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Sophie Branchaud | Ottawa | Keep Going!!

I started my business in 2007, the same year my oldest daughter was born. I knew that as a new mom with an ambitious career-driven personality I was going to want flexibility in my work schedule so that I could work around my child's needs, and I also wanted to be working toward building something great. It occurred to me that one way to go about this was to start my own business and be my own boss. I had experience in event planning from a previous job so it seemed like a good place to start. That year, I took a wedding planning course and started a business right away. I planned one wedding, for free, the following year. I had freedom and flexibility galore... but no money. So I returned to work after my maternity leave was over and I continued to build my business on the side with the dream of eventually going at it full time. Many of my clients were heavily design-based and I spent much of our planning time on the look and feel of the day. A number of clients asked me to do their flower arrangements for them. I had never arranged flowers but I figured I could probably figure it out. I took classes, I studied "how-to" videos and I attended every workshop I could find. Over time I became pretty good at it. A year after my second daughter was born, in 2010, I transitioned away from planning entirely and began offering only flowers and decor. I'd found an aspect of this events industry that I was really passionate about. I completely rebranded my business and began taking on decor contracts as Sage Designs. I've been growing and nurturing my business for 11 years now. I continue to take classes and workshops every chance I get. Today, we have 3 full-time employees and an amazing installation crew who help us bring all of our events to life for our incredible clients.

What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?

My biggest hurdle in the beginning was my high expectations. The day I launched my website in 2007 I expected the inquiries to start pouring in immediately. I actually worried a bit about how I was going to manage it all. "It's fine", I reasoned, "I can answer emails while nursing or while the baby's napping"... I knew I'd figure it out but still, this was going to be a challenge. Well, a few hours after my site launched I had no inquiries. The next day... nothing. I started to worry that the contact form on my site wasn't working so I tested it out. It worked. A few more days went by... not one single email.

And so began my deep dive into marketing, SEO, and networking. It took some time to make it so that people could find me. It took time to make it so that people would trust me. Everything took time. And for me, a person who wants results NOW, this was extremely difficult. Luckily, I'm a patient person and I can focus on immediate challenges while maintaining a vigilant eye on the big picture... the big goal which I came to realize could be years down the road. But it was there and each year I saw myself inching closer to it. That kept me going.

Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits? How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?

I've been extremely, EXTREMELY, fortunate to have had the support of my amazing husband and all of my family members right from the very beginning. In fact, my first employee when I started planning was my sister. When we transitioned into decor my mom and my other 3 sisters helped out with my installations. I've also been very fortunate to have surrounded myself with like-minded friends over the years too. This has been key. Naturally, I've heard comments from extended family or from friends of friends, such as:

"Well, there can't be much money in THAT business. What else do you do?" "What's your back-up plan if this all goes downhill?"

"I can't believe how much people spend on weddings! What a waste. Why wouldn't they put that towards buying a house?!" For me, the positive comments out-weighed the negative and I kept my focus fixed on those positive vibes and the big picture that I was inching ever-closer to. I kept myself surrounded by family and friends who were happy to cheer me on. I surrounded myself with people who were building their own empires and who had big dreams like mine. Everyone else disappeared from my life and from my social feeds.

What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?

I am always learning. I never ever feel that I know everything or even that I know "enough". This has played a huge role in my success. I approach every challenge with an open mind and a determination to overcome it.

What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?

I wish I had known that everyone else was in the same boat I was. In 2007 social media was just starting out. I joined Facebook that year. From the very beginning it was standard to put the very best of yourself out there to the digital world. I spent a lot of time watching other successful businesses flourish. I watched my peers as they did bigger, more beautiful events than I was doing. I felt alone on those days when I struggled because it seemed like no one else was struggling.

Over the years I've come to learn that EVERYONE IS STRUGGLING. No matter what your level of success everyone has days when they break down and cry. Everyone has days when they question why they're still doing this. Everyone has days when they doubt everything. Everyone has days when they're ready to quit. EVERYONE.

You are not alone. Keep going.

What advice would you give to an upcoming young and old entrepreneur locally and internationally?

Be patient and work hard on what needs to get done today. But always ALWAYS keep one eye stubbornly fixed on the big picture. It may be many years and years away but as long as you keep working and keep learning you will eventually get there. You've got this!

You Got THIS!!

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