» Surprise and Delight Ideas for the Off Season

The off season is fast approaching and, as you find more time in your schedule, consider it an opportunity to increase productivity and map out PR and marketing strategies for the year ahead. No solid marketing plan is complete without a focus on positive experiences for customers and creative partners, as they’re in an ideal position to refer business.

Surprise and delight creates opportunities to really ‘wow’ someone unexpectedly. It’s a proven strategy among Fortune 500 companies and, as wedding professionals, this is our place to shine. We specialize in hospitality and our business is designed around pleasing people — surprise and delight is simply a way to take it to the next level.

Always prepare first

Implementing surprise and delight touchpoints should be a strategic move, so don’t just dive in and start handing free things out to every client that walks in the door. Start by asking yourself the real questions: What are you hoping to accomplish? Who are you trying to reach? What are your strengths? Do you have the resources required to make it happen? The answers to these questions will guide your approach to client and partner outreach.

Start small

Don’t overwhelm yourself upfront with complicated tactics. Start out with a test group as a trial to get your feet wet. This allows you the time to work out the kinks and evaluate feedback. Focus on what will bring you the most relationships, as well as maintain the valuable ones that you already have.

Get to planning

Once your strategy is ironed out, have a brainstorming session with your team or yourself. The sky is the limit, so don’t be afraid to get creative. However, be mindful that some of the best things can be small as long as they’re thoughtful. Keep in mind that it may not be everyone’s off season — hotels, for example, are busy all year round especially during the holiday season. Consider how you can surprise and delight without causing inconvenience.

Build it into your workflow

Surprise and delight strategies should come naturally; if forced, they can lose their genuineness. Think about how to incorporate small tactics throughout your existing workflow. What is one thing that you can do for newly booked clients during the off season? If you use a project management software like Basecamp or Asana, schedule tasks to keep your plan moving. Don’t forget to track retention and referrals, as it helps determine ROI and identify what’s working and what needs tweaking.

There you have it — a starter’s guide to surprise and delight that is sure to get more business through your doors. The off season frees up some of your schedule, so it’s a great time to work on implementing ongoing strategy for client experience. Still, be sure to carve out time to rest and relax over your slow period. Marketing and PR endeavors are no good if you’re not taking care of yourself and taking the time to get re-energized.


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.

» WeddingWire Networking Night Philadelphia

This Tuesday, we hosted our WeddingWire Networking Night Philadelphia for local wedding professionals at the turn-of-the-century Ballroom At The Ben – Finley’s Catering.

Wedding professionals had the opportunity to enjoy this event in an exquisite space with a striking European ambiance.

Guests relaxed over delectable hors d’oeuvres, sipped wine, and networked with other local vendors across all service categories as well as members of the WeddingWire team. Plus, they learned local-industry statistics and pricing tips, presented by WeddingWire’s Education Expert, Alan Berg!

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. Check out the full gallery of photos!

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

» 6 Tips for Using Hashtags

Photo by Anne-Claire Brun

Hashtags are a great tool for businesses that want to use their social media presence to grow and reach new clients. Instagram posts with at least one hashtag have 12.6% more engagement than those without. So what are some things to keep in mind when using hashtags? Read on!

A Guide to Hashtagging:

1. Stay away from generic hashtags

One of the biggest mistakes when using hashtags is sticking to popular ones. Your content can easily get lost in the sea of generic hashtags due to the number of people using it. Instead, find hashtags that are specific to your clients, your area or have industry keywords, something like #ijustsaidyes or #hejustproposed or #dcweddings as opposed to a generic #eventplanner.

2. Research your hashtags

A great way to find which hashtags work for you is by experimenting. To get started, select a variety of hashtags that are relevant to your work, some generic with high post density, and some niche with fewer posts and use them when publishing new photos. If after a few hours your photo shows up as one of the top or recent posts under the hashtag, then you’ve found a winner and you should continue testing and using it.

3. Vary what you use

Once you find the hashtags that work for you, vary their usage according to the type of content you’re posting. You want to be relevant when categorizing your content as well as reach new audiences with a variety of hashtags.

4. Don’t overcomplicate  

If you want to expand your reach to other couples, you shouldn’t use complicated hashtags that can easily be misspelled and difficult to find. With people’s ever-shortening attention span, a simple hashtag that can quickly point them towards your services is the best thing you can do. The last thing you want is a typo coming in the way of your business!

5. Use the couple’s hashtags

When posting about a specific couple, try to use their wedding hashtag to reach their immediate family and friends. Being able to interact with the couple and their guests will increase engagement on your posts — and high engagement is typically rewarded by Instagram.

6. Start your own

We love the idea of starting your own hashtag to create a community. It’s a fun way to brand yourself and monitor what people are saying/sharing about your business. The hashtag you use for Instagram can also be used across channels to promote and create conversations around your services while functioning in a way as reviews for your prospective clients to see how past clients have reacted to your work.

Hashtags can be daunting to navigate and use, but don’t be afraid because they are allies in promoting your business and reaching a wider audience!

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

» Wedding MBA 2018: See the Highlights!

We had such an exciting week in Las Vegas for another great Wedding MBA conference! We loved connecting with thousands of wedding industry colleagues and friends from across the globe. From outstanding education to a fun-filled celebration, our WeddingWire team was thrilled to see so many of vendor friends doing what they love!

Here are a few of our favorite highlights:

Expert Education

We loved sharing business tips, industry insights and a range of education with you. Our Education Experts presented 16 times at the event — on a wide variety of topics from marketing, to websites, to sales and more. We were also so pleased to include some category-specific education from our Experts. Check out the slides from our presentations here.

Passport to fun

We had so much fun with everyone who stopped by the WeddingWire booth to say hello to the team, and collect passport stamps for swag. Our team loved seeing your selfies in our photo booths provided by The Brand Booth, and watching you contribute to our coloring wall. We were also able to meet with hundreds of pros to share account advice, set their businesses up for success on WeddingWire, and collect product feedback for future updates and improvements. Our team loved seeing friends—old and new.

Celebrating with pros

It wasn’t all business insights and education — there was plenty of fun along the way! We took the time to unwind, after a full day at the conference and take in some Vegas nightlife with great music at the annual WeddingWire party at the Foxtail Pool & Nightclub. Jason Jani of SCE Event Group spun another amazing set, featuring electric violinist Lydia Ansel.

For more event takeaways and to stay up-to-date on all the latest WeddingWire happenings for pros, be sure to follow WeddingWireEDU on Facebook and Instagram. We hope you see you again next year!

 

» Venue Insights: How to Stand Out to Couples

Photo by Metropolist

It’s official, engagement season is here and the majority of proposals are about to happen. As reported in WeddingWire’s annual Newlywed Report, December is the top month for engagements — can you guess what big decision couples will make first? Selecting their venue, of course (80% hire one).

Earlier this year, we gathered feedback from more than 900 couples about how they find and select their venue. Based on the comprehensive findings, here are 5 tips that every venue should consider:

Make sure your site clearly communicates the ceremony space (if offered)

More than half of couples (56%) held their ceremony at the same location as the reception.  A major reason for this is convenience: 7 out of 10 choose to hold the two events back to back. If your venue offers this as a feature, it’s worthwhile to review your website, social media accounts and other marketing materials to be sure it’s immediately clear to couples. Don’t make couples scroll to the bottom of your site or read through the FAQ section to determine what options you offer for the ceremony.

Include photos that give a complete view of the venue and/or ceremony space

The picture at the top of this article is a great example of what visuals couples find valuable. Having the full view makes it easier to imagine how the space could be used. When photos only show a partial view — such as a zoomed in photo of the ceremony area — it results in uncertainty about whether the space fits their needs (What will it be like to walk down the aisle? How can the tables be arranged? and so on…)

When it comes to your Storefront, prioritize images of the ceremony and main reception area over other photo types.

Include photos that show different layouts and looks for the venue

One of the top challenges couples encounter is the uncertainty around how much a venue is willing to customize (roughly 1 in 3 say they encountered this). Couples find it valuable when they can see examples of different ways that a venue could be utilized. Showcase how a space can be arranged with different lighting, table set-ups or decor. You don’t need to capture everything, but including a few examples will make it easier for couples to imagine different possibilities for their big day.

It’s also recommended to highlight any features that are particularly special, such as an interesting bar set-up, one of a kind views or special food amenities. This provides additional ideas about how a couple can customize the space that they may not have even considered.

Minimize photos that do not give couples a feel for services the venue offers

Couples will contact an average of 4 venues, so you want to do everything possible to make a strong first impression. Our research reveals images that don’t feature the space you offer are seen as less valuable. This means close up images of the first kiss or the couple getting ready (with no view of the background setting) should be minimized. You can also skip anything with no connection to what you offer, such as images of the wedding favors or the rings.

Remember to make couples feel special

Wedding planning can be very emotional so this is an important one to remember. Couples tell us that one of the things that stood out on venue tours was when the staff went out of their way to get to know them. Whether this means remembering certain details about the couple or taking extra time on the tour to understand how you can fulfill their preferences, it will stand out to couples as they evaluate their options.

Looking for more examples on how to implement this? Check out this guide.

 

WeddingWire Director of Insights, Lauren Goodson solicits opinions from thousands of couples each month to keep a pulse on wedding planning trends and changes in the wedding landscape.

» How to Keep Your Storefront Fresh Year-Round

storefront tips

Photo by Bradley Images

Engagement season is here, which means a lot of newly-engaged couples will soon be looking for their wedding team. This means now is the time to update your online presence! Refresh your Storefront and put your best foot forward to get noticed and book new business. Not sure where to start? Don’t worry – we’ve created a simple, step-by-step guide for Storefront revisions and updates.

Here are a few easy ways to ensure your Storefront will make a strong first impression for your business this engagement season:  

Upload high-quality images – and make sure your main image stands out!

Even though it’s small, your thumbnail image is the first thing couples will see! Make sure to draw them in with a high-quality professional photo that showcases your products or services. In addition, show examples of your work by uploading a variety of photos that are specific to your business and highlight your strengths.

Take action:

  • Avoid using generic photos. You want to showcase your expertise in a way that will catch the eye of a couple. Be sure to use professional photography to ensure that the photo composition, lighting, and focus are ideal.

  • Test it on mobile. 42% of the time couples are looking at your Storefronts from their phone, so take a moment to ensure that your thumbnail is compatible. Is it missing the detail you were trying to show? Did you turn the couple into headless horsemen? If so, fix it!

  • Get rid of photos that don’t feature your product or service. If a couple is looking for their venue and comes across a close-up photo of shoes, that’s not what they want to see, even if it is a beautiful photo! Only feature photos that can portray your product or service in some way.

Pro tip: Make sure your main image and photos meet WeddingWire’s Storefront content requirements when making updates.

Verify that all information is up-to-date.

Take the time to read through your FAQs and your business description (and all of the text on your Storefront); and as silly as it might feel, do it out loud! Does it mention old services that you no longer offer? Question every sentence to make sure you are describing your business accurately.

Take action:

  • Check out the Storefront content requirements for guidelines. We encourage you to update your Storefront regularly so that it accurately portrays your brand and your services. You want to send a consistent message to potential clients and be sure to make a strong first impression when they visit your Storefront. Keep in mind that WeddingWire’s content team will review and update your Storefront content whenever you make changes in order to help improve your ranking across top search engines and help you book more couples.

  • Make sure pricing and FAQs are up-to-date. Remember that 88% of couples want to see pricing information before getting in contact with a vendor, so be sure to keep your pricing details updated. If the couple is on your Storefront, you’ve made it to the next round! Make sure that you are providing all key details they are looking for when evaluating your business and comparing you to other wedding professionals in your category.  

Captivate couples using your reviews.

After your photos, the next thing a couple will look at is your reviews. The more recent reviews that you have, the more engaged couples will be able to see the consistency of your work, past and present, and the way couples feel about working with you.

While having a ton of reviews is great, it’s not the only thing couples are considering when they are looking at your reviews. Couples are also looking at the recency, your responses and emotional keywords that can connect them to experiences you’ve provided other couples.

Take action:

  • Update your highlighted review. Premium members can highlight a review; choose a review that is recent, short-to-medium in length and uses great emotional words at the beginning. Don’t pick the longest review you’ve ever received. Couples are likely to skim, so you want them to quickly get the gist when reading through. This doesn’t have to be your most recent review, but it should ideally be one from the same calendar year.

  • Respond to all reviews and make sure your responses include personal details about that couple’s day. These responses should be written with future couples in mind and show that you are engaged with the couple from start to finish.

Build these tips into your to-do list to make sure that you are maximizing your leads and bookings throughout engagement season. Even setting aside 30 minutes a week to respond to recent reviews and look over your Storefront will benefit you in the long run – you can do it!

» Off-Season Tips for Solidifying Vendor Relationships

Photo by Anchor & Pine Collective

We’ll never stop saying it – your success in the events industry is grounded in the relationships you form and maintain. This is a people-centric business so developing ties to like-minded professionals is a critical pillar in the foundation of every strong event company.

During the busy season, the efforts that are necessary to finesse relationships are limited by your time and energy. However, the off-season provides not only opportunities to meet new people, but also an opportunity to circle back to those you’ve wanted to get to know better and find new ways to leverage your strongest ties; it is also the perfect time of year to put into place systems that will make it look like you’re the king or queen of networking the rest of the year!

Here are just a few ways you can solidify your vendor relationships during your off-season.

Maximize your attendance and participation in associations
It’s hard to participate and be present during peak season, because you simply can’t be in two (or three, or five) places at once. So during your next lull, double-down on your commitment to attending all available networking and educational events.

Look for opportunities to attend meetings, deliver professional development as a speaker to your peers, and contribute your time, product and services whenever the opportunity arises to the organizations you support with your membership. Make a big impression now to stay on your colleagues’ radar when you can’t actually attend.

The off-season is also a great time to vet new associations or positively respond to invitations to be a guest or guest speaker at new groups. You may or may not ultimately join, but your willingness to support other professionals will someday be returned in kind.

Be strategic
Think about the ways that you can be relevant to others when you can’t actually be face-to-face with them. Do you have a blog or active social media platforms? During the off-season, work with your colleagues to exchange content and pre-schedule posts that offer valuable information to each other’s audiences. You’ll each benefit from fresh and useful entries on your feeds, and will demonstrate to others how much faith you have in your business relationship.

I always advocate for generosity, believing that paying it forward is one of our strongest business-building policies. The off-season is a great time to look for creative ways to share referrals and help nudge the professionals you trust towards their own new successes. It’s also the right time to thank those businesses that have referred you during the year for their generosity. Send handwritten thank you notes, fun tokens of appreciation, and drop in for personal visits and expressions of gratitude.

Use technology to plan for the next busy season
There are apps for everything, and we strongly believe in using them to work smarter. A good to-do list or calendar app can help you create reminders of important dates like colleague birthdays, anniversaries or business milestones. Use a drop-ship service during the off-season to pre-schedule little tokens and gifts to arrive with personal notes of appreciation. In our fast-paced industry, thoughtfulness stands out more than any ad campaign or promotion.

Whether you’re at the top of your game, or just starting out, nothing is more integral to the success of your events business than your connections. Use the gift of the slow season to find new and innovative ways to extend your network and solidify your highly valuable vendor relationships.


Kevin Dennis is the editor of
WeddingIQ and the owner of Fantasy Sound Event Services, a full-service event company based in Livermore, California. Dennis is the past president for Silicon Valley NACE, and national vice president for WIPA.

 

» 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 Justin Kunimoto Photography

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.

» WeddingWire Networking Night Chicago

This Monday, we hosted our WeddingWire Networking Night Chicago for local wedding professionals at the art-deco Walnut Room at the Hotel Allegro.

Wedding professionals had the opportunity to enjoy this roaring 20s inspired space that fulfilled our Gatsby decor dreams!
Guests sipped on wine and enjoyed delicious appetizers including a shrimp cocktail bar and pork loin carving station! 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 improving your SEO, presented by WeddingWire’s Associate Director of SEO, Mike Anderson!

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. Check out the full gallery of photos!

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

» Are Your Salutations Inclusive?

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

The addition of a drop-down menu to a website’s sign up form or the collection of a prospective client’s title can offer a welcoming signal to the newcomer and be a help to your team, but it can also send messages of blind spots.

A recent case in point: I was booking a hotel room online with a global brand, and was delighted to stumble upon an inspired (optional) drop-down menu for my “Title.” From Senator to Princess to Pastor or Judge, Major, or Chef; it was tempting to pick something creative just for the purposes of my stay. I could imagine it! I would announce myself at the front desk thusly: “Hello! Ambassador Kathryn Hamm, at your service!” accompanied by a deep bow with a flourish. But, don’t worry… I won’t!

Naturally, the website’s drop-down menu also included the standard Mr., Mrs., Ms. and Dr.; and, if you would be traveling as a married heterosexual couple who follows traditional etiquette, you would have the option to choose Mr. & Mrs. — and would hopefully remember that Emily Post would expect you to use the man’s name in the first name, last name fields to follow.

What I appreciated about this company’s drop-down menu is that they were showing some creativity in terms of the titles that their customers might like to use and, as such, these titles might offer additional information about their needs or expectations. Especially on a global scale. One could, for example, choose Senor (stet.) or Madame, which could indicate something about the country of origin or what language the person might prefer upon check-in.

But just as one can go awry by using fiancé (rather than fiancée) to describe an engaged woman, it’s important to be familiar with the correct expression, accents, and meanings of various languages, especially those not native to you. In the example above, the drop-down menu referenced “Senor” rather than Señor; and while many of us recognize the limitations of some keyboards, it doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to predict the impression that the use of “Senor” vs “Señor” might make on the gentleman using that drop-down menu or generic form. Additionally, the inclusion of “Mr. & Mrs.” but the omission of “Ms. & Ms.” or “Mr. & Mr.” might send a cautionary, even if unintended, signal to the LGBTQ traveler.

In that spirit, I’d like to offer a salutation that may be new to you and can leave a strong, favorable impression on members of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) community who are inquiring about your services.

Increasingly, younger couples and especially those in the LGBTQ community are recognizing gender expression as more of a fluid construct. That is, they are more likely to appreciate that someone might not identify as exclusively male/masculine or female/feminine. Thus, rather than using a gendered title like “Ms.” or “Mr.,” they might use a third gender-neutral salutation, “Mx.” (pronounced ‘mix’).

What salutations do you use on your drop-down menus, contact and registration forms? Or do you use them at all?

The advantage of including a salutation that each member of the engaged couple can select — especially if you don’t have verbal or visual cues to help you to determine a person’s gender or gender identity — offers a great way to get more information about the couple. Do they identify as a same-sex or opposite-sex couple (if they select Mr. & Mr. or Ms. & Ms.) or can you learn a bit more about what the potential needs of the couple might be if at least one of them selects Mx. indicating a non-binary (or genderqueer) gender identity?

Beyond the direct advantages for a genderqueer couple, your use of Mx. will send an open, inclusive signal to other members of the LGBTQ community and their allies.

One final tip before I close: it’s easy enough to create a template of options that will exist on paper. But, if you’re unsure as to how to go about this in a personal intake interview or sales call, remember that one can avoid an incorrect assumption by asking directly, “What’s your preferred gender pronoun?” (i.e., he/him/his; she/her/hers; they/them/theirs; etc.).

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.

» 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.