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.
I spend a lot of time talking to my coaching clients, and friends in the industry, about email templates. What they are and what they are not. Especially because I absolutely love them and they really save my sanity during the busiest parts of the wedding year! And I recently wrote an article for the WeddingWire EDU Pro Blog entitled, “Why Email Templates Are Awesome” – so you can read lots more of my thoughts there.
But as I prep my talking points for my presentation at Wedding MBA, and as I share in there the thoughts of many of the couples I surveyed as I created that presentation, I keep coming back to this important topic. Plus, as I’m in the midst of switching business management systems for my officiant business, I’m also in the middle of editing all of my templates as I move them over.
So, I thought it was essential to make clear what templates are and aren’t, and how they do not equal automated emails.
Templates DO save you a crazy amount of time by preparing content that you send regularly or often. And they DO usually save you on errors or omissions by having everything you might want to say ready to be used. They are NOT something that you should just “hit send” on, without editing or personalizing to fit that couple, that wedding, that situation, etc. And they do NOT have to be used exactly as is to still be useful as a template. The only automated email in my entire process is an invoice reminder, and receipts once they’ve paid, of course. Everything else coming from me goes out intentionally and with thought.
Let me give you three examples of where my email templates save me both time and potential issues:
Inquiries: We know that responding to incoming inquiries or leads quickly is very important (heck, according to that survey I’ll be sharing from, some folks aren’t even responding to couples at all!). I am not of the belief that you need to be the very first to respond in order to get that booking, but it sure helps to be first or somewhat quickly, as you’re on their mind when they are inquiring, no? Couples definitely expect you to respond within 24 hours. Well, having templates ready with both the answers to the questions couples typically ask when they inquire (such as: are you available, how much will it cost, what are your services/offerings/packages), and the information that I always want to share (including: please read my reviews, here – as I know my reviews often sell me – and here are the next steps), lets me answer quickly, accurately (with less chance of spelling errors too, as I’m not creating it all fresh in that very moment), and with attention on personalizing it vs creating it. What do I mean by that? I personalize my email to include anything they’ve told me already in their inquiry. I comment on their venue, on however they said they found me, especially if it came from a fellow wedding pro, and anything they put in the comment area about what they want. They want to feel heard and feel like they will matter to you when working together – and starting with a template, which already has the key points covered, lets me add the specific personalization for them and their wedding before still sending it quite quickly. First impressions matter!
Final Reminders: This is a huge time saver and problem avoider for me. About two weeks before the wedding, I send a “final reminders” email to my couples, with all sorts of key information that I either want to confirm (like start time or who they’ve chosen are their witnesses), or want to convey (like what time I’ll be there based on that start time or bring your marriage license to the wedding!!), or want prepped (like any ceremony ritual items they need to bring and have set up). And there is no doubt that this email template has gotten longer over the years as things it never would have occurred to me to have to include clearly did need to be. I mean, really, who doesn’t think to bring their marriage license to their wedding? About a dozen of my past couples have had to send someone home or the hotel to get it… Who doesn’t tell the officiant that they moved their ceremony start time? Way too many for comfort. So, I created that template to include any possible information I could want to tell a couple, and then I remove everything not relevant to that particular couple, personalizing and editing it for their wedding. But it’s much easier to remove info and edit info than it is to create from scratch. So, I have prep and set-up info for all of the different rituals they might have chosen, and then delete out everything other than what their ceremony includes, plus different intros based on whether they have a wedding planner or not, etc.
Assignments: This is also a huge time saver for me, and ensures I send everything I need to. All of my couples do the same two assignments for me. The results of those are what makes their ceremony different and allows me to make the ceremony theirs. But they all start with the same homework. So, those homework emails are all prepped and ready to be sent when their wedding hits that point in their customer journey, and then edited based on anything we already talked about in their initial meeting with me or in previous emails.
Having these email templates, and more, all prepped and ready allows me to spend my time and effort on the things that my couples really hire me for – crafting and delivering a customized ceremony that properly celebrates what they share – and less on the things that are just needed to run a professional and smooth business. And P.S. The latter is noticed and ultimately valued by my couples too, even if that wasn’t why they picked me initially.
If I can help you to create or edit or streamline your email templates, or any other part of your customer experience, let me know!
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!
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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.