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.

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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Inefficiency vs. Overworking in Your Business

Inefficiency vs. Overworking in Your Business

I will admit, I have watched more than my share of online seminars, and been through more than a few different business planner/organizer systems trying to get myself, and my businesses, more organized and more efficient.  Any other planner addicts out there??   And don’t get me wrong, there have been systems that have helped quite a bit and there are a few that I recommend if you really need some help getting your business organized.   However, what I also found was that there was point at which I realized it wasn’t all an issue of not being organized…  I was just trying to fit too much into too few hours each day.   This is a realization for business owners that creates some important questions that I thought I would cover briefly.

How can I know if it is inefficiency or being overworked?   Well, since the level of efficiency each person can achieve and level of work that they can – or want to – handle can be different, there is no golden formula or rule.   The best way I find to evaluate it is to map out how you are using your time in your business over a 2 to 3 week period, making sure that the evaluation period includes both busy days and not so busy days.   From that time-mapping, you can figure out how much time you spend on tasks, and look at each task to determine if you are doing it efficiently or if there is just too much of it.

What happens if I figure out that I am less organized/efficient in my business than I would like to be?   As I mentioned above, there are quite a few systems out there to help you get more organized and efficient.  And the great thing about there being so many options is that there is most likely going to be a system that fits your style.  Yes, different people have different organization styles, so it is key to evaluate a few systems and determine which one fits you and your business best.  I could go on and on about that (digital vs paper vs both, with goals, tasks only, etc) – and I often do…

What happens if I figure out that I have more work than time?   The quick answer: figure out how to have less work.  And the longer answer, start to break down the work that you do and determine if there are pieces you have as part of your business process that you don’t need to do, pieces that you can outsource, or core ways that you can change how you do business to reduce the amount of work.

I hope this blog post helps a little bit, but we know that when it comes to figuring out inefficiency vs. over working in our businesses, there are no easy ways to determine it, or easy answers once you figure it out.  Knowing the struggle first-hand and having evaluated and investigated options for my businesses, please let me know if I can be of any help as you work through it in your own business.  Happy to help you to figure it out for yourself!

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.