What started as a passion business became a love story for the couple behind White Clover Music.
Kate Tomlinson and Tom White formed White Clover Music after recognising a gap in the wedding services market. There were wedding singers, concierges, and coordinators, but there was no one-stop-shop business tying it all together for couples tying the knot.
The married couple, who started out as friends, started the first business of its kind in Australia, which recently ticked over to wedding number 650.
“The first year we were in deficit, the second year we broke even, and the third year we turned a profit,” says Kate. “Then every year for the three years following that, we doubled our business.”
Going the extra mile for brides and grooms
The Wedding Singer might be a cult classic, however, White Clover Music has taken a more contemporary approach. Music is one thing, but Kate and Tom have packaged their skills to create a full-service wedding business.
“We may be the only ones who do what we do in the world,” says Kate. “We’ve created an offer that no one else provides, so it’s really difficult to fully communicate what we do.”
White Clover Music is a live duet, MC, wedding coordinator and concierge service. According to Tom, the best way to overcome the challenge of communicating what you do is simply through demonstration – and Instagram Stories.
“Our industry is a one-time buy, so we’ve had to demonstrate and explain what we do continuously. We haven’t had anyone come back for a second wedding. By continuing to show who we are and what we do, it keeps us on our toes, which is a good, healthy thing.”
What that often means is stepping outside an already broad job description. Told through Stories, there’s Kate re-icing a nearly destroyed wedding cake (don’t ask), and footage of White Clover Music saving the day with a one-size-fits-all wedding dress (now a backup for every bride’s big day).
“There’s a Navy SEAL saying, if you’ve got two, you’ve gone one, and if you’ve got one, then you’ve got none. We keep backups of everything. We don’t like to say things go wrong, rather that they didn’t go to plan. Most of the time our couples wouldn’t know these things happen until they watch our Stories.”
Picking up steam, and skills, along the way, Kate complements Tom: “We compare it to a backpack, picking up different things along the way; enough to now fill our wedding van.”
Practice makes perfect, and the couple have put in more than 10,000 hours together as a duet. Post-wedding, back in the van, Kate and Tom use that time to debrief, and hold space for what looks like a campaign retrospective.
“Every time we drive home from a wedding, we have a proper debrief, and go through the things that went wrong, things that went well, how we can improve on them – and that’s usually where we come up with new ideas,” says Kate.
“I think when people have a role, they don’t want to step outside that role, so we just make everything our role. We don’t see it as above and beyond.”
Getting hitched, even with a hitch
In pursuit of ‘premiumising’ wedding services, White Clover Music chose to bundle their offering, rather than expand their range. Over the years, the business has refined the number of packages it offers, such as ceremony plus coordinator, or all-day package. This has simplified pricing and created a more predictable revenue stream.
“It was kind of a question of whether we do ourselves a disservice and not be compensated for all the things we do, or book us to do everything we can to make your wedding possible.”
And make it possible they do, through rain, hail, or COVID-19. Kate and Tom were booked out a year in advance when COVID hit, which meant they had to move fast. The task? Rearrange the calendar for 51 weddings.
“A lot of our couples had venues and vendors who said ‘sorry you’ve lost everything’, as they were in their own financial difficulties, which is heartbreaking,” recalls Kate. “With some of our couples, who paid us 50 per cent of their amount, instead of losing that, we floated the idea of elopement considering they’d already paid for the equivalent of that service.”
In their eyes, doing a disservice to one customer would be doing a disservice to all customers, so White Clover Music offered complimentary postponement on a 12-month calendar basis of every wedding on their books. It was worth suffering a short-term financial blow to save their customers’ big days.
“We’ve found more ways to be flexible. You can’t limit yourself by fear and anxiety. You will always come up against challenges, whether it’s the global economy, an industry slowdown, a pandemic – there will always be something. Even if we were set back, we’ve built this business once before; we can do it again, and possibly even better this time.”
Stick to core competencies, outsource the rest
Only through pushing their limits could Kate and Tom determine their weaknesses. While they don’t subscribe to a creative rulebook, they’ve found it helpful to put certain systems in place. During the couple’s first year in business, they developed a simple system that clarified their core competencies, and paved the way for outsourcing.
“When something doesn’t get assigned to someone, it gets lost, whether that’s in your relationship or in your business,” says Tom. “So what we did was create a 3-column system incorporating job and house roles, with one column for all the things Kate liked to do or was good at, another for all the things I liked to do or was good at, then a third column for things we liked to do but weren’t necessarily good at, and hired someone to do them.”
Keen on keeping learnings inside the business, the decision to outsource wasn’t treated lightly. However, hiring an external CFO, and later an accountant, would free the couple up to focus on their craft, and ultimately deliver a greater return on a more premium product. It also opened their eyes to the balancing act of business.
“We spent so much time believing we always had to work harder to make more money to keep cash flow up – that’s simply not true,” says Kate. “Cash flow is all about balancing incomings and outgoings.”
Tom recalls their external CFO saying, ‘you have all this cash flow tied up in your future’ for 200+ weddings in their calendar, however, without charging a booking fee or requesting instalments, they couldn’t access any of it.
“A business will always have incomings and outgoings, so it’s about staggering both, and figuring out the sweet spot that works for your business. You can bill things more regularly, in lesser amounts, and you can pay for things more regularly, in lesser amounts. By negotiating with your billers, you can then create contracts that empower your business and work for you.”
It was on the advice of their accountant they came to Moula, to support the balancing act.
“Our accountant put us on to Moula, which helped us when we were trying to grow,” says Kate. “We needed new equipment, and knew our money was in our future, so we wanted to make sure we could start selling our upgraded package with new equipment.”
Always on the go, speed was a determining factor. By linking their data, Kate and Tom sped up the process, and proved they were more than a couple of wedding singers.
“Given we are so busy working, and we earn more money working than negotiating loan terms, what mattered more was the fact we could just call Moula, grant access to our Xero data, and clearly show that payments were in our future,” says Tom.
“We’d sent out invoices that hadn’t fallen due yet, so could get approved pretty much straight away. It was like a 20-minute phone call. It meant we could access capital immediately, use the funds immediately, and our growth continued.
“Otherwise we’d be running around after banks who didn’t take us seriously. It was this idea of how Moula didn’t put us in a box, that was really important.”
Operating with a growth mindset
As business owners, both Kate and Tom have a growth mindset, believing “when there is no answer, you have to create answers”. Opportunities are yours for the taking when testing, learning and experimenting is your modus operandi.
She couldn’t have done it any other way, as a self-described ‘small town girl’ from the Blue Mountains, who went from working property in Sydney’s east, to going through the Your Shot DJ program before formally studying music.
“Something I wish I’d known earlier, there’s no rulebook in creative industries,” says Kate. “There are licenses, qualifications, procedures, and things like that, but what you offer and your marketing strategy, it’s all offered by you on the back of your imagination.”
In the past, White Clover Music’s marketing strategy has incorporated hot air balloons and various stunts. Even when people have said ‘that won’t work’, the couple have simply heard, ‘that hasn’t been done yet’.
“When people say you can’t do it, they aren’t the ones willing to take the risk, so you have to trust your gut. People will try and limit your potential. You have to explore things in your own imagination, look for opportunities everywhere, and take them when you see them.”