As I go through my current client communication plan and check out my emails, questionnaires, and other tools – as it’s a continuous improvement process – I think about not only what I’m sending my couples and how I’m sending it to them or asking them to complete something, but also when.
Are there certain points in your process that you have to send your couples something in particular – because it is time-sensitive at that point in time, be it before or after their wedding? In my case, they cannot get their marriage license until 90 days before their wedding date, so it’s useless to send it much earlier. And I’ve learned that sending my “final reminders” email out about 10-14 days before the wedding is more likely to get a response and have fewer things forgotten on the wedding day than if I send it the week of the wedding.
Are there other pieces of communication that could be sent relatively at any time, and therefore you can sprinkle them throughout the quieter periods? Maybe an email with tips and tricks or to spark ideas. Or maybe even your recent or most popular blog posts or FAQs, like how to pick a first dance song, or guest book ideas. These notes can keep you on their mind and allow them to know that you’re still there for them, even if there isn’t anything specific needed for you at that moment. In my case, couples hire me on average 7 months before their wedding, but that really ranges from 15 months out to two months out (or the rare ones that are even shorter). Yet, my ceremony creation process assignments don’t start with them until four months before the wedding. This means that I want to consciously think of ways to keep my longer-planning couples comfortable and not feeling anxious that we aren’t doing anything yet, without changing my timeline for every single couple.
Do you adjust your communications based on how early or late the couple hires you? I definitely do. Since I start with my first “homework” assignment for them four months out, if they book me within that timeframe, we start immediately, and their deadlines are shorter to handle it. This also means that I need less “filler for the sake of the customer experience” type of communications – and not only don’t need them, but don’t want to annoy nor distract my shorter-term couples with anything really unneeded with a short planning timeframe.
Have you played around with the timing on any of those communications to see if you get a better response? I definitely have. In my case, just this year I moved the request for reviews out of my day-after email (which includes my thanks and next steps about their license) and instead send it two weeks later. This has definitely resulted in a higher percentage of my couples leaving reviews for me, as they are more likely getting that email at a time that they can act on it rather than that email sitting amongst many in their inbox from the days right after their wedding or often their honeymoon period. I also send my couples a “Vendors & Details Questionnaire” to gather all sorts of information from them, including about their vendor team, and I have found that I get a better response if I send it out within a week of their booking me, as I’m still relatively on their mind, vs. when I didn’t send it out until later in the process, as they are on to other parts of the planning in their minds, often needing a reminder to be sent.
So, as you evaluate your client communications within your plan, don’t forget to evaluate the when you send things, and not just the what and the how. If I can help with any of this, please let me know!
One of the things that I am constantly re-evaluating in my business is the balance (or juggle) with communication and focus on couples in three (nah, make that four) stages in my wedding business:
Why? Well, in order to have a thriving business, not just in this calendar year, but for next year and beyond, I need to be focusing on all of them. And, often at the same time! Hence, a juggle…
- While wedding industry statistics from WeddingWire show that the five most popular wedding dates are in the fall (three in October, then one each in September and November), for many of us, we have a relatively year-round wedding business, with some months much busier than others, and few (if any) months with absolutely no weddings.
- Then, factor in a 13-month average engagement period, but even more so how that breaks down: according to WeddingWire’s 2018 Newlywed Report, 31% of couples had engagement lengths of 0-9 months, 41% were engaged for 10-15 months, and 28% were engaged for more than 16 months. This means that, while we know that there is certainly a busier engagement season (41% of couples get engaged between November and February), a majority of couples get engaged throughout the other eight months of the year.
- Plus, for most categories in the industry, there is definitely range of how far out from their wedding date they get in touch for your specific service or product, based largely on their personal priorities. Other than the venue, which usually comes first or close to first, all of the rest of the categories fall in all sorts of timeframes.
- Putting that all together means that you are likely handling inquiries all year long. Again, some months or weeks might see many more or much fewer, but there isn’t likely to be a period in your year where you can absolutely ignore your inquiry and booking process.
Based on how far out couples book you for your product/service before you deliver it to them, you likely have a process to manage here. Unless it is a simple purchase transaction with a simple and/or immediate delivery – and that isn’t so common in the wedding world – there is some sort of process and period of time where you need to be managing couples and thinking about their experience with you. In my case, my couples book me an average 7.5 months before their wedding – yet, that ranges between only weeks beforehand to 18 months beforehand. If they book me within four months of their wedding, they are jumping right into the ceremony creation process with me, including two homework assignments. However, if they book me further out, they don’t start that process until four months out, which means that there can be a, sometimes significant, period of time where we are working together, but not actively. Therefore, it is extremely important that I set expectations from the very beginning – both before they book me, when we meet, and after they book me, in my first communications – so that they know what to expect and when. This allows them to feel comfortable and not worried, and to, therefore, feel like they are being taken care of and not ignored. It also means that I need to think about my communication plan, to see if there are other touchpoints I should add in, purely for my longer-timeframe bookings, just so they feel taken care of.
At some point, what you are doing with and for your couples moves into an Execution stage. For me, that really does start at that four-month point, as this is when I am working actively with them and need to watch deadlines for all of us, as there can be quite a few couples at any given point in this Execution stage. Setting clear expectations here, too, is super important. Knowing what is already on their plates, usually, based on their own lives and work and other aspects of wedding prep, I sometimes need to be quite hands-on about those deadlines, plus, I need to be clear about what I need from them. So, actively managing the process from my side, and having the right systems in place to do so, is critical.
For some of us, the execution stage ends on the wedding day or very soon afterward (I file their license and send off a packet to them, maybe you pick up rental items, etc.), while others have an execution stage that continues for weeks or months after the wedding day, like photography and videography. The longer after the wedding day your process continues, the more important it is to set clear expectations, so that they know what to expect when. I cannot tell you how many of my couples are frustrated by how long it’s taking to get their pictures or video, and sometimes with no communication from that vendor along the way. Tell them when, communicate a bit in the meantime, and then deliver before you promised. Again, managing the process and having the right systems in place is critical in this stage.
This is really the business stuff that comes next, including soliciting reviews, requesting and/or sharing pictures, writing blog posts, following up or connecting with vendors you worked with, updating your online listings, etc. So, it’s after the execution stage, and largely has no clear couple or client for whom you are doing it – and you aren’t being paid directly to it either, unlike the items in the first three stages – but this plays a huge factor in how future couples come your way.
Year-Round Customer Experience
So, figuring out how to do this juggle, working on tasks and projects in all four stages at once – in the best way for your business and for your couples – with both your processes and the systems that support your processes, is extremely important for your business. I work regularly with my coaching clients on all of this for that reason, so please let me know if I can help with yours.
Each of our businesses is different – and I think that that is one of the coolest parts of having my own business, as I get to do what fits me and my goals/needs best, while you get to do what fits you and your goals/needs best.
But, my current business is also different from the business it was last year, and different from the business it will be next year, and that is both fun and uncomfortable. And, this time of year – the quieter period toward the end of the year, when looking back is a necessity (taxes and financials), and looking forward is a best practice, plus, catching up on many things needs to happen too – is the time to think about all of this.
So, I thought that I would walk you through what my end-of-year process looks like in my business this year – and I’d love to hear what you’re doing differently or that I didn’t even mention!
Financials: Yes, I look at my financials, since I try to now keep caught up on QuickBooks month-by-month (rather than a big catch-up at tax time), plus, I implemented using a separate cash flow spreadsheet this year too. This all helps me see gross revenue, net profits, and also what my cash flow situation is (and was at various points during the year). Using that cash flow spreadsheet this year gave me a great visual way to see how my expenses fall throughout the year, and how my income come in throughout the year, in a way that the typical QuickBooks report didn’t allow for, and was a great addition to my process.
Analytics of weddings: I also go through my final weddings spreadsheet (yes, I use a spreadsheet in addition to a business management software) and look at some key numbers. I look at total number of weddings and compare it to previous years. Then also break it down to how many per month, how many were weddings vs elopements vs other kinds of ceremonies, how many were for military couples or for colleagues (the only two discounts I offer), how many were for LGBTQ couples (important focus for me), and I look at how many I have booked for next year at this time – and all of those I also compare to previous years. I also look at how far out I was booked this year, as it definitely ranges (my average is about nine months out), doing a stroke count to know how many at each point. Plus, I also look at how many of my couples were from out-of-town, since that has only increased every year for me – San Diego is a destination wedding location, and lots more of my clients come from elsewhere. Once I know these numbers, I can start to make some decisions about any changes I want to make next year, including in my systems and processes, and also about wanting to take on more or less weddings, based on my own financial or life goals for the next year. I also check in with my gut to see how the entire year felt, how certain months felt, etc. – I started doing this after the wonderful 2013 when marriage equality came back to California, as I found myself doing way more weddings per week/month in the second half of the year than I had planned, and that taught me to sometimes think before saying yes to another midweek wedding when the weekend is already full. It felt fine when I said yes, as the day was technically open, and then was exhausted when the wedding-filled Thursday/Friday/Saturday/Sunday/Monday weekend happened!
Referral Sources: I also take some time to go through that final spreadsheet to analyze where my weddings came from. It’s important to track not only your leads (my business management software does this really well for me), but also your bookings. Since, let’s be real, loads of leads that don’t convert are usually useless to you and your business (unless you struggle to convert no matter where they come from, in which case, we have a different issue to discuss!). Since my database can only handle one referral source in that field, I also have this on my weddings spreadsheet in order to handle more than one answer. And, therefore, I am also sure to ask this question of my couples more than once, as they may give me different answers! I ask in the inquiry, of course. Then I also ask them in my “Vendors & Details Questionnaire” (part of my process). And sometimes it even comes up in the meeting too. Therefore, at the end of the year, I go through and do a final tally of where all of my weddings came from this year. I do this year by year as it does change each year – some sources that weren’t great are now fantastic, while others that used to send me lots of ideal couples no longer do. Once, I know this, I can make some decisions about marketing and advertising, to capitalize on what is working, and eliminating or lessening what isn’t.
Changes in the market or technology:
This is something that is less tangible, but just as important. Annually, you have to sit and think about what has changed and if there is anything you need to do in response. For instance, I am changing how I follow up with photographers for pictures and what I am asking for (and what I am planning to do with them). With websites being “mobile first” now – and knowing that couples really are using their mobile devices to research wedding pros more than ever – I am focusing less on adding more full galleries to my website (and am going to pull some down, actually, as I have A LOT on there), and am instead focusing more on sharing images on social media. This means that I will ask only a handful of photographers for a full gallery worth of pictures from weddings this year, and will ask all of the rest for the handful of images that I want to share on social media, especially on Instagram. Plus, I’m changing my process around all of that (not shocking for those who know what a system and process geek I am) – changing email templates, tracking spreadsheets, and what information I prep (like lists of vendors and IG handles for every wedding). Another example in my business is that I’m making a switch in what business management system I use – which is HUGE after being on the previous system for seven years (and 700 weddings!). So, I’m taking this opportunity to edit and update all of my email templates, my workflows, my questionnaires, etc. And, like I mentioned above, with more of my couples coming in from elsewhere rather than being local, I’m making these systems and processes changes with that in mind.
Planning for the New Year: After all of this is done, I feel comfortable actually starting to set goals, make plans, and start to implement changes.
I hope that this helped you to think about what you need and want to do! If I can help, and one-on-one coaching time with me would be useful, let me know. Here’s to an even better 2019 for us all!
I spend a lot of time talking to my coaching clients, and friends in the industry, about email templates. What they are and what they are not. Especially because I absolutely love them and they really save my sanity during the busiest parts of the wedding year! And I recently wrote an article for the WeddingWire EDU Pro Blog entitled, “Why Email Templates Are Awesome” – so you can read lots more of my thoughts there.
But as I prep my talking points for my presentation at Wedding MBA, and as I share in there the thoughts of many of the couples I surveyed as I created that presentation, I keep coming back to this important topic. Plus, as I’m in the midst of switching business management systems for my officiant business, I’m also in the middle of editing all of my templates as I move them over.
So, I thought it was essential to make clear what templates are and aren’t, and how they do not equal automated emails.
Templates DO save you a crazy amount of time by preparing content that you send regularly or often. And they DO usually save you on errors or omissions by having everything you might want to say ready to be used. They are NOT something that you should just “hit send” on, without editing or personalizing to fit that couple, that wedding, that situation, etc. And they do NOT have to be used exactly as is to still be useful as a template. The only automated email in my entire process is an invoice reminder, and receipts once they’ve paid, of course. Everything else coming from me goes out intentionally and with thought.
Let me give you three examples of where my email templates save me both time and potential issues:
Inquiries: We know that responding to incoming inquiries or leads quickly is very important (heck, according to that survey I’ll be sharing from, some folks aren’t even responding to couples at all!). I am not of the belief that you need to be the very first to respond in order to get that booking, but it sure helps to be first or somewhat quickly, as you’re on their mind when they are inquiring, no? Couples definitely expect you to respond within 24 hours. Well, having templates ready with both the answers to the questions couples typically ask when they inquire (such as: are you available, how much will it cost, what are your services/offerings/packages), and the information that I always want to share (including: please read my reviews, here – as I know my reviews often sell me – and here are the next steps), lets me answer quickly, accurately (with less chance of spelling errors too, as I’m not creating it all fresh in that very moment), and with attention on personalizing it vs creating it. What do I mean by that? I personalize my email to include anything they’ve told me already in their inquiry. I comment on their venue, on however they said they found me, especially if it came from a fellow wedding pro, and anything they put in the comment area about what they want. They want to feel heard and feel like they will matter to you when working together – and starting with a template, which already has the key points covered, lets me add the specific personalization for them and their wedding before still sending it quite quickly. First impressions matter!
Final Reminders: This is a huge time saver and problem avoider for me. About two weeks before the wedding, I send a “final reminders” email to my couples, with all sorts of key information that I either want to confirm (like start time or who they’ve chosen are their witnesses), or want to convey (like what time I’ll be there based on that start time or bring your marriage license to the wedding!!), or want prepped (like any ceremony ritual items they need to bring and have set up). And there is no doubt that this email template has gotten longer over the years as things it never would have occurred to me to have to include clearly did need to be. I mean, really, who doesn’t think to bring their marriage license to their wedding? About a dozen of my past couples have had to send someone home or the hotel to get it… Who doesn’t tell the officiant that they moved their ceremony start time? Way too many for comfort. So, I created that template to include any possible information I could want to tell a couple, and then I remove everything not relevant to that particular couple, personalizing and editing it for their wedding. But it’s much easier to remove info and edit info than it is to create from scratch. So, I have prep and set-up info for all of the different rituals they might have chosen, and then delete out everything other than what their ceremony includes, plus different intros based on whether they have a wedding planner or not, etc.
Assignments: This is also a huge time saver for me, and ensures I send everything I need to. All of my couples do the same two assignments for me. The results of those are what makes their ceremony different and allows me to make the ceremony theirs. But they all start with the same homework. So, those homework emails are all prepped and ready to be sent when their wedding hits that point in their customer journey, and then edited based on anything we already talked about in their initial meeting with me or in previous emails.
Having these email templates, and more, all prepped and ready allows me to spend my time and effort on the things that my couples really hire me for – crafting and delivering a customized ceremony that properly celebrates what they share – and less on the things that are just needed to run a professional and smooth business. And P.S. The latter is noticed and ultimately valued by my couples too, even if that wasn’t why they picked me initially.
If I can help you to create or edit or streamline your email templates, or any other part of your customer experience, let me know!
In San Diego, weddings happen year-round, yet we do have a slower season and, just like the rest of the country, that slower time is now. As wedding professionals, November through March is our time to have fewer weddings and less cash, while having more inquiries, more meetings, and, hopefully, more bookings. Which can make our slower season stressful, but stressful in different ways vs. our busy season. And yes, there are those outside the wedding industry who figure this must be our time to sit back, relax, and “eat Bon Bons,” but, unfortunately, they are wrong. The slower season is such a crucial time for us and it flies by, so here are the 3 things that I try to make sure and do in my business during the slower season.
1) Take some breather and relaxation time. Yes, I know I just was talking about how important this time is to our business, and I will be the first to admit that I am not good at taking relaxation time. Yet, it is very important to do, especially at the end of a busy season. We work hard and give up a lot to make sure our couples are taken care of, and thus, now is the perfect time to take care of ourselves in some sort of way before beginning our important slower season tasks. Put an out-of-office reply onto your e-mail and voicemail, take a few days off with no wedding business interruptions allowed, and recharge your batteries. In our passion-based businesses, the worst thing that can happen is that we lose our passion.
2) Work on your business. During the busy part of our season, we often go from client to client and wedding to wedding and priority to priority without much time to get some of the daily or monthly business tasks done. Which makes this the best time to catch up on some of those tasks we put off, like accounting, getting pictures from those wonderful photographers your couples hired, and post-wedding clean-up, plus following up on requesting reviews. And, since there is little to no time during the busy wedding season to focus on business improvement, this is also the best time to switch business systems, build templated e-mails, and work on other aspects of your business processes and systems. The goals are to improve the customer journey for next year’s couples, figure out new ways to market and bring in more business (since we have to constantly be in search of new couples, right?), as well as to find time and cost savings, as all of these will help elevate your business.
3) Revise goals and plans based on the current state of your 2018 business. Now is the perfect time to evaluate how your business is looking for 2018 vs. your goals, and, based on what is learned from that evaluation, adjust what you are doing. Are your bookings at the number you expected? Are you marketing tools each performing as you expected? Is it time to raise your prices? Do you need to increase relationship building efforts? By evaluating early, it can allow you to better focus/re-focus your marketing dollars and be proactive vs. reactive.
Of course, if you need any help, now is also the perfect time to work with a coach – hint hint – since this part of the wedding season/year allows the time necessary to work on improving your business, and it’s easier to take both the needed look back – and the needed look ahead – to figure out what changes can make an impact on your business. If you need help elevating your business to the next level, please don’t hesitate to contact me, and we can discuss Skype coaching options – either one-off or a series – for you and your business.