Hello friends!  As I sit here reflecting on 2013 I am beyond grateful for the amount of blessings experienced this year. As you may have gathered from this post and this post, all was not perfect in 2013, but as you also know, nothing ever is.  If I had to use one word to describe 2013 it would be GROWTH.  I grew immensely, both personally and professionally. Growing is hard.  Its uncomfortable and it guarantees aches and pains along the way.  But growth is crucial to the development and refining of anything, be it character, a business, a relationship.  I was challenged.  It was hard.  I was fearful.  I survived.  So I thought I’d share with you what worked for me in 2013 and what didn’t (thank you, Lara Casey, for the suggestion!).  I’d also like to share with you who and what inspired me this year.

WHAT WORKED IN 2013

Below is my list of accomplishments (professionally and personally) and things in general that worked for  me in 2013.  Its so easy to play the comparison game,  but please don’t.  This list is to share with you my triumphs, yes, but more so proof as to what can be accomplished when you work hard and surround yourself with really great people.  It is by no means a bragging session, as you’ll see further below that I also experienced several challenges in 2013.  I hope this list serves as inspiration that you CAN make big strides in your business if you remain diligent, consistent, fearless and love what you do.

-VIDEO!  I really want to scream this from the rooftops.  And if you know me, you know.  I love video.  It has changed my business and this year video was pivotal in changing how I will move forward in my business (more on that later).  Video is the present and it is most definitely the future.  This year I shot (well, Ian shot them….I was the talking head) a total of 72 videos!  It was no small feat and my dedication to and consistency with video over the past four years has lead to some pretty amazing opportunities that would have otherwise been missed.
-I completed Jesus Calling, a devotional that I was gifted last year at Christmas (thank you, Kari!).  I was able to start nearly every morning with coffee, my devotional and my prayer journal and that not only brought me closer to God, but also gave me some much needed balance prior to starting each day.
-I met Rainn Wilson (aka Dwight Schrute) at a wedding.
-I invested in my professional growth via hiring business coach Ann marie Houghtailing and attending the luxury wedding business conference Engage!.  Investing in my business and the development of my skills is imperative to serving others well and it challenges me.  Money well spent this year.
-I worked out more consistently than ever (well, since pre-kids) and dropped 15 pounds.
-Our team celebrated 11 AMAZING couples this year as we planned and coordinated their weddings.  I never take for granted how blessed I am to do this work.
-Speaking of the team: my fabulous right hand gal, Taryn, celebrated 4 years with us (woohoo!) and Ian (my life-saver video editor) joined the team in February.  The smart and very capable Monica is our newest addition to the team, coming on board in May!  So blessed to work with such committed, focused, loyal people who WORK so dang hard to make beautiful things happen for our couples.
-Speaking of Taryn, a new little girl is joining our team next spring!  We are THRILLED that Taryn (and her hubby Mike) are becoming parents!  God is good!
-Speaking of babies, I welcomed two new nephews into the world in 2013!  Shepherd Lincoln and Parker Thomas are providing my baby fixes these days and I’m so happy I was able to travel to my hometown of Hanford, CA 5 times this year to shnuggle on them and the rest of my family.
-I coached 6 fantastic new wedding planners from New York, Connecticut, San Diego, Colorado and West Virginia (thank goodness for Skype!) this year and loved it!  Coaching was a new endeavor that my own business coach suggested I implement in 2013 since it seems I have a knack for teaching (or being bossy…I kid, I kid).  Coaching these wonderful and intelligent ladies lead me to develop my new workshop, REFINE (more on that later, too!).
-Hiring a cleaning lady – twice!  She doesn’t have a spot in her schedule to add my house to her regular rotation, but for this busy momma of three, what a blessing she was!  I am not a messy person….like, at all.  Everything has its place, beds are made in my house every morning (unless someone is sick), and I try to do dishes before bed because I hate seeing them in the morning.  BUT, getting to the deep cleaning this year was tough for me.  Enter Helen.  A true gift from God during two ridiculously busy periods this year.  I cried after she left the first time.  I MUST find a cleaning lady to help me once a month.
-I booked my first wedding outside of California!  Alison Howard Events is heading to the gorgeous Ozark Mountains of Branson, MO in May 2014!
-I became a Mercedes owner.  After becoming a minivan mom at 27 (yup! so NOT cool) I finally got myself a cool car.  And I thank God every single time I drive it.  (Seriously, getting that van before 30 really humbled me.)
-My family and I actually took REAL vacations this year!  In February Mark and I headed to Carmel, CA for a long weekend and I fell in love with the central coast.  In March we rented a cabin in Big Bear with friends and spent the days sledding, building snowmen and drinking hot cocoa.  In May we took a trip to Disneyland and had a great time!  In November, Mark and I celebrated our anniversary at Excellence Cancun Riviera in Mexico – for a week!  It was awesome!  Our first real (and ridiculously overdue) vacation in 11 years of marriage.
-I spoke on video marketing for the first time at WIPA Phoenix earlier this month.  I was DANG nervous but it went really well and I have two more speaking engagements in early 2014 lined up already.
-I entered a mechanical bull-riding contest in Mexico  – and finished in second place.  Who knew?  ;-)
-In June I entered into a wonderful partnership with The Wedding and Event Institute and became their US Video Reporter.  I am passionate about helping aspiring and novice wedding planners learn and grow as they develop their businesses and my partnership with WEI has been a perfect fit.
-As mentioned, I attend the luxury wedding business summit Engage! in June and was asked to do the “red carpet” video for the gala…two hours before the gala(!).  It was the first time professionals outside my “circle” realized that I did video and the feedback was both humbling and so rewarding after years of “practicing”.
-I wrote out a blog schedule and video schedule and mostly stuck to it.  Blogging with any type of regularity has always eluded me, but this year I blogged fairly consistently (at least Jan-August…things got dicey after that as life and work got busier).
-I did my first (gasp) styled photo shoot ever for Exquisite Weddings Magazine this year!!  This was big for me.  I was really fearful of doing it.  I’ve avoided styled shoots for the past 7 years because something about them scared me.  Weird, I know. I can plan a whole dang wedding with no issues, but give me a magazine shoot and I’m shaking in my boots. I think its because when I’m working with clients on weddings, I know their own personal style and I’m able to work with that.  But with a styled shoot its all me conceptualizing the design and theme.  But I did it!  I worked with an amazing team and it was beautiful  – and a lot of fun!
-I was able to put my kids to bed more nights this year than I did last year.  Sweet sweet success!

WHAT DIDN’T WORK IN 2013

This list is comprised of my challenges and things that didn’t work for me this year.  I am far FAR from perfect and every week frustrating struggles presented themselves.  Some are more personal than others and the very personal things I’ve excluded from this list (you’re welcome).

-Time management used to be a strength of mine, but this year time seemed to get away from me.  I’ve always been punctual, always responded to emails/voicemails promptly…but this year I struggled with catching up.  I realized I had over-scheduled myself in several areas because of committing to new projects.
-Because of my lack of time (or my inability to properly manage it) a few relationships were neglected as a result.  I’ve never needed a lot of friends, but rather only a few strong friendships and at times the busyness and pure exhaustion of life took me away from nurturing those friendships.
-I think I opened my Bible less than a dozen times (in my defense, I DID open my Bible app a good 20 times this year).  I used to be in the Word daily and although I did an awesome devotional this year and spent time journaling, I didn’t spend hardly any time actually reading the Bible.
-Although I exercised more regularly this year, I fell off the wagon several times.  If I didn’t get a workout in before noon, it typically didn’t happen.
-I was guilty of looking at my iPhone WAY too much around my kids.  I want their memories of me to be of a mom who looked them in their eyes instead of a mom who was more captivated by a device.
-If myself or one of my planners is not the first to arrive on the wedding day (despite contracted hours) something goes wrong.  I learned this twice this year.  In the past I always arrived first so there was no issue.  This year we had two massive set-ups where the designers were arriving at 8am to begin their production and we were slated to arrive a few hours later.  Mistake.  Luckily nothing major or noticeable happened but I certainly have a few more gray hairs as a result.
-Working remotely has not been working for me or my team.  We all work from home or from the road (my “office” is wherever I have wifi) and this makes communication difficult at times.
-Balancing wedding planning, videos, coaching, speaking, workshops, writing and managing my team all at once is not working anymore.  I cannot be both the CEO of my company and an employee.  The thought of this change scares me.  Pray for me.
-Parenting a 9 year old, 5 year old and almost 4 year old is challenging alone.  Doing that while running this business has left me feeling depleted at times.  Although I was home with the kids more this year than last, I was still more preoccupied than I should’ve been.  My 9 year old sometimes reminds me to “unplug” if its past 5pm and I’m still working.
-Having to deal with ANYTHING technical like a website issue, photoshop, etc. provided me with several frustrating moments.  I need a go-to person who can do all the tech stuff that I’m so not gifted at tackling.
-Not scheduling in time to relax often enough either with my family or alone.  I need an occasional massage, a morning at the beach, time to read a good book that is not business-related.
-Cleaning the house regularly.  I hate to admit it because I so wish I was completely perfect and put together, but in order for me to shower, get three kids off to school, cook instead of eat crap, and work 8-12 hour days…the dusting and vacuuming didn’t happen weekly like normal.
-Patience with family could increase.  ALL the family…not just my immediate family.
-Worrying tended to dominate me regularly as I faced new opportunities and was unsure about the direction of my business.  This is something I am learning to cope with better, as well as fear of the unknown.  For a person who can be controlling, its not easy.

WHO & WHAT INSPIRED ME IN 2013:

Below is a list of the top 10 people/places that inspired me this year.

10. Carmel, CA – you have a piece of my heart.  Loved that visit, the views and the most amazing French onion soup at Andre’s Bouchee.
9. Lara Casey.  I so respect who she is and how she keeps God at the center of it all.
8. This is gonna sound weird, but Pentatonix’s version of Drummer Boy TOTALLY inspired me this Christmas season.  Amazing.
7. My sisters.  Both had new babies this year.  Kari (the middle sister) achieved her goal of a VBAC and a drug-free home birth with baby #2!  Having been through drug-free birth myself, I knew how difficult this was for her, especially after a prior c-section.  So inspired by Kari’s strength and determination.  And Megan, (the baby sister)…faced a huge fear: being induced due to pre-eclampsia, hours of labor (I had the privilege of being one of her coaches), only to end up in a c-section. Which she did.  She wanted the natural, drug-free home birth and although it didn’t happen for her as planned (this time!), she stayed positive and handled herself with grace.  You both inspired me so much this year!  Love you girls.
6. Simon T. Bailey – Thank you for taking me under your wing, pushing me to think BIG and constantly encouraging me to recognize my own inner brilliance.  I value our friendship and admire you so very much.
5. Ann marie Houghtailing.  A fantastic coach, mentor, human.
4. Elizabeth Messina.  AMAZING.  I see her photos and just think…wow.  Go see for yourself.
3. I attended Engage!13 this year for the third time and as always, it left me feeling inspired to elevate myself and business. Thank you to Rebecca Grinnals and Kathryn Arce for facilitating such a phenomenal experience over and over and over again.
2. Soul Pancake provided HOURS of inspiration for me this year.  I’m a huge fan and after helping to plan and coordinate Justin Baldoni’s (Producer of SoulPancake’s “My Last Days”) wedding in July (to actress Emily Foxler-Baldoni), I am even more of a fan.  I’m not-so-secretly hoping they’ll hire me for one of their video series.
1. And of course, Mark and our children constantly inspire me to be the best version of myself, to be fearless, to embrace life as a wild and amazing adventure that has been gifted to us.

MY WORD FOR 2014

I think assigning a word to the upcoming year that reflects what you intend/hope to happen/focus on can be energizing and prophetic.  My word for 2014 is Converge.  Its time to bring different pieces of my life and my work together to create the full picture.

GOALS FOR 2014

Below is the short-list of my goals for 2014.  A few weeks ago I met up with my friend, Simon T. Bailey,  who told me goals should be written in first person and as if they’ve already been accomplished.  So here we go…

-I am exercising 4-5 times a week before 12pm and I feel healthy and confident.
-The time I spend with my children is focused and my iPhone is put away.
-I don’t spend more than one hour on social media or TV per day, respectively.
-I am up at 5:30am every morning to read my Bible and pray.
-Mark and I enjoy weekly dates.
-I have had the opportunity to speak 12 times at different conferences and workshops (this was a goal Simon set for me and I agreed to).
-I have coached 15 new wedding planners.
-I personally planned 5 amazing weddings while my team of planners did 20 of their own weddings.
-I am (finally!) making money from my YouTube partnership (ha!). ;)
-I enjoyed traveling to Texas, New York, Canada, and Europe to speak about video marketing.
-I am sponsoring a child in Uganda on a monthly basis.
-I am scheduling dates with friends at least twice a month.

I challenge you to write out what worked for you and what didn’t work for you in 2013 as well (please send me a link if you do!).  Blessings to you all in 2014!  Thank you for making my 2013 so memorable for me.

Lots of love,
Alison