A Few Things We’ve Learned During An Unimaginable Year

There’s no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic has shaken us to the core. I never imagined to live to see such great destruction and loss in my lifetime, so quickly and so widespread. It has impacted every facet of our lives — from how we structure our daily schedules and habits, to how we manage our work lives and businesses to how we move about in the world and with those we care for. The added time spent with my family has been one of a few gifts in all of this that I will forever cherish (I know you’ve been seeing more adventuring on the insta story lately!), but it’s also been one of the biggest challenges I have faced to date. Managing the business, Clients and team during an uncertain time while homeschooling has been quite a tricky balance, but I maintain a mindset of how things can always be worse and in many respects I consider us very lucky. My heart goes out to each and every human out there on the front lines risking their lives every day to keep us safe and healthy. For the next few months I’d love it if the media would share a little more joy, like how many lives were saved today…or how many times our politicians came together for the good of our country instead of talking about walking straight into a dark, bleak winter. Now with a new administration at the helm, I am looking forward to 2021 with excited eyes. Our 2020 is not one I’ll soon forget however.

There’s been a large debate around the pandemic called The Great Pause – many are using this ‘slowed-down time’ to reconnect with their passions, find new sources of inspiration and soak up the peacefulness and extra time with loved ones that a slower paced life has given them. While I struggle to find that slow-paced life myself, I think there’s something important in this debate: reconnecting with your passions and creativity is so important to living a fulfilled life and being successful. In our industry in particular, creativity fuels everything we do. I’m constantly seeking out sources of inspiration to share new ideas with a Client, develop a new design concept for a styled shoot, or my personal favorite — source new rental items that will be just the perfect fit for a Client’s wedding. 

During this time of unimaginable loss, I’ve been immensely grateful for my health, my family and friends who have stayed strong and healthy over the past four months, my hardworking team, and my peers in this industry that we love. We are fighters. As Maine has begun to reopen and provide some semblance of normalcy again, we wanted to take the time to share what’s been on our mind lately. While the outcome of 2020 thus far isn’t exactly what we predicted, we’ve learned a lot along the way that we wanted to share with all of you. 

1. Creativity can lead you down new paths and to places you never knew you’d be. 

When the pandemic hit the United States in March, we had an optimistic view. Like most, we naively thought life would be paused for six, maybe eight weeks tops. Before we knew it, we’d be back to business as normal (albeit a few rescheduled weddings from early in the season) and on our way to a fabulous 2020 wedding season. 

Needless to say, we were very, very wrong. Sometimes, no matter how much you hope and pray, the show must actually NOT go on. And for the safety of everyone, we agreed. But in those first few weeks, we didn’t just sit around, waiting for life to return to normal — I spent countless hours with my team developing new operating procedures and putting systems in place to continually meet Client needs and be there for them above all else. We developed creative solutions that allowed us to continue to meet with Clients, serving as a trusted partner and friend throughout this unpredictable time. 

In those first few months of quarantining, the AFA team also launched a contest to recognize hard working small businesses in our local communities. As a way to spread positivity throughout our community, we encouraged those in our network to leave a positive review to any local business of their choosing. In doing so, they’d be entered to win giveaway packages from some of our own personal favs in the local community. It was a small gesture, but one we had hoped would give back to our community and spread a little joy during a time of uncertainty. The creativity we see in our industry and among local businesses – especially during times of crisis – is inspiring. My heart was hurting for so many of my restaurant friends and small businesses that did not have virtual capabilities or e-commerce. One of the most valuable experiences we took away from this project was the inspiring shifts each one of these businesses took in order to continue to support their community and provide their craft to not only stay afloat but thrive. It also felt like we were Santa on Christmas and kept us as a team all really jazzed during a pretty scary time.

From a business services perspective, we also quickly realized that our 2020 season would look very different. While I was fortunate to bring on a new member of the team in early 2020 (shoutout to our girl Jordan!), I was 100% committed to continue operating at full capacity — investing in our business and team and using the time we had to think through new solutions and new services during this difficult time. Because of that, we’ve begun developing a plan to offer home staging services in 2020 and beyond. While a natural fit into our current business model (and a service we’re particularly excited to launch), home staging was never an area I ever imagined offering this year. Sometimes, you have to let the world guide you and use your creativity to find new ways to succeed.

And a very exciting note… peep these shots below from a few of our home staging clients!

Most times, you have to think outside the box to meet your goals. Other times, you have to be creative to stay resilient, support the industry and continue to grow. 

2. Challenging times are never easy — but they’re the best times to find growth.

Aside from growing our offerings, we’ve also grown in new ways as well. While I’m not one who enjoys talking about my own successes, there is one achievement I am particularly proud of: learning the true meaning of business resiliency. In times of rapid change, it’s no longer enough to rest on your laurels – you must reconnect with your passions and inspiration and fight for it like you never have before. For the AFA team, our inspiration stems from serving our Clients and collaborating with our peers. For me, it is my family that fuels me. Working hard and investing in the business in order to grow is a reward, and I’m grateful we have been able to continue doing this during the pandemic. 

One of the largest investments – emotionally and monetary – has been relocating our rental showroom from downtown Gray to North Yarmouth. It’s a special move for me, as we’re now housed on my parents property. Our move was delayed due to COVID, but we capitalized on this opportunity – we used the extra time to finalize the barn, renovate the space and create a welcoming environment for our Clients. And to no one’s surprise, the space is FILLED with new rentals already! 

3. Not a new lesson, but a good reminder: Clients come first, no matter what. 

Clients are the reason we do what we do. Plain and simple. While many were hesitant to message to Clients during this challenging time, we’ve been committed to providing education and resources to keep them informed. And most importantly, we’ve made it our goal to continue to inspire. We have blogged weddings from our 2019 season, shared when we could on Instagram, pinned new inventory to Pinterest, ALL in the spirit of keeping that flame of wedding inspo alive. In fact, we launched our newsletter in April to better connect with our Clients and continue to be a visible resource to them during whatever challenge they might be facing. 

In the spirit of Client inspiration, we also were recently involved in two beautiful styled shoots – one that we created the vision for at Beech Hill Barn, and the second we were part of an inspiring team providing props and styling for at Garden Gate at Harley Farm. We poured our hearts and souls into these ones, my friends! The first was bright and summary and just the vibes we needed to have in our lives. We spearheaded the design and vision for this one and truly love the concept and colors-such a fun collab with some talented humans.

The second was a Vampire inspiration and was recently featured on Green Wedding Shoes – huge props to Cody James Barry Photography for dreaming up this incredible concept and including us in such a creative day! You inspire me always.

Sierra Archer Photograph | Invitations: Three Little Words
Sierra Archer Photography |. Specialty Rentals: A Family Affair of Maine
Sierra Archer Photography | Champagne Cart: The Roaming Speakeasy Co
Sierra Archer Photography | Floral Design: Honeysuckle Way
Sierra Archer Photography | Catering and Bar: Fire & Co
Sierra Archer Photography
Sierra Archer Photography | Cake: Bear Brook Bakery
Sierra Archer Photography | Makeup: Brooke Nason Beauty | Jewelry: Keith Field Goldsmith

Shop the look yourself here! Bamboo Director Chairs, Outdoor Sofa, Outdoor Side Chairs, White Washed Wood Coffee Table, Navy Blue Jute Rug, White Milk Glass Stemmed Goblets, Silver Champagne Urn

Annnnd for the 180 flip to the second shoot… 😉

Cody James Barry Photography | Calligraphy: Farm + Forest Design
Cody James Barry Photography | Cake & Food Styling: Autumn Nomad
Cody James Barry Photography | Dress: Andrea’s Bridal | Jewelry: Brown Goldsmiths | Hair: Peter-John at Akari | Makeup: Taylor Carley
Cody James Barry Photography | Florals: Electric Flora
Cody James Barry Photography

And finally, we were also grateful enough to still have six weddings this season: intimate affairs with the most lovely families. Our heart is with all of our couples that had to endure the disappointment of changing their wedding date, or worse, cancelling. These decisions were not made without long and careful consideration, followed by some heartbreak. Deciding to keep their original 2020 date is also not a lightly made choice, and takes a great deal of courage, resilience and a positive attitude to endure. I am so proud of each and every one of our Clients for making the choices that they did for them, and with a safety first mentality all in all. Client service is put above all else at AFA, so weddings during a pandemic have quickly become our specialty – we created and maintained logistics of keeping guests safe and comfortable while present. We went all out on the design and had a blast. Check out some of the beauty! 

4. Stick close to those you love. 

And for the lesson that you don’t need a pandemic to tell you – stick close to those you love. There’s no words to describe the heartbreak and loss we’re seeing every day, and I’m so grateful for my family to be in good health. I’m lucky to have a business that can weather this storm – and we all know that’s largely because of my talented, passionate team. They’re everything – they keep this train running on the days I’m pulled in one million different directions and you better believe they do it with grace, professionalism, and a whole lot of cheer. They bring SO much creativity to this team and never cease to inspire me. I recently asked our rockstar planner Marie what she learned this year and her answer couldn’t have resonated more.

“It is funny to look back on pictures from last wedding season, to reminisce on memories when hugging and shaking hands were second nature.  When breaking it down and getting sweaty on the dance floor with 150 of your closest family and friends was a given. When hand sanitizer was not a standard part of the table centerpieces and when charcuterie was built in abundance on tables and not individually served.

And then the world changed. The 2020 wedding season has been the most challenging and inconstant ones to date.  It has put our planner abilities to the ultimate test and taught us a lot about the future of weddings.

  • There are no more rules. And yet, there are so many rules.  But when it comes to what you and your partner want, do not settle for anything less than what feels right for you.
  • That it is okay and 100% normal to feel sad and really frustrated at times. And eat ice cream and popcorn for dinner…more than once.  Allow yourself the time to feel however you need to feel.
  • That being flexible and listening to the professionals is going to save you a lot of aggravation in the long run.  Wedding vendors are on your team and will do whatever we can to make it happen.  But also realize that these people are trying to keep their small businesses afloat and navigating through the ever changing craziness as well.
  • That 50 person weddings are actually SO MUCH FUN because the people that matter the absolute most are there and BEYOND ready to celebrate with you!
  • It is more than OK to put yourself and your health first.  Do not be afraid to ask guests to get tested, to enforce wearing of masks, and to provide hand sanitizer as the new wedding favor.
  • Above all else, love prevails.”

See what I mean here?! Inspiring. I couldn’t do this without my team and I’m so grateful for them.

I’m also thankful for my hard working peers and friendors who have stood hand-in-hand with one another to fight this together. We grow stronger when surrounded by those we love and it’s important to embrace that. 

I hope you’re all staying healthy and safe during this time. We couldn’t do what we’re doing without the help and support of all of you!! 

Xo, Paula

Published by Paula Cano

I am a passionate mother, a grateful and loving wife, an appreciative daughter, a stupendously lucky granddaughter, a very proud sister, a fortunate friend and a constant desire to live creatively, be inspired and share the love. I am also the owner and Creative Director of an event planning and prop rental business, A Family Affair of Maine. Here I aspire to share my professional experience as a party producer, host, designer, coordinator, promoter, craftsman, chef, Mom and partner in crime, not in that specific order.

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