Learn more about Renee Halgerson, a co-owner at Hitch Design Studio. (What she does on a daily basis, what she values, a Q&A, and what the “extras” bring to her life.) A Day in the Life of Carrie Kuhl coming soon!
Thursday, November 20, 2014:
6:20 a.m. The alarm goes off.
6:38 a.m. I move slightly. I’m really not a morning person. (Thanks, mom, for THAT quality). 🙂
6:47 a.m. I finally wake up and if there’s time, I check a few emails and social media for anything that might need urgent action. (Just WHAT on social media needs urgent action? I don’t know. But it relaxes me and makes me feel informed.)
7:45 a.m. My 12-minute trip to Brookings is filled with an audio book. Yep, I’m really geeky like that. I listen to books on CD. Multi-tasking at its finest! Plus, I can read twice as many books this way.
8:00 a.m. I’m actually on time for MasterMinds today! It’s gonna be a good day. I meet with this amazing group of business owners, entrepreneurial-spirited women and advisors every Thursday morning. We each share our “wins” for the week and also share a topic we’re struggling with or have questions about. It’s a very uplifting group who gives the best advice in any situation and never resorts to gossip to fill our valuable time together. Like one member said today, “It’s easy to make time for this group because it’s so valuable.”
8:45 a.m. I leave MasterMinds early to prepare for a 4-chapter lecture review on media law. Hmmm…how can I possibly make this interesting? I started teaching a couple of lab sections at SDSU for the advertising/journalism department this fall while I’m getting my Master’s degree! I’ve always had the heart of a teacher, so these 10 hours a week fill me with inspiration. Besides, owning a small business wasn’t crazy enough of a schedule, right? I had to throw in homework and a Master’s degree on top of that. I mean, why have free time? Ever. I do take comfort in this quote, though: “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
9:00 a.m. Class starts. I stayed up until midnight last night writing the quiz and content for the chapters I’m presenting on. Here’s my MCOM 151 class looking SO excited to hear about advertising and media law!
And here’s how they probably REALLY feel at 9 a.m. on a frigid Thursday morning. But then they see my videos and hear the good news about having no class the entire week of Thanksgiving…and we’re back to excited!
11:00 a.m. Carrie opens our retail store while I’m on campus teaching my next lab section at SDSU. Do these smiles look forced to you? Well, they aren’t. They LOVE learning about Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. 🙂
1:00 p.m. I make it to Hitch Design Studio for the day. I take one look around at our store with amazing stationery gifts….
And one look at my lists…. (Did I mention I couldn’t live without lists?)
…and realize I’m one lucky girl. I co-own a business with one of the most talented designers and friends I’ve ever met. I’m living my dream of opening a stationery store and graphic design studio. All the hours I put into this business just fly by because I’m doing what I love. You want to know more about Hitch Design Studio? Well, first and foremost, it’s our job to listen like a friend, design like a pro, and delight beyond expectations. Carrie Kuhl and I “got hitched” when we merged our already successful wedding design businesses together to create Hitch Design Studio, the wedding store in downtown Brookings. Together, we bring wedding invitations more personality, color, etiquette precision, design & type expertise and years of experience than the average design shop. We love paper, typography, the meaning of a marriage over a wedding, and wedding branding. We love it all. I guess that’s why we decided to get Hitch-ed.
From designing invitations and save-the-dates, to programs and menu cards, Hitch can coordinate printed wedding stationery with all other pieces of your wedding, including centerpieces. We also set up head table decor, lighting, fabric and coordinate rentals. In short, we’ll do any behind-the-scenes work to make your wedding seamless, stress-free and beautiful. We are more than wedding planners — we are stress managers, brand managers and trend-spotters. We also design logos, brochures, websites for businesses and love to truly be a part of their team as we design for their business goals. Good design is such a huge part of our business.
2:15 p.m. Our beloved intern arrives! Bridgette is graduating in December from SDSU with a major in graphic design and I am so happy and proud of her! On the other hand, I’m sad because I know some amazing company is going to scoop her up and hire her full-time and we’ll lose our time with her. But that’s what happens when your super talented junior designer graduates – it’s a bittersweet mix of emotions. We want to keep you forever, Bridgette! If we could only afford to pay you the millions you deserve…
2:30 p.m. Carrie and I conduct a VERY important meeting over beer and cheeseballs. The greatest things we’ve ever done have been over beers and cheeseballs. It’s serious business. We actually do review about seven contracts we’re working on. On a typical day (without a 4-hour meeting about contracts) I’m in the store helping customers, taking any questions from brides who stop in, replying to inquiries and emails, and designing the next project. Or, I’m coordinating the details of the next wedding.
6:30 p.m. Made it home for supper and take a quick break to refresh.
8:15 p.m. I get out my laptop for just a little bit after I get home. I finish quoting Save the Dates for a bride, reply back to a bride about a wedding I’m planning next summer and write and review some blog posts. Then, I update a newsletter for a client and read through my email one last time for the day. Some nights I grade assignments, prepare a presentation, and check social media again. I did make time last week to write each of my closest friends a personal letter. I think it’s a lost art in this electronic age and it’s such a treasure to find in your mailbox instead of junk mail and bills. 🙂 I can’t forget to make time for loved ones, friends, family and fun stuff. Life is about fun stuff too. That’s one thing about being your own boss and setting your own hours. You neeeeeed to be disciplined and hard-working. There is no room for slackers in business ownership. That said, I’ve learned that I really should leave room for fun stuff, or it doesn’t end well. Like Dr. Arnold, my graduate degree advisor told me, “We are busy women. We can juggle a lot of balls. But when someone throws one extra ball into your mix, you drop them all. You pick them all back up quickly and start a new day, but that one extra ball really makes you think about just how much you can handle.”
10:30 p.m. Eight hours of sleep is always the goal. It might just happen today. I’m blessed that all the things in my schedule each week contribute to making me a better designer and wedding planner. Teaching helps me refine my design skills and the students’ energy is contagious. MasterMinds and networking keeps me inspired and connected. Plus, balancing a schedule like this makes me more organized for a bride’s every detail about her big day. It all makes me a better business owner.
Tomorrow, I’ll get to work early on a bride’s file for her centerpieces, dance floor, chair rentals, venue details, flowers, altar, and save the dates. Then, check the list(s) again!
A little more about Renee Halgerson
Q: What did you get your degree in?
A: I graduated from SDSU in 2005 with a major in advertising and minors in Spanish, graphic design and marketing. Now, I’m back in school getting my Master’s degree in mass communications from SDSU to help with the marketing of Hitch.
Q: What job did you have before you started Hitch?
A: I was the geek who handed out resumes on her senior spring break, rather than go to Mexico. That hard work got me a job at SDN Communications, though! I worked at this in-house marketing position for a telecommunications company designing annual reports, planning golf tournaments, helping with marketing and campaign strategies, and more. I also volunteered with organizations like Sioux Empire Staters, United Way, Junior Achievement, AIGA, SDAF, etc.. I really believe that it was those connections I made that opened doors then and still today. I loved my job, I loved my boss, and I loved my co-workers. I may have been the anomaly in the entrepreneur category. After freelancing for 7.5 years, this business pulled at my heart strings. If I didn’t go for it now, when would I go for it? My last day at SDN was December 31, 2013 and Hitch opened two months later on February 6, 2014.
Q: How do you stay organized?
A: I use paper lists (I have a daily list, a weekly list, and a “personal stuff” list [like goals and stuff]). We use Trello to stay organized at Hitch. I even put post-it notes on my lists to prioritize my lists. Like I said. Geeky.
Q: What’s been the most difficult thing about starting a business?
A: Learning to live without the steady income I used to have. But, I believe that if you follow your passion and bust your ass working toward it, the money will come.
Q: How do you handle all the difficult personalities of brides and their mothers? How did you know you wanted to be a wedding planner?
A: I don’t think a bride (or her mother) is ever difficult — they just have high expectations…as they should! My job is to meet and exceed those expectations on the most important day of her life thus far. I appreciate a highly-critical bride because that challenge gives us an opportunity to shine! To answer the second part of the question, I didn’t know I wanted to be a wedding planner. I played with Ninja Turtles as a kid — not Barbies. I build forts outside as a kid — not tea parties. But I knew I wanted to be a wedding planner because I love listening to a bride’s ideas — and making them come to life. I still make projects, think on my feet, and build things (But this time, more than a fort.) I can thank my little brother my dad for THOSE qualities. My dad really is MacGyver.
Combine your ideas + our love for style and design + Midwest wedding etiquette knowledge + the hard work of two South Dakota girls = Hitch Design Studio.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to start a business?
- Get a business mentor.
- Be calculated, but prepare for surprises.
- Get an accountant right away. (We thought we could save some money and do it ourselves. We couldn’t. That’s just not our specialty and we could streamline what we do best by outsourcing that piece.)
- Have exceptional customer service.
- Save six months of living expenses (or more) before you start the business.
- Be purposeful in your social media.
- Choose a business partner that you could communicate with no matter what.
- Don’t lose your other passions by focusing TOO much on this one.
- Read. (And highlight or underline those books so you can take a quick look back when you flip through them for inspiration. Thanks again to mom for that little tidbit.) I’m still a pencil-to-paper kind of girl.
- Don’t give up when the going gets tough.
- Don’t be afraid to branch out. It could lead to bigger and better things.
BONUS: 15 Phrases I live by:
If you really want to get to know more about me, these 15 phrases sum up JUST about everything that motivates me. And how can I say it better than the originals who said it best? Here we go:
- On design:“It’s the art in design that touches hearts. It’s the art in design that brings joy; it’s the art in design that moves us to take action.” –AIGA Conference
- On thinking big:“Big ideas are so hard to recognize, so fragile, so easy to kill. Don’t forget that, all of you who don’t have them.” –John Elliott
- On travelling: “Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.” –Leo Burnett
- On volunteering:“All business is personal, so make your friends before you need them.” –Robert L. Johnson
- On mini-vacations:“Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen.” –Leonardo da Vinci (I also credit this one to some of the best advice I ever got from my mother.)
- On doing the right thing:“Customer service is a form of marketing that is much more powerful that advertising. Advertising builds awareness; customer service creates evangelists.” –Seth Godin
- On leadership:“Leadership is about self-awareness, recognizing your failings, and developing modesty, humility, and humanity.” –C.K. Prahalad
- On listening and communication:“It’s fine (oftentimes good) if some people dislike you or disagree with you, but no one should misunderstand you. Everything you say should be clear.” –Tim Ferriss, author of “The 4-Hour Workweek,”
- On doing more than necessary:“Accept not the prescriptions of the world. Otherwise you allow your life get eaten up by the incompatible expectations of people who don’t matter. Casual effort isn’t sufficient.” –Scott Ginsberg
- On staying busy:“Remember: When you stay insatiably proactive in occupying your mind, body and spirit with activities you enjoy, misery has no choice but to stand in line and wait.” –Scott Ginsberg
- On friends:“Did you know that the people who love you want nothing more than the opportunity to show you how much they love you? Believe it. That’s why they signed up in the first place: To be a source of support. I’m talking about your real friends: The people who know who you really are. The people who will gladly sit with you in companionable silence. The people who will enthusiastically carry you to the other side of the wall. The people who will reflect the best, highest version of who you are. The people who, if you called them at two in the morning, would answer the phone with, “Are you okay?” and not, “Do you know how late it is?” –Scott Ginsberg
- On the unexpected things in life:“Until you fall, until your expectations are dashed, until you didn’t know how to get out of a situation and you had to figure something out, until you went to sleep at night crying over something — whatever it is — you don’t get the best of yourself until you’ve overcome something.” –Anne Berkowitch
- On why I shouldn’t give up:“You need a lot of passion for what you’re doing because it’s so hard. Without passion, any rational person would give up.” –Steve Jobs
- On why I still send hand-written cards: “Make time for the people in your life. Unlike great ideas, people expire.” –Joshua Hays
- On being a woman: “Anyone can give up. It’s the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart–that’s true strength.” –Anonymous
- On being kind to everyone you meet and never under-estimating what the power of a smile or kind word can do: “During my second year of nursing school our professor gave us a quiz. I breezed through the questions until I read the last one: “What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?” Surely this was a joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times, but how would I know her name? I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Before the class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our grade. “Absolutely,” the professor said. “In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello.” I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy.” ~Joann C. Jones