Sara Schultz and Rachel Seifert both lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota and had worked together on a freelance design project. But they’d never met in person. A mutual friend had written a book, and while Sara worked on graphic design elements of the book, Rachel was simultaneously working on photography for it. 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 in person 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 had launched a graphic design business in 2014 and created a life for herself that allowed her to prioritize her passion for exploring the world while at the same time working remotely designing wedding stationery. Rachel had dabbled in a number of creative jobs as well as in special education. All the while she was pursuing her true passion on the side—photographing weddings. She had finally taken the leap in 2016, launching Rachabella Photography and creating a dedicated studio space for herself. The two agreed to meet up there when Sara returned home.
When it finally happened, their initial 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 were open and honest and had a better connection in person than they ever imagined. One of the ideas that emerged was hosting a meetup event for creatives who also worked in weddings. It could be a great way to connect with others for referrals, to share resources and ideas, and to offer each other support. What they really wanted was to replicate the magic they had felt that day—showing up authentically, bonding with like-minded women, and supporting one another in chasing their goals.
In 2017, Rachel and Sara founded The Merry Hour, a meetup event for women small business owners. Though their original vision was specific to the wedding industry, as they chatted with friends and fellow entrepreneurs, 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, women at The Merry Hour are encouraged to show up exactly as they are, to be vulnerable and to make meaningful connections. Rachel and Sara lead group discussions, and guest speakers provide expertise on navigating all aspects of entrepreneurship. Events include wine, food, prize drawings and headshots from Rachel.
Sara and Rachel continue to collaborate beyond The Merry Hour. Sara has shifted her business focus to branding for small businesses and works primarily with venture-backed female-founded enterprises because they understand and value the importance of creating an impactful brand from the get-go. Brand assets often include images, and Sara partners with Rachel whenever the need for beautiful photos arises. As a result, in addition to weddings, Rachel is spending more time on commercial and brand photography. She appreciates that it provides new challenges and opportunities to express even more of her creative side.
Though they’re grateful for every opportunity they have to work together, it’s what they’ve created with The Merry Hour that they are especially proud of. It has become a standout event for women in business, not just for the experience itself, but for what happens after. Many attendees have ended up collaborating on projects and supporting each other beyond the meetups. Sara and Rachel love hearing how women have partnered with someone they met at an event—it reminds them of the reason they met in the first place.
Photo: The Merry Hour
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