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 you upcoming 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 business. Now is the perfect time to evaluate how your business is looking for this new year vs. previous years (I like to look at the past two years, as trends are easier to spot when looking at multiple years). And, based on what is learned from that evaluation, adjust what you are doing. Are your bookings at the number you expected? Are your 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 coaching options (all via Zoom, so super easy no matter where you are) – either one-off or a series – for you and your business.
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!
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.
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).
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.