Weddings and other large events are like complicated machines with many moving parts. Venues, caterer, bartender, photographer, DJ, musicians, florist, decorator, baker, transportation, dress shop, tux rental, beauty team, officiant, rental house, potentially more. If you're lucky, there's a good planner or day-of coordinator to help organize everyone and make sure things flow smoothly. But whether or not there's a planner, each part of this machine can take steps to ensure the event comes off correctly. We do this by cultivating a team mentality among the vendors with whom we work directly. In addition to helping us get our own jobs done and ensuring success for the event, working towards a team feeling generates long- term benefits for our business. Other vendors start to feel like partners, making for easier events in the future, plus potential referrals, positive social media mentions, and collaborations or future employment.
You might think this doesn't apply to you - maybe you're just "one little piece" that doesn't affect anyone else. It is true that some elements of the machine touch fewer pieces than others. But there are no truly isolated functions - and don't we all want to be more connected to our fellow industry professionals? You never know where a connection can lead in the future. Further, in my experience a client that is happy with their whole event is more likely to rave about everyone involved. A smooth planning phase and well- executed event helps them relax and have a good time. Troubles in either make them more likely to scrutinize everyone. It's in all our best interests to work together to make our clients happy.
What exactly is a team mentality? It's an understanding that we are all working for the same client and with the same goal, of creating a beautiful and stress-free event. It's also an understanding of how we individually fit into that goal, and how what we do affects the other providers. Just as in baseball, each of us has a position. While we won't all be involved in each play, we are all trying to win the same game. If one makes an error, it hurts all of us. I'm a florist and I know that the venue, photographer and transportation provider need me to be on time so that I don't disrupt their schedules. If I'm late, the wedding party might be delayed leaving for pictures, which can push back ceremony start and cause stress for everyone.
Part of having a team attitude means working with other vendors directly to get information or address issues, rather than always making the client the go-between. If I have a question about the venue layout, a quick email to the venue rep is generally the fastest way. More seriously, if a problem arises during the event, vendors might be able to work together to resolve it without ever having to trouble the client. Rather than telling the client that the fresh flatware on the tables is dirty, instead I quietly bring it to the attention of the caterer. Do I need to say anything? No, but I want everything to be as wonderful as possible so the client is happy.
How can you cultivate a team mentality? Of course, it starts with your attitude and approach. Determine to view yourself and the other vendors as members of a team. Think about your place in the larger picture of producing an event, and think about the place of others. Resolve to "see something, say something" as you're working on the event both in planning and execution. If you have information you think would be useful to another role, share it. Expand your knowledge of what others do. Networking opportunities are an excellent chance to ask other types of vendors about their work. It's difficult to understand what role they play on the team if you don't really know what they're doing, what challenges they face, and how what you do affects them. Identify the other functions that your work touches directly, and that touch yours.
Develop a plan of action for each function with which you interact. What do you need others to do, and vice versa? Perhaps there is a standard email you could send to a critical vendor prior to an event, that would get communication going. If there is a "pain point" you encounter frequently that is associated with a particular type of vendor, is there a different approach that you can take based on the team mentality? For example, I often supply flowers for bakers to place on the cake. I charge for placement but most bakers don't, so clients understandably prefer to have the baker do it. But many times, I find out at the wedding that the client never told the baker how they wanted the flowers, so I have to spend time trying to explain it. Unfortunately, too many times they get it wrong - not that it looks bad, but I know it's not the way the client wants it. So I decided to start printing out the client's inspiration photos and bringing them with me to the wedding. Shouldn't the baker be making sure they understand what the client wants? You bet. But I would show photos to any other member of my team working on floral arrangements, so of course this would include the baker.
Cultivating a team mentality continues after the event, and this might be the place where you can realize the most long-term benefit from this practice. We know that if we don't reinforce connections with continued contact, they can wither. Once you've had a positive working experience with a vendor, developing an on-going relationship reaps the most rewards for you. I hate making phone calls, but it feels less stressful if I'm calling someone I've worked with before. It's even easier when it's a person I've had a drink with at a networking event or to whom I refer clients. Posting photos of other vendors' work that you really liked, with proper tagging and credit, is a great way of reinforcing connections after an event. (On the flip side, though, if you post photos and don't acknowledge that other vendor's contribution, it can have a negative impact on your relationship. Always, always acknowledge.) You can leave reviews for vendors on wedding sites, too, if you have good things to say, which might be especially helpful to businesses just starting out. If you see that you have an upcoming event with that vendor, take a minute to jot off a quick handwritten note to say, "Looking forward to working with you again on the Smith/Jones wedding!" and drop in your business card.
Finally, a note of caution about team mentalities - you want to treat other vendors as equals, not as your employees or as subordinate to you. Sometiimes working on event teams creates off power dynamics, where one vendor seems to think they have ultimate say over what happens. I see this most with planners and venue coordinators. It's understandable, since venues have to protect their property and planners are supposed to make sure all functions come together. But ultimately, we are contracted with the client, not with any vendor, and that is where our reporting responsibility lies. Provided we do our jobs, behave reasonably, and have proper liability insurance, there's no reason for any vendor to act as if the others work for them. A negative team experience can cascade not only through the event, resulting in a potentially unhappy client, but can spill into other events and lead to a bad reputation in your professional community. There was a little venue in my area whose management didn't understand how to work well with others. They made life miserable for anyone who set foot in their space. We worked there twice before I said, "never again," and it's the only venue about which I've ever said that. It didn't take long before word got around about these issues, and it didn't take long before they were no longer hosting events.
So, for your next event, it's not necessary to rally all the troops to form a team. Take it in baby steps. Start with your attitude - practice thinking of the other vendors you encounter as team members. In your mental down time, reflect on where you fit within the team and with whom you have key interactions. Once you have these things under your belt, move on to the relationship building aspects. By the end of the season, I think you'll find you've cultivated a team mentality on your events, and strengthened your business and your professional network. Go Team!
Photo Credit: Just Marry! Orlando Team Headshots