» Build a Strong Foundation Before You Expand

This article was written by WeddingWire Education Guru Alan Berg, CSP. Alan has over 20 years experience in wedding related sales and marketing, and is an author, business consultant, a member of the National Speakers Association, and the wedding & event industry’s only Certified Speaking Professional®. Learn more at alanberg.com.

Through my many years around the wedding and event industry, I’ve met lots of people who have successfully expanded their businesses, whether it’s to other services, or to other markets. The one common thread is that they already had a successful business with a strong foundation before they expanded. I’ve also run into lots of people who have tried to expand, but failed. Usually they tried too soon, or didn’t do the leg work necessary to successfully branch out.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you consider business expansion:

It’s a universal challenge

While speaking in India recently, a make-up artist told me that she wanted to expand to many other countries, and she’d like my advice. I loved her enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit. So I asked her what contacts she had in those other countries, and she had none. I asked if she had ever visited those other countries, and she had not. I told her that I appreciated her desire to grow, but that she needed to do some research about those markets first. A few things to learn are how they use make-up services, what the competitive landscape looks like, what the pricing and wedding spending are for services like hers, and other key details that will impact her success.

Are you ready to make the commitment?

Are you thinking of branching out? Countless photographers tell me that they’d love to do destination weddings in exotic places. Why? Probably because they see the photos and posts of other photographers in those places and it looks exciting. Who wouldn’t want to do that? What you don’t see, is all the work that happened leading up to the event. How did they get that wedding? What connections do they have that you don’t? What networking brought them to that connection? Was that their first destination wedding, or their 20th? You have to be prepared to take on new challenges and potentially the required additional time or resources that will affect your business.

It all looks great on social media, but that’s just part of the story

The funny thing about Instagram and Facebook posts is that they typically only show the best successes and worst failures. When you see those beautiful destination wedding images on Instagram or Facebook, you don’t get the back story. Were there any logistical issues, travel issues or safety concerns? It all looks glamorous on the surface, but you don’t hear about the mosquitos, the 16 hour flights, countless hours waiting in airports, hotel issues, or in the case of my recent trip speaking in Mexico, the 10-foot long boa constrictor snake that was outside the venue. Yeah, that’s the less glamorous part of traveling for work that you don’t see, or often hear about.

Becoming the local top dog

Some of you are thinking more local and want to expand to other services in your market, or maybe to an adjacent market. The same prep work applies to you as well. Just because a competitor is doing it, doesn’t mean it will, or won’t work for you. If you’re well established in your market, with great connections, that won’t automatically translate to another market. You have to build that foundation through hard work and new relationship building. The good news is that you’re not starting from scratch. You can leverage your reputation and experience, just know it may take time to see the same level of success.

Name and brand recognition will have to be developed

None of us are national brands, with universal name recognition. Coca Cola and Nike have to spend billions of dollars to ensure that their names stay top of mind. With weddings it’s even harder, as it’s a new crop of engaged couples every year. And, like it or not, there are also new people entering the business side every year. Your contact at that venue may not be there next year. No matter how long you’ve been in the industry, the hard truth is that everyone doesn’t know you. It’s no different for my business. When I give a presentation, I often ask the audience how many of them have never seen me speak before. Despite my nearly 20 years giving presentations, and my Certified Speaking Professional® designation (I’m one of about 800 in the world), most people in the audience have never seen me present. While it’s humbling, it’s also exciting to be exposed to a new audience. I can’t rest on my laurels and assume that everyone knows me. They don’t.

Go forth and multiply

Don’t get discouraged. Just the opposite, I love people who think big. That’s a quality in short supply in our industry, with its low barrier to entry. Just remember to do your homework and know what your challenges will be, so you’ll be prepared. You’ll have to invest in marketing to build that name recognition. You’ll have to invest your time in networking to build your contacts. People refer people they know, like and trust. They’ll know, like and trust you better if they see you attending, and contributing to local groups and associations and industry conferences like WeddingWire World. You first have to have the skills that justify you going to another market, service or country. But it’s that, plus my network and connections that has lead to me speaking in 8 countries this year. It doesn’t just happen by wishing it. I look forward to seeing your triumphs on social media. You can share the back story with me another time.