Ah, the dreaded two words… selling yourself. Some people are born with a natural ability to sell, but many of us are not. Even if you know that you are good at what you do and have something great to offer, how do you convince a potential client of this?
Fortunately, it’s easier than you may realize and all it takes (like anything in life) is a little practice. Actually, chances are that what you have to offer is fairly specialized – for example, perhaps you would like to open a vegetarian catering business for weddings. If someone is looking for just that, your job as a seller has just become easy – your client wants what you have, and as long as you are professional and courteous (since there isn’t a lot of competition for all-vegetarian caterers in your area), your chances of getting the job are quite high.
Okay, so what about areas of the industry where there is more competition for jobs, such as there is for wedding photographers and DJs. How do you, just starting your own photography business, compete with others in your field?
And here is the answer. Even if you are just starting out, please read and reread the following section as it contains the key ingredient to building and maintaining a fabulously successful wedding business, no matter what your specialty is or how much competition you might be facing.
Figure out what makes your service different from everyone else. What can you offer that truly makes you stand out from the rest of the crowd? Perhaps it’s not just one thing, but instead an organized planning system that would make brides and grooms feel confident that you’re completely on top of all of their details in the months leading up to their wedding. Perhaps as a photographer, part of your package includes a set of artistic, handmade albums that clients wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else.
Maybe as a musician you send all new clients a copy of an album you’ve released, or a wedding music sampler which they can not only use as they plan their wedding but also keep for years to come.
Whatever you decide to offer to make your service stand out should be highlighted in your promotional materials or on your website. Perhaps a page entitled “What Our Clients Receive” followed by your unique packages and services.
The bottom line is this. You have to offer something that brides and grooms want and need. If you are professional, organized and friendly (not pushy), you’re already a step ahead of the game. If you then offer something unique that catches your prospects’ attention – something that their friends raved about and they must have for their wedding too – you’re well on your way to a healthy clientele.
If you are a newcomer to the business, another dilemma also faces you: how do you sell your service or develop a website if you don’t yet have a portfolio of photos (in the case of a photographer) from previous weddings/events? (Ah, the old “catch 22”!)
If you have other photography work that you can show off, and if you are organized and professional when you meet with your first few prospects, you might simply offer a discount off of your wedding services. If they like your work and your professional attitude, most prospects would jump at the chance to get an excellent service at a reduced rate (and it won’t be long before you can raise those prices!)
Alternatively, you may need to do one or two “freebies” in order to build your portfolio at first (see How to Start Out Finding Work in the Wedding Industry for some ideas on this).
For some types of wedding vendors (particularly entertainers), professional headshots or group shots of yourself or your company will be important. Keep in mind that image is everything (or at least weighs very heavily) in this industry, and a great-looking photo vs. an unprofessional photo of yourself or your work can cost you jobs. If your promotional photos need updating, please do this as soon as possible – having a dated look will unfortunately turn many brides and groom off.
a business logo
Having a logo that you can use on your letterhead, promotional materials and website will make your business look far more professional than having no logo at all. Even if you use your own name as your business name, you can still have a logo designed that may even be as simple as using a modern font or an initialed monogram.
If you’d like to have a logo professionally designed (highly recommended), here are a couple of sites you may want to check out. We particularly like “crowd-sourcing” websites such as the two below for logo and other basic design needs because you have the ability to see potential designs from a number of different designers, and then choose the one that you like the best.
No matter who you choose to design your logo, you’ll want to make sure that what you are provided with includes a final EPS (vector) file of your logo—you’ll need this file for high resolution printing your various promotional materials.
your promo pack
Once you have a logo, any photos you’ll need, and other items such as a bio/resume, sample menus, playlists, etc. you’ll want to put together a master promo pack that you can duplicate and have on hand to send out to those brides and grooms who’ve requested more information about your company.
Tip: Even if you send out the same promo pack to all of your clients, a personalized cover letter is a must. Within the letter, you might mention that it was great speaking with the bride/groom on the phone and summarize some of the items that you’d discussed regarding their particular requests and/or concerns about their wedding. Anything you can do to make your potential client feel that their needs were listened to and that your attention to detail is second to none will help solidify your chances of securing the job.
If you haven’t heard anything a week after mailing out your package, follow up with your prospect to make sure he or she received everything, and to see if they might have any questions for you about any of the materials. Don’t just send things out and wait for them to call – everyone’s busy and a quick follow-up call or email is appreciated.
In addition to business cards, having postcards on hand with a professional photo of yourself (musicians, officiants, etc.) or your work (florists, cake designers, etc.) can be an effective marketing tool. If you have access to a mailing list of local couples planning a wedding that you received from a bridal show or other event (see next section on bridal shows), it can be very effective to send out a postcard after the event. This will serve to establish the first point of contact with your company for some couples, and will serve as a reminder of your service for others who may have seen you at the event.
If you’ve chosen an online service to handle printing your business cards and other business stationery you might consider having the same company handle your postcard needs as well, so that your business logo artwork and other image files are already uploaded to an online account and ready to use for a postcard.
One service worth mentioning here as they produce very high-quality, professional looking postcards is ModernPostcard.com.
While you may not have the budget to participate in a bridal show right off the bat, you should at least lay the groundwork for participating in future bridal events as a vendor. Do some research in your local area by searching for “bridal shows your city” (for example, “bridal shows chicago”) and start compiling a list of the major events in your area. Typically, these events take place toward the beginning of a calendar year in advance of the upcoming wedding season, and perhaps around early fall as well.
You should also plan on attending an event or two to get a feel for what other vendor booths look like and how busy the show appears to be. Which booths stand out to you as being successful and attracting more foot traffic?
If you do decide to rent a booth in a bridal show at some point, be sure to find out about what the post-event benefits are for vendors. Typically, the show’s organizer will provide a list of leads to each vendor who participates so that you can follow up with brides and grooms after the event. If this is the case in your area, find out how many attendees normally attend each show in order to decide whether the cost of attending would be worth your while.
Once your business website is up and running you should consider investing in an email marketing system to enhance your website’s efforts. Once set up, you’ll embed a small piece of code or form on your website (ideally on every page) which will allow your users to sign up for your email mailing list. You might even encourage them to do so by giving away a free planning guide or other helpful PDF pertaining to your area of expertise, as a thank you gift for signing up.
Email is a fantastic way to stay in touch with potential leads that might not be ready to book your services yet, but may do so in the future. That said, DO NOT overdo it when it comes to sending out messages. You certainly don’t want to send out daily emails just to remind someone of your services. If you have a public event coming up or have a special offer to announce, those types of events would be perfect to send out to your email list and would gently remind potential clients of your company.
If you are just starting out with building a mailing list, there are some great free or low-cost options out there for setting up your list including MailChimp.com, which is free if you have less than 2,000 email subscribers and send less than 12,000 emails per month as of the time of this writing.
word of mouth
Word of mouth referrals can and should be one of your most important tools in your marketing arsenal. Your own clients are actually in the position to pre-sell your service or product for you, and any referrals you get are almost guaranteed to buy what you’re offering just based on the good recommendation.
In a future article we’ll discuss just how effective the simple exercise of sending out a thank you card with a couple of business cards enclosed can be after you’ve finished each wedding job.
You may be pleasantly surprised, however, to find that people are actually recommending you even before the wedding! If you’ve been easy to work with and offer a great service, referrals can happen anytime.
Tip: If a current or former client of yours has referred new work your way, MAKE SURE to thank your client by sending a quick thank you card through the mail as soon as you can. This small gesture of acknowledgement and appreciation will not go unnoticed, and those same clients are likely to refer you again in the future!
And finally, we come to networking. If done consistently and thoughtfully, this is a win-win tool for any wedding professional.
Prepare a mini-sample or promo kit of your work to distribute to area venues, bridal shops and wedding-related stores and wedding planners.
The best way to gain the trust of other vendors in your local areas is to do so while actually working at a wedding. As often as you can and if time allows, introduce yourself to other vendors, ask for a business card, and follow up by email, phone or regular mail after the wedding if it makes sense to. You might just send a quick note to say that it was nice meeting him or her, and that you look forward to crossing paths again in the future. Or, if it feels right, you might let the vendor know that you felt their work was really beautiful/professional/etc. and offer to refer them to future clients who may need their services (if they liked your work/professionalism as well, they will surely offer to return the favor!)
Developing these relationships takes time – years, even – but it is well worth your time to try to nurture these connections to the best of your ability as your new colleagues will one day be very happy to recommend you if they feel that your service is exceptional or unique.