» Tackling Friendors: When Couples Hire Friends Instead of Wedding Professionals

This article was written by WeddingWire Education Guru Alan Berg, CSP

I’m pretty handy with a set of tools, and I’ve often helped out a friend or relative with a repair or home improvement project. In other words, I’ve been a ‘friendor’, have you? A friendor is a friend or relative who performs a service that could have otherwise been provided by paying an individual or business. It happens all the time. Have you ever benefited from the services of a friend or relative? I’ll bet you have. When it works out well, you just smile and move on. When it doesn’t, you have to decide whether to pay someone to complete or fix the job or look to another friendor to do so.

Not all friendors are created equally

While most, or all of us have either been or benefited from this arrangement, not all friendors are the same. Some, like me, aren’t currently professionals in that skill. In my case, I’m not currently a general contractor, although I did work as one earlier in my life. I have the skills to do many of the jobs that a practicing professional would do. So, whether I do something in my house, or for my friend, relative, neighbor or in-law, it will get done at a level on par with at least some of the practicing professionals (maybe better than some, maybe worse).

Have you ever helped a friend or relative with services for which you would normally charge? Many of the folks I’ve met in the industry started out that way. Maybe you were an art student and you took the photos for a friend’s wedding, party, family or new baby. You were skilled in the craft, you just didn’t charge. Did it work out well for both sides (they were happy with your work, and you were happy to give them that gift)?

Learning on the job

Other times, a friendor is learning that craft of skill ‘on the job’, which is to say on the wedding or event. That’s where the trouble can come in. Giving your professional services at no charge still avails the recipient with professional services. Learning how to arrange floral centerpieces, bake and decorate a wedding cake or keep the flow going with the right music should not be happening leading up to, or during a real wedding or event… at least I wouldn’t want it happening on my wedding or event, would you?

Are friendors your competition?

We, in the industry, know all too well that it’s a slippery slope using friendors for a wedding. Being a skilled photographer doesn’t mean you know where to be looking, or what’s going to happen next at a wedding. The skills that make you the envy of your friends in the kitchen at dinner parties, aren’t the same as the ones that you need to create meals for 200 guests, and get them all out quickly, hot and plated the same way. Cooking for 2, or even 12, isn’t the same as cooking for 200.

I previously wrote an article for this blog titled “CraigsList is not your competitor.” If the couple has a very low budget, then you were never a real possibility for them. There will always be lower-priced competitors. As a matter of fact, many of you reading this were the lower-priced competitor when you started. If you were a friendor before becoming a paid professional, were you taking away a possible sale from a pro at that time? Maybe yes, maybe no. I’ve also written and spoken about how we’re all hypocrites for asking about price, or for a discount when we’re the customer, and then complaining when our customers ask first about price, or ask for a discount. We can’t have it both ways. If you’ve ever been, or used a friend/relative instead of paying a professional, you shouldn’t complain when a couple chooses to use one.

And the problem is…?

The problem is not that they use friendors. The problem is when they use friendors and it doesn’t go well: The friend who misses the important photos; the cake that doesn’t look or taste the way they wanted; the friend who stops performing their service and starts acting like a guest. Those are the problems.

There are opportunities to help prevent this. Some businesses have popped up serving the DIY couple and their friendors. Whether it’s selling them the supplies they need, with instructions, teaching courses or giving them an instruction manual/guidebook, some wedding and event pros are servicing this market, helping to minimize the nightmares. Notice I said minimize, and not eliminate. People are people, and many will bite off more than they can chew, get in over their heads and fail miserably. Let’s just hope it doesn’t happen to anyone you know.

Now what?

Just as you shouldn’t waste too much energy on trying to sell your services, at your prices, to DIY couples and those who are looking to CraigsList for cheap vendors, don’t waste too much time or energy on those who are choosing friendors. Yes, you can try to educate them. Yes, collect every article, blog and posting you can find from couples who have had horrible experiences with friendors. But you can’t make them read those things and you can’t change their minds if they believe that will never happen to them. Move on and place your efforts in marketing to your real, core audience, improving your website and increasing your sales conversions. That’s a much better use of your time and effort.

WeddingWire Education Guru Alan Berg, CSP 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.

» How to Website-ify Your Instagram

Photo by Rusted Vase Floral Co.

Instagram’s ability to engage with its audience while having well-integrated metrics and promotion options makes it a very attractive market for those looking to promote their business. Which is why it has become one of the most popular networking sites today with about a billion users.

Many consumers today have started looking at a brand’s Instagram page before interacting with their products or services. Therefore many businesses use this platform as a portfolio to showcase their brand and product offerings. According to Instagram, 60% of people say that they discover new products on the platform and 75% of Instagrammers take action after being inspired by a post.

So what does this mean for you as a wedding professional? It means that to thrive in the highly competitive wedding industry, you must incorporate Instagram into your business strategy if you haven’t already. In Education Expert Vanessa Joy’s webinar, Are You Instagram-ing Right?, she discussed how heavily some couples are basing their decisions solely on a vendor’s Instagram. Thus, making it important that your Instagram showcases your services just like a website.

Here’s how to “Website-ify your Instagram:

Step 1: Analyze what your clients see

When someone comes to your Instagram profile, they’re getting a snapshot of your business and making judgments. The first things they will see include your followers, how many people you follow, your description, Instagram highlights and the last three photos you’ve uploaded. Since the description is high on that list, it should detail who you are, what you do, where you’re located and what you can do for them. It’s good to take a step back and think as a client, does your Instagram clearly convey those things?

Step 2: Include all information listed on your website

Since a lot of couples are discovering vendors through Instagram, adding information that may be important and traditionally listed on your website is a good idea. You can use the story highlight feature on Instagram to list your products and services, reviews, packages, and inspiration.

Step 3: Consistently showcase your brand

Posting consistently is vital for engagement. So, make sure you have a schedule set up to keep your Instagram updated. Tools like Planoly or Later are very helpful with scheduling posts ahead of time and they let you see how your Instagram grid will look like before you post so you can maintain a consistent style and visually appealing portfolio to represent your services.

You should also think about your audience and post things that are interesting and relevant to them, which means going beyond the work that you do. Try inspirational posts or fun content for couples, it doesn’t always have to be about the services you offer. Creating video content is another way to showcase your brand as they have shown higher engagement rates and keep your audience interacting with your posts longer. IGTV and Instagram stories are also great features to play with as you work on evolving your Instagram presence.

 

These tips originally appeared in WeddingWire’s Webinar “Are You Instagram-ing Right? Tips for Attracting Engaged Couples” with WeddingWire Education Expert, Vanessa Joy.

» Streamlining for Efficiency, Sanity, & Profitability

Photo by Emily Keeney Photography

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

To me, there are really 3 main areas of focus for business improvement in our industry.

First, is getting business, which entails all the marketing you do and relationships you build. Second, is your end product or service, photos for a photographer, baked goods for a baker, etc. And third, is the one I spend a lot of time speaking, writing, and coaching about. It is the “in-between time”, the customer experience.

From the time a couple finds you until they either don’t hire you or you have provided the service they hired you for. During this time, the interaction between you and your couple is experienced in a way that is dictated by your processes, and those processes are supported by your systems.

So, you may be thinking to yourself, if they book me (focus 1) and I deliver them an expected product or service (focus 2), why do I have to worry too much about my systems and processes (focus 3)? Well, we are in a competitive industry, and you should want an edge. And that “edge” can be achieved through evaluating and, where necessary, streamlining your business processes.   

Now, many people hear “streamline your business processes” and automatically think, “automate everything,” but this is not always the case, and is rarely what I recommend, especially in an industry as personal as ours is. Although it can include automating certain pieces (for instance, I automate my invoice reminders).

The true goal of streamlining your processes is to figure out if new processes need to be added, current processes can be improved and if there are any current processes that can be removed.

You need to start with understanding which pieces are critical to your business success and important to your couple’s satisfaction, as automation is not usually the direction to go for those pieces. Rarely are the answers the same for all of us, even for two businesses doing the same thing within our industry. So, while talking to others in your category and comparing the pieces within your customer experience can be very helpful, you need to always be aiming for your business to have a customer experience that supports your vision and meets or exceeds the needs of your ideal couples.   

When to streamline-

  • When a new piece of software or hardware (or a change in one you already use) can get you an outcome that works for your business, with less time spent. Key: as long as this does not hurt the value of the outcome.  

  • When a current process can be combined with another process.

  • When the outcome you are getting from a process is more than you need and it provides little to no value.

When not to streamline-

  • When the outcome is important to the satisfaction of your couple or another vendor and changes would affect their perception and/or outcome.  This is where “customer satisfaction” is more important than having the most efficient process.

  • When the cost to streamline outweighs the cost savings of streamlining.  

  • And to echo Goldilocks, “when the process is just right” – when the cost of a current process is pretty much equal to the value of the process within your business.  After all, there is always a cost in time or money to make changes, so only do so when it’s worth it.

If you decide to streamline, I recommend following these steps:

  1. You need to document and have a good understanding of all the processes in your business (to read more about that, see this article on how to communicate effectively with couples and save your sanity). This includes communications with your couple and other vendors, any purchasing of materials you need to get the job done, all pre- or post-wedding work that you do, etc. Map it all out!Note that you can always start with one process, for example the booking process, and work on streamlining it. Just remember that most processes don’t happen in isolation, which is why I recommend having a good understanding of all your processes before you do any major changes
  2. Plan to streamline. Look at a single process and, based on what you know from your evaluation of that process and your vision for customer experience, brainstorm ways to streamline it. Can you combine it with another process? Can you reduce the steps within the process? Can you automate it, or part of it? But before you make a change, really think about the impact that change will have on your couple or another vendor. This is the most crucial step since there are pieces that you could streamline which would increase profitability and save sanity, yet doing so will negatively impact the customer experience enough that it is not worth the savings gained.
  3. Make it happen. Allow yourself the time to make this change, whether it means switching to a new software, creating new email templates, or creating a questionnaire. And then start to implement it when you are ready. Tweak as needed, as you start to see it in use.
  4. Rinse and Repeat! You are never done, and you want to re-evaluate your systems and processes periodically, always with your eyes on your customer experience and your ideal client.

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.

» 4 Ways To Respond To Questions About Price

Photo by Rusted Vase Floral Co.

About 88% of couples are looking for price before they even reach out to you. Which makes sense right? No one wants to get excited about a service to then find out it’s out of their budget. Which is why we recommend putting pricing on your website, marketing materials, and Storefront.

However, 44% of wedding professionals say that their prices depend on the individual needs of each customer, making it hard to directly advertise or quote prices. So what are some ways to handle pricing questions in these dependent situations?  

1. Tell them

Many couples bypass vendors who don’t show pricing information for those that do. If you have an exact understanding of what your services or products will cost, simply tell them and ask to move forward by ending with a question like: “Should we reserve that for you?” or “Would you like to schedule a time to visit our venue/see our services?” It might seem unconventional to ask for an appointment in the initial reply, however, if you relayed the details and pricing that was asked for by the couple, they may have all the information necessary to make that decision.

2. Don’t tell them

If you don’t have a singular price, don’t duck the question. Instead explain to them why you can’t give that information just yet by saying something like “I don’t want to leave out anything that’s important to you, or charge you for anything you don’t want or need. So, let me get a few details and then I’ll be able to give you a quote.” Moreover, end with a low commitment question like “Have you secured your venue/ other services yet?” or “Are you having the wedding and reception in the same place?”. This low commitment question can keep the conversation going.

3. Starting price

Giving the starting price of your service is another way to approach the price question. However, it is never recommended to sell from the bottom up, especially if your services or products have a wide range. If a product of yours starts at $800 and the range goes up to $10,000, with the average amount being between $3000 – $4000 you probably shouldn’t start at the low end. Giving the starting price at $800, in this case, is misleading the customer. In a situation like this, you can try responding to a price question with something like “I can’t give you a price until I have all of the details, but I can say that the service starts at $x” and then end with a low commitment question.

4. Price range

Giving a price range is perhaps one of the best options for services that depend on individual customizations for the couple. Following the above example of what to say when you have a starting price, simply add a range to it and try something like “I can’t give you a price until I have all of the details, but I can say that the service runs between $x – $x, will that work for your budget?” and then as always end with a low commitment question to keep the conversation rolling. If a couple comes back with your range being out of their budget, don’t burn the bridge! Try to offer a lower price if possible or end your conversation with “We would love to work with you if you don’t find someone else within your budget!”

Responding to pricing questions can be daunting sometimes, but being asked for the price is one of the biggest buying signals you can hear and it should be embraced!

These tips originally appeared in WeddingWire’s Webinar “Replying to Leads, Part 2: From Conversation to Conversion” with WeddingWire Education Guru, Alan Berg.

» A 5 Step Guide To Inquiry Follow-Ups

Photo by Emily Keeney Photography

Couples often get engaged and start sending out inquiries before booking their venue or base services, which is why they may be slow, or not reply at all after sending their first inquiry. Because of this, it’s important to show sustained interest by following up. But, how many times should you follow up before you give up? Check out the 5 step follow-up method below to re-engage leads and get the responses you want.

The 5-Step Follow-Up Method:

1. Reply instantly using the same method

The first necessary step to an inquiry follow-up is a quick reply, especially when you may be on a shortlist with your competition. A fast reply establishes trust and a sense of reliability before discussing details, giving you a significant advantage over those who reply late. Apart from a quick reply, it’s also important to reciprocate communication on the same channel from which you were contacted.

2. The next day: Did you get my reply?

If your couple has yet to respond the day after your quick reply, fret not, and understand that work schedules and other priorities often get in the way. Give them a day and then follow up at the same time as your last reply with a little nudge. Try something like: “Hi, I wanted to make sure you saw my reply from yesterday, I’m very excited to help with your beautiful wedding.” and then finish with a low commitment question like “Have you already reserved a venue, and if so which one?” to keep the conversation going.

3. A few days later: Try a different method (text/phone)

So it’s been a few days and you still haven’t heard anything after your last follow up, what do you do next? Perhaps consider the fact that your message is not going through (especially if you’re communicating via email — due to spam filters). Try a different method or a new email address with a message that goes something like this: “I’m just sending this message through another channel just in case your spam filter caught the last one.”

4. A few days later: A simple message

The key to a good follow up is continuing to do so in a timely manner. After your last follow-up, it’s important to send another message within the next few days and not weeks. If there is no response to your message even after choosing a different method of communication, try sending a simple message like: “Are you still looking for [service]?” to confirm if this is a lead still worth pursuing.

5. A week later: Try a little humor

As a last attempt, if there has been no response, try a little humor to get a reaction! See these examples:

Example 1

“Hi Alan,

I know you’re busy, so I’ve prepared 3 convenient calls to action for you:

  1. Ignore this email and eventually I’ll get the picture and write terrible poetry about the deal we never did. [MOST POPULAR]

  2. Hit ‘reply’ and I’ll do the same. [RECOMMENDED]

  3. WILDCARD – Call me on (phone number). Interrupt my day like I have yours. I deserve it! [LIMITED TIME OFFER]

Option 2 is my favorite!

Have a great day,

Kerrie

Chief of “creating a profitable business out of thin air”

Example 2

“Hi Andrea,

I sent you a few emails and a text and didn’t hear back from you about your (wedding service). So, I figured one of 4 things happened to you.

Please reply with the number of the correct circumstance:

  1. You found a different (service) that was just so awesome you couldn’t resist

  2. You’ve been meaning to get back to me but you’ve just been really busy

  3. You want me to stop contacting you (just ask!)

  4. You’ve been binge-watching Game of Thrones and you need me to send more popcorn

Please let me know which number and if you prefer microwave or stovetop.”

Following up in a timely manner is an important part of converting leads to bookings. Wedding professionals often wait too long before reaching out or don’t pursue leads thoroughly. Use this 5-step follow-up method to reach and convert inquiries effectively.

These tips originally appeared in WeddingWire’s Webinar “Replying to Leads, Part 2: From Conversation to Conversion” with WeddingWire Education Guru, Alan Berg.

» How to Use Headshots to Redefine Your Brand

This article was written by Education Expert, Meghan Ely, OFD Consulting

Headshots are a must-have for professional purposes — it gives others a look at the face behind the brand. Now more than ever, headshots are being used as a strategy that can elevate brands to the next level. In fact, I recently invested a great deal into headshots for my entire team with the confidence that it will pay back in dividends. With that said, here’s my personal guide to incredible headshots.

Timing is everything

Acquiring new headshots amidst business changes is a smart move, be it a new website, a rebrand, or a change in your team or services — it can really add a fresh feel to a company’s brand. In other cases, you may just want to update your current photo and promote a new image.

“When you look different in your headshot than you look in person, it’s time for a new headshot,” explains Shannon Tarrant of Wedding Venue Map. “The point of a headshot is to be recognizable when people see you, so current is always best.”

Regardless of why you’re considering new headshots, it’s wise to start the search for a photographer early on. This will allow you to find the very best person for your needs, while still saving a bit so it doesn’t hit your budget hard.

Consider audience and message

Take a step back and think about your general publicity strategy. Who do you market to? Who is most likely to see your headshot: engaged couples perusing your site, press contacts, or industry peers looking to refer a creative partner? The goal is to decide what style would resonate best with your target audience — for some, an approachable and friendly look is best whereas others may prefer a more refined and upscale look.

With my recent batch of headshots, I decided it was time to deviate from the usual and do something different. I wanted our confidence and experience to show through (hello, grey hair!), while still capturing the rawness of who we are as individuals.

Think about usage

Back in the day, headshots really just lived on your website to give prospects an idea of who you are. Nowadays, they are used in a variety of different manners, be it for social media posts, print materials, or for pitching to media outlets and speaking engagements.

“Be sure to have a mix of vertical and horizontal shots taken,” shares Kevin Dennis of WeddingIQ. “Your needs will vary, whether it’s for social media or a request from someone hiring you to speak. You always want to be prepared.”

Find the right photographer

Headshots are a personal business, so it’s essential to work with a photographer that truly understands you and the look that you are going for. It may go without saying, but DIY is not the answer. “After all, we can’t get frustrated with DIY couples if we choose to DIY this ourselves,” reminds Keith Phillips of Classic Wedding Photographers. “Find someone you can feel comfortable asking for guidance when it comes to location and dress.”

Make sure they have experience with headshots — it’s not the same as capturing an engagement shoot or wedding. Don’t be afraid to spend some money on the right photographer. While you may have some generous friends offering free headshots, you’ll want to be sure that the result will help you reach your goals.

Communicate openly

When you get to the shoot, don’t be afraid to get comfortable with the photographer. Ask them for their opinion on outfits, hairstyles, and colors. Look to them for advice on best poses and feel free to ask to see some of the shots on the back of the camera — tell them if you aren’t comfortable with anything and adjust accordingly. Communication is key throughout the process and will be the surest way to get photos that exude confidence and grace.

Once you’ve received your new headshots, it’s time to share them with the world! Post them to your social media channels, add them to your website, and let the compliments roll in.


Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast.

» How to End Busy Season on a High Note

This article was written by Education Expert, Meghan Ely, OFD Consulting

While you might be enjoying a short lull in weddings during these warm summer days, September and October are just around the corner. One of the busiest times of year is about to be in full swing. You can’t celebrate the year’s end buried under a pile of to-dos; now is the time to set yourself up for success.

The best way to prepare for your busy season is to take care of important marketing and PR tasks in advance. For ultimate results, I suggest you:

Implement a block schedule.

Carve out 20-30 minutes per week from your schedule to dedicate to marketing & PR. Make an appointment with yourself, and unless an emergency arises, use the time strictly to manage your most important marketing and PR activities.

Prepare for publishing.

Make note of any particularly editorially-friendly weddings you might have scheduled in the fall and place them on a priority list to revisit when you have the time. Connect with photographers and/or planners in advance to gauge their interest in collaborating on submissions, and contact your couple to secure the required background information, like favorite anticipated details, DIY plans or color inspiration so you will be ready to build their narrative when the deadlines approach.

Review local industry association schedules for the fall and winter.

Compile a list of the “must-attend” events before your end-of-year schedule starts to fill up with tastings, consultations and final walk-throughs. Connecting with your vendors at these professional events often pays off in referrals, and the time you spend with them is valuable.

Don’t let your social media presence or blog go dormant.

Map out a simple editorial calendar. It is okay to lighten up your production a bit until you have more time on your hands. Simply plan to publish regularly, if more infrequently. A social media scheduler like Meet Edgar, HootSuite or Schedugram can save your sanity as well as your time.

Jenny DeMarco of Jenny DeMarco Photography also suggests outsourcing what you can to prevent standstill. “After eight years of photography, last year was the first year I wasn’t super stressed out and overworked and it’s because I finally hired a part-time studio manager,” she says. “I learned the money was worth hiring the better team than trying to deal with a less expensive team doing sub-par work.”

Anticipate award season.

If only industry award deadlines were built around your busy season! Unfortunately, the committees don’t necessarily care if you are swamped, so carve out the time to review your target awards and note their deadlines. Have certain worthy weddings in mind? Collect the required elements in advance. Need a ghostwriter to help make your submission extra competitive? They book up fast, so start your search now.

Identify your “time suckers.”

I personally save a tremendous amount of time now that I book all of my appointments through Calendly, create automated invoices, and process all of my contracts through DocuSign. While the tools I use aren’t strictly marketing or PR-related, they easily save me 90 minutes per week. That’s time regained that can be used towards other high-priority tasks, thanks to tools that are available to you, too!

Paula Ramirez from Historic Mankin Mansion stresses the importance of staying focused. “It is always best to operate from a proactive, laser-focused perspective, seeing potential issues before they even occur. Know that you will be extra busy near the end of wedding season and draw on successes from past experience to handle it with ease and grace.”

Preparing for the end of the year is daunting. I know (even if you don’t) that you’re ready to boost your efficiency in anticipation of the big days ahead, so where do you plan to start?

 

Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast.

» 4 Ways to Update Your Social Media Strategy

Photo by Vanessa Joy Photography

This article was written by Education Expert Vanessa Joy, Owner & Photographer of Vanessa Joy Photography.

“This is SO exciting!!!!”

That’s what I thought when I first heard about Instagram’s release of Instagram TV, or IGTV. But then I thought of what this really meant. More work. More algorithm changes. More hours of me trying to figure out what they heck I should be doing on social media now.

As a wedding professional, social media is one of the strongest marketing and branding tools we have at our disposal. It’s also the most time-consuming task that takes us away from our true passion of running our own creative business. Right now Instagram is the top priority for wedding businesses in the social media world because that’s where most engaged couples are hanging out digitally these days. So how can you make sure that you’re doing it right when everything keeps changing?

1. Never stop learning

At some point or another I’ve felt the desire to give up. Not on wedding photography altogether, but on little pieces here and there. It’s tempting to feel that way about social media and want to kiss it goodbye because you just don’t want to learn something new that came along. Fight that urge my friends. I’m not saying you have to be a master at social media, but you do need to continue to educate yourself and stay relevant.

2. Don’t believe the lies

It’s tempting to try and find shortcuts when social media gets overwhelming.  Believe me, that won’t end well. From buying followers, likes and other things you’ve heard “work”, how can you discern truth?

Take a look at this video for some quick social media myth debunking.

3. Understand the truth

When it comes to social media the root of it is exactly as it says: social. Every time you see a change come along just remember that each of these platforms is just a corporation trying to make money by engaging users on their platform. If you remember that concept, then you can weather any change by coming back to it. Before you post simply ask yourself “will my audience engage with this?”. It doesn’t matter how they engage with it (like, comment, watch, click, etc), just that they do.

4. Get help

You likely didn’t enter the wonderful world of weddings because you wanted to be glued to social media all day every day. So, streamline the process with a social media scheduling service like Planoly, Buffer, Later, Hootsuite or Meet Edgar (and I’m sure there are many others). If you can, don’t feel ashamed to hire personnel to handle posting or interacting with others. Virtual assistants and office assistants can be great for this and will take a lot of the weight off of your shoulders so you can focus more on your clients and what you do best.

5. BONUS: Know what to fix

For this one, I’m personally going to help you. WeddingWire and I are hosting a webinar for Premium members that’ll help you discover any Instagram faux pas that you may be making. Best part: we’ll be hosting a LIVE critique where you can submit your Instagram account for me to chat about on the webinar! Premium members should check their email to register for “Are You Instagram-ing Right?” on Wednesday, August 22nd at 3pm EDT. I’ll see you there!

Vanessa Joy has been an influential photographer in the wedding community for a decade. Starting her photographic journey in 1998, she has since earned 5 college degrees, and has spoken at almost every major convention and platform in the industry such as CreativeLIVE, Wedding MBA, WPPI, ShutterFest, Imaging USA, WeddingWire World, and Mobile Beat. Recognized for her talent and more so her business sense, her clients love working with her and industry peers love to learn from her generous, informative and open-book style of teaching. Check out more of her resources at www.BreatheYourPassion.com

» 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.

» Read any good books lately? Learning for life with Alan Berg

This article was written by WeddingWire Education Guru Alan Berg, CSP.

I’ve seen a lot of social posts lately asking about which books to read or talking about books they’ve read. Each of the posts starts an active discussion, which is great. For me, the best part of those discussions is the passion behind the recommendations. In other words, I love reading about the WHY, as much as the WHAT. I also love adding new books to my wish list on Audible (as I mostly listen to audio books these days, while I’m driving). I may not end up listening to all of them, but they give me inspiration and often send me in directions I hadn’t expected.

Learning when you’re not trying to learn

Regardless of whether it’s reading books, listening to podcasts, watching YouTube videos or tuning in to webinars (like the ones on WeddingWire EDU), it’s important to constantly be learning. Some of us do best in a classroom setting, while others prefer learning at their own pace. If we’re paying attention new ideas are all around us, especially when we’re not looking for them. I’ve gotten many great ideas for my business, and those of my clients (businesses like yours) from outside our industry. I heard a great phrase at a National Speakers Association conference, years ago: “Adapt, don’t adopt” – in other words, look at what someone else is doing and adapt it to your business, don’t just copy it.

In the wedding industry we have to adapt. It’s such a niche (albeit a $50-$60 billion one) that there aren’t that many books specifically written for it – one of the reasons I’ve written mine. It’s the same for the speaking industry. I find inspiration for my speaking and consulting in books that aren’t written specifically for me. Rather I see how I can tweak them to apply to me, or to you.

I don’t have time to read

Now I know that some of you are voracious readers, and others haven’t picked up a book since high school or college. All of us receive and absorb information in different ways, some due to physical issues (dyslexia, ADD, etc.) and some due to time constraints. I went for a long time without reading a book. Then I started buying books, only to have them pile up on my desk. For me, it was simply a matter of a lack of quiet time. As I travel, a lot, I felt guilty sitting and reading at home, when I could/should be spending time with my family. I would sometimes read on planes, but often I would just work, or sleep.

What’s best for you

I resisted recording my own books on audio for a few years. Between the time and the cost, I wasn’t sure there was an ROI for me. Now that I’ve recorded all four of my books on audio, and due to your feedback, I can definitely see the benefit. I’ve also become a voracious listener to audio books. Using audio is how I learned Spanish, many on audio “books” through Audible. Now, instead of listening to the news (always depressing anyway), I listen to books. Most of mine are business books, because I’m always looking for new ways to approach what I do in my presentations and consulting.

Where are you getting your inspiration?

Many of us need to lift our faces out of our phones, take off the blinders and look around. Inspiration can come from our kids, family, corner store or national brand. Adapt, don’t adopt those ideas. If you exhibit at wedding shows, or trade shows, look at how retail stores display their goods. Which displays catch your attention? Look at your mail, yes your snail mail. Which pieces do you notice first? Even if you toss it in the recycling, you saw it, and that’s the first step.

Pay attention to fonts, colors and layout. How do other businesses use reviews in their marketing? Since national brands pay big bucks to design firms for their marketing, maybe you can glean some ideas from a billboard, magazine, website or brochure. Have you ever heard someone say: “there are no new ideas”? Maybe it’s true, maybe not. Every new song started with the same 88 notes. Thousands of songs have the same 3 or 4 chords. Everything we write starts with the same 26 letters, yet the variations are endless. We all have the same tools, yet some are using them in new ways. Are you one of them?

What I’m reading

Originally, I wasn’t going to make this about what I’m reading, but I didn’t want to tease you with the title, and then not at least give you some of my favorites. So, here are books that I’ve read, that might be of interest to you. Feel free to share yours as well:

  • Don’t Make Me Think – Steve Krug; the bible for web usability
  • Profit First – Mike Michalowicz; a must read for any small business
  • The Pumpkin Plan – also by Mike Michalowicz; this will give you ideas for which products and services to offer
  • The Dip – Seth Godin; when the going gets tough, this little book will help
  • Purple Cow – also by Seth Godin; actually, almost anything by Seth Godin would be a good place to start
  • The Tipping Point – Malcom Gladwell; this was the first of his books that I’ve read, Outliers and Blink also great.
  • The Paradox of Choice – Barry Schwartz; I recently read this, and it has lots of application to our industry
  • Who Moved My Cheese? – Spencer Johnson; this little book about dealing with change should be required reading
  • Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness – Richard Thaler; along with The Paradox of Choice, I found it fascinating about how you can influence people’s decision making, but giving them better choices

I could keep going, but I’m going to leave it to you to find your inspiration. I will leave you with one more thought, (it’s one of my favorite quotes) Malcolm Forbes once said: “Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.” Now, go open your minds!

P.S. I didn’t include my books, but if you don’t have them they’re at www.GetAlansBooks.com as well as on Amazon, Audible and iTunes.

WeddingWire Education Guru Alan Berg, CSP 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.

» WeddingWire Networking Night Minneapolis

This week, local wedding professionals gathered at the Lumber Exchange Event Center for our WeddingWire Networking Night Minneapolis!

Wedding professionals had the opportunity to enjoy a stunning venue right in the center of Minneapolis! Guests met with other local vendors across all service categories as well as members of the WeddingWire team. Plus, they learned local-industry statistics and tips for being inclusive of all couples, presented by WeddingWire Education Expert, Kathryn Hamm!

Thank you to all the wonderful wedding professionals who joined us! We’re excited to share highlights from the event including the educational presentation, the latest issue of WedInsights, and photos from the lovely evening below. You can also see the entire album on our WeddingWire EDU Facebook page!

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


» 7 Ways to Win Mobile Marketing

The world is transitioning to mobile — with Google paying more attention to mobile sites and users engaging mainly via mobile phones, mobile conversion and optimization is going to start impacting us more than ever before.

To prepare for this imminent mobile takeover, here are 7 tips from WeddingWire CMO Sonny Ganguly to make sure your business is set up for mobile success:

1. Be ready for mobile-first SEO
Mobile-first SEO means that Google will be looking at your mobile site to determine both mobile and desktop search rankings. To prepare for this, it’s important to start thinking mobile first for ALL things: website, blog, emails and other communication. This means designing for mobile phones first and then taking that design to desktop instead of the other way around.

Because of mobile-first SEO, it is crucial to have mobile parity which simply means that your mobile website today has to be equivalent to your desktop experience, if not better. The easiest way to achieve this is to have a responsive design that has one brand, one domain and one codebase; a website that looks good on all devices (LiveBooks is a great service for responsive websites that are design focused!).

2.  Mobilize from end-to-end
Even if you mobilize the first step, you need to make sure to mobilize the entire process when you send an email. Mobilized emails that link to non-mobilized websites result in 80% of users leaving the site. Every step along the way must be made mobile-friendly.

3. Create short video content
Facebook has a growing emphasis on video content, and this will continue to increase in the coming years. . Winning at mobile isn’t going to be about words and photos on social platforms, but instead about sharing short video content that is less than 60 or 30 seconds. Also keep in mind that in the world of mobile, most people do not have their sound on, making text overlays vital to a successful piece of video content.

As the availability of content grows, users attention spans are getting shorter, making it important to brand within the first 3 seconds, if not the first second, with some sort of overlay. Because people process visuals and video at a much faster rate than text, short video content is the future.

4. Communicate with millennials
In the world of mobile and millennials, there is an expectation that communication needs to move faster. Couples expect a reply from wedding professionals within 24 hours and 50% of buyers choose the wedding professional that responds first. So speed does matter! and being able to communicate via your mobile phone is a good way to be quick with a response.

When communicating with millennials, it is also important to reciprocate the channel where they prefer communicating, 48% of couples are frustrated when vendors who do not use the same channel to reply as the couple used to reach out. If a couple sent an email that was followed up with a call from the vendor, it is typically viewed unfavorably.

To streamline mobile communication, WeddingWire offers vendors easy-to-use messaging features to communicate quickly and effectively with their couples.

5. Monitor your search console  
Search console is a free service from Google that helps you get the data, tools, and diagnostics needed to create and maintain Google-friendly websites and mobile apps. It’s a service that every business should have running for them to let them know of their average position within search rankings and where they can improve. Search Console is Google’s way of giving you a report card and notifying you of what is working for your website and what is not.

As Google moves towards mobile-first SEO, monitoring your Search Console will tell you if your rankings stay consistent or shift, and where you can improve.

6. Focus on mobile conversion
Mobile conversion is how well your mobile site is converting visitors into leads. Looking into these conversion rates can tell you a lot about how friendly your mobile site is and if there are areas for improvement when compared to your desktop site.

If you’re using Google Analytics you can turn on conversion tracking to see how many people visit your mobile website and convert into leads. You can then use this data to compare your rate to previous years, seasons and even desktop conversion rates to see if you’re achieving mobile conversion parity.

7. Accept mobile payments
Accepting mobile payments before your competitors can be a big advantage for your business;  couples were 23% more likely to recommend wedding professionals who had a form of online payment. Fortunately, WeddingWire members can use WeddingWire Payments to seamlessly request and accept client payments through WeddingWire in the Messages section of their account.

As Eric Schmidt, the previous Chairman of Google, said “The trend has been that mobile was winning, it’s now won.” and these 7 tips will help your business stay on top of this shift to handheld devices and mobile-first SEO!

These tips originally appeared in WeddingWire’s Webinar “Master Mobile Marketing” with Sonny Ganguly, WeddingWire’s Chief Marketing Officer.