Selling the Love Story
From the courting stage to the long-term commitment, these sales and publicity tips will help to strengthen your relationships with wedding clients.
All events are special, but especially weddings. As a caterer or event planner, you’re essentially getting married to someone else’s vision — a vision you’ve been hired to make real. As the big day approaches, it’s a labor of love for everyone involved, and the best wedding caterers are those who have the greatest passion for it.
If you do love it, you’re in luck. Weddings represent one of the most exciting, profitable and competitive niches in the catering industry. To help you tap into the wedding market for all it’s worth, we’ve gathered some tips, presented at the 2014 Catersource and Event Solutions Conference this past March.
Listen and learn
The next time you deal with a potential wedding client, remember that more than 2.3 million couples get hitched every year in the United States. That breaks down to nearly 6,200 weddings each day. In one year alone, approximately $55 billion is spent on weddings.
What does that mean for you as a planner? “Nobody wants the wedding that everyone else has had,” says Jeffrey Selden of Marcia Selden Catering & Event Planning. “You have to figure out what your company can offer that will give you the inside track.”
One way to do that: As you work to develop long-term relationships with clients, it’s important to listen and read between the lines, says David Everett, senior wedding and event producer with The JDK Group in Camp Hill, PA.
“Every wedding needs to tell a story, the unique story of the bride and groom,” writes celebrity planner David Tutera in his book, My Fair Wedding. And clients can tell if you care about their unique story based on that very first phone call.
In order to write winning proposals, you need to ask the right questions. Here are some great ones to commit to memory and work into your casual conversation, courtesy of The JDK Group and Marcia Selden Catering:
● Where did you go for your first date?
● How long have you been together?
● When did you get engaged and how did he/she propose?
● What’s your vision for a dream wedding?
● What are your favorite restaurants and food?
● What colors do you gravitate toward?
● Do you have favorite drinks, wines or cocktails?
● What’s your cultural background?
● What’s your favorite season?
Play the part
For Jeffrey Selden, selling the wedding is one of his favorite parts of the job. “It’s so much fun to have someone come in, convince them of what you’re selling, and get them to sign a contract,” he says.
The Seldens’ family-run business is located just a few miles from Greenwich, CT, one of the wealthiest zip codes on the East Coast (and in the United States, for that matter). So, of the more than 1,200 events the company does each year, many of them are high-end, luxury weddings.
This brings us to a primary rule: You’ve got to act, dress and look the part.
“Around here, people get caught up in what you look like, so it translates to what we do,” says Robin. “If I go to the mansion, I need to pretend like I live their life. Don’t drive up in a run-down pickup truck.”
Can’t afford that shiny new beamer? Rent or borrow one.
Another related rule: If you want to play in the big leagues, you need an official wedding department or wedding specialist. “If you don’t have one, make one up,” says Robin, who says it’s important to designate an expert within your company and direct all wedding calls to her or him. “And if it’s you, own it!”
Getting to know the client’s lifestyle ahead of time is also an essential strategy. Jeffrey, the company’s wedding specialist, says he does all of his homework before that first meeting. This may involve checking out the client’s house on Google Earth or Google Maps, or getting an estimate of how much their home is worth via Zillow.com.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask the client who else they’re meeting with. It never hurts to ask, and in Jeffrey and Robin’s experience, most of them will tell you.
Finally, even if you don’t get the gig, be sure to stay positive and let the client know that you understand. After all that work, it’s not easy. But the client will remember how you reacted and there’s a good chance they’ll have other opportunities available down the road.
Upgrade the experience
As you’re finalizing your proposal, remember that those added extras could do big things for your bottom line. Proposals from Marcia Selden Catering typically include a meal, staffing and planning, with a variety of fun upgrades added to the end, including:
● Candy boxes
● Mineral waters
● Specialty cocktails, wines and champagne
● Linen cocktail napkins
● Italian sodas
● Small batch liquor
● Late night snacks
● Food trucks
● Bar bites
● Barista bars
● Cheese courses
● Passed desserts
● Event planning
While you may charge only $5 to $10 per guest for each, it all adds up. You’re going to provide some of these extras anyway, so why not include it in the proposal?
Case in point: “For those clients who don’t believe in having event planners, I give them an option to buy a week of planning or a day of planning,” says Robin. “I end up doing it anyway, organizing with all of the vendors, so be sure to include the work that’s separate from catering.”
If you’re bringing in a food truck for late-night snacks, Jeffrey recommends getting bids from half a dozen depending on their style; find out the minimums and the per-person price; then add your margin on top of that to ensure you make a profit.
The Seldens also purchased two large, portable espresso machines from the Catersource and Event Solutions Tradeshow and have seen a great return on investment. Each machine serves about 100 people. Charge about $6-$10 per person, add some cute sugar swizzle sticks, and voila — more revenue!
Be your own publicist
Maybe you’ve hired a public relations firm to help you expand your wedding business, and maybe not. Either way, there are a lot of valuable PR strategies you can implement on your own.
Meghan Ely, OFD Consulting owner and a former caterer, combines hands-on event experience with a love of wedding marketing and PR. A regular contributor to Wedding Planner Magazine and the Knot’s B2B Blog, among many other outlets, she knows what works and what doesn’t in terms of establishing yourself as a wedding expert…
If you’re trying to get your company name in front of magazine or blog readers, you need to think like a journalist (and a reader). Come up with some bright ideas that are newsworthy. If you’re not sure what wedding topic to focus on, Ely mentions the HARO (Help a Reporter Out) website as a great way to find journalists who are looking for experts on a wide range of topics, including wedding trends.
Limit your pitch to one or two paragraphs, summarizing who, what, when, where and why. You can write a direct pitch, where your goal is to convince someone to write a story about you or your business. Or you can take the indirect approach, where you pick a topic you’re an expert on and work your quotes, photos and a company mention into the story. If you’re a good writer, guest blogging is another great way to get your name in front of a larger audience.
Perhaps the best strategy is pitching real weddings you’ve catered. “Brides want to see other brides having glorious weddings,” says Ely. “And editors want things that are fresh and inspiring, less than a year old. Things they haven’t seen before.”
When you’re submitting information about weddings, make the job as easy as possible for the editor. Include the names of the couple, the date and location of the wedding, and get permission to publicize the story from the bride in advance. You can often write this into your initial contract (e.g. “we can use the images and details from your wedding for marketing purposes”).
Most importantly, be sure to submit good photos that illustrate your story, photos that zoom in on the beautiful details. “The editors are here to inspire brides, and brides are inspired by details,” says Ely. “Cool flowers, tablescapes from far away and up close, favors, food shots, different angles of the cake…”
PR can take a lot of time, so you’ll want to ensure it’s worth your return on investment. Install Google Analytics on your website if you haven’t already, and pay attention to where your web traffic is coming from. Ask prospects where they heard about you via a web form. In short, get the hard numbers. “Don’t be anecdotal about your time and money and where you’re spending it,” says Ely.
You’ll also want to maximize your PR as much as possible. Share any coverage you get via Twitter or on your company blog. Create a special Pinterest board and Facebook album just for screenshots, magazine covers and pages where your staff or company is mentioned. And when you get picked up by the big leagues, update the bio on your website, as in “Our work was recently featured on Style Me Pretty.”
Use your time wisely
So you’re writing great proposals and getting tons of new business and publicity. How do you know when to say when? A few signs that you’re at peak volume, according to Brit Bertino, creator and founder of Brit Bertino Event Excellence in Las Vegas:
● You spend hours upon hours answering emails
● You’re dreaming about the things that need to get done
● Your friends wonder why you never have time for them
● All your wedding couples start running together
● You get stomach ulcers
If you’re finding your business overwhelmed by weddings, Bertino says to ask yourself questions such as: Do you want to take on more business, be it full or partial? How many hours do you spend on each service you offer? Are you charging enough? What will you do to keep everyone motivated, yourself included?
Before you establish a successful, high-volume wedding business, you need to evaluate your goals and your market, develop and articulate your vision, and then rebrand and rebuild accordingly. Needless to say, this is a lengthy and detailed process. But once it’s all said and done, the next step is managing your time effectively.
“As an entrepreneur, time is the only asset you cannot get more of, so use it wisely,” says Bertino. A few of her tips for accomplishing this include:
Organize your to-do list: “Sunday evenings and Monday mornings I create a list of the most efficient things I can do with my time. Clump your tasks into groups of three. For example, I list out the three most important things I need to accomplish at work, at home or personally. I then filter my impact so the critical things are done first.”
Never meet on a Monday: “From 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the start of the week, I am clear-headed, ready to focus and it’s time for work. It’s the best use of my time to prep me for the following week.”
Don’t worship the calendar: “It’s OK to move things around if something important comes up. I have five separate calendars, all color-coded. I move things around consistently based on importance.”
Work smarter: “When you’re at work, it’s about being present and getting as much done as humanly possible. I am not sending emails to friends, chatting or checking Instagram. The internet is designed to distract you. Abstain from it!”
Add music to solo tasks: “One of the ways to manage my time spent on particular projects is with a specific playlist. I group songs into 30 minute or 45 minute increments. When the time is up, I move onto the next task.”
As for managing your business? You need to delegate to a team of self-motivators, says Bertino. Hire interns who will make great team members, choose reliable vendor partners, and have a strong organization system. Last but not least, don’t forget to take vacations and unplug!
Since moving to Minneapolis in 1999, Eve has worked as a writer, an editor, a video producer, and a digital content manager/strategist in areas ranging from arts and education to science and technology.
Originally published in Catersource magazine, June 2014 issue