There is a list of things that fire Lara Casey
up, but one thing that stands out is her passion for building up women through her professional brands.
“Everything we do is for the purpose of encouraging, empowering and equipping women to lead intentional lives,” Casey says.
Next week, on October 17 and 18, Casey will host her seventh sold-out Making Things Happen conference in a row at the Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill. This intensive is the 51st conference that Casey has hosted.
“The Making Things Happen conference is about sifting through the noise and uncovering good goals,” says Casey. “We focus on things that hold you back and also find tactical skills you can use. It is not a one size fits all solution, nor a prescribed life. For us it is about cultivating what matters in every situation. We want all attendees to leave with a greater sense of purpose.”
A 2009 blog post Casey wrote answering the question, “How do you make things happen?” spurred the conference’s development. After receiving a large number of responses to the blog, and even consulting requests, Casey planned the first Making Things Happen intensive tour for 13 cities. The intensive later evolved into the two-day conference it is today, which occurs twice a year.
The October panel of speakers includes familiar faces from past intensives, as well as local business owners like husband and wife photographer team William and Nancy Ray, Carrie Grace of The Kindness Box, Randi Smith of Sugar Euphoria and Maghon Taylor of All She Wrote Notes. Casey insists that All Making Things Happen speakers must be alumni.
Taylor, a first time speaker at the conference, is a 2014 Making Things Happen alumna. She had just started her calligraphy business when she decided to attend. Taylor says attending the conference improved her life personally and professionally.
“I felt lighter when I walked out of those doors, like I deserved the happy life that I was going to build for myself. Attending absolutely improved my current business, but more than that, it truly made my life better,” says Taylor.
The Making Things Happen intensive is limited to 75 attendees to keep breakout sessions small. According to Casey, repeat attendance is common. The process Casey and her team teaches attendees, she highlights, is what people come for, and sometimes what they are focusing on changes, so they come back.
Constructing the Backdrop
The Making Things Happen conference has grown from Casey’s past experience and aims to present those attending with an encouraging network and tools that Casey did not have access to while building her businesses.
Casey is the CEO of her self-named media company based in Chapel Hill. It is the parent company of both self funded ventures Southern Weddings
magazine and her Lara Casey brand
A music theater graduate from Carnegie Mellon University, Casey had envisioned her professional career on the New York stage. Her life took a turn when she “fell out of love with the business of the business,” according to Casey.
After stepping away from her stage life, Casey’s entrepreneurial journey began when she hired a personal trainer and found joy in her transformation through her sessions. She later sought out a certification of her own to train others in the same gym she had attended.
“I loved seeing someone transform not just in their weight, but in their spirit,” says Casey.
Later, Casey started an event planning business, worked for a California wedding planning company and created a wedding blog, which would be the foundation for Southern Weddings. Casey admits that she always intended on starting a magazine, but she never planned on the blog going anywhere.
“I wanted to inspire people,” Casey says about writing the blog, “to tell a story that changed people, just like when you go to a great movie.”
When her husband, Ari, was deployed to Iraq, Casey distracted herself by designing sections of a wedding magazine. Not knowing where to go at the time to bring her idea to life, Casey says she paved her own way in the industry, creating a voice and community she believes differs from traditional bridal magazines.
“We try to fill the holes in the industry,” says Nicole Yang, the Lara Casey Media Art Director, pointing out content like their Dating Well series and also their focus on couples beyond the wedding day.
Eight years later, Southern Weddings magazine is distributed through large retailers like Target, Barnes & Noble, Walgreens and Harris Teeter and has a combined social media following of 520 thousand people. The magazine is also purchased by readers outside of the South. New York and California are popular hubs for their content, according to Yang.
Creating a Culture
The Lara Casey Media workspace in Chapel Hill is tucked away on the renovated second floor of Casey’s home. She and four local team members share the space with shelves full of merchandise for orders they fulfil themselves. Four out of state members of their team work virtually.
Beyond the fact that she had worked from home since Southern Weddings started, Casey decided to renovate her home in 2015 for the office instead of renting a corporate workspace because she wanted to build a culture where she and her team members felt comfortable.
“There is a magic to this,” Casey says as she looks around a section of the office, “A homeyness that reminds us that we are small. Our culture is built on what matters most.”
Casey also pointed out that she encourages her employees to live out their brand outside the office. One way this is done is by setting aside a portion of her company’s budget to pay for her employees’ date nights once a month.
Casey extends this culture to her followers by sharing stories like the transformation of her home, behind the scenes in the office and date nights on her blogs and social channels. She began hosting weekly Facebook Live sessions this summer to talk over various subjects with those who attend. Her last session included a goal setting encouragement session.
Grateful for the Hard Things
Over the past ten years, Casey attributes her growth as a business woman to her faith and knowing her “why.”
“In a business, you have to have a why, and your number one why can’t be dollar signs. Our passion for women is our compass, without it, we wouldn’t know where to go.” says Casey.
Casey and her team say that they strive to create content and products that are encouraging and help guide their audience to “live well.”
“The heart behind what we do is that everyone has a story, and through our products and encouragement, we want to uncover and help them tell their story,” says Lara Casey Shop Customer Delight Manager Jess Metcalf. “Whatever your season of life, we meet the needs of women.”
Casey laughs when asked about mentors, admitting that it probably would have been easier than doing what she calls the “Google and ask a lot of dumb questions,” method. She did credit Lysa TerKeurst of Proverbs 31 Ministries as a woman she admires and respects for how she runs her business.
Casey says she feels the most gratitude for the hard times. Like many entrepreneurs, Casey experienced letdowns, roadblocks (the first name she chose for her magazine was labeled as a trademark infringement and she was forced to pull it after it had already gone to print) and tough decisions that she now appreciates.
“Our challenges have been more fruitful than successes,” says Casey. “I hope they have inspired people.”
Change in the Air
Casey and her team are preparing for a new season of fresh products and new content. At the office, space is being cleared for the next issue of the magazine, which the team is calling V9 — launching November 10. They are also expecting a shipment of the 2017 version of their best selling goal setting product, the PowerSheets, that will be available for preorders November 1.
Her second book titled Cultivate, goes to press in May of 2017. Casey says this book continues where Make it Happen left off. An important point covered in her new book is making little by little, imperfect progress on life goals, according to Casey.
Additionally, the Lara Casey team decided to refresh her personal website aesthetic and shop name. The changes will be revealed on Thursday this week.
Looking back, Casey says that everything that has happened is surprising, but she wouldn’t change it. She says that if her work can change just one life, it will all be worth it.