The Wedding Merchant Business Academy is a 3-day conference and education summit geared towards operating a wedding or event-based business. With over 3500 attendees, this year was the biggest yet! The Wedding MBA 2016 featured over 150 seminars on wedding business finance, marketing, legal, trends, culture, and sales. Day one featured dozens of industry specific courses (DJ specific tracks, Florist specific tracks, etc), that went in depth for each specialty, as well as extended Q & A sessions, called “Ask an Expert,” with various industry thought leaders (and one attorney) answering audience questions. Day two and three featured presentations on all things wedding business related, from selling to millennials to understanding SEO. If that’s not enough for you, you could spend hours going from booth to the booth in the exhibit hall, where there were over 50 exhibitors and sponsors.
Thanks to Shannon Underwood for allowing me to speak at my fifth Wedding MBA in a row! This year, I spoke at the ‘Wedding Industry Law: Ask an Expert’ session and on the Cottonwood Stage for ‘The Verdict: Common Wedding Business Legal Pitfalls.’ If you missed either of these sessions, I will be posting the information to the blog over the coming weeks, so be sure to check it out.
Big shout out to Erin Osaki of Wedding Network USA for being the Spinderella to my Salt & Pepa during the Ask an Expert Session. Erin’s no-nonsense approach to the mic was very necessary to keep the seminar moving and push it to a whole other level. Afterwards, I overheard several attendees talk about what a woMAN she was to hold it down on the mic for so long. She also kept it 100, was on fleek, on point, and whatever else the kids say, for the entire conference. She got me into the Knot Party, the WNUSA dinner (all you can eat macaroons), and the group rate at the SLS. Shoop.
Another big shout out to all the folks who came by my booth with a question (or three), stopped me in the hallway to chat, cranked out the retweets, or held my hand as a lost crazy green at the craps table. You guys are the best. At a convention that is geared towards the wedding industry, you have truly made a lawyer feel welcomed and appreciated.
WEDDING MBA SEMINARS
There were so many seminars to choose from! Here are some highlights from a few that I was able to check out.
Show Me the Money
It’s on record that Carley Roney is my celebrity wedding industry crush. Despite that, I was granted access to her presentation, where she talked about 9 ingredients to entrepreneurial success. Carley always manages to be super informative, relatable, and motivational at the same time. Duh, that’s why she’s the crush. Here’s some golden nuggets:
- Being a business owner can be tough. You got #shade and #haters on all sides. Sometimes, you want to give in to the dark side. Carley says let gratitude be your fuel. Be thankful for the relationships that you have- with your family, friends, co-workers, industry colleagues, or the drive-thru manager at Taco Bell who gave you some cinnamon twists by accident. Or perhaps it wasn’t by accident. Remembering what you have helps you value what you have. Tear.
- Be an authentic person. In other words, just keep it 100% you. If things go wrong, if you are having a bad hair day (I wish), if you don’t have the answer, do not cover it up. You are human. People dig when we have our ‘human moments.’ Own it.
- Be decisive. Rather than suffer from paralysis by analysis, pull the trigger and make that decision that you have been putting off. By the time you would have analyzed all the pros and cons, you could have done the dang thang, realized it wasn’t a winner, and be on to the next project.
Word Up: Make Your Website Text a Winner
This is the first time that I have been able to catch Alan live, and he is by far the best speaker that I have ever heard. Whatever you have to do to earn the title “certified speaking professional,” he did it. Trust me. I could have thrown a battery at his head in the middle of his seminar, and he would have been able to catch it, swing around, and throw it back at me without missing a beat. He’s that prepared. [LEGAL DISCLAIMER: PLEASE DO NOT THROW BATTERIES AT ALAN BERG]. This particular presentation was only 15 minutes, but I took pages of notes and had lots of action items. Here are a few of those:
- Write your website text as you are talking to one person specifically. Do not go into 3rd person unless you are describing your accolades. Even better, place descriptive testimonials on the site so that your clients do the speaking for you. In fact, Alan says put testimonials on the pages that your clients are reading the most (know how to know which pages are the most often visited).
- Write about the outcome that the client wants done, rather than what you have done in the past. Write about what it actually means to hire you, rather than someone else.
Small Business- Big Paycheck: The Characteristics of a Six-Figure Wedding Business
I often call Shane the Nate Silver of the wedding industry. No one else does. But that’s OK. All great social movements start with but a single flicker before turning into a flame. Anyway, Shane’s a master of business stats and a Whole 30 enthusiast, and in this seminar, he preached that data should drive your marketing.
Here’s just some of the 4-1-1:
- 8 in 10 businesses fail. One of the main traits of those failing businesses is that they think EVERYONE is their client. The successful businesses know who their client is and is NOT.
- Focus your offering. Create a detailed profile of your ideal client. Where do they shop? What do they wear? Who do they take advice from? With regard to Doritos, do they prefer Cool Ranch or Nacho Cheese? Once you know this, you can start to market your services directly to them.
- Create a great user experience. This is pretty intuitive, but Shane suggests that you map out your processes. Fix the stages that are broke, improve those that are adequate, then automate.
- Use data to drive decisions. You thought adding XYZ to your package was a good deal, but does your client really give a crap? Know what your client wants FIRST, then make your business decisions based on what you know.
Royal Pains: Dealing with Difficult Brides
Susan gave a fantastic talk on how to deal with the destructive force that is unhappy clients, coincidentally at the same time Hurricane Matthew was bearing down on her home state. An added perk: I got to pass out hundreds of Mardi Gras beads. The downside: not a single Mardi Gras-style reciprocation when handing out hundreds of Mardi Gras beads. But, like Randy’s dad said, “There’s always next year.” She made it rain knowledge. Here’s some valuable fact precipitation straight from Susan:
- Clients want to know, most of all, that (1) we are available to listen to them, (2) the we actual will listen to their opinion, and (3) that we acknowledge that their opinion matters. The client often wants to feel important and valued. If we, as wedding business owners do these things, it will go a long way towards mitigating disputes.
- Everyone believes that they are correct (just ask my mom- Zing!). Few people are intentionally trying to be ‘Royal Pains.’ In other words, try and see the dispute through the perspective of the client, and then correct that facts that will correct their perspective. Provide justification for their ‘seeing the light.’
- Be true to yourself. Do not take on more work than you can do. Your work will suffer and you will not do a good job.
Short Circuit: Ten New Ideas for Your Blog
Maybe it’s just my Southern upbringing, but I feel like at any given time, Andy is going to tell me to “Forgetaboutit,” proclaim loudly that, “I’m WALKIN’ here,” or ask, “Are you talkin’ to ME?” Luckily during his seminar, he said none of those things. What he did say was all kinds of things that help to break blog-writer’s block and turn your blog into a resource for your client. How do you like these apples:
- Find your voice. Make sure that your blog is attracting the people that you actual want as clients. Use your blog to filter perspective clients by having content that speaks to them.
- Find your tone. Don’t be someone else. Even if you are not the person writing the blog, make sure that you edit it to make it sound like you. Consistency in tone throughout the blog is crucial.
- Post regularly. Even if it is once, twice, or three times a week (or lady), make sure that you follow a regular schedule. Consistency in posting helps grow your blog by encouraging regular readership.
- Make content easy to share. All of your blog posts should be able to be shared on the major social networks. Duh.
Same-Sex Couples: The Real Story
I didn’t cry at the end of the Notebook, Marley & Me, or Mona Lisa Smile. Mostly because I never saw them. What I’m trying to say is that I’m not very emotional, OK? Still, every time I hear Kathryn speak it makes me get a little something in my eye. It was the dust, OK? Kathryn’s topic was about what it means to be inclusive to LGBTQ clients. But what I love is how inclusive her message of inclusiveness comes across. She speaks with respect and patience to persons at all levels of education on the topic, and still makes everyone feel good, and that they can help do good.
- Nearly 50% of opposite-sex couples select wedding vendors based on their inclusiveness of LGBTQ clients. These couples recognize that they want their LGBTQ friends and attendees to feel safe and welcome at the ceremony.
- LGBTQ clients are less likely to adhere to ‘traditional’ wedding services and traditions. For example, in weddings involving two brides, only 43% participate in first dances. First dances occur in only 18% of weddings involving two grooms. You should be aware of these tendencies and accommodate your offerings as such.
- Inclusive language is now industry standard. If your literature, marketing materials, and contract language refer to clients as “brides AND grooms,” you are behind the times. Try using “Clients” or “the Couple.”
Blog for Profit
Julie hosted a panel discussion on blog content creation and curation, as well as submitting weddings to various publications. Participants included Rebecca Crumley, photo director at The Knot, Michele Schwartz of The Modern Jewish Bride, Bogdan Constantin of Menguin, and a person whose name I cannot remember from Style Me Pretty. This seminar had the best description: “Feeding the content monster can be exhausting.” Nuff said! Here’s some juicy morsels:
- Purpose: Do not write a blog just to write. Do the best you can to make it worth the reader’s time. Spend some time to find out what your readers want to know about. Research key words and phrases.
- Niche: Select an angle that makes you unique. Maybe you are into Orthodox Jewish Weddings, themed weddings (Science Fiction, Taco Bell, etc), or whatever. Specialize and try to reach a select audience with your content.
- Size matters: In order to be indexed by the search engines, your blog should, at a minimum, hit 300 words. So, make sure you create engaging content to attract your readers and make sure there are enough words to attract Google. You can also leave out about 3 or 4 Doritos Locos Tacos on the front porch to attract me.
- Schedule: Develop a routine for writing your blogs and posting them. Maybe it’s in the morning. Maybe it’s Fridays. Maybe it was Memphis. Maybe it was southern summer nights. Whatever it is, be consistent, and make sure your posting though software like Hootsuite for max efficiency.
Driven: Convert Online Traffic into Real Bookings
Jason is the most knowledgeable expert on search engine optimization, website development, and online lead generation that I know. He’s so good, that I’m actually one of his many, many, satisfied clients (Editor’s Note: Jason works on my injury law firm’s site, NOT this one. Check out his work here: SchenkSmith.com). So, I snuck into his seminar to nudge the people sitting next to me and be all like, “that’s my SEO guy.” For 45 minutes, Jason talked about DIY methods to increase your google ranking. Here’s some things that he told me that I knew already but might be new to you:
- Make sure that your name, address, and phone number (“NAP”) appear on all of your pages. Then, make absolutely certain that this NAP is consistent on all other sites that may link to your website. For example, the Knot or Wedding Wire.
- Pay the money to make sure that your NAP is correct on the 100’s of available internet biz-listing sites: Yelp, BBB, etc. One that Jason suggests is YEXT.
- Respond to online reviews like it’s your job. If you received a negative review, this can be turned into a good thing by responding with concern, and letting the reviewer know you are available to fix.
Venue Vendetta: Battle for the Brides
Tennesseans gotta stick together. Fred Jacob, the head honcho of Pink Bride Guide out of Knoxville, Tennessee (GO VOLS) discussed how to increase off-season bookings. I really appreciated that Fred truly cared whether his audience was learning. In fact, he gave his cell number out and encouraged attendees to text any questions that they had! His real number. Not like most of the cell numbers I get. Here’s some of my take-aways from this program:
- Maintain consistency on your logo/colors/messaging on all of your platforms. Uniformity is key to presenting a professional, consistent, brand identity.
- Do not hide your contact information on your website. Let your potential clients get in touch with you! Don’t “Hide behind the box,” i.e., the contract form box. While it is OK to have a contact form that potential clients fill in, also have all of your contact info available.
- When developing and presenting multiple packages, include a “Platinum Package” with a higher price than your already existing highest priced option. Generally, clients often go for the second highest priced option. Also, you never know, someone may purchase the Platinum Package.
Photo Booth Mishap
I am going to be speaking at Photo Booth Professionals International Academy in January 2017, so I peeked my head into this open mic forum to put my finger on the pulse of the photo booth community. Open Q & A is one of my favorite formats. It allows the users to dictate content. I was not disappointed. Lots of participation and interesting questions. Here’s some of Dr. Drax’s advice:
- Purchase and maintain liability insurance that protects you from claims for bodily injury based on your negligence during the wedding or event.
- Compensate your people appropriately to hang onto great talent. Don’t be selfish with pay and think long term.
- Explain differences in cost between weddings and birthday parties, or between Saturday night and Tuesday morning. If you know your operation cost, you can explain to the client the difference in supply and demand for dates, the liability that comes along with weddings, etc.
- Select your clients that are right for you. If you seek out bargain shoppers you will be out of business soon.
WEDDING MBA NETWORKING
Besides the crazy amount of education, Wedding MBA is really all about the networking. For 3 days, you are surrounded by thousands of people that are as crazy as you (think college Spring Break, but with seminars). You can’t walk three feet without meeting someone who can help your business in some way. Even so, WeddingWire and The Knot do a great job of putting on events that get the people mingling (see below). With that said, I have to give a big shout out to some of the people I met or reconnected with this year.
Wedding Network USA: Again, the members of Wedding Network USA really made me feel welcome and loved throughout the entire conference. If you do not know about WNUSA, then you better ask somebody. WNUSA has several chapters across the country dedicated to educating and bringing wedding professionals together. Thanks to Cherie Ronning, Erin Osaki, Jason Freshly, Irene Tyndale, Jenn Reyes, Lane Bigsby, Maurice and Mr. Hyde, Jen Babbitt, Laney Hall, Arliece Caro, and Annie Chen! I can now scratch “driving around in a giant hummer for a few minutes” off of my bucket list. And eating bone marrow.
Melissa Lohr of Beautiful Memories Wedding and Event Planning. I spoke with Melissa as we were waiting in line to meet Carley Roney. Actually, she was waiting in line to get her picture taken with Carley Roney, and I was waiting in line to get a piece of Carley Roney’s hair for this doll I’m making. [LEGAL DISCLAIMER: I’M NOT ACTUALLY MAKING A CARLEY RONEY DOLL OUT OF CARLEY RONEY’S HAIR] Melissa made me feel like a real rock star when she asked if she could get a picture of us both. Thanks, Melissa!!!!
Ms. “I Walked 19 Miles-Check My Apple Watch If You Don’t Believe Me” of Say Wow Events. We apparently spent much of the conference twitter stalking one another.
The North Carolina ILEA Crew: If there is anybody who shares my love of bacon, bacon fat, and hamburgers, it is Shelley Pearson of Expressions of Love Florists. We treated lunch at Umami Burger over at the SLS Casino as its own WeddingMBA Seminar…..on meat eating. Such a great time taking the train over with Shelley, Shawn Schindler and Alex Watkins of Shawn Schindler Events, and my colleague and fellow wedding lawyer Shannon Murphy Gomez, and Luis Gomez. If you are ever in Vegas, you must try the Manly Burger at Umami.
The Knot and WeddingWire Parties: These parties were off the chain again this year. The Knot’s Tuesday night party featured an open bar, all you can eat cotton candy, and all kinds of circus-themed activities, like a chick hanging from the ceiling pouring champagne in people’s mouths, dudes looking like Red Skelton doing card tricks, and some Cirque-type shenanigans.
THINGS I DID NOT LIKE ABOUT WEDDING MBA 2016
They cannot all be winners, and I cannot say anything without it being at least partially negative. With that, here are some of the things that kinda grinded by gears, or burned by toes, if you will. And I will.
- Hungry Vendors. True story. I came upon my booth only to find some exhibitors from a nearby booth had moved all of my swag out of the way so that they could enjoy a nice pizza lunch. I couldn’t be too mad, one of the dudes tried to hand me one of my brochures. Some say they did a better job manning my table than I did.
- Not Bringing Enough Wedding Law Swag. I’m not much of a planner when it comes to marketing. I figured I could just recycle the few brochures that I had brought last year. Those lasted a few minutes before being completely snatched up by attendees. I guess this is more on me than Wedding MBA. Sorry about that, folks. It’s still no excuse to sit at my booth and eat pizza though, I can tell you that. And it was cheese pizza, even! What the what?! At least put some pepperoni on it.
- “Too Many Bald Speakers.” Someone complained to the powers that be that Wedding MBA employs too many ‘bald speakers.’ First of all, you can never have too many bald speakers. Second of all, this is borderline hate speech. Ask Larry David. Third of all, bald is beautiful.
In conclusion, do yourself the favor and mark off October 2nd-4th 2017.