GET THAT BUDGET

Kasey Skobel-Conyers; photo by Amanda JulcaKasey Skobel-Conyers
Bliss Wedding & Event Design
Columbus

Do you consult with all potential bridal clients, or do you attempt to “pre-qualify” clients in regard to budget before you meet?
When new clients contact us, we try to “pre-qualify” them as best we can. It’s important to do this as to not waste the client's time as well as you own. Our starting prices are listed directly on our website, which has helped with the “pre-qualifying” because the client is already aware of where our pricing begins and isn’t blindsided when we share it with them on the phone.

How do you suss out budget issues? Is the client usually forthcoming, or do you have to dig for the truth?
We try to explain the importance of a budget. We try to be as upfront as possible about asking if a client has determined a budget for themselves or if they need assistance creating a “realistic” budget for the type of wedding they are hoping to have. I have not had any problems with the approach, and our clients appreciate our straightforwardness about it.

Many planners are uncomfortable asking about budget, but it’s necessary to guide the client in the right direction for their wedding. I want to make sure we’re making recommendations that fit within their budget and are realistic options for them. Otherwise you’re just wasting their time, and this can lead to frustration and other trust issues with the client, which is never a good situation.

How willing are clients to come to grips with the fact that their dream wedding will cost more than they expect it to?
I think ultimately there is a sense of shock when everything they’re dreaming of is priced out and right in front of them for the first time. Once the initial shock wears off, it’s important to have an honest conversation about what the wedding can look like based on the amount they are willing to spend.

Smart decisions are important to preserving pieces of the dream wedding. I think giving them components of the dream wedding within budget is important and can really show how valuable having an experienced wedding planner can be.

What strategies do you use to show you are worth what you charge?
I feel that our work speaks for itself a lot of time. However, I feel that press coverage we have received, referrals from their friends who have worked with us, and referrals from other vendors all help provide a high level of comfort in our competence and experience. Our clients understand the value in what things cost.

Cheap is cheap for a reason. They are not comfortable trusting their daughter's wedding day to someone who does this as a hobby or new to the industry. They have many society acquaintances, professional colleagues and family attending the wedding and want a professional handling the planning and execution for their event.

How often do you have to recommend potential clients look elsewhere because their budget is too low?
This happens all the time, and it’s okay. As much as we’d like to help every potential client that comes through our doors, it’s just not realistic.

We have an ideal client and we limit the number of events we take each year, so it’s crucial that we are booking the clients that fit our ideal profile. I’m happy to refer those clients we are not able to help to other planners who are a better fit for their budget. The potential client we are referring out is very grateful for this little piece of referral information. So, we may not be planning their wedding, but we’ve make a fan out of this potential client by giving away a small piece of helpful information.

Social media rules the world right now, but do Pinterest/Facebook/etc. lead potential clients to you who are just not in the right budget range? How do you handle this?
I don’t think we’ve really seen clients come from social media in this way. I still feel like even if a bride saw something she liked on our Facebook or Pinterest page, she would still visit our website and see what our starting prices are and then decide if we are a fit for her budget or not.

I think that new planners starting out need to understand who their ideal client is and understand her and her needs. This helps determine who's a good candidate as a client and what budget she has. This little bit of homework can help save a lot of time and headache with clients that are not good for your brand or your bottom line.

I also think all planners need to understand how to price themselves appropriately--understand what you want to make and what expenses you incur throughout the year and how this combination should be used in calculating your fee.

Most planners I know just pull random numbers that sound good out of the air and are accepted by clients. They really haven't calculated what they need to charge in order to make a decent profit and run their business like a successful business.

HONESTY PAYS

Siobhan Craven-Robins
London

Do you consult with all potential bridal clients, or do you attempt to “pre-qualify” clients in regard to budget before you meet?
I always quote my starting-from fee during the initial conversation as it is pointless, wasting both our time, by meeting and finding their budget does not accommodate me.

How do you suss out budget issues? Is the client usually forthcoming or do you have to dig for the truth?
Always forthcoming--they have to be with their planner! If we don't know what they have to spend, we cannot do our job. I also provide them with an initial estimate of costs so they can see how their budget divides up and make decisions on anything they would like to cut back on before we start wasting time during the planning process looking at options that they cannot afford.

How willing are clients to come to grips with the fact that their dream wedding will cost more than they expect it to?
If I see them for a consultation, they already know what their wedding will cost. I only really come across this on the phone or via email when couples initially inquire.

The unfortunate thing in the United Kingdom is that some of the wedding magazines perpetuate an unrealistic total cost for "an average" wedding. This does none of us in the industry any favors. Whilst some weddings can cost £22,000 or less [$34,000 U.S.], it isn't realistic for your average couple. Quoting ridiculous prices for photographers, cakes, flowers, etc., leaves us all potentially justifying our valid costs to new customers. I wish they supported our industry more effectively.

What strategies do you use to show you are worth what you charge?
Press coverage, referrals, industry endorsements all help add credibility. Ultimately, though, it is your time in business and your portfolio that best demonstrate your worth. I have been planning weddings for 17 years--by now, it should count for something!

How often do you have to recommend potential clients look elsewhere because their budget is too low?
If I can't help them, I will always refer to someone new in the industry who I think is good and charges less as a result.

Social media rules the world right now, but do Pinterest/Facebook/etc. lead potential clients to you who are just not in the right budget range? How do you handle this?
I get no clients from social media. I don't think the clients I attract look for me there. They will look after they have hired me. It adds to my credibilit--that's all.

BUDGETS CAN BE FLEXIBLE
Gwen Helbush
Where to Start Wedding and Event Management
Newark, Calif.

Do you consult with all potential bridal clients, or do you attempt to “pre-qualify” clients in regard to budget before you meet?
Both. I am happy to talk to anyone interested in our services, but I don’t want to waste their time or mine if we are not a good fit. So I ask a few clarifying questions to understand their needs and expectations.

With regard to money, “budget” is not always the best determiner because they often have no idea how much what they want costs. It doesn’t always mean they don’t have the money--more often they don’t understand how to use the money they have to get what they want. I never dismiss someone because the first number they throw out is low, because that is almost never the real number.

How do you suss out budget issues? Is the client usually forthcoming or do you have to dig for the truth?
When it comes to money, people are not always completely frank, but that is usually because they have heard bad things about wedding pros and are worried. For me, the first step is building trust so they feel comfortable telling me the whole truth about what they have to spend. Then I can help them use the money they have to get as much as possible for those dollars.

It has been my experience that once they are comfortable you are not out to rob their piggy bank, they will tell you everything.

How willing are clients to come to grips with the fact that their dream wedding will cost more than they expect it to?
Willing, never. But if you frame the conversation correctly and, again, build trust, you can soften the blows and help them prioritize what makes the dream and what the dream really doesn’t need. It is all in how you present the information. I never say "no" or "you can’t afford it"; I explain why spending less or doing something differently will improve the wedding.

What strategies do you use to show you are worth what you charge?
Happy clients are the best thing I have found to show my worth. However, I don’t work too hard at it because if I don’t focus on it, they will not either. I explain what the fee is, what they will receive for it and that it’s flat unless they dramatically change their needs. The price is the price. It’s worked well for 22 years.

How often do you have to recommend potential clients look elsewhere because their budget is too low?
Rarely. I do have to explain that budget may limit the amount of service they can use us for, but I try very hard not to turn people away. I feel it’s my duty to our profession to take every opportunity to educate clients on professional wedding services. Just passing them off without giving them tools to hire good people would be doing them a huge disservice.

Social media rules the world right now, but do Pinterest/Facebook/etc. lead potential clients to you who are just not in the right budget range?
I use all these but I haven’t noticed any specific issue with budget. Mostly they are just looking for general information--not real leads. I answer their questions, tell them about our services and see what happens.

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See the full story in the March-April issue of Special Events, which is available to ISES members and to subscribers. Not a subscriber? We can fix that—just click here.