Using the Power of Reviews for Your Wedding Business

Using the Power of Reviews for Your Wedding Business

I talk to my coaching clients and industry colleagues about reviews a great deal.  Why?  Because the words of those who have used your services or product – talking about the value or the results or what it was like to work with you (or all of the above) – can be so much more powerful than anything you could say about yourself!  And, since they are coming from the perspective of someone likely similar to the couples checking you out now, they are usually speaking in a language that fits that potential new couple, too.

So, now what?

First, be sure that you’re getting new reviews from your past clients, and regularly.  Recency is just as important as quantity.  After all, if you were checking out reviews of a restaurant or hotel, for instance, as you planned a night out or an upcoming trip, and you saw none from the past year, wouldn’t you wonder about that place?  Are they still in business?  Has their quality fallen dramatically?  Plus, if you’ve been in business for a while, you have likely seen your couples change over the years, maybe in what they are looking for, their priorities, or how they express it.  So, having recent couples talking about you do matters.  And, yes, quantity does sure help too, not only in qualifying you for industry awards like The Knot’s “Best of Weddings” and WeddingWire’s “Couples Choice”, but in building confidence in those reading them that those many reviews they see are real and not just a handful of your friends and family members who did you a favor and wrote some for you.

How do you do this?  ASK!  I know that that sounds simple, and yet many people I’ve worked with over the years don’t have a process to do just that.  I greatly recommend adding an email into your workflow to ask your couples to write you a review, with links directly to the places you want reviews (except for Yelp, who doesn’t like seeing businesses solicit reviews, so include it in your list, but don’t give a direct link).  And usually about 2-3 weeks after your work with them is done (I know that some of us deliver our work before the wedding, others of us do so on the wedding day, and others aren’t done until well after the wedding).  I used to send it in my “thank you” email the day after the wedding, but I’m finding that I’m getting more now that I wait about 2-3 weeks.  Couples for whom you exceeded their expectations, and gave them a great customer experience as well as end-product, likely want to say thanks and help you as well – this gives them the chance to do so!  If you haven’t been doing this, you can absolutely do a catch-up now, emailing all of your couples from the past 6-12 months, and I highly recommend it.

Then, what do you do with them?  This is where the superpower of reviews comes in.  You want to use them everywhere!  Wait, what?  Especially if coming from a past client that you would consider an ideal couple (as that helps you attract more like them), and if it is expressing something that you want others to hear or know.  So, yes, use snippets on every page of your website, in your marketing materials, in your online listings, and in any place that you are communicating with couples, like your email signature and even in your verbal “elevator” pitch at wedding shows.  Use full screenshots on your social media (as it gives more legitimacy to see the full and unedited verbiage) – this gives you fresh content for social media, plus allows them to be seen by more people.

Let me add a note on using their words on your website.  The days of a single “testimonial” page being of the most value are behind us, and instead you want to weave your couples’ words all throughout your verbiage throughout your website.  Use what they say to illustrate or to emphasize things you want to say, as their perspective can often help you to do so.

Also, don’t forget to respond to them!  I always email my couples to thank them for writing one, letting them know how much I appreciate that they took the time to do so, and that I absolutely loved hearing what they had to say.  And this is important, I think, for continuing the positive feelings in your customer experience with them.  But you also need to respond publicly, right on the review website, as those responses are for future couples reading your reviews.  Be positive, be thankful, and be you.  This is one more place for your personality and your connection with your couples to be seen, so don’t pass up the opportunity to do so.  But always remember that the target audience for your response is those reading it as they research you for themselves – whether it was a raving review, good review, or maybe a not-so-great or quite bad review, the response is really meant for future couples (or fellow vendors) who don’t yet know you.

Please be sure to fully read your reviews to be sure that you are making any changes in your business that comes up as an issue.  One not-so-great review definitely requires a personal response, but probably doesn’t require a business change.  But, multiple of not-so-great (or quite bad) reviews definitely do.  So, read them looking for a pattern – whether it was your communication or professionalism or end-product – and improve accordingly.

On the flip side, if there’s something that couples are consistently mentioning as something they loved or particularly appreciate about you or your process or your end-product, can you do even more of that or make it even better, or talk about it more as a selling point?  Our businesses should be in a state of constant improvement, as the wedding market and couples are constantly changing.  Improving even what you are doing well and what couples love will help keep you ahead of the curve!

Embrace the power of reviews, and the “social proof” that they provide, and see what they bring to your future business!

If I can help you figure out how to best use reviews in your business, or help you narrow down what messaging to use, drop me an email below and let’s chat!

The When of Client Communications is Important Too

The When of Client Communications is Important Too

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!

Year-Round Customer Experience

Year-Round Customer Experience

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:

  • Inquiry/Booking
  • In-Process
  • Execution
  • Post-Wedding

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…

Inquiry/Booking:

  • 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.

In-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.

Execution:

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.

Post-Wedding:

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.

Year-Round Customer Experience

Misunderstandings of Template Emails

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!

Year-Round Customer Experience

My 3 Important Slower Season Wedding Industry To-Do’s

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.

Year-Round Customer Experience

3 Quick Thoughts on Communicating with Potential and Current Couples

When it comes to how, and how often, to communicate with your potential and current couples, there are no absolutes when discussing right or wrong ways.  The how, and how often, can and will differ based on many things, including: your ideal couple; the customer journey you want to guide a couple through; and even based on the answers to questions asked and feedback received during the initial meeting(s) with the couple.  However, there are some pieces of advice that I thought I could provide based on my experiences with the over 800 wedding couples I have worked with, and the many conversations I have had with other wedding professionals as part of the business coaching I do at Elevate by Bethel.

1) I am sure you have read a blog post (or two), or an article, or have even been to a presentation on working with millennials.   And I would think that one of the take-aways is that phone calls are rarely the preferred method of communication with millennial couples, or even most couples of other ages, to be honest.  My advice around this one is to only call your potential, or even your current, couples when either it is absolutely necessary, when you have scheduled a call with them in advance, or when they have specifically requested that you to call them.  Phone calls can be valuable, for sure, but they are usually not the preferred method of people today, and it can often become a back and forth of voicemails, which eats up valuable time.

2) There needs to be a balance within your e-mails of making sure that you communicate what you want to communicate, while not communicating too often and, not making the e-mails that you do send too lengthy (tough for this long email gal!).  The attention span of most people, and thus most couples getting married, is not long, let’s be real.  This can make writing template e-mails both an art and a science.  But, what I find helps is to pay attention to what couples may miss in your current communications, and therefore to think about what questions do they ask later that you knew were covered in earlier emails.  You should also have colleagues in the industry help you by reviewing your templated emails and letting you know if they make sense, and if they get the information across that you are trying to communicate, while not being too lengthy.  You can then use both your observations and the feedback from others to adjust both how much and how you communicate.

3) When a couple inquires, I recommend that you get as many contact methods for them as possible, as this gives you multiple ways to communicate with them, plus the ability to use those communication options in different ways.  For example, if you have a cell phone number and email address for a couple, maybe you mostly email them, you call or Skype with them for very important or in-depth conversations, and you text them with quick reminders or easy check-ins.

I have no doubt that communicating in a way that fits your ideal couples will help the customer journey that your couples take with your business meet or exceed their expectations, thus creating higher levels of customer satisfaction, leading to better reviews and more referrals!