Emily Steffen knows a lot about gorgeousness and smiles. She is the mastermind behind some of the most beautiful cake toppers I have ever seen (I mean, seriously — amazing, right?) and is without a doubt, an expert on happiness. It pours into every aspect of her life and is absolutely infectious. I am quite taken with her enthusiasm for her career, her family & life in general and definitely plan to take a few pages out of her playbook, starting with Java Chunk ice cream…or Black Cherry Rum? Okay, maybe both.
name Emily Steffen
location Hudson, Wiscosin
educational background BA in Studio Art from Northwestern College
company Emily Steffen
established 2008 started photography business, launched handmade shop in 2013
Tell me a little bit about your company & how you first got started. Last year I decided that I wanted to play around and disconnect from the world of photography for the day (I tend to plan creative play dates into my busy schedule to make sure that I stay fresh and excited about being a creative….something I’ve learned from almost near burnout times)! : ) I decided that it was a day to play with glitter…one thing lead to another and I was left with a handwritten, scripted “love” cake topper that was glittered and glued into a stick! Viola…a cake toper! I posted it to Instagram and my business took off from there. One idea led to another, one dream led to another…a few leaps later, and here I am! I’ve been in the wedding industry as a photographer for about 6 years so this was a perfect creative “match” to my love for amazing, meaningful wedding days.
What were you doing before you started your company? What made you ultimately decide to branch out on your own? I’ve been in the industry as a wedding photographer for about 6 years so this was a natural transition for me (I still shoot, but this is a second business that has broadened my brand quite a lot)! I realized that I had already captivated my audience in the wedding world and just decided to expand on that with this handmade shop line. : ) It has been such a fun (and experimental) thing for me that I am LOVING!
Has there been a particular moment where you felt most accomplished and validated in your career? It has been wildly surprising for me to see orders come in each day…I honestly never expected my shop to explode so much! This summer I have exceeded my monthly goals for my handmade shop which was so amazing to see. I keep looking back and knowing that one small step has turned into bigger steps and turned into more orders and more ideas and more goals. It started small and to watch it grow has been just incredible!
As a photographer, handmade artist, mother & wife, you certainly wear many hats! How do you maintain a healthy work/life balance? To be truly honest, I have a husband who isn’t afraid to keep me accountable to my priorities (which sometimes includes some interventions on his part)! I have childcare for 3 days a week and very clear boundaries, I have designated days for certain tasks (i.e., I only ship one day a week and I only edit on another day a week), I have an assistant that comes and does wedding editing for me, and another assistant that helps with production for the handmade shop. I keep office hours and try to never work outside of those. I also try and keep all of my work in my office downstairs so that when I’m working, I’m working…and when I’m with my family, I’m with my family! I’m not perfect…but I am constantly trying to make sure that I take time for myself, my family and rest.
Let’s talk about your insanely gorgeous cake toppers. What sparked this idea? Tell me a bit about the design & production processes. All my designs start as a doodle on paper and turn into a full blown design file in Adobe Illustrator on my computer. I started cutting all of my toppers individually by hand but couldn’t keep up with sales and shipping times. So now I have a partnership with a company that helps cut my designs from wood in larger quantities. And I have an assistant that comes in to organize, help with production, track orders, ship on Wednesdays and make sure we have everything in stock. She’s a HUGE help as a second set of hands to help me manage all of my ideas, thoughts and dreams with this shop!
As a wedding photographer & glitzy cake topper aficionado, wedding season must get busy! Do you have any tricks to stay calm & collected amidst it all? Take breaks for lunch every day (away from my computer). Stick to boundaries. Make time for rest AND fun! : ) And the biggest thing for me in the summer that helps me stay grounded is to get out in my garden, breathe in the warm air and silently weed!
What does a day in the life of Emily Steffen look like? I try and wake up before Zeke (although that’s not always in the cards since it’s a learned thing for me to be a morning person)! I have found that I NEED to have some time to myself to be quiet, journal, get my bearings straight in the morning : ) When Zeke wakes up we cuddle, watch some “Daniel Tiger” and eat breakfast. Then its off to the neighbors at 9 am (M-W) so that I can work. I try and tackle emails, album design, edit prep, etc.
What is your dream for the future of your business? I really would LOVE to see this handmade shop keep growing! I REALLY love seeing brides fall in love with details that can be meaningful for the wedding day and help create beautiful marriages afterwards. I have awesome new products launching this fall, which I am super excited about! Every new idea is sprung from the previous…so I will just keep tracking how this goes and keep dreaming big things. I’ve been contacted about wholesale from a LOAD of smaller shops, so I’d love to pursue this as well.
You are incredibly passionate and it’s clear that you truly love what you do. What has made your journey so special? What advice do you have for those searching for a niche? When you’re searching for your niche….ask yourself what YOU are passionate about? What do you believe in? Who do you want to serve with your business? What will my products/service do for people? Tie it into your personal mission in life. If you grow your business from your heart in the things that you TRUELY believe in, your passion will show and your business will grow. People will believe in you and you will be less likely to be crippled by fear! : )
SMALL TALK with EMILY
Guilty pleasure? Hallmark movies! Actually a full day of watching Hallmark movies cuddled under blankets, drinking a hot beverage is one of my FAVORITE things to do. Watching sappy movies is a love language of mine!
Favorite moment during a wedding? Over and over again, I LOOOOOVE the recessional. The “OMGOSH we are married and HOLY COW our ceremony is done” moment that always leaves a bride and groom in full out smiles! : )
Favorite wedding blog? Even though I don’t live there, I REALLY love Southern Weddings! : ) The weddings are real and approachable and the writing is authentic. It’s a well edited and designed blog (and magazine)!
Favorite ice cream flavor? All of them! : ) Really, my favorite food! My top 5 are for sure Coconut Joy, Java chunk, Black cherry rum, Pistachio almond and monster cookie. YUM!
What is one thing people might be surprised to know about you? My husband is the one that introduced me to Brussel Sprouts, and they are one of my favorite vegetables! Especially to grow! : )