Erin Mavian and Kym Pitlor, two friends with entrepreneurial minds, saw a need in the wedding planning market. It wasn’t in the planning of the wedding itself, but in the actual proposal. Guys needed help creating a memorable event and making it happen, and Mavian and Pitlor had the skills to help them.
So a year ago, they began a part-time business called Blueprint Proposals, a boutique service designed to help their clients propose well.
Erin and Kym were able to take their desire to work together, along with the things they did daily in their 9-5 careers, and employ them to create a business that has the potential to become their full-time jobs in the very near future.
Listen to the Podcast
Highlights from the interview:
- How did you get started with Blueprint Proposals?
- What types of services do you provide?
- How did you structure your pricing initially and how has that changed?
- How much money have you made in your first year?
- What kinds of expenses do you have?
- How do you balance your full-time and part-time jobs?
- What insurance and legalities are involved in setting up your business?
- Why do you blog? How else do you market your business?
- What are some mistakes you’ve made along the way?
Watch the Team Up with a Friend to Start a Business Google Hangout
Thank you so much for listening!
View the full transcript. Click show
Philip Taylor: Welcome to the part-time money podcast. My name is Philip Taylor with ptmoney.com. Today I have the special privilege of speaking with Miss Erin Mavian and Kym Pitlor. They’re cofounders of Blueprint Proposal which is a boutique proposal service to help you know how to do a proposal right. So, for people out there who are looking to propose and need some ideas, need some help making it special, they’re your company. Kym and Erin, welcome to the show.
Erin Mavian: Thanks Philip. We should say marriage proposals, not business proposals because people ask us to help them with that and I say, “No, no, no, no. We do marriage proposals.”
Philip Taylor: Good, good. How did you get started doing this?
Erin Mavian: Kym, you want to go ahead? She’s on the phone.
Kym Pitlor: Sure. We’re coming up on our one-year anniversary. We launched in July of 2012. Erin and I have been long-time friends and we’ve always talked about doing some sort of business together and the idea just struck us one day with me being involved in a lot of different planning when it comes to different parts of the wedding. But we saw the lack in this certain area— of making the proposal. After helping out with a lot of friends and such it stands to reason we’d kind of combine our skills, background and expertise which melded really well together and we run with it. And so we’re about a year in the making.
Philip Taylor: Awesome. Can you explain for everyone out there, just what sort of service you provide for people?
Erin Mavian: We specialize as marriage proposal planners, helping our clients in creating personal concepts for marriage proposals. We also help clients who have the idea of what they want to do and what they have in mind. We help them carry out that beautiful proposal. Another service we offer is for clients who may not know how they want to propose and need all the help they can find, and we run the gamut with what we need to do to offer the most interesting, beautiful personal marriage proposal possible.
Phillip Taylor: That’s a really great service. I know when I wanted to propose to my wife, I wanted to do something creative that’s not really clichè, but unique and special to us. I think I pulled it off, but it would’ve been good to have a service like yours. I would’ve considered it. What would you say your ideal client would be?
Kym Pitlor: I think there’s many types of clients, but the most ideal client would be one who came to us with a great idea and just need something to put it into action. We love dreaming up great proposals and thinking of creative ideas that we hope will help people become engaged. It’s really great when a person comes with a personalized story and know what they want to do but just need something to get it off the ground. In that case, we think of ourselves as a concierge service. Oftentimes, people are in need of these services because they are not from New York City and they want to propose here and we like to run everything on the ground so they can enjoy it. We find that all of our clients are ideal because if you’re coming to us for an extent of help, that means you are putting so much time and effort into the experience that you’re an awesome person just doing it.
Phillip Taylor: Maybe give us a flavor of the coolest proposal you have been a part of so far with your service.
Erin Mavian: I’ll go ahead and answer that. We’ve had some really incredible opportunities and people always assume that because we help our clients plan and execute their marriage proposals that we are planning flash mobs, skydiving off the Empire State Building, parades on fifth avenue every week and that’s often not actually the case. Our clients are usually looking for something exclusive or extremely personal. One of the most recent proposals that we did that was incredibly special is that there are certain places in New York that are pretty exclusive, one of them being Gramercy Park. So when it comes to getting to the park you must actually have a key. Having a key requires you to live on the park itself. I think properties begin at around $2.5 million on the park, so not a lot of people actually live there. One of the greatest proposals that we had was a challenge figuring out how to get our client get a key to the park, as it was so important since his fiance had never been able to get in and that’s something that she always dreamed of, so that’s an example that’s interesting. Like Kym said, we are more of a concierge service. We take care of all those details instead of him having to stress out about how on earth he’s going to afford an apartment on the park or find a key.
Phillip Taylor: Making dreams come true. I like it. Can you talk about the price levels that you’re offering and how that’s changed over time and how you set that initially.
Kym Pitlor: Our prices vary on the client because it’s all based on the experience, but our most basic brainstorming package which is just to help someone with ideas and give you a whole personalized thing, it goes along with the timeline, all the events, the vendors to work with and that can start at $250. When we start about the full-scale proposal package, that can start at $1,000. Again, it varies. If you want a private evening or a full weekend event it can range based on the level of services.
Phillip Taylor: Plus all expenses, right?
Kym Pitlor: Exactly. And the vendors that are working with us is because of our multiple vendor relationships that we pass along to you. We have great relationships with not only locations in New York but with florists and designers and jewelers. We can get you everything that day.
Phillip Taylor: Awesome. That’s great. How many of these are you doing a week?
Erin Mavian: That number really ranges. Right now, we are in the beginning of summer and it’s definitely wedding season. Kym and I see business slow down in respect for everyone who is getting married over the next 2-3 months. Generally we’ll be working anywhere between half a dozen to two dozen clients on a monthly or bi-monthly basis.
Phillip Taylor: That’s nice. How long have you been in business?
Kym Pitlor: We are hitting our one year anniversary this July.
Phillip Taylor: Okay, and do you mind sharing what revenue you did last year with this service?
Kym Pitlor: You know, it’s hard to show an exact number because we have changed our pricing structure a lot from our undersold days of inception, but we are proud to say we came up in the green. And sometimes it takes a lot to keep a business up and running. We’ll have a better year after this year to see what our annual revenue will look like.
Phillip Taylor: So you were in the green, that’s what you can give me?
Erin Mavian: We’re not in the red.
Phillip Taylor: That’s good, that’s a good start.
Erin Mavian: It’s a good first year. We’re doing something right.
Phillip Taylor: Okay
Kym Pitlor: We knew it would take a lot to get everything set up and so we took everything slowly and set up in the right way. That was really important especially because we are doing this for our first time so we set some achievable goals, with one of them being initially break even then to move into the grid. We’re proud to say coming up in year one we came into that, so we’re looking forward to year two.
Phillip Taylor: That’s great. What kind of expenses do you have?
Erin Mavian: Overall, the overhead that we carry is fairly limited. In addition to having our website or running emails, keeping track of finances, we have a lawyer, just very basic things like that. But thankfully we’re not manufacturing anything. A lot of the research and development that comes from this is happy hour or trying out a new great restaurant with a friend, so there are definitely added benefits with that. For the most part, we really don’t spend a lot on the business itself. We additionally are incredibly lucky to have such great exposure and press for the company so we haven’t actually had to spend money on advertising. That’s been a really great support system in a way that we’ve been excited and invigorated by what we’re doing because we haven’t had to spend that much money yet.
Kym Pitlor: But at the same time we have been investing our money in our marketing, and that has been a really big part of something that we wanted to do right off. We wanted to brand ourselves. We are thankful for the industry that we’re working, that we have friends and family that is eager to help us, but that was a big part of being as well, just the legality of setting up a company.
Phillip Taylor: Well, it is a nice looking website. I’ve checked it out. Who did that for you?
Kym Pitlor: We have a silent partner as we like to say. My boyfriend also works in the industry. We have friends and family who have given their expertise to get us up and running which has been really fantastic.
Phillip Taylor: It’s a beautiful website. I noticed you guys are also in Daily Candy— and I want to talk about your marketing efforts later but before we get to that, let’s hit on income just a little bit more. When you guys were first talking to me, you said this may be something that you might want to make a full-time business out of one day. How far are you away from the type of revenue that would allow you to do that?
Erin Mavian: Kym and I both spend time looking at 1) the cost of living, being based in New York City, so essentially, with both being put together as far as our business plans, we would like to go over our revenue stream in 24 months. Now that we’re 12 months in, for the next 12 months to come, I’m really going to need to hustle. So putting in a little more time and money into that. Overall, the cost of living split between the both of us in New York would definitely need to allow us to bring in six figures in the next year, so keep that in mind.
Kym Pitlor: I think it’s really important to note that it’s the kind of business that does not have normal hours and Erin and I both have jobs that are typically the 9-5 type jobs. So we do have that luxury of having full-time wages while being able to dedicate ourselves to our current roles and still putting in a full effort, second job and the evening hours that you wish you could be out doing other things but recognize the importance. As Erin said, we live in New York and to live comfortably we need to be going in the right way. We have talked about going out and getting capital to be able to launch but eventually we realized to strengthen our slow growth is really an advantage for us because we’re learning so much and developing so much and we could have long term goals and give a respectable amount of time, but you also recognize the important stage we’re at right now.
Phillip Taylor: You’re helping to support the business, right? And you’re even loving doing it on the side. Sounds like you’re really loving spending those waking hours at night working on this business and perfecting it, right?
Erin Mavian: Yeah. As entrepreneurs, I think what’s really special is that for Kym and I, this feels so natural that the steps that we’re taking, the conversations that we have with our clients and our vendors, it doesn’t actually feel like work. And I know that is one of the greatest things about this business is that you’re actually able to live this sort of experience on a daily basis that you never have those hours of 9-5 if you’re an entrepreneur.
Phillip Taylor: So Erin, is your daytime job in construction? What’s going on behind you there?
Erin Mavian: We’re having a little construction in the hall, sorry about that.
Phillip Taylor: Hopefully they’ll take a lunch break here in a second. I have a few more questions here. We sort of talked about this, taking time to grow, but are there any competitors out there for you?
Kym Pitlor: There are, but that was one of the really intriguing things and was so enticing to start our business here in New York is that there’s no one here in New York City specifically focusing on this. There are other people who are dabbling in it, we like to say, but this is our bread and butter. That was really what we wanted to focus on. We do extend into some other areas, but we realized that we wanted to move forward with this and be the experts, so we wanted that to get a start.
Phillip Taylor: So what about event planning background? I think I mentioned this earlier, but do either of you have event planning backgrounds?
Kym Pitlor: Erin and I come from a really interesting background. I have actually been in the event planning non-profit event planning, and Erin, I’ll let you talk about your background.
Erin Mavian: So I have a background in journalism and media, and I always was working in social intelligence and consumer forecasting and trends. A lot of product development, marketing and things of that sort.
Phillip Taylor: Awesome. Well, that sounds like a good combination.
Kym Pitlor: It really is. The fact that we come from different backgrounds means we can see things from different angles. It’s really complementary beyond the fact that we know each other so well as friends, yet the skills we have from our professional lives went well together and it was really— just fit that we fell into the roles that we currently have when it comes to everything between like answering the phones, licking the envelopes and calling the big wigs to see what connections we can pull at the same time.
Phillip Taylor: So how do you take payment?
Erin Mavian: Through our website. We can take payment online. We use this technology called Stripe. For two people who are not technologically savvy, it’s really easy to set up and the service has really been wonderful to work with.
Phillip Taylor: Yeah, another entrepreneur I talked with a while back is using the same thing. I think I’ve heard of it. That’s really cool— and people can use it. Is it called stripe.com?
Erin Mavian: Yeah, exactly. Stripe.com
Kym Pitlor: And actually it’s really cool to know we used a platform called Squarespace for all of our website and it’s actually integrated with Stripe.
Phillip Taylor: Wow, that’s really cool. Square listings?
Erin Mavian: Squarespace.
Phillip Taylor: And that’s for website listings?
Erin Mavian: Hosting.
Phillip Taylor: Well, that’s nice. So it integrates well. And in terms of legal and business structure, did you guys form a partnership and what’s involved in terms of the legality or insurance of doing this type of service?
Kym Pitlor: Erin and I formed a partnership. That was important to us right away. When we knew we weren’t ready to get things set up. It’ll get much more complicated as more people find out, but for right now it’s just the two of us and we usually work in the evening. Our office is in Brooklyn, so we go often on the weekends to get things done. But otherwise, we are working wherever we can to share responsibilities and to share the company.
Phillip Taylor: Okay, and insurance?
Erin Mavian: We haven’t crossed that bridge yet, have we, Kym?
Kym Pitlor: No, we haven’t because a lot of vendors have insurance through their locations and things like that. It really helped. And what we saw was more important was client contracts and partnership agreements and that’s something that we’re looking at seeing because we are just getting through our first year milestone because we’ve learned a lot from the first year with things we’ve worked with and there’s certain things and stipulations and important things we need to include.
Phillip Taylor: I’m trying to look up the service that I use and I can’t find it right off the bat, but I use a service that allows you to purchase insurance for a very small amount of time because I run a conference, and it’s really cheap insurance, but it gives you a little bit of liability protection for just that two hour window or two-day window, but they’ll help you out there. I’ll send you the link after the show.
Erin Mavian: That would be wonderful. We’re always open to suggestions and great experiences that people have had and services as well.
Phillip Taylor: I noticed you guys have a blog. Why have a blog and, you know, why write articles and not just put yourself out there?
Erin Mavian: A lot of being accompanying and owning a brand is really giving yourself that voice and presence. So aside from us being very successful and aware of what we do it’s something that’s definitely of entertainment value. It definitely gives our clients, our prospective clients, a better understanding of our personalities and who we are, what qualifies us. It’s not a heavy sort of subject, marriage proposals, so we love to share places or suggestions or experiences or stories of other people. It’s a great opportunity for anyone to kind of see that it doesn’t have to be an intimidating, serious sort of experience, that it can be fun and light-hearted and there are people who are out there, like us, who can help you. Kym, is there anything you’d like to add because I know you like that blog.
Kym Pitlor: You touched on it, but definitely it’s a great tool for us to get the word out and just try and spread the word. If you meet people with a blog person to come to your website, it’s a really great tool. Also, so much of Erin’s background with journalism and I do semi-professional writing for some local area blogs and we recognized that we have a voice when it comes to writing and the way to engage our clients who maybe were a little iffy about our services by just the website but now have a chance to see more of our personality on our blog. It’s also made to engage women. Our services mostly go toward men because that’s the cultural norm, but we would love to have women reading our blog and it’s a way to engage women to read about us and hear about us and reading our blog because women love a beautiful story.
Phillip Taylor: So what about any other social media efforts or inbound marketing efforts?
Erin Mavian: Content exchange is really important to us, so being able to share our blog and our voice with others in the same industry are offering. We’ve been really fortunate that every time we do have a piece of media or press written about us, we’re able to share it on Facebook, share it on Twitter, Google+ has been really interesting just learning the basics. I think it’s still finding its own identity but I know from a brand perspective that it’s important to have a presence on every social media platform. Facebook has been a really great opportunity to reach our friends and family and just go from there.
Phillip Taylor: Yeah, I would imagine Facebook would be the way to go. I have a friend in the wedding film industry and you see their videos on there. It certainly has an effect on their ability to reach new clients. So one of the big wins I’m sure, was getting into Daily Candy and other publications. How did you go about getting into Daily Candy and what are the results of that? Have there been any other big wins like that?
Erin Mavian: I was going to talk about our PR for a little bit… but go for it, Kym.
Kym Pitlor: I was just going to say, one of our first goals we set up for ourselves was to use our skills for publicity. We immediately put together began seeking around for a personal contract and just relevant media sources that would be interested. We were really fortunate in our first month and to this very day, to have a lot of positive feedback of people who are interested in the concept as something that they’ve never heard before.
Phillip Taylor: Gotcha. Okay, and Erin?
Erin Mavian: Like Kym said, I also felt how we were connected, so through Help A Reporter Out which has really been a great opportunity as well, and I’ve said Kym and I share a lot of our conversations about who we want to speak with and if we’re going to reach the right audience. Through Help A Reporter Out, we’ve been able to become more selective and really be able to hone in on an audience we want to reach. So that’s been another really great resource for us.
Phillip Taylor: That is a good resource. What about any other successes along the way you’ve had that you can point to? Or any mistakes you would advise others looking down a similar path not to make?
Erin Mavian: As far as mistakes go, I think Kym and I have been really fortunate not to come across anything really major as a red flag. But at the same time, we’ve been struggling with the excitement and hope of achieving our own business. For us, we’ve avoided our mistakes through slow growth. But like I said, it’s a struggle because it’s something that we wanted to do full time. Kym, do you think there’s anything? What has been your favorite part so far other than this Google Hangout, which has been great?
Kym Pitlor: It is awesome. I love the podcast by you and it’s certainly fun for me. The best part of this thing is we do what we love, and it’s a pleasure and honor to work with someone I respect so much. And we work so well together. We haven’t had so many mistakes as we’ve had not getting ahead of ourselves and we have to constantly remind ourselves that it was just less than a year ago [that we got started], and it’s been really great and we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. I think that’s where a lot of the mistakes could come in so patience is the key. And I’m not a particularly patient person but we’re working on the skills of patience.
Phillip Taylor: Good. Well, I hope you guys get there. And it sounds like you have a good service. Where can people find out more about the blueprint proposal and more about you guys?
Erin Mavian: Sure, you can learn more about us from our website. It’s www.blueprintproposals.com. We’re also on Twitter, so @blueprintpropos. And lastly on Facebook. If you want, you can reach Erin or Kym at blueprintproposals.com our email address. But our website’s the best way to get in touch.
Phillip Taylor: Very cool. Alright, well thank you guys for being on with us today and best of luck with business.
Erin Mavian: Thanks so much, Philip. We really appreciate the time and opportunity.
Kym Pitlor: Thanks so much!
Phillip Taylor: Yeah, thanks. And just to let everyone know who’s listening, this will be available on YouTube as well as the blog at ptmoney.com and we will also transcribe it because I know we had a little bit of technical issues with Kym not able to be on video so we’ll transcribe it and you’ll be able to get that later.
Kym Pitlor: I have to say the last thing to threaten your business is not being able to figure out Google Hangout.
Erin Mavian: Yeah, Phillip, this goes on our to-do list this weekend. We’re figuring out Google Hangout on our next visit this weekend.
Phillip Taylor: Alright, invite me because I need some help too, but enjoy the rest of your evening.