The following post was written by WeddingWire Education Expert Andy Ebon. Andy is the Founder of Wedding University and The Wedding Marketing Blog, and is an International Public Speaker, Writer and Consultant based in Las Vegas. Andy travels across North America and beyond, presenting to Associations, Wedding Industry Conferences, Regional Gatherings, and Local Meetings.
No matter how active your current business or how big your aspirations, it’s not unusual to wonder about your next steps as a business. Whether you’re brand new to the wedding industry as a whole, or you’re considering moving to a new market or category, I’ve outlined below what I believe to be some of the best places to start when establishing a new wedding business.
1. Jumpstart your experience and passion
Whether you are a newbie or a seasoned professional who needs a booster shot, there is no better tactic than spending time as an intern with another professional in your field of endeavor. For the beginner, staying local (just be sure to share clear intentions) is a great place to start. Reading books, attending seminars, and the like all have their place; however, there’s nothing like getting your hands dirty and observing.
If you’re an experienced Pro, you’ve hopefully made peer contacts through wedding and category-specific conferences. Identifying a peer who is strong where you are weak and offering to work for free for a week or two is a fast-track approach to finding a spark. One of the keys in either situation is to offer something of specific value (think ‘skill’) to contribute. That value for value relationship is most likely to create a successful collaboration.
Approach these opportunities with clear goals, making sure you can achieve the experience and knowledge you desire, and arrive at a clear agreement on arrangement.
2. Seek out educational and networking opportunities
There are local, regional and national entities offering a wide variety of education and networking opportunities. Even those choices can be daunting. Consider breaking it down like this:
- National Conferences – Whether general industry conferences or category-specific conferences, there are a number to choose from. An example of wedding industry conferences would be WeddingWire World or Wedding MBA.
- Regional Events – Depending on your resources and the curriculum, these are also a good place to start. Examples are hosted by NACE (National Association for Catering and Events), ISES (International Special Events Society) and ABC (Association of Bridal Consultants).
- Local Groups – These can be local chapters of national associations or individually formed local groups. There are many wedding-specific organizations. To become educated or to stay current in your local market, you should sample multiple groups and pick a couple which fit your ambitions and goals. There is networking, education, seminars and more. Beginning to build business relationships and a personal fan club starts here.
3. Read industry publications and competitor websites
An old client of mine had a smart saying: “Once in a while, you’ve got to look out the window.” In this context, it means taking the time to evaluate your market and potential competition. Don’t get stale by avoiding the world around you! Ask yourself the following questions:
- Have you reviewed local bridal publications or website directories, lately?
- Do you see unfamiliar businesses that give you a jolt?
- How does your website stack up against the local competition?
Whether relocating or not, it is wise to look at similar businesses in other markets (with some similar characteristics). Elements might include weather (seasons), geography, population, per capita income, wedding licenses issued per year.
4. Weigh your communication options
If you have chosen several different media/communication platforms, you’ll have your favorites; however, the more important question is: What methods are your peers, prospects, and customers using? Communicate the way they want to communicate. If your prospects are using Facebook, use Facebook. Identify where your audience is and get in front of them.
However, when considering the path of connecting for a sales opportunity, the list of possibilities becomes complex. Each path has different value (ROI). For example, connecting directly with a couple getting married is usually a one-time event, but building a relationship with a local Wedding Planner or Director of Catering may be worth many bookings in a single year.
5. Build and maintain your contacts list
People like to work with successful people and businesses. Wedding professionals often name-drop the name of a wedding venue they work, but in reality the important relationship is the individual contact(s) at that venue. If you’re doing business with only one Catering Manager at a given property and she relocates to Anaheim, what about the other 5 people in the Catering Department? Similar relationships are important with Wedding Planners. They will generally have a short list of preferred businesses. You need to be on that list.
Do not expect the flow of business to continue, forever, without nurturing. Simply maintain an outlook of continuous expansion of your sphere of contacts and influence.
6. Identify your ideal clients
Even within the wedding industry, your business morale and profitability are shaped by where and who you work with. Some clients will be preferable to others, so it’s important to consider what makes someone a “good” or “bad” client. Think about the following:
- Proximity – Can you market within a 25-mile radius of your headquarter for 80-90% of your work? You’ll cut down on human wear and tear and unnecessary travel time.
- Target Venues – Decide where you want to work or work more often, based on whatever factors are important to your business.
- Learn to say NO! – Not every prospect is necessarily right for you. Always treat referrals with care, but don’t hesitate to refer a prospect to a friendly competitor who may be a better fit.
7. Determining your pricing
It’s the million-dollar question: What should you be charging? These days many companies post pricing on their websites; some don’t. Ultimately, steady research will give you a feel for the range for your type of business in a given market area. That research provides context, but it is not gospel.
Clients do not care about what your costs are; they care about quality of service and product, reliability, and ease of working with you. The greatest skills necessary for wedding industry businesses are the ability to differentiate your company’s assets and skills from competitors, AND selling the intangibles.
This is my list based on my experiences both as a DJ and as a professional who has changed markets several times. What steps do you have to add to the list?