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.
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 email@example.com. Thanks!
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.
When starting any business, there are business things you need to consider and then there are industry things you need to consider. Of course, many times the industry things drive the business things, so I thought that maybe I should list what I consider 4 very important industry things that, although not specific just to wedding businesses, are very critical to your success in the wedding industry.
1) Very Personal Business: If you don’t like people, or you are an introvert, or you believe that any personality type other than your own is wrong… this is most likely not the business for you. Even if you identify and only work with your perfect ideal couples, you still must work well with other wedding professionals, of all personality types, at networking events, site visits, and on many of the aspects of the wedding day (because referrals are key!). You also will most likely have to deal with the couple’s family members and friends. There are plenty of stories about how the most chill and flexible couple in the world was actually surrounded by friends and family members who are raving lunatics.
2) Bad Days Really Make an Impact: There are very few businesses in which the service/product being delivered – especially the ones delivered on the wedding day itself – are so important and have so much focus on them. Think of it this way, even if your couple isn’t one of those who has imagined their wedding day from the time they were 12 (as the industry stereotype might tell us), the couple you are working with still has likely put a lot of time, effort, and money into the planning of this one day, and thus, you as a wedding professional must consider everything very important. Being a little late or not having something small that the couple was expecting might seem, and even be, inconsequential, but it can have a domino effect not only with the couple, but with family, friends, and other vendors.
3) Always Need New Customers (Little Repeat Business): Of course, photographers can take a couple’s wedding pictures and then their maternity shoot, or a DJ can work a couple’s wedding and then work their office party. However, that is follow-on business, not repeat business, as you aren’t doing a wedding for that couple year after year. Unlike a car wash, restaurant, grocery store, hair salon, etc., for most of us in the wedding industry, we have to spend a lot of time working to get new clients vs. the relationship nurturing involved in keeping current clients. This means spending more time and money on our marketing, and that our businesses, even if we grow them over many years, won’t ever necessarily hit a mature stage of business. Many long-term businesses in this industry have learned that lesson, when they stopped focusing on marketing and advertising, thinking that they were getting enough business from referrals alone.
4) Age of Customers Stay Relatively the Same: Let’s assume you have been in the business for 20 years. In those 20 years, the average age of a couple getting married might have gone up a couple of years, but that is not much compared to fact that you are 20 years older. 20 years ago, you might have been in tune to the culture, and technology, of those getting married, but are you now? You need to make sure each year that your ideal couples are still out there in enough numbers to support your business, or that you are evolving your business to attract and work with a slightly different ideal couple. You also need to always be paying attention to new trends. And, you need to relate and be relatable to the couples that are currently looking for your services.
If you understand, accept, and factor in these four things into your planning, you have a great start to building a successful wedding industry business!