Today I’m chatting to Nora Shiels, owner of Bridal Bliss and co-founder of Rock Paper Coin.
We talk about how Nora founded her wedding business, and how she ended up creating her very own piece of software for the wedding industry. Nora admits she has always been risk averse in her wedding business – so how did she end up where she is now?
Find out more about Nora:
Nora’s background [00:01:10] Nora talks about her background, her parents’ business, and how she fell in love with weddings.
Starting Bridal Bliss [00:03:02] Nora talks about how she started Bridal Bliss, her slow growth, and how she brought on more planners.
Creating Rock Paper Coin [00:04:57] Nora talks about how she and her sister-in-law created Rock Paper Coin to simplify the booking process for weddings and events.
Approach to risk-taking [00:06:13] Becca and Nora discuss Nora’s approach to risk-taking in business and how she balances it with having a fallback plan.
Starting a Software Company [00:07:56] Nora talks about how she and her co-founder started a software company despite not being technical and how they partnered with the right people to make it happen.
Knowing When to Diversify Your Business [00:10:42] Nora shares how they knew it was the right time to start Rock Paper Coin and how having a solid team in place allowed them to focus on the new venture.
Finding Gaps in the Market [00:13:07] Nora advises listeners to look for gaps in the market by solving problems they encounter in their day-to-day experiences and talking to others in their industry.
Working with a Partner [00:15:42] Nora and Elizabeth’s successful partnership, finding the right partner, and the importance of complementing each other’s strengths.
Red Flags and Planning [00:18:11] The importance of doing research, having a business plan, and having a backup plan. The significance of surrounding oneself with other entrepreneurs and seeking advice.
Overcoming Pitfalls [00:21:27] The challenge of getting people to sign up for a new business idea, the importance of solving an actual problem, and the significance of feedback and being flexible.
Nora’s future plans [00:24:43] Nora talks about her love for the wedding industry and her mission to provide education and software to make the backend easier for wedding professionals.
Balancing work and family [00:25:51] Nora discusses the challenges of balancing work and family life, especially with two young boys and being in the wedding industry.
Rock Paper Coin availability [00:27:02] Becca mentions that Rock Paper Coin is not currently available in the UK, but Nora plans to bring it there soon. Nora offers to send a cheat sheet on automation to UK listeners who reach out to her on Instagram.
Nora: I mean, that’s part of business. You’re gonna do things right and you’re gonna do things wrong, and hopefully you learn from the things that you did wrong and move on from them because that’s truly how we grow. We all make mistakes no matter how long you’ve been in the industry, and everyone screws up and that’s just a way of life, and you can’t kick yourself over it.
Becca: I am Becca Pountney, wedding business marketing expert, speaker and blogger, and you are listening to The Wedding Pros who are Ready to Grow podcast. I’m here to share with you actionable tips, strategies, and real life examples to help you take your wedding business to the next level. If you are an ambitious wedding business owner that wants to take your passion and use it to build a profitable, sustainable business doing what you love, then you’re in the right place.
Let’s get going with today’s episode. Today I’m chatting with Nora Shiels based in Oregon in the us. Nora owns award-winning, wedding planning firm, bridal Bliss, and more recently, she launched Rock Paper Coin with her sister-in-law. It’s a client management platform to help simplify proposals, contracts, and invoicing.
You’ll find Nora speaking on stages across the us so I’m thrilled to welcome her onto the podcast today. Nora, welcome.
Nora: Thank you so much. It’s so great to see you.
Becca: It’s so good to have you here. How is life looking out there in Oregon? Is the sun shining?
Nora: Oh my gosh, it is shining here. We normally have rainy winters and springs, so I’m looking outside and the sun is shining and I’m chatting with you, so it’s a great day.
Becca: It’s always good. I feel like in my head it’s always sunny in the us. I’m sure that’s not true. I think we just have this picture perfect Disneyland view of the states. But I’m glad to hear that the sun is shining cuz it’s really cold in England right now. Now Nora, as I said in the intro, you started out in the wedding business as a wedding planner.
So I wondered if we could start by going way back to then. So explain to me, how did you end up in this wonderful industry in the first place?
Nora: Sure. So I have been smitten with weddings since I was a young child. My parents are both Iraqi immigrants that moved to the United States. Gosh almost 50 years ago at this point.
But my mom started doing alterations out of our house as just kind of like a side hustle, and it kind of turned into word of mouth that it was great for wedding alterations. So all of these brides would come in and, you know, they’d get on her little step stool and they’d wear these beautiful gowns. My mom always had bridal magazines and pattern.
And you know, all the wedding things around. I was exposed to it at an early age and just really fell in love with it. And I went to a way to college and there was a business plan competition and I just thought planning events and weddings was so fun and. Wedding planners, at that time, it was like Mindy Weiss, Colin Cowie, you know, like all the big celebrity names.
There weren’t wedding planners everywhere. It wasn’t a common thing, and especially not in Oregon. So I just looked into it and I thought, you know, if I am gonna do this, I have a deadline with this competition and I have nothing to lose. So, Do it. And so I got together with a friend of mine that was a finance major, and we put together a business plan and we won.
And the terms of the business plan were, of the competition were if you actually start the company, It, the winnings doubles. So I was like, okay. Like I literally have nothing to lose. I’m gonna move home, live with my parents. I have no expenses, so let’s just do this. Here I am, 21, late 21 years later, it worked.
And I loved it even early on when I was, you know, schlepping and doing everything from being the CEO to the janitor. And, you know, it was a very slow growth for me. I’m not a very risky person. So as the company grew, I’d bring on more planners, and today the company is doing very well. We have about 30 planners.
We plan upwards of 150 weddings per year in three different markets in the Pacific Northwest in the us. So, It’s been quite the experience. I still love weddings after all this time, but it was, you know, at the end of around 2018 where my sister-in-law, Elizabeth, who was a planner with me at Bridal Bliss, she actually started as an intern and quickly, you know, rose the ranks and was a lead planner and helped us expand into Seattle, Washington.
Oh, and later I introduced her to my husband’s brother and they got. So now we’re related, but we were together one night and just kind of complaining about our wedding clients and how we felt like we had turned into babysitters instead of planners. And we were constantly reminding them to do the same thing over and over again and like, did you sign that contract?
Did you pay that invoice? We’re like totally out of the loop and it was. Kind of getting to us. So we set out to find software that was already out there in the industry and we tried everything like you name it, whether it was wedding focused or not. We tried it and found a problem with it. A lot of software that isn’t event focused doesn’t really understand how the wedding industry works.
Like there are three key players. There’s the client, the vendor, and then the planner. And if you leave the planner outta the communication, it’s gonna fail. Long story short, we couldn’t find what we were looking for and so we built it. So Rock paper Coin was born towards the end of 2019 and we focus mainly on the booking process of weddings and events.
So we do proposals, contracts. Invoices. We have shared documents and tons of resources for our members, and we automate a lot of it. So it’s simple, it’s easy, it’s attractive, and we have the lowest processing fee you can find on the market. So that’s our shtick. That’s my whole weddings story.
Becca: Wow. What an incredible story.
And I love that it started from a competition and look at where it’s taking you all of these years later. And also, I wanna pick up on something you said, because I know that this will be in people’s minds, is you said, I’m not really a risk taker yet. You’ve created this huge business of wedding planners.
You’ve taken the leap to start a second business, to help these people in the wedding industry to fulfill this gap in the market. You can’t say that you’re not a risk taker. How have you done it?
Nora: Well, touche, touche. When I say that, like, you know, I didn’t put every last cent into this one company, and it was all or nothing, you know, like I always needed fallback.
I always needed a plan B. I mean, as a wedding planner, you’re always gonna. You know, something to lean on if something else goes wrong, right? So that’s kind of how I lead my life. And my husband’s pretty conservative in that sense too, so we kind of egg each other on. But you’re right, it’s, it’s certainly a risk.
But like with rock paper coin, if things went south, I still had bridal bliss, right? So I always kind of have something in my back pocket and kind of with bridal bliss, I didn’t want to grow too quickly because we were getting inquiries that we had to turn down. But I knew. If I brought on a planner that wasn’t adequately trained, like didn’t have enough experience, if something goes wrong in that wedding, it’s the company’s reputation.
So I’d rather not risk that and turn down the wedding and send it to, you know, a, a, a friender than than take it. So that’s what I mean.
Becca: And that’s what makes you a good wedding planner as well, because you’ve always got a backup plan. And wedding planners always need to have a backup plan, and you’ve done the same in business.
But I think that gives hope out there to people who do feel like they’re more on the risk-adverse side of things, that that doesn’t stop you moving forward and growing this great business and bringing new ideas to market. You can just do it in your own time and your own way. So I love that. So you found this gap in the market, and I know that this is something that other people might be thinking.
Starting a software company, that seems like a huge deal. Like, like where do you even start with doing something like that? How do you even come up with the software? Do you get help with it? Like, what’s the story there?
Nora: I mean, honestly, it makes me laugh because I would not have considered myself a techie person before all this, and like we just knew what we wanted.
We saw the gap because we were experiencing it firsthand, and that’s why I think it works so well. Neither Elizabeth or an OR I are technical co-founders, so we honestly. Got really lucky in that we hired a development firm who was a recommendation from a friend of mine that had used them and they didn’t take advantage of us, and they explained things in layman’s terms and like when we were interviewing different development firms.
They’re speaking like a different language. We didn’t even know what they’re talking about. So you know, you fake it till you make it. You smile and nod and we’re like writing down all these acronyms and different words that we’ve never heard of and we would just go back and Google and read and just like learn as much as we can.
And still to this day, like. I know enough to be dangerous, but I’m certainly not fluent in coding or developers speak. And even, you know, our developers will laugh at me at times cause I’m like, can’t you just make it do that real quick? And they’re like, you clearly don’t understand the way this this works.
So it’s really just partnering with the right people to help you get there. I mean, I guess. A life lesson in everything. Right. But we, we really lucked out and, you know, things certainly have not gone perfectly and there’s a million things that I would’ve changed with either company, but it’s just, it’s turned into a much bigger thing than I think Elizabeth or I.
Even expected, we expected it to be this like kind of side hustle where we would just develop it and it would run itself and maybe we’d have a developer update things every six months or so. Well, you know, now we have a team of 14. We have a full-time development team that’s constantly updating, so we were very naive.
It was very much a, a learning. Process. But yeah, we learned as we went.
Becca: That’s so good. I love that you started a tech company and you weren’t necessarily technical. Again, there is hope for everyone out there. So if people are looking at this and thinking, I would love to diversify my business, I’d love to do something else myself.
How do people know it’s the right time to do that? How did you know it was the right time in your business to step one step away from your wedding planning business and to step into this tech?
Nora: Well, for the need was there. The need was clearly there because as we were looking around for other options, we were talking to different wedding professionals and friends in the industry, in our region, and not, and everyone was giving us the same answer in that like, I don’t know what this unicorn thing is you’re describing, but when you find it, let us know.
So we did our research and the only reason that Elizabeth and I were really able to dive in and develop it was because bridal bliss is in a very solid state. So we have an amazing team in place. Most of our employees have been there for several years. I mean, a couple have been there, one has been there for 10 years.
One has been there for like 17 years. So it’s a solid company is where we don’t have to manage or micromanage anything. It it kind of. Now I don’t wanna say it runs itself cuz it doesn’t, but we could take a step back and have a more high level approach and let the team kind of handle the day-to-day so we could focus on rock paper coin and, and that’s how it is today.
I still own it a hundred percent, so I’m not planning weddings as much. I like to like dabble only because I love it so much and it lets me use rock paper coin firsthand as a client and as a planner, but, You know, the team has really taken the reins and proved themselves and and done really well. So I think the only way you can start something new is either if you stop what you were doing before completely, or it’s in a such a great solid space with management and people that you trust running it, before you can kind of start something.
Becca: Yeah, that’s really helpful advice. So people are probably listening to this and thinking, wow, she came up with a great idea, she found a great gap in the market. I wish I could do something like that. Not the same, but something different. Like how can people go about finding these gaps, finding these ideas, rather than copying someone else, but coming up with something new.
Any tips around that?
Nora: I honestly think it’s just from your day-to-day experiences, like a lot of these companies, Work. Work because they’re solving a person’s problem that that founder actually had. For us, it was solving the problem in that we as planners felt like we were out of the communication.
So with rock paper coin, everyone can transact contracts and invoices and all of those things, but the planner can act on behalf of the. So if you or my client and a photographer sends you an invoice, you can give me your planner permissions and I can go into the platform, sign your contract for you, make your payments for you, using your payment methods.
All on your behalf. So the planner loves it cuz she’s or he or they are up to date on everything. They can get it done instantly. The client loves it cuz they can sign up, hand over permissions and not do anything. And then the vendor loves it because everything is taken care of as soon as they send their contract and invoice.
So, you know, our need was, there was nothing else out there that solved this problem. And that’s, I think, what made us really jump on it because we knew it would make a big difference for Bridal Bliss, and we knew a lot of planners shared our frustrations.
Becca: So basically get out there. And talk to other people and find out if other people are struggling with the same things that you are in your business.
And if you find something that’s common between all of you and you can’t find a good solution, why not go and set it up yourself? It’s not as scary as it sounds. Is that right Nora?
Nora: Sure. I will say though, these two companies, bridal Bliss, I started on my own, grew up myself and brought people on later Rock paper coin.
I started with Elizabeth, so we co-founded it and it has been such a difference to start a company on your own versus a co-founder. If I could go back and do bridal bliss all over again, I would’ve started it with somebody else. Because at that time there were no mentors, there were no educational groups for the wedding industry.
It was like you’re thrown out to, you know, the sharks and, and if you make it great, but nobody’s gonna be there to help you. And there, you know, so many trials and tribulations, not only in the wedding industry, but building any business and. It’s hard for people to relate. Even like my husband, I’ll, you know, tell him about something and you know, he’ll smile and nod, but he doesn’t actually get it cuz he’s not in the weeds.
Whereas Elizabeth, her and I are in the weeds. We both have our different roles. We can bounce ideas off each other and it’s this roller coaster where sometimes she’s on the top and I’m on the bottom or vice versa. And we really bring each other back to level and it’s. Just a, a really great experience, not only for us in our relationship, but just as business people, and it’s allowed us to do what we enjoy for the company.
Whereas like Bridal Bliss, I did everything, the pr, the marketing, the sales on site, all of that. Whereas with rock paper coin, I can just handle the portions of the company that I am good at and I enjoy. And thankfully, Elizabeth, the things that she’s good at and she enjoys are kind of opposite to mind. So it’s a, it’s a great team.
Becca: So it’s about finding someone that compliments you. If you’re gonna work with a partner, you can’t just choose anyone because you need to go in it with your eyes wide open. Cuz you do hear of business partnerships going the other way, don’t you? Really Not well at all. Totally. But it’s finding the right person.
And I guess, how did you know that it was the right person? Obviously you are now related, so you’re kind of stuck together. So how did you know that it was right to go into business together?
Nora: You know, it’s easier said than done. I think Elizabeth and I got really lucky because our relationship started as a working relationship.
So we knew that we worked well together. And then after we became family, we were pretty good at kind of compartmentalizing, you know, work didn’t really come up a lot during family functions. It’s just like, this is family time, this is work time. And sure there’s some overlap, but our relationship started as a business working relationship
and we’d worked together for so long at that point that we knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses and how the other person works. The other thing that I think has really worked in our favor quite a bit is that we’re just in like similar stages of life. We both have young kids. We, we both have times where we have to rush out and take a kid to a doctor’s appointment or practice or, or whatever.
And so we trust each other wholeheartedly that we’re gonna get our task done, even if it’s 11 o’clock at night or early in the morning so we can spend more time with our family or our kids during the day. So I think if you’re in much different stages of life, it’s a little bit harder to give grace to the other person.
So, That’s worked well for us as well.
Becca: Definitely. Well, I’m glad that it’s a positive story about a working relationship that’s always encouraging to hear. Now, if people are sitting there and they’re thinking, right, I’ve got this great idea. I’m gonna start exploring, are there any red flags they should be looking for when they’re starting to look into this opportunity?
Before they jump in, is there anything specific they should be watching out for?
Nora: Oh gosh, that’s a really good question. I think it’s so dependent on. The industry and like the scale of the company. If it’s gonna take a huge investment to start and it’s gonna put you in debt, you need to be really sure that this is an idea that is legitimate and it’s not just, you know, like a pipe dream.
You know, what do they say? One out of every two businesses fail. That’s a pretty daunting percentage. So to put everything. Into this one business and you hear it all the time from these successful business people. They’re like, well, I put my last cent into this company, and then something happened and it was amazing.
Well, that doesn’t always happen. So that sounds so negative, Nancy, but I, being the conservative person that I am when it comes to finances, I think making sure you’re like set up and have a backup plan. Is important and it’s not. I, I was talking to somebody about this the other day and they’re like, well, if you have a backup plan, you’re kind of like, like, it’s okay if you fail.
It shouldn’t be okay if you fail. Well, I think it is okay if you fail because some companies. Are not gonna work, and it’s okay to call it quits before you’ve, you know, wasted all this time and energy and money into something that might not be viable. So, and don’t let that bring you down because maybe the next one will be viable and will be a better fit.
Sometimes it’s timing, sometimes it’s where the market is, sometimes it’s where the world is. Obviously with Covid, we saw a lot of businesses that would’ve been an amazing opportunity. Turn the other way around and vice versa.
Becca: Okay, so it’s doing your research, it’s looking into it, it’s thinking it through, and always having a backup plan and not being too hard on yourself if it doesn’t go incredibly well.
Is that right?
Nora: Yeah. I think planning is. So important. Research is key. Having a business plan, having trusted advisors. If you’re doing it on your own, really review everything and play devil’s advocate, cuz they’re probably things that you haven’t thought of. So surround yourself by other entrepreneurs, whether it’s in the space that you’re trying to expand into or not, because you know, Thoughts and opinions of others who have been there is kind of invaluable.
But at the same time, everyone’s gonna try to give you advice. So you’re gonna have to kind of pick and choose what makes sense for you.
Becca: Absolutely. Now, one pitfall I see people falling into, and I dunno if this has been your experience as well, is that they do their research. So they’ve gone out and they’ve spoken to the planners, and maybe you did this, and everyone says, yeah, I want that software.
Yes, I want you to do this. And then when it comes to actually buying, Sometimes it’s crickets. So how do you know whether someone’s just saying that to be nice or whether it is actually a profitable business idea?
Nora: You are very right. That certainly did happen and does happen, but if there’s nothing else out there for people to.
To do if it’s solving an actual problem, and you know that, and you’ve proven that by your own experience or your research, there’s a reason that they’re not signing up. So maybe it’s your pricing, maybe it’s the overall business model. Maybe they just feel like they’re too busy or honestly, software. In general is daunting for people, especially in the creative space because people wanna focus on doing what they love, doing flowers planning, photographing.
So like either shifting their software or starting a new platform altogether is super daunting. At rock paper coin, we do free white glove onboarding. So we make it so easy, we do all the legwork for our new members, and so, Making the, the experience of onboarding or just getting started with whatever the new company is, making the barrier to entry really low, I think makes a huge difference.
And also like for all those people that said they were gonna sign up and didn’t. Saying, you know, that’s totally fine, but would you mind giving me some insight into why or what we can do that’s better? What we could change? Because the, the feedback you get from those people is truly invaluable. So we try to, we talk to our members at Rock Paper Coin, whether they’re.
They sign up or they’re active. We just want feedback and that’s where all of our future development stems from, is what our members like, what they don’t like, what people that didn’t sign up, what it was missing for them. So I think just keeping the lines of communication open and being also being.
Flexible and willing to change things is, is important because like when Elizabeth and I started, we had this whole vision that is constantly changing because what we thought might be awesome for this others did not. So, you know, we had to be flexible.
Becca: And you have to listen to that feedback, which makes, again, makes you a great business owner.
Because often when it’s our idea and we wanna do something, we’re, we’re blinded by that. And we don’t wanna listen to people’s feedback when they say, we don’t really like that idea. So like, how did you do that? How did you realize, yeah, I need to just put aside this idea and move it in a different direction.
Nora: I, Elizabeth and I are pretty open to that. We’re not, I mean, that’s not true. I can definitely be stubborn, but when it comes to like business, I just want it to do well, and I want it to help people. So if that means changing things, then so be it. It’s a much harder pill to swallow if we’ve spent months of development time on a feature.
Isn’t doing anything or bringing value to our members, but I mean, that’s part of business. You’re gonna do things right and you’re gonna do things wrong, and hopefully you learn from the things that you did wrong and move on from them because I mean, that’s truly how we grow. We all make mistakes no matter how long you’ve been in the industry and how high up you are in a business, everyone screws up and that’s just a way of life and you can’t kick yourself over.
Becca: Absolutely. Now Nora, you have done some incredible things. You’ve got this amazing wedding planning business. You’ve set up this software company. What is next for Nora?
Nora: Oh my gosh. Well, I’m hoping to not work so much. Honestly. I, I love weddings so much, I love this industry. I love the people and I love how the industry as a whole is really being elevated.
Just by the people that are in it and how much everyone is supporting and helping each other. Like I was telling you before, like when I started, you did not talk to your competitors. You were just out there to get the business and get your job done and move on to the next one. Whereas now it’s truly like a family and a support system where we’re all here to, to lift each other, lift the industry.
I, wanna do my part in that just in education and like helping provide people with software to get their lives back a little bit. Because as you know, people in the wedding industry work really, really hard. It’s long hours, it’s weekends, it’s evenings, and it takes time away from people’s families. So to be able to.
Automate some of their tasks or just like make the backend easier is, is kind of our mission at rock paper coin. And then also save money because that’s, that’s great too. But I have two young boys. I am in the girliest industry of all time and I have two boys. So I am wrapped up in sports and, and all those fun things.
So, you know, just trying to. Working and making sure both companies are in a great place, but also being a good, a good mom and wife, which sometimes happens and sometimes doesn’t.
Becca: Yeah. It’s a never ending juggle. I totally, totally get that. Well, Nora, thank you so much for being on here and sharing with us today.
If you’re listening to this out in the US then do go and check out. Paper coin. It’s an incredible piece of software and I’ll put more details about that in the show notes if you are listening currently in the uk. Sadly for us, it is not currently available to us in the uk, but Nora, please bring it to the UK soon
Nora: just for you.
I will. We definitely have plans to come out there, so I will certainly share the news and we’d love to help all of your listeners.
Becca: Fabulous. And if that does change, I will make sure that I update all of you and I’ll be bringing Nora back to talk to you more about the software. However, Nora is also very kindly if you’re listening in the UK, offered to send you some more information about how you can do automation in your business in different systems that we can use here in the uk.
So if you’re interested in that, reach out to her via Instagram direct message and she’ll get that resource over to you. Nora, what is your Instagram? What’s the best place for people to find?
Nora: It’s just at rock paper coin. Just send us a DM with your contact info and we’ll send you a great cheat sheet on automation, which should bring some more time back into your day.
Becca: Fabulous. And we all need more time back in our day. Nora, thank you so much for being on the podcast. It’s been a pleasure, and I’ll speak to you again soon. Thanks so much for having me. Bye. I love that chat with Nora. It’s always really inspiring to me when someone just jumps out of their comfort zone and does something new, which is really, really successful.
Have a fabulous week. I’ll see you next time.