» Surprise and Delight Ideas for the Off Season

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

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

Always prepare first

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

Start small

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

Get to planning

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

Build it into your workflow

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

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


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

» How to Keep Your Storefront Fresh Year-Round

storefront tips

Photo by Bradley Images

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

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

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

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

Take action:

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

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

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

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

Verify that all information is up-to-date.

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

Take action:

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

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

Captivate couples using your reviews.

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

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

Take action:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not all friendors are created equally

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

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

Learning on the job

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

Are friendors your competition?

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

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

And the problem is…?

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

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

Now what?

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

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

» Are Your Salutations Inclusive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

» Streamlining for Efficiency, Sanity, & Profitability

Photo by Emily Keeney Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When to streamline-

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

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

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

When not to streamline-

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

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

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

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

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

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

» 4 Ways To Respond To Questions About Price

Photo by Rusted Vase Floral Co.

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

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

1. Tell them

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

2. Don’t tell them

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

3. Starting price

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

4. Price range

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

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

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

» How to Use Headshots to Redefine Your Brand

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

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

Timing is everything

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

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

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

Consider audience and message

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

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

Think about usage

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

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

Find the right photographer

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

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

Communicate openly

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

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


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

» 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 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.

» 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.