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Life & Business

Life & Business: Gail Johnson

by Annie Werbler

Life & Business: Gail Johnson, on Design*Sponge

After achieving lofty goals in corporate America, Gail Johnson was one of those intrepid travelers through life who realized her true calling and simply moved on. Recognizing that she would never find satisfaction in working for someone else, she launched Gail Johnson Weddings & Events in Decatur, GA with a newfound freedom to determine her own path. Gail had the benefit of meticulous research talents as well as prior experience helping plan milestone occasions, so the people who knew her were eager to hire and recommend Gail right out of the gate. Her unique ideas and flawless execution continue to attract new clients.

In addition to mastering the service one is selling, Gail also stresses the importance of being a competent businessperson, or at least delegating administrative tasks to someone who is. The day-to-day running of a small company won’t always go smoothly, but “you must be committed to the dream and be patient as well.” It is prudent, however, to have a specific plan in mind for how to generate revenue. “Most businesses fail because the owner didn’t figure out specifically how the business will make money,” Gail considers. “Being able to approach the profitability of your business with an objective eye is key.” Thankfully for Gail, she possessed the ideal combination of entrepreneurial acuity and creative flexibility to make her dream thrive. “If you don’t know where you are going, no road will take you there.” —Annie

Portrait by Latisha Baker

Life & Business: Gail Johnson, on Design*Sponge

Photographs by Harwell Photography

Why did you decide to start your own business?

At first, I was determined to have a stellar corporate career after graduating from college. Although I eventually ended up leading a very successful career in the corporate world, I found that a corporate environment did not satisfy my need to be my own boss, and it did not allow me to develop my creative talents. My drive for independence — and my love for simply creating things that make people happy — led me to start my own wedding and events business. Being a solopreneur with the freedom to determine my destiny and bring my own ideas to life is important to me.

Life & Business: Gail Johnson, on Design*Sponge

Photograph by Our Labor of Love

When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what it would be?

After doing careful research on the industry and making sure that I was as updated on the current news and events as possible, I decided to start my own business. Wedding and event-planning has always been a passion of mine, and was something I pursued even from a young age, so I had many referrals and requests from family and friends. In creating my business and having knowledge on the industry, I wanted to bring a different approach by helping my clients think outside the box. The more creative the idea, the better. I’ve never been a cookie-cutter girl who follows the leader, but a free spirit with endless dreams.

What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?

Say “yes” to every coffee invitation you receive. Don’t think about it, just do it! When you are just starting out, networking with industry experts is a great way to help build strong relationships and earn new referrals. Find mentors who have been successful to take you under their wings.

Life & Business: Gail Johnson, on Design*Sponge

Photograph by Janelle Chung

What was the most difficult part of starting your business?

It is always difficult to take the first step when you are unsure if something is the right move. Starting a business is not easy or for the faint of heart. To help my business become a success, I faced a variety of challenges — whether it was obtaining start-up capital, developing marketing strategies, or avoiding bad business decisions. To meet these challenges, I constantly stay updated on the current events going on in the industry. I also continually think of new ways that I can improve my business so that I can take it to a new level of greatness every day. Learning how to apply the principles of business acumen to my daily operations has been one of the more challenging parts of the growing process. Learning the importance of business acumen and being able to apply it to all parts of my operations has helped me to create a more profitable and smoothly-run business.

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business? 

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I’m not good at everything. It is important to delegate and outsource tasks that would free up my time and allow me to stay organized. Doing everything on your own is never a good idea since you are burning the candle at both ends, which is a common mistake for new entrepreneurs.

Life & Business: Gail Johnson, on Design*Sponge

Photograph by Our Labor of Love

Can you name a moment of failure in your business experience?

One moment of failure was when I worked on events where I was being paid less than what I knew my work was worth. However, this experience became an important milestone in my business when I began to become more selective with my clients, define my market niche, and know when to say “no.”

What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?

The sacrifices I made to start my business were plenty. Entrepreneurship is hard work, but it’s supposed to be enjoyable as well. I thought that I had to work 24/7 to run a successful business. While I needed to work hard and there were definitely periods of seriously intense work, I also needed to find the perfect work/life balance.

Life & Business: Gail Johnson, on Design*Sponge

Photograph by Jessica Hatter

Can you name your greatest success in your business experience?

My greatest success has been building a successful business and brand through years of hard work.

What business books and resources would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?

When I started out in the industry, I read a lot of wedding books. However, I quickly learned that I needed to find resources that could help me navigate my day-to-day business. Two of my favorite books are Girl Code: Unlocking the Secrets to Success, Sanity, and Happiness for the Female Entrepreneur by Alwill Leyba Cara and Do It! Marketing: 77 Instant-Action Ideas to Boost Sales, Maximize Profits, and Crush Your Competition by David Newman.

Life & Business: Gail Johnson, on Design*Sponge

Photograph by Shawna Herring

In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?

1. It’s easy to talk about pursuing your dreams, but you have to know going into it that not every day will be perfect. You must be committed to the dream and be patient as well. Take the time to enjoy the journey and have faith in the process.

2. Know ahead of time how your business is going to make money. Most businesses fail because the owner didn’t figure out specifically how the business will make money. Being able to approach the profitability of your business with an objective eye is key.

3. Write down your goals. Setting goals and objectives is something I do on a consistent basis. There is an old saying, “If you don’t know where you are going, no road will take you there.” To better guide your goals and be more informed of what you want to achieve in the near or distant future, you can also write a business plan.

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