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.

The Number 1 Thing to Remove From Your Website's Inquiry Form (and Why)

The point of your website isn't to close the sale, it's 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? 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. 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 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 and brands me as helpful, it 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 Ann at XYZ Events. Her style is very much in sync with yours, plus I think you'll hit it off. 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.

Adding Good Things

If there was one phrase I could erase from our culture's vocabulary, "random acts of kindness" would be it. 

I'm not anti-kindness – far from it. What I am against is greed and selfishness dressed up in nice sounding words – and that is exactly what this concept is.

When you dig beyond the surface, what "random acts of kindness" really means is, "I'm okay with being selfish most of the time, but I'm randomly going to be nice and then go back to me me me." Loving randomly rather than consistently is selfish and still a "me first" attitude.

Consistent acts of kindness trump random acts of kindness. Random acts of kindness are the easy out. Consistent acts of kindness are tough because they require choosing to be selfless over selfish on an ongoing basis. If I've learned anything in life it's that the tougher route is almost always the better route and the one worth taking. 

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, a day devoted to being generous to those we love, a day focused on putting others ahead of ourselves. And really, when it comes down to it, that's what love is all about. My hope is that tomorrow's holiday serves as a springboard for finding a way to help lighten the load for others on an ongoing basis. My hope is that we choose to commit to adding good things to the lives of those around us through intentional, purposeful, and consistent kindness. 

Almost everyone I know had some variation of "be a better person" as a New Year's resolution. The bottom line is that if we are growing as people, then we are becoming more generous. It is impossible to operate from a place of true joy or true love without growing in generosity. It is simply impossible. Joy and stinginess cannot coexist.

Seeing the world become a better place starts with becoming better people. Generosity and Valentine's Day go hand in hand. How can you share the love today, this week, next week, next month? How can we move from loving randomly to loving consistently?

Originally published February 2011