As an educator for wedding industry professionals, I rack up my share of miles traveling to and from conferences, but none have cast a spell on me quite like Camp Wed. Tucked alongside Wandawega Lake at the eponymous Camp Wandawega, Camp Wed — the brainchild of Sarah Sarbacker and Andrea VandeBerg of Cherry Blossom Events — is a 3-day retreat for creative business owners that’s been going strong since 2015. But the workshop’s location itself? It’s a bit older. Camp Wandawega’s been in the all-American business of no-frills camp life since 1925 and has the storied, bewitching (ahem, haunted, as some would say) past to prove it, something Sarah and Andrea capitalized on. Sarah and Andrea said, “We chose this location because of its simple nature yet inspiring design and aesthetic – it’s the perfect place to reignite your creative spirit and rejuvenate as you enjoy every detail nature and camp has to offer.”
Wedding planners, designers, photographers, videographers, and the like descended on the alluring, vintage campgrounds of Wandawega, and I noticed Camp Wed dripped in hospitality from the moment I scooted my Away luggage across the gravel lot to the entrance. Read on for five things I learned from Camp Wed this fall.
1. Creativity stems from a few days off the grid.
Sunday evening, 9:25 p.m., Atlanta, Georgia:
Sitting in my desk chair in front of a Macbook Pro, iMac home office littered in art, essential oil bottles, and copious stacks of client notes. iPhone buzzing. Ready for a getaway.
Monday evening, 10:25 p.m., Elkhorn, Wisconsin:
Sitting criss-cross-apple-sauce on a twin bed taking off my eye-makeup, still grinning from the bonfire conversations I shared with other wedding pros (among whiskey sips), wrapped in a scratchy wool blanket. My hair smells like smoke, but it’s okay because I can still breathe thanks to the cracked window and crisp, night air wafting in. Waking up early for tomorrow’s workshops won’t be a problem; my alarm clock is the sound of canoes lapping against the shoreline and glinted sunlight will stream into the room.
Camp Wed woke me up from a professional reverie, pushing me to get off the grid and plant my feet somewhere unexpected. As it turns out, living inside what feels like the set of Dirty Dancing is good for your creative juices. I scribbled rough, unformed ideas in my Field Notes notebook – a gift tucked in my welcome bag – throughout the week, held a watercolor brush during a lettering workshop with Saffron Avenue’s Angela Scheffer, and wove macramé strands together during yet another workshop. Even as a speaker, I was amazed at what a retreat this was shaping up to be!
2. Define what enough looks like for you.
Under a white tent, one of six event speakers, Shanna Skidmore, dropped some insight during her talk about how we can build financially sustainable wedding industry businesses. “Have you defined what enough looks like for you?” she asked. “Decide what enough money looks like to make as a business owner, build a plan, and just work the plan.”
It’s so easy to look right and left on the Instagram scroll in our visual-driven industry, but Sarah and Andrea brought in speakers like Shanna to help us sort through what matters as business owners – being able to make money doing what we love, support our families, and still have enough time left over to live our lives well.
3. “Earthing” works.
I feel like a flaxen-haired GOOP writer, but as it turns out, Gwyneth Paltrow is right – there really is benefit in planting your bare feet into blades of grass and connecting with the earth. Hosts Sarah and Andrea seemed to innately know that a crew of 20+ women needed that and arranged for a yoga class on the green lawn of Camp Wandewega. We dismissed grinding mental wheels of client timelines, Instagram marketing strategies, and full inboxes to down-dog among the Oaks in morning sunlight following Heather Last’s lead. I was still buzzing from the Roast Coffee Catering Apple Chaider I’d just downed — Sarah and Andrea naturally arranged for a boutique coffee shop barista to drive over his espresso machines for a little morning treat — but sank into the grass feeling refreshed.
4. Sustainable marketing can help you work from a place of rest — lessening that 24/7 hustle.
Jenna Kutcher and I brought up the hard-core marketing workshops, both of us with a fire and bent towards teaching marketing that’s authentic, intentional, and most importantly, sustainable. “In the wedding industry, we’re all small fish in giant ponds,” Jenna said. “How much of us rely on social media to get booked? Can we instead focus on long-term marketing with email lists and blogs that are essentially a resource library for our brides?”Camp Wed content melded tough-love business strategy with a heart for service-driven practice, and I loved that.
5. Create a life more beautiful than your brand.
My precious friend, Katie Selvidge of Cottage Hill Magazine, created a curriculum that’s breathed life into my business more than once, and her Assured + Well workshop was on the Camp Wed lineup for everyone to enjoy. Between dappled light and spread out on woolen blankets with pens in hand, Katie leads participants through a series of pointed questions. How would you feel if you woke up and your business was gone? What would have been worth it all? What wouldn’t have been worth it? What do you really want to do with this one life you’ve been given? Psychology and emotions and business acumen collide in her workshop, and I’m so grateful Sarah and Andrea brought it to Camp Wed!
Evenings under velvet skies with jewel-toned tablescapes, chef-driven menus, local wines, and flickering candles followed days perfectly balanced between no-frills business content and curated artistic breaks. We laughed, clinked glasses, and silent disco’d into the nights, which consisted of ghost stories from Ranger Joe — an expert in the camp’s dicey, near-century of history, which turned into bacon-scented camp breakfasts with mismatched ceramic mugs straight from the kitchen cupboards.
I’m a low-key outdoorsy girl. Sure, I grew up sitting in deer stands with my dad for father-daughter time, but I’m the type to opt for the cabin over the lean-to. Good news for me and my more outdoorsy counterparts, Camp Wed and Wandawega offer both. My soul needs rest and creative shake-ups as a business owner. Camp Wed steadied my year as one of the anchor memories. Thank goodness for the vintage, felt pennant flag hanging in my office — a Camp Wed gift — reminding me to “wander often, wonder always.”
In a nutshell, if you’re a wedding professional, do me a favor, pin one of these images to your secret Pinterest vision board, and decide to make it happen one day – there are so many educational opportunities out there, but there’s nothing like this enchanting wedding workshop among the Wisconsin pines.
Ashlyn Carter is a conversion copywriter for creatives and a calligrapher. She's crazy about serving you as a storyteller, so you can make time for what matters — things like margin and white space, good books, and naps. You can find her at Ashlyn Writes.