» How to Ensure You’re Referral-Worthy

Elizabeth Fogarty

If you were to ask us for one of our secret ‘ingredients’ to a successful business, we’d immediately think about the power of referrals. While you can’t depend on them as a stand-alone way to generate business, referrals are a fantastic way to secure new clients and better yet – they’re often paired with a positive review from whomever is recommending your business. So, how can you maximize your visibility and likelihood that others will refer you?

Make sure your offerings are up-to-date

Step one for guaranteeing your referral-worthy status is actually an easy one, and it starts with simply evaluating your services and online presence. Take the time to really sit down and ensure that your business is accessible to your ideal audience. Are your products and/or services appealing? Are they relevant?

To take it a step further, perform a full review of your website and digital presence and see how you’re being perceived online. This doesn’t necessarily mean going through and picking apart your Yelp reviews (although feedback is a great way to see what you may need to update), but rather making sure that you’re displaying any press or awards that may also elevate your status in the industry. Your portfolio will speak volumes, so keep your past work as a reference for potential clients.

Be consistent in your communications

Whether it’s a new client or a fellow professional, how you present yourself and the level of genuine communication you relay to them is key. You want to present yourself as a consistent business person and even more so, one that goes the extra mile.

Unfortunately for us in the wedding sphere, we don’t generate a lot of repeat business as most people will only have one wedding. However, that isn’t to say that you shouldn’t put your best foot forward and stay in touch! Believe it or not, past clients are some of your best marketing assets, and you can ensure their experience with you is memorable by staying in touch. This can be as simple as sending a bottle of champagne and a card their way on their one-year wedding anniversary – a small but powerful gift. They’ll be more likely to recommend you to a friend or family member that’s also in the market to plan a wedding.

Strategize and be patient!

You never want to come off as pushy at any stage with a client or fellow creative partner. The ROI of a referral may not be instant, but when the new business does start rolling in, you’ll be grateful for the strategy and steps you took to get there.

We like to say that the best way to receive referrals is often to give referrals. Other creative partners that you notice are making a difference in the industry by providing exceptional service can also benefit, and they’ll take notice that you’re putting their name out there. The next time a client asks them for a recommendation, the chances they’ll give out your information are much higher.

Don’t overlook the benefits of a great referral. Putting a little bit of extra time in to update your website and give clients and partners alike a great experience will pave the way of an abundance of new business!

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 current international president for WIPA.

» Staying Relevant in the Changing Wedding Landscape

Fierce & Fringe Photography

Change can be hard, yet change is constant–especially in this industry. This means that we need to be able to predict and prepare for anything.  

Speaking honestly, it can get quite hectic. So, let’s break it down a little bit:

  • It’s an industry where our clients are hiring us for a single transaction (whether a product or a service), which means that we are constantly having to look for new clients to keep our businesses going.

  • That one transaction, though, is for a momentous moment in their life, so it’s not insignificant to them nor one they take lightly.

  • This is often the largest amount of money they have spent in one sitting.

  • And yet it’s also a brand-new experience to them, purchasing things they have little to no experience with.

  • At the same time, many of our clients are consistently price shopping and asking for discounts, partially because the dollars involved seem so large and partially because much of what they are hearing in wedding media or from family/friends say that they can (and should).

  • Plus, most of us have quite a bit of competition in our specific categories, due to relatively low barriers to entry, with new competitors entering regularly.

  • Then, add in that our clients almost always fall within a certain age range, no matter how old we get – which means that the spread between your age and their age grows every year.

  • And new trends (in weddings, food, attire, business, technology, etc etc etc…) emerge every year.

So, yes, maybe dynamic to the point of crazy would be a very appropriate way to describe owning and managing a wedding-related business.   

All of this means that we have to be, at the least, responding to change on a consistent basis and at the most, trying to predict change so that we can be ahead of it when it happens. Do you know a wedding pro who was super successful with a fully-booked calendar five years ago but is now struggling?  Although it can be a combination of reasons–like the forever changing landscape of what couples want and look for in wedding professionals, a lack of modernization in business practices or even the assumption that one can coast on prior success and relationships–a failing business could be prevented, or at least mitigated in some way.

No matter what the reason, you know that mandated disclaimer used in the investment world, “past performance is no guarantee of future results” – well, we need to take it to heart as well.

When talking with my coaching clients, here are some things that we talk about when it comes to change management and how to stay relevant:  

First, I like to put types of change into two categories: industry and client (or couples in our case). Industry change includes new technologies, new options that compete with the options you currently offer, and new marketing opportunities. For example, wedding cake bakers now having to contend with a myriad of other dessert options like donuts, nitrogen ice cream, cupcakes, etc.. While changes from the couples’ side include generational differences and priorities, wedding trends they want to emulate, and economics. When trying to predict and respond to change, it’s important to keep both these categories in mind.

Here is how I navigate the industry to stay relevant:

Paying attention to numbers – both inquiries and bookings. Where are the inquiries coming from? What marketing is working? What are your conversion rates at every stage in the process? Who is booking you and who is saying no? By keeping track of your numbers consistently you can start to see issues at earlier stages than if you only do your numbers once a year.

Attending networking events. Although less formal than educational events, networking events are a great place to chat with other wedding pros in your area. Having real relationships locally can help keep you relevant by keeping you front-of-mind with those who might be able to refer you. It gives you the opportunity to meet people who are new to your area/industry… maybe a new venue coordinator who is taking over at one of your favorite venues, or someone new in another category who might be a great fit for your couples. It’s also a great place to learn how other local wedding businesses are doing, what local trends are popping up, and compare notes about what is working for them and any changes they are making in their businesses.  

Forums and online groups. Joining online groups of wedding professionals, from different areas, can give you a better insight into what changes to expect.  Maybe something originating on the West coast in January and February weddings will be making its way into June and July weddings in the Midwest–allowing your change to be proactive vs. reactive.  These groups can also discuss what marketing tools and systems they are using, and the results they are achieving. While I always encourage community over competition no matter where you are, I do understand that sometimes the conversations within a nationwide group can be more honest, as you aren’t seen as each other’s local competition but rather as distant colleagues.

Local news. I know that this feels really old-school to say, yet it can help you stay on top of changes in the local market. It’s always good to know what the local economy is like, if there are new venues opening or if there are any local regulations coming into play that might affect your business.

Attending educational events. It could be a local meeting with a single education expert or a larger meeting with multiple sessions. Either way, educational events are a  great way to learn about new trends, technologies and ways to approach clients. And, don’t forget to visit the exhibit show if there is one. You might find something that allows you to streamline your business or something new and cool that your couples will love.   

Industry blogs, podcasts, etc. If you don’t have many local educational or networking opportunities, reading and listening to these can be a great way to get a picture of what others are doing, and how. Blogs and podcasts are also another great way to hear about trends that are coming or going.  

Reading what our couples are reading.  I know that as wedding professionals, we spend more time on blogs, podcasts, and articles that are meant for us and our side of the industry, however, we must also understand what our couples are reading. There are lots of articles to be found on wedding budgeting, trends, 10 best of something, etc. For example, as a wedding officiant, I should not at all be surprised by the number of friends and family performing ceremonies and by the fact that the number of them is increasing. After all, it is an option that has been written about on every major wedding information site (yes, frustratingly).

And yes, I understand that it’s very hard to be constantly paying attention to all of the above, while still having time to run your business and take great care of your couples. The point is to start small and eventually make these tasks a part of your regular working schedule. Be as prepared as possible and your wedding business can adapt more quickly and confidently.  

To learn more about evaluating and managing change, and to get help through the process, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.   

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.

» Diversifying Your Press to Keep Up

Change is inevitable in the world of Wedding PR, especially these days. In years past, you could enjoy a bountiful press portfolio by focusing on real wedding submissions, keeping an eye on HARO and participating in inspiration shoots.

With the ever-changing media landscape, and the increasingly competitive nature of wedding publicity, it’s essential to diversify your channels in 2019 to ensure your brand’s buzz is sustainable.

First–it’s time to rethink what promotion means to you. Yes, a fabulous real wedding feature is still a great way to go, and there are instances where an inspiration shoot will make sense for your business goals.  But as I’ve covered prior, it’s important to be mindful of media platforms on the rise,  as well as identify new opportunities where you can leverage your expertise, such as speaking. But in this day and age, it’s time to even go beyond that, and look to lesser-known ways to increase brand awareness instead of just sticking to what’s worked in the past.

With that being said, here are three ways to boost your visibility in the wedding space that may not come to mind:

Guest articles on your creative partner’s sites

The fact of the matter is, the majority of wedding professionals are servicing clients within 100 miles of their office. Even when you’re careful to make sure to work with a variety of event professionals, you’re still going to ultimately end up working with like-minded creative partners who share similar experience, values and, in some instances, style.

It stands to reason that prospective couples are looking at your colleagues’ websites, and are absolutely in a position to consider hiring you as well. It’s also a well-known statistic that couples are researching prospective vendors far before reaching out to them. They’re reviewing their portfolio, social media and every aspect of their web site, including their blog.

On the flip side, many wedding pros are challenged by the idea of keeping up with providing timely content on their own blogs. So why not make it a win-win and offer to share insight on your colleagues’ sites? You benefit from the publicity of being on a site that shares a likely similar audience to yours, while they can take the week off from stressing about writing a blog post.

Facebook Live presentations in targeted Facebook groups

Video has quickly proven to be an increasingly successful marketing tool. That being said, it’s also the perfect channel for sharing your expertise to a wider audience.

There’s no better-targeted audience than members of specific Facebook groups, so make it a goal this year to join industry Facebook and get a feel for opportunities to education, such as FB Live events with the audience. I happen to enjoy seeking out large-scale brands and associations that form a group on Facebook–whether because they all use the same tech program, or have been through a particular educational course.

I love the chance to increase brand awareness for my company by sharing PR insight in the FB Live format–it’s more informal, giving you the chance to share a bit of your personality. You typically also have far more engagement than if you were to present on a webinar, or even in person. In either scenario, don’t hesitate to reach out to the respective administrators to see if a collaboration is possible.

“Best of” lists

I am often surprised by wedding professionals that focus on industry related awards, but don’t look beyond that to consider honors outside of the event world. Most regions host small business awards, and you’re sure to come across “top 40 under 40” lists among area groups and media publications. Likewise, alumni groups from colleges and universities regularly pay homage to successful graduates in their respective fields.

While not directly connected to weddings, it’s a great way to leverage third-party credibility, as well as gain the trust of prospective couples. So carve out time this year to seek options relevant to your location, background, expertise and alumni relations.

If there’s one thing we can be sure of it’s this: change is inevitable, especially in this industry and most certainly among wedding media channels. By shifting your perspective, and remaining open-minded to new opportunities, you’ll be sure to weather what lies ahead.

 

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.

» For the Win – Matching Your Couple’s Expectations to Reality

Oksana Miro Photography

Couples base their expectations on two main categories: the wedding product or service they’re paying for, and the experience they have with you. A ‘win’ for any business is when the reality of your product/service doesn’t just match the couple’s expectations but exceeds it! This means not only delivering a good product but also a good customer experience–the journey the couple takes with you from the time they find you until the time they finish working with you. And that’s what we’re going to focus on here.

So, why does their customer experience really matter? Well, it all comes back to the concept of building an ideal couple cycle that makes your wedding business grow and become more profitable. If you deliver on the experience of working with you, more ideal couples will come your way through recommendations. All this for the win.

How (and why) to set couple’s expectations:

  1. The couple has most likely never done this before. You want to not only control the what, when, and how, but also make sure the couple understands them and agrees to them with you, otherwise they will set their own expectations which might not match reality.

  2. Use your marketing to set expectations. Since most couples have never done this before, their expectations of working with someone in your category are probably set by what they read in articles or hear from those who are already married. While their initial expectation of working with your business, specifically, is set by your marketing, reviews, and word of mouth references. This is why you need to make sure that all of the messaging you control is consistent and saying what you want your ideal couple to expect out of you.

  3. Customize your communication plans. From the time they reach out until the end of their customer experience, the couple’s journey with you is managed by your communications with them. Therefore it’s important that you create a communication plan that is customized to your ideal couple.

    A business that is lower cost but doing higher volume will most likely have, for good reason, a different communication plan than a higher cost, lower volume wedding business in the same category. Different ideal couples with different general expectations. Even your different offerings will need different plans, as you wouldn’t have the same plan for your full-service wedding planning client that you would for your month-of wedding management client.

  4. Start setting expectations early. I recommend discussing the major pieces of their journey during the initial meeting. I also recommend that when telling them about those pieces, tell them a bit about why you do it and the benefit to them. This makes sure that you are on the same page before they book you. For example, as an Officiant, I have two homework assignments that my couples do for me in order to create a custom ceremony. Since that is the only way I do it, they have to be on board with it, or we will not be the right fit and there will be mutual frustrations and disappointments, leading to less-than-ideal customer experience.

    After they book you, I recommend sending a post-booking email that reiterates the major pieces of the journey with more detail. Think of it as a map for first-time visitors, like you would expect walking into a museum for the first time. Help them know what to expect and when! In my case, I start the ceremony creation process four months out, no matter how far out they book me. I always make sure to let them know this and to explain the positive reason I do this. That way they aren’t wondering when we’ll start, and will be ready when I reach out.

  5. Manage expectations throughout the journey. When you are communicating with the couple about a particular piece of the journey, include some information about what is next. By keeping them informed you avoid them setting their own timelines that stray from yours. Getting things done on time, and smoothly, is one of the major reasons they hire a professional.

    Moreover, communicating expectations and next steps reduce the number of “out of the blue” questions or emails and allows you to more easily steer the couple back to the path you want them to follow. Yes, it’s still good (and important) to be flexible and communicate back when they get in touch, but the consistency and quality of the journey come from following the path. Remember: they haven’t done this before, and you are the expert, so help them in the best way possible.

By starting with the above and consistently refining these general ideas based on your business and your ideal couples, you can meet or exceed your ideal couple’s expectations, which will lead to more raving reviews and referrals, and more ideal couples coming your way.

See my webinar “How to Strengthen Your Customer Experience and Generate Future Business” for more tips on how to deliver a top-notch customer experience.


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.

 

» Have You Evaluated Your Memberships For 2019?

When we think of tools that help us continue our education and grow as industry professionals, association memberships are one of the things that likely come to mind. The benefits of membership, whether local or on a national level, are endless. But when you factor in the travel to events, the finances you put into attending, and the time that you take away from your business to make it to the meetings, it’s important to analyze your memberships to make sure that the ROI is worth it in the long run.

How often you should evaluate your memberships?

It should be noted that nearly every membership has its benefits, but ultimately, your participation and how you reap the rewards is up to you. You should take time each year to take a hard look at each association you’re a part of. Are you getting the most out of your membership? Are you making it a priority? Have you noticed that your business is better because of it?

It’s also important to think about which associations make more sense to you. If you find that you’re benefiting more from a local association, it’s completely okay to start smaller and focus on building your connections from there. Don’t feel as if you have to commit to a national association if you’re not gaining as much from it.

Know what’s working and what’s not

There are plenty of ways to take advantage of your membership, even if you feel you may have been letting it fall to the wayside. Think about why you first decided to join. Was it to establish more industry connections? Did you want to further your education with fresh ideas from other experts? Whatever the case may be, you can always turn it around and tackle your position as a member with those initial goals in mind.

If you’re not seeing the results you want, try approaching it from a different angle. Make more of an effort to connect with other members by following up with them, congratulating them on recent achievements, or just showing a genuine interest in their work. Take advantage of attending your association’s webinars or seeing guest speakers.

How to be more involved

Our industry makes it extremely easy to be passive when it comes to things that aren’t in line with our immediate business. If it’s not at the top of your mind or on your calendar, it’s inevitable that they’ll slip away.

Personally, I live and die by my calendar. If it’s not marked in my schedule, it just won’t get done. Mark each event ahead of time and block off part of your day to devote to attending. And this can be a hard one, but learn to say ‘yes’! When other members are meeting for dinner or meeting up at a conference, it could be in your best interests to put in some valued facetime and strengthen those relationships. You never know who will refer more business to you, or who will become your next go-to friend in the industry.

An association membership can be one of the best things you ever do for yourself as a professional, and evaluating your place as a member can help you maximize the benefits and ensure that you’re reaping what you sow!


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 current international president for WIPA.

» Show Us Your Best: Get published on WeddingWire with Real Weddings

Rodrigo Moraes Photography

So what’s a Real Wedding?

Designed to further connect your business with engaged couples, Real Weddings inspire everyone involved in the planning process with gorgeous ideas to celebrate love.

Increase your exposure across WeddingWire with Real Weddings. No models, no set – just real life celebrations highlighting your work, published in the Real Weddings gallery. See this gallery displayed right on your Storefront, and the Storefronts of all vendors who took part in the wedding.

If you got it, flaunt it.

Show potential clients the breadth of your work with real life, high quality examples. WeddingWire Real Weddings are the perfect opportunity to, display your work, attract potential clients, and promote your business to our wide network of engaged couples.

As a vendor with a published Real Wedding you’ll gain more exposure across WeddingWire, with couples able to search the Real Weddings gallery by location, color, season, and style for inspiration and to find vendors like you. Plus, they can view the names of all professionals tagged in Real Weddings and easily visit their Storefronts.

Are you a photographer or videographer? Here’s how it works.

(Wedding professional in another category? Keep reading, we’ve got you covered below.)

  1.  Submit your photos/videos of authentic, candid moments that capture real emotions of the day from start to finish. We want to see work that genuinely showcases the couple’s wedding story.Think anything from engagement rings, invitations, accessories, first look, vows, flower arrangements, reception decor, cake cutting, grand exit, and the list goes on!
    We’re looking for your best high quality photos. And of course, you’ll need an account with WeddingWire.
  2. Don’t forget to give every vendor that played a role in the event accolades by tagging the full wedding team in your photos/videos, so that your content also appears on their Storefronts. You can directly tag other vendors who took part in the wedding or email the couple asking them to provide the vendor names.
  3. Next, your submission will be reviewed by a member of our team to ensure it meets our quality standards and requirements. Remember that all content must meet submission requirements and can be rejected if it does not.
  4. Our team will let you know by email if your content was approved or not a fit for publication.
  5. Approved Real Weddings will be published in the WeddingWire Real Weddings gallery, on your Storefront, and the Storefronts of all tagged vendors for all couples to see and enjoy!

Not a photographer or videographer? No problem!

If you’re a vendor on WeddingWire and offer services in another category, you can easily request Real Weddings from photographers, videographers and couples within your WeddingWire account! When you send a Real Wedding request, they’ll receive an email asking them to submit professional, high quality photos and videos for feature consideration.

Lights, Camera…

From photographers to florists to bakers, Real Weddings are available to showcase your best work and gain exposure with our extended network of couples (read: your future clients).

 

It’s time for your closeup.

Get started with Real Weddings

 

» How to Set and Measure Your Business Goals

I received a call from a client’s sales manager asking me how many calls I expected my sales reps to make. I told him that throughout my sales career in this industry, beginning when I was an independent ad sales rep (commission only), then a publisher (with 3 sales reps), to a Regional Sales Director (16 reps) and then VP of Sales (over 50 reps), I never measured phone call volume. He seemed surprised, as that’s been one of the metrics he’d been judged by as a sales rep for most of his career, which is why he’s been using that as a benchmark for his own team.

I explained that, at least to me, measuring call volume was a distraction, as call volume was not my goal. More sales was the goal, so that’s what I measured. I never asked my sales reps for call reports, or used systems to measure their call volume… that is, unless they weren’t making their sales numbers. If the production wasn’t there, then I wanted to know what they were doing. Interestingly, my top performing reps often made the fewest calls. They just had more productive calls. My lower-performing reps were often making lots of calls, but they weren’t going anywhere.

What’s your benchmark?
What are you measuring in your business? Is it in alignment with what you want to achieve? Sales volume is certainly a good measurement, but profitability is a better one. It’s easy to increase the number of sales you make. Just lower your prices until everyone says Yes! – I don’t know about you, but that’s not what I’m looking to achieve. What about sales dollars? That’s a better benchmark, but as with sales volume, it is an incomplete measurement.

You may decide to spend more time with your family. But if you have your eyes glued to your phone while you’re with them, what did you really accomplish? The key to accomplishing your goals is to set better ones. Make them lofty, but realistic. Don’t set yourself up for failure, set yourself up for success. A wall just a foot above the ground is an easy bar to walk over. One twenty feet high is nearly impossible one to surpass. Definitely reach higher, but also have a realistic plan to get there.

Measuring conversion
I often get asked about conversion percentages – the amount of leads you should be converting to a sale. However, these numbers vary from business to business. If one wedding pro’s website has clear pricing information, while a competitor has none, the second business may end up fielding many inquiries who can’t afford them, artificially increasing their inquiry numbers, and decreasing their conversion percentage. If you really want to measure conversion, you need to be looking at how many visitors come to your Storefront or website and then take the next step to make an inquiry, or click through to your site from your Storefront and then make an inquiry. That’s going to be really hard to track unless you have very good website tracking software and know how to properly read it.

That said, you can track inquiries to conversations, and conversations to either appointments or sales and appointments to sales. You need to keep good records. The first rule of computers that I learned was the acronym GIGO – Garbage In, Garbage out. If someone makes an inquiry, but you’re already booked on that date, and they can’t/won’t change their date, that was still a good inquiry. Unless you have an availability calendar, so they can check your date before reaching out, those are valid inquiries. We know from WedInsights that nearly 90% of couples are looking for price before they reach out to you, so displaying some kind of pricing guidelines is beneficial to getting better quality inquiries. And yes, I know that many of you don’t want to display pricing, but when you’re the customer, aren’t you looking for the price?

Inquiries, conversations or sales, oh, my!
So, what should you measure? Start with the easiest things to measure – the inquiries that come in through your website, Storefront, direct emails, social messaging, etc. Then calculate the number of inquiries that turn into meaningful conversations. The last conversion is to measure how many of those conversations become sales directly, or lead to more detailed meetings that then turn into a sale.

You’ll want to track the conversion from each source separately to see where your best leads are coming ‘through’. Notice I didn’t say where they’re coming ‘from.’ The reason is that you don’t get business ‘from’ your website, you get business ‘through’ it. They had to come ‘from’ somewhere to get to your website. Your couples, just as when you’re the customer, make many stops along the way to get to you. You’ll probably never know all of them, just the last one or two, and if they also were referred to you by someone they know, you may get that as well. It’s an inexact science, at best.

What’s the trend?
Reporting like this is most helpful by watching trends, rather than discrete numbers. You need to see how these conversions are trending over time so you can have visibility to improvements and degradations. If you change something on your Storefront like adding pricing, or updating photos and videos, or getting a higher placement, did it make an impact on your inquiries and click-throughs? If you updated your website, or better yet, built a new one, did it affect your inquiries? However, don’t forget that you get what you measure, so keep an eye on your sales and profitability numbers as that’s really what you want. Higher sales volume without higher profit is a poor outcome. It’s nice to say you did more events, but not if it’s not flowing to the bottom line. As I’ve said before, I want to feed your family, not your ego!

WeddingWire Education Guru Alan Berg, CSP has over 20 years experience in wedding related sales and marketing, and is an author, business consultant, a member of the National Speakers Association, and the wedding & event industry’s only Certified Speaking Professional®. Learn more at alanberg.com.

» WeddingWire Networking Night Phoenix

On Wednesday evening we had the opportunity to host our WeddingWire Networking Night Phoenix. The evening brought together wedding professionals for a night of networking and education at the trendy boho-chic Saguaro Hotel Scottsdale.

The Agave Ballroom, where the event was held, boasted an adorable pom-pom wall, and a bright patio space with festive furniture and fire pits. Pinks and oranges really made the space pop, which went perfectly with the event’s signature cocktail– prickly pear mimosas!

Thank you to all the wonderful wedding professionals who joined us!

Couldn’t swing by? We’re excited to share the full educational presentation, presented by our WeddingWire Education Guru, Alan Berg, as well as the latest issue of WedInsights. Check out the full gallery of photos, captured by Tony George Photography.

This amazing evening couldn’t have been made possible without our event partners:

» Top Tech Solutions to Elevate Client Communication

Communication today would hardly be recognizable to someone living 15 – 20 years ago. Beyond simply being free from the landline, they would be surprised to know that phones are rarely used for spoken conversations anymore. In fact, there is a whole new etiquette surrounding whether or not it is even appropriate to call rather than message someone – a complicated set of rules that rivals the best of Emily Post.

Fortunately, there are numerous apps to streamline communication and keep you connected. They have recently begun to reshape the client experience while elevating ease of communication. These apps help you meet the needs of your couples and are so easy to use that they can be added to your bag of tricks in mere moments!

Apps that aid communication

One of the most popular apps for client communication today is WhatsApp. A free messaging system that allows users to exchange texts, photos, audio messages, and videos easily, WhatsApp has become invaluable, especially to users who prefer to connect via Wi-Fi than use their cellular data. Couples planning from afar, and those who travel regularly are particularly grateful for web-based messaging.

Meeting virtually

Videoconferencing has become a common way to meet with clients who are too busy or too far to gather in person. Among its many bells and whistles, Zoom makes it easy to meet virtually with one or more parties, perfect for planning meetings or design consultations.

It can be helpful, when meeting virtually, to have apps on board like Adobe Document Cloud E-Sign Services for electronic signatures on contracts and Dropbox or Google Docs for sharing large files and collaboratively maintaining documents stored in the Cloud.

Social media for maintaining client relationships

There are many reasons that a professional may need to connect with clients beyond file management. When your primary purpose is to stay in touch to maintain the relationship after the wedding, social media apps can be very useful.

Follow your couples’ handles and interact with them. Like their photos, include an occasional personal comment and reach out to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and other celebrations. Track major post-wedding life changes like babies and moves to new homes. Use Instagram or Facebook to track these dates so you can send gifts and notes when they happen. Your goal is to be top of mind next time one of their friends or family members becomes engaged and needs services like yours.

Use your social media channels to keep your clients in the loop about your company and offerings, as well. Hootsuite is a social media dashboard that allows you to schedule posts in advance, distribute them across multiple platforms, and track their success. Similarly, Planoly can be used to schedule Instagram posts, specifically, in advance. Regular engagement will keep you relevant to all of your clients and connected when you are needed next.

The face of modern communication may have changed, but at the heart of it, the purpose remains the same: client connection. Whatever you add to your toolbox, make sure it helps you achieve the level of service to which you are committed for your most important audience: your clients.


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.

» National LGBTQ Wedding Trends for 2019

These days, there are two overarching planning trends influencing today’s LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) couples — one follows a pattern of increasing assimilation into the mainstream market and its trends; the other follows an increasing embrace of broader, less restrictive definitions of gender expression. In order to better serve all couples, it’s important for wedding professionals to be vigilant about these two seemingly contradictory trends and how to identify the needs of each individual couple.  

Broadly speaking, with 80% of today’s wedding market represented by Millennials, LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ (aka ‘straight’) couples are looking to add personalized touches that play well on social media and serve their authentic expression. Thus, we’ll be seeing more similarity than difference in wedding planning trends between the two groups.

At the same time, wedding professionals must understand that younger couples are embracing the term “queer” as a more inclusive term for their gender identities, expression, and sexual orientation. Though more couples may be challenging traditional concepts of gender expression (and the traditional roles of “bride” and “groom”), this doesn’t mean that their weddings will be unrecognizable.

The key element for wedding professionals to understand is that while cultural assimilation is underway, LGBTQ couples still want to build wedding rituals that are reflective of their own identities, and the range of expression will be more broad than what we expected from a “bride and groom” 50 – or even 15! – years ago.

 

Mainstream representation

When I talk about “mainstream representation,” I’m referring to planning trends that are inclusive not only of traditional weddings, but also of seasonal and evolving trends for a broad swath of today’s couples. These are the wedding trends you’ll hear about in national trend reports, and these are the weddings you’ll see on the largest wedding blogs and platforms and in national magazines. The representation is increasingly inclusive of additional religious, ethnic and cultural wedding customs, and also will include same-sex couples and mixed-race and non-white couples. The unifying feature is generally the wedding wallet, as most of these featured couples are able to afford highly stylized weddings, photographers, and videographers.

Since marriage equality recognition has settled in over the past 4 years, LGBTQ couples have assimilated and adapted to the general wedding trends that suit their taste, style, and budget rather than their legal needs and familial support. Many same-sex weddings appearing in mainstream media sources, for example, look increasingly like their opposite-sex counterparts; the primary difference is whether there are two brides, two grooms or one bride and one groom getting married.

Accompanying increased assimilation, straight (non-LGBTQ) couples are demonstrating their curiosity and excitement about new wedding customs introduced in same-sex weddings. Many of these new rituals have evolved from the very practical purpose of adapting rituals for one man and one woman to be better suited for two women or two men. Today, however, younger couples across the board are planning their wedding rituals and receptions, choosing to adopt rituals that are less restrictive of gender roles and more accepting of an equal expression of love and commitment.

For all couples from mainstream sources who approach you looking for services, it’s incredibly important that you ask open-ended questions to understand not only what they are looking for, but how they see themselves and to which planning trends they are responding. The majority of the market is represented by engaged couples who seek personalized service, and want to be understood and supported in developing a meaningful tradition that is reflective of their love and commitment. It’s important to understand what a bride and groom might want and/or need; what two grooms might want and/or need; or what two brides might want and/or need. In sum, cultural shifts are impacting everyone.

 

Progressive representation

Though most couples (LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ) may be seeking personalization and a wedding worthy of a wedding feature in WeddingWire’s “Real Wedding” inspiration pages, there are also LGBTQ couples who still embody some of the needs and objectives of the early wedding pioneers. They are brides and grooms and bridegrooms who may use their own labels and be struggling to get their needs met because the mainstream market isn’t serving them. For these couples, rather than focusing on how to serve two brides or two grooms, the larger question is one of intentional service to support the couples who have a much more expansive (often non-binary) representation of their gender expression or sexual orientation.

Genderqueer and other non-binary couples, according to “LGBTQ Weddings in 2018: A Study of Same-Sex and Queer Identified Couples,” share a “strong fear of rejection” based on their sexual orientation or gender expression. Sixty-one percent (61%) of transgender and non-binary identified couples and 44% of same-sex couples remain wary. Significantly, 100% of married trans/non-binary identified couples (p. 38) are concerned about “religious freedom” laws that allow service providers to refuse to serve LGBTQ couples (compared to 88% of married same-sex male couples and 96% of married same-sex female couples).

Thus, when you, as a wedding professional, have the opportunity to serve a queer-identified couple, it is important to expect a deeper line of questioning and a higher expectation of understanding about the politics surrounding same-sex marriage, the queer community, and gender identity and expression. Know that historically marginalized couples may be slower to trust the process, having been mistreated, misgendered or misunderstood previously in their planning process.

 

Goodbye to service refusal

Though there are still questions on service refusal to be settled in the courts and by lawmakers, the wedding industry – as a whole – has chosen to be inclusive and welcoming of same-sex couples. In 2017, a majority of wedding professionals (67%) said they believe that wedding-related businesses should be required to serve same-sex couples; a minority of vendors (32%) supported service refusal. Notably, a number of those who support the right of a business owner to refuse service also said that they think same-sex couples should be served.

Though couples do still express concerns about rejection and discrimination, the market has evolved to offer more powerful examples of unconditional acceptance according to the rule of law (eg, WeddingWire’s non-discrimination policy) than rejection. And, even with a few road bumps along the way, I see this trend continuing to spread from coast to coast throughout 2019.

 

Kathryn Hamm

 

This 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.

» 3 Signs You Need a Change

Photo by Vanessa Joy

We all get burnt out every once in a while. Sometimes the rut passes, but occasionally these ruts are trying to tell us something about the bigger picture. And a little fatigue can turn into a downward spiral if you’re not careful.

If this sounds all too familiar, keep reading for the three signs that might indicate these ruts are trying to tell you something.

Sign 1

You’re not getting any new work

This can be an indicator of a number of things, but could be because 1 – you’re not marketing your business well or 2 – your clients aren’t happy.

I admit marketing in the wedding industry can be tricky and ever-changing. There are a myriad of ways to market your business, and what works for your competitors might not work for you. Finding a marketing plan that works for you does involve some trial and error, and sometimes being in a rut is the perfect time to try something new.

If you think the problem is that your clients aren’t happy and aren’t referring you new work, check your WeddingWire reviews. They can be a great barometer to help you understand if you’re meeting your clients’ expectations. Also, don’t forget to take the time to respond to the clients that took the time to write you a review. Couples love to see that you care!

Sign 2

You don’t have work-life balance

I imagine that you didn’t decide to be a part of the wedding world to work non-stop, miss out on your kid’s soccer games and never spend time with your spouse. During wedding season I know as well as you do that things can get hectic. However, if you’re finding yourself constantly drowning in work and not getting to do the things that you want to do, it’s definitely time for a wake-up call.

You should be running your business, not letting your business run you.

If this is you, it’s time to get some help. Like literal help – an intern or employee. I know for some that might be an expense you don’t feel ready to take on. Even if you can’t afford it now, you can start planning how you will afford it in the near future. Figure out what outsourcing something will cost per job and then raise your prices by that much.

Can’t figure out what to outsource? You should outsource things that fall into one of five categories:

  1. What you hate doing

  2. What you’re not good at

  3. What slows you down

  4. Anything that you personally don’t need to do

  5. What you can pay minimum/fair wage for

Sign 3

You don’t love what you do

This one is a biggie because it can be pretty damaging to the quality of your work as well as your life. You should never, ever hate what you do in life. It’s 2019 and the world is full of opportunities outside of the regular 9-5 job.

That being said, you may feel like you never want to see another wedding again because you’re overworked, or you’ve had a few too many difficult clients. It could be any number of things, but if that feeling has been lingering for quite some time, then you need to figure out why you hate it. Identify what you specifically hate to do and use that to start a list of things that you need to change. Then, take that list and read back to the number one thing I told you to outsource. Start doing more of what you love!

If you’ve found some parts of your business you’d like to change, don’t forget about them and click away. Take time to think about what you’ll change and then find someone that you can be accountable to really do it. Sharing your plans aloud makes them more real and will motivate you to follow through. Turn burnout into a positive and 2019 will be yours!

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

» Wedding Friends with Benefits – How to Improve Vendor Relationships

In most categories within our industry, referrals can make up a portion of the “where business comes from,” and thus, any wedding business’ yearly planning should include some piece on building or improving vendor relationships.

I have come to firmly believe that the most profitable and enjoyable wedding businesses are ones that create and then continually feed what I refer to as “the ideal couple cycle.” When building a business that drives an ideal couple cycle, we need to develop and maintain not just any vendor relationship, but focus on relationships with vendors who work with the same ideal couples or close. These result in warmer leads and likely more couples booked.

In addition to referrals, there are many other reasons you might look to develop more or stronger vendor relationships, including:

  • Weddings or events tend to run more smoothly: When a team of professionals who have experience together and can trust each other, things tend to run smoother. This means that your couple has a better experience with their entire wedding, not just the part that you control, and that usually means better reviews and more referrals.

  • Having people to jump in and help when needed:  Once in a while we need other wedding professionals to step in and help our couple. That’s more likely to happen when you have a network of professionals who know you, trust you, and like you.

  • Learning and sharing best practices: Maybe you want to get better at a certain part of your business or learn something new. Finding and working with someone who does it well can improve your skill set and build a valuable relationship.

  • Gaining an accountability partner and sounding board: As solopreneurs and/or small business owners, it is nice to have people who can keep you on track and give you experienced feedback.

  • Wing person: Whether you enjoy networking or hate it, it’s always good to have people who you can chat with at events or conferences and who can also introduce you to others.

  • Having a friend and/or venting partner: Let’s be honest, this can be an unusual industry to work in, and it’s nice to have folks in your life who can understand and empathize! Plus, it helps you keep any and all venting (either about couples or other wedding professionals) off of social media, which is never a good idea!

Below are the keys to developing and maintaining more focused and successful vendor relationships.

Defining “your type”

Just as much as you look for a type when creating personal relationships, you should do the same when creating vendor relationships. Remember, you don’t have to become close friends, but you should respect each other from a business/personal perspective and like each other too.

If you are looking for referrals as the main benefit of a relationship, then you definitely want to focus on those who attract and serve similar ideal couples. For example, if I am a lower price-point photographer, and not looking to change my ideal couple, then it most likely would be a waste for me to try to cultivate a relationship with a high-end planner or venue. Couples that come to them would most likely not be looking for someone like me, and, from the other side, my couples would most likely not be looking for a high-end wedding planner or venue.   

Additionally, you may want to start creating relationships with “competitors” – those in the same category as you. For example, in my Officiant business, I want to have relationships with those who serve the same ideal couples since they can refer couples to me when they are already booked and I can do the same for them. I know many wedding planners who fill their calendar with weddings that their colleagues cannot take themselves.

However, having relationships with those who serve different types of couples usually still results in referrals, as it’s important to know who to refer when you aren’t that couple’s right fit (either for price or style). Taking care of couples who come your way, even when you can’t be the one to ultimate service them, in a professional and thoughtful way, does benefit your business in both the short and long-term.

How to find and connect with like-minded vendors

Naturally, it is tough to walk into a networking meeting and know exactly who works with your ideal couples, so you need to approach this a bit differently than old-school networking. The first place you should be looking is at the other vendors at your weddings – especially if it is a vendor with whom you have already done multiple weddings. Approach them, chat for a minute, collect a card, and follow-up afterwards. You can also talk to your current community of friends in the industry. Figure that they know you and your style, so they might know others who work with the same couples and have the same style.

Attend a big wedding show and walk around and look at booths – if those vendors have done their job right, you should be able to tell who serves your same ideal couples. Use the opportunity to stop by and collect their cards to follow-up later.

Attend more education-focused events like conferences or professional association meetings (vs. only the parties or social-focused events). This will give you a better chance to get to know a vendor’s business. Help them in some way. Send them gifts, take them to coffee, wine and dine them (okay, maybe just wine or coffee them). Lots of ideas of where to start!

Value proposition and benefits

When you do contact or follow-up with the vendors who you think are a good match, always remember, you are not hard-selling them, but rather, you are trying to build a mutually beneficial long-term relationship. Let them know who your ideal couples are, how you describe your style and your offerings, and what sets you apart from others. Be a resource to them. Seek their guidance. Be helpful to them in some way shape or form (there are many ways to add value to colleagues beyond just referrals). And yes, it is more than okay to be friends with competitors (ones who do what you do and ones who don’t).

Maintaining the relationship

You should “call and write.” What I mean by this is that you should find ways to keep in touch without being annoying. Relationships need both trust and rapport and have to be built over time. You have to be willing to create a mutually beneficial relationship – giving, not just taking. Obviously, being able to refer couples to them is very beneficial, but, depending on what you do, that may not always be possible. You could offer them opportunities to promote their business by having them write a guest blog post, inviting them to a networking event or even promoting them on your social media – keeping it professional but personal.

Vendors vs. venues

I did just want to make a quick distinction between relationships with other vendors and dealing with venues since there can be differences. We all want to be “on the list,” but spending a lot of time and/or money to get on a list at a venue which serves something very different from your ideal couples is just wasted. If there is a venue you work at a lot, get to know the people who run it. Make sure they know you, and share those raving reviews or thank you cards from your mutual couples. Do they have a list? Do they want any of your cards or materials?  Do they do any kind of wedding shows?

Some don’ts in the relationship game

Remember that it’s a professional relationship, first and foremost, and therefore, you should be professional with them. Don’t bad mouth other vendors – while it is okay to tell the truth about an experience with them, it is not usually a best-practice to create drama or throw someone under the bus (independent of your relationship with them). This industry can feel like a small world, and doing that doesn’t usually serve you well.

Remember that not all relationships will go anywhere, and some will end up costing you more than they return, but the goal is to build yourself a strong community of wedding professionals, over time, who serve the same ideal clients. Your business will thank you for it, and I expect that you will also enjoy being in it much more.

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.