» Do You Do Weddings or Have a Wedding Business?

Karina Santos Photography

As many of you know, the wedding industry is a recession-resistant industry, and in most categories, the barrier to entry is fairly low — which allowed many of us to get in without much investment in the first place. Of course, that also allows many newcomers to get in, every year. Just as many newbies are getting in, many others are dropping out. And hopefully, dropping out because they’re retiring after a long, successful career. Unfortunately, many others get out because they can’t make it work financially.

Many years ago, I was contacted by someone at Yale University who was doing a research project on the wedding industry. He wanted to find out why so many people get into the industry when the economics don’t always seem to make sense. My sense is that because the barrier to entry is so low, not enough people approach their new venture as a business. Indeed, for many people it starts as a hobby or sideline. An all too common story is of the hobbyist who gets asked to help out a friend or relative, or themselves at their own wedding and is then offered money to work for someone else. Sound familiar?

So, do you do weddings, or do you have a wedding business?

There’s nothing wrong with someone getting into our industry that way. It’s happened countless times, and it will continue to happen that way. However, that scenario doesn’t exactly prepare one to have a wedding business. The skills needed to take photos, play music, arrange flowers or do calligraphy are not the only ones needed to succeed as a business. Understanding a balance sheet, profit and loss statement, accounts payables and the various taxes that need to be addressed are also critical to succeeding as a wedding business.

When did you become a professional?

I like asking wedding pros when they felt they became professionals. Many years ago, one wedding pro told me: “When I was asked for my insurance certificate!” That’s certainly a wakeup call for many hobbyists. I once referred a friend, who was beginning to DJ events (he had been a drummer in bands), to my son’s fraternity for their annual formal dinner. It was at a very nice Hilton hotel and of course, their budget was limited. He was willing to work with their budget, that is until the hotel requested his liability insurance certificate. I suggested that he take the gig, as it would pay for the year of liability insurance, and then he wouldn’t have that issue for another year. Instead, he declined the gig! So, instead of doing the gig, maybe breaking even, but having a year of liability insurance, he ended up with no gig, no money and no insurance. That’s not a business way of thinking.

So, when do you consider that you became a professional? Was it when you were paid to do a wedding or event? Was it when you did your taxes and had to report the income from your business? Was it when you were asked for your insurance certificate? I did an online search for the definition of a professional and got this: “(of a person) engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as a pastime.” Since I know that many of you either started doing weddings as a sideline (pastime), or maybe are still doing weddings in addition to another job, I don’t think this is completely applicable.

How much time does it take to do a wedding?

Another great thing about weddings is that nearly 68% of them are on Saturday evenings while 25% of them happen on Friday or Sunday. If you have a Monday-Friday job, it’s certainly possible to do the Saturday weddings. Of course, there’s a lot more to a wedding than what happens that day. There’s a lot of preparation and admin that happens before, and in some cases (photo, video) after. Just as people don’t see the hours I spend preparing for a speech, whether I’ve given it before, or not, they don’t see the time you invest in making their wedding great. Are you getting paid for that time? Do you charge by the hour for the wedding day, not taking into account the hours you spend before, at and after their event?

I can do that better!

Many others started their wedding businesses after working for someone else in the industry. Unless it’s a capital-intensive category, like a venue or dress shop, that low barrier to entry makes it seem easy to make the leap. I like to remind people who are ready to make that leap that when it’s your business, you pay for everything. The toilet paper doesn’t just appear in the bathroom, you have to pay for it. The lights don’t stay on, unless you pay the bill. And the ads don’t get run, unless you place and pay for them. Doing weddings while you have another paycheck, is a lot easier than doing them as your sole source of support. Some of you have felt that pain. Some of you are still feeling that pain.

Chin up!

This should not be a discouraging message. Many of you have successful, profitable wedding businesses. And those successful, profitable wedding businesses requires investments in time and money. When you’re part-time, you can try to do everything on the cheap. Free listings, free apps, etc. I’ve always felt that if you want others to invest in you, you have to make the investment first. I don’t want my customers perceiving that I’m doing everything on the cheap. If I want them to pay my prices, I have to show them that I’m leading by example. Better graphic design. Better website. Better messaging and branding. Better continued education. And then back that up with a better product that gets them better results.

Which came first?

Notice that I put the better product last on that grouping. You don’t get to deliver the better product and results until you make the sale. You don’t get to make the sale until you get the inquiry. You don’t get the inquiry unless you’ve done the marketing. How are they going to find you? How are you going to break through the clutter and noise? Those are the things that differentiate hobbyists from businesses.

So, as we begin the new year, I challenge you to think about how are you planning to invest in your wedding business in 2019. Have you bought your ticket to a conference, like WeddingWire World? Are you a member of a local association or networking group… and will you show up to those meetings? Are you investing in advertising on sites like WeddingWire to increase your exposure? How are you going to improve your business skills, so you get to perform your technical skills at more weddings? I’ll leave you to ponder these and answer them for yourselves. I look forward to hearing your stories of success.

 

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

 

» Booking Season Makeover – Make Your Business More Attractive in 2019

Havana Photography 

How many times have you heard, “oh, since it isn’t the wedding season, you must not be working too hard”? However, we know that our reality is something quite different.

With 40% of engagements taking place between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day, it is peak booking season for most of us! It is also a time when we feel that we can more easily carve out chunks of time – more than the minute or two that might feel feasible in the midst of your crazy season – to work on our business, not just in our business.  

Lots of New Year resolutions seem to focus on personal makeover items. Yet, this applies to our businesses too – and trust me when I say that every business needs at least a little bit of a makeover each year, be it with changes big or small.  

So no matter how good this past year was for you, and no matter how good your bookings are looking for next year, you want to keep your business relevant and up-to-date. As you set aside time to give your business a makeover, below are things that I always encourage my coaching clients to think about:    

1) Take time off – Wait, what? Didn’t I just say that now is the time to work on our businesses? Yes, but taking some time off is working on your business since for so many of us we are one entity. It is very easy to burn out doing what we do, and if we burn out we are less useful to our couples and our businesses. Put an out-of-office email responder and get out for a few days to recharge, because your business’ health is as good as yours!

2) Evaluate the year – Can you easily answer the question of how well you did this year? Now, can you easily answer the question of how well you did this year… with supporting numbers and not just a gut feel? Knowing your numbers not only helps you determine how well you did this year, but it also gives you a good idea of how next year is likely to shape up while giving you quantitive support for making decisions to improve your business. Numbers that I recommend knowing – in addition to your gross revenue and net profit – are:

  • Number of inquiries and their source
  • Number of bookings and their source (yes, your bookings are different from your inquiries!)
  • Income and expenses by category/type
  • Average cost and average profit per wedding  

I also recommend looking at data from the different groups of clients you serve. In my case, I look at weddings vs. elopements, the number of LGBTQ, military or destination couples to analyze how far out I was booked for each to find my own average and busiest booking times.

3) Some strategic thinking – Once you know your numbers, you can start to make some important strategic decisions based on data. Think about, for instance, how many weddings you want/need, how much each of them will cost you to execute, and how you most effectively go about getting them. Doing this will allow you to focus your important resources, both time and money, to their best effect. After all, do you often get in your car and just start driving, hoping to get where you want to go, or, do you plan your route first?  

Our businesses should be the same way — we can’t determine our route without having some real idea of what will get us there. Knowing the numbers allows me to start making decisions about where to put my marketing dollars, which referral relationships I should focus more time on, and if there are certain areas of my business to either cut out or put more into.

4) Reviews – Knowing how very powerful reviews are (you can read my earlier article about that here) when doing a business refresh, you should think about reviews as well.

  • Follow-up with couples who haven’t yet left you a review, because the more current your reviews are, the better. I’m using WeddingWire’s Couples’ Choice Awards® as a great excuse to get back in touch to ask for reviews, since reviews from couples up to a year ago help me qualify to win!
  • Review your reviews part 1: Are there positive and/or descriptive keywords, phrases, sentiments, etc. that keep appearing and can be used to update marketing materials?
  • Review your reviews part 2: If there are criticisms that appear in more than 1 or 2 reviews or something you thought was important but is never being mentioned, you might want to take some time working on business processes and your customer experience.

5) Marketing – How much you do in this area just depends on how deep your makeover is going to be. At the least, I recommend doing the following two tasks:

  • Review and refresh marketing text and pictures: Remember, the pictures and messaging should represent what you want to do and speak to your ideal couples. And when doing this, make sure you not only update your website and the website listings you created, but also any other places you may be listed, such as your WeddingWire Storefront.
  • Use your numbers to evaluate what marketing tools are working for you and which ones aren’t: For those that are, would more resources there make them even more successful for you, like upgrading a listing or adding on an additional wedding show?

For those that aren’t, are there changes you can make to improve your return or would those marketing dollars be better used somewhere else?  Please don’t forget to factor in your time. “Free” tools don’t mean that your time isn’t going into them – as many of us have learned over the years with social media – so make it all work properly for you and your business.

6) Customer experience – And, of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about one of my favorite business areas, the customer experience. Business makeover time is the perfect time to make changes to your business processes, including your communication tools and messaging–hether it be updating the text in your templated emails or adding questionnaires to your process.I’m going through a lot of this now myself, using this year’s learning experiences to further improve my couples’ experience with me.    

Don’t feel overwhelmed with all of the things that you could do in your business makeover. I expect that, based on the age, condition and pain points of your business, you can probably pick at least a few to work on over the next couple of months. Event doing a mini-makeover will help you create a wedding business that is more attractive, smoother running, more profitable and more enjoyable. And that’s definitely worth the time and attention!

 

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.

» Will You Ever Retire?

Photo by Vanessa Joy Photography

I was recently questioned for using the term “minimum wage” in one of my videos on YouTube. The commenter assumed I meant that people should be paid under what he deemed as “living-wage”. It wasn’t my intent, but it did get me thinking. How many wedding professionals, business owners even, aren’t paying themselves a decent living wage?

It’s easy to think we’re making a ton of money in the wedding world because we take in a lot of money. But when was the last time you evaluated your costs? Better yet, when was the last time you looked at how much time your business commands of you?

The easiest way to determine how much you should charge is to add up your cost of sales (the amount of money it takes to actually do the job – typically staff and product costs) plus the cost of business (marketing, insurance, overhead, etc) and multiply that 3-5x. Then, as you grow in experience and skill, your pricing should grow to accommodate that plus inflation. To see a breakdown of that pricing method, download this pricing video.

Now, you may come to that profit number per job or per year and think, “I’m doing pretty good.” But now I want you to take that number and divide it by how many hours you work to get it. Are you making a living wage or just minimum wage?

A living wage should mean that you can save for retirement, and I believe that’s where a lot of us fall short. Let’s face it, weddings are a tough business. They’re stressful, long hours, physically strenuous and on weekends where you’re sadly away from friends and family. Are you prepared to retire one day? Or are you hoping to have a second career?

Saving for retirement is no easy task. It’s one that takes a lot of diligence over a long period of time. Dave Ramsey would suggest that we save 15% of our income for retirement every year. That seems like a huge number when you’re currently saving 0%. But you want to know what’s an even bigger number? The amount of money you need to have saved in order to retire.

Chris Hogan says that “Retirement isn’t an age, it’s a number.” If you want to see what your number is, go take his Retirement IQ quiz. Shocked? I sure was!

The best part of all of this? You have control, my friend! You own your own business so you can immediately make adjustments to start cutting spending and increasing income so you can start down the retirement track — even if you just started in the wedding business.

I didn’t write this article to give you three easy steps to retirement. I wrote it to light a fire under you because no one talks about this. Maybe it’s because we truly love what we do so much that we can’t picture ever not doing it. I get that and I’m actually with you on it. But, that doesn’t mean one day you won’t want to travel more, work a little less and spend most of your time with the people you love vs the people that pay you.

I’ve found my answers to business and personal finances in the two books. Entreleadership and The Total Money Makeover, both by Dave Ramsey. And I want to give them to you. I’ve got nothing to gain from this. Dave Ramsey is not sponsoring me. I just want to see my fellow wedding professionals have a plan and succeed at it.

The week this article posts I’m holding an Instagram Contest. Just head over to www.Instagram.com/vanessajoy, follow me and comment on one of my pictures telling me why you want to retire one day. Make it funny, make it serious, whatever you’d like. 7 days after this article posts I’ll pick the winner and send you both of those books so you can get started on living your dream after your dream.

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

 

» Should You Focus On Volume Or Profit?

Photography by StopGoLove Film+Photo

In my conversations with wedding pros, around the world, the topic of how many weddings/events a business should do each year is a recurrent one and there’s certainly no one answer that’s right for every business. So many factors will affect both your ability and desire to do more weddings/events. If you’re just starting out, and maybe still holding down a full-time job outside the industry, there’s certainly a limit to how many weddings you can effectively do. On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re well-established, maybe even looking towards retirement, you too may be looking to do a smaller number of weddings/events.

Growth strategy

But what about the businesses who are on the growth curve? There are different ways to grow your business. One is to grow the volume and another is to grow your average sale. Given the choice between those two, I would choose to grow your average sale first, so you earn more from each wedding/event. Then, if you choose to increase your volume, you’ll earn that much more. Before you decide to do more weddings/events, think about why you want to do more. If it’s to impress your industry friends, or as one wedding pro told me, to be seen as a major player in his market/category, make sure you’re also increasing profit. I’ve often said in my consulting that I don’t want to feed your ego, if we’re not also feeding your family.

Keep your eye on the profit

Regardless of which way you go, keep an eye on your profitability. Growing your top line is easy if you’re giving it away. Growing your bottom line is the better long-term strategy. Take a close look at your costs, the time it takes you to complete an event, and your pricing. Costs are relatively easy to find. You should know what the products, ingredients and raw materials cost for each event. Be sure to include everything you use, whether it comes off your warehouse shelf, or your kitchen shelf.

Time is something that seems to be harder for wedding pros to quantify. You invest time with each wedding/event from the moment you get an inquiry. How much time do you invest replying to their emails, calls and in meetings? It’s not just the time on the day of their wedding, it’s also all of the time before and after. For some, particularly videographers, there’s more time spent after the wedding than before or during. How much are you getting paid for your time? Would you take a job that paid that hourly wage?

The 40-hour wedding

While I was having dinner with a wedding DJ friend, he received a new inquiry that asked “How much do you charge for a 5-hour wedding?” We can’t blame the couple for the question, it’s the wedding pros who are selling their services that way that create that environment. If wedding pros only value the time they spend at the actual event, and not the time they invest before, and after, then we can’t expect couples to value that other time, either.

When I asked my friend how much time he actually invests in each wedding, he said it was somewhere between 30 and 40 hours. Given that he does a grand entrance, cuts and edits different music for bridal party introductions, displays photos, does a lighting plan and more, that’s a reasonable estimate. If he were to price his services, by the hour, for only 5 hours, his effective hourly rate is actually 1/6 of that. I suggested that he reply by saying “Thanks for reaching out. I’d love to make your wedding amazing, pack your dance floor, and have your friends and family saying it was the best they’ve ever experienced. I don’t have a 5-hour package, but I’d love to tell you about the 35 hours that I’m going to invest in making your wedding great.” – and then ask one low-commitment question.

What’s the value?

So, how should you price your product and services? I recently presented at WeddingWire World in Dallas and asked that very question. Given that many wedding businesses are service businesses (and yes, we can certainly say that ALL are service businesses, even those with tangible products), it’s really about your time, your creativity, designs, and ideas. How do you put a price on those? Do you price based upon what others charge? Do you take your expenses and then mark them up? Or, do you set your prices based upon the value that you are bringing to both your couples and to you and your family. You see, you set the price, your customers determine the value. Regardless of the price you set, if you need to discount to get the sale, then the actual value is the price the customer paid, not the original price.

Giving away profit

Remember that every dollar you discount is profit you gave away. Conversely, every dollar you raise your prices is additional profit you earn… provided the customers are paying the new, higher price. So, the next time you are asked for a discount, ask yourself how much of your profit you want to give away. Your customers are entitled to ask for a discount. When we’re the customer, we have that right as well. You, the business, have a right to say yes, or no. Just ensure that you’re profiting, regardless of your discounting policy. And, if you’d like to see how you can profit, from day 1 in your business, I recommend reading “Profit First” by Mike Michalowicz. It’ll change the way you view profit, for the better.

 

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.

 

» Make the Most of Your Time During Off-Season

Photo by Karina Santos Photography

It’s hard to argue with the value of continuing education, but as busy professionals, it’s easy to overlook learning opportunities in favor of tangible money-making efforts. After all, time spent reading or attending workshops could be allotted to client work or marketing your brand.

Fortunately, the off-season tends to be slower for most wedding pros, making it the optimal time to double down on educational endeavors and build skills that will set you up for a better 2019. Here are some suggestions to make the most of your off-season.

Read business books

This is often the low-hanging fruit for professionals who don’t quite have the need or the resources to take classes or attend conferences. Not sure where to start? Take a look at these pros’ suggestions.

  • Kylie Carlson of Creative Entrepreneur Online: “She Means Business by Carrie Green isn’t a new book, but the phrase ‘female entrepreneur’ really spoke to me as my career began taking off, and even more so to see that the author made it her own with the Female Entrepreneur Society that she founded in 2011. It’s such an inspiring read and I recommend it to others in our industry looking for that extra push.”

  • Keith Phillips of Classic Photographers: “One of the books that I frequently revisit is Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. The slow season is a great time of year to get your positive mental health and attitude on track for heading back into peak engagement season when new clients will be seeking out your services.”

  • Matthew Wengerd of A Fine Press: “Seth Godin’s latest, This is Marketing, is absolute gold for wedding professionals. He’s the father of “permission marketing” and has a penchant for seeing the market as it will be in the five years more clearly than you or I see it in the present. If you’ve ever wondered how to position your business or create a profile of your ideal couples, this is the book for you.”

Book a conference trip

There’s no better experience for continuing education than a weekend filled with seminars and workshops from the industry’s top professionals. “I’m a huge proponent of attending conferences to further education,” says Kevin Dennis of WeddingIQ. “Few things are as effective as face-time with other industry professionals, plus their work ethic can be contagious. I suggest joining a local or national association for this very reason and soaking up all of the knowledge and networking opportunities available.”

Get hooked on a podcast

As a self-proclaimed podcast addict, I encourage looking into business podcasts that can help you grow your business strategy. Kristen Gosselin of KG Events & Design shared her favorites with us:

  • Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations

  • Rise Podcast with Rachel Hollis

  • The Daily Boost

  • Freakonomics Radio

  • Creative Empire Podcast

Looking for wedding industry related podcasts to dive into? If you want to get better insight into engaged couples these days, look no further than Bridechilla, where hostess with the mostess Aleisha breaks down planning each week — with equal parts vigor and humor.  On the B2B side, Andy Kushner’s The Wedding Biz interviews well-respected thought leaders and industry icons, while She Creates Business focuses on how to grow, scale and sustain success as a female entrepreneur in the wedding space.

Dig into the conversation

Take advantage of the off-season to understand what couples want. Get creative with how you immerse yourself in understanding the world of wedding planning through their perspective. “I have always been a huge Redditor, so in the off-season, I like to browse the subreddits: r/weddingplanning, r/wedding, and r/weddingsunder10k,” explains Paulette Alkire of Chalet View Lodge. “Because of Reddit’s discussion forum structure, I can interact, ask questions, and get a true sense of what the average bride is genuinely thinking about.”

Forget weddings (for a bit)

Everybody needs a break — putting a pause on wedding work can actually be quite inspiring. “Expose yourself outside of the industry,” encourages Heather Rouffle of Atlas Event Rental. “Look to fashion and home décor (reading magazines and browsing social media for blog articles and podcast interviews) as they correlate very well to what’s new and trending for tabletop and linen designs, which will help you develop new décor ideas for clients.”  

Tie up loose ends

There are surely some tasks from the year that never got completed simply for lack of time. Take this off-season to check off those boxes to prepare yourself for a streamlined 2019. “We take the time to focus on updating our website and systems to take advantage of constantly-emerging tools and technologies,” shares Joan Wyndrum of Blooms by the Box. “We also use the downtime to plan out long-term content and stock up on tutorials and photo shoots to be used throughout the upcoming year.”

Investing in education during your off-season is a great tactic, no matter how successful you were in 2018 or what your goals may be for 2019. There’s always room for growth, so allow yourself the time to become better — one book, podcast, or class at a time.

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.

» Ready The Rooms With Gender Inclusivity

Photography by Brandi Potter Photography

This article was written by WeddingWire Education Expert, Kathryn Hamm

I attended a wedding out on a farm in Virginia several years ago. As I explored the grounds during a break in the action, I found a small building offering restrooms for guests. There were three doors with permanent signage: one marked as a restroom for men, one for women, and one as a special room for “the bridal party only.”

Knowing that folks sometimes use the term “bridal party” to refer to the couple and their attendants, I asked the groom if this was a room to which he, the bride and all of their attendants had access. No, he said. This was a room that was intended for the bride and her attendants only.

The message I received from this? A groom and his attendants are a secondary focus at this venue and are expected to use the facilities with the rest of the guests.

How wedding professionals have come to address this challenge of addressing the needs and expectations of a wide variety of couples, a desire for more inclusion, and the legal recognition of marriage varies.

Tommy Waters, Venue Owner/Event Coordinator of The Renaissance in Richmond, Virginia, says that, with the shift in legal recognition of marriage, The Renaissance updated the name of their “Bridal Suite” to “Couple’s Suite” to “cater to all groups including same-sex couples.” Interestingly, he says that the signage adjustment has “gone unnoticed” by their bride-groom couples, but has “been met with positive feedback from our same-sex couples.”

The decor of the Couple’s Suite is appreciated universally by all couple combinations, and Tommy and his team like to add “day of” touches like “His” and “His” towels and “Hers” and “Hers” champagne flutes to further personalize the space.

I also asked Leah Weinberg, Owner & Creative Director of New York-based Color Pop Events what sort of naming practices she encounters for the rooms where the wedding party gets ready for the wedding, and she says that the names for these types of spaces run the gamut.

“A lot of venues still refer to them as ‘bridal suites,’” she says, “but more ‘with it’ venues use words like getting ready suite or ‘getting ready room, ‘green room,’ or just ‘suite.’”

When exploring venue recommendations for her couples, Leah says that she is “pretty disappointed” when seeing venues that “still call these rooms ‘bridal suites’ in this day and age.”  She says that they should know better. “If two grooms are getting married at your venue and you tell them you’ve got a ‘bridal suite,’ that’s not going to go over too well.”

All of this is not to say that there isn’t room for those who would prefer a “traditional wedding,” with all of the “bridal” trappings for a bride to experience the day of her dreams, with her groom playing second chair. That’s great, too, if it’s what the couple wants.

It’s an opportunity for a conscious choice that I encourage wedding professionals to consider. To do so only requires a few adjustments in the opening interview and a consideration of the physical space. As you consider your “ready rooms” and inclusive practices for the 2019 season, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you assume that wedding parties will be defined and split by gender? Tread carefully there because 40% of all couples in 2018 had mixed gender wedding parties.
  • Do you assume that couples interested in visiting your venue are straight (a bride & groom pairing)?
  • Do you assume that the couple won’t see each other or get ready together prior to the wedding?
  • Do you have two spaces of equal size where each member of the couple can get ready if they so choose?
  • Are those rooms flexible in design to suit the needs of all brides or grooms or does each have fixed trimmings for a “bride” (perceived to be feminine) or for a “groom” (perceived to be masculine)?
  • Are those two rooms labeled for a “bride” and her wedding party and a “groom” and his wedding party or do you have creative names for the rooms that will apply to all combinations of couples?
  • Do you have a restroom that a person of any gender identity can use? Bonus point: these facilities are often handicapped accessible or helpful as family restrooms!

Kathryn Hamm

 

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

» Beyond the Stars – The Power of Using Your Reviews

Photo by Slavik Yasinsky Photography

When marketing a brick and mortar business before the internet, the three magic words were location, location, location! However, this has changed over the years — now reviews are what makes a business successful online.

As you know, having as many great – and recent – reviews as possible is very important to your business. It shows your work ethic and values, from the voices who have hired and experienced your services, a “social proof” that you will live up to the promise of your work. Reviews can set you apart when being compared to other wedding professionals in your category. I often hear from couples that they reached out because of my reviews, even when they didn’t come directly from a site with reviews. How about your couples?

Here are some ways you can use the power of reviews to increase the number of ideal couples who inquire with you – leading to more bookings, which leads to more great reviews, which leads to a fabulously repetitive cycle.

Use what is written in your reviews in places where your ideal couples are looking.

I cannot emphasize this enough! Words, phrases, and even entire reviews – that describe what you want to do more of with couples – should be integrated throughout your marketing materials, on all the pages of your website, on your social media, in your verbal messaging, and any other place where you are communicating with couples. This includes initial calls/meetings with couples or your elevator pitch at wedding shows to reinforce perceptions and expectations. For example, in so many places and in so many ways, I use some form of, “my couples are looking for a ceremony that is fun, personal, meaningful, and non-traditional” – because that is what I hear over and over from my ideal couples and continue to read in my reviews. It truly describes what I do and speaks to my ideal couples and, thus, I embrace it and use it everywhere. The idea is to let your couples say it for you, because it is more powerful coming from them – plus, let’s be honest, often some of the praise they say about you would sound a bit (or more than a bit!) weird or braggart coming from you. Let them say it all for you!

Use what is written in your reviews to improve your SEO.

This takes the above one step further, to not only use your reviews once a potential couple has found you, but also to help potential couples find you. The positive words, phrases, and sentences that get used over and over in your reviews should also be used as keywords on your website and in your blog articles.

Use what is said in your reviews to fix problem areas within your business.

For example, one coaching client of mine was getting high marks for her service on the wedding day itself, but lower marks for her responsiveness in the lead-up to the big day. This issue was written about in multiple reviews and needed to be addressed if the overall customer experience was to be improved. Remember, you may not think what is being reported is a problem, but if your couples think it is, you either need to fix that area or set proper expectations with new couples. 

Obviously, if you get one not-so-great review, it might require a personal response but it probably doesn’t require a process change. However, if you get multiple not-so-great (or quite bad) reviews, read them objectively looking for a pattern. Do they say your communication was lacking? Do they say you weren’t professional? Do they say your end product wasn’t what was promised? If there is a pattern, you should take corrective actions as soon as possible.

On the positive side of the above, use what is said in your reviews to help you streamline and improve your business processes.

Is there something within your process that couples always mention in a positive way? If there is, is there a way you can make it even better? Or, if you are looking at how to be more efficient, is there something you thought every couple would mention but don’t? Could you remove that from your process?  

For example, I send a wedding greeting card with a personal hand-written message to each couple after their wedding. The card itself is a few dollars plus postage, and the time to write it is at least a few minutes. If that never gets mentioned in reviews, is it a part of my process that I could remove without negatively impacting the customer experience? Yes, it is. Now, that doesn’t mean I have to remove it, as it might fit the customer experience I personally want to provide, but it provides valid justification if I decide to remove it.

Share your reviews on social media.

I know this sounds obvious, but I follow lots of local and national wedding professionals and yet, I only can name a few who seem to be consistently sharing their reviews. Facebook, Instagram, and even Pinterest are all places that your potential couples may be checking you out, and therefore you should let your previous couples speak positively for you on these platforms. A great way to share your reviews are to screenshot them right from the WeddingWire Business app and post it on your social platforms (rather that retyping the words, which can be faked or edited).

As you can see from the above, your reviews really do have superpowers that can be exploited for good– the good of your business. Spend the time and effort to make it happen!

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 Overcome Ghosting in Wedding PR

Photo by Bellagala Photography

Ghosting – the practice of ending all communication without explanation – was brought to the forefront in the last few weeks among Facebook conversations and industry podcasts.  

While not a new concept, it brings to light the question– what in the world do you do when someone goes MIA on you? This is especially the case with wedding PR related pitches– be it real wedding submissions, styled shoots or media pitches themselves.

If this your first time engaging the editor, or your millionth, it takes a bit of organization, patience and optimism to overcome ghosting.

Before even getting into the business of submissions, it’s essential to set your expectations accordingly. As I like to remind people– it used to be that the ratio of people pitching to editors/writers was 1:1, but these days, it’s closer to 8:1. Inboxes are filling at an unprecedented rate and it’s not easy to catch someone’s attention with just the one email.

Below you’ll find a few of the typical ghosting scenarios you may come across, and the best reactive steps:

Real Wedding/Styled Shoot Submissions

I get this question often from clients and colleagues– what if you submit and then you never hear back? This really does depend on the media outlet so be sure to review their guidelines for submission. Some will give a timeframe on when you can expect to hear back. Pay careful attention to those who expand on the fact that if you don’t hear back within a certain time period, you should move forward elsewhere.

It’s always best when submitting, to mark your calendars for when you can expect to hear back. Be sure to give a little wiggle room in the process. If say, for example, an editor says that they respond within 30 days, mark your calendar for 35 days and follow up if you haven’t heard anything. Aim to be equal parts kind but firm:

Hi {NAME!},

I hope this finds you well. Just wanted to follow up on my recent submission of 
{NAME} and {NAME’s} wedding. I originally submitted on {DATE} and since we’re 
past the {NUMBER} days of consideration, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to check in 
one more time. 

Happy to continue to offer exclusivity to you if the wedding/shoot is still in 
thequeue. If you’d prefer to pass on it, please let me know and I’ll move
on to the next publication. 

Thanks so much!
{NAME}

If you don’t hear back again within about a week, consider it passed on and move on. Before doing so, send along a brief, kind email to confirm your next steps:

Hi {NAME}!

Hope you’re having a great week! Just following up one more time on the 
wedding submission of {NAME} and {NAME’s} celebration from {DATE}. 
I haven’t heard back after multiple attempts so just sending a quick email
along that I’d like to respectfully withdraw the submission. 

I look forward to trying again down the road!

Thanks!
{NAME}

You’ll find, more often than not, that editors will appreciate that you took the time to close the circle on the submission.

With that being said, if you can, it’s great to work with editors that use a direct, streamlined channel for submitting, such as RealWeds.com.

HARO Pitches

For those using a third-party program, such as HARO, rest assured that things are fairly black and white. You pitch directly to the writer with their anonymous email. If it’s picked up, it’s picked up. If it’s not, it’s not. With HARO, there is no need to follow up on a pitch sent out– in fact, HARO creates the anonymous emails for journalists so it’s difficult for you to do so.

The majority of HARO journalists will respond if they liked your quotes and are considering it, but very few, from my experience, let you know if it goes live. With that in mind, when you do pitch, it doesn’t hurt to look up the writer and bookmark their author page on the site where they are writing. Better yet, be sure to set up a Talkwalker Alert on your own name so that you receive emails every time your name pops up in the media.

Media Pitches

While real wedding/styled shoot submissions typically follow along with the guidelines set aside by the editor of the site/blog/publication, this isn’t quite the case when sending along story ideas to writers/reporters and editors for publications and sites.

If you’ve pitched a story idea and have not heard back, it’s a good chance that they are either bogged down with pitches and/or they are simply not interested. My general rule of thumb is to follow up a week later only just the once and to come with additional information, or better yet– another story idea.

More often than not, the media does not love a brief “hey, did you get my article?” email. Instead, kindly follow up and perhaps send a couple of more topics that may be a fit for their publication. The goal is always to add value, not fill their inbox.

It can admittedly be frustrating when you don’t hear back from what you had hoped was an amazing pitch. Remember that members of the media are constantly being inundated with pitches so if you aren’t hearing back in general, just know that it’s a very common thing to happen. I promise it will make it that much sweeter when you do hear back.

 

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.

» Should You Reevaluate for Engagement Season?

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

In the WeddingWire EDU webinar, Are You Ready for Engagement Season?,” I posed the question: “Are you doing what you know you should be doing?”  With the end of wedding season here, now is the time to reflect on what has been working, and what hasn’t. Often things that haven’t been working are a result of the lack of effort or attention on our part. For instance, we might know we need more reviews, but we haven’t been asking because we’ve been deep in the weeds of wedding season. Or maybe you know that your website needs updating, but you haven’t asked your photographer friends for recent photos. Or maybe you know that you should raise your prices, maybe a little, maybe a lot, but you haven’t given the time and attention to figuring out which prices, and by how much.

If I only had the time…

Fear not, you’re in the majority. There’s an old saying: “When’s the best time to plant a tree? Twenty years ago. When’s the second-best time? Today!” It’s not a matter of having more time. It’s a matter of prioritizing that time (something I wrote about in my second book, “Your Attitude for Success”). Each day we’re given a new twenty-four hours and we get to decide how to use them.

Procrastinators unite… tomorrow!

The key is to not try to do it all, just do something, and do it today. I’ve gotten way more accomplished by having a shorter list than I ever did by having a long one. Some of you may have heard me refer to my lists as my “Today List” and my “To-Do List.” My “Today List” includes the things I can’t avoid on a daily basis, such as replying to inquiries, meeting client deadlines, giving speeches, doing webinars… oh yeah, and eating, sleeping and spending time with my family. My “To-Do List” includes my big-picture goals: writing my fifth book, creating my next prospecting campaign idea, speaking in more countries, etc. None of those can be accomplished in one sitting or even one day. None of them is one step. But if I don’t get a small piece of it done, the task will never get started, no less completed.

Once I complete the three things on my big-picture To-Do List… I make a new list. It’s funny how things that used to seem important, just aren’t anymore. That’s because each time we do something new, we move ourselves to a different place, with a different perspective. I have a way different perspective on altitude after jumping from a perfectly good airplane at 13,500 feet. I have a very different perspective on writing books now, after writing four, than I did before I wrote the first one. I have a very different perspective on learning a new language, after presenting in Spanish in four countries. All of these things once seemed unattainable, too difficult, or just plain crazy. On the other side, after doing them, they seem satisfying and empowering. Every time you push yourself, a little more, you move the bar of what’s possible.

What about failure?

Few movements forward are straight lines or only-upward progress. There will be setbacks. Expect them. Plan for them. But, don’t get paralyzed by them. Seth Godin’s book “The Dip” talks about hitting the difficult trough in the path to success. That’s when most people give up. However, it’s the ones that make it out the other side of the trough who reap the rewards. If you are convinced that a new idea will work, that in itself is half the battle. No one can really motivate you, except you. Yes, others can encourage you, but ultimately you have to take the actions. And for those of us who are solo-preneurs, we often need to be our own cheerleaders.

What I said, versus what you heard

Every so often I’ll have a wedding pro tell me that they’re using an idea from a webinar, or one of my speeches or books, but it’s not working for them. Just this week I had an email from a wedding pro, a consulting client of mine, who said that she’s using all of the tips from my latest book, but they’re not working for her. So, I asked her to send me some emails that she’s been using, to see if I can spot any obvious red-flags. When I read her emails, it was very obvious to me that she was using a few of my tips, while ignoring some of the biggest ones. Her emails were short and fit on one screen of a smartphone. Good. But she wasn’t ending with a question. There was no call to action. There was no excitement to the message. I know that she comes from a corporate background, so it’s tough to break the corporate-speak that she’s been doing for years.

Too close to the project

There was a big difference between what I said, versus what she was doing. To me, it was obvious. Of course, it’s easier for me to see it, because I didn’t write her original emails. And yes, it’s undoubtedly easier for me since I wrote a book on the subject. But she read the book. Either she interpreted what I said differently, or she unconsciously resisted the ideas because it caused too much friction for her. Sometimes we just need an outside opinion, someone who can see it more clearly than we can. We’re the experts in some things. We need to seek out experts to fill in the blanks for us when we’re not.

Are you doing, what you should be doing?

Now is the time to step back and see if you’re doing the things you know you should be doing, but you’re just not, at least not yet. Don’t try to tackle them all, just do something. Prioritize your big-picture to-do list and pick your three goals. Then, break those goals down into smaller pieces that you can do in a day, or less. Can you contact one photographer today and ask for some photos for your storefront and website? Yes. Can you reread the text on one page of your website to make sure it’s up to date? Yes. Can you use the WeddingWire Review Collector Tool to ask for reviews from your recent couples? Yes. Can you update your Featured Review? Yes. Can you reply to the most recent 3 reviews? Yes. See, it’s not so hard… now go do it!

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.

» 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

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.