» 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.

» Introducing Our Newest Education Experts

To provide you with more of the the latest and greatest expert advice to grow your business, we are excited to announce that we have added Bethel Nathan and Vanessa Joy as WeddingWire Education Experts, joining Sonny Ganguly, Alan Berg, Kathryn Hamm and Meghan Ely.  Be on the lookout for their blog articles, speaking engagements and webinars over the upcoming months — and when you see them, don’t forget to give them a warm WeddingWire welcome!

Bethel Nathan, Business Coach & Speaker, Elevate by Bethel
Expertise: Customer Experience, Business Management, Relationship Building

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, using her years of experience to help others turn their passions into successful and sustainable businesses.

Bethel loves to travel, speaks Japanese and is a long time scuba diver having logged over 300 dives with her favorites being in Indonesia, Galapagos, Socorro Islands, and Fiji. Along with her many fun hobbies, she will be bringing her expertise in customer experience, business management and relationship building to WeddingWire.

To learn more about Bethel, check out her website or or follow her on Instagram.

 


Vanessa Joy,
Owner and Photographer, Vanessa Joy Photography
Expertise: Social Media, Content Marketing, Workflow

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.

Vanessa comes to WeddingWire with her adept knowledge in topics such as social media, content marketing and workflow. Apart from being an expert in those areas, Vanessa has 5 college degrees, a very talented videographer husband (whom she met working a wedding!) and an undying love for chocolates, wine, ice-cream, but mostly cookies! She also comes from a long line of strong, creative women with her mother being a wedding photographer, and grandmother being one of the first female journalists for the NJ Senate.

To learn more about Vanessa, check out her website or follow her on Instagram.

Please join us in welcoming these two new Education Experts. We feel so lucky to have them as a part of the WeddingWire family!

» Tips for Your Branding Overhaul

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

Did you realize that best practices call for a business to rebrand every two years or so? In fact you should plan for a complete rebrand every 4-5 years! We asked the experts to share their tips for your next branding overhaul.

Timing

How do you know that it’s time?

The International Academy of Wedding and Event Planning’s Kylie Carlson points out clear indicators that it’s time for a rehaul, including a dated logo, feelings of embarrassment when you hand out your business card or marketing materials, and struggling to raise your prices. Some signs are positive, however. “Have you simply outgrown your brand?” asks Carlson. “This is actually a nice place to be in,” she encourages. “Often, when a company grows, they enter new marketplaces and that renders their current brand ineffective.”

Once you know it’s time to rebrand, where do you begin?

Start here

Rebranding is a multi-step process. Sandy Hammer of AllSeated recommends beginning by looking “at the brands and companies you love. Why do you love them?” Consider their logo, colors and overall look so you can view your own brand through a similar lens.

Megan Velez of Destination Weddings Travel Group says, “Keeping up with the industry trends is key for your brand. You have to keep an eye out for all facets of consumer behavior, including how your market is reacting to certain brands, what they’re looking for and how they’re speaking.”

Igal Sapir, CFO of 100 Candles cautions that “branding is not just about aesthetics. Yes, poorly constructed sites will be passed over quickly by millennial couples eager to engage with a brand…be mindful of the prospect’s user experience when they come to your site.” Sapir suggests reviewing your site in great detail from the perspective of a client and determining ways to make the experience more efficient.

If you’re renaming your company, Attorney Caroline Fox of The Engaged Legal Collective, advises you to contact a trademark attorney to “do a trademark evaluation and analysis up front before you commit to a name and invest money into new marketing materials or other designs,”

Ready, set, rebrand

You’ll need to put together a team of professionals to help you with your rebrand. Velez believes that looking within your organization first is a helpful way to start. “Leverage the resources you have available, first, especially your design team! Then, go beyond for extra-professional help.”

Carlson recommends asking friends and colleagues for referrals, and warns that “Good designers are often booked well in advance, so once you’ve found the right fit, don’t delay.”

Ashley Stork, owner of Magnolia Vine Events emphasizes organization and bandwidth. “Be honest about your time, and what your capacity is at the time of re-branding”. She recommends having your copy mostly done in advance, adding, “You may need to tweak, add or have a copywriter review but not having the copy for your site will hold up the whole project.”

There is no better time than right now to begin considering and planning for your next rebrand!

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.

» Can I Call It A Gay Wedding?

Photo by Gawne Designs Photography

This article was written by WeddingWire Education Expert, Kathryn Hamm.

I was at a luncheon a few weeks ago, and a new acquaintance asked me about my line of work. I explained that my straight mother had founded our business — GayWeddings.com — almost 20 years ago and that now, in the years since WeddingWire had acquired our site, I was spending the majority of my time helping wedding vendors understand how to best serve same-sex couples and explaining LGBTQ wedding trends to journalists.

A Manhattan resident who was in her seventies, my new friend was excited and curious about my work, especially because she had enjoyed the same-sex weddings she had attended. So our conversation continued, and, in response to one of her questions, I answered by saying something to the effect of, “For example, at a gay wedding…”

But this is where she interrupted me.

“Don’t call it a gay wedding!” she admonished. “A wedding is a wedding! It’s not a gay wedding!”

I understood what she meant. I’ve heard this refrain and have even found occasion to use it myself in certain contexts. A wedding is a wedding when the consideration is how much it costs to produce a ceremony and a reception at peak season on a Saturday night. These are structural elements that impact the price of the wedding, the budget, the availability of a venue, the size of the guestlist and so on. A wedding is a wedding when we are talking about two persons in love choosing to exchange a solemn and legal vow in front of their loved ones. In these ways, I agree with her.

I think I surprised her, however, when I pushed back — graciously, of course — on her premise.

Actually, I said, a wedding isn’t always a wedding, but I appreciate your message of equality and recognition. By custom and habit, I went on to explain, weddings have been a strongly gendered, heteronormative exercise where all that flows seems to come from planning around a pair of pants and a dress — but especially around the dress! — and that this equation can be very different for two brides, two grooms or two persons who define themselves in a way other than “bride and groom.”

This is where there is room, I explained, to recognize that a “gay wedding” is different, and that understanding and addressing those differences is key to helping a couple celebrate.

For example, though statistics show that most couples are most concerned about price and availability when trying to locate and book wedding professionals to help them, LGBTQ couples are just as concerned about being rejected as they are about price and availability. This is an important difference and, even since marriage equality was recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States in 2015, that fear (and reality) of service refusal remains.

Additionally, same-sex couples have tended to be older in age and have tended to pay for most or all the wedding themselves. This has an impact on budget priorities, the guest list, and who the decision-maker(s) are in the planning. Over time, however, same-sex couples are getting younger and families are getting more involved in the planning and budgeting for the wedding.

Another key difference is what it means to photographers in how they plan to work with same-sex couples. One must consider posing, detail sessions with attire, having enough photographers to cover the wedding preparation rituals for two brides wearing traditional gowns and needing styling services. They must consider how two gowns or two bouquets can be awkward to stage in close proximity or how two tuxes next to one another provide no color contrast. If a photographer plans with ‘a wedding is a wedding’ in mind, he or she will likely stumble into unexpected traps that can impact the final product.

I’m not sure that my lunch buddy fully understood what I meant about how important nuance and cultural competence is in helping wedding pros deliver superior services to LGBTQ couples in a competitive market. I certainly hope, however, that she felt my appreciation for her unabashed support of marriage equality and recognition that same-sex couples deserve a seat at the proverbial table.

As same-sex couples continue to assimilate into the larger wedding market, I invite everyone to remember that two grooms and two brides still have some unique needs that shouldn’t be overlooked. So, until the dust has settled on the modern market, let’s not fully retire the phrase “gay wedding” or “lesbian wedding” or “queer wedding;” there is still something very special to remember and celebrate about our unions.

kathryn hammThis post was written by Kathryn Hamm WeddingWire Education Expert, Diversity and Inclusion Specialist. Kathryn is also co-author of the groundbreaking book, The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian and Gay Wedding Photography. Follow her on Twitter @madebykathryn.

» Wedding Pros Lead By Inclusive Example

Photo by Creative Island Visions

This article was written by WeddingWire Education Expert, Kathryn Hamm.

I wasn’t sure what to expect at my very first wedding industry conference in 2005. At the time, our business (originally called TwoBrides.com and TwoGrooms.com) had been focused on helping couples who were desperate to find us, so I wasn’t sure how wedding professionals might react to our specialized services.

For context, it’s important to remember that Massachusetts had only just recognized marriage equality — the first state to do so — and the topic of “gay marriage” remained largely controversial. The military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was in effect; some states began to introduce legislation to ban same-sex marriage in response to legislation advancing in Massachusetts; and, some states were promoting civil unions instead of full marriage rights. It was a very different time.

The opening night of the conference included a networking reception, where I spent most of my time listening to other attendees sharing their experiences. Eventually, though, a wedding planner from Virginia, with whom I was having a pleasant conversation, asked what I did for a living. I explained that I ran an online boutique dedicated to serving same-sex couples. I had hardly finished my sentence when, without a further word, she turned on her heel and walked away from me.

I was stunned. But not deterred.

It might have been the first time (and one of the most pronounced!) that I encountered discomfort and disagreement about my passion for helping LGBTQ couples plan their weddings, but it wasn’t the last.

The good news is that, on the whole, I’ve had very positive and welcoming experiences in the wedding industry. Increasingly, interested wedding professionals, who were growing in number as marriage equality advanced, realized that they had questions about working with same-sex couples and sought my advice. And, when we launched our GayWeddings partnership with WeddingWire in January, 2011, acceptance deepened further.

Perhaps the most inspiring aspect of the partnership with WeddingWire was watching the enrollment in our LGBTQ-friendly directory of wedding vendors grow by leaps and bounds.  WeddingWire helps same-sex couples understand that there is a safe and welcoming place for them; an incredibly important resource given that approximately half of all LGBTQ couples say that they experienced a fear of rejection based on their sexual orientation when searching for wedding vendors.

After WeddingWire acquired GayWeddings and marriage equality became the law of the land three years ago this month, it became clear that, going forward, same-sex couples would have access to the marriage licenses, services and planning resources available to all couples.

At WeddingWire, this rings more true than ever, even in light of the Supreme Court’s decision to find narrowly in favor of Jack Phillips’ request to be able to refuse to make a cake for a same-sex couple (Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission). I am heartened by WeddingWire’s uninterrupted commitment to inclusion through its non-discrimination policy; its position as the first and only wedding company to earn a spot on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index (and perfect scores at that!); and knowing that the majority of wedding professionals believe that wedding-related businesses should be required to serve same-sex couples as they would all other couples.

This month, as we celebrate Pride, know that I’ll be celebrating you, the many supportive wedding professionals who have been out there, working with couples and celebrating our unions with open arms. You are a big part of the story of marriage equality, and responsible for helping to weave same-sex weddings into the fabric of our industry and mainstream acceptance.

Our work is not done, but the conversations are happening. And, now more than ever, we must continue to lead with love, to listen with love and to serve each other with love. Happy Pride!

kathryn hammThis post was written by Kathryn Hamm WeddingWire Education Expert, Diversity and Inclusion Specialist. Kathryn is also co-author of the groundbreaking book, The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian and Gay Wedding Photography. Follow her on Twitter @madebykathryn.

» What the Supreme Court’s Decision Means for the Wedding Industry

Photo by Nick Spiker Photography

This article was written by WeddingWire Education Expert, Kathryn Hamm.

Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission has been one of the most watched court cases of the 2017-2018 Supreme Court session. In today’s 7-2 decision, the Justices have ruled in favor of baker, Jack Phillips, who declined to serve David Mullins and Charles Craig, who asked him to make them a wedding cake in 2012.

Justice Kennedy, who issued the majority opinion (with Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor dissenting), emphasized that this ruling is about this case in particular. The ruling does not offer a broad-sweeping permission for service refusal, but it does underscore the value that a religious belief be given as much dignity as the court extended to same-sex couples in the 2015 Obergefell ruling.

Says SCOTUSblog analyst, Amy Howe:

“Although (Jack) Phillips prevailed today, the opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy rested largely on the majority’s conclusion that the Colorado administrative agency that ruled against Phillips treated him unfairly by being too hostile to his sincere religious beliefs. The court seemed to leave open the possibility that a different outcome could result in a future case, and it did not rule at all one of the central arguments in the case – whether compelling Phillips to bake a cake for a same-sex couple would violate his right to freedom of speech…

“‘The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances,’ the majority closed, ‘must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.’”

I know that there are many LGBTQ couples who express anxiety about finding vendors to help them with their wedding planning, and I can imagine that this will only enhance those concerns.

I also know, from the research I’ve done in this past year, that there are many wedding professionals who care deeply about LGBTQ couples and that they receive a kind and loving reception when they are searching for their teams of vendors.

In addition to the individual wedding pros who are steadfast allies, WeddingWire remains steadfast in its core belief of equality and its desire for the industry as a whole, to be a warm and welcoming community for all people. As it has been for years, the vendor directory will continue to be a reliable and safe resource for same-sex couples.

Additionally, it is important for LGBTQ couples to know that, though it may seem a contradiction, there are wedding pros who support Jack Phillips’ freedom of expression, but who also believe that that same-sex couples should not be turned away on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. They support Phillips’ freedom to express himself but think he is in the wrong to refuse to serve same-sex couples. This group of wedding professionals understands that the wedding industry has welcomed same-sex couples with open arms, and that the vast majority is ready, willing and able to serve them.

To the wedding pros reading this I say: Thank you for all that you have done in the past 15 years to recognize the importance of marriage equality, and to help the LGBTQ community, our friends and our families to celebrate our loving unions.

Today offers a wonderful opportunity to open your arms, and welcome those couples who need to know that they have a safe space to plan their weddings. More than ever, the Pride hashtag, inclusive language and images in your storefronts and in your social media feeds, will speak volumes.

In closing, I’d like to remind you of the mantra many of you have heard from me at WeddingWire World over the years, and it still holds today:

Lead with love, listen with love and serve with love and you can’t go wrong.

I hope you’ll join me in this spirit as this important conversation continues.

kathryn hammThis post was written by Kathryn Hamm WeddingWire Education Expert, Diversity and Inclusion Specialist. Kathryn is also co-author of the groundbreaking book, The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian and Gay Wedding Photography. Follow her on Twitter @madebykathryn.

» Are You Too Busy To Be Successful?

Photo by Dana Lynn Photography

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

One of my presentation titles is: “Are you too busy to be successful?,” which, like many of my topics, came from discussions I’ve had with wedding & event professionals like you. Being busy is easy. Whether it’s email or social media, family obligations or volunteering, staying busy is easy. Getting the things done that you want and need is another story. And since we’re not getting any more hours in the day, what’s the answer for busy wedding and event professionals?

And the answer is…

Well, the answer is the same for you, as it is for me, and it’s one word… priorities. We simply make the time for the things that we prioritize. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Then why is it so hard? We have to realize when we’re controlling our priorities, and when we’re allowing others, or outside forces to control them. We also have to realize that we can change our priorities whenever we want. Still sounds simple, doesn’t it? Not so fast.

What’s my priority today?

Have you ever gotten a call from a friend who offers to take you to the ball game, or show, or concert, on short notice? You had plans for that day/time, but you change them so you can go with your friend. In other words, you changed your priority for that time slot. Sure, whatever you were going to do probably still needs to get done, it just moved down a notch, or two, on your priority list.

But I just. Can’t. Stop…

I know, from personal experience, that there are times when we’re doing something other than what we know we should. Maybe we’re spending time on Facebook, when we know there are emails to be answered, or proposals to write, or laundry to do. Sometimes there’s an invisible force that tells us “I’ll just look at one more post” or “I’ll only click one more link…”, but one leads to four, leads to ten, leads to another hour lost. Hey, we’re only human. The first step in correcting this behavior is realizing that you’re doing it. Then, you need the willpower to cut yourself off. In other words, you need to change your priorities.

The most important word you need to know

Something else that makes us too busy is taking work on which we know we should pass. If you’re relatively new in your business, it’s likely that you’re taking any, and every customer that comes your way. That makes sense, but eventually we all learn that we don’t want every sale. The pressure often comes when we chase the big dollar sale, only to have it take way more time and resources than we anticipated. That time is taken from your core customers, and your family time, and you may even have to pass on some smaller, yet more profitable customers to accommodate the one big one.

When I’m consulting with businesses, like yours, I want you to focus on profitability, not just top line growth. Getting more revenue is great but keeping more of it is better. I recently had a client tell me they wanted to be the biggest company in their market/category. I suggested that they focus on being the most profitable, rather than the biggest. My favorite expression for that is that I don’t care about feeding your ego, if it’s not feeding your family. So, the most powerful word you have is “No.” it’s hard to pass on more sales. Believe me, I know from firsthand experience. I raised my rates so I could take less work this year, but it backfired. I’m busier than ever. Clearly, I haven’t learned to say “No” as much as I should.

Stop throwing money at me

I did say “No” to the highest paying speaking gig I’d ever been offered, because I wasn’t the right fit. They were even offering to change the date of their event, and it was a significantly higher fee than I had been getting at the time. But my expertise doesn’t extend to their industry. It’s close, but they really should have someone who understands the nuances, and legalities of their world. While I could learn them, it would have taken me away from my core audience. Also, if I were the customer, I wouldn’t want someone learning my industry on my dime. I would want to hire someone who is already an expert. Isn’t that why your customers hire you? Because you’re already the expert.

Can you be successful without being busy?

I’m sure you can, but busy isn’t a bad thing. It’s being too busy to get to do the things you want that is bad. If you’re not spending time with family and friends, that’s bad. If you’re always playing catch-up, getting things done at the last minute, that’s bad. If you’re not getting to your big-picture, to-do list items, that’s bad. I wrote in a recent post titled Self-Help versus Shelf-Help,” which includes a section about keeping only two or three things on your big To-Do List, so you can get more done. You really can be more productive, without being too busy. I’m a realist, so I know that your wedding season is going to be busy. But, if you prioritize what’s most important, and learn to say no a little more often, you’ll be able to see when you’re creating more busy-ness than necessary. Here’s to your success!

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.

» Royal Wedding Trends: What Your Clients Will Start Asking For

Photo by @Kensingtonroyal

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

The fascinator has been tucked away, lime green suit sent to the cleaners and the last of the lemon elderberry wedding cake crumbs swept up. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are now officially the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. So, is this where the conversation ends?

Quite the opposite- it’s just the beginning. The Meghan Markle effect, which has caused many of us to question whether we too should embrace berets, is officially impacting what your clients will be requesting for this year and beyond.

So what do we anticipate being the next big asks?

Personalization on a new level

The desire to customize wedding day details is certainly not a new notion but the bar was raised considerably as soon as it was revealed that Prince Harry handpicked blooms for his bride’s bouquet. While couples will still want to put their stamp on the décor, menu and entertainment, expect brides and grooms to take their requests to a whole new level. Want to stay ahead of the curve? Brainstorm bespoke services and/or products with your team that can be offered from the onset.

All hail the boat neck

Meghan’s dress choice was certainly a polarizing one- it drew as many happy sighs as it did head scratches. But one thing is for sure- the neckline is a welcome change from the strapless gowns’ ongoing campaign for world domination. Better yet- it can be incorporated into nearly every season- unlike the sleeves and thicker fabric that also made up the gown.  

Go local

If one thing was for sure, Prince Harry and Meghan wanted to celebrate with as many local elements as possible, which was evident from the florist selection to the reception menu. Be prepared for couples to officially be inspired, finding new ways to bring regional flavor to their party.

Black and white is the new… black?

Within moments of the engagement announcement last November, royal wedding enthusiasts have been watching Kensington Palace’s Instagram like a hawk, waiting with baited breath for photographs of the happy couple. The real winners this royal wedding season? The dramatic black and white images released by the Prince Harry and Meghan, as evident by the swoons heard around the world. With that, expect an uptick in the number of couples requesting more black and white photography.

No wedding party? No problem

The industry and media alike were abuzz once it was revealed that Meghan Markle would not be having a bevy of bridesmaids, or Maid-of-Honor for that matter, joining her down the aisle. This detail was quickly forgotten as soon as her veil floated down the aisle thanks to a handful of the cutest (and luckiest?) teeny tiny wedding attendants you ever did see. So can a couple survive without an extensive wedding party to do their bidding? Absolutely. Will brides and grooms catch on this year? We can only hope.

Rules were made to be broken

Nothing drew a bigger gasp then when Meghan’s father Thomas Markle announced (officially officially) that he was no longer walking his daughter down the aisle. Would she ask William?  Prince Charles? Her mom? Even better- Meghan decided to walk her own self down the aisle save for a few moments with her future father-in-law just before she arrived at the altar.

Even the most modern couples will question breaking tradition but the hope this season is that they will be inspired to break rules and do it their own way. After all, Meghan Markle broke hundreds of years of tradition in St. George’s Castle, and we’re all still standing.

Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding marketing and wedding PR firm OFD Consulting, which specializes in getting wedding professionals their brides. She is a highly sought after industry speaker and serves as a Public Relations adjunct professor for Virginia Commonwealth University, specializing in PW writing and brand promotion.

» The 4 Rules of Wedding PR During Busy Season

Photo by Tracy Shoopman Photography

The truth is, if you wait until off-season to look at your business’s PR strategy and start promoting, you’re doing your business a huge disservice. While the busy season workload takes up the bulk of your time, your PR strategy shouldn’t take a back seat. WeddingWire Education Expert and owner of OFD Consulting, Meghan Ely, gave us four rules for mastering PR during busy season with only a small time commitment each day.

Keep momentum going

It’s not a rule, but rather a guideline to help you follow the rules. Keeping up momentum is crucial if you want to maximize your time and PR strategy efficiently. Meghan says she sees it all too often: wedding professionals drop their PR strategy for busy season and pick it back up in November when the season ends. However, come November, you are going to be sitting on a pile of work that will make you more stressed than you thought handling it during the season would!

Instead of dealing with the mountain of PR work you’ve accumulated throughout the season, tackle the opportunities as they come in. Not only will this keep you sane in the long run, but it will also help eliminate competition. By neglecting your PR strategy until November, you subsequently end up competing with every other wedding professional who followed the same ‘strategy’. Suddenly, come November, the PR branch of the wedding industry is crowded with everyone playing catch-up. Ultimately, there is a lot less “noise” to compete with during busy season, and it’s in your favor to never lose momentum.

Rule 1: Stick to the low-hanging fruit

During busy season, you want to do things that will increase your brand awareness and showcase your portfolio… and this doesn’t have to be hard or take copious amounts of time! RealWeds submissions are one of those easy-to-do tasks that can have a tremendous effect on publicizing your brand. RealWeds are a great option to focus on because you already have a steady stream of content coming in from all of the weddings that you do— why not utilize that to its fullest potential?

Typically, photographers, venues, event designers, planners and florists are the ones submitting the majority of RealWeds content, however, if you don’t fall into one of these vendor categories, you aren’t excluded from submitting! Be sure to reach out to the other vendors who worked on the wedding to see if you can do a “group” submission, or have permission granted to use their photos (if they were the photographer) or photos of their work (if they are a vendor whose work is featured in pictures of your work) in your submission.

Rule 2: Stay organized

Many people neglect RealWeds submissions during busy season because they can take a lot of time to submit, however, they shouldn’t so long as you cover your bases and stay organized. Working RealWeds submissions into your client contracts is a great way to speed things up, as this way, you aren’t chasing after couples once they are married to get their permission.

Additionally, this opens up the conversation with the couple to find out what other vendors they are working with. Getting other vendor information as early as possible is going to help you track down other vendor’s whose permission you might also need in order to submit before the submission crunch. Meghan recommends connecting with the photographer and planner 30-60 days before the wedding to ensure that you can submit.

Rule 3: Create a workflow

Meghan’s best tip for managing your PR strategy during busy season? Embrace apps and programs to manage your work! Programs like Dropbox that can manage files and to-do list apps, like Basecamp, can help keep you organized and create a workflow. Another tip? Utilize block scheduling! Time might be limited during busy season, but if you schedule a fair amount of it each week to work exclusively on PR, there is no excuse for not working on it.

Rule 4: Be realistic

The last rule? You have to be realistic! If you can’t dedicate three hours a week to your PR strategy, then setting the goal to send in 10 RealWeds submissions, pitch multiple media outlets and maintain your press relationships, isn’t realistic. By setting realistic goals, you will be motivated to keep pushing forward and won’t beat yourself up about not reaching them.

You should always be asking yourself these three questions to determine if you are being realistic with your goals:

  • What got accomplished? What didn’t?
  • How can I adjust my organization/workflow?
  • Was it worth the effort?

…But not so fast!

Now that you have the rules about how to best manage your PR during busy season, don’t dive in. Building a strong PR strategy that will endure even the craziest of busy season ups-and-downs takes a considerable amount of time to plan. Before you begin, take a good look at your website, your galleries and your social feeds. What is the point of directing people to your site or branding outlets when they are not where you want them to be? Take a close look at what you are working with, evaluate where you want to go, make any adjustments that you need to to get there, and then dive in.

It can be hard managing your PR strategy during busy season. However, so long as you follow these rules and are prepared to charge into the season with a strong PR strategy in place, you should be set to see the benefits of it. Keep momentum going, set realistic goals, and dedicate the time you need to implement good plans, and there should be no doubt that your PR strategy will be a success this season. Good luck!

These tips originally appeared in WeddingWire’s Webinar “Build Your Reputation by Earning Publicity (Even During Busy Season!)” with Meghan Ely, WeddingWire Education Expert and owner of wedding PR firm OFD Consulting. You can view the webinar recording through your account.

» How to Create the Ultimate Media List

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

Before launching a new PR campaign to publicize your wedding business, it is wise to research and carefully select the media that will receive your pitches and hopefully share your work and wisdom. A media wish list is more than just a collection of outlets and names in your genre; it is actually a set of goals for your campaigns, and the outline of your overall plan to gain attention and exposure. The ultimate media list takes time and research to create, but as the secret weapon behind your PR efforts, it can be pure gold.

Evaluate your goals

Every powerful media list starts with research. Use your market research to create a profile of your perfect clients. Understand who they are, what their level of education is, what they eat and read and enjoy. Know their habits – do they watch local morning television or the evening news? Do they use Facebook, Instagram or Twitter? Do they read alumni publications, special interest magazines, or popular blogs?

Understanding the behavior and psychology behind your ideal clients will help you determine which media outlets are strategically valuable, and which are not. You have limited time and effort to expend pitching media, so your list must be curated and your attempts strategic.

Craft a message

I have to emphasize how important it is that you craft an appealing message that answers your target’s needs and communicates something about your business that you want them to know. You’re creating a connection with your prospects, but your opportunity to influence with each press mention is brief, so you want your message to be clear, powerful and on point.

Consider what you have to share. Is it images of your recent work, great advice or an introduction of a product or service new to your market? Can you make relevant commentary on a current event or do you have a special connection to a popular trend? What do you have to offer that will intrigue your prospects enough to act and impress editors enough to include you?

Choose your target media

You have a profile of your ideal prospects and a message you want them to hear. Who should you pitch? At first, you’ll have a broad list of media of all kinds: blogs, magazines, local TV shows, national TV shows, radio and association publications to name just a few. Narrow the field by thinking of which ones appeal to your ideal prospects. Which match up to your profile? Put yourself in your prospects’ shoes and think of their lifestyle habits to help you determine where they receive their messages.

Reach out

It’s not always easy to predict which media will have the influence you are looking for, especially if your ideal client is different from you. When you don’t know, ask! Contact your current clients or happy past couples and ask them about their habits. Ask how they found you can how they tell their friends about you. Build on your current success.

Collect pertinent information

Once you have created a list, gather contact information to make it easy to pursue each lead when you have something to share. You’ll need the publication name, point of contact, email address, submission requirements and known deadlines which should be added to your editorial calendar. Staying organized will increase the efficiency of your efforts and yield greater results.

I know it seems like a lot of work, and may even appear to be a step that can be skipped, but curating your ultimate media list is a powerful way to focus your efforts and achieve ultimate success. Take the time now and you will reap the rewards in successful press down the road.

Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding marketing and wedding PR firm OFD Consulting, which specializes in getting wedding professionals their brides. She is a highly sought after industry speaker and serves as a Public Relations adjunct professor for Virginia Commonwealth University, specializing in PW writing and brand promotion.

» 5 Big Ways LGBTQ Wedding Planning Has Changed in 5 Short Years

Photo by B. Jones Photography

This article was written by WeddingWire Education Expert, Kathryn Hamm.

Five years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decided that New York resident Edie Windsor’s out-of-state marriage (she married Thea Spyer in Canada in 2007) would be recognized in New York, where same-sex marriage had been legally recognized since 2011.

This landmark decision immediately opened the door for the many same-sex couples who wished to seek legal partnership recognition but could not do so in their home states, and ultimately paved the way toward SCOTUS’ Obergefell decision in 2015, which embraced marriage equality nationwide. Those legal shifts, though taking place in courtrooms, ultimately had a significant impact on the wedding market and the choices of engaged LGBTQ couples.

Time Flies

Prior to 2013, LGBTQ weddings were smaller, had older brides and grooms, were more custom than traditional in design, and the couples themselves tended to pay for the ceremony and celebration. After 2005, when Massachusetts legalized marriage and others followed, some couples were planning legal elopements to travel to jurisdictions for a marriage certificate, but many were choosing to have non-legally-recognized ceremonies and otherwise share their commitments more publicly.

Though I have a file full of instructive anecdotes and isolated data snapshots to explain what was happening in the market back in the day, it was 2013 that offered a turning point for enough data to explain how the same-sex wedding market has been changing with legal recognition. The result? With the spread of marriage equality recognition, we could see in real time how LGBTQ weddings were beginning to assimilate into the “mainstream” market and, conversely, how non-LGBTQ weddings had begun to adopt LGBTQ innovation more frequently, including trends like ‘pop up’ or micro-weddings, blended wedding parties, color variety in wedding parties, laypeople as officiants, and more.

Newlywed Report: LGBTQ Market Analysis

Over the past few years, WeddingWire’s WedInights team has issued its annual Newlywed Report, which is chock full of insights about today’s couples, gleaned from the answers from almost 18,000 participants (the most comprehensive and rigorous report in the industry). This essential tool is important to help wedding professionals stay up-to-date on the latest trends, particularly when it comes to same-sex couples because the LGBTQ market segment has been in a state of constant growth and flux for the past decade. What was true five years ago is not necessarily true today. Now that the U.S. is celebrating three years of marriage equality nationwide, however, trends within the LGBTQ market segment are beginning to stabilize, making it easier for wedding professionals to make thoughtful decisions about their marketing plans and service offerings for all couples.

‘What was true five years ago is not necessarily true today.’

Before I highlight a few key shifts in lesbian and gay wedding trends, it’s important to note that this analysis draws primarily from the WeddingWire Newlywed Reports (2015-2018) and WeddingWire Trends & Traditions Surveys, which offer a direct year-over-year comparison of questions. It also references trends revealed in the 2015 Contemporary Couples Report (by WeddingWire, GayWeddings, Community Marketing, Inc and the Gay Wedding Institute) of those who married in 2014, and a related report, Same-Sex Couples: Weddings & Engagements (by Community Marketing, Inc and the Gay Wedding Institute) of couples surveyed in 2013, but who may have celebrated a union or become engaged at any time in the previous years.

Five Big Changes for Same-Sex Couples

#1 Parents are stepping up. And in?

More than ever, same-sex couples are receiving help paying for their weddings. Five years ago, a strong majority of same-sex couples (79% in 2013) reported paying for all or most of the wedding themselves, compared to 2017 where that number has dropped significantly to 59% of couples. This shift tells us that more parents (and extended family) are participating in and supporting their kids’ LGBTQ weddings, and, as a result, the overall wedding spend is increasing as more vendors are hired, more guests are invited, and as LGBTQ couples have shifted away from practical and often quickly planned legal elopements to a more typical engagement and wedding planning process.

This also means that identifying the decision-maker in the booking process may be shifting now that a couple’s parents may have more financial investment in the wedding and, as such, an expectation around decision-making.

#2 Growth of the guestlist

The growth of the guestlist at gay and lesbian weddings is a direct result of more couples coming out, more couples choosing to marry, and more couples feeling comfortable celebrating with a broader circle of families, friends, and co-workers. It’s also a function of being able to get legally married in one’s home state and having the chance to plan accordingly. In fact, the 2015 Survey of Contemporary Couples revealed that 79% of same-sex couples were planning a wedding ceremony and reception, almost doubling the result (43%) of couples surveyed previously (Same-Sex Couples: Weddings & Engagements, 2013).

  • Prior to 2013, the size of the average guestlist was 65
  • In 2014, the average size was 80
  • In 2015 and 2016: 100
  • In 2017: 107 (which still lags behind non-LGBTQ couples average guestlist size of 127)

In sum, having both a ceremony and a reception is a relatively new development for a majority of same-sex couples and marks a major shift with clear planning and budgeting implications and has had a direct impact on the growth in size of the average guestlist.

#3 Size of wedding party

As same-sex weddings have grown in size, so, too, has the supporting cast. In 2013, 63% of same-sex couples reported that they had anywhere from 0 to 3 persons in their wedding party. Yes, you are hearing that correctly. Five years ago, same-sex couples had 3 or fewer people standing up with them as witnesses. Today, the average wedding party size for same-sex couples is 7, compared to 9 for heterosexual couples.

More moving parts, more guests and bigger wedding parties are just another indicator that same-sex couples are following the structural rules of traditional wedding planning compared to the highly personalized, more modestly-sized ceremonies from years’ past.

#4 Blended Wedding Party

There is perhaps no better example of a wedding custom than the wedding party in order to illustrate not only the difference in the willingness of same-sex couples to break with tradition, but also an impressive example of how gay weddings have influenced straight weddings.

In WeddingWire’s 2016 Trends and Traditions Report, only 14% of LGBTQ couples reported dividing their wedding parties based on gender. That is, guys on one side and gals on the other. Same-sex couples have always tended to blend their wedding parties, asking their closest supporters to stand with them, regardless of gender and often in whatever attire they choose (eg women wearing pants and dresses to suit). What’s most remarkable is to understand how this repurposed vision of a wedding party for same-sex couples has dramatically influenced the choices of opposite-sex couples in a short amount of time. Seventy-four (74%) of straight couples divided their wedding parties by gender in 2015, but the needle moved to 69% in 2016 and, more recently, dropped to 60% in 2017.

‘What’s most remarkable is to understand how this repurposed vision of a wedding party for same-sex couples has dramatically influenced the choices of opposite-sex couples in a short amount of time.’

As same-sex couples are assimilated into the mainstream market, it’s clear that there has been a two-way street of influence, which has been amplified by Millennial couples, who choose rituals and make planning choices that are highly customized to their preferences.

#5 Age of the couple

In 2014, Jennifer Senior, then a writer for the New York Magazine, noted that one third of LGBTQ newlyweds were over 50. WeddingWire’s Newlywed Report revealed that the average age of same-sex couples who had married in 2015 and 2016 was 35 (with a smidge of variation in age between gay grooms and lesbian brides). In 2017, the age dropped to 34. Today, LGBTQ couples still skew a bit older than non-LGBTQ couples (the average age for heterosexual couples in 2017 was 32), but the shrinking gap reveals not only how opposite-sex couples are getting married a few years later in life, but also how same-sex couples are getting younger.

This is just one more example of how the engagement and wedding planning trajectory for same-sex couples is assimilating to match the typical relationship trajectory for heterosexual couples: start dating, (perhaps cohabitate), get engaged, and get married. With more open acceptance of LGBTQ individuals and couples, one’s sexual orientation is no longer a factor in one’s interest in and access to marriage and wedding planning services.

kathryn hammThis post was written by Kathryn Hamm WeddingWire Education Expert, Diversity and Inclusion Specialist. Kathryn is also co-author of the groundbreaking book, The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian and Gay Wedding Photography. Follow her on Twitter @madebykathryn.

» Still Waiting to Hear From a Lead? Here’s Why.

Securing responses to your lead replies is a common pain point for wedding professionals and it’s easy to understand why. When potential couples reach out to inquire about your services and you reply only to never hear back, it’s frustrating. Maybe the person was busy or forgot, or maybe your reply accidentally landed in their spam folder. But the harsher truth may be that it was your reply that cut communication short.

WeddingWire Education Guru Alan Berg explains that there is always room for improvement when it comes to your lead replies. If you’re not getting the responses you desire, Alan has some explanations and tips to help you turn your response success around.

You’re taking too long to reply

7 in 10 couples say that vendor responsiveness is the most important factor they consider when looking to book their wedding team. That seems totally rational, right? Our research also shows that after submitting an online inquiry, 40% of couples note that they didn’t hear back from vendors within five days. As wedding professionals, you should stay on top of your inquiries because if you aren’t, it’s probably costing you sales. Think about it: if you inquired about a product or service that you wanted to purchase and had to wait at least five days, wouldn’t you consider finding it somewhere else?

Approximately 50% of couples choose the vendor that replies first. Because time is clearly of the essence here, do your best to reply as soon as possible. Alan recommends waiting no more than 24 hours to respond.

You’re asking for a phone call or meeting

When a couple reaches out for the first time, it’s usually in reference to something specific (“What is your price for x?”, “Are you available on x date?”). Remember that they did not ask you to have a phone call or a meeting— they asked a question. Replying back “Are you available anytime to chat or come in for a meeting?” instead of answering their question could cause a missed opportunity for a reply.

You suggest a new communication channel

Along with timeliness, nearly half of all couples express frustration when their communication channels aren’t reciprocated. To better your chances at a response, use the same communication channel to respond until your back and forth exchange gets to the point where another method might be better. If a potential customer emails you, you should email back. As a matter of fact, more and more bookings are being done entirely over email, without a single phone call. Remember: “If they wanted to call you, they would have called.”

You’re not thinking mobile

If your replies aren’t crafted for mobile, you’re severely lowering the chances of securing a reply back. Approximately 80% of couples use emails to inquire about services and 70% of WeddingWire consumer emails are opened on mobile devices. To fit mobile’s demands, keep your replies short. As we mentioned, couples are usually asking you a simple question. By keeping things short, not only are you guaranteed not to overwhelm, but you are maximizing the readability of your reply, too.

Another mobile-first tip: Alan suggests that you don’t send attachments in your first few replies. Most attachments fall into the “overkill” category and can overwhelm a couple with information they don’t yet need. But, more importantly, most attachments are designed for desktop so they can be hard to both read and display on a mobile device.

You don’t ask a single question

Not asking a question in your reply can be detrimental. While it may seem that ending with a friendly “I look forward to hearing from you!” suggests to the couple that you are expecting a reply from them, this line doesn’t demand a reply from them.

Instead, Alan suggests that you should ask a “low commitment” question in every single correspondence to guarantee a reply back. Unlike “high commitment” questions such as “When would you like to come in to meet?”, low commitment questions like “How many guests are you expecting?” or “Do you have a venue secured yet?” begins the conversational back-and-forth needed to make a sale.

You’re avoiding pricing

Price questions shouldn’t be something to fear. Be upfront about price and don’t duck the question. Put yourself in their shoes: when you ask about price and someone tap dances around it, how do you feel? If you are concerned about sharing an exact price, give a price range instead. That way you are not overwhelming a couple with every price, and can leave it open ended to ask the follow up question “what services in particular were you thinking about?”

You’re starting your reply with “Congratulations on your engagement!”

It might sound nit-picky, but we promise it’s not. Most wedding professionals start their reply with some form of congratulations to the happy couple. When couples are doing their research and are beginning to contact vendors, every preview line in their inbox starts to look exactly the same. Change things up to ensure that you get noticed!

You’re using automation or copy and paste

Sounding disingenuous is not going to result in a sale. When a couple sends you an inquiry and they receive an automatic reply saying “someone will be in contact with you shortly” it doesn’t add anything to the conversation, even if you end up sending your reply within five minutes of that message going out.

Additionally, it can be really obvious when things are copy and pasted. When a couple is under the impression that the email you sent to them is also sent to everyone else, they probably won’t believe that you can offer them the personalized services they want. If you do have copy and paste text that is generalized and you just can’t part with it, consider having someone who is completely unfamiliar with your business read it. If they believe that the segment reads like it is copy and paste text, it’s time to nix it.

It is easy to get defeated when lead replies don’t turn into sales, all the more so when conversation quickly dies out. However, if a couple is reaching out to you, it’s because they are interested in you.Know that in reaching out, a couple has eliminated a huge portion of your competition. While they might also be reaching out to a few more similar wedding professionals, you are still a part of the select group that they liked and wanted to hear from because they want to book you.

These tips originally appeared in WeddingWire’s Webinar “Replying to Leads” with Alan Berg, WeddingWire Education Expert and CSP. Premium Members can view the webinar recording in their accounts.