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!
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.