Bernadette Smith is the founder and president of 14 Stories and the Gay Wedding Institute (GWI), and award-winning author of three books, including The Business of Gay Weddings: A Guide for Wedding Professionals. Through the GWI, Bernadette has trained thousands of wedding and hospitality professionals on sales and marketing best practices to same-sex couples. Bernadette’s expertise has been sought after by the Today Show, National Public Radio, the BBC, the New York Times, CNN, among many others.
Now that there is marriage equality across all 50 states, one of the questions I’ve been getting is: Should I open a business specializing in LGBTQ weddings?
12 years ago, when marriage equality came to Massachusetts, the first state in the country, I opened a wedding planning business (14 Stories) doing just that, with an LGBTQ specialty. I opened the business to be an advocate for my clients and help them navigate a very traditional wedding industry where they might feel trapped in traditional roles, or worse – mistreated or rejected.
At that time, there were no other businesses in my market in Massachusetts with that specialty, so it was very easy for me to build a client base. Additionally, Massachusetts quickly became a destination for couples from other states and countries who could not legally marry in their home state. My wedding planning clientele was not just local couples, but also couples who sought Massachusetts (and later the rest of New England and New York) as their wedding destination. In that sense, it was almost easy money. I’m really proud of the work we’ve done with couples from almost every state and around the world.
Now that every state has marriage equality, specializing in same-sex weddings would be a risk for any business. Think about it: same-sex couples have a wide variety of purchasing criteria just like everybody else. They make their purchasing decisions based on creativity, personality fit, budget, style and a whole number of other factors that have nothing to do with whether or not you specialize in same-sex weddings.
Data tells us that the LGBTQ community is 5-7% of society. In order to make a successful living with an LGBTQ specialty, you have to attract the community, find ones who are engaged, have a wedding date which you have open, have the budget for your services, love your personality, respect your talent and a whole lot more. Having a niche is great, but with this specialty, you would be extremely niche-driven to the point where there just will not be enough demand to create a sustainable business. And at the end of the day, we have to make money.
Additionally, same-sex couples are increasingly mainstream. Although they are concerned about their safety and they do want to hire people they trust, the sexuality of the business owner and whether or not that business specializes in same-sex weddings, has very little to do with their purchasing decision. As long as your business is top-notch, well priced, and provides excellent customer service and an inclusive, supportive environment, couples should be attracted to working with you. It’s as simple as that.
Despite my own background, I do not think that there is a sustainable industry for businesses that specialize in LGBTQ weddings (or much else LGBTQ for that matter). Instead, focus on educating yourself about the LGBTQ community, treating all your clients equally and with respect, and growing ALL of your business.