When Emma Hla founded Coco Wedding Venues in 2013, her dream was to be her own boss, and work from her own home office with a dog for company. It didn’t take her long to accomplish that dream, but ever since she’s been striving for more and growing Coco into a business that not only connects couples with the most stylish wedding venues out there, but acts as a resource and inspiration for the wedding industry too.
In the first of our monthly ‘In the Hive‘ interviews, Emma shares her journey so far. She may have made mistakes (forgetting to save a years’ worth of tax!) and struggled with competitors, but along the way she has learned lessons that have made her a stronger and better businesswoman.
Thinking back to when you started your business, what did you want to achieve, what was your DREAM?
I started Coco Wedding Venues because it was something that was missing during my own wedding planning back in 2013.
I was so excited to get engaged and I couldn’t wait to start plotting our big day, but as soon as we started looking for a wedding venue all enthusiasm was lost. The wedding venue websites we came across didn’t excite and inspire us so I wanted to create a place that would help couples on their own journey. A website that did excite and did inspire!
That’s what I set out to achieve when I founded Coco Wedding Venues and to know that we’re now helping couples at that point where we thought we’d failed at wedding planning is just so exciting to me.
My dream was to be my own boss, working from my own home office with a dog to keep me company. My dream was very much lifestyle based and whilst I certainly had a business plan to ensure financial success was viable, the potential revenue wasn’t the main drive.
Our dreams are constantly changing and evolving as business owners – how do you make sure you don’t lose sight of what you’re aiming for whilst being adaptive to the demands of an ever-changing industry?
I think every business should have a tagline and some core values/words.
My tagline is “The UK’s Only Style Focused Wedding Venue Directory” and my core brand words are “Luxe, Stylish, Unique, Quality, Bespoke and Cool”.
Everything I do comes back to these elements. If it doesn’t fit with who we are and what we’re trying to achieve then it doesn’t happen.
I think as creatives it’s natural to develop our businesses and want to launch new ideas and adventures. Indeed last year I co-founded Coco & Kat with Katrina Otter Weddings; Coco & Kat is a consultancy that offers guidance and practical elements to wedding venues and wedding suppliers – a kind of mentoring, marketing and branding hub of sorts. But, whilst it’s an exciting door to other channels it’s also important to balance this with my core business of Coco Wedding Venues.
Coco Wedding Venues is my priority and this always has to come first, therefore I personally only offer a small number of projects through Coco & Kat.
So whilst we develop, grow and reposition ourselves in the ever-changing industry it’s also important to keep an eye on that core business and original goals for that core business.
Thinking back to that first dream, did you ever get there?
Well, if I look back at my original goals of being my own boss, working from home and owning a dog then yes, I’ve achieved the dream! The last 3 years have been incredible and my lifestyle has changed completely.
Of course, there are new dreams and new goals now and that’s of course what keeps us driven each day. Growth – personal and in business – is pretty key to me.
What do you think prevents us from achieving our dreams – doubt, fear, comparison?
I think comparison can be crippling and I’ve seen it happen to so many people. I know when I first started there were some rather key figures in the industry that I was super inspired by! But I think I also made sure that I did my thing, my way.
In an industry where someone somewhere is rebranding, launching a new product or growing at a rate of knots it’s so easy to doubt yourself and what you offer in the marketplace.
I’ve certainly learnt not to become too drawn in by other people’s ‘noise’ and to focus on my own day-to-day. Last year I had plans to launch something new and discovered someone else was doing it too, so instead of panic and race to be the first at the finish line I focused on growing my current offer and continuing to be the best and what we do. They launched, I learnt a lot and this year I feel ready to pick up that baton again.
Sometimes it’s ok to hold back, only go forward with solid plans and strong commercial decisions, otherwise you will be in a cloud of indecision resulting in fluffy ideas and constant re-dos. These constant changes are quite damaging to your brand and people won’t trust in you if you can’t stand behind your own brand statements and missions for 5 minutes!
I also think seeking perfection can be quite dangerous and I’m saying this as a self-professed perfectionist who works closely with another perfectionist.
Whilst everything you put out there must be high-quality, you can also waste time procrastinating over the teeniest details and seeking too many opinions. This goes back to having conviction in you and your business, if you’re happy then deliver it. If not then fix it. But either way stop wasting time.
Let’s talk about mistakes – we all make them! Yet we’re also scared of being seen as a failure. What mistakes have you made?
I’d say I’m quite a cautious person when it comes to my business, brand reputation is super important to me and I think we’ve managed all of that quite well so I don’t think there have been too many howler errors in the last few years to really note!
The one mistake that I did make is to do with my second year accounting. I totally forgot to save up my tax! I have no idea how I managed to do this, especially as I have a trained accountant as a husband, but zero tax was in the pot. So that’s been quite a costly mistake as this year I’ve had to save twice the money just to ensure I’m all up to date.
I do now use an accounting system called FreeAgent which has been so helpful, it keeps me on track with invoicing, payments and taxes!
I believe mistakes are just opportunities in disguise. So how can we learn from them and use these lessons to build better businesses?
My husband has a really interesting way of dealing with errors or mistakes. Whilst he trained as an Accountant his heart is in tech and coding, so he’s very analytical. I think any mistake can be handled by asking yourself these three simple questions;
- How did that happen…?
- How do I fix it now…?
- How do we prevent this from happening in the future…?
My personality type is to pretty much lose my s**t if something goes wrong. It’s the frustrated perfectionist coming out but I’ve trained myself to 99% of time to work through the issue and learn from it instead. These three questions can be applied to pretty much anything – business life and personal life.
How do you block out the noise of everyone else’s success and find your own?
I think authenticity means everything in this industry. From the bloggers, to the florists, to the planners to the venues – we all have our own personalities and tastes.
If you simply copy someone else then your business and brand will feel fake. Couple’s and industry colleagues will see straight through the façade.
Your business and brand has to be an extension of you… I hope that people feel Coco when they come into my house, hear Coco when they speak to me and see Coco in the way I present myself.
By all means seek inspiration, keep an eye on your competitors, celebrate other people’s success but find your own voice. This is by far the easiest and quickest way to success.
What does success mean to you?
Everytime I think of success I think of this quote; “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do and liking how you do it”
I pretty much try to focus on getting this right.
Goal setting, or creating an action plan is such a great way of ensuring you stay on track – as creatives it’s so easy to get sidetracked! Are there any tools or resources you’ve found useful that you can share with us?
I’m pretty simple – a diary, an online calendar, a notebook, a CRM spreadsheet and FreeAgent. These are my only tools for planning and keeping a day-to-day track of everything.
I know sometimes it seems we aren’t really growing or getting to where we want to be – we all have those days! So my tip is to go back to the financial basics.
Have a spreadsheet that tracks your monetary growth and then when you’re having a bad day take a look at this spreadsheet. Suddenly seeing your growth in black and white will get you super inspired again!