By Chris Olsen
Sara Schultz and Rachel Seifert both lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota, but they’d never met in person. A mutual friend had written a book, and while Sara worked on graphic design elements for it, Rachel worked on photography. They communicated via phone and email for months and learned they had a lot in common, including a primary focus on the wedding industry. When the freelance project was done, Rachel reached out to Sara about meeting up to talk about how they might collaborate in the future. There was just one glitch: Sara was on a beach abroad.
After feeling tied down by a five-year career at Target Corporation, Sara launched a graphic design business in 2014 so she could explore the world while remotely designing wedding stationery. Rachel dabbled in a number of creative jobs as well as in special education, all while pursuing her true passion on the side—photographing weddings. She had finally taken the leap to launch Rachabella Photography in 2016 and create a dedicated studio space for herself. The two agreed to meet there when Sara returned home.
When it finally happened, their meeting was among the best “first dates” (excluding their husbands) either of the women had experienced. They talked for hours about the challenges that came with freelancing and owning a business. They felt a better connection than they ever imagined. One of the ideas that emerged was hosting a meetup for creatives who also worked in the wedding industry. It could be a great way to connect with others for referrals, share resources and ideas, and offer support. What they really wanted was to replicate the magic they experienced that day.
In 2017, Rachel and Sara founded The Merry Hour, a meetup for women small business owners. Though their original vision was specific to the wedding industry, they quickly realized women from all industries were looking for an alternative to typical networking events. Instead of a corporate approach of collecting as many business cards as possible, The Merry Hour was created to encourage women to show up as they are, to be vulnerable, and to make meaningful connections. For three years it did exactly that. And then the pandemic brought in-person events to a screeching halt.
The pause ended up being a blessing for Sara and Rachel. Rachel used the time to decompress and focus on family. Sara gave birth to a healthy baby boy. And as they started to ease back into work, Sara and Rachel began reimagining The Merry Hour. In 2021, they launched a digital version for groups of up to 10 women. Like the original, online meetups lead with vulnerability and aim to provide a safe space for members to talk openly about business and life.
They also introduced the Merrier Mastermind, an eight-week program for six to eight women interested in making deeper connections. It was designed with small business bosses, creatives, dreamers, side hustlers, makers and shakers in mind. It’s highly collaborative and provides ample time for participants to share stories and exchange wisdom.
Rachel and Sara believe they created the perfect extension of their in-person events. “The women who attended the first Merrier Mastermind showed up,” Rachel said. “They brought their hearts, shared their passions, supported one another, encouraged growth and tough decisions and took the time to step back into a community of love, honesty and inspiration.”
“As a collective, our first group is up to COOL SHIT and we cannot wait to see what future Merrier Mastermind groups bring!” Sara said.
Sara and Rachel also continue to collaborate beyond The Merry Hour and Merrier Mastermind. Sara’s business focus is branding for small businesses and she works primarily with venture-backed female-founded enterprises. Brand assets often include images, and Sara partners with Rachel whenever the need for beautiful photos arises. As a result, Rachel is spending more time on commercial and brand photography in addition to weddings. They’re grateful for every opportunity to work together and excited about all the ways their partnership continues to evolve.
Photo: The Merry Hour
About the author: Chris Olsen is a radio veteran turned communications consultant, educator and author of “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose”. Through her work as a consultant partnering with startups, Chris realized her WHY—to support women-owned businesses in confidently communicating their purpose and impact, setting them up for entrepreneurial success. She created My Founder Story as a platform for doing so.