Misunderstandings of Template Emails

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!

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

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.

3 Quick Thoughts on Communicating with Potential and Current Couples

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!

Key Steps to Selecting a Wedding Business Customer Management Solution

Key Steps to Selecting a Wedding Business Customer Management Solution

In the wedding industry, most of our businesses are small, and, therefore, we don’t have the financial or time resources to design and create a customer management system built specifically around our needs – and for those that do have the resources, please know that it is almost always the wrong way to go.

This leaves most of us in the wedding industry limited to the systems that already exist, and thus limited to their current and future planned functionality.  This doesn’t mean we are screwed – it just means we will be compromising.  Therefore, our goal should be to find a system with the least amount of compromises, and where we do have to compromise, we have a livable workaround.

Which leads me to the first, and most important, piece of advice that I can give when you are investigating business systems for your wedding industry business, followed by some more advice:

  1. Write down your needs and wants:  This can take some time, but the way to get the best system for you is to know exactly what you need, and want, the system to do for your business.   Document each of your business processes and determine their importance level.  By understanding all of the processes that you want the system to manage, and the importance of each to you and your business, you can best determine which system will require the least compromise.
  1. Take future promised functionality with a grain of salt:  It is always important to know what future functionality is planned for a system, and when it is scheduled to be added.  Yet, I can almost guarantee you that the functionality will not be exactly as promised, and will be delivered later than expected.  It is just the way of the software world, especially in the price range in which we are shopping.
  1. Don’t limit your choices to just those in your category or industry:  For my wedding officiating business, Ceremonies by Bethel, I use ShootQ, because although it was developed specifically for photographers and most of their users are photographers, I found it required the least compromises for the officiant business that I wanted to build.  On the other hand, my needs are different as a business coach, so I use 17hats for that business.
  1. Plan to be in the System for the Long Term:  Thinking you are going to try a system for a year and will just switch if you don’t like it isn’t the best approach, because each system will require a decent amount time to setup and learn.  And, as you use it, you will be entering data that may not easily migrate from one system to another, and therefore will need to be entered fresh into the new system.
  1. In almost every scenario, couples or clients come first:  What I mean by this is, a system that makes your business run smoother for you, but makes doing business with you harder for potential and current couples, is probably (likely!) not the one you want.
  1. And finally, get demos and ask lots of questions:  Once you have a few systems in mind, request a demo for each, and ask questions to verify that the functionality you need or want (from above) is part of the system.  And, if the person giving the demo doesn’t have the answer, make sure they get back to you with a definitive answer before you commit.

I hope that this helps, and, of course, if you would like one-on-one assistance in evaluating wedding industry business systems, or mapping your customer journey and determining your needs for a software package, please feel free to contact me.

Making Standard Business Processes Personal and Personal Processes Standard

Making Standard Business Processes Personal and Personal Processes Standard

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We are in the very personal business of weddings.  So, yes, we do what we do because we love it, or at least love it most days.  Yet, we still are running businesses, and therefore, we need to implement a set of processes that are standard for each couple we work with.  Why, you might ask, can’t we work with each and every couple in a different way?  The simple answer is that, even if we have only a handful of couples each year, developing a standard set of processes allows us to:
1) relate to each couple how we will work together;
2) deliver on what we told the couple, thus meeting or exceeding their expectations; and
3) control time and costs per couple, allowing us to know that the price we charge is going to make us the profit we expect.

So, how do we make our standard processes personal?   The main way is to use automated communication only when necessary, or when there is absolutely no need for personalization (eg. automated invoice reminders).  For each business and business model, the amount of automation will vary, for sure.  Instead, use a standard or edited workflow to remind you of when you need to send a specific email or any other type of standard communication, keeping you on schedule without it being automated.  And, for those emails or other communications, use a templated or already-prepared script to not only get you started, but also to save time, while still having the ability to add in something personal and specific to that couple.  For example, I always send my thank you email the day after the wedding, and although I have an already prepared template email, since so much of what I’m going to tell that couple is the same or close to the same for every couple, I always add in a few personal touches or make appropriate edits.  For instance, a mention of something special during their ceremony, a piece of follow-up information specific to that couple, something about their specific honeymoon destination, etc.   Another good tip is that when you create your process and its standard timeframes, build extra time into each step to make sure you accommodate a couple being late on a specific stage/step, while not making your job harder.  It won’t solve all issues, but it will mitigate most.

The same thinking applies to making the personal processes standard.   Do you want to know more about their relationship or family situation or the logistics around their wedding, like who is in the process or what music they want played?  Use a questionnaire which allows them to answer in a personal way and on their own convenient time, yet you make sure the questionnaire is sent out based on specific timing within your workflow.  Do you need to always have a final pre-wedding phone call with the couple because each wedding is so different, that – what you discuss, and the feedback you need – can’t be managed via e-mail?  Then make sure your workflow has you schedule the call well in advance, have a reminder e-mail go out a few days before the call, and have a basic script that you go from so that you make sure that you don’t miss anything.   And don’t forget that by reading reviews from your couples, and asking for feedback from other vendors, you can determine where within your process personalization is more, or less, important.

The idea is to have very defined business processes, while still allowing for the personal touch to be added to as many pieces as needed or wanted.   Obviously, if you work with 200 couples per year, you will likely have fewer steps within the process that are personal vs. if you work with 25 couples per year, but the thinking when developing or revising your processes should be the same, to meet or exceed the expectations of your couples in all parts of your process.
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To Business Plan or Not to Business Plan… There is No Question

To Business Plan or Not to Business Plan… There is No Question

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At a recent wedding industry show, I was talking to a someone who stopped by the Elevate by Bethel booth with some questions related to figuring out if she was taking her business in the right direction.  She told me that she was a couple of years in, had made quite an investment, and was booking quite a few weddings, yet, she wasn’t sure if the direction she was taking was the right one and if it would produce the business she wanted.   I asked her a bit more about what she did, and a few other questions to get a better understanding of her business, and then I asked the following question… “do you have a business plan?”

From a face that said she probably knew better, she answered, “no, I don’t have a business plan.”

Unfortunately, this is nothing surprising, since having talked with wedding business owners from all categories, I find that quite a few don’t have business plans, with many saying they were thinking about writing one or had started writing one, but never completed it.  And, yes, I know that there are plenty of successful businesses in the wedding industry that have never had formal business plans, or even any business plan at all.

So why do I find a business plan so important?

To me, a business plan is the long-distance roadmap for your business, because it covers where you expect your business to be in a certain number of years, milestones along the way, and how you plan to get there.  At a high-level, your wedding industry business plan should include the concept of your business, the long-term goals for it, and an overview of the plan that will make the long-term goals a reality – this is the vision and research stage that should get you hyped.  However, your business plan should also include less exciting details that will give you an idea of why your business will be successful and when.  This includes budgets, marketing, and financial projections, that will all give you an idea of not only will you reach the success you are seeking, but when you should reach it.  In addition, a long-term business plan gives you the ability to compare the current reality to what you expected and thus make necessary changes along the way.  It’s never a document you are really done with, I don’t think.

Plus, to be honest, a HUGE thing for me in creating a simple business plan initially, and revising it periodically, is just the benefit gained from putting my thoughts down on paper, of what I want the business to be, what makes me different, and what is my “why.”

I have to admit, sometimes a get a little preachy when it comes to making sure you have a business plan, but I truly believe in them, and truly believe it is never too late to create one (or to revise that really old one).   If you are looking for some help, please feel free to reach out, since I can provide you everything from my “Nice and Simple Business Plan” template, as well as with one-on-one assistance in creating or revising your business plan.
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