Having had a few lively discussions recently about the reality of ideal clients – or ideal couples as we call them in the wedding industry – I figured it would be good to write about what I consider the big fact and the big fiction of ideal couples. In my past blog posts, you can read in more detail about the concept of the ideal couple and why they are so important to most of us in the wedding industry, but today, let us focus on some reality.
Which leads me to first state the big fact: Ideal couples are very, very important to the success of any solopreneur or small business owner in the wedding industry who started their business based on pursuing their passion. The important distinction is whether you are building a business where success is based purely on running a business that makes money vs. building a business where success is based on getting to practice your passion while still making a living. If you started your business just to make money, then focusing on the biggest market segment, or multiple market segments, is more important. But in the case of a passion-based business, by creating a certain customer journey, marketing with a certain message, and pricing at a certain level, you are focusing on getting couples whose experience with you and your experience with them matches or exceeds expectations. For a passion-based business, this leads to a more satisfied couple, which leads to a better review, which leads to more referrals of ideal couples, which leads to more satisfied couples, etc… and all this leads to a happier business owner.
Now, the Big Myth: If you create a certain customer journey, market with a certain message, and price at a certain level, all your couples will be ideal. Well, sorry to say, but no matter how hard you try, and no matter how many couples you turn away, not all your couples will be ideal. There will be times when a couple engaging with you gets the impression that they want what you are offering and you get the impression that they are your ideal couple – and yet, we all know that impressions and reality don’t always match, and what you thought was an ideal couple can turn out not to be. Also, some couples may not be ideal but they are somewhat close, they want to book you, and you need the booking, so you take it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, I promise! The key thing, as far as I’m concerned, to aim for is as many ideal couples as possible, and if everything in your business is set up to attract your ideal couple, then even when not ideal, they should still be reasonably close.
I know there are some that will still argue that any couple that wants to pay you is ideal, and to those I say, if what you do is your passion, I hope you are not in this for the long term, as that passion is likely not sustainable working with anyone and everyone, or, I hope that you are just in it for the money (which is fine too, but is a different business driver than passion).
I have to admit, I should have written this post a few months ago, but still feel that it needs to be said now rather than waiting until next year. You may look at the title and be like “what, what, what??? How can I even think about my business goal setting and planning for next year during the main part of the wedding season this year?” Well, here is my reasoning why you should not only be thinking about it, but actually doing it. For most small businesses out there, they are about two-thirds through their business-getting year, which means they still have one-third of a year left to get more business. However, for most of us in the wedding industry, we already have almost all of our business for 2017 booked. Yes, we can still get those “last-minute” requests, but, let’s be honest, by this time in the year, we have a pretty good idea of the answer to the question, “how did my business do in 2017?”
Thus, knowing how this year is going to turn out, and knowing that the booking cycle for next year has definitely already begun, we should be writing our SMART business goals for 2018 and creating plans to achieve them right now, if we haven’t already done so. To wait until November or December, when things calm down, causes the plans we end up implementing to be more reactive than proactive. So, if you still need to write your business goals and supporting plans for 2018, my recommendation is to set a few hours a week aside, over the next few weeks, to write and begin implementing them, and then add it to your calendar to start 2019 goal setting earlier in 2018 (for example, start working on it in the beginning of May). If you are real-time, or even periodically, tracking your year-over-year inquiries, bookings, and cancellations numbers, you should have no problem creating business goals for the next year when you are only partway through the current year.
And, by having your plans for next year working mid-year this year, you also give yourself time to evaluate your progress and adjust the plans as necessary. The more time you give yourself, and the smoother you make the planning and implementation, the less stress and more success you will achieve. Of course, if I can help in any way with your goal setting and planning, please contact me at email@example.com.
In the title of this post, I am not necessarily talking about “is your business successful”, but more along the lines of, “are you happy with your business… the what you deliver, the how you deliver it, and the how much money you make.” There was this concept talked about in business school called the retail curve, and it showed that the way to make the most money was to either focus on high volume/low-cost or low volume/high-cost and that those businesses that tried to sit in the middle usually made less money and/or had more trouble making money. And, although the curve was discussed in the context of the retail industry, I think the overall concept is still valid and can be applicable to the wedding industry, especially when talking about contemplating large changes in how you do business and/or large changes in your pricing.
If you are happy with your business, and the money you make per couple, then maybe your only question is, “how do I get more couples”, which is a question of market size and marketing. However, if you want to make more money, or you want to deliver your product/service at a different level, then you are talking about moving up or down on the retail curve, and thus you need to factor in not only where your business currently is on the curve, but where you want it to go and what are the implications of moving.
Some implication examples:
If you want to move to the fewer couples and more profit per couple side, the positive is that you get to focus more on each couple and deliver a higher level of product/service. On the negative side, the loss or cancellation of any booking has a much bigger effect, and the expectations of the couples are greater, and thus small issues can be seen as, or quickly, become big issues (the couple pays more and thus is more likely going to have higher expectations). On the more couples, less profit per couple side of the curve, the positives are that each lost booking has less effect and, you can create a customer journey that is much more automated, requiring less time to do the “boring” admin stuff (their expectations for touch-points should be less). On the negative side, servicing more couples could require more staffing to manage the volume, and the focus is more on getting the volume vs. delivering a higher level of product/service.
Nowhere on the curve is “wrong”, even the middle, as long as you are happy with your business. The point is to understand that if you want to shift where you are on the curve, it is more than just adjusting your price, or looking at it from the other direction, adjusting your price may shift where you are on the curve requiring you, to change your business to assure success. If you are contemplating a large change to your pricing, or a large change to how you do business, and want help working through it, please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am going to say with a 100% certainty that, if you own a wedding business, you have dealt with stupid people. Does that sound harsh? Sorry, but it’s true, right? It can be other vendors, it can be employees, and it definitely can be couples. Now, obviously, this is not some revelation from on high, but what is important is to discuss is how we should deal with stupid people. The reason I decided to write this post right now is that I just read about some business owners who are creating a fake virtual assistant and then using that fake virtual assistant to respond to stupid questions/comments so that it wasn’t “coming from them.” The people doing this were stating that it allowed them to “distance” themselves emotionally from questions/statements and the way they needed to respond. I found this to be funny and not something I would ever think of or recommend, to be honest.
The whole point of great customer service is having the ability to be as honest and genuine as possible without being insulting. And since we are in the very personal and love-filled business of weddings, being able to do this as the owner builds more goodwill than it tears down. I find a few rules help me out when responding to stupid people.
1) If at all possible, don’t just immediately respond. Have you ever been angry about something and just shot back a response and then, within a few minutes, thought… “shoot, why did I respond that way?” By taking some time, it may not change the way you want to respond, but it probably will change the way you do respond.
2) Talk to someone you trust, or have someone that you trust read what you find to be stupid (or insulting or infuriating) in their email or conversation. Maybe they see it a different way and can explain to you why you might be seeing/taking it wrong… maybe it is stupid but understandable… or maybe not stupid at all.
3) Own it. Sometimes there is stupid that is indefensible and needs a response. Put on your customer service hat, state the facts in as detailed of a way as possible, don’t place blame or make accusations, understand the range of consequences of your response, and let it fly. When you do this, note that the more details within the response, the less room for interpretation, because the more interpretation possible, the less you can control where on the range of consequences you will end up.
Oh, and as you probably figured, the above applies to working with angry people as well as stupid. Great customer service means being able to respond to any variety of scenarios in a reasonably genuine way and a way that makes the scenario better, or at the least doesn’t make it any worse.
Over the past couple of years, I have presented multiple times on the 6 key areas to focus on when creating a successful wedding business – and very shortly I will be presenting a 2.0 version of this presentation at WeddingWire World DC. In this upcoming session, I will be discussing not only the importance of focusing on the 6 keys, but focusing on them in a specific order.
These 6 keys, in the order they should be worked on, with a little bit of the why, are listed below.
1) Ideal Couple – In an industry in which business is so personal, understanding which couples you want to work with, and which couples you will be most successful working with, should be your first step. Who your ideal couples are, where they are, and what they want from someone doing what you do, will drive much of how you do business.
2) SMART Goals – Knowing your ideal couple helps you to understand things like: how much you can charge for your service, what type of customer experience they are expecting, will you need all 5-star reviews or will a 4-star average be ok, etc. And by understanding these things, it is much easier to write goals that are not only SMART, but smart for your business.
3) Marketing – Since the marketing vehicles you will use, and messaging within those vehicles, need to attract your ideal couples, and will help you meet at least some of your SMART goals, it follows that you need to have worked on the other two first, if you want to market in the most efficient and effective way.
4) Selling Your Value – Similar to your marketing messaging, your value messaging needs to attract your ideal couples, thus creating effective messaging means understanding your ideal couples and their values and priorities, and your goals.
5) Relationships – When developing relationships with colleagues and competitors, it is important to know who your ideal couples are, since you want to establish a different type of relationship with those that work with the same ideal couples as you vs. with those that work with different ideal couples. And, since we want to be as efficient in our businesses as possible, knowing our goals helps us to focus our effort on the relationships that will be the most beneficial.
6) Processes and Systems – Each process, and the corresponding systems that support it, should be developed to at the least meet, but if possible, exceed, your ideal couple’s expectations. By doing this, instead of creating processes and systems that are the norm for all couples, or are built just to save your business time or money, you will have a much better chance of meeting your goals and making your ideal clients happy.
This is just a little taste of what I’ll talk about, and talk about with my coaching clients when we work through this together. If you want to learn more about each of the 6 Keys to a Successful Business listed above, check out my other blog posts and feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com to get the complimentary series of worksheets that explain each of the 6 keys in more detail and even give you guidance on how to evaluate and improve them in your business.
When asked if there is any wiggle room on my price, I am quick to respond that I don’t negotiate or discount my wedding officiant services, and for the most part that is true – the only discount that I do offer is to active-duty military. Otherwise, I charge the same amount for a full ceremony (or for an elopement, which is a separate price, not a discount), independent of whether it is a last-minute request, a weekday wedding, an off-season wedding, a DIY wedding, etc. I started from day 1 with this “no discount, no negotiation” philosophy – and while I definitely did say yes to some negotiating in my early days, when I was trying to build a reputation and a history of reviews, that stopped quickly, and I built my business in a way that discounting wouldn’t be required. However, just because it wasn’t right for my business, doesn’t mean it isn’t right for yours.
If you are thinking about offering discounts, or refining the discounts you already offer, here are 3 helpful tips.
1) Make your discounts consistent and show them on your website and/or in your pricing communications with your couples. If you are discounting to attract business, which should be the reason, then you want people to know about them… think of them as a marketing tool, and therefore as a standard price with a certain amount off. Also, by making them consistent and showing them somewhere early in the communication process, you are hopefully reducing the amount of “requests for a cheaper price” (aka negotiating) you will get from potential couples.
2) Your discounts should make sense to your business. If you think of them as a marketing tool, you can evaluate them using questions like, – are they necessary and if so, which discounts make sense? – are they “returning” the way I expected? – can my business continue to afford them?
3) Your discounts should make sense to your couples. A venue offering a weekday discount is easy to justify since they have fixed costs each day that they need to cover, regardless of whether that space is booked or not, and they won’t have as many requests for weekdays. Which means, when explained, it is easier for a couple booking a weekend wedding to understand why they don’t get the discount. On the flip side of that example, I often explain to my couples that the reason I don’t discount weekday weddings is that my costs and the actual hours I put into my service are the same, regardless of whether it is a weekday or a weekend – only those handful of hours on the wedding day are that day itself, with most others being spent as we create the ceremony on other days. Doesn’t always “satisfy” them, but it is clear and understandable.
I addition to the three tips above, I wanted to make a quick differentiation between discounting and negotiating. To me, a discount is when you have a set price for a set service, for example, for 6 hours of DJ’ing you charge $1700, but you reduce that price by a certain set amount based on a pre-determined criteria, for example, for 6 hours of DJ’ing on a weekday, you only charge $1500, giving anyone who books you for a weekday wedding a $200 discount. However, negotiating is where you have a set price for your service, for example, for 6 hours of DJ’ing, you charge $1700 and then you meet with a couple who says that all they really want to spend is $1400. To me, you are pricing based on negotiation if you agree to the $1400 or negotiate further and come to any agreement on a price that is less than your standard $1700.
I don’t usually recommend negotiating with couples, since we are in a referral-driven industry and the price you charged one couple will be told to other couples. So, if a couple heavily negotiated the price down, expect other couples will ask for that same price. And once you start negotiating and get known for doing it, expect to do it more often… it becomes a vicious cycle which you most likely don’t want.
If you have any questions or would like any help in determining and managing discounts, just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!