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.
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.