After spending a lot of time with other wedding professionals this past month, I seem to see a recurring issue. Many of us have been adversely affected by the economy. One vendor friend of mine recently told me that she was hopeful about 2010 until several of her brides started to cancel their consultations. Other professionals who are very well established and seasoned veterans asked me what they should do to drum up business, while another reduced their fees to be competitive and still continues to have issues with their bottom line. A few are puzzled that some are doing great while others are tanking. The question that everyone seems to ask is how to drum up business in this tough economy. Is there a solution?
How do you drum up business? How do you keep one’s business healthy in this troubled economy? Why is one business doing well while another equal business is suffering?
I’m not sure I’ll answer all the questions but the first, most important thing to do in drumming up business is this:
Client Service is Key
Making sure that I take care of my clients is my number one priority. I use the term clients very loosely. A client to me could be a vendor, a direct customer (bride, groom, MOB), a purchasing agent, an editorial vehicle, a neighbor, a venue, etc.
Treating my clients with remarkable service has helped me to stay afloat during difficult times. There is a saying, “don’t bite the hand that feeds you”. It’s true. The better I service my clients, the better the health of my business. This also means going beyond, doing a little something extra.
(At the wedding pictured above, we ended up with two dozen extra roses. We decided to add a few to the chairs - it didn’t cost the bride a thing and it was a nice addition to these white folding chairs.)
Market Your Brand
For me, keeping my website, blog, and marketing fresh has always been key. I’ve changed my website almost 4 times a year. My blog is updated 3 times a week and I also Facebook and Twitter. Even during consultations, we are working on our branding. For example, we make sure at the end of a floral consultation meeting to give potential clients some of our postcards so that they can pass them on.
In this day and age, how can anyone in this visual world not have a credible, visually impacting website, an informative blog and a distinctive brand? You must manage your brand. (Of course this is assuming that you have a brand….if you don’t have a brand, you should start doing some research on how to build a brand.)
In the Spotlight - PR is King
Being in the media is important. Whether it is magazine features, blogs, public appearances, these are all a part of marketing. And it’s not good enough to be just in magazines. It’s not good to just blog. You need a mix of all. Your name needs to be fresh on several of these community websites for brides/grooms like The Knot, Project Wedding, Wedding Wire, Yelp as well as magazines, blogs, etc.
Try to get your real weddings featured to show off your actual work. The biggest compliment that you can give your clients and your vendor buddies is a real wedding feature. It also is good for your pending clients. It helps to affirm that you are not only legitimate but also that your work stands out. What bride doesn’t want to work with a vendor who is in national publications consistently.
It is also good to vary your exposure so that you aren’t just in one publication over and over again. Many photographers I know just want to be in a few of the top publications. Mix it up by being in local, smaller publications as well as in national ones. There are so many magazines - why stick to only one or two.
Be Known as an Expert
If you believe yourself to be a leader in the field, then make sure your expert opinions are featured. You can give advice on your own blog. (Like, I’m doing right now! ) You can also help other blogs and magazines by sending them tips. This is a great year for tips -brides and grooms need all the tips to cut costs, DIY, etc. Don’t be afraid - you are an expert so go for it. Give your opinion.
Don’t be Passive or Reactive, Stay Ahead
Magazine work is so necessary yet it’s only for the few. Large spreads in many of the top magazines are in-house productions unless you feel that you can pull off your own “photo shoot”. Remember that proverb, “if the mountain won’t come to Mohammed, Mohammed must go to the mountain” ? Well, if you don’t get features, then do your own. Put it on your blog. If you don’t have one submit it to a blog that is looking for a feature. Of course, be prepared for rejection. Not all magazines or blogs will want your feature. However, it’s a chance you take so you can start somewhere.
The point is, you can’t get business unless you actively seek it. You can’t get features, until you actively pitch them. You want to generate excitement, do something about it.
I have this great story about Michelle of MB Weddings and Beverly of Especially Yours. I hope they aren’t embarrassed that I mention this.
These two vendors are some of the most persistent, savvy, and assertive pros I know. Instead of getting brides to find them, they went out to find the business. A couple years back they started Promises and Pearls. They wanted to create an event for brides that showcased their work along with other professionals in a cocktail party-like environment with great gift bags, good food all set in a no-pressure venue.
I love that they did this together and included a slew of other rising stars. Instead of brides looking for vendors, they identified an opportunity to bring clients to them and that’s smart!
It’s really paid off because these are two of the rising stars in the wedding business and in this environment they are surviving quite well because they aren’t passive. Action is required during difficult times. You can’t sit and wait for someone or something to come to you. As a business owner, you’ve got to get the business.
Make a Plan, Readjust and Change if Necessary but Have a PLAN
You must have a plan. This is not like throwing darts and honestly many, many people treat it like a random thing. PR is never random. Marketing is never a crap shoot. I consult with new business owners, and I find most of them don’t have a plan. They just do as they go. Nothing wrong with this but if you don’t have a plan during economic downturn - it’s like driving without a map. You may find your destination but you sure will be frustrated and possibly late in getting there.
Stay Busy, Work is Good
I’m not saying that everyone should work for nothing. I’m just saying that working is better than not working. I know that many people feel that some jobs aren’t worth it. There are definitely exceptions but in this economy do what you need to do not to hurt your long term goals while still being able to sustain a livelihood.
If you have enough to sustain your business, then you can be a little choosy but even businesses who are successful during this time, don’t turn down opportunities unless they are fully booked. I know that we can’t do more business on days and weeks in which we have large projects but we can take on midweek projects. We can make exceptions even if we have minimums.
We take on projects that under different times we probably won’t. Why? Because I feel that it’s important to still remain working. When people see that we are in business, it gives them confidence. This means swallowing my pride at times and taking on a small project but so what? It keeps my staff fresh, and it allows me to work without damaging my long term position. It gives me another opportunity to show my work to other vendors.
Also, staying busy could also mean helping out other wedding vendors. Work is work. It keeps you in the loop and you can help a fellow vendor in trouble. This is a win- win situation!
Learn the Art of Sourcing
One way to remain profitable is to source better. This is something that we had to learn quickly. Your business advantage over your competition should be your costs. Whenever possible you must find better sources for your products, supplies, and services. We have to get the most and the best from our suppliers. If you know that two very similar floral vendors have hydrangea, buy your hydrangea from the source that gives you the best price and the best product. I’ve been getting my hydrangeas by the bunch 20% lower from one supplier. You bet I’m giving them large orders to ensure that I get the best price. This year, I’ve found so many great online resources for lanterns, candles, and other things. I’m taking advantage of free shipping at times. I’m really doing my research. Yes, it’s a little more work but I can pass the savings to my clients! We all benefit from that.
Getting the Most Out of Your Staff
We are in an industry in which people are key. I’ve got the best staff there is. They are hardworking, dedicated and intensely loyal. Very few members are getting raises but I’m definitely rewarding those who go the extra mile, and I’m doing everything I can to make their jobs easier. Little things make a difference -saying thank you, writing followup notes, spending extra time working with them and most importantly -working in a team mentality.
Bottom line: wherever you are in your business, don’t lose hope, remain positive. Change can start as soon as tomorrow. Even if we take a small step, at least it is a step!