Posts Tagged ‘business advice’

PART 3: Marketing to Clients

As an event/wedding planner, you’ll be involved on both sides of the marketing fence: Business to Customer (B2C) and Business to Business (B2B). The first is your traditional marketing to clients. The second is marketing yourself to other businesses who can help you succeed (vendors, etc.)
Let’s start with marketing to clients.

B2C Marketing relies on knowing your target customers, inside and out. Once you understand who your target is and where he/she spends her time, you can start developing a marketing strategy. For example, most newspaper ads are obsolete… unless you’re trying to reach an audience who still goes to print for their primary source of information and entertainment. And the same can be said for the flip side: promoting yourself on social media is great, but make sure to focus on the websites where your clients will see your efforts!

As you go through this list of potential marketing mediums, ask yourself if they are right for your customers.

Direct Marketing

business advice

Paid Search (Digital)

This one is a no brainer. If your clients use the Internet, they probably use Google. Using Google Paid Advertising is an easy way to ensure your website shows up at the top of the list when a customer searches for your business name or the services you offer. You can easily set up a google AdWords account for free, and set a modest daily budget, targeting a few industry keywords to get the ball rolling.

Pros: You can get to the top of search listings without spending tons of time getting links to your website
Cons: Depending on which keywords you’re bidding on, Google can get pretty expensive.

Advertising in Newspapers or Magazines (Traditional)

You can buy ad space for your business in Newspapers or other print mediums. These spaces come in a variety of sizes and you can design your own ad to fit within the allotted space.

Pros: Most print ads have a high reach and can be relatively inexpensive
Cons: It is very difficult to gauge the effectiveness of print advertising; most readers have developed “ad blindness” and might not pay attention to your ads.

Direct Mail

Printing out flyers or brochures to be sent to potential clients as promotional mail is a way to get many impressions. A well thought out campaign (you have to think outside the box) has potential to get noticed.

Pros: Reach thousands of people in one fell swoop; target individuals, businesses, or both.
Cons: In order for direct mail to work, it can be very expensive and take a fair amount of your time to get it right. It’s also very difficult to track results, outside of sending out discount offers which can end up cheapening your brand.

Content/Social Marketing

BUSINESS ADVICE

Get a writer’s attention

Probably a more effective way of getting your name into a newspaper, magazine, or influential blog is to attract the attention of a writer who’s interested in your business. This can be done in a few ways:

  1. Reach out to reporters or bloggers to feature a special event or aspect of your business (are you planning a unique event? Do you have a funny story to share? Another piece of content that could be useful to their readers?). Just make sure it’s not self-promoting. No reporter will write about a discount or sale, for example, but they might write about an event you’ve organized.
  2. Offer your services as an industry expert. There are many reporters or bloggers who are looking for reliable sources to feature in articles they’re already developing. Resources like “HelpAReporter.com” are great ways to get your name and your business featured in leading industry publications.

Pros: Doesn’t cost anything but your time; you can end up being featured in very prestigious publications (especially with option 2)
Cons: It does take a lot of time and you’ll face a lot of rejection. That’s part of the challenge.

Using your Social Media Channels

If you’ve been following this series, you now have a website and a few social media accounts that are ready to roll. Facebook and Twitter are the overlords of the Social Media industry. Instagram is also a great medium for wedding/event planners, since the business tends to yield plenty of gorgeous pictures.

A few tips to succeed at Social Media Marketing:

  1. Post regularly and consistently. Have a “social media schedule” and stick to it. There are many types of software out there that can help you schedule posts in advance. A few examples are buffer and hootsuite.
  2. Treat your social media like a time bomb. Be ready to quickly respond to comments on your posts or direct messages from potential clients. Social Media users aren’t patient. Taking too long to respond to a comment, question, or inquiry is a recipe for disaster.
  3. Don’t ask without giving back: follow your followers and participate on their social pages as well. They’ll return the favor.
  4. Ask your satisfied clients to post their event pictures and tag your business. Word-of-mouth from a happy customer is the best advertising you can ever ask for.

Here’s a social media secret not many small businesses understand: Your followers don’t care about you, they care about themselves. Posting a message about how great your business is, is sure to fail. Posting content that is useful to your follower will be liked and shared, thus promoting your brand. (“useful” can mean anything from funny to inspiring to solving a specific problem.)

Blogging

business advice

Once you’ve set up your website and have a decent following on social media, consider launching a blog on your site. You can blog about anything related to your business, as long as you’re sensitive to your clients’ privacy.

A critical aspect of a blog is to keep updating it regularly: daily is best, but at a minimum once a week. Writing blog articles that are useful to your readers can attract new clients and help forge relationships with other industry professionals.

Which brings us to the final part of this series. Stay tuned for the upcoming fourth and final piece: Marketing yourself to Vendors.

Are you looking to start an event and wedding planning business? All of QC’s Event and Wedding Planning Courses come with our “Achieving Business Success” DVD series that offers much more detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to market yourself effectively to clients! Learn more here.


Part 2: Building your Brand

You have an angle, and you have registered your business name. Now it’s time to get serious.  Building your own brand can be tons of fun and can attract some real attention if done right.

Before diving into building your website, business cards, marketing collateral, etc., remember this one fundamental:  CONSISTENCY!

When you’re building your brand, you’ll want all aspects of the business (from your website to your business card to your advertising) to have a consistent look and feel.  Think about a logo that’s easy to use in different formats, images that are easily convertible from online to print, and a specific writing tone that helps clients identify with your brand.

Your Website

It’s 2014, and there’s no excuse for a business not to have a website.  You might not get a lot of traffic at first, but most clients won’t trust you if you don’t have some online presence.

You can easily find online templates that help you build a professional-looking website.  I personally love squarespace.com: for a very inexpensive monthly subscription fee, you can build a professional website based on numerous templates, even if you don’t have any web design experience.

A few pointers when building your website:

– As previously mentioned, make sure the URL is somewhere along the lines of [your business name].com.  The closer the domain is to your business name, the better.

– Unless you’re a web designer (or you hire one), stick with a proven template.  It might be useful to spend a little time researching best practices for web page design to avoid making classic mistakes (i.e. avoid flash-based websites, etc.)

– Plan your site before getting started. On paper, write down the “wireframe” for your website: how many pages you need, what content will be on these pages, what the navigation will be like.  At minimum, you’ll have:

1. A home page

2. A “products & services” page

3. An “about me/us” page

4. A “contact” page

– Research basic Search Engine Optimization (SEO) principles and stick to them.  This will help users find your website when they type your business name into Google.

– Be careful with the photographs or images you use on your site. Make sure you have the rights to use them in that context. Stock photography is an option, but if you have the time and resources to use your own photographs, there’s nothing better!

A note about email addresses:  having an email address for your business hosted on a personal email provider looks amateur at best.  It’s very easy and inexpensive to set up a business email account that can help you look infinitely more professional. 

Consider: [email protected] vs. [email protected] Which one would you trust more?

Your Business Cards

Business owners spend a lot of time designing and updating their business cards. It’s an important aspect of any business that deals with clients face-to-face, but at the same time a traditional business card can miss the mark if it doesn’t link your business image.

Before you get started, establish a budget for your business cards. Figure out how much you’re willing to spend on the design and production of your cards, and also figure out how many cards you’d realistically need. You’d be amazed how many people forget this crucial step and end up spending over 20 hours and thousands of dollars on business cards that are hardly ever used.

Business Card Basics:

– All Business Cards should contain the following:

1. The company name and logo

2. Your name and position

3. Your phone number and email address

4. The company website

– Keep it simple: avoid busy photo backgrounds or fancy, illegible fonts.

– Stay within standard business card dimensions. They are easier for clients to handle.

– Keep it consistent: try to use the same terminology, font, colors as you do on your website.

– Consider alternatives to the standard paper card: Today you can find suppliers that will create business cards made of plastic, hardwood, lace… whatever you’d like!  These types of cards are more expensive, but are more likely to be noticed (and used!) by customers. So if you have a healthy budget and need a limited amount of cards, this is a wonderful option to consider!

Your Social Media Pages

Along with your website, you’ll probably want to become an active presence on social media channels. This is an area to connect directly with your clients and other vendors.

We’ll discuss the intricacies of Social Media in part 3 of this series, but here are some basics you’ll want to keep in mind when building any social media business account.

1. Surprise-surprise, you’ll want to keep consistent with the business image you’ve already developed on your website and business card.  That means using the same colors, text and image styles, etc.

2. Make sure your logo is present on all your business pages, and link back to your website on all your accounts.

3. If your name is anywhere on your business’ social media accounts (and it should be), then pay attention to your personal profile as well. Make sure your own profile doesn’t contain any messages or pictures that could alienate or offend your clients.

Stay tuned for Part 3: Marketing to Clients

Are you looking to start an event and wedding planning business? All of QC’s Event and Wedding Planning Courses come with our “Achieving Business Success” DVD series that offers much more detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to build a successful brand! Learn more here

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Navigating through the sometimes rocky and ever-changing waters that is social media can be difficult, particularly for a new and/or small business owner. There are so many sites to choose from, and thinking of maintaining all the different accounts can be incredibly daunting – even for the experienced social media-ite. We want to re-introduce you to an app you’ve likely heard all about, but in a slightly different way. In this post we bring you How to Use Instagram for Business.

You’ve probably heard about, or already used, the Instagram photo app. If you haven’t, it’s a much-loved photo taking, editing, and sharing app that was recently bought out by social giant, Facebook. Instagram allows users to create an endless feed of personal photographs and offers different filters with which you can edit your pictures with a single tap. You can also make minor color correction edits, fix red eye, crop, and create blurs.

Most people use Instagram for personal use, and aren’t aware of its many applications in the world of business. If you think about it, though, Facebook wouldn’t have purchase the app if it wasn’t monetize-able. Because it is, especially for the small business owner. Read on to learn how you should be using it for business.

1.Connect With People Outside Your Social Circle with Hashtags

Instagram, like any social media platform, is incredibly helpful when it comes to connecting with people outside your normal social circle. Think about it – how many people would you likely meet on a day-to-day basis? How many social functions or trade shows do you really attend? If you’re not active on social media, chances are you’re missing out on a lot of relationship building that could prove beneficial for your business – both with other professionals as well as clients.use hashtags on instagram to connect with people

Instagram is no different. In fact, it’s one of the quickest, easiest, and most personal ways to connect with others. When uploading a photograph, remember to add hashtags like #makeupartist, #wedding, #interiordecorating or other relevant keywords to help others find your photo when they’re browsing the app. You may also find it helpful to use location keywords like #nycmakeup artist or #seattleauthor. All it takes is for someone to see your photo, like it, and want to learn more about you. And, voila, you have a new follower and growing relationship.

2. Show Off Your Work In a Snap

It may seem obvious when you think about it, but you’d be surprised how few businesses take the opportunity to actually show off their products or work they’ve completed. Instagram is a photo-focused sharing center, so share some photos! Snap a photo of a makeup application you’ve done, room you’ve redecorated, floral arrangement you’re working on, or anything else. Prospective clients love knowing that you’re currently working and actively part of the industry, so even something you may think is small or doesn’t matter could mean much more to a prospective client browsing through your Instagram. Plus, it’s a great chance for you to see how your work appears on camera.

3. Advertise – Upload a Graphic or Snap a Photo of a Flyer

Instagram isn’t just for photos. If you have a promotional ad on your website or can snap a photo of a flyer (even taking a screenshot of a message written in Notes) you can advertise on Instagram. Upload your photo from your Camera Roll instead of taking a new picture and share away. If you want to save some time, sync your Facebook account and other social accounts with your Instagram app to share your photos across all accounts simultaneously. Remember to check your recent activity, however, as you don’t want anyone’s comments to go unnoticed – particularly if you’re offering a time-sensitive promotion.

4. Get Customers Involved With Likes, Comments and Contests

You’ve got to give love to get love, right? Get involved with your customers by liking their photos and leaving comments. Also, be sure to follow accounts that are of interest to you and your business! To get your customers to return the favor, upload interesting photos on a regular basis and try out a contest or two. Social users love contests, and they’re an absolute pinch to get involved in on Instagram. Consider having your clients take a picture with a certain theme, object, or message, and then have them tag you in it to enter. What you decide to give away is up to you!

5. Get Personal

A lot of people have trouble trusting corporations or businesses, and you may find the same when you embark on your career. Getting a little personal with your prospective clients can be a great way to break down the barriers between you and let them get to know you better. Snap shots of things you like, yourself, your favorite meals, and anything else that will let your followers get a peek into your life without being bombarded with too much personal and not enough business. If you’re a makeup artist, it can be pretty easy to do this since you can snap a photo of your daily makeup and upload to Instagram. If you’re an interior decorator, you can take photos of things around your house. If your an event and wedding planner, you could snap photos while out shopping for decor or at events you attend. The options are endless, but you might need to get a little creative depending on the industry you’re in.

 

What do you think, readers? Are you currently using Instagram for business? Let us know in a comment!

 

Instagram logo picture via Waxing UnLyrical
City picture via Photojojo


Are you looking for ways to improve the productivity of your event planning business? You should consider investing in an iPad. Especially for small businesses with a staff of one or two, this handy little tool will prove to be so helpful when you’re trying to get everything done by yourself. Download the apps that you think will be most helpful to you to get the most out of this gadget.

Get organized

An iPad will allow you to boost your productivity immensely. Because the screen is larger than a phone, it’s so much easier to take notes when you’re on-the-go (and read those notes later!). When you’re away from the office, say meeting with clients or vendors, all those papers in your briefcase can easily become disorganized. Contracts, schedules, contact information and invoices – why not put them all in one easy-to-access place? Just make sure to back everything up on an external hard drive or an online cloud when you get back to the office so you don’t lose anything!

The apps

Oh, the apps. This is the best reason to invest in an iPad – the apps are easier to use than on a phone, will allow you to keep in contact with people throughout the day, and can help you get the most out of a busy schedule. As an event planner, you’re juggling about 100 things at once – venue, vendors, schedules, and appointments. After a certain point, sticky notes just won’t cut it anymore. Our top pick for event planner apps is Super Planner. This app offers a bunch of planning tools, like a calculator that helps you quickly determine venue capacity, amount of food and drink required, number of staff required, and more. You’ll appreciate giving your brain a break on a busy day.

What’s your favorite event planning app? Let us know in a comment below!

Image via www.teleread.com

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Long before I owned a business, I had heard the term “networking” hundreds of times. The value of networking was always touted as the way to get ahead; it’s a way to give your brand an identifiable face within the sea of competition. I always thought it sounded gruesome. I could just picture it, walking up to a stranger with a swagger of confidence, name badge swaying as I moved. With a firm hand shake and a warm yet professional smile I would say, “Hi, my name is Lynn Lee. I’m a wedding planner. And you are?”

Promptly after this dashing opener, I imagined the conversation becoming more and more strained as the moments passed, as we both struggled to get to know one another when neither of us really cared. The entire evening of my networking dream played out this way with dozens of empty, fake conversations until I was able to plan my escape home to bed, thankful that it was all over. It might have been a bad attitude, but it was the truth. The whole concept sent shivers down my spine. I was all about real relationships, not pretending I connected with someone just to get myself ahead.

Then came the launch of Weddings Unveiled. For the first time I was faced with establishing myself in a new market, and I don’t have to tell you what that meant: NETWORKING! I had a leg-up on some new planners in that I was already coordinating weddings for a local venue, so I already knew some people within the industry. It was imperative that I connect with these people to let them know I was now hanging my own shingle as an independent business owner.

I promptly set up meetings to chat about how I could refer their businesses to my clients. The meetings were pleasant as I connected with business owners whose work I knew and respected. These were people with whom I had come to know, chat, laugh, and share stories. I was pleased to be connecting in a very real, genuine way. Once those meetings were over however, I was faced with the daunting task of connecting with those companies with whom I had no prior relationship, but whose work I admired. I had to get to know their services so I could offer my future clients the breadth of knowledge that they deserved. What’s worse, there were so many of them!

The following weeks saw cold calls by the dozen. Every time I picked up the phone to call someone new, I dreaded it like a visit to the dentist. Were they going to be welcoming, or were they going to quickly inform me that they didn’t have time to chat with a newbie who was more of a nuisance than a benefit? I have to tell you, I was surprised how things played out. Nearly every time I was met with warmth and general interest. I spent days and days running around the city, meeting with anyone and everyone I could. The conversations were much easier than I anticipated and I made some real connections with people I still work with today. About three months into launching my business I had swallowed up all the knowledge I could about my local industry and felt that I could go out in the wedding world and represent my clients to the best of my ability. Networking wasn’t nearly as excruciating as I thought.

Today I continue to attend networking events on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s in an attempt to get to know a new service provider. Other times it’s in support or celebration of someone with whom I am already familiar. Regardless of the occasion, there is always someone at those events I haven’t yet met, and I am constantly faced with networking in its truest form.

Even today, there’s still an initial moment where my hands sweat in anxiety as I see a new face coming toward me. I still feel stressed at the thought of having to make conversation with someone I don’t know – will it be comfortable or will it be awkward? But 99.9% of the time, as soon as the other person opens their mouth and starts speaking, I realize that all is well. We always seem to find something to talk about and sometimes that relationship is one that ends up being really valuable either to my business or to me personally. I actually love going to most networking events now. In fact, there is one coming up in three weeks that I would never miss. They provide me with an opportunity to connect with suppliers away from weddings and events where we are always too busy to chat. They allow us to laugh over a glass of wine and reminisce about past clients. We pump each other up and we provide an ear when someone needs feedback. We are each other’s greatest supporters; in fact, many suppliers have become friends outside of regular work days.

Although the truest form of networking still provides me with a tinge of anxiety, I realize that I wouldn’t have the business I do today, nor have the friends that I’ve made, if it wasn’t for networking events. Networking helped me to establish my company at the outset, and today allows me to remain connected. Without it, I would be an unknown in an industry where being known for your work is everything.

So next time you’re faced with a networking opportunity, just remember that the person on the other side of the conversation is just like you. Someone whose hands are probably starting to sweat, just like yours, as you approach. Someone who, like you, just wants their business to succeed. Someone who probably doesn’t know much more than you do, and is just looking for support. Someone with their own personal demands, flaws, accomplishments, and fears. Someone who eats, sleeps, and celebrates bad days and good days, just like you. That’s why it’s simply not warranted to be intimidated by meeting someone new. Connecting with others is one of the greatest joys of being a business owner. Without it, I would be left staring at my laptop all day in a cave of loneliness. Welcome networking and all that it will provide you. I promise you won’t regret it!

Till next time, happy planning!

Wedding planner Lynn LeeWritten by Lynn Lee
www.weddingsunveiled.ca

Lynn Lee has over 10 years experience in the event and wedding planning industry. These days, she’s focusing her attention on her growing wedding planning business, Weddings Unveiled. Her weekly blog posts include business tips, wedding trends, and expert advice.

 

 

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I come from the school of comparative quoting – I was always taught to get three quotes when hiring someone for a given service. So when I opened my company, I continued this practice on behalf of my clients. I always thought that was the right thing to do until I ran into a problem, which is why I’m sharing this story with you today. This incident is the only negative dealing I’ve experienced within the event and wedding planning industry. Maybe that’s why it bothers me so much!

As you’ve probably gathered, honoring my relationships with other vendors and planners is paramount. I work hard to juggle respect for both my clients and my suppliers, being very careful to act in both parties’ best interests. Which brings me to Salina and Shawn’s wedding back in 2008. I was looking for a florist for this couple – it was my second season as an independent planner and I was still getting to know the various vendors in the area. I had sent some past clients to “Florist A,” so I decided to go to her again to get a quote for my couple’s floral requirements. We had a pretty good idea what we wanted for centerpieces, and we knew exactly what we wanted for bouquets and boutonnieres, so I wasn’t looking for much creative input – just a good price. Florist A’s quote came back at about what I had expected; but then again, being a newbie business owner, I didn’t fully know what to expect.

Once I had the first quote, it was time to seek out the other two. But I wasn’t sure where to go next. The few florists with whom I had worked just weren’t my cup of tea. They were either out-of-date or had personalities that I knew were not the right fit for me, Salina, and Shawn. Then I found “Florist B.” She had recently left Florist A’s business to manage another shop. She had a great personality, and was very talented. I thought it would be a great fit. I knew I could trust either florist with this lovely wedding. And since both had been good to my clients in the past, there were no two other ladies to whom I would rather give business. I wanted to play fair – I decided if Florist A got this contract, I would make sure the Florist B got the next one, or vice versa. I thought it was a win-win situation.

Florist B sent me her quote for the exact same order. The quotes were very close, but hers was just a tad under. I presented both quotes to Salina and Shawn and they were pleased with the numbers; they told me that a third quote would not be necessary. They asked me who they should hire, and I told them I had no preference. Because her quote was slightly less, they ended up hiring Florist B. After all, you might as well save a few dollars! Like a good little planner, I thanked Florist A for her time and told her that my clients had decided to go another route. All was good.

You might chuckle at the next part of the story (or maybe you’ll kick me for being so foolish!). I remember it like it was yesterday. I was blow drying my hair, getting ready for a networking affair, and a thought came over me like a hot flash. What if Florist A and Florist B talk between themselves, and think I was playing one against the other?

I felt like I was going to faint. I called my husband in and spilled all of my concerns. I told him how I wanted the business to go to either of them, which was why I chose both in the first place. I knew they might chat, but I thought they would be pleased that I was trying to give them both business. At that moment, I could see the other side. What if they weren’t as fond of my rationale as I had originally thought? What if they thought I was trying to undercut them? I felt sick to my stomach. My husband, lovely as he is, tried to comfort me, but felt I could no longer go to the networking event. I picked up the phone…

I called Florist A – no answer. Then I called Florist B. I explained exactly what I had done and my rationale for doing so. She was so great! She assured me that everything was okay. She appreciated my wanting to give her business, and didn’t seem concerned that I had asked her former boss to quote on the same project. After all, as I explained to her, I was just doing my planner job by getting more than one quote. She told me to go to the function and enjoy myself, and not to worry about Florist A; she was sure her reaction would be the same. So off I went, not totally at ease, but feeling encouraged that my paranoia was probably unwarranted.

The next morning I called Florist A once again to be totally honest with her about why I acted as I did. Just in case there was any chatting between the two ladies, I wanted there to be no confusion whether my intentions were honorable. I remember speaking into the phone with Florist A and the air feeling heavier and heavier as I babbled on nervously. When I finally stopped to allow her to speak, her reaction was everything I had feared and more. My heart sank and I just wanted to cry. It was a horrible conversation, and it was pretty clear to me as I hung up that the relationship had been permanently altered. I feared that our working together in the future would be so uncomfortable for both of us that I chose to avoid it, and have never stepped foot into her shop since.

You may be wondering why I’ve chosen to share this story with you today. What does this have to do with you and your business? Perhaps nothing. Perhaps you are of the mind that multiple quotes are important and it’s our prerogative to source them. Maybe you agree with obtaining more than one quote, but would have been smarter than I on who to approach. Or maybe you just think I was a nutball and should have known better. Either way, I wanted to tell you about this in hopes that it might help even one of you from making the same mistake. Now looking back from my sixth year of business, I can see how short-sighted I was.

The event and wedding planning industry in my city is very small, and almost everyone knows everyone else. Everyone talks and compares, and your successes and failures are all too well known. It’s also a woman-dominated industry where communication is very open and feelings get hurt very easily. I’m not sure if a male vendor would have been as upset as Florist A was, but I am sure of one thing – if I knew then what I know now, I would have tread much more carefully. If I really wanted to get more than one quote for the job, I should have gone to two businesses who had no relationship and no direct contact. Or I could have better educated myself on floral pricing when I first launched my business. Perhaps if I had, I wouldn’t have even needed more than one quote. I would have known that my industry is one of personalities, not just cold corporations. I would have seen all the instances where hurt feelings had ruined relationships in the past, and disallowed people from ever working together again. My hometown wedding industry is full of such examples. If only I knew then what I know now!

Today, I’m in a different place. My clients trust my judgment when I recommend them to a particular vendor and very rarely do I ever attend more than one vendor meeting per category, or get a second quote for the same job. I also know my own market so well that I can pretty much guess what a quote is going to be in advance, or at least provide an educated guess. I no longer adhere to the three-quote theory and do not feel that my clients are more poorly served as a result. I’m a smarter planner than I was four years ago, and I have worked very hard to develop trust and a good reputation within my industry. But I know that I will never have that trust again from Florist A, and for that I am very sorry. I learned my lesson the hard way, and I doubt I will ever forget it.

Till next time, happy planning!

Wedding planner Lynn LeeWritten by Lynn Lee
www.weddingsunveiled.ca

Lynn Lee has over 10 years experience in the event and wedding planning industry. These days, she’s focusing her attention on her growing wedding planning business, Weddings Unveiled. Her weekly blog posts include business tips, wedding trends, and expert advice.

 

Image 1 via http://www.torontolife.com
Image 2 via http://mylifephilosphy.blogspot.ca
Image 3 via http://www.cidonline.org

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Today, I want to share with you something that has changed my business. But before I do that, let me give you some background that led to this big change. About a year ago, I was finding myself at a turning point. With five years under my belt as a business owner I was proud of what I had achieved and the reputation for which I had worked so hard. I really felt that my clients were receiving the highest level of support that I could give and the feedback I got from my couples was amazing and very gratifying. But it was also at this five year mark that I was experiencing feelings of burnout. I had been in the business for 10 years, and working 12-14 hour days had clearly paid its toll. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do and would never change careers. But I couldn’t continue focusing on making everyone else’s lives perfect at the expense of my own. Something had to give!

This feeling of frustration didn’t come over me all of a sudden. It had been brewing for some time, and in talking to other planners I found I was not alone. It was time to stop whining about our lost lives and do something to fix them. I had already re-branded a year back and eliminated day-of management services in an attempt to reduce the number of weddings I had each year. By committing myself solely to full planning contracts, it meant less weddings but greater earnings: more bang for your buck, as some might say! This decision made a huge difference since the workload associated with 10 full planning contracts each year was more manageable than planning and coordinating 30. But even with that, I was still working longer hours than I should have been. It was time to find a way to work smarter than I had been, and this has remained my focus over the past several months.

I began investigating options. I had conversations with other professionals and planners to learn what could help. One of my efforts was to hire a successful planner to mentor me. This mentor helped me outline my personal and professional goals and guided me toward achieving them. I also wanted to learn from my mentor’s experience so I could benefit from the systems that she had already put into place to help with her own business. It was within this relationship that I discovered a tool she had been using as a possible solution for some of my efficiency problems. This tool had revolutionized the way she did things and was something that I needed to consider for Weddings Unveiled. The tool is a project management software called Basecamp.

Basecamp is just one of many project management programs available. It enables groups of people (teams) to work collectively on a given project to see it through to completion. Although not specifically designed for event planning, it certainly lends itself very well. In researching, I found several planners were touting its benefits to their own clients. Here’s how it works.

Prior to Basecamp, the majority of my correspondence with clients was via email. Consequently, I received tons of emails every day regarding the most minute details. Something as simple as choosing a table linen evolved into a solid string of emails back and forth debating texture, color, and size. Each email had to be saved to file so I could keep a record of our discussion. Every time I needed to refer to that discussion, I had to go back to that folder of emails to review what had been discussed to date. My clients had to do the same, which I’m sure was just as daunting to them, if not more so! Add to that all the saved documents that accumulated during the planning process, everything from contracts to inspiration pictures to vendor receipts. I had them all on file, and although my files and folders were pretty meticulously kept, it was I who possessed the records. I don’t think my clients ever felt completely in the loop since all those documents were not as readily available on their end. That is, unless they also kept the level of records that I did.

Basecamp solves these issues by providing each client with a workroom. Everything pertaining to their event happens within that workroom. I’ve included a few screen shots of one of my client’s workrooms here so you can see how it’s structured. In the example to the below, you’ll see our event planning critical path. Each “to do” has a date assigned and the person to whom it’s assigned. We have it set up so that the assigned person receives an email reminder when their task comes due, so nothing falls between the cracks. The critical path can be edited at any time with tasks added, deleted, and modified. At any given moment, any member of our team (both planner and client) can see where we stand in the planning process. I am no longer the sole monitor of the project; it has become a team effort, which is a very good thing!Time management tips

This screen shot shows another part of the client workroom: files. Here we are able to keep all the files associated with the event/wedding. You’ll see a contract, quote, and spreadsheet listed. You’ll also see our storyboard and inspiration picture. Basecamp just added a new feature a few months ago where the team can categorize each file with a label. This allows us to use the search tool on the right hand side of the screen to find a certain file. It comes in handy when the number of files uploaded gets pretty big!Time management 2

Here is a shot of my Basecamp calendar. This complete calendar is only viewable by me while clients only have access to their own. Each project is color coded so I can look at any date and see that anything in blue, for example, belongs to Ashleigh & Mark’s wedding. I also input client/vendor meetings here and a handy-dandy email reminder lets us know a half hour prior that our meeting is shortly ahead. I still use my Outlook calendar to track my own appointments and to dos, but this calendar is an excellent complement!Time management 3

I can go into Basecamp and view the status of all my projects with one click of the mouse. This is great if you’ve been on vacation, or maybe in meetings all day, and you want to see what all of your clients have been up to while you’ve been absent. Instead of having to go into each separate workroom, you can just view this page to see all of the recent activity.Time management 4

As I’m sure you can imagine, these screen shots only zero in on some of the features offered by Basecamp. You can also live chat with your clients through their “discussion” feature. Any team member can create text documents where thoughts, reminders, strategies, you-name-it can be logged so they aren’t forgotten. It allows the entire team to access all of the information pertaining to their event in one place so everyone is in the loop and be active participants. No more searching through files for discussions and records. Everything is together and visible, making for a much more efficient planning process for your clients and for the team leader – you!

Basecamp is not perfect. There are things I wish it could do that it doesn’t. But they seem to be open to suggestions from their clients and are constantly adding features and making improvements. Seven months in, I’m very impressed, and most of my clients love it. Working through Basecamp has definitely improved my efficiency. I’m now taking fewer steps to complete a given task than I had previously. It’s still a work in progress while I continue to teach myself ways to effectively juggle professional and personal life, and I’m constantly learning new tricks and shortcuts within the software program. But a year later, I feel refreshed and refocused and that is in large part due to Basecamp. I encourage you to check it out!

Till next time, happy planning!

Wedding planner Lynn LeeWritten by Lynn Lee
www.weddingsunveiled.ca

Lynn Lee has over 10 years experience in the event and wedding planning industry. These days, she’s focusing her attention on her growing wedding planning business, Weddings Unveiled. Her weekly blog posts include business tips, wedding trends, and expert advice.

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March 28, 2013 3:40 pm

Office Space vs. Home Office

When you first launch your wedding or event planning business, you will be faced with the decision of where to build your office. This is a question you’ll revisit several times throughout your business’ life, as your company grows and changes over the years. In this post, I’m weighing the pros and cons of these two career paths: office space vs home office.

As do many small businesses, most wedding and event planners launch their businesses from a home-based office. It’s a natural choice since it helps reduce the start-up costs of a new business, as well as the risks associated with establishing ourselves. Within my own market, all but three wedding planners continue to run their businesses out of their home, myself included! I have seen more than one planner move into formal office space without fully considering the costs versus benefits in doing so, just to have to up and move back home months later. I’m hoping by discussing this today, I might prevent you from finding yourself in the same situation!

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating one option over the other. There is no doubt in my mind that I will never rent office space. It’s just not the right fit for me, both personally and professionally. But for many, getting in the car and driving to an office every morning is a necessary component of being a productive business owner. Being surrounded by personal things just doesn’t work for them, and I totally respect that. There are pros and cons of both situations and only you will be able to decide which suits you best. Here are just a few pros of setting up an office outside of your home environment:

  1. Getting away from temptations that can distract us from getting work done (e.g. refrigerator, TV, gardens, housework)
  2. Respect for our professional time. I can’t tell you how many “work” hours I lose each week dealing with questions from my children, or picking them up and driving them places,  just because I’m home and available. If I worked off-site, the respect for my work schedule would increase hugely
  3. Having a storefront can often increase your credibility as a business. It’s not viewed as a “side gig” all of a sudden
  4. Meeting clients is simplified with an office since they come to you, instead of your having to either travel to them or try to conduct business in a coffee shop. Plus the ability to host meetings within an office can increase your professionalism and credibility in your clients’ eyes
  5. You can take advantage of tax deductions associated with the costs involved in running an office
  6. When you leave your office at the end of the day, you are more likely to leave your stress there much more easily than if you were working from your home

Alternatively, there are also pros to working from a home-based office. Here are a few that come to mind:

  1. It can be a great situation for women in particular, as they are able to remain available to their children and family better than they would be able if they were to work offsite
  2. You’re already paying your rent/mortgage anyway, so you don’t have to rent a separate space for your office, thereby reducing your costs
  3. A percentage of your lease/mortgage and home expenses can be used for tax deductions for your business
  4. Your productivity may be greater since more time is spent actually accomplishing work tasks and less time spent commuting to an office situation every day
  5. Some people love the flexibility in schedule. You can work sporadically through various periods of the day instead of having to maintain a more rigid 9-5 routine
  6. With less overhead, you are able to test out new ideas, change business direction, or scale down more easily since you don’t carry the same long-term commitments that you would leasing an office
  7. Many proponents for this style of office swear that it is less stressful and wonderfully free from office politics

There is no right or wrong option, just right or wrong for you! It’s important to consider all of the pros and cons before making your choice so that you can evaluate which is the best direction for your business. I do caution, however, that in addition to deciding which scenario is best, it’s as important to consider the timing of your decision. Here’s where the experience of my colleagues comes in.

During the evaluation process, you may decide that leasing is the way to go, as some of my colleagues have. But is it the right time to make this decision? When your business is just starting out, do you really want to obligate yourself to a long term financial commitment if you can avoid it? Maybe you don’t have the funds available to make it work. Or maybe you are wary of your newbie status and want to establish yourself prior to carrying unnecessary overhead costs. These are all good reasons to be cautious.

On the other hand, what if you’ve got a year or two under your belt? Maybe you’ve seen some success very quickly and are encouraged that your business will continue to thrive. That deserves some congratulations, and I can certainly understand the temptation to now grow into a formal space. Even I have considered it. This is exactly what happened to two of my colleagues.

Their first couple of years in business were very encouraging as they worked hard to establish their brands within the marketplace. Neither planner enjoyed working out of a home environment. They found it isolating and had difficulty staying motivated. So both women signed up for office space. They loved the new-found professional digs where they could meet clients and network with fellow professionals, all in very hip districts within our city. The move was probably viewed with envy by many other planners; I know I envied them. How wonderful would it be to enjoy increased visibility and gained credibility just by hanging your sign over a cobblestone walkway! But as I quietly envied, I also worried for these two women, wondering if they would be able to sustain such high overhead costs. I knew how hard I worked for my own income and how disappointing my earnings were given the hours of output. Were they really in that much better shape than I that they could spend thousands of dollars a year on formal space?

As it turns out, I’m not sure either were in much better shape than I was. That is my story of caution. The one planner in my market that is able to sustain office space and lofty financial commitments is also the planner who leads the market in sales. She has been in business for eight years and has a staff of four. Her ability to do multiple events each day is key. Her years of branding and networking allow her to enjoy a track record that helps predict future sales and growth, something a new planner wouldn’t have access to. Both of these colleagues saw a steady increase in the demand for their services. But I fear that both jumped the gun a bit and obligated themselves to office space before they had enough “earned” revenue to be able to pull it off.

The growth gave them hope that the next year was going to bring wild things, but when next year came, it was less than disappointing. All of a sudden, both realized that their growth had reached a bit of a plateau. Granted, the economy also played a role in decreased spending by their clients. The money they were shelling out to keep a roof over their business was so weighty that it prevented them from earning what they needed, and from allocating funds to marketing efforts that would have helped increase business. The jury is still out on my colleagues and whether or not they will be forced to move back “home” after the year’s commitment is up. Regardless of what they decide, I do know that each regrets jumping on the opportunity so quickly. If they had to do it again, they would take a more conservative approach.

I know what it’s like having your kids yelling at you when you’re trying to write an email. Having to schedule work appointments around picking up your kids from school. Trying to keep your focus when all you really want to do is sit out on the deck in the sun! But remember, it took great effort and discipline to build your business and that same effort and discipline can enable you to successfully work from home. Take a hard look at your business prior to committing yourself to any long-term commitments and take out your calculator while you’re doing it. You may be surprised at what you come up with.

Till next time, happy planning!

Wedding planner Lynn LeeWritten by Lynn Lee
www.weddingsunveiled.ca

Lynn Lee has over 10 years experience in the event and wedding planning industry. These days, she’s focusing her attention on her growing wedding planning business, Weddings Unveiled. Her weekly blog posts include business tips, wedding trends, and expert advice.

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Determining how to base your fee structure as a wedding planner is one of the hardest things when you’re starting out. It certainly was for me! When I was in school I was taught to base my fees on my clients’ wedding budgets. As a young planner, the industry standard was 10 per cent. That meant if my client’s wedding budget was $50,000, my fees would be $5,000. I thought that was a pretty good, simple deal, until I had an enquiry for a wedding with a $10,000 budget. Did that mean that my fees were to be $1,000?

All of a sudden this percentage-based charging didn’t seem like a great idea anymore. With the number of hours I’d be devoting to their contract I would end up making about $6.00/hr. Very quickly, I realized I would need a minimum charge regardless of the budget just to cover my labor and costs of doing business. The problem was at that time in my business’ young life I didn’t really know the average number of hours I would put towards a contract. So I talked to other planners, got a sense of what they were charging, and tried to guestimate how many hours of work I thought I would have to put in. A minimum fee was established and I set forth to gain my first full planning contract!

Everything moved along as planned and I secured my first “full planning” clients within a matter of three months (yes, it does take that long – sometimes longer!). A contract was drawn up and my fees were based on 10 per cent of their budget, which was $25,000. All was good, that is until we started delving into the planning process, securing vendors, and making decisions. It quickly became apparent that the budget was going to change. Some weeks it was up, others down. Once we got to the week of the wedding, it was time to reconcile my charges with my clients’ final expenditures. I ended up owing them money. However, that wasn’t the thing that bothered me most. It was having to reconcile at all. I couldn’t help but wonder if I would have felt uncomfortable having to ask for more money if my clients had gone over budget. Might I have felt a little weird benefiting from their over-spending? My answer to that question was a definitive “yes,” and I quickly threw my budget-based fee structure out the window in favor of flat-fee based quoting.

Now don’t get me wrong, flat-fee based earning is no perfect solution either! How do you know how many hours you’re going to put towards a given contract? Gather as much information as you can about your clients’ wishes before you start working to give you something to go on when trying to estimate a time commitment. But let’s face it, it’s not an exact science, and I do believe we win some and lose some with this type of charge. Despite that, it better reflected my values and required no interim accounting (which I loved). Plus, I thought it was fairer to my clients that they know exactly what their commitment is at the outset. Six years later, I still base my fees in this manner. It works for me and I will never go back to percentage. There are times when I hear of large earnings from colleagues who were involved in top-budget weddings based on percentage-based charges. It makes me wonder, momentarily, if I made the right decision some years ago. It’s just human nature to question things a bit!

So which way is right? The answer is that the right choice is what is right for you. Each business owner has to make the decision based on their own business values, needs, and abilities. But take solace in the fact that nothing that you decide is set in stone and adjustments to your fee structure or pricing can be made down the road should you decide that changes are warranted. So, which method of charge will you use starting out? Here are a few points to consider as you’re weighing the options:

Percentage based fee structure

  1. Rumored to increase your earnings in the long run
  2. Some planners don’t feel this structure is in keeping with their own value set
  3. Some clients balk at this variable structure since they don’t know their exact financial commitment until all the spending is complete
  4. You will not know your exact earnings until the planning process for each contract is complete
  5. A lot of paperwork is involved with this structure
  6. You may want to estimate your fees on the low side so that when you reconcile at the end of the planning process, your clients will owe you, and you don’t have to pay out

Flat fee structure

  1. Rumored to provide you with lower potential earnings when compared to percentage based fees
  2. Easy accounting for you- one quote and you’re done!
  3. You don’t necessarily benefit from being involved in higher-budget weddings with this fee structure (unless you increase your quote based on the wedding budget)
  4. There’s no going back with this type of fee structure. Your quote sticks even if your client increases their budget or accelerates their plans down the road (unless you include some sort of contract clause to cover you in certain instances)
  5. In my experience, some couples have greater sticker shock looking at a dollar figure as opposed to knowing they’ll be charged a given percentage. I think it’s just having that big number placed before their eyes, which is why I like to break the total fee down into monthly payments for them. It’s not so overwhelming that way!

Regardless of your choice, talk to other planners and educate yourself on industry standards and regional norms. That will help you to know what your local market will bear in terms of pricing. Plus, by keeping pricing standards in line with our competition, we encourage couples to choose their planner based on performance, reputation, portfolio and personality, not price. This is important since we are still developing our credibility as an industry, and the more we can do to improve expectations industry-wide, the better it is for everyone concerned, ourselves included!

Best of luck with your decision!  Till next time!

Written by Lynn LeeWedding planner Lynn Lee
www.weddingsunveiled.ca

Lynn Lee has over 10 years experience in the event and wedding planning industry. These days, she’s focusing her attention on her growing wedding planning business, Weddings Unveiled. Her weekly blog posts include business tips, wedding trends, and expert advice.

 

 

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