» 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 Attract Your Ideal Couple

Photo by Anchor & Pine Collective

“My business can service all couples.” This is a bold statement and one that luckily I hear less and less these days. For 95% of us wedding business owners and managers, servicing ALL couples well is a far reach without compromising service.

When thinking about long-term success in a passion-based business, there should be two main goals — your happiness and the couple’s happiness. If both aren’t happy, it’s tough to have long-term success.

You might be thinking that a business in which you AND the couple are both happy sounds like a world filled with sprinkles and unicorns. However, this is an actual viable business model for entrepreneurs/business owners in the wedding industry, and it all revolves around the concept of the ideal client (or in our case, the ideal couple).

In order to work with this model, you must first start by developing a business model that makes you happy and then determine the type of ideal couple you hope to service. If there are enough couples to fit your ideal type and support your business model, the next step is to create targeted marketing and a customer experience plan that will meet or exceed the expectations of those couples.

This model of focusing on the ideal couple allows for:

  • More targeted marketing with a better return on dollars spent

  • Less money/time spent on delivering a great and fitting customer experience

  • And most importantly, you guarantee more future business through the ideal couple cycle

The Ideal Couple Cycle

The goal of your business is not just to attract ideal couples, but to create an “ideal couple cycle” which will fill your business year after year with couples that make you happy and are very satisfied themselves.  

The ideal couple cycle is built on the premise that everything within your business is designed, built, written, etc. to attract your ideal couple This means having a marketing message that speaks to them, advertised in places they’re looking, pricing that is in a range they are willing to pay, and a customer experience that meets their expectations.

If all of this is done right, the ideal couple cycle goes as follows: couples are attracted to you by your marketing messaging, your customer experience meets or exceeds their expectations, they leave you great reviews and then refer you to everyone. Those great reviews and referrals lead not only to more couples but to more ideal couples since what they are reading confirms your marketing messaging and your worth/values. These couples are then contacting you as a much warmer lead.  

What also powers the ideal couple cycle is that if you are regularly working with your ideal couples, you also end up working with other vendors who serve the same, or relatively the same, types of couples. By rocking it for these couples, while playing well with these other vendors, you will also increase your vendor referrals. This goes a long way toward bringing in more ideal couples.

Messaging and Imagery

To get this ideal couple cycle going and keep it going, your marketing message needs to speak to your ideal couples and needs to appear in the places that your ideal couples are looking.  For instance, if you are working the low-cost market, then advertising on Craigslist using words like inexpensive, simple, budget, no frills, etc. might be a perfect fit for your business.  If not, advertising there and using those words likely would not be the right fit for your business.

Tips to create messaging that fits your ideal couples:

  • Look at your reviews. What they mention is important, and how they describe you should then be heavily represented in your messaging. I cannot emphasize this enough – use their words!

  • Ask other vendors who you have worked with to describe you and your business. Ask them how they would talk about you to a couple they want to send your way. Use their words too.

  • While you can look at reviews and marketing materials of others who service the same ideal couples for inspiration, do not steal… your messaging needs to be your messaging, and needs to fit what you can and do truly deliver on.

  • Your pictures are just as much a part of your “messaging” to attract ideal couples and should fit accordingly.   

  • To determine the where, track how your ideal couples find you, and spend more time and money advertising in those places.

By focusing your messaging and your marketing on your ideal couples, you will end up getting more inquiries that fit, which means more inquiries that turn into bookings, and therefore a better return on your marketing investment and efforts.

Customer Experience

Now, let’s talk about the less money/time spent on delivering a customer experience. Think of it this way, by trying to service those across all price-points, you either: need multiple sets of processes and are likely using your systems in multiple different ways, which takes more time and effort to set-up and manage on a daily basis; or, you have one set of processes, probably set for a middle ground customer experience, which will make the couples paying you the least very happy but won’t do much for those couples paying the middle to high rate.  At best, your business will end up with a range of reviews and maybe a certain number of couples will still come to you, but it is going to be more marketing work to maintain the business over the years and, you probably won’t be as happy.

A few pieces of overall advice:

  • This cycle can’t get started if you are taking couples that aren’t your ideal couples.

  • Once the cycle is rolling, you still need to maintain it. Keep up your marketing, reviews, and quality of your customer experience. Also, maintain your vendor relationships.

  • Always be paying attention to what is happening with your ideal couples. Are their demographics changing? Are changes in thinking or an outside influence causing your pool of ideal couples to shrink? If so, what do you need to change in your business model or messaging to change with it?

I also want to point out that there are all kinds of happy. If your happiness is purely money-based, then you probably would be looking for the largest market segment that you could serve well… it could be the low price + high volume segment, or the exact opposite with the high price + low volume segment. Either one might be fine to focus on. The key is to remember that it is very tough to create and build a business that can serve both markets well. And, by having a business that is focused on serving whichever market you choose and can serve well, you are properly feeding your ideal couple cycle.


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.

» Wedding MBA 2018: See the Highlights!

We had such an exciting week in Las Vegas for another great Wedding MBA conference! We loved connecting with thousands of wedding industry colleagues and friends from across the globe. From outstanding education to a fun-filled celebration, our WeddingWire team was thrilled to see so many of vendor friends doing what they love!

Here are a few of our favorite highlights:

Expert Education

We loved sharing business tips, industry insights and a range of education with you. Our Education Experts presented 16 times at the event — on a wide variety of topics from marketing, to websites, to sales and more. We were also so pleased to include some category-specific education from our Experts. Check out the slides from our presentations here.

Passport to fun

We had so much fun with everyone who stopped by the WeddingWire booth to say hello to the team, and collect passport stamps for swag. Our team loved seeing your selfies in our photo booths provided by The Brand Booth, and watching you contribute to our coloring wall. We were also able to meet with hundreds of pros to share account advice, set their businesses up for success on WeddingWire, and collect product feedback for future updates and improvements. Our team loved seeing friends—old and new.

Celebrating with pros

It wasn’t all business insights and education — there was plenty of fun along the way! We took the time to unwind, after a full day at the conference and take in some Vegas nightlife with great music at the annual WeddingWire party at the Foxtail Pool & Nightclub. Jason Jani of SCE Event Group spun another amazing set, featuring electric violinist Lydia Ansel.

For more event takeaways and to stay up-to-date on all the latest WeddingWire happenings for pros, be sure to follow WeddingWireEDU on Facebook and Instagram. We hope you see you again next year!

 

» 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.

» 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.

» 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.

» Five Tips To Strengthen Your Multicultural Practices

Photo by Bakerture

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

Recent surveys of millennial couples have made it very clear just how much more inclusive they are in their friendships and in their romantic relationships. According to a Pew Research Center report published in 2015, 39% of Americans who have married since 2010 have a spouse who is in a different religious group (compared to just 19% of Americans who married before 1960), and there has been a 5X increase in interracial marriages since nationwide legalization in 1967. Currently, 19% of WeddingWire couples identify as having an interracial marriage, and 18% have said that they include ceremonial customs related to race/religion in their weddings, and these numbers will only continue to grow.

A large number of the 850 couples I’ve married identify as LGBTQ or interfaith or interracial or intercultural (or some combination), and the experience has offered me a good handle on how to approach, discuss, and integrate culture and religion into a ceremony. I always open a discussion on culture and religion during my initial meeting with a couple, because I want to make sure that I am the proper fit for what they want, and because the design and content of their custom ceremony starts from my understanding of WHAT they want, and WHY the couple wants it.

These exact same discussions and decisions about inclusion of culture, religion and traditions that I apply to the ceremony quite often apply to the entire wedding. Décor and design, food and drink, music and entertainment, attire, hair and makeup, even the schedule and timeline… almost every aspect of a wedding can, and usually does, have resonance related to the upbringing, traditions, and beliefs of the couple, their families, and sometimes even their friends. It is imperative that wedding professionals not only have an inclusive mindset, but also the systems and processes ready to implement a celebration that meets the desires of the couple.

Here are 5 ways that help you do both!

1. Don’t assume. I have put my foot in my mouth with assumptions plenty, I promise. Several years ago, I made the assertion that LGBTQ couples come to Officiants like me because they don’t get married in houses of worship. I was speaking with Kathryn Hamm, WeddingWire’s Diversity & Inclusion Specialist, who pointed me to research that revealed that 10% of LGBTQ couples do get married in houses of worship, and cited some personal anecdotal examples. I was a bit embarrassed, but it was a very poignant reminder that while we all have assumptions based on what we have seen, heard and experienced, personally or with previous couples, those assumptions may not tell the whole story.

This is why I recommend that you start the conversation with all your couples from as blank of a sheet as possible, with your assumptions locked away. The best way to make sure that your process is assumption-free (or relying on as few assumptions as possible) is to have an initial set of standard questions that you ask every couple, regardless of any automatic assumptions you made upon meeting them. Plus, be sure to ask open-ended questions to allow them to share what they want. Once they answer, you can ask follow-up questions based on what your experience tells you that you still need to know.

For example, a question an Officiant or DJ might ask is, “Are there any religious or cultural traditions you want to honor or include?” A follow-up question could relate to the “level” to which they want to include them – for instance, the caterer needs to distinguish between having a kosher option on the menu vs. kosher-style vs. the entire menu needing to be kosher.

2. Find out the why. The what is very important but the why is the driver. Honestly, we wedding folks tend to want to help and jump right into ideas or solutions (the “what”), without yet knowing the ‘why’. Understanding the rationale behind a client’s thoughts allows you to make more fitting suggestions. Does the couple want a certain tradition included because they desire it or because they feel they want/need it for family, or even one specific family member? I’ve had couples think that they need to have a traditional Christian wedding – even though they were non-religious themselves – when what they really wanted to do was honor their families and thought that that was the only way to do so.

By understanding the why, you can make sure that what you are suggesting or including will satisfy the couple and the people, or person, it is meant to satisfy. By providing options to your couple for the ‘what” that satisfies this ‘why,’ you increase your value to them, while at the same time making sure everyone is happy or at least satisfied by the solution.

3. Be a solutions person. We as wedding professionals need to be solution providers. And, when it comes to religious and cultural inclusion, I find that, in addition to satisfying family, there are often two points in a couple’s life where the differences in their upbringings can clash: 1) during their wedding and 2) raising their children. As wedding professionals, it’s likely that we encounter the first point regularly, which means that we might have to be mediators, not only between the couple and members of their families, but between the couple themselves, by either having solutions or knowing where to go to find solutions.

The basic rules apply here: listen to both sides, probe with follow-up questions and potential ideas (if you have them), step away and think about it, talk to others who may have dealt with this type of scenario, and then come back to the couple with solutions. The idea is to satisfy both sides as much as possible. And, please resist the “bridal bias” that I see way too often in our industry – you need to make sure to take into account the feelings and wants of both members of the couple.

4. Be a capable match. There is always the balance in our businesses between wanting to say yes and help (and the income that comes from that, too), and wanting to be sure that you are doing right by a couple and their needs. Here is my thought: if in doubt, ask yourself the following question, “Will the quality of what the couple gets from me and my business be adversely affected by my lack of skills or knowledge?” If yes, then maybe you aren’t the best fit for them.

If you reach that point, I always recommend that you be honest with a couple that you don’t have that specific experience or knowledge, and then allow them to make that decision. If you still feel that you can serve them properly, and want to, you can let them know that you are indeed willing to help and happy to do so. Allow the couple to decide if they still want to work with you.

If the couple ultimately determines you are not the right fit, you can always suggest other vendors that may specialize or have experience in their specific request(s). Or, you can look at the solution of partnering up with a colleague to service them together. For example, if you are a wedding planner and an Indian couple comes to you and wants a full Indian wedding, yet you have never done one, should you take it? Without that experience, you may not be their perfect fit, so bringing on the right partner with this expertise could be the perfect solution! You could partner with planner who has experience in Indian weddings so that the couple gets to work with a team that understands not only the what they are looking for, but also the why. And the plus side of the solution is that you get to learn and feel more confident the next time you are asked because you’ll now have that experience

5. Showcase your experience. For everyone’s sake, attracting couples from the get-go who are more your fit, and who you can service and celebrate fully and properly, is a top goal. Therefore, make sure that your service descriptions and portfolio – in places such as your website or WeddingWire Storefront or social media – show past work with a wide range of religious and/or cultural rituals, when you feel confident in your ability to professionally service those couples again.

Keep these tips in mind when engaging with potential clients — I believe it is not only the best thing for society when we are all more understanding and inclusive, but it also turns out to be the right thing for your business.

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 Communicate Effectively With Couples and Save Your Sanity

Photo by Lunalee Photography

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

What is “just right” communications with your couples?  My definition is having a communication plan that has my business communicating with all my couples consistently, and in a way that:

  1. Gives them the information they want and need while…
  2. Getting me the information I want and need — and it does all of that while…
  3. Meeting, or exceeding, the expectations of my couples, as well as…
  4. Fitting within a time budget developed to keep me both sane and profitable  

A bit long of a definition so let’s break it down by the main points:

Consistency

Your planned communication timing, amount, and quality are designed to be the same for every couple.  Which doesn’t mean you can’t change something based on a specific couple or wedding, it just means that every couple feels the love and attention in pretty much the same way.

Couples’ expectations

Ultimately, your communication strategy, and the tools used to apply that strategy, need to be designed based on your ideal couples.  For example, the mix of communication types and the style of communication for a high priced, low volume Wedding Planner should be very different from those used by a low priced, high volume Officiant.  No business model is “wrong” – as long as it meets your profitability and time needs. Therefore, it is very important to understand that the communication you have with your couples needs to provide a customer experience that closely matches (or exceeds) their expectations.

Time budget

Your communication plan fits your business time budget.  

By knowing how much time you have, what information you want to communicate, and your ideal client’s expectations, you can focus your communication spend on the important communication touch points, and automate or remove others.   

DEVELOPING A COMMUNICATION PLAN

Before revising or developing a communication plan, there are two other important things to remember. Although each of us gets older every year, our couples stay relatively the same age.  This means that our communication plan must match what they are expecting and not just be what we have used for ages (even if it worked well in the past).

Also, don’t forget to also think about communication with other vendors when developing your strategy and plan.  Properly communicating with those you are working with on a wedding can increase your visibility and your perceived professionalism – and, as we know so well, other vendors are often where many of our referrals come from.      

To create a communication plan that fits your business, it is easiest to separate the process into two main steps:

Step 1

Calculate the average number of hours you want to, or currently, spend communicating on that specific wedding.  The calculation should include calls, in-person meetings, creating and sending of emails, etc., and a bit of time for unscheduled communications.

Step 2

Map out a communication plan that best utilizes all the different communication tools and takes into consideration the number of hours that you want to spend per couple.  Think of each touchpoint and ask yourself, “what is the level of importance to me and/or my couples?” Remember, something that might not be that important to you could be very important to them and thus something that is very important to your business.     

Since each business is different, I can’t just provide a single communication plan that fits all.  However, we can take a look at the different communication touch points that are reasonably standard to all of us in the wedding industry.  

COMMUNICATION TOUCH POINTS

Inquiry communication

This is where communication method and the amount of time is hard to plan for, but I do have a few recommendations.  

  • Communicate back within a reasonable period of time.  If you have some information that you almost always provide back (e.g. a pricing breakdown) or some questions that you almost always need to ask (e.g. how many guests), have them handy no matter where you are.  
  • Answer all questions that were asked – and if you can’t answer them without more information, explain why you need the “more information” and request it.
  • Communicate back in the same method they used, unless otherwise instructed.  If they call, you can call. If they email or use WeddingWire messages, please email or message back and don’t try to call.

Initial meeting or consultation

Your business model will determine your initial meeting communication strategy – in-person, phone, online – but you also need to be flexible based on where the couple resides and their requested preference.  

Booking process

Please don’t make it hard for them to book you and give you money.  Truly. We live in more modern times and your couples likely have always lived in those modern times.  Electronic contracts and electronic payments are easier for you and easier and more comfortable for them.  

After-booking communication

Whether it’s an automated email or a templated email which you personalize before sending, it should give them an idea of next steps, timeline or workflow, and reiterate communication expectations.  Some wedding professionals, especially those at the higher-end and with a more complicated process, find that the creation and distribution of an “onboarding” document or packet is very helpful in setting proper expectations and fits with their brand.

Your in-process workflow

It is only a positive for your business, and your sanity, to have a standard workflow that applies to each wedding or level of service purchased – even if it is adaptable based on that specific couple’s (or wedding’s) needs.  The workflow should have set communication points, and you schedule on your calendar and/or in your system any non-automated communication point within the workflow (a two-week final reminder email, a month-out check-in call, time to schedule a venue walk-through, etc.).  

Information giving/gathering

Electronic communication usually works very well here.  Depending on your level of service, you can determine which emails you send would be automated, which would be templated, and which would be completely personal.  And, if you need to get a bunch of information, online questionnaires are a fantastic tool to use, often getting better responses than asking for those questions to be answered in an email.  If your process includes having a scheduled call or an in-person meeting with your couple, send them the discussion points beforehand so they can be prepared. This reduces the amount of back and forth after the meeting and makes sure that no one feels like the meeting was a waste of time.

Unscheduled communications

Although you can’t completely control this, set expectations early on with your couples about how you are going to communicate with them, how best they should communicate with you, and what response time to expect.  

After-event or after-service follow-up

If you work with a lot of couples and just want to congratulate them, thank them, and ask for reviews, this could be an automated email, but I don’t recommend it.  Each couple/wedding is unique and we are in a very personal business, so instead I recommend a templated email that you then personalize based on the couple. I always try to remember one or two memorable things from my time at the wedding and add it to the thank you (it was great meeting your parents, your nephew came through with the rings after all, etc.).  

EVALUATING YOUR COMMUNICATION PLAN

And don’t forget to evaluate your communication plan by:

  • Looking at your reviews. Are the couples talking up how well you communicated with them, not talking about it at all, or talking about it in the negative?  Use this to determine what is working well and what needs change.
  • Keeping track of the questions that shouldn’t be asked or missing items. Are you getting a lot of questions from your couples, yet the answers were in earlier communications?  Are you frequently getting to certain points in your process and still missing items that you requested from your couples?  Are you consistently, or somewhat consistently, forgetting to tell your couples something?

Just remember, your business, your couples, and your technology are always evolving, and thus so should your communication plan.  

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.

» WeddingWire Networking Night San Diego

This week, local wedding professionals gathered at the Handlery Hotel San Diego for WeddingWire Networking Night San Diego!

At the Networking Night, San Diego pros had the opportunity to enjoy a stunning venue space, network with other local professionals across all service categories, and meet members of the WeddingWire team. Plus, they learned more about building relationships in an industry with little-to-no repeat customers during a brief presentation by WeddingWire Contributor, Bethel Nathan.

Thank you to all the wonderful pros who joined us! We’re excited to share highlights from the event including the educational presentation, our latest issue of WedInsights, and photos from the enjoyable evening below.

We would like to say a special thank you to the amazing event partners who helped make the evening possible:

Finally, we’re excited to announce the winner of our WeddingWire Prize Pack give away – congrats to Jennifer of The Crossings at Carlsbad!

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