After I wound down my wedding planning company, I started working in venue sales. When I interviewed with prospective employers, they always asked me what my approach would be to selling. All I had to say was, when I first started my company, I had to start from nothing, and at first, nearly every single piece of business, every client, I earned was from an outbound lead. It was all about attracting clients in any way possible – a huge hustle.
In other words, unlike a big, well known company or name brand – like Four Seasons, say, or The Gap – I had no brand awareness, not even many contacts, in either the wedding industry or the world at large. I had to hustle. But, it worked; my first year, I booked 16 weddings, and by year 3, I had a fully booked calendar, almost purely from referral (the small percentage that weren’t, were booked off my website). Here are a few tips on how I did it.
Be a Diplomat – and Venues will Refer You To Clients
A major problem venues run into with their wedding planner colleagues are how biased they can be towards their clients. Now, of course, your client comes first. But, clients are always right. Yet, some event planners will take their clients’ completely unrealistic and unfair requests to the hotel or venue and make foolish and rude demands on their behalf. Instead, the planner should lovingly and calmly educate their clients on how to modulate their request to be reasonable and realistic. Wedding planners who do this not only have clients who appreciate their expertise and credibility, but they immediately rise to the top of most venues’ lists for referrals. The majority of my referral business came from venues.
It’s all about your network! For this wedding, the hotel (Crowne Plaza Redondo Beach) referred me to the couple; then I referred them to the tent vendor (LM Productions), the DJ (Vox DJs), and the florist (Lotus and Lily). Photo by Nicole Caldwell Photography.
How do you promote your wedding planning business?
Good question – it’s different for everyone. AND – for every region. I’m just gonna come out and say it, but here in L.A., using web platforms to advertise businesses really don’t seem to work enough for vendors out here, enough to achieve a meaningful ROI, anyways. But, in other regions, these web platforms may work like gangbusters. In my experience, clients here are investing a lot of money in we vendors (because we live in a big, expensive city, so we have to charge more, natch), and they don’t just want to grab a few names on line – they want someone they can trust. Perhaps a DJ or even a caterer can be found online, but a wedding planner? That person is holding the keys to your entire event, and they know a lot of personal and financial information about you. And you can ‘fake’ your portfolio – or at least embellish it- pretty easily. Crazily enough, some wedding vendors and planners out here don’t even have websites. (Obviously that’s not best practice, but it shows you how powerful word of mouth is out here.)
That said, there are a lot of free websites and online portals where you can advertise for free – and you never know. All you invest with these outlets is time, so it’s worth a try. But tread carefully, ask lots of questions, and secure case studies from your niche and region before paying big bucks to advertise your wedding planning business.
Tie Up Those Loose Ends
Clients are more likely to refer you if you have no loose ends left with them after their event. Sometimes, clients will have lots of questions or issues with the end of their event unless you pre-empt the situation. For example, always point out to multiple people, not just the couple, where their gift cards are in person to them before you leave, and take photos of where they are safely stored (I learned to do this after a 2am phone call from a mother of the bride who panicked because the bride and groom didn’t show them where they were when they gave them all their gifts at the end of the night). If a vendor showed up late or you had an issue with timing due to circumstances beyond your control, be sure to calmly alert them in a friendly follow up email. If they feel you did a thorough job with concise follow-up, they’ll be more likely to refer you.
Network, Network, Network!
Go to as many networking events in and out of your industry as possible. The fun of being a wedding planner means lots of wining, dining, and schmoozing. Strike friendly and warm conversations; followup the next day or two with an email, and follow your new connections on social channels. Often an event will clash with another one (they always seem to be on the same night!) so strategize wisely to stop by as many as you can. Forming bonds and supportive connections means more referrals – and most of all, those connections mean warm friendships and support in an often demanding industry.
Have any questions? Email me anytime at email@example.com!