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Anything worth doing is scary, and few things are as intimidating as sharing your story with the world for the first time. Lara Casey has been there, and she has a message: no matter how overwhelming it feels right now, taking that first step is worth it.
In the latest episode of The BookWorthy Show, Aaron and Simon sit down with Lara to talk about conquering the fears every storyteller faces when they put their stories out into the world.
When Lara first began self-publishing her magazine Southern Weddings, she was starting from square one. But she didn’t let that hold her back. She wanted to put something beautiful into the world, and ten years later, she’s still doing it. Not only is Southern Weddings more successful than ever, Lara has gone on to write two books and inspire thousands of women to “get unstuck, unrushed, and live on purpose instead of by accident” through her business Cultivate What Matters.
If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by the first step on your journey, watch, listen, or read below; you’ll be reminded that your story really does matter.
Lara Casey: Comparison can kill so many really good things that are really needed in the world. Like people, we need your talents, we need your unique gifts to shine. And when we get caught up in that, “Oh, she’s doing it better than me, she’s doing it faster than me, she’s smarter than me, she’s ahead of me.” You know what? She should be ’cause she’s doing her thing and then I should also be doing my thing. If you are truly living your unique fingerprint, there is no fear of competition, because you know you’re doing your thing.
Simon: Welcome to the BookWorthy.com Podcast. Every week we bring inspiring interviews from incredible self-published authors, just like you. My name’s Simon Villanueva and I will be your host.
Whether you know it or not, your story is worth publishing. That’s why it’s our goal to help aspiring authors, storytellers, and entrepreneurs, just like you learn how to write and publish a physical book people will want to buy, they’ll want to read, and they’ll truly want to share. It’s great to have you with us, let’s get started.
Alright Lara, welcome to the show. It’s good to have you.
Lara Casey: Thank you! I’m so grateful to be here, thanks for having me.
Simon V.: Yeah, of course.
Aaron Smith: It’s awesome to have you here.
Simon V.: We’re looking forward to chatting. So just for some context. Let’s just, tell us a little bit about your life, where you’re at right now, what things look like.
Aaron Smith: The world of Lara Casey.
Lara Casey: (laughs) My first thought in answering that question is what things look like downstairs, it’s a little chaotic. I have three kids. But in general, life is really good. I’m very grateful. I am a mom to three, one through the gift of adoption. I’m the publisher of Southern Weddings magazine, were coming up on our tenth-anniversary issue this year in November. And I’ve been so grateful to be able to write two books about my journey of, not just entrepreneurial life, but my journey of learning how to cultivate what matters, and so I have two books. One is Make It Happen, that released in 2014 and my new book, Cultivate.
Aaron Smith: Who’s the publishers of those two books?
Lara Casey: It’s Thomas Nelson Publishers. Yes, you got it.
Aaron Smith: And are you, just to clarify, so you’re the publisher of Southern Wedding magazine?
Lara Casey: Correct.
Aaron Smith: So technically, it’s self-published, but it—
Lara Casey: It is self-published, yes, it is! (laughs)
Aaron Smith: Awesome, well we’ll talk about that.
Lara Casey: And we also have a shop too. So we also have lots of products that we’ve had for the last, I guess it’s six years now. It used to be called the Lara Casey shop and now it’s called the Cultivate What Matters shop. And so we have a product called PowerSheets, which is our intentional goal planner.
Simon V.: Awesome. And you did that all yourself too, right?
Lara Casey: Yes.
Simon V.: Made it in-house, produced it, published it, all that.
Lara Casey: We do. We don’t do the actual physical printing ourselves, but we do publish it and design it ourselves.
Simon V.: That’s awesome.
Aaron Smith: And how many people on your team?
Lara Casey: We only have nine. So we have nine ladies that I work alongside including myself.
Aaron Smith: She only has nine . . .
Lara Casey: (laughs) Well, most people when they look from the outside in at our company they think, “How do you publish a magazine and do all this stuff with just nine people.” It used to just be me and my cat, I think, if you need perspective. (laughs)
Aaron Smith: We’ll that’s gonna be—
Lara Casey: We have five remote and five that work here in-house with us here in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. So yeah.
Aaron Smith: So the, we can just get right into the magazine ’cause, I love the magazine. We’ve been following you for a long time, you know my wife, Jennifer, from Unveiled Wife.
Lara Casey: Yes, ditto.
Aaron Smith: And you didn’t start six years ago, did you? When did you start?
Lara Casey: No, the magazine started about ten years ago a little bit more than that with the blog. Yeah, it started with a blog.
Aaron Smith: Awesome. And yeah, you didn’t start with this team of nine, you did this by yourself. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about those beginning years.
Lara Casey: Oh boy. They’re not your typically beginning years, I will say that. We’re very bootstrapping, entrepreneurial type of people. I have a degree in music theater, so I don’t even have a degree in publishing or anything formal. Any formal training in this, but the long story short is that I went to school for music theater, I then found myself in a personal training career after I graduated from college. And then fell in love with the world of weddings and this all may sound completely disconnected, but that’s really how it happens for us. When we are walking the path that God wants us to walk is so many times we take these, what seem like drastic turns, but they are all very much connected.
So, for me, doing wedding production allowed me to use the exact same skills and talent that I’d learned throughout all my lifetime with doing theater. And that is using sound and texture and lighting and music to tell someone’s unique story. And so it was a seemingly disconnected transition, but very deeply connected at the core. So I love telling people stories. That’s what I grew up doing in theater. And the same thing happened when I was producing weddings.
I wanted to interject beauty into the world.
So how do I use all of those elements to tell someone’s unique story? And then the magazine was born when my husband already was deployed to Iraq with the Marines, right? At the height of the Iraq war and I just needed something to keep my mind occupied. So like sometimes the greatest projects that come out in our lives come at times of great tension.
And so, one night, really late one night, I got out my little PC and I had Microsoft Publisher, which if you are a designer out there listening, you know that that’s like Kraft mac and cheese to a five-star chef. It’s very bare bones. (laughs)
Aaron Smith: Yeah, I’ve never used it. I’ve never used Microsoft Publisher.
Lara Casey: Exactly. So I started mocking up this wedding magazine cover and it all came from this deep desire I had to help, this is gonna sound really big picture, but it was for me at the time. There was so much turmoil happening at the time, and names of the fallen soldiers across the screen all the time, that I wanted to interject beauty into the world. And again, that sounds very grand, but that’s really what was happening inside my brain. Cause I just thought, I wanna do something with my life. I wanna use the gifts I’ve been given. I wanna tell people that there’s more to weddings than just stuffed chicken and tulle. That you can really start a meaningful beginning to married life with this day. And that it’s not about just one day, that it’s a way for you to communicate your love story and to help change people’s lives. So that’s where the magazine came from.
And like I said, like, I had no experience in this, no knowledge at all, I thought maybe we would just print it ourselves and put it in grocery stores locally or like local churches, but, it really snowballed. And so here we are, almost ten years later. And about to come up on our tenth-anniversary issue.
So that story has a few other dips in it too. One thing is that I knew that the only way to get on newsstands was to use what’s called a circulation agent. I think nowadays you could probably go direct to like a chain, like Barnes & Noble and they have people that work with authors or independent people directly. But at the time, the only way to get into a bookstore was to use a circulation agent. And that’s traditional now too. Is that if you want widespread circulation, you gotta have somebody do it for you. And that person is in charge of having relationships with wholesalers who then have relationships with retail chains.
So I took a leap of faith and found, I Googled—this is way back when Google wasn’t a verb you know. I found the name of a circulation distributor agent in New Jersey. Curtis Circulation. And I wrote them a letter, sent them this mockup, which, now that I look at it, it’s like such a terrible issue of the magazine. There are like awful drop spec. The very first one, like no one’s ever seen it, that’s how bad it was. But they took a chance on us. And they signed us for a five-year contract and now we’re at almost ten years. So, you never know, all you have to do is ask. That’s my biggest piece of advice from the first part of my journey is that no matter what type of experience you have just ask. Like put it out there and you never know what’s gonna come back.
Simon V.: And it’s interesting ’cause it’s like, there are people out there who are willing to help you, right? If you just ask.
Lara Casey: Absolutely. They want to see passionate people succeed, I will say that. I wrote them not about how our statistics were doing with the magazine, we didn’t have any statistics. But what I did have was passion, I did have a vision, I did have drive, I did have this thing that I really wanted to get into people’s hands. And I think energy is something that people can perceive. Like a retailer, when they see that you’re fired up about it, they know you’re gonna do the work to push it forward. Same goes with books. When a publisher sees that an author is really excited about the title and willing to spread the message, they’re much more likely to listen.
No matter what type of experience you have, just ask.
Aaron Smith: Yeah, you said something earlier. You talked about this grand vision of bringing beauty into the world when there was chaos and so much negative and scary and bad things. It’s not so grand when you think about when you were sitting there making your first thing on your computer, were you thinking of hundreds of thousands or were you thinking of a one and a two and getting this beauty into a couple people’s hands in the beginning and it didn’t start off grand, it started off with just—
Lara Casey: No not at all.
Aaron Smith: Yeah.
Lara Casey: I, you know, Aaron, I never, ever would have imagined that this would be the path that we’d be on. I really never would have thought that. For me, it was, like you said, the power of one, which to this day is one of our fundamental core values as a company is. But what’s more important is that power affecting one person’s life. We knew that if we could just affect one person’s life, one at a time, little by little, that would start to grow. You know, I made so many mistakes and I still do, but I made so many mistakes in the beginning with owning, running a business. And I had no knowledge of what to do or how to build relationships with people, but I will say that that has been a constant is building relationships and knowing that every relationship is important, not just the people who are gonna buy your magazine, but that person that I call in the distribution warehouse that answers all my dumb questions because I have no idea what I’m doing. That relationship’s important too so, um, yeah. The power of one. Definitely never had an idea.
Aaron Smith: It’s a good encouragement because I think when we think as like potential authors or potential business owners or whatever direction, we have this dream for our life. All we can see is what we think it should be, you know in five, ten years. And that feels too hard. The whole analogy: a trip of a thousand miles starts with a first step. And we forget that along the way what we’re doing with our passion is affecting individuals. When we lose sight of that, that’s when either it seems impossible or we’ve lost the vision. So I think that’s encouraging that you start off that way. ‘Cause the grand ideas start out with this small idea that you were faithful with.
And that’s what we’re trying to encourage our audience is that they think like, “Oh I can’t do that because how am I supposed to, I don’t know a thousand people to sell thousands”
Lara Casey: (laughs)
Aaron Smith: And I always told my wife when she was writing in the beginning like, “Babe, if it encourages one woman. You know, if one person, is that enough?” And I’ve also always told people when I’ve consulted with businesses is, “Would you do this if you didn’t make money at it? Would you do this because it’s encouraging people or affecting people, even if it was one or two.” Because that compounds into a lifelong business. And more than a business, it’s a mission. It’s something that you’re doing with your life that has purpose and—
Lara Casey: Yeah, it makes me think in the beginning too, when I started a blog, as many bloggers think, they think, you know, who’s reading this? Maybe my mom’s reading this, I’m not sure. Is anybody out there? And I remember the time, I got my very first blog comment, and I think I must have, like, jumped off of my desk chair. Because I just thought somebody out there is listening. And that showed me in reverse the power of one and so I always think of that now, if I get like a trackback link from somebody else’s blog post, I try my very best to go and leave a comment on that person’s blog. Because I know what a big deal it was to get that first comment myself. It started the momentum for me, so yeah, it matters. Those little interactions, they matter, they change people.
Simon V.: And with Southern Weddings you were in the business of telling other people’s stories, right?
Lara Casey: Yes, yep.
Simon V.: And so like, tell us a little bit about that process and what it was like to capture someone’s story and retell it in a way that, not just impacted you as a publisher and your team, but your readers.
Lara Casey: Yes, it’s interesting. Weddings, the whole wedding industry, I have admittedly a lot of frustration about it because most people would look at me and they’d be like, “Lara you’re in the wedding industry?” And I’m not really, you know, I’m in the—people encouraging is my job, like that’s my gift. And so for us, helping couples to plan meaningful beginnings to married life, it is really about helping them think big picture and take small steps. So one of those small steps, which is a significant opportunity, is their wedding day.
So even things like, how can you honor your loved ones on that day? How can you celebrate the people that matter to you? And to use it as a time to give, rather than receive. Yes, it’s a celebration of your marriage, but it is also a wonderful opportunity to tell your story to other people, and also to write a new story. So lots of people, they come to us and they say, “Well, I don’t necessarily want to think about honoring my past because I’ve had a really difficult growing up history.” Or, “my parents are divorced,” or whatever it is. I want to write a new story. And that’s, to us, what bridges the gap between both of our companies. We have Cultivate What Matters as one side and Southern Weddings is that you can write a new story, you can cultivate what matters and plant new seeds.
So that’s what we do to approach storytelling if you will. Is it’s gotta be authentic of course, we have an interview that all the couples fill out, but we’re really trying to pull out of them, what are the things that you did on your wedding day that you remember most? What are the things that you did to spark a forward motion that’s gonna lead you into the legacy that you want to create for your family? And there are so many millions of ways to do that, we certainly don’t tell people, “Here’s the formula to follow.” It’s really individual to people.
Aaron Smith: It’d be nice if there was a formula.
Lara Casey: It would be nice if there was a formula, exactly. And I think a lot of people want to feed people a formula. But each person’s love story is unique, just as each individual is unique. And it’s really amazing to see couples that break out of the normal feeling like you have to follow the formula in their wedding planning and then even just life planning. And think outside the box and say, “You know what, I have been given a unique talent here, and I want to use it to help a lot of people. So how can I do that, even on my wedding day?”
Aaron Smith: I like that you use the word unique. And one of the things that we’re trying to remind our audience of is that just because someone else has done something like what they wanna do—someone wrote that book, someone has a better story, someone’s done a better magazine, or whatever we think about our thing, our book, our story,—is no one is Lara Casey. No one’s gonna create Southern Weddings magazine like you did with your purpose with your vision. So what, how would you encourage someone that feels that way, like, “Oh I shouldn’t do this because it’s not as good as what’s already out there or someone’s already done it.”
Lara Casey: Yeah, that’s interesting, people ask that a lot about our PowerSheets. So I’d say the place that I spend the majority of my time is the Cultivate side of things. And the PowerSheets are a unique product so just physically speaking it is a spiral bound notebook, I have them right here. And it is, like I said, a goal planner. So you think to yourself, “Okay, well there’s lots of like day planners out there, that have goal setting in them.” But no could ever replicate this because there’s also teaching in here that has to do with my personal story. So I don’t fear someone coming along and making a similar product because that’s really just how we operate.
Comparison can kill so many really good things that are really needed in the world. Like people, we need your talents, we need your uniques gifts to shine. And when we get caught up in that, “Oh, she’s doing it better than me, she’s doing it faster than me, she’s smarter than me, she’s ahead of me.” You know what? She should be ’cause she’s doing her thing and then I should also be doing my thing. So when I get myself kind of caught up in that, and I don’t do it often anymore. But when I do do that, I think to myself, “Oh, I’m feeling it again. Oh, but wait a minute, she’s should be successful because she’s following her path.” So that’s my advice to everyone is that, if you are truly living your unique fingerprint, and I know that can be hard because there are so many voices out there. So many tips and tricks and you should follow this formula, and here’s what you should say. But really, when you’re living your unique assignment, there is no fear of competition, because you know your doing your thing.
Aaron Smith: I love that. Don’t celebrate someone else’s success or talents or giftings by debasing your own.
Lara Casey: Yeah.
Aaron Smith: So celebrate your own uniqueness and giftings.
When you’re living your unique assignment, there is no fear of competition.
Lara Casey: Yeah, the opposite of that is like hiding it. And that is what I’m so grateful for, why I’m so grateful you’re doing this is that I hope that so many people see from this teaching that you’re giving that they should take the leap of faith to put their gift out there. Gift of writing, gift of art, whatever it is. It’s needed. Like we were all given these innate gifts and also gifts that have been learned to do something really good in the world. And if we don’t put those out there, that’s worse than a whole lot of other things, so.
Simon V.: Seriously, that’s so good. Okay so you were telling, Southern Weddings magazine, you were telling other people’s stories. Then you kind of transitioned, you started telling your story.
Lara Casey: Yeah.
Simon V.: What was that like? Was it, like, did you feel vulnerable? Did you feel overwhelmed? Was is that?
Aaron Smith: Yeah, it’s easy to tell someone else’s beautiful story, but what about your own?
Lara Casey: Yeah, yes. Well, my story is a very broken and imperfect one. But out of hard things, come good things and that’s what I’ve learned. So right around our, I guess the first issue really, I caught this freight train type of mentality of, “Wow, Southern Weddings is getting off the ground,” my marriage was really struggling at the time, and so I escaped to my work. And tried to just grow, grow, grow, like a freight train in Georgia just full speed ahead. I was just focused on bigger, faster, more, more, more. And I ran myself into the ground and my marriage significantly suffered more. And I mean, it was already suffering, but it suffered more because of that.
And all that to say that little by little when my marriage started to come back together and when, I mean, there’s a big story here. But when God’s grace just totally flooded our lives, everything I did in my business also changed at that time. So it was right around our fifth-anniversary issue, like halfway through this decade, our marriage changed, was totally transformed, we went through this long period of being roommates and sleeping in separate beds, and infidelity on both sides, like there was a lot of mess. I don’t mean just like causally fighting, it was bad. And when that was transformed and fully redeemed, and like it wasn’t overnight so I’m giving you the short version of this story. The heart of our magazine also changed. So that fifth-anniversary issue, the theme was love never fails. And you know, like you and I know, it’s not our love that never fails, it’s God’s love that never fails. And so we knew that and so everything started to filter out of that and it was a significant change in our business and the heart of our company.
And so, I started telling my story of redemption of transformation. Not just in, you know, the books that I’ve written but on the blog I started to share that really openly. And God, like I said, he uses these hard experiences. Maybe it’s something that someone’s considering writing in a book. Stories of, I’ve been through, we’ve been through miscarriage and adoption challenges and heartache in our marriage and coming back from infidelity. All these things have actually been the things that have been the biggest connectors to other people to me.
At the time, for instance, going through miscarriage like I couldn’t imagine like “Why God? Why do we have to go through this? And now I see on the other side of it because I’ve experienced that pain, I have a better ability to connect with women who might be walking through a season of grief. So yeah, so the answer is that the heart of our company flipped on its head when my own life was changed.
Simon V.: I don’t know—what made you decide that all of this, these struggles, all of this pain, should be told, should be put into a book?
Lara Casey: That’s a great question. Because I woke up every day and I, and I’m not kidding you, like, I would put my feet on the ground and just be like, “I get to do this life again? Like, I get a second chance at this life?” I have chills right now, y’all are gonna make me cry, like, I just was so excited that Ari and I were on a new path. And like the only way that I could explain it was God. Like, I didn’t do this, I didn’t work to the bone to do this, I didn’t like come up with some magical marking formula, I didn’t like force this to happen, it happened. And so, there’s this old gospel song we sing at our church and it says, “I said I wasn’t gonna talk about it but I can’t keep it to myself.” And that’s what I felt, like, I said I wasn’t gonna talk about it but I can’t keep it to myself.
And so, when people ask me, you know, “Why are you so motivated, like what makes you so energetic?” I could say it like, I get a lot of sleep, I could say it’s exercise, but no. It’s because my life has been changed. And so, I feel like I couldn’t help but talk about it.
Aaron Smith: Well, as we come to a close, what’s one bit of encouragement or advice you’d give to someone who’s where you were ten years ago? Sitting in their room with a laptop.
Lara Casey: Oh boy (laughs). Choose something other than Microsoft Publisher.
Aaron Smith: (laughs) That’s a good one.
Lara Casey: I would say that little by little adds up. And I know that to be true. And that like you had mentioned before Aaron too, that one person’s story really does matter. Like if I was starting over from scratch, having taken this journey and know what I know now, I would still be as excited about one blog comment as I am getting like 120. That your influence matters and the numbers don’t matter. I mean if you think about it, if you have ten people reading your blog, say that if you were to put all those people in a room together. Ten people is a lot of people. That is a lot of hearts to shepard and that it is a big responsibility to influence ten people’s lives. So often we look at these numbers and we equate them with success but I will tell you that there are times I get really challenged by having the larger numbers that we have. It makes me feel like I can’t have the same connection that we used to have and there are curses that come with that instead of blessings.
One person’s story really does matter.
So I would say that if you’re there, just take that one step like you said. The one begins a journey of, what is it, ten thousand steps or something like that. But the good things grow little by little. Little by little a seed gets planted, it doesn’t sprout overnight. I give it tender care, I come back and I water it, I’m consistent with it, I don’t have to be perfect with it, if I miss watering one day, it’s not gonna die. That good things grow over time.
Aaron Smith: Well Lara thank you. We will make sure to put links to all of your sites, ’cause you have three of them right? Do you have any we don’t
Lara Casey: Yeah you can just go to laracasey.com though, that’s great.
Aaron Smith: Laracasey.com, we’ll put links up. We really appreciate you spending time with us.
Simon V.: Yeah, we really appreciate you Lara.