There's so much "noise" in our industry right now. Perhaps thanks to the recession, or the growth of wedding spending (The Wedding Report puts the average wedding at over $26,000), new wedding vendors are hanging out their shingles at an amazing rate. After over 10 years as a wedding-focused florist, I've seen my competition mushroom in the last two years. In a way, it takes me back to my own beginning, working out of my home and "advertising" on Craigslist. But - and this is no disrespect to those just starting out - it has me thinking about the value of experience. I've developed an expertise in wedding flowers, and weddings in general. I use this expertise to differentiate myself from the newcomers and make sure I'm working with the kind of client that I want. There's need for vendors at different levels, from the barebones basics to over-the-top blowout, so emphasizing my experience helps me to position within this range. Aside from helping me to find my niche, there are other benefits to leveraging my experience. I get to charge more for my services, so I earn more revenue from fewer events. There's a level of trust and comfort for clients automatically, so I don't have to work quite as hard to establish it (and a comfortable client is a less needy client!). Venues and other vendors feel good recommending me, so I get that great, free word-of-mouth advertising. Whether you're just starting out or well into your career, there are steps you can take to position yourself as an expert and start enjoying the benefits. Here are a few:
*Show you've been there. My initial inquiry responses include a FAQ with answers to all the questions I get asked most often. It shows I've dealt with weddings before. Likewise, my Pinterest page includes photos of my work at various venues around my city. If you don't have much experience, make the most of what you have, and start offering to provide services free or at a reduced rate for open houses, friends of friends, or any other outlet that lets you start to build experience. Make sure you translate this to concrete evidence, like photos posted on your website or a solid FAQ.
*Answer questions on social media. Anyone can write a blog, but you have to be found in order to have your wisdom appreciated. However, joining a local wedding group on Facebook allows you to directly answer couples' questions and gives you immediate visibility. Consider joining as your business, instead of via your personal account if the group allows, for increased visibility. It's free advertising. Just be nice when responding and remember that some of these folks will know nothing at all about weddings.
*Get featured in the media. We all know about trying to get our weddings published in major national outlets, and your local ones as well. But they are not the only place to get your name in print. I subscribe to HARO - Help A Reporter Out (www.helpareporter.com). Multiple times a day, they provide a list of requests from all over the place on all kinds of topics. If you've got something to say, you respond, and you may find yourself quoted. Instant expert!
*Get credentials. Most industries have some kind of alphabet soup you can put behind your name. These programs cost money, generally, but they immediately signal that you're serious about what you do. You will also gain knowledge through the qualification process, adding to your expertise.
*Act like a professional. I know we're in a more relaxed age, where things like your appearance and your spelling supposedly don't matter. But if you want to be seen as an expert, you have to act like a professional. Dress nicely. Rent meeting space at another vendor's facility or workshare venue, rather than meeting at a cafe (trust me, it will be worth the extra expense). Spell correctly and use complete sentences. Get a dedicated business email address. They are so cheap, but unless it's mybusinessname@, nothing says "not a full-time job" like a Yahoo or Gmail address.
*Speak, write, connect. Think about what you know well. Maybe it's how to get customers to sign the contract. Or maybe you're really good at supporting nervous couples. Find a few topics you feel comfortable talking about, and then seek out opportunities to share your knowledge. In Kansas City, our local Perfect Wedding Guide has a regular luncheon for wedding professionals, where experts present helpful information. It's amazing what standing up in front of a group of people can do for your reputation - you get instant credibility. Writing guest posts for a blog (not your own) offers a similar opportunity. Even helping other wedding professionals bolsters your position as an expert in your community and gets people talking about you. I recently sat with a new venue and helped them think about ways to set up ceremonies and receptions in their space. I can almost guarantee they'll tell their clients all kinds of nice things about me!
*Help your clients. This seems like a no-brainer, but bear with me. Don't limit your consults to just your function. When I get to talking with a client about the ceremony setup and they ask me questions about what I've seen others do in the venue, I have no problem taking 5 or 10 minutes to discuss it. Even if I've never been in their particular site, I've seen over 500 ceremonies so I can at least help them think about theirs. It puts them at ease. It makes them feel like I can take care of their needs, and they can see me as a valuable part of their wedding team. So when my bid comes in a bit higher than the others', and maybe even a bit higher than their budget, they remember how comfortable they were with me. I don't always win the business, but it's an added plus in my favor.
There is a potential downside to positioning yourself as an expert, which I heard about from several speakers at the Wedding MBA last year. According to these experts, you might seem old, which is the kiss of death in our industry, especially to millennials. Highlighting your many years of experience also highlights any potential age gap between you and your client. Personally I have not found this to be much of an issue, but I counter this potential with a lot of energy for my work, keeping current with trends, and not referring to the number of years I've been doing this unless asked. I try not to be stuffy, and to keep some younger clients, and it will definitely mean you lose some lower-budget clients (who will rightfully equate your experience with expense). But I believe you will find the long-term benefits far outweigh the potential downsides. Happy experting! my online portfolios stocked with recent pictures. Ultimately, being seen as an expert may mean you lose.