The One Habit Every Wedding Pro Needs To Develop

In order to truly succeed.

Photo by    Cameron Clark

Photo by Cameron Clark

My first job was in high school as a receptionist and shampoo girl at a hair salon. I learned many important skills while working there but the most valuable was learning how to listen to people on a deep level.

It's a universal law that hair salons are a mysterious safe zone where people open up about their most vulnerable feelings while reading gossip magazines. As the professional, you're suddenly entrusted with a piece of their heart, whether you asked to be or not.

It's like this in weddings, too.

If you expect everyone to be rational, logical, and approach decisions with level-headed analysis, the wedding industry is not for you. Every engaged couple and every wedding brings with it a lifetime of family dynamics and subtext that you must learn to navigate almost immediately.

Some of it you'll recognize right away: the emotional loss of identity when two financially independent people are looking at merging bank accounts, a mom who can't seem to cut the apron strings even though her son hasn't lived at home in fifteen years, divorced parents who will be in the same room for the first time in decades, crazy Aunt Mary who doesn't fall off the wagon but jumps every chance she gets.

Then there's the stuff that's less obvious: the sibling rivalry only heightened as adults because of differing life choices, the unspoken social expectations passed down through generations, the years of dinner table conversations and the perspectives they shaped, the hours of therapy the bride or groom has sat through as an adult because of family circumstances.

Sometimes I'll assist a colleague on an event in order to observe the behavioral dynamics behind the scenes. At one wedding in Chicago several ago, the mother of the bride made a tear-filled comment to me about how frumpy her arms looked in her sleeveless dress. On the surface this seems like a common insecurity every woman has had at some point in her life.

What mattered, though, was that the mom wasn't looking at me while she was talking. She was looking across the room at her ex-husband's much younger (read: bride's age) new wife, whose arms could have given Michelle Obama's a run for their money.

There, in the middle of photographs and makeup and hair styling and laughing over champagne, was a woman who was simultaneously excited for her daughter's wedding and grieving afresh her own shattered dreams. She wasn't interested in hearing that her arms looked fine and she looked beautiful, she wanted to know that she was still lovable and worthy of being pursued.

These are tricky waters to navigate and require the ability to listen and pay attention on a level most jobs do not.

They require building a team that practices empathy and isn't solely concerned with their own art, fame, Instagram updates, or checkmarks on a timeline. They require a thick-skin, grit, and a willingness to forgive and forget when people's emotions prevail against their better judgment.

They require consistently paying attention to a world beyond ourselves.

Originally published January 2011

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 Two Qualities You'll Need to Survive Working in Weddings

Artwork by Benny Kanofsky (left) and  Anthony Burrill  (right). 

Artwork by Benny Kanofsky (left) and Anthony Burrill (right). 

If you've worked in the bridal industry for more than twenty minutes, then you know that a person is not always their best self when planning their wedding.

There are several reasons for this: unseen family dynamics at play, emotions long buried now bubbling to the surface, fear and uncertainty at this new season of life and, of course, daily conversations about money, which is generally not a comfortable topic regardless of purchase size.

If you expect your clients (or their families) to be saints all the time, you're in the wrong line of work.

Being generous doesn't just apply to material resources. Sometimes it means being generous with our patience and empathy as well. It means extending the benefit of the doubt when you'd rather make a snap judgment. It means not expecting people to be fully rational when making decisions about an emotional milestone event. It means listening on a deeper level, beyond just what your clients say aloud. It means asking for the story and leaving space for it to be shared.

If you want to make it in weddings, you'll need these qualities – gracious generosity and deep listening – in spades.