Wedding Wisdom

Preemptively Meeting Client Expectations

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By Fabrice Orlando, Cocoon Events Management Group

 

A client’s happiness is paramount to any event professional’s business. From good reviews on third party sites to word-of-mouth referrals, without the client, we’d be out of business. So it’s important to always remember to anticipate what their expectations are and how to meet them before they ever even ask. With that, here are some of my best tips and tricks for helping you not only meet expectations, but exceed them.

Make Yourself Available

It is a well-known fact that many couples book vendors based on how quickly they get back to them. So you’ll want to make sure that you have systems in place where you are responding to potential clients quickly. Setting a precedent right away that there will be an open channel between you could be the thing that gets you the job.

When you’ve booked the client, it’s also a good idea to ask what their communication style is. While you may prefer e-mail, they may be more likely to answer you via text message or phone call. Get on the same page as soon as they sign on the dotted line to avoid any confusion, and so that you can always be available to them.

Offer Your Insight

Any kind of large scale event requires a team of vendors, and by going out of your way to help your client create their dream team will go a long way. As an event pro, you likely know all of the best people in town, so share your own vendor list with them before they even ask, and you will have one happy client. Your referral will certainly weigh heavy when it comes to deciding who they want to hire.

Surprise and Delight

It’s time to stop investing in the same old swag for clients, and start thinking outside of the box. Recently, the method of surprise and delight has become a popular way to thank clients in a more personal way. One great way we’ve seen this used is by asking fun questions about their personality on the initial questionnaire they fill out when they first book you. Do you prefer tea or coffee? What’s your favorite Disney movie? Then buy them something that relates back to that- they will love that you remembered!

Knowing what the client wants before they have to ask is going to help elevate your reputation with stellar reviews and lots of referrals!

 

Fabrice Orlando is the CEO of Cocoon Events Management Group, a luxury event planning company based in Marrakech, Morocco that specializes in high-end weddings and special events worldwide.

Business Tips

The First 5 Steps to Creating a Killer PR Plan

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By Meghan Ely, OFD Consulting

Creating a public relations plan for your business can seem like a daunting task to some, and is often put on the back burner as something that can be done later down the road (aka never). But, guess what? PR is often what will get you the results you’ve been looking for all along- press features, an elevated reputation in the industry, and the clients you’ve always wanted.

So, why not go ahead and get started on your PR plan right now? We’ve got your first five steps below:

 

Research

As with any project, doing the research is one of the most important steps. Start by taking a look at your own business and really understanding what your PR goals are. This is different for everyone, so you will want to build a custom roadmap with clearly defined goals so that you can better gauge your success.

From there, research and identify who your target audience is. It’s essential to know who you’re targeting your message to ahead of time so that it’s received successfully. Once you know who you want to get your business in front of, it’s time to get on your computer and do some digging into which outlets they are looking at for inspiration. If you think those sites fit in well with your brand, add them to your media “wish list” of publications. Remember, the best PR strategies are ones that identify the message you want to get out there, who the target audience is, and the best channels to get the message out.

 

Get Organized

Living in the age of technology has definitely been helpful for getting organized. There is an abundance of tools available to help keep your PR plan in check. Some of my personal favorites include real wedding submissions programs, like Two Bright Lights and Matchology, which make the process quick and easy. You simply upload your photos, the couple’s information and vendor information and click submit. Dropbox has been a lifesaver for keeping the many thousands of photos, articles, and media plans that we have on file organized and easy to find. Check out your app store and review sites to see which programs may work best for you.

 

Put Yourself Out There

If you want to get your business out there and seen as the best in your industry, then you need to get your voice out there as well. You’ve got to take advantage of your expertise and start sharing your insight with everyone. Reach out to editors and offer yourself as a resource, get in touch with local industry friends and ask if you can write a guest feature on their blog- the ball is in your court!

 

Promote!

When you do get a feature, whether it’s a real wedding being published on a blog or your own expert commentary in an article, it’s time to celebrate. After you’ve done your happy dance, make sure you remember to promote the heck out of it. First, send a quick thank you to the editor that featured you – it will go a long way in helping to further build your relationship with them. Then, get on your social media accounts and share it with the rest of the world. If you have a blog, do a post about it that links back to both your feature and the website itself for an SEO bonus.

 

Just Keep Trying

When you’ve got your PR plan in motion it’s easy to get disheartened by the no’s you will receive from editors. But remember, everyone gets no’s- I do all the time (not to brag!). You just have to keep moving on to the next one until someone gives you a yes. It may be as easy as redirecting the same pitch to a better suited publication. A few no’s is not a reason to stop your PR plan, so just keep trying.

Once you’ve got your plan in place and get into a routine, your PR efforts are sure to pay off.

 

Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast. 

Wedding Trends

Using Trends to Enhance Your Expert Status

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By Kylie Carlson, International Academy of Wedding & Event Planning

Being up-to-date and confident about your knowledge in trends is an important skill in the events industry. Some vendors don’t want to be bothered hearing about the next big thing, while others enjoy the challenge of knowing what’s in and what’s out and using trends in their work. If you’re one of those people, then you have a golden opportunity to use your love of trends to elevate your expert status.

So, how do you do it? Here are some of my best tips and tricks below:

Stay Up-to-Date

This may seem pretty self-explanatory, but if you are planning to sell yourself as an expert on trends, then you need to make sure that you set aside time every week for research. When researching, think beyond weddings and events. You have to remember that what you’re seeing on a wedding blog or in a wedding magazine is probably at least a year old, so it’s not really a new or innovative trend anymore. The whole world is your playground when it comes to trends, so forget the wedding boards on Pinterest and start looking at interior design blogs, what’s on the red carpet, foodie blogs, fashion, and graphic design. These industries are forward thinking and well ahead of where we are in the wedding world.

If you’re going to turn to weddings for trend spotting, then jump on Instagram. On any given Saturday you can be sure that if you scroll through your feed or search wedding hashtags, you’ll see all of the top wedding and event designers posting their pictures live, as they are happening.

Promote Your Skills

You can tell people all day long that you are an expert in trends, but unless they see it in action, they may not take your word for it. Use your work to speak for you by showing potential clients your cutting edge style, posting pictures on your website and social media, and getting your weddings featured on blogs. In this situation, a picture can truly be worth a thousand words. 

Market What You Know

Once you’ve got a few press features under your belt, start leveraging that by marketing yourself as the ‘it vendor’ of trends. Use content creation to your advantage with guest posts on other vendor blogs full of your predictions for the upcoming year, and commentary in articles talking about the latest Pantone color of the year. Better yet, use your own company blog to start a trend series, get creative on social media with videos full of fun tips and tricks- the possibilities are endless. These are all great examples of how to get your name out there, not just among engaged couples but with your peers as well.

By following these guidelines, you will no doubt increase your reputation as a trend expert, which can help your business in a big way.

 

Kylie Carlson is the owner of the International Academy of Wedding and Event Planning. With six locations globally, the academy boasts an internationally recognized accreditation program that brings professional training to wedding planners, designers and stylists.

Business Tips

Tips for Attracting Millennials Through Your Website

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By Audrey Isaac, 100Candles.com

 

We live in a world dominated by Generation Y, so it makes sense that our marketing and sales approaches should be tailored towards the increasing population of millennials. The stronger their buying power grows, the bigger impact they can have on our businesses – with that in mind, let’s talk about some of the best ways to appeal to millennials through your number one sales tool: your website.

From speedy loading times to intuitive menu bars, today’s professionals have high expectations for websites and won’t hesitate to go elsewhere if your website can’t meet their needs in a reasonable amount of time and effort. Here are some of our top tips for creating a website that draws in new business from millennials:

Keep it simple and sweet

Think of the lobby to your company’s office – do you think it would attract more people if it was clean and streamlined or cluttered and disorganized? The same goes for your website – a visitor’s first impression should be one of simplicity and ease. Everything from the menu bar to the contact page should be self-explanatory. If there’s one thing we can say about millennials, it’s that they want things to be convenient and easy – keep this in mind as you create your site. Take out unnecessary pages, buttons, widgets, popups or features and only keep the essentials.

Customer service is key

Nothing is quite as frustrating as needing help and not being able to reach someone or get the answer you’re after. With that in mind, make sure that customer service is a priority. Avoid unsatisfied customers and negative reviews by treating every customer with the respect and professionalism that they deserve. While a simple contact form and quick responses are certainly must-haves, consider having a comprehensive FAQ page where people can consult before reaching out. It’ll save time for both of you! 

Test out your speed

Nobody wants to be the victim of a constant loading page. With accessibility on the mind, millennials aren’t afraid to jump ship if a website takes forever to load and they may just go after the next Google entry – which could be your competitor. Test out your website speed with Google’s Speed Test and make sure that it’s up to standards. It’s also worth giving your website a test drive, visiting every corner of every page to ensure the loading time is acceptable.

Say yes to mobile

Is your website mobile-friendly? If your answer was ‘huh?’ or ‘no,’ it’s time to reevaluate. If you haven’t noticed, most millennials (and other generations as well!) are connected to their smartphones a majority of the time. Phones and tablets are quickly becoming the primary way to access the Internet and do research, so your website needs to be mobile-friendly if you want to reach the masses. On most platforms, this is a simple switch in the backend so keep an eye out for that.

After you’ve tweaked your website and are happy with the result, have somebody else give fresh eyes to it. Have them try all of the links and features to ensure that everything runs smoothly, as well as run through all of the copy to ensure that everything is as intuitive as possible. From there, keep an eye on your website analytics to see if your rate of retention has improved – you’ll be surprised by the results!

 

Audrey Isaac is the spokesperson of 100 Candles, a wholesale market for candles and lights. Since 2002, thousands of wedding and event professionals have entrusted 100 Candles with their wholesale candle accounts. For more information, please visit http://www.100candles.com/.

Wedding Wisdom

How to Work PR into your Busy Workflow This Wedding Season

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By Meghan Ely, OFD Consulting

As small business owners, we know better than most the importance of each hour of every day. Client meetings and paperwork take up most of our time and the addition of public relations can get easily pushed to the side. The good news, with some organization and the use of clever tools, you can incorporate PR into your workflow without too much trouble.

With that, let’s take a look at some of my best tips for adding a little PR to your business:

Block Scheduling

Workdays can feel like they start and end in the blink of an eye, so blocking off certain times in the day for particular tasks is a simple and effective way to make sure certain things get done. Instead of just putting PR on a checklist, set an appointment with yourself like you’re meeting with a client to make sure you turn off all other distractions. Use that time to focus on the objectives you’ve set for yourself for that day, and you’ll have no problem getting those pitches out and your submissions in.

Use Apps and Tools

There are countless apps and resources that can be used to help streamline public relations and make your life as a business owner easier. Some of my favorites include:

  • Talkwalker Alerts: If you know you’ve got a feature coming out and no time to keep checking the website over and over again, Talkwalker Alerts will let you know when it has gone live and send you an email. That way, you can promote it ASAP!
  • Wufoo: Having feedback from your clients that you can use in your company PR plan is essential. Wufoo is a simple questionnaire builder that can be sent to clients as a link. It’s super easy for them, and will give you invaluable information.
  • HARO: This free tool is not just a time saver for you, but will quickly become a lifesaver. Most business owners would agree that there is not time to be constantly scouring the internet for press leads and opportunities. HARO will send you an email three times a day, full of reporters and editors looking for expert commentary on a plethora of topics. Find the one that fits you best and simply shoot them an email with your insight.

Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

No matter how hard we try, sometimes we just don’t have enough time to get everything done. Instead of letting your business’ PR plan get put on the back burner, get other team members in on it. Take note of your team members’ talents and use it to your business’ advantage. From graphic design to article writing, their help can absolutely save you both time and sanity.

By taking these tips and tricks and applying them to your daily business, you’ll have a strong and sustainable PR program before you know it.

 

Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast. 

Business Tips

Time is Money: How to value your work and charge for your time

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By Jennifer Taylor, Taylor’d Events Group

Entrepreneurs get a unique insider’s perspective of the work that they do, but sometimes it can be difficult to define the value of your work with a dollar value. You know all of the little things that go into your services, as well as the sacrifices you have to make in your personal time – but how much is that really worth?

All business owners know that there is an opportunity cost that comes with running a company – missed birthday parties and baseball games can start to add up. Pricing your work with all of that in mind will ensure that you are properly compensated for the time and effort that you put into your work. Each business structures their pricing differently and it will depend on your preferences, as well as the services you offer, so avoid comparing your pricing to your competitors too much. It can help to use their prices for a general idea of where you should be, but don’t expect for it to reflect your work.

Here are some of the options for pricing your work:

Commission

This is generally not the best way to charge for your work, but it’s worth being familiar with it. Commission means that you get paid for the vendors that you hire – for example, if you are a planner and you bring on a caterer and lighting company, you would get a certain percentage of their fees. In general, I do not recommend this structure.

 

Percentages

Percentage-based fees can be a decent starting place for new business owners, as it’s simple to calculate based on the client’s overall budget. If, for example, your going rate is 15%, you would look at your client’s budget and charge them 15% of it. The one hitch in this structure is that you need to keep an eye out for clients who change their budget midway through the planning process. In order to combat this, ensure that your contract includes a clause that requires a fee adjustment if there is a change in the budget.

 

Hourly

If you don’t mind the math, charging hourly can make sure that each of your clients pays you for the exact amount of time you spend working on their event. Use this formula to guide your hourly rate:

(The amount you want to net annually) / 50 weeks / 5 days per week X 2.5 (factoring in expenses) = per diem / 8 hours = your hourly rate

For example, if you hope to earn $50,000 in the year, you’ll need to charge $62.50 per hour in order to achieve that goal. For many event professionals, however, the average day doesn’t break down into neat hourly units. A strict time management tool can make this easier to calculate, but may not be the most effective solution for your investment.

 

Packages/Flat Rates

This is the standard pricing structure for most event professionals, as it makes it simple for both you and your client. Of course, determining the costs of your packages isn’t just about choosing an arbitrary number that makes sense to you. Take some time to tally up the amount of time you spend on a test client, and then calculate the average price using the formula for the hourly rate above. This includes meetings, behind-the-scenes work, and onsite hours spent on the rehearsal and event day, if applicable.

Once you have an average package rate, create your other packages around that one – make sure you have at least one that is more affordable and one that is pricier.

 

Negotiating your costs

Many clients will try to negotiate your rates, even if you have some of the most competitive pricing in the market. While most negotiations are on a case-by-case basis, I encourage you to never shortchange yourself. Don’t charge any less than what your work is worth. If you charge less, you may find yourself resenting the event, so it’s better to come to a compromise to avoid any negativity.

My advice is to negotiate with add-ons to your services, rather than providing discounts. Look for small ways to make the client feel like they’re getting a good deal, but doesn’t devalue the work that you do or fill your plate with too much.

 

It can take some time to get your pricing structure to your liking; don’t be afraid to tweak it if it’s not working out right for you. Put the time in to find a structure that fits your business needs – it will be well worth it in the long run.

 

Jennifer Taylor is the owner of Taylor’d Events Group, a planning firm that specializes in celebrations of all kinds in the Pacific Northwest and Maui. She is also the creator of The Taylor’d Plan, a self-administered class for wedding planners who are new to the industry and looking to grow and develop their skills.

Business Tips

Industry Associations: Why to join and how to take advantage

By Kevin Dennis, Fantasy Sound Event Services

Whether you’re new to a market or you’ve been in the area for years, joining a local chapter of an industry association could be the game-changer you’ve been looking for. In addition to regular networking meetings, membership comes with a number of benefits to your business.

Let’s walk through the process of becoming a member of an association.

Why Join?

Membership to a community of like-minded individuals has a lot to offer. First and foremost, a majority of local chapters host quarterly or even monthly get-togethers for industry peers to network and share ideas, stories and thoughts. Oftentimes, these events are paired with education and can be a great chance to learn from renowned speakers.

Keep in mind: Although you’ll be a member of a local chapter, you’ll also hold membership to the national organization as a whole which may bring a tier of additional benefits like discounted tickets to national conferences and the opportunity to visit other chapters.

How To Choose

There are quite a number of options out there and if you’re just starting out, I’d encourage you to begin by choosing the one that suits your brand and business needs the most. You can always become more involved as time goes on, but it’s best not to overwhelm yourself early on.

Start out slow and build upon your participation until you’re happy with the return. As for picking the right association to join, it all depends on who you are, what your company is all about, and what direction you’d like your business to grow. Do your research and first determine what networking groups are available to you. Then, begin breaking down each so you know what your investment is, as well as your return. Each group will offer different concentrations and unique networking opportunities, so judge them on what they can bring to your table.

Maximizing Your Membership

So, you’ve been going to every networking event, and although you’ve met some really great people, you aren’t quite seeing the return you were looking for. It happens! If you’re looking to boost your membership, it may be time to look into committee roles to see if there’s a spot in which you can share your knowledge. Whether you think the membership committee is a great option or the programs committee seems more up your alley, find an ideal fit and reach out to the committee chair to look into openings. Down the line, a role on a committee could turn into a leadership role, so be prepared to invest yourself in your future.

You can also look into sponsorship opportunities. Each event that is held by a chapter is typically put together by its members – venues, photographers, caterers, florists, designers and the like are all welcome! If you’d like to show off your work in front of your peers, get in touch with the programs coordinator to find out more information. In addition to boosting brand recognition, this is also a great way to bring in vendor referrals.

Although it may seem like a big task to take on, joining an association membership can transform your business – as long as you know what you’re doing. Take some time to be diligent in your search and don’t be afraid to ask questions!

Kevin Dennis is the owner of Fantasy Sound Event Services, a full-service event company based in Livermore, California. Dennis is the current chapter president for Silicon Valley NACE, and the immediate past national president for WIPA.

Business Tips

Room Block Commissions 101

By: Marni Aksut, RB Travel Group

Hi there Wedding Planners! You may have heard on Eddie’s podcast or around town Planners talk about this mysterious IATAN accreditation that allows you to make a commission on Room Blocks (with no cost to clients!). Well, I’m here to explain what IATAN is, the process to get an IATAN # and how I can help you source Hotel Room Block rates.

Let me start by being upfront about a couple things…

1. The IATAN Accreditation process differs a bit from state to state and depending on what state you are in, it can be more complicated than others. Although the accreditation can be a lot of work, if you qualify, it can help your bottom line in a significant way.

2. I am the founder of RB Travel Group and we help Planners like yourself in two ways.

a. We do the time-consuming work negotiating hotel rates & collecting their pricing for you in a simple spreadsheet. This will save you loads of time!

b. Plus we share our commission with you. So whether you have an IATAN accreditation or not, we save you time and help make you extra $.

Let’s jump right into it!

What is IATAN

i. International Airlines Travel Agent Network (IATAN) supplies an accreditation to qualified US travel professionals including Event Planners, which allows you to make a commission on most hotel bookings.

ii. IATAN is an International Non-Profit organization that has been around for over 25 years providing a vital link between the supplier community and the U.S. travel distribution network.

How do you become IATAN accredited?

i. First you complete the Accreditation Application. Follow this link and download the Accreditation Kit to get started. http://www.iatan.org/accreditation/Pages/application-forms.aspx

ii. You need to be able to prove you’ve booked more than $200,000 in Annual Gross Sales for the previous year –OR- have $20,000 of available capital.

iii. You will either need to prove that you have 2 or more years of professional event planning experience –OR- have one of the following valid certifications: Certified Special Events Professional (CSEP)/ Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) / or Certification in Meeting Management (CMM).

iv. If you live in one of the following states you will also need a Seller of Travel Registration (CA, FL, HI, IA, WA)

ii. The Application fee is $195 and the annual fee is $98.

IATAN is a great way to get compensated for all your hard work that goes into booking room blocks.

I want to take a moment to recognize that while IATAN is fantastic because it allows you to make extra money on something you are doing anyways, it does not solve the real problem…

PROBLEM: Room Blocks are TIME CONSUMING! As many of you know, dealing with the hotels can be an exhausting experience.

SOLUTION: RB Travel Group (RBTG) sources Room Block rates for you at as many hotels as you want. Plus we share with you 25% of our 10% commission. You do not need your own IATAN accreditation to use our services.

Whether you have the time to reach out to all the hotels and want your own IATAN accreditation, or you prefer RBTG to do the hotel rate search and then share the commission with you, we have one goal in mind. That goal is for all Wedding Planners to enjoy more free time AND earn an income you can be proud of.

I wish you much success and would be happy to be a resource for any planners that have questions about IATAN or RB Travel Group. Feel free to contact me anytime at marni@rbtravelgroup.com

Good Luck!

Marni Aksut
RB Travel Group
www.rbtravelgroup.com

Business Tips

Brand Ambassadors: Why You Need Them And How To Get Them

By Jennifer Taylor, Taylor’d Events Group

Sure, we all need employees to help us with those pesky day-to-day tasks, but what about brand ambassadors? The difference between an employee and a brand ambassador is one of commitment and dedication to the brand and can make all the difference for a growing company.

Expanding your team isn’t always an easy choice – while you may need the help, it can be difficult to loosen the reins on a business that you’ve built from the ground up. How could anyone ever embody your brand as well as you? While it may seem like nobody could possibly understand the intricacies of your company, it’s important for all business owners to open up a bit and welcome new members to the team when necessary.

A great brand ambassador is one who will represent you and your company, not only in the office but in their personal lives as well. Look for someone who will champion your brand and share in your company values. When interviewing for an open position, come prepared with preferred qualities in mind: Do you want someone who is always on time? Self-motivated? Great team worker? The ideal characteristics will vary depending on your company culture and the position’s duties, but keep your values close as you find the very best fit.

Once you’ve selected the best candidate, it’s time to get your new hire on board with your company culture. From their very first morning, you need to engage them and make them feel as if they are a part of the team. It may be tempting to start by throwing all of their paperwork at them and assigning them some tedious to-dos, but it’s always best to work alongside them the first several days and ask them for their input. Invite them into staff meetings and get their thoughts on certain subject matters – the more they feel valued, the more committed they will be to your business.

In addition to office work, find ways to incorporate them into your outside activities. Looking ahead to a networking event? Get them a ticket and begin to introduce them to your industry peers! Headed off to a trade show? Bring them along and give them pointers about how to navigate the floor. Not only will you be providing valuable experience for your team members, but you’ll also be putting them in a position to handle things like networking events and trade shows on their own, in turn freeing up more time for you.

Think about your best and worst jobs – what kept you motivated and committed? What would you have changed? Leadership is an essential factor in the development of brand ambassadors, so remember to be present and be helpful.

Jennifer Taylor is the owner of Taylor’d Events Group, a planning firm that specializes in celebrations of all kinds in the Pacific Northwest and Maui. She is also the creator of The Taylor’d Plan, a self-administered class for wedding planners to grow and improve upon their skills.