Business

Wedding Spending Is Down: 6 Things You Can Do • No. 1


Here’s some not exactly splendid news: wedding spending is down in every budget category across the board, with the exception of the Ultra Luxury Wedding segment (budgets of $500,000+, not including the honeymoon).

Economists have been forecasting a recession to hit towards the end of 2019 for a while now, and while those predictions are not always accurate, wedding spending tends to be a canary in the coal mine for how people are feeling about their financial future.

If you haven’t yet felt the pinch in your own business, count yourself lucky, because many wedding professionals have. While you may not be dealing with it now, you can ask any colleague who went through the 2008 (or any previous) recession and they will tell you it’s better to prepare ahead of time than to be caught off guard.

At the end of my 2019 State of the Wedding Industry post, I outlined six things wedding professionals will need to do in order to navigate the coming uncertainties. Over the next few days, I want to dive into each one a little bit more. The first one is this:

Get super clear on what your brand is about and adjust your messaging accordingly.


When most people hear "get super clear about what your brand is about," they think of the age-old concept of "defining your why" (recently made popular again by Simon Sinek's book.) While it is true you need to know your intrinsic motivators for doing what you do (supporting your family, paying for your kids' Ivy League degrees, creating experiential memories for your family through amazing vacations, extending hospitality through a beautiful and nurturing home, building orphanages, etc), that is not what I am talking about here.

I am talking about getting clear about what you do and who it is for.

You’re smart, so you know that you need to go beyond “I plan weddings” for “brides and grooms.” Maybe you’ve landed on something like this:

“I specialize in planning beautiful weddings” for “couples who love love.”

This sentence may sound sweet, but it is meaningless marketing jumble. Let’s unpack why:

“I specialize in planning beautiful weddings." Yeah, no kidding.

Here’s where marketing messaging diverges from reality a bit: while there are definitely unstylish weddings out there, if no one is marketing themselves as “specializing in ugly weddings,” then saying you specialize in beautiful weddings lumps you in with everyone else. If no one is claiming the opposite, you will not stand out. If you specialize in beautiful weddings, you specialize in nothing.

Now for the second part: “for couples who love love.”

Again, this sounds sweet, but it is super generic: some people may be afraid of love, but very few actively dislike love. It does not drill down enough into which type of engaged couples you are actually looking to target.

To come up with who your work is for, ask yourself who you most want to work with and which types of weddings you most enjoy working on. Maybe your favorite clients are those who have multi-day weddings with a heavy religious and/or cultural focus. Maybe you want to work specifically with fashion-forward socialites. Maybe you’re happiest with clients who are “basic” (I’m currently typing this while drinking a latte from Starbucks, using a mousepad from Target, and wearing jeans from Nordstrom, so I’m definitely not knocking being basic). Maybe you want to specialize in luxe elopements. Whatever it may be, spend some time figuring out what type of client work brings you the most joy, that you can still make money at.

When you think about what you do, you will also want to primarily think about how it benefits who it is for, rather than making it all about yourself. In the end, people who hire you do so because they believe you can make them better in some way. Even your most loyal Instagram fans who double tap every photo and watch every Story do so because they believe you can make their own life better in some way. It is really not about you at all.

A Real-Life Example:

I’ll use my own company as an example here because I spent a lot of time figuring this out, plus I don’t want to highlight someone else who may be happy that others haven’t yet figured out their secret sauce. Think Splendid’s tagline is, “We help wedding industry leaders succeed.” Here’s an abbreviated version of my thought process behind how I landed on this:

What I Do:

I get bored easily. I like working on projects that vary from one another. I also like figuring out solutions to the challenges that come up after a company has been in business for a while. I most enjoy the cognitively difficult parts of consulting – the parts that require me to sit and think deeply and strategically through all different angles of a problem.

On top of that, I am good at this type of work. Really good at it. Being a deep thinker and overly analytical can often be unwelcome traits in many areas of my life, but they are wonderful assets in my career. Downplaying my gifts in this area is a surefire way to end up miserable in my job.

In order to do the type of consulting work I most love and that I am most good at, I have to set specific boundaries on the type of work I won’t do: I am not going to set up Quickbooks for you. I am not going to plan and produce marketing activations for you. I am not going to manage your social media for you. I am not going to pitch media outlets on your behalf. These are all valuable services and there are talented people you can hire to help you with them. They are not what I want to spend my time working on so they are not what I do.

Who It Is For:

I have actively studied (and practiced) leadership for the past twenty years. I like working with leaders. I like working on the types of problems they come to me with. These can be leaders who have been in business for several decades or people who found themselves in a position of leadership early on. Either way, being a leader requires a different mindset, and I prefer to work with people who already have that mindset. It is totally fine if someone doesn’t consider themselves a leader – there are lots of other business consultants who are happy to work with them and possibly even help them develop into someone who views themselves as a leader. But again, that is not the type of work I want to do.

The Benefit:

Success, on your terms. However you define success – whether a number, a lifestyle shift, a feeling or emotion, whatever – my work can help you achieve it. The keyword here being “help.” You are responsible for your own success, and the work I do can help you make it happen. It is not a magic wand or a silver bullet.

Why It Works:

First, it works because I am now more tightly focused on the work I enjoy doing.

Second, it works because my messaging is clear about what I do and who I am for (helping wedding industry leaders succeed), while leaving it open to various types of projects within those boundaries.

Third, it works because not every business consultant in the wedding space claims to work with leaders, so I am not lumping myself in with everyone else. Some people help companies just starting out. Some people focus primarily on finance and accounting. Some people focus primarily on tactics over strategy. Some people try to be a Jack- or Jane-of-all-trades. Not me. I want the hard problems that wedding industry leaders run into. That’s what I enjoy. That’s what I’m good at. So I say so.


Tell Potential Clients Why You’re Splurge-Worthy

As wedding budgets tighten and couples have to make decisions about which categories to cut back in and which to splurge in, you want to be the person they splurge on. Producing beautiful work and calling it beautiful is not enough. People won’t know how what you do is different or valuable until you clearly say so. So say so.

True humility doesn’t hide its gifts.

9 Wedding Pros to Watch in 2019

Photo by I   gor Bulgak

Photo by Igor Bulgak


Today I'm sharing Think Splendid's list of Nine Wedding Pros to Watch in 2019 (if you've been following along on Instagram, you've had a sneak peek of #TheSplendid9 over the past week.)

As a wedding business consultant, I've had the privilege to work with clients from 94 different countries, allowing me a deep dive into literally every segment of the wedding market around the world. Finding incredibly talented, artistic, creative people in this industry is easy; whittling that down to a list of just nine . . . not so much. There are so many more I wanted to include.

Not everyone on this list has a ton of Instagram followers, which is never a prerequisite in my book as we all know some people who are simply good at the Gram and not the actual work, and that 1,000,000 followers does not equal $1,000,000 in the bank. Some of the people on this list, because of the cultural or business norms where they’re located, don’t have a website.

I want to note that when I say wedding pros "to watch" I simply mean "to pay attention to" and not necessarily "up and coming." Some of the wedding professionals on this list have been in business for nearly 40 years, so they are not new to the industry. They have, however, learned how to set aside ego and adapt to changes in the market, technology, and trends, allowing them to remain relevant and competitive – something all of us need to continually learn and relearn, no matter what we've accomplished in the past.

So without further ado, here are Think Splendid’s Nine Wedding Pros to Watch in 2019, in no particular order:

Igor Bulgak – Russia

Destination Wedding Photographer
Website: bulgak.pro • Instagram: @bulgakigor

A bride with her wedding dress in Cape Town, South Africa.

A bride with her wedding dress in Cape Town, South Africa.

Aarij Hashimi – Pakistan

Event Designer
Instagram: @aarij_1

Dance floor at a wedding in Karachi, Pakistan.

Dance floor at a wedding in Karachi, Pakistan.

Shirohana – Sri Lanka

Floral Designers
Website: shirohanaflowers.com • Instagram: @shirohanaflowers

Floral design in Sri Lanka

Floral design in Sri Lanka

Quilicuá Catering – Spain

Catering and Event Decor
Website: quilicua.com • Instagram: @quilicua_catering

Chef Luca Rodi

Chef Luca Rodi

Michael Ruiz – Philippines

Event Designer and Stylist
Instagram: @michaelruizeventstyling

Wedding at Manila Marriott Hotel in the Philippines. Photo by    Adrian Ardiente   .

Wedding at Manila Marriott Hotel in the Philippines. Photo by Adrian Ardiente.

Hermanas Caradonti – Argentina

Event Designers
Website: hermanascaradonti.com • Instagram: @hermanascaradonti

Wedding at Estancia Villa María, near Buenos Aires, Argentina. Photo by    @ezerohrph

Wedding at Estancia Villa María, near Buenos Aires, Argentina. Photo by @ezerohrph

Goldfinch Events – Montana, United States

Wedding Planner and Floral Designer
Website: goldfinchevents.com • Instagram: @goldfinchevents

Wedding at The Lodge at White Fish Lake in Montana. Photo by A   rcher Messenger   .

Wedding at The Lodge at White Fish Lake in Montana. Photo by Archer Messenger.

Alice Chow – China

Wedding Cake Designer
Instagram: @alicechowcake

A set of cakes for a museum wedding.

A set of cakes for a museum wedding.

Bedge Pictures – Nigeria

Wedding Photographer
Instagram: @bedgepictures

A bride at her wedding in Nigeria.

A bride at her wedding in Nigeria.

Is That Wedding Conference Worth Attending?

At    The International Wedding Conference    in Lisbon, Portugal; at the    Coterie Retreat    in Johannesburg, South Africa; at    Oh So Inspired    in Sonoma, California.

At The International Wedding Conference in Lisbon, Portugal; at the Coterie Retreat in Johannesburg, South Africa; at Oh So Inspired in Sonoma, California.


As a professional speaker and wedding business consultant, I am obviously a big believer in the importance of taking the posture of a lifelong learner, embracing education, and seeking out insights from people who have expertise in areas you'd like to improve. Fortunately, there are tons of industry workshops and conferences that you can choose from nowadays (this was not the case even just 10 years ago).

While I've previously shared 5 things I personally look for in a business consultant, here are some questions to ask and things to consider when evaluating whether or not a particular conference is worth the investment for you:
 

1. How much will this conference actually cost me?

This one seems like a no brainer, but the first thing I recommend you do is set a conference budget for the year. If you feel the word "budget" is too restrictive, reframe how you think about it: a budget is just a plan for how you spend your money. So set up a plan for how you'll spend on in-person education. A conference budget should include:

  • Conference registration

  • Travel (including ground transportation to and from the airport, which, depending where you're flying into, can sometimes cost just as much as a plane ticket)

  • Accommodations

  • Meals, snacks, and everything food and beverage related, including whether or not you want to treat some new friends to a round of cocktails

  • New clothes (or a Rent the Runway allowance) for special conference events like awards ceremonies or galas, if necessary

  • Gratuities, miscellaneous fees, etc

  • Books, gifts, souvenirs, a visit to the hotel spa, excursions, etc

I like to use You Need A Budget to create quick “back of the napkin” budgets for figuring out how much things like conferences will really cost, but there are tons of other options out there, including good old-fashioned pen and paper. The most important part is that you figure out ahead of time whether or not a conference with a $3000 registration fee is going to end up costing you closer to $6000 when all is said and done.

Obviously, this outline is just the cost of attending the conference. You can also figure out how much money you'd not be making by spending a few days away from your desk and factor that in, if you'd like. 
 

2. What do I hope to get out of the conference?

Write down two or three goals you hope attending the conference will help you accomplish. Be as specific as possible. Here are a few examples to get your brain going:

  • What areas of your business do you want to improve?

  • What areas do you feel bogged down by or in the weeds about?

  • What are you doing well that you know could do better?

  • Do you want to shift your mental model of how you approach certain issues?

  • Have you reached a certain level of success and been met with new challenges that your current group of industry peers and "friendors" haven't faced yet?

  • Do you want to move into serving a different target market or demographic?

  • Do you want to meet specific people who will refer you business?

  • Do you want to meet people outside your local network that you can refer business to and collaborate with?

  • Do you want to get published more often or in higher-caliber outlets?

  • Are you demotivated or in a creative rut?

  • Do you feel alone or like the rest of the industry seems to "get it" but your local industry doesn't?

  • Are you struggling with your business taking over the rest of your life and leaving no time for the people and things that matter most to you?

Again, be as specific as possible. "Book more weddings" is too general a goal. Do you want more weddings at the same price point? A higher price point? How many more weddings do you need in order to hit your financial goals yet not burn out?

Once you've outlined your goals, move on to the next question.
 

At    Engage Luxury Wedding Business Summits    in Asheville, North Carolina, and Paradise Valley, Arizona.

At Engage Luxury Wedding Business Summits in Asheville, North Carolina, and Paradise Valley, Arizona.


3. How likely is it that the insights from this list of speakers and the agenda for this conference will help me achieve my goals?

Lots of conferences and workshops have great speakers. That does not mean a particular lineup is going to be valuable to you. It's important to remember the adage, "What got you here won't get you there." Just like a child has different needs as it grows from baby to kindergartner to tween to college student, your business has different needs as it grows. It is okay if you have grown out of what a particular speaker or conference has to offer, even if you found them incredibly valuable at earlier points in your career.

Take the goals you wrote down above and weigh them against what the conference you're considering is offering.

  • Do the speakers a conference is bringing in tend to prepare in advance or do they cram their slides together the night before? Are they known to always click through slideshows of their own work instead of presenting useful info?

    Also, if a speaker said yes to speaking for free, they still need to treat the presentation as though they were getting paid and respect the investment the attendees made to be there by not phoning it in.

    Anyone who does public speaking has given a presentation or two where they were "off", but if you are spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a conference, you have every right to expect the conference producers to hold their speakers to a professional standard.

  • Have the speakers replicated their success?

    To paraphrase an old saying – once is luck, three is a pattern. For example, if someone is speaking on pricing, have they successfully landed clients using that model at least three times? If the speaker is a business consultant, have they helped a minimum of three other companies successfully do what they are telling you to do?

  • Do the speakers have experience not only where you've been, but where you're hoping to go?

  • Do the speakers tend to be generous with the information they share or do they hold back out of fear you'll one day compete with them or to get you to hire them as a coach or consultant?


    I’ve signed speaking contracts for conferences that state that a speaker cannot share a plug for their own business, workshops, courses, etc in their presentation. Personally, I wish a lot more conference producers would adopt this clause.

  • Are the topics being covered relevant to what you are hoping to accomplish? Do the speakers tend to offer the hottest advice from 2011 (or worse, 2001) but nothing connected to current market realities? Do they share examples from companies like yours overcoming a particular set of challenges or do they only share examples from Starbucks and Apple? (Yeah, yeah, we get it, the world's first trillion dollar company is doing a few things right.)

In my opinion, it is okay if not every session at a conference is a meat-and-potatoes session. A significant factor in business success comes from mindset shift: thinking bigger, thinking more strategically, discarding old fears and perceived limitations, or approaching issues from a different angle. These are things that aren't solved with a tidy formula and that you aren’t necessarily going to learn in a how-to session. Plus, if you're demotivated or in a rut, sometimes you need a "your dreams are possible" inspirational talk to get back to the best creative version of yourself.

Having how-to sessions on marketing, finance, and skill-set improvement are important, but they're not exactly super beneficial if you're in a place where you dread going to work in the mornings. Getting fired up again can be worth spending money on and sometimes you'll want a conference with an agenda that fuels you and your business both practically and emotionally.
 

4. Are the speakers and attendees people I want to network with and spend time around?

I believe that every person we meet is someone we can learn from. That does not mean I want to spend several thousand dollars and several days away from my family to be around just anyone. We all have limited time and resources and I want to be intentional about who I am actively listening to and surrounding myself with.

I also believe that the value of a conference is just as much about the attendees in the room as it is the people on the stage. While you may learn a lot and hit your educational goals from the conference sessions, you will learn so much more in the conversations you have with other attendees while sitting by the pool or hanging out after dinner in the lobby bar.

If you want to consistently earn six-figures in your business*, one way to get there faster is to network with people who know how to consistently get to 7-figures (or 8!). It requires a different mindset, and you will learn a ton just from chatting during breaks or downtime. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with being in the beginning stages of business, attending a conference where you are much further ahead of the rest of the attendees may not be the best use of your time.

Sometimes I hear, "Why would I pay to make new industry friends?" The answer is simple: sometimes it's what you need. I have a friend who attended a conference specifically because she wanted to get to know a planner she had long admired for her ability to balance motherhood and running a successful business. As a mom with young kids of her own, she didn't care if this planner ever ended up referring her a wedding or not, she just wanted to buy her a glass of wine and hear about how she made everything work. While she could have just called her, it would have been unlikely she would have gotten a time slot on the planner's busy calendar. The conference was a place that afforded them both the time and opportunity to network, and there was value to both of them in paying to be in the same room.
 

At    Engage Luxury Wedding Business Summits    in Grand Cayman; at    Coterie Retreat    in Johannesburg, South Africa; at    Imaging USA    in Phoenix, Arizona.

At Engage Luxury Wedding Business Summits in Grand Cayman; at Coterie Retreat in Johannesburg, South Africa; at Imaging USA in Phoenix, Arizona.


5. What else is giving me pause about attending?

Once you've set your conference budget, outlined your goals, and identified that this conference can help you reach them, you may still feel pause about signing up to attend. If that's the case, here are a few things to examine to determine whether that pause is a gut feeling you should trust or simply an unfounded fear you should ignore:

  • One way to determine whether a conference is relevant or mainly marketing hype and Instagram-fueled FOMO, is to take a look at the repeat attendees. Have their businesses changed for the better since they started going or do they seem to be in the same spot they always were?

  • Are you a conference junkie, addicted to education but never implementing anything to move the needle once you're back home? The pause you feel may be the fact that deep down you know you need to spend some time putting the answers you've already found into place before you spend more money on another educational event.

  • Are you avoiding a conference because a newer competitor attended in the past and you don’t want to admit that they may have discovered something good before you did?

    If so, please figure out how to get over this, as you are only hurting yourself. While your ego is busy nursing that grudge, your competitors are busy learning, growing, expanding their network, and positioning themselves as the go-to in your market.

  • Are you hesitating because the conference opportunity seems perfect but is out of your comfort zone (maybe you're an extrovert considering an intimate retreat with lots of quiet time for reflection or perhaps you're an introvert and intimidated by the number of attendees and evening events of a larger conference)?

    If this is the case, consider how you can stretch yourself and leave some room for the miracle. You should be comfortable at a conference – to a point. If you're an introvert, plan for some alone time (a morning walk by yourself, etc). If you're an extrovert, set a plan to connect with a friend or family member via FaceTime each day so that you can get some extra "people time" in, even if they are not physically present with you.

 

As I mentioned above, I am pro conferences and workshops – and not just because speaking at them is how I make a living. I have met people at conferences who have ended up becoming some of my best friends, who show up for me during tough times and who I show up for. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely road, one often misunderstood by people who have never been on it themselves. Surrounding yourself with colleagues who "get it," who push you to be better, and who cheer for your success matters, and conferences can be a great way to make that happen, all while creating a better business for yourself and your family. Win-win.
 


(*A side note: please don’t believe the myth that you can’t make six-figures in the wedding industry. You can. You may have to adjust how you do some things, but the numbers are there and it is generally a doable goal.)

Originally published August 2018