My Wedding Business Year-End Process

My Wedding Business Year-End Process

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!

Numbers:

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!

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.

Next Year’s Goal Setting During This Year’s Wedding Season – Yes Please!

Next Year’s Goal Setting During This Year’s Wedding Season – Yes Please!

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 bethel@elevatebybethel.com.

Where Your Business is vs. Where You Want it to be

Where Your Business is vs. Where You Want it to be

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 bethel@elevatebybethel.com.

3 Tips for Discounting in the Wedding Industry

3 Tips for Discounting in the Wedding Industry

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 bethel@elevatebybethel.com.   Thanks!

Happiness Based Pricing

Happiness Based Pricing

My last blog post, although not very exciting, was a necessary discussion in regards to the why and how of calculating your time cost so that you can price your services accordingly. Not pulse-raising, but a very important topic, because in the service industry of weddings, your time is one of the biggest “costs” to your business, and it is your most precious resource, because, once spent, you can never get it back.

In addition to your time costs, the other business factors to take into account when determining pricing are:

• What is the price range in your area of those already out there doing what you do?
• What are your per couple dollar costs to deliver your service or product?
• What are your ideal couples willing to pay for your service or product?
• And, how much profit do you want to make for the time you spend?

All of these pricing factors will need to be approached from a business perspective, but, just as importantly, from a happiness perspective. The happiness perspective is so important since you most likely started your business to be your own boss, while doing something you love, and controlling your destiny.  Yet, you know you will need to work long hours while making some amount of money for those hours.  For some of you, your business is part-time and as long as it makes you a little extra spending cash, you are fine running a more off-the-cuff business, while others need their business to be their full-time income, and thus have a much more defined and planned out business.  Either way, having an understanding of how much you are making per couple is important, since there is some defined worth to your time.  And running your business as a business, professionally, whether it is part-time or full-time, is important to use all, as it affects how others see the wedding industry.

For example, I love to travel, and if an ideal couple hiring me wants me to travel to another state to marry them, I am happy to do it, however, I am going to charge them my normal fees, plus travel costs, plus a fee to cover the fact that I might have to give up other booking opportunities.  It wouldn’t fit me, my profit per couple, or even my overall business to do it any other way, as I factor my happiness in too.  This doesn’t mean that having a different approach is wrong, as long as you understand the costs and you are happy with the outcome.  The main idea is that your pricing should allow you to be happy in, and with, your business for the long term.  If you are not happy because you are working too many hours, or you are not making the money you were planning, or you are making money but you are not having the fun you thought you would, you really need to do one of the following:

1) Change how your business works
2) Change who it serves (your ideal clients)
3) Raise your prices
4) Do something else for a living

If you need help working through any of these options, please let me know.  And, yes, I know number 4 seems harsh, but just remember that nothing kills a passion-based business more than losing your passion.