decision. This was scary and not everyone supported my big idea though they’ve all come around since. It was unplanned in many ways and underfunded in all.
I was working “for myself” as a photographer for years before this while freelancing as a floral designer, and at the time was working my first full time job for someone else, managing the shop for my friends at Stems. Since college I had been shooting weddings, fine art, fashion, and interior photography for local fashion designers like Michelle Tan and interior designers such as Nate Berkus. This wasn’t my first leap of faith or the first time I’d placed myself under great pressure out on my own. I had little to no idea what I was going to be doing in this new business besides working really hard to make things as gorgeous as possible and clients as happy as possible. Besides my creativity and design experience, basic knowledge of marketing and branding, my organized and type-A personality, and my base of vendors and trusted design assistants, I had almost no accounting experience beyond simple invoicing and contracts from previous photo clientele. I wasn’t aware of what might be on the other side of the door and it was terrifying and exciting while I was opening it. If I had known the challenges that were waiting for me it’s hard to say whether I would have done it. Looking back, I now think that an entrepreneur may be a visionary with little regard for the obstacles hiding on the horizon and tons of guts and commitment required to reach for the glory of the dream.
Having never sold events of my own I was shy in my meetings and really didn’t know what to say to clients at all at the start. I had loved creating the bouquets and décor that was sold to clients by my employers for years and had the vocabulary and experience to describe those things but I hadn’t actually had to sell them, or for that matter, to pay my bills based on my sales. To get beyond this fear and to get more organized in my approach I made a flower planner which helped me and my clients have a base from which to work and talk. Little by little I set up systems. Little by little my events grew and along with it the hours I worked, the team I depended on, the vendors that supplied my product, the ideas I was challenged to create, the advertising budgets, office size and décor, method of transportation to events, everything. I’m not one who is ever satisfied with the current state of affairs. I want it to be bigger and better. I want it to shine and for my entire team to be proud of what we do and for every single client to fall in love with what we create for them and of course, to like us too. To some that may not be sane or realistic, but it is what I expect.
After eight years I can say with great pride that we have never sold the same event to anyone ever. I wouldn’t bother working this hard to simply recreate cookie cutter events. Though recreating events takes less prep and thoughtful design time and turns a bigger profit, that’s never been my driving force and would never satisfy my creative soul or make our clients events feel like they do. My driving force is my passion for beauty and for making other people happy by making truly stunning, breathtaking, natural and original displays of art with the very best products I can get my hands on and that will never change. This takes hours of work, and yes, hours of phone calls with my clients (who are amazing), but all of it is worth it and shapes the beauty we create in the most personal ways. Because the time we put in and the dedication to the relationships we form with our clients we’re known for creativity, quality, tailored details, customer service, and honesty. Plus the words magical and whimsical come out of the mouths of our clients when they step into the environments we create for them. I used to have a hard time digesting these fantastical words, or maybe believing them, but now they make me smile. I love that we make dreams come true. I really do.
Because of what I’ve built with so many supporters along the way, the hundreds of clients we’ve made happy and the thousands of guests who’ve felt special walking into the events we’ve been a part of, I’m proud to say that I own Hello Darling and without it and the last eight years I would never have had the pride to claim my own work like this. I never walk out of one of our events without thinking that it would be great to actually sit down at one of the tables as a guest and slowly take it all in as the evening unfolds. The whimsical fantasies that we create for our clients to hold, and look at, and breath in for a day turn into magical memories for years to come, so I guess it’s true what our clients say.
It literally makes me cry to proofread this. I guess I just wanted to share our little history with all who’ve been a part of its making for these last eight years and for those who are just getting to know us and shape our destiny now. Every one of you, whether a client or a colleague, family or friend, has changed my life and so many lives forever and will continue to. You’ve given me pride and joy in ways I had no knowledge of before and the rest of my history has a lot to live up to. For this I thank you, so very much. Eight years and counting…