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.
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!
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.
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.
One of the biggest costs within any business is the cost of labor – and for most in the wedding industry, a large percentage, if not all, of the labor cost in your business, is your labor. Thus, it is important for you, and your business, to not only understand what you are doing for your couples, but how much time you are spending doing it. This allows you to evaluate your pricing per couple vs. the time spent per couple, and determine if you need to raise your price and/or cut back on the time you spend with each couple. In addition, since figuring out the cost per couple must include time spent in and on your business, but outside of a particular booked couple, it allows you to better evaluate your systems and processes. For example, when should you outsource, how targeted your marketing needs to be, and whether or not a marketing vehicle is working well enough.
The first step to making changes is to know your average time cost per couple. If you are brand new to this business, estimating how much time you are going to spend per couple can be imprecise. You may be able to get some information from industry groups and by sitting down and talking with others in the industry, but your initial estimate will probably contain some guess work since what you plan to do for your couples, and the customer journey you will take them on, is something specific to you. I guarantee that it definitely contained guesswork for me, as the process that I thought I would have my couples do was not what I ended up refining it to. That is why it is recommended that you initially base your pricing on a combination of industry averages for your area and your expected costs.
Whether you are new to the business, or someone who has been around a while but doesn’t have a good idea of the number of hours spent per couple, you can create a system to figure it out. Of course, to do this, you must spend some time, as you need to track your time. The way I would recommend is to create a time budget spreadsheet or journal and use it for your next certain number of couples… let’s say about 10 couples. The reason you can’t just do it for one or two couples is that, although the process each couple goes through might be relatively the same, some couples require less effort than the average and some couples require more. The idea is to average the hours out across a good sampling to get an accurate amount. That way, the extra hours you may spend with a more difficult couple is averaged by the lower hours you spend with an easy couple. In this spreadsheet, you want to record all the time you spend on a particular couple – you might want to do it in 15 minutes increments, and even if something doesn’t take an entire 15 minute block (e.g. simple response to an e-mail), you are covering the time to “switch gears”, the time it takes to get the mind from whatever you were doing before to whatever you are going to do next.
This spreadsheet will give you a good idea of the time you spend on the actual client, but you also need to factor in time spent not specific to that couple. This includes bookkeeping, marketing and social media posts (not the play time, of course), networking, and, also of course, the time that you spend on inquiries that don’t become bookings. For inquiries that don’t become bookings, I would track that in a spreadsheet, similar to one that you are using for booked couples. And I would track it for about 10-15 inquiries that did not book to give you a good average. For the other “fixed time” areas, you can add them to the spreadsheet as you do them and/or go from past experience. For example, monthly bookkeeping takes about 3 hours per month; you average one networking event per month at about 4 hours; etc. Calculate these time costs across the number of expected bookings for the same period to get a time cost of that item per booked couple.
So, yes, it will take time to figure it out, but the process itself can give you a better realization of how long each task takes – and to know that you are spending 30 hours per booked couple vs. the 20 hours you were assuming it was can lead to changes necessary for a more successful business.
As part of our discussion on how to improve the customer journey, we talk about automating certain tasks, making them easier for you, and in some cases even making them easier your customer. One perfect example is the use of an online questionnaire to collect information. Of course, if it is only a couple of pieces of information that you want or need, it is fine to collect that information on an initial contact form, or through e-mail, or even by asking when you are talking to the customer in person or on the phone. However, if you need to collect multiple pieces of information, potentially in multiple formats, we recommend that you use an online questionnaire.
Online questionnaires make it easy for you to collect information by allowing you to create the questionnaire once and then you just send a link to each customer you want to fill it out. In addition, you can collect the information in the format you want. For instance, do you need just a yes or no answer, need the customer to pick from a set of pre-determined options, want the customer to type in an answer but want the answer to be limited to 250 words…? All are possible when using a questionnaire. Questionnaires are also great from the customer’s perspective in that they guide the customer through, and make answering the questions easier, rather than just answering a list of questions sent in an e-mail. And, most questionnaires allow you to set it up so that the person answering the questions can answer some, stop and get out of the system as needed, and then come back to answer others, giving your customers flexibility and ease of use when it comes to longer questionnaires.
In my Officiant business, I use questionnaires to collect vendor and wedding details from my couples, as well as to have them answer their relationship questions that help me build their ceremony. I know DJs that use questionnaires to get song preferences (and no-play-list) information from their couples, musicians who use questionnaires to find out about procession details and song preferences, and planners who use questionnaires to gather wedding party details and other key timeline inputs. Most business systems have some level of questionnaire functionality, and if yours doesn’t, don’t just give up on using questionnaires, instead check out Typeform or Google Forms to get your questions answered (pun intended).