» Time Blocking for Success

Photo by Anna Liz Photography

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

For quite a few years, the business buzz was all about multi-tasking. The ability to juggle multiple tasks at the same time seems like a no-brainer when it comes to good tools to have in your personal toolbox.  However, many of us found that we weren’t good multi-taskers – and even when we were managing to do it, it seemed inefficient, and what we were doing is better-called task-switching. And now, many studies have confirmed what we experienced – rarely are you doing two things well at the same time, and it was found to decrease productivity by a good 40%, as it takes time to switch your mind/mindset from working on one task to another.   

Thus, came the idea of time blocking: focusing on one task, or a set of very similar tasks, for a long enough time period to gain efficiency.  Here you identify different tasks that you do on a periodic basis, whether it be daily, weekly, monthly, and for each of those task types, you block a specific amount of time on your calendar for that task. For example, I send all of my couples an anniversary email. So, on my calendar is a block of time at the start of every week in which I create and schedule all of my anniversary emails for the week – it takes much less time to do them all at once than to do a few each day. One wedding planner client creates multiple timelines for upcoming weddings during a single time block. The only thing you are doing within the time block is that certain task or the same type of tasks.  And, you are working on it until either the block of time is used up or until the task is complete. Yes, this means going “old-school” and doing just one thing at a time.

Although time blocking is a simple concept, the set-up and consistent use for a solopreneur or small business can sometimes be challenging, as many of us wear many hats in our businesses. Maybe you are a wedding DJ with a three-hour time block today for you to focus on creating playlists for some upcoming weddings. Then, just as you start, a new inquiry comes in. Do you stop what you are doing and respond to the inquiry? Let’s answer that as we talk about the why and the how of successfully using time blocks in your wedding business.

Why use time blocks?
Time is truly our most valuable asset, because, once used, we cannot get it back. You can make more money but can never make more time. We have only 1440 minutes in a day, and they will pass by no matter how we use them. By using time blocking, we consume our most valuable asset in a more efficient way, giving us some time back that we are likely wasting. That reclaimed time can be used to improve our business or improve our personal lives, or both.   

Is this you? You are a photographer, trying to create an album for your couple, while answering inquiries, and responding to this weekend’s wedding planners.

  • 10 minutes getting everything you need open and ready on your computer and getting focused

  • 20 minutes working on the layout

New inquiry comes in –

  • 10 minutes switching focus to checking your calendar and system and gathering what you need

  • 20 minutes answering the inquiry

  • 10 minutes switching focus back to the album

  • 20 minutes working on the album

Email comes in from this weekend’s wedding planner –

  • 10 minutes switching focus to pulling up what you need to think about for that wedding

  • 10 minutes responding to the email

  • 10 minutes switching focus back to the album

The result: 70 minutes of work with 50 minutes preparing to do work is not very efficient, plus mistakes might have been made along the way with the less-than-perfect focus.  

How to set up and use time blocks

First, identify your repetitive or similar tasks. These could be writing blog or social media posts, communicating with other wedding vendors involved in upcoming weddings, writing ceremony drafts or timelines or playlists, or even doing the bookkeeping.  

Then you need to determine how much time you need to block in each “period” to complete the task(s).  Start with an average and reasonable amount of time for it. For example, if I want to do bookkeeping at the end of each month, and in June it took me 3 hours, July took me 2 hours, and August took me 4 hours, I am going to time block 3 hours at the end of September for bookkeeping, and then add this three-hour block to my calendar on a convenient day each month going forward.   

7 tips to effectively use time blocking:

  • Only work on one thing or similar things during that block. Whether it’s something that requires focus (like timeline or BEO creation), or just needs to get done (like answering emails or admin for recently booked weddings), work on the same or similar things for real efficiency.  

  • Block time in which the concentration level and thought required for the task matches your natural rhythm. If you are most awake and focused in the morning (as my husband is), block some of the more intense tasks during that time and save the more brain-dead tasks for when you are more brain-dead. Personally, mornings are not my thing, so my administrative and brain-dead items are scheduled for the mornings, while my creative and focused time starts mid-day. Find yours.

  • Don’t try to block your whole day or week. Keep open time between the blocks, as well as during the time of day when your specific business needs you to be more flexible to switch tasks.

  • Move time blocks to fit as you arrange your week. If you usually do your bookkeeping for 3 hours on the 4th Friday of the month but will be on vacation or have a wedding on that day, just move the time block to another open time.

  • Reward yourself! Time blocks require focus and discipline, so it is definitely acceptable to give yourself a reward for doing so. For instance, for every 3 hours of focused ceremony writing, I take 20 minutes to play a  game or dance to upbeat music.

  • Use tools and apps to help you focus. I have many that I can suggest to you, and these include turning off notifications on your phone or your email application on your computer, putting on headphones and using something like focus@will, or apps around the Pomodoro technique like Time Timer or even a fun one like Forest (breaks you of the habit of just grabbing your phone as you’re “growing trees” on it instead!).

  • The time blocks you create, and how strictly you adhere to them, will depend on your business model and ideal couples. Responding to inquiries is one of those considerations. Do you need to respond within minutes or is within a few hours okay?  Each of us has a different answer based on our business model and ideal client. Maybe you ask a teammate, employee or virtual assistant to take over responding to inquiries during that time block instead.

I recommend that you start with setting up a few time blocks, see how they work for you and when is best, and then add more each month. The more time blocks you can set up, the more efficiency you will gain, but this should always be balanced with maintaining the appropriate service level or support you provide to your couples.

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

» How to Protect Your Business from an Ever-Changing Economy

This article was written by Kevin Dennis, editor of WeddingIQ.

Owning an event business is complicated. It’s not enough that you have to stay on top of trends, adapt to new technology, as well as change with fashion and the generations. You also have to focus and think about how to endure the ebbs and flows of the ever-changing economy. The economy is one of the biggest challenges a small business can face and it can make or break your business depending on how well you prepare.

But, how can the ever-changing economy affect your event business?

With few exceptions, we are nearly all in business for the revenue. You might need your revenue as a primary source of income, or simply to supplement that of a spouse – but you probably need it nonetheless. Maximizing your company’s profitability is a high priority, however this can be difficult when the economy is in flux and booking patterns become unpredictable.

There are ways that you can stabilize your business, though, to help shield it from unforeseen circumstances including:

Diversifying your revenue streams

Developing multiple streams of income allows you to sustain a business even if one of your major products or services falls victim to the economy. If you usually market your product to a luxury clientele, for example, having a more budget-friendly option ready to go in the event that the market collapses can keep the money coming in long enough for you to make necessary adjustments to your business model.

Keep your insurance updated

Be prepared for anything and everything. Make sure you have liability, business and workman’s comp insurance to keep your business safe from unfortunate events.

Price your services carefully

We price ourselves to fall a bit on the higher side so we don’t have to compromise the level of service for which we are known. This maximizes profits allowing us to save and reinvest in our businesses, and it also shields us from total devastation if the economy should take a downturn.

Nurture your professional relationships

When the economy is strained, some will fall victim and either need help to keep going or will have to close their doors. If you have a strong network of business associates, you may be able to seek and receive help during difficult times. Attend association meetings and other networking gatherings regularly to maintain your current relationships and seek new ones. Help others in time of economic hardship by sending referrals, and graciously accept help when it is offered to you.

The economy is a powerful factor when running a business, but with some forward-thinking you can prepare your 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 national vice president for WIPA.

» How to Negotiate Without Lowering Your Price

Photo by Anna Liz Photography

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

I was recently at a WeddingWire Networking Night where I spoke about how to handle price questions. As part of the presentation, I said that asking for a lower price is one of the biggest buying signals you can hear. After all, who asks for a discount on something they don’t want to buy? People ask for a discount after they’ve determined that you’ve met enough of their other needs and wants that they’d like to buy from you. Yes, they’re going to ask how much you charge (they can’t buy without knowing that), and then some of them will ask for a discount, and I’m fine with that.

Never get offended when someone asks for a discount

Unless you’ve never asked for a discount on anything, anywhere – which is highly unlikely, don’t be offended when you’re asked for a discount. Have you ever asked for a discount, didn’t get one and you bought anyway? I’m sure you have. If your customers are only buying when you give them a discount, then you’re not selling your services, you’re selling the discount, and you have no price integrity. Many of your customers will still buy if you don’t give them a discount. If you’ve done a good job of selling why they should buy from you, and only you, then they have to pay your price. After all, they can’t get you, and your team anywhere else, at any price.

On the other hand, if they want ‘what’ you do, but they don’t need to get it from you, there’s always someone who sells it cheaper. As a matter of fact, when you were new in business, it was probably you that was the offering the cheaper price. I can’t think of anyone I know who started their business with the highest price in their market and category. If your customers can’t perceive any difference between buying from you, versus a cheaper competitor, then the lower price will win. Whether tangible, or intangible, you need to make them feel like you’re the only one who can fulfill their needs and wants.

Can you negotiate without lowering your price?

At the networking night, a local DJ was telling me about how he was handling requests for discounts. Rather than lowering his price, he was offering to divide the total into 3 or 4 payments. I know other wedding professionals who are offering even more payments, sometimes dividing the total by the number of months until the wedding. When you do this you’re still negotiating, but you’re not lowering your price. When someone asks for a discount, and you find a way to give them something, even if it’s not a discount, they still feel like you’re working with them, as opposed to just saying, no.

Every dollar you discount is profit you give away

Remember that it costs you exactly the same to do their wedding or event, unless you take away some products or services. So, every dollar you lower your price, without getting anything of value in return, is profit you’re giving away. That’s why I prefer to give added value, instead of a discount. I once read a study that said, when given the choice between getting 1/3 off, or 1/3 more in added value, more people would choose the added value. That makes sense, especially in our digital currency world. Getting a discount feels good, for the moment, but you didn’t get any more than you were already going to buy, the number in your banking app is just a little higher than it would have been without the discount. On the other hand, getting added value means you paid the same, but you have something else that you weren’t going to pay for – more products, more services, additional time, etc. For example, if a photographer gives a couple a parent album with a value of $300, that costs her $100, the couple gets to give that album to their parents without paying extra for it (both tangible and intangible benefits), and the photographer keeps the integrity of her price. On the other hand, had she discounted her price by $300, she would have lost $300 in profit.

Most people like to get free stuff (although added value isn’t really free, because they have to buy something to get it). Celebrities love their swag bags at awards ceremonies, yet they can afford everything in them. I go to lots of trade shows, and I see people seeking out the best swag. I was recently speaking at a destination wedding planners conference in Mexico, and there was so much swag I had to buy a suitcase to get it home. It was my first time to that particular conference, but others told me that was one of the reasons they go. That swag isn’t free, it’s an added value of attending the conference. They bought their tickets, but the swag is one more reason to attend.

Finding a “yes”

No one likes to hear “NO,” but there are times when you can’t give them what they are asking for. Find a way to give them a yes. I read a great quote from Micah Solomon on the Forbes website: “The answer is Yes. Now, what’s the question?” What a great sentiment, starting with an attitude of wanting to say yes, every time. If you remember that asking for a discount is a very strong buying signal, then finding a way to give some concession, even a small one, will make them feel that they’ve been heard. If you’re willing to give them a discount, be sure to get something back in return: a larger deposit, higher minimum guest count, etc. If you lower your price, without getting anything back from them in return, then you’re negotiating against yourself.

Saying no, with a smile

If you don’t want to lower your price, then how can you say no, without antagonizing them. It’s all about how you say no. Don’t sound offended. They’ve just given you a buying signal, this is no time to tick them off. You might say something like this (with a smile): “Thanks for asking, I know how things can add up quickly for a wedding. After all, we do this all the time. For the particular products/services you want, and for us to have the best team to deliver them for you, the price I gave you is the best we can do to ensure the outcome you want. Would you like me to reserve your date now?” – Ask for the sale! They’ve given you a huge buying signal, so ask for the sale. One of the biggest mistakes I see salespeople make is not asking for the sale when they see/hear buying signals. So, the next time someone asks you for a discount, have the confidence to know that, if they weren’t interested they wouldn’t have asked. Don’t wait for your customers to volunteer that they want to buy. Help them buy.

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 End Busy Season on a High Note

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

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

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

Implement a block schedule.

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

Prepare for publishing.

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

Review local industry association schedules for the fall and winter.

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

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

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

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

Anticipate award season.

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

Identify your “time suckers.”

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

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

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

 

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

» How and When to Expand Your Niche

This article was written by Kevin Dennis, editor of WeddingIQ.

Choosing a niche can elevate your brand to the next level—just ask any successful business owner. Niches allow you to focus your talents on a corner of the market, effectively increasing overall brand recognition as well as carving out your role as an expert in your field

However, in some cases, it’s wise to think outside your niche and look for ways to expand your services while still sticking to what sets you apart in the market.

Do clients ask about services you don’t offer? Are creative partners hinting at something they’d love help with? Take a hard look at your market to see if there is room for that service and whether it fits in with your current offerings.

Don’t jump ahead without doing your due diligence—dig into your market and get a better understanding of who may consider this new venture of yours as a competing gesture. Ask yourself if this move may affect your existing industry relationships and whether the risk is worth it.

At the same time, you’ll need to evaluate your company internally. Expanding your business will only be successful if your company is already secure and running smoothly. As a business owner, you need to prepare to invest some money up front knowing it will be worth it down the road. If your brand is still a work in progress, give it some time to flesh out and become established before considering growth opportunities.

Next, consider how your new venture will fit into your brand. I’m a firm believer that new services should develop within your existing brand. If you try to add new businesses for every service, your brand will become watered down and confusing for prospective clients. Keep it simple and stick to the same marketing styles, colors, tone of voice, and overall branding techniques.

When it comes down to it, client experience is priority and a consistent brand is a major factor for happy returning clients. After I started my career as a DJ, Fantasy Sound naturally developed into a drapery and lighting company, maintaining a consistent brand throughout. On the other hand, when I acquired WeddingIQ, an educational hub for wedding professionals, it came with a brand that made sense to continue—it was a living thing that readers had grown to love.

In both cases, I’m fortunate to have had help from advisors—insight from others is a valuable resource when making major business decisions. Trust your gut, but also consider perspectives that others can offer. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for advice from trusted business associates.

Lastly, give it three years before you consider discontinuing a new venture. It can take time to make a profit, so don’t panic if you’re losing money after a year. However, if you’re not seeing a return at three years, it may be time to look into other options. Don’t fret, though—consider it a learning experience and use your knowledge to make your next endeavor a success.

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.

» 3 Ways to Improve Your Mobile Website

The verdict is here: mobile marketing is the new normal and if you haven’t already, it’s time to catch up. The first step to becoming a mobile-friendly business is ensuring that visitors accessing your website through mobile devices have a great experience. 60% of all searches are done through a mobile device, which is causing Google to shift towards ranking websites based on their mobile sites (mobile first SEO). So if you want to show up in couples’ search results on  Google, mobile optimization is more important than ever.

To be ready for this shift to mobile-first SEO, it’s important to understand how Google ranks mobile friendliness and what you can do to be in Google’s good books.

3 tips for optimizing your mobile site:

  1. Test each page separately

In order to optimize your mobile site, you need think deeper than the landing page. Just because your homepage is mobile friendly, doesn’t mean all pages of your website are mobile friendly. Your site needs to be optimized from start to finish, which means making sure that users have a good experience when they are directed to any part of your website. Moreover, each page should be treated as an entry point since most visits on websites don’t begin with the landing page. Google’s new algorithm is more granular, compared to the past, and will be looking at each page separately to determine how your site will rank in search results.

  1. Page speed matters (a lot)

Google wants to ensure a good experience when people click on a website, so they look at your page speed to decide if you are offering a good mobile experience for visitors. The average load time for a mobile page is currently 22 seconds, but research shows that people will click out if it takes more than 3 seconds to load, indicating an imbalance in user expectations. Google offers the free tool PageSpeed Insights which reports on the real-world performance of a page and provides suggestions on how that page may be improved — check it out to put your website to the test.

  1. Remember: Google operates in real time

Previously, every few months, Google would crawl through web pages and collect data that would deem websites either up to standards or spam, which would then determine the search rankings for these pages. Prior to Google’s latest update, even if you improved your website you would still have to wait a few months until Google re-indexed in order to have any penalties on your website lifted.

But with the new update, Google’s systems are operating in real time. With its latest release Google crawls and re-indexes pages as changes are made. This means you can make improvements to your website and see results in your search rankings quickly.

With Google’s mobile-first indexing rolling out, mobile optimization is the biggest and most critical topic in SEO. It is now easier to understand where your website stands and how to improve it, and as competition increases, differentiating yourself with a well functioning website can help boost you to the top of search results. So get out there and improve your mobile optimization!

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

» 4 Ways to Update Your Social Media Strategy

Photo by Vanessa Joy Photography

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

“This is SO exciting!!!!”

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

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

1. Never stop learning

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

2. Don’t believe the lies

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

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

3. Understand the truth

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

4. Get help

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

5. BONUS: Know what to fix

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

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

» Why Email Templates Are Awesome

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

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

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

“Automated” vs. “templates”

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

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

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

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

4 reasons email templates are great:

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

  1. Saves time and money

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

  1. Personalization is still easy

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

  1. Allows for consistency

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

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

  1. Reduces spelling and grammar errors

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

How and when to create templates

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

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

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

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

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

» Are Your Business Goals Right for You?

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

I love speaking with wedding pros about their businesses, because the business of weddings and events is what my business is all about. Each wedding pro should have their own goals and it’s perfectly acceptable to have different goals at different stages of business — as a matter of fact, your goals should evolve with your business.

How do you measure your business?

New businesses are often just trying to survive, while well-established businesses may be trying to stay current and relevant. What are the benchmarks you’re using to see how you’re doing? Is it the number of weddings and events you do each year? Or is it the total revenue (top-line)? Or maybe it’s the bottom line (net profit). Each of you has to decide what’s important, and then decide how you’re going to achieve that target. Just make sure it’s the right target.

What’s in a number?

I was consulting with an entertainment company who told me that he wanted to do 250 weddings the next year. When I asked him why, he said that he felt he would be seen as a major player in his market. I asked why that was important to him and he replied that he felt it would solidify his standing, and how he was viewed by the other wedding pros. When we looked at how he was planning to get there, it was to go after lower-dollar weddings that he wasn’t getting now. He was currently more of a boutique business, towards the higher end of his market. As I went through with him how to get to the 250, it occurred to me that he wasn’t going to be making much profit on those additional weddings. Once we considered the additional costs: DJs, equipment, insurance, marketing/advertising, admin, etc., most of the money was going to others, not to him. In my words, he was trying to feed his ego, when I prefer that he was trying to feed his family.

Biggest or most profitable?

Another client of mine, a rental company, told me that their goal was to be the biggest rental company in their market. I suggested that a goal of being the most profitable rental company in their market was a better plan. It’s often easier to grow your top-line than your bottom line. You can sell more weddings and more services, at or close to your cost, and increase your total sales. Figuring out how to sell more profitable services, or raising your rates and increasing your average sale, is a better plan. You’ve probably heard the phrase “Work smarter, not harder” and in my opinion, that’s a better way to go. When you figure out how to make more profit per wedding, you’re on your way to working smarter.

Which comes first – more weddings or more profit?

If you have the choice to either do more weddings, or increase your average profit per wedding, I’d focus on the latter. When you start making more per wedding, then you can decide if you want to do more events per year, or just make more from doing the same number of events. Many of the wedding pros I meet, and consult with each year, aren’t trying to do more weddings. Many have already maxed out the number of events, so the only way to increase their sales, and profit, is to increase their average sale. It’s the same for my business. In the early days I was all about increasing my total sales. And while I achieved that, I also realized that I wasn’t profiting enough for the amount of sales I was bringing in.

Diversify, or double-down?

As you look for ways to increase your profits, one possible way is to diversify, and offer new services, or go into new geographic markets. You may see a competitor doing some of these things and decide to follow along. Just make sure that you know why you’re doing it, because it’s likely you don’t know why your competitor is. If you don’t know if they’re profiting from that expansion, you might be chasing a losing proposition. It’s easy to spread yourself too thin, too fast, so think before you follow.

Is smaller better?

In the lifecycle of many of my clients, they start small, get big (sometimes slowly, sometimes fast) and then, many of them decide to scale back and get smaller again. Maybe it’s a venue owner who goes from one, to three, to six venues, and then decides to focus on one or two of the most profitable ones. Or it could be a DJ, photographer or officiant, who goes from being a single-op (just her or him) to multi-op (many employees/contractors, and possibly many services) back to being just her or him and fewer services.

There’s no one answer as to which is better. It’s about which is better for you, at this time. One thing is for certain, you need to decide how you’re measuring your success, right now, and then work to achieve that. Don’t follow someone else’s idea of success, or you’re likely to be like the dog chasing a car. If the dog actually gets to catch the car, then what will it do? If you achieve someone else’s idea of success, will you be satisfied? I suggest you choose your own destination, chart your own course, and then enjoy your success when you get there.

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.

» Networking Etiquette for Conference Season

Photo by Catherine Lea Photography

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

We’re in the business of people. I know I’m preaching to the choir when I say this. Conference season is no different – from speaking to spectating to traveling and anything in between, we’re constantly sharing our expertise, chit-chatting with the flight attendant (maybe even calling down to the hotel desk to ask for another sleep mask?), and networking with all of the pros we get to reunite with from across the country.

Networking itself is an amazing way to maintain professional relationships and market yourself in the industry, especially when a rare in-person opportunity comes along in the midst of exchanging emails on top of emails. Putting in that face time is crucial! That being said, let’s dig into the etiquette of networking, namely during conference season.

Be mindful of investment

While this is an amazing time to introduce yourself in person rather than e-meet a fellow industry pro, remember that you’ll probably encounter a lot of jet-lagged faces and some potentially overwhelmed if they have upcoming topics or panels they’ll be speaking on. Don’t let this deter you by any means, just remember that they’re eager to meet people as well, so don’t monopolize anyone’s time.

Kylie Carlson of International Academy of Wedding and Event Planning says, “You definitely want to incorporate continuing education into your trip. But while you’re there, be mindful of the fact that people have paid to attend the conference and want to learn. Take note of their investment.”

Continuing professional relationships (the right way)

This goes for jumping back into professional relationships you might be currently cultivating as well. Kevin Dennis of WeddingIQ notes that if you’re looking to take it the extra mile by being referral-worthy, you’ll want to put in the legwork without being pushy. “Directly asking to be on the preferred vendor list will have the opposite desired outcome. You must give to receive, so boost fellow creative partners with whom you would love to work, and give out their names whenever you have the opportunity. The more you refer, the more referrals you will ultimately receive. That partnership will flourish faster than you think.”

Follow up!

Bill Tzizik, CEO of Classic Photographers, knows that following up (and following through) is the best thing you can do to set yourself up for success. “Everyone says that they’re going to follow up, but few do so in a timely manner. Have a system that works for you for collecting information on site – not just grabbing business cards.”

Do yourself this favor during the conference you’re attending – take note of those speaking on topics relative to your business and the goals you’re pursuing. This builds up for a wonderful segue into a conversation, especially if you’re growing a professional relationship and looking for a topic opening, especially for your follow-up.

Note that while they seem like great people to flock to during networking time in between sessions, the event organizers themselves are going to be the busiest people at the event. It’s better to say a quick hello to them (and any other panelists who may have tight schedules) and follow-up after. I promise they’ll be much happier you did and that phone call or email will be more memorable to them after a whirlwind conference.

The key to etiquette is to simply be respectful of time and money. Even speakers invest their own money into travel and accommodations, so you don’t want to crowd them in their downtime.

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.

» The Art of Listening

This article was written by Kylie Carlson, CEO of the International Academy of Wedding and Event Planning.

It is widely accepted wisdom in the business world that the best salespeople are adept at one vital skill: listening. While visions of fast-talking used car salesmen may make you think otherwise, it’s the truth. Those who can perfect the art of listening can sell just about anything to almost anyone. The odds are even more in your favor when what you’re selling is completely awesome.

I know there are those of you saying, “I’m a wedding planner” (or designer, baker, or entertainer) and insisting that you are not a salesperson. I assure you, though, that you are, in fact, in sales. No matter what your specialty is, if you have to secure paying clients to sustain your business, you are a salesperson.

The initial consultation

As a salesperson, one of the most important moments in your process is the initial consultation. Successfully converting a prospective client into a contracted one hinges on your ability at reading him or her and adjusting your pitch accordingly. The secret to this can be found in the Art of Listening.

Too many wedding professionals misunderstand the purpose of an initial consultation. They seize the opportunity to dominate the conversation by sharing every detail of their lives and careers. But the prospect simply doesn’t care. The only thing that is important to an engaged couple is their upcoming wedding.

Practice the 70/30 rule

An initial consultation is not a job interview. It is the chance for you to learn what makes a couple tick and leverage that information to secure their business. Use the “70/30 Rule” to help you strike the right balance. Listen for a full 70% of the time and talk only 30%. Some people are shy and don’t know how to express themselves well. When meeting with this type of prospective client, you need to ask open-ended questions.

Avoid dead end questions

The beauty of open-ended questions is that they yield the most valuable information about your couple. The key is to avoid those that can be answered with yes, no or a single word or phrase. Examples of open-ended questions include:

  • How did you meet?
  • What was your proposal like?
  • What kind of hobbies do you enjoy together?
  • Where do you like to go on vacation?
  • If you could shop anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Open-ended questions break the ice and demonstrate that you have a real interest in your prospective clients. They require you to listen, which makes your prospective clients feel valued and important.

Some questions make people uncomfortable and should be avoided. Asking “why?” puts people on the defensive, for example. Instead of “why do you want to get married at that venue,” you could ask, “what do you love most about the venue,” or “what appeals to you about that site?”

Practice makes perfect, so don’t give up if you find it hard to strike the right balance and ask the right questions at first. Just make note of what does and doesn’t work and remember that your primary goal is to listen more and talk less. You will soon see how it transforms the conversation and yields the sales success you desire.

Kylie Carlson is the CEO of the International Academy of Wedding and Event Planning. With six locations globally, the academy boasts an internationally recognized accreditation program that brings professional training to wedding planners, designers and stylists.

 

» The 4 Rules of Wedding PR During Busy Season

Photo by Tracy Shoopman Photography

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

Keep momentum going

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

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

Rule 1: Stick to the low-hanging fruit

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

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

Rule 2: Stay organized

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

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

Rule 3: Create a workflow

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

Rule 4: Be realistic

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

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

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

…But not so fast!

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

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

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