This post is by Jennifer Reitmeyer. Jennifer has worked in the wedding industry since 1997. In addition to owning MyDeejay, an award-winning wedding entertainment firm serving the Washington, D.C. market, she also maintains a wedding business blog, WeddingIQ, and a blogging and social media service for wedding businesses, Firebrand Messaging. Her newest venture, Authentic Boss, is an online learning resource for business owners seeking to work and live more authentically. Jennifer is available for small business coaching, speaking, and writing opportunities. Read more at jenniferreitmeyer.com.
We’ve all been there: brand new in our businesses, eager to book as many clients as possible, and willing to do (almost) anything to make it happen. Closing sales feels good – not only does it put money in our pocket, but it validates us and reminds us that we offer a valuable service that people want to buy.
Unfortunately, many wedding pros suck all the value out of their service by throwing professionalism to the wind when it comes to making sales. This is a common practice among new business owners who haven’t yet developed their confidence and the solid reputation to back it up. However, I’ve also seen it happen among seasoned veterans who should know better. Instead of earning clients through quality work and professional service, they’re using gimmicks and tricks.
It’s understandable why wedding pros might do this, especially when they’re new. After all, it takes guts to ask for a sale, and in many cases, getting a client to sign means having some potentially uncomfortable conversations about your pricing and your policies. It means having to prove your worth. It’s tempting to avoid this altogether by taking the easy road. This is harmful not only to their own business, but to the wedding industry as a whole.
See, client perceptions matter. Especially in today’s Internet and social media era, where people are constantly sharing their opinions about everything from pop culture to politics to, yes, wedding planning. When a wedding business – or, as the case may be, hundreds or thousands of wedding businesses around the world – foregoes legitimate business protocols in an effort to make selling easier, it drags the rest of us down. Either prospective clients view the wedding industry as shady and unprofessional, or they expect every wedding vendor to break their own boundaries and do anything to earn a sale. Both of these possibilities create a ripple effect that makes doing business harder for us all.
Here are five common “easy road” tactics to avoid, for the long-term betterment of both your own business and the wedding industry:
Not requiring a contract. Using a contract is Business 101, and yet it’s shocking how many wedding vendors are willing to skip them altogether. In some cases, it’s because they just don’t have one (perhaps they can’t afford to have one drafted by an attorney, or they just haven’t yet felt the need to solidify their bookings in this way). In others, it’s because they’ve decided that using a contract is too “sales-y” and they feel it detracts from the friendly rapport they’re building with their clients. What should be obvious, though, is that a contract protects both parties, and a client should no more be willing to do business without one than you, as, the vendor, should. And believe me, when something eventually goes wrong at an event – which it will – you’ll be glad to have had your responsibilities to your client, and vice versa, spelled out in black-and-white.
Not taking a retainer. An attorney could explain better than I could why it’s important to collect a non-refundable retainer, rather than a “deposit,” is an important protection for you as the business owner. (In a nutshell, however, it is far more likely that you’d be permitted to keep this fee in the event of a cancellation, should a dispute arise in court, because a retainer is considered the cost of you holding a date and/or performing preliminary work on an event. By contrast, a deposit implies an amount being held in trust to be applied toward future work, which you may not be able to keep if said work is not performed.) However you choose to word it, you need this investment from your client. It provides peace of mind to both parties, legitimizes your business transaction, and offers you leverage in the event that your client pulls the plug on their event (or tries to switch vendors later on, which has definitely happened).
Pricing your services below market rates. This common tactic not only cheapens the value of your service category, but it also can be very hard to recover from later, when you realize you’re not turning a profit. There’s a reason why so many small businesses, especially wedding businesses, go under so quickly: doing business costs you money, and your business model must be sustainable (and able to support you) over time if it’s going to last. Even if you do manage to keep your doors open, attempting to rebrand yourself later as a more high-end professional will be significantly harder if you start out as the “bargain basement” vendor in your market. I’d ask that you consider, too, the fact that we as wedding pros are all fighting against the perception that the wedding industry is predatory and that weddings themselves are a ripoff. Don’t feed that monster by making your competitors look greedy – instead, price your products or services in alignment with your operating costs (including your own salary), your quality and your experience.
Offering a 100% money back guarantee. I will be the first to say that, if you do wrong by a client, you should do everything in your power to make it right, up to and including a full refund if warranted. However, pushing your guarantee up front is a great way to show a lack of confidence in your own services, to invite otherwise unqualified clients to sign on the dotted line, and makes your wedding business sound like a cheesy “as-seen-on-TV” infomercial gimmick.
Not requiring final payment prior to the wedding. Okay, maybe there are service categories for which it makes sense to collect payment on the wedding day, although I’m not really sure what they might be. It seems to me that any transaction should be able to be settled prior to the wedding day. Whether your client appreciates it or not, it spares them from having to deal with financial matters while celebrating – and, more importantly, it increases the likelihood that you will, in fact, be paid. It’s never fun waiting for a couple to get back from their honeymoon, then waiting for them to “settle in” and catch up on all the work they missed. I doubt your creditors are sitting around patiently waiting for you to pay your bills, so make it easy on yourself by collecting your final payment up front.
Remember that you owe it to yourself, anyone you support, and to your future clients to maintain a business you can manage long-term. By staying away from these sales “tricks,” and committing to upholding your own boundaries, you’ll continue to build a strong professional reputation and to protect yourself and your business.