How a “Bad Girl” course gave a bridal business a boost

    By Adrienne Burke | Small Business

    Stacey Shiring, Owner, Creative Invites and EventsIn 2009, less than a year into her first job out of college, Stacey Shiring was laid off. Then her sister, three months pregnant, was downsized out of her job as a designer at the Los Angeles Times. Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. Shiring and her sister paired their graphic design skills to start a customized wedding stationery business that they called Bridal Divas Ink.

    Since then, Shiring's sister dove full-time into motherhood, and Shiring bought her out of the business. In the second half of 2011 she began making sales—75 bridal customers between July and December, the off-season for weddings.

    Today, the company, which makes a name change next week to Creative Invites & Events, has two full-time and two part-time employees, a retail location in Cincinnati's Reading Bridal District, a headquarters office reserved in the Hyde Park neighborhood's American Small Business Center, and a first-of-its-kind interactive stationery design website set to launch in September. Having processed 50 sales in the past month alone—with single orders averaging $500 but running as high as $2,500—Shiring is on track to exceed her goal of fulfilling 280 wedding stationery orders this year.

    She attributes her rapid recent growth to an eight-week "Bad Girl Ventures" course that was so helpful she took it four times. Bad Girl Ventures (BGV), described on its website as " meets The Apprentice," is a nonprofit organization that helps women-owned startups in the greater Cincinnati and Cleveland areas get access to capital through micro-lending and business training.

    Started by Cincinnati securities attorney Candace Klein (whose other venture, SoMoLend, Yahoo! Small Business Advisor reported on last week), BGV takes donations from individuals in the community and redistributes them in the form of $25,000 financing packages to winning women-owned business applicants. BGV courses, open to any female entrepreneurs in the region, teach lessons in financial resources, legal structuring, business plans, and marketing strategies. Two-hour classroom sessions are followed by one-hour, one-on-one coaching sessions with industry experts.

    As a winner of a BGV $25,000 angel investment, Shiring also gained access to lawyers, accountants, and free expert advice that she says helped her see how her small operation could become a national brand.

    The experience also positioned her to get an additional $15,000 small business loan from the Cleveland-based KeyBank through the SoMoLend platform within two weeks of applying. "A lot of people who haven't looked for funding before might not have the information on hand that they need to apply, such as profit-and-loss statements, projections, and forecasts," Shiring says. But the BGV training made it easy for her quickly pull together the requisite documents.

    "Without the funding, I would be reinvesting my profits in the business," she says. "Now I can hire staff to be able to process 50 orders in a month. Without that financing I would not be where I am today."

    Shiring plans to open additional retail locations in five major bridal districts across the country by the end of 2013, and says her forthcoming internet-based interactive ordering platform has the potential to change the way stationery is bought online. "Our goal is to be a national brand with a combination of retail and online sales," she says. Four years out of college, and lucky she lost that first job.

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