Generosity

Sweat the Small Stuff

Good design adds to the fullness of life.

The best snorkeling experience I’ve ever had was off a coast in the central Philippines. Most of the memory has blurred together: warm sun, salty air, the sound of my friends' laughter echoing off the boat. What I remember vividly, with photographic precision, are the neon blue and purple starfish below the waves. Colors that seem like they couldn’t possibly exist in nature, yet they do.

If design didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, snowflakes would be ugly. Leaves wouldn’t turn red and gold in the Fall. Spring would arrive unannounced by bright yellow daffodils. And a world underwater that we rarely experience in the day-to-day would be bland and colorless.

People have a right to live fully, not just merely. Good design adds to the fullness of life. The fullness, ironically, allows for margin. Margin empowers people to dream big, enabling them to do things that change the world.

Sweat the details. The details go beyond ourselves.
 


Originally published October 2014

The #1 Thing to Remove From Your Website's Inquiry Form

Increase your brand’s word of mouth and your industry referrals.

Photo by    Cameron Clark

Photo by Cameron Clark

The point of your website isn't to close the sale. The point of your website is to get potential clients to contact you so you can start a conversation.

The number one thing on most wedding professionals' inquiry forms that can shut down a conversation before it even starts?

Asking for a specific wedding date. 

This seems counterintuitive at first – after all if you aren't available for their date, you aren't available. That said, asking for the date up front cheats both you and the bride or groom out of a conversation that can leave a memorable impression and increase your word of mouth.

First, depending on your segment of the industry, a potential client may have a few dates in mind. Their decision could depend on when their dream venue or the photographer they've been Insta-stalking for the past year has availability. It may depend on when their maid-of-honor can get vacation time approved.

If the date they enter to get past a mandatory field on your inquiry form triggers an automated "Sorry, we're booked" email reply, you've lost out on the possibility that the date they land on is actually one you have available.

Second, and most importantly, not skipping past that conversation means you have the opportunity to increase your future industry referrals and make the wedding industry better. 

One of my non-negotiable company values is to always provide a referral if I can't accept a project. This can be because I'm already booked, I'm out of their budget, their project isn't in my wheelhouse, or we just may not be a good fit for whatever reason. Giving them the name of someone who may be able to better help them reach their goals is not only beneficial to them, it brands me as helpful and allows me to support the other people in the business consulting space who are the real deal. 

The importance of that last part shouldn't be underestimated. Wedding pros in every single segment of the industry complain about oversaturation. Planners joke that "anyone who walks by a wedding at a resort" opens up shop the next day, photographers complain about people with an iPhone and VSCO calling themselves pros, and caterers complain that "anyone with a kitchen and the Food Network thinks they can do what we do." Some of the new people entering the industry are truly talented. Others are . . . not.

The truth of the matter is that if you are competing at the level you want to be at, most of your competitors will also be excellent at what they do. Bad apples end up affecting everyone, and the best way to ensure that the good people stay in business is to send them business. 

Have a list of names of people you trust and respect, including competitors in your category as well as those who may be at a lower price point but still good at what they do. You can send an actual PDF list or link, but I'd recommend taking a couple minutes to send a personalized recommendation:

"Hi Sally, Your wedding ideas sound beautiful! We are previously committed for your date, but based on what you've shared with me, I'd recommend reaching out to Annie at XYZ Events. Her style is very much in sync with yours, plus I think you'll hit it off personality-wise. Congratulations, again!"

A 90 second email that helps the couple, brands you as generous to both the client and the wedding pro, and earns you karma/reaping what you sow/what goes around comes around brownie points.

This particular couple may not have the budget for you, but "I couldn't afford him, but he still took the time to help me with recommendations," is great word of mouth and a kindness people remember. It also helps build a wedding community committed to excellence and weeding out the charlatans. A win-win for everyone.


Originally published June 2018

The Truth About Wedding Industry Fame

Wedding Spending Is Down: 6 Things You Can Do • No. 4

Photo by    Cameron Clark

Photo by Cameron Clark

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.

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. In this blog series called 6 Ways to Survive a Recession, I’m diving into each one a little bit more. Here’s what’s been previously covered:

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

  2. Diversify your marketing and play the long game by building equity in the brand house you own.

  3. Cultivate an inclusive community that authentically cares about something beyond themselves.


The fourth thing you should focus on is this:

Don’t buy into your own hype and don’t assume your popularity will last forever, especially if you’re one of the current industry it-girls.

The fastest way to kill your wedding business is to drink your own kool-aid. Not doing so is easier said than done, of course, because the kool-aid is delicious, made up of a mixture of press mentions, respect from your peers, Instagram likes, and the praises of a job well-done.

After all, you worked hard and true humility knows how to take a compliment, right?

The problem isn’t the accolades themselves, and if you earned them, you deserve them. The problem comes with assuming the level of popularity you’ve achieved defines you or that it will last forever.

Here are three realities on working in the wedding industry:

The first reality is that the wedding industry is very much feast or famine, and some years will be much leaner than others, no matter how long you’ve been in business.

The second reality is that wedding industry “fame” is a fickle mistress. Your meteoric rise seems unstoppable, until it isn’t. If you’re currently one of the wedding industry “it-girls” (or “it-guys”), please go read my post about what to do to protect yourself.

Running a business is a long-game, and take it from someone who has seen this happen a zillion times, the level of popularity and money you may be enjoying now will not stay that way if you begin to act like you’re untouchable.

Which brings us to the third reality: No one in the wedding industry is untouchable. No one.

People usually don’t dive into believing they are untouchable, it’s more of a slippery slope. It tends to start with doing things like:

  • Pulling all advertising under the assumption that people know your name.

  • Assuming you are more well-known than you are because your clients are well-known.

  • Assuming that since Oprah, the Kardashians, or Beyoncé have hired you in the past, they will remain loyal to you forever.

  • Acting like people are lucky to work with you, participate in your event, be in your presence.

  • Acting as if you are doing everyone a huge favor by inviting them to collaborate with you.

  • Believing that you can be emotionally or verbally abusive because people need your talent in order to make their event great.

  • Not responding to or engaging with people on social media because you get too many likes and comments to keep up.

  • Skipping all local networking events because you are “so in demand nationally, I really don’t need them, you know?”

This doesn’t meant that there won’t be times where you need to say no or turn down opportunities. There will be times when you need to negotiate in order to protect your brand's interests – what you will be known for and what you won't. There will be occasions when you need to protect your time and your family’s time. Sometimes you will be accused of ego for these decisions when it has nothing to do with ego at all.

Take an honest inventory though of what’s really happening and whether or not you need to set the kool-aid down and put in the work required to remain relevant. Your ego is their competitive advantage.

The Life-Changing Magic of Paying Attention

One of the most tone-deaf things I often see on wedding industry website “About Us” pages is a claim that essentially says, “Weddings in this city were drab and boring, but then I came along and made everything stylish and wonderful!” This type of claim is not only arrogant, it’s a rookie move, and it brands you as such. All you are doing is telling people that you aren’t good at paying attention.

LIFE magazine first used the term “professional wedding consultant” in 1941. Chances are someone was doing what you did – and doing it well – long before you opened your doors.

In fact, if you started your business after 2005, you are not the first anything in the wedding industry. Full stop.

Not the first wedding stylist. Not the first honeymoon planner. Not the first invitation designer to use non-paper materials. Not the first wedding blogger. Not the first industry “influencer.” Not the first social media strategist. Not the first copywriter. Not the first wedding publicist. Not the first financial coach. Not the first b2b workshop producer or educator. Not the first online community creator.

You may compete in those respective spaces now, and you may be really great at what you do, and in some cases you may have even become the best at what you do, but you weren’t the first.

Fortunately, this also means that your problems aren’t new, and there are people and resources out there that can help you navigate them. Consider this quote on the issue of staying relevant in business:

"Many retailers get into a rut, and run their business along the lines of least resistance . . . they make no effort to keep their business up-to-date. When, however, the customer wants something artistic, the order is given to the more progressive florist. Many, who thought they had all of Mrs. Blank's work, and would get the approaching wedding of her daughter, were surprised to find it had been given to the competitor.”

This could be a quote from any wedding industry conference in the past ten years, but it was published in American Florist, a b2b trade journal for the floral industry, in 1919. Literally 100 years ago. Technology may be constantly changing, but the root of our challenges as business owners is not new.

Weddings are as old as time and providing various services for them goes back decades and even centuries. Acknowledging that other people also do good work, and that some even paved a path for you to do what you love doesn’t make you any less talented. In fact, it grounds your work in a sense of perspective and allows you to grow more quickly by learning from the mistakes made by others who went before you. Paying attention, and doing your homework will save you time and money in the long run.

Photo by    Cameron Clark

Photo by Cameron Clark

Wedding Industry Fame

Here’s the truth on wedding industry “fame” – it largely doesn’t exist and you’re most likely not the exception to that rule.

Having more than 100k Instagram followers does not make you a celebrity. Being recognized by a stranger in a coffee shop in your hometown does not make you a celebrity. Having a blue checkmark on Instagram or Twitter does not make you a celebrity. Appearing on a few episodes of reality TV does not make you a celebrity. Having famous friends or clients does not make you a celebrity. Being able to charge $40k+ for your services does not make you a celebrity.

Here's how to know whether or not you are a true celebrity:

If you were to get divorced, would TMZ report on it?

Not married. Divorced.

No? Then you are not a celebrity.

By this measure, you can count the number of wedding industry celebrities on less than one hand.

This doesn’t mean you and the work you do are not valuable, it just means you are not a celeb. It’s fine. You’ll continue to do work that helps people celebrate significant moments in their life and create lifelong memories. You don’t need to be famous to do meaningful work and you certainly don’t need to be famous in order for your own life to have meaning.

Photo by    Cameron Clark

Photo by Cameron Clark

When Ego Is Subtle

Ego likes to embed itself into our mindset in tricky ways that aren’t always easy to identify.

Sometimes it runs on the subtle ways we as a society assign status. Someone newer to the industry wasn't rude to us, but didn't extend the level of deference that we feel is owed to us as an industry veteran. Instead of recognizing this for what it is, our ego quickly jumps in to write them off as "Not knowing their place" or "Wow, his head sure got big fast” or “She has become such a diva.”

Maybe it's someone you once did a favor for, and they've since returned the favor, but your ego tells you that they owe you forever. Then, when they tell you "no" to something because it isn't a good fit for them in this season of their life or career, your ego gets offended by how "ungrateful" they are, conveniently forgetting all the ways they’ve supported you in the past.

Maybe it's someone who now competes with you, and instead of admitting that they’ve honed their skills and talent and pivoted their strategies in order to grow – just like everyone who stays in business has to do – your ego insists on saying, "Let me tell you about a mistake she made ten years ago" to anyone who will listen.

Ego likes to conflate valid grievances (someone stealing your work and passing it off as their own) with false grievances (someone being good at their job and now competing for the same clients).

Ego likes to tell you that a genuine misunderstanding was intentionally malicious rather than allowing it to be exactly what it was – a misunderstanding. It refuses to accept any clarifications as being true, opting for a soured relationship over reconciliation.

Ego likes to tell you it's okay to nurse grudges, instead of setting healthy boundaries and moving on so that you aren't robbed of future opportunities and creativity.

This is all easy to spot when someone else does it. For example, if someone on an episode of the Real Housewives actively worked to keep a frienemy from getting a professional opportunity and reached out to every mutual contact and said, "It's me or them," you would rightly call them insane. Yet too many of us allow our ego to behave as though we're still in high school when we're well into our 30's, 40's, 50's, and 60’s.

Identifying when the ego is speaking is work. It's hard work, and it often doesn't feel good because it requires being honest with ourselves about things we don't want to hear. On the other hand, nursing a grudge feels good. Posting ‘vaguebook’ statuses feels good. Gossiping over and over (and over) about how someone "wronged" us feels good.

Your ego tricks you into thinking these acts are meting out some sort of justice, but they're not. All the ego feeds you is junk food. Doing the work to acknowledge but not engage the ego is an organic, made-from-scratch meal. One feels good in the moment, the other nourishes your long-term health.

All of us are guilty of letting our ego get the best of us and indulging in the above behaviors sometimes, myself included. We're all human and none of us are perfectly enlightened every moment of every day. Letting our ego in the driver’s seat isn’t something we need to shame ourselves or beat ourselves up over, but it is something we should all make a point of working on if we want to be kinder, more generous, more creative, more productive people.