» Why Email Templates Are Awesome

This article was written by Bethel Nathan, Owner & Business Coach/Speaker at Elevate by Bethel.

For many of us in the wedding industry, emails are the number one way we communicate with our couples. A couple’s experience with you and your business often starts with an email response to their inquiry, ends with a thank you after the wedding, and includes many, many (many!) emails in between.  Therefore, when you are determining the quality and quantity of your communications with couples, you clearly need to put a lot of focus on the quantity and quality of your emails.

As I’ve built my business (to over 850 weddings now, ranging between 75-150 most years), I realized that for the level of service I wanted to provide, and with the volume of couples I needed to work with in order to earn the living I want, I didn’t have the time to write every single email from “scratch.”  However, automated emails wouldn’t be personal enough either. This made creating a large number of templated emails the perfect solution for me. And, although the initial creation of templated emails can take some time, it is well worth it if you plan to be in business for a long time.

“Automated” vs. “templates”

Are we all on the same page on terminology? When I talk about templated emails, many people think I am referring to automated emails… emails you set up once in your system, and then the system sends them out automatically based on a date or system event (such as two weeks pre-wedding or as soon as a questionnaire is received). That’s not what I’m talking about here. Automated emails do have their purpose, but since the only personalization that can happen in an automated email is if you include merge fields within the email (like contact name or wedding date), they won’t work for any scenario in which you want the option to personalize for that couple. Therefore, the only automated emails in my entire customer journey are for invoice reminders and receipts. That is it.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you could write every single email from scratch every single time, but, based on how many emails you probably send, that could be very time-consuming. And, when you think of your process and customer journey, is every single email you send to inquiring or booked couples really 100% different based on that couple or wedding? I highly doubt that it is.

Which leads us to templated emails, an email that you send quite often, and one in which a large percentage, if not all, of the email message applies to everyone you send it to. However, unlike an automated email, a templated email is always sent manually and intentionally, which allows it to be personalized each time you send it.  

For example, my ceremony creation process includes two assignments for the couple, and the email for the second assignment includes a set of instructions and guidance that is lengthy. However, while most, if not all, of the instructions in there apply to many of my couples, not all of it does. This was the perfect scenario for a templated email. This template includes all the possible instructions and details, and then, before I send it to a specific couple, I can review it and add or remove pieces, personalizing it as needed and wanted for that specific couple. I reply personally to all emails from my couples – so I’m not saying to not be really personal as fits you – but almost every email initiated from me during my process and my customer experience comes from a template.

4 reasons email templates are great:

Thus, templated emails are a wonderful option in a business that is so email-heavy yet requires a level of personal service, or perceived personal service. Here are some great reasons for using templated emails:

  1. Saves time and money

Even if it is a short email by having it pre-written you reduce the time required to send it vs. creating that email from scratch, which can help you significantly reduce the communication hours you spend per couple. This allows you to create a communication plan that has a higher customer service ROI as you put small amounts of personalization into the more “mundane” but needed emails and larger amounts of personalization and focus on the more important pieces and methods of communication or your process (e.g. an in-person meeting or even the things they are actually hiring you for!).   

  1. Personalization is still easy

Although I could probably figure out how to edit some of my templated emails so that they could be automated, based on my ideal couples and the level of service I want to provide them, I always want to have the ability to personalize any particular email I send and to choose when it goes out for that particular couple. For example, if I remember that there was a certain reading that the couple mentioned loving during our initial meeting, I want to let them know that I remembered, and I want to include the reading in options I send them or mention which document it is in. Or, if they told me that they were both close to their families, I want to draw their attention to the family blessing ideas.  Couples want to feel like they have been heard, and this allows you to show them that, while not sacrificing your time (and sanity) to do so. Even when responding to a new inquiry, where you might think that you have certain information you are giving every inquiry, I use the chance to personalize it, based on their venue, how they found me, anything they mentioned, etc. – just so that even their first experience with me feels personal, rather than an automated email missing that chance.

  1. Allows for consistency

By templating your emails, you make sure that the message you want to get across and/or the questions you want to get answers to are consistent from couple to couple. This creates a smoother and easier process for you and for your couples.  

Have you ever hit send and then you realized you forgot a piece of information or a question, and yet this is something you send regularly? By including everything you are likely to need in your email template and then taking things out that aren’t necessary for that specific couple, you significantly reduce the chances you will forget to include something. Although it doesn’t seem like a big deal to just send the couple a follow-up, each follow-up you send costs time and can affect the couple’s perception of your business and your level of professionalism.

  1. Reduces spelling and grammar errors

Since you aren’t creating that email right then and maybe rushing to get it out, when mistakes are more likely to happen, using templated emails lets you take the time to review them (and maybe someone else review them if spelling and grammar aren’t your strongest suit) and be sure that all is appropriately said. This gives a better impression to those receiving the emails.

How and when to create templates

What’s next? If you aren’t yet using templated emails, or you are only using a few of them, the first step is to look at every email you sent to 10 of the most recent couples you worked with and determine which of those emails are the ones you sent to most, if not all, of your couples. Is the messaging within the email similar – are you giving them the same information and/or asking them the same questions?  

For each yes, you want to create a template. To create a template for emails you have already been sending, copy in the text from a recent email and build or edit from there. If doing this makes you realize that there are others that you should create and have, being even more proactive in your communications with your couples, remember that you want the template to include pretty much everything you would say if you were saying everything. I can tell you from great experience, it is easier and less time-consuming to remove something from the email that doesn’t apply than to remember to add something in.

Then, if you have a business management system that allows for templated emails to be created and uploaded, as I do, use the system. If you don’t have a business management system (let’s chat about that another time!), or your system doesn’t allow for templated emails, you can create them in Word or Evernote, or some other document system, keeping them handy, and use old-school cut-and-paste each time you need to send it out.   

For each business, the number of automated vs. templated vs. personal emails will differ, as it should.  Your ideal clients, your desired customer experience, your price point, your volume of weddings, and many other things factor into your communication plan (check out my article last month on that, if you missed it). I just don’t want you to dismiss templated emails outright because they require too much work up-front or they don’t seem personal enough. When set up and used properly, templated emails will save you time while actually improving the couple’s experience with your business… a win/win if there ever was one.  

Bethel Nathan is a San Diego based wedding officiant, business coach, and industry speaker. Combining her years of corporate and small business experience with a love for marrying awesome couples, Bethel built Ceremonies by Bethel, a successful and award-winning Officiant business. And although still officiating, Bethel now has another love… helping others turn their passions into successful and sustainable businesses. Learn more at www.elevatebybethel.com.

» Five Tips To Strengthen Your Multicultural Practices

Photo by Bakerture

This article was written by Bethel Nathan, Owner & Business Coach/Speaker at Elevate by Bethel.

Recent surveys of millennial couples have made it very clear just how much more inclusive they are in their friendships and in their romantic relationships. According to a Pew Research Center report published in 2015, 39% of Americans who have married since 2010 have a spouse who is in a different religious group (compared to just 19% of Americans who married before 1960), and there has been a 5X increase in interracial marriages since nationwide legalization in 1967. Currently, 19% of WeddingWire couples identify as having an interracial marriage, and 18% have said that they include ceremonial customs related to race/religion in their weddings, and these numbers will only continue to grow.

A large number of the 850 couples I’ve married identify as LGBTQ or interfaith or interracial or intercultural (or some combination), and the experience has offered me a good handle on how to approach, discuss, and integrate culture and religion into a ceremony. I always open a discussion on culture and religion during my initial meeting with a couple, because I want to make sure that I am the proper fit for what they want, and because the design and content of their custom ceremony starts from my understanding of WHAT they want, and WHY the couple wants it.

These exact same discussions and decisions about inclusion of culture, religion and traditions that I apply to the ceremony quite often apply to the entire wedding. Décor and design, food and drink, music and entertainment, attire, hair and makeup, even the schedule and timeline… almost every aspect of a wedding can, and usually does, have resonance related to the upbringing, traditions, and beliefs of the couple, their families, and sometimes even their friends. It is imperative that wedding professionals not only have an inclusive mindset, but also the systems and processes ready to implement a celebration that meets the desires of the couple.

Here are 5 ways that help you do both!

1. Don’t assume. I have put my foot in my mouth with assumptions plenty, I promise. Several years ago, I made the assertion that LGBTQ couples come to Officiants like me because they don’t get married in houses of worship. I was speaking with Kathryn Hamm, WeddingWire’s Diversity & Inclusion Specialist, who pointed me to research that revealed that 10% of LGBTQ couples do get married in houses of worship, and cited some personal anecdotal examples. I was a bit embarrassed, but it was a very poignant reminder that while we all have assumptions based on what we have seen, heard and experienced, personally or with previous couples, those assumptions may not tell the whole story.

This is why I recommend that you start the conversation with all your couples from as blank of a sheet as possible, with your assumptions locked away. The best way to make sure that your process is assumption-free (or relying on as few assumptions as possible) is to have an initial set of standard questions that you ask every couple, regardless of any automatic assumptions you made upon meeting them. Plus, be sure to ask open-ended questions to allow them to share what they want. Once they answer, you can ask follow-up questions based on what your experience tells you that you still need to know.

For example, a question an Officiant or DJ might ask is, “Are there any religious or cultural traditions you want to honor or include?” A follow-up question could relate to the “level” to which they want to include them – for instance, the caterer needs to distinguish between having a kosher option on the menu vs. kosher-style vs. the entire menu needing to be kosher.

2. Find out the why. The what is very important but the why is the driver. Honestly, we wedding folks tend to want to help and jump right into ideas or solutions (the “what”), without yet knowing the ‘why’. Understanding the rationale behind a client’s thoughts allows you to make more fitting suggestions. Does the couple want a certain tradition included because they desire it or because they feel they want/need it for family, or even one specific family member? I’ve had couples think that they need to have a traditional Christian wedding – even though they were non-religious themselves – when what they really wanted to do was honor their families and thought that that was the only way to do so.

By understanding the why, you can make sure that what you are suggesting or including will satisfy the couple and the people, or person, it is meant to satisfy. By providing options to your couple for the ‘what” that satisfies this ‘why,’ you increase your value to them, while at the same time making sure everyone is happy or at least satisfied by the solution.

3. Be a solutions person. We as wedding professionals need to be solution providers. And, when it comes to religious and cultural inclusion, I find that, in addition to satisfying family, there are often two points in a couple’s life where the differences in their upbringings can clash: 1) during their wedding and 2) raising their children. As wedding professionals, it’s likely that we encounter the first point regularly, which means that we might have to be mediators, not only between the couple and members of their families, but between the couple themselves, by either having solutions or knowing where to go to find solutions.

The basic rules apply here: listen to both sides, probe with follow-up questions and potential ideas (if you have them), step away and think about it, talk to others who may have dealt with this type of scenario, and then come back to the couple with solutions. The idea is to satisfy both sides as much as possible. And, please resist the “bridal bias” that I see way too often in our industry – you need to make sure to take into account the feelings and wants of both members of the couple.

4. Be a capable match. There is always the balance in our businesses between wanting to say yes and help (and the income that comes from that, too), and wanting to be sure that you are doing right by a couple and their needs. Here is my thought: if in doubt, ask yourself the following question, “Will the quality of what the couple gets from me and my business be adversely affected by my lack of skills or knowledge?” If yes, then maybe you aren’t the best fit for them.

If you reach that point, I always recommend that you be honest with a couple that you don’t have that specific experience or knowledge, and then allow them to make that decision. If you still feel that you can serve them properly, and want to, you can let them know that you are indeed willing to help and happy to do so. Allow the couple to decide if they still want to work with you.

If the couple ultimately determines you are not the right fit, you can always suggest other vendors that may specialize or have experience in their specific request(s). Or, you can look at the solution of partnering up with a colleague to service them together. For example, if you are a wedding planner and an Indian couple comes to you and wants a full Indian wedding, yet you have never done one, should you take it? Without that experience, you may not be their perfect fit, so bringing on the right partner with this expertise could be the perfect solution! You could partner with planner who has experience in Indian weddings so that the couple gets to work with a team that understands not only the what they are looking for, but also the why. And the plus side of the solution is that you get to learn and feel more confident the next time you are asked because you’ll now have that experience

5. Showcase your experience. For everyone’s sake, attracting couples from the get-go who are more your fit, and who you can service and celebrate fully and properly, is a top goal. Therefore, make sure that your service descriptions and portfolio – in places such as your website or WeddingWire Storefront or social media – show past work with a wide range of religious and/or cultural rituals, when you feel confident in your ability to professionally service those couples again.

Keep these tips in mind when engaging with potential clients — I believe it is not only the best thing for society when we are all more understanding and inclusive, but it also turns out to be the right thing for your business.

Bethel Nathan is a San Diego based wedding officiant, business coach, and industry speaker.  Combining her years of corporate and small business experience with a love for marrying awesome couples, Bethel built Ceremonies by Bethel, a successful and award-winning Officiant business.  And although still officiating, Bethel now has another love… helping others turn their passions into successful and sustainable businesses. Learn more at www.elevatebybethel.com.

 

» How to Communicate Effectively With Couples and Save Your Sanity

Photo by Lunalee Photography

This article was written by Bethel Nathan, Owner & Business Coach/Speaker at Elevate by Bethel.

What is “just right” communications with your couples?  My definition is having a communication plan that has my business communicating with all my couples consistently, and in a way that:

  1. Gives them the information they want and need while…
  2. Getting me the information I want and need — and it does all of that while…
  3. Meeting, or exceeding, the expectations of my couples, as well as…
  4. Fitting within a time budget developed to keep me both sane and profitable  

A bit long of a definition so let’s break it down by the main points:

Consistency

Your planned communication timing, amount, and quality are designed to be the same for every couple.  Which doesn’t mean you can’t change something based on a specific couple or wedding, it just means that every couple feels the love and attention in pretty much the same way.

Couples’ expectations

Ultimately, your communication strategy, and the tools used to apply that strategy, need to be designed based on your ideal couples.  For example, the mix of communication types and the style of communication for a high priced, low volume Wedding Planner should be very different from those used by a low priced, high volume Officiant.  No business model is “wrong” – as long as it meets your profitability and time needs. Therefore, it is very important to understand that the communication you have with your couples needs to provide a customer experience that closely matches (or exceeds) their expectations.

Time budget

Your communication plan fits your business time budget.  

By knowing how much time you have, what information you want to communicate, and your ideal client’s expectations, you can focus your communication spend on the important communication touch points, and automate or remove others.   

DEVELOPING A COMMUNICATION PLAN

Before revising or developing a communication plan, there are two other important things to remember. Although each of us gets older every year, our couples stay relatively the same age.  This means that our communication plan must match what they are expecting and not just be what we have used for ages (even if it worked well in the past).

Also, don’t forget to also think about communication with other vendors when developing your strategy and plan.  Properly communicating with those you are working with on a wedding can increase your visibility and your perceived professionalism – and, as we know so well, other vendors are often where many of our referrals come from.      

To create a communication plan that fits your business, it is easiest to separate the process into two main steps:

Step 1

Calculate the average number of hours you want to, or currently, spend communicating on that specific wedding.  The calculation should include calls, in-person meetings, creating and sending of emails, etc., and a bit of time for unscheduled communications.

Step 2

Map out a communication plan that best utilizes all the different communication tools and takes into consideration the number of hours that you want to spend per couple.  Think of each touchpoint and ask yourself, “what is the level of importance to me and/or my couples?” Remember, something that might not be that important to you could be very important to them and thus something that is very important to your business.     

Since each business is different, I can’t just provide a single communication plan that fits all.  However, we can take a look at the different communication touch points that are reasonably standard to all of us in the wedding industry.  

COMMUNICATION TOUCH POINTS

Inquiry communication

This is where communication method and the amount of time is hard to plan for, but I do have a few recommendations.  

  • Communicate back within a reasonable period of time.  If you have some information that you almost always provide back (e.g. a pricing breakdown) or some questions that you almost always need to ask (e.g. how many guests), have them handy no matter where you are.  
  • Answer all questions that were asked – and if you can’t answer them without more information, explain why you need the “more information” and request it.
  • Communicate back in the same method they used, unless otherwise instructed.  If they call, you can call. If they email or use WeddingWire messages, please email or message back and don’t try to call.

Initial meeting or consultation

Your business model will determine your initial meeting communication strategy – in-person, phone, online – but you also need to be flexible based on where the couple resides and their requested preference.  

Booking process

Please don’t make it hard for them to book you and give you money.  Truly. We live in more modern times and your couples likely have always lived in those modern times.  Electronic contracts and electronic payments are easier for you and easier and more comfortable for them.  

After-booking communication

Whether it’s an automated email or a templated email which you personalize before sending, it should give them an idea of next steps, timeline or workflow, and reiterate communication expectations.  Some wedding professionals, especially those at the higher-end and with a more complicated process, find that the creation and distribution of an “onboarding” document or packet is very helpful in setting proper expectations and fits with their brand.

Your in-process workflow

It is only a positive for your business, and your sanity, to have a standard workflow that applies to each wedding or level of service purchased – even if it is adaptable based on that specific couple’s (or wedding’s) needs.  The workflow should have set communication points, and you schedule on your calendar and/or in your system any non-automated communication point within the workflow (a two-week final reminder email, a month-out check-in call, time to schedule a venue walk-through, etc.).  

Information giving/gathering

Electronic communication usually works very well here.  Depending on your level of service, you can determine which emails you send would be automated, which would be templated, and which would be completely personal.  And, if you need to get a bunch of information, online questionnaires are a fantastic tool to use, often getting better responses than asking for those questions to be answered in an email.  If your process includes having a scheduled call or an in-person meeting with your couple, send them the discussion points beforehand so they can be prepared. This reduces the amount of back and forth after the meeting and makes sure that no one feels like the meeting was a waste of time.

Unscheduled communications

Although you can’t completely control this, set expectations early on with your couples about how you are going to communicate with them, how best they should communicate with you, and what response time to expect.  

After-event or after-service follow-up

If you work with a lot of couples and just want to congratulate them, thank them, and ask for reviews, this could be an automated email, but I don’t recommend it.  Each couple/wedding is unique and we are in a very personal business, so instead I recommend a templated email that you then personalize based on the couple. I always try to remember one or two memorable things from my time at the wedding and add it to the thank you (it was great meeting your parents, your nephew came through with the rings after all, etc.).  

EVALUATING YOUR COMMUNICATION PLAN

And don’t forget to evaluate your communication plan by:

  • Looking at your reviews. Are the couples talking up how well you communicated with them, not talking about it at all, or talking about it in the negative?  Use this to determine what is working well and what needs change.
  • Keeping track of the questions that shouldn’t be asked or missing items. Are you getting a lot of questions from your couples, yet the answers were in earlier communications?  Are you frequently getting to certain points in your process and still missing items that you requested from your couples?  Are you consistently, or somewhat consistently, forgetting to tell your couples something?

Just remember, your business, your couples, and your technology are always evolving, and thus so should your communication plan.  

Bethel Nathan is a San Diego based wedding officiant, business coach, and industry speaker.  Combining her years of corporate and small business experience with a love for marrying awesome couples, Bethel built Ceremonies by Bethel, a successful and award-winning Officiant business.  And although still officiating, Bethel now has another love… helping others turn their passions into successful and sustainable businesses. Learn more at www.elevatebybethel.com.

» WeddingWire Networking Night San Diego

This week, local wedding professionals gathered at the Handlery Hotel San Diego for WeddingWire Networking Night San Diego!

At the Networking Night, San Diego pros had the opportunity to enjoy a stunning venue space, network with other local professionals across all service categories, and meet members of the WeddingWire team. Plus, they learned more about building relationships in an industry with little-to-no repeat customers during a brief presentation by WeddingWire Contributor, Bethel Nathan.

Thank you to all the wonderful pros who joined us! We’re excited to share highlights from the event including the educational presentation, our latest issue of WedInsights, and photos from the enjoyable evening below.

We would like to say a special thank you to the amazing event partners who helped make the evening possible:

Finally, we’re excited to announce the winner of our WeddingWire Prize Pack give away – congrats to Jennifer of The Crossings at Carlsbad!

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