The #WeddingPreneurs Lounge: Word-of-mouth referrals
How do you find clients? Do you advertise on publications or online directories? Or, do you count on word-of-mouth referrals? This is how business primarily comes to me. I’m not currently advertising, I stopped a few years ago and it works great.
Also, I’m not using any of those sites that provide pay-per-leads. In this case, you get matched to an inquiry / lead in your category or specialty and you pay a small fee (sometimes $2-3 per lead) or a percentage on the booked service in order to get the contact information of the person who inquired.
The same thing applies to leads that you collect from wedding expos or shows: If you have ever participated in any of them, you know how hard it is to make the connection and be able to schedule follow-up meetings. You have to have a clear strategy and work on multiple follow-ups in order to keep the conversation going and, ultimately, get the sale. And that’s when the couple stops at your booth. On the other side, if you just connect with leads from the list that you receive at the end of the show, forget it. Those couples will probably ignore your emails or phone calls.
All these are what I call cold leads, and it’s very difficult to get those clients. First of all, they don’t know you, they don’t know who you are or how good you are. They are also cautious because of the multitude of wedding professionals out there and they’re less willing to spend time getting to know you. They don’t have the time and they are not willing to hear your sales pitch. To me, that’s a waste of time…
What I strongly suggest is, focus on word-of-mouth referrals. These are solid, warm leads that come from people who know you, who know how you work, and they become your fans. It’s easy for them to introduce you to their clients, family and friends, and it’s easier for you to get the booking because they kind of know you already. “You came highly recommended and I’d like to discuss my wedding with you” is a very common sentence that I hear from couples who contact me for the first time.
When you can rely on word-of-mouth referrals you save a lot of money (advertising can be very expensive) and you only invest time in solid (or “warm”) leads. Today I’d like to give you some tips on how to be introduced to potential clients thanks to word-of-mouth referrals. Several of my coaching clients struggle with referrals and they don’t really know where and how to find clients.
Past and current clients
It doesn’t hurt to ask them for introductions! Let them know you would be extremely thankful if they passed your information on to their friends and family in need of a planner or a coordinator for the wedding day. When they refer me to someone I send them a thank-you gift which is usually a gift card or movie tickets, or something that I know will be very useful. If they just had a baby, for instance, I’ll send some baby clothes. It doesn’t have to be expensive, it’s the thought that counts and they will be willing to help even more… with more referrals!
I’m sure you work at different venues and you’re familiar with them. We talked about ways to be added on their preferred vendor lists a few weeks ago (you can read the post by clicking here) and that’s absolutely a big plus because couples will automatically contact you as soon as they book the venue. Sometimes they even contact you without booking that particular venue, the fact that they have a short list of professionals really helps them to pinpoint and pick selected professionals in the area where they’re getting married. I ended up being hired by couples who contacted me because of a list from a venue they visited but then they decided to get married in a different location
This is definitely the biggest source of word-of-mouth referrals because, think about it, you work with a lot of service providers. There are some limitations, though. If you only offer full-service assistance you will probably be recommended by jewelers (where couples go for engagement rings before they start their planning), photographers, officiants and wedding dress shops. That’s the common process: a couple gets engaged, selects the venue, then the photographer, then the officiant, and then the dress! Once they reach their invitation designer or their florist or their specialty linen company, they probably have already selected their planner. So, make sure you have great relationships with these vendors. Of course, you should make sure they are the right fit for your brand because you should recommend them to your potential clients as well. Make sure that you return the favor: they refer you, you refer them.
Shared studio / office space
Having a shared studio with a group of professionals can increase referrals in a very easy way. When a couple schedules a meeting with a photographer who is renting a room there you will get the opportunity to meet the couple as well. Also, wedding couples like the idea of one-stop shops. Having a photographer, a planner, maybe a florist, a DJ and a makeup artist under the same roof makes their life much easier.
The benefits: You save on rent because you split the costs and you amplify your referral sources. The downside: Having a team using a shared studio is that you are almost forced to recommend the same professionals to couples and, this is not my way of working. I always try to play matchmaker with my clients and, for this reason, I always recommend 3-5 different providers in each category. My goal is to provide the right fit based on budget, style, needs, and personality.
When you volunteer you help your career in two ways: the experience will enrich your knowledge, and people working on the committee will notice your generosity and expertise, your familiarity with event planning. They might ask you to help them with their own events. I’ve been serving on the board of two non-profit organizations for years and being part of those committees constantly generates business for me.
You should find and attend industry conferences and events, or local association meetings where there’s a networking component (and maybe also an educational component so you can learn something new)
You will meet other planners and vendors who might need your help with a client. And, if the referral won’t come immediately (they will probably need to get to know you before they bring you business) you will start a relationship with them. By keeping in touch, you will get to show them how good you are in your business.
Always remember to bring business cards (or have your digital card in your phone and offer to text it to the person you just met). Also, have a so-called elevator speech that can summarize your specialty and skills.
Maybe you can connect on social media and look at each other’s work. That says a lot about what you do and how much you care about your clients.
Another way to encourage your clients and your vendor network to send you recommendations is gift cards or coupons. You can send these with a special offer like “% off because you were referred by one of our favorite wedding couples” or “recommended by one of our favorite wedding partners”. Try to be generic here so you can print many of them).
Four things to keep in mind when using these referral sources:
1) Always under-promise and over-deliver! Your clients and connections will be impressed by your style and ethics and they will love to recommend you
2) Always make sure that your referral sources know about all the products and services you offer and how you can help their clients or connections. This is when you provide more than one service such as planning and invitations, or planning and photo booths, etc. I provide design and planning services and I style dessert tables so I might work with a client on one of these two services. Maybe I was a coordinator for a couple but they have a cousin who’s hosting a party for her son and they need a candy station. Who will they call? Me because they know me and they loved working with me.
3) Never rely on one client or one vendor only. Should that client move or should that vendor close the business you will have to start all over again. Make sure you have multiple connections that bring you business.
4) Nurture these relationships and offer your help, recommend them to your connections. Don’t make this referral system work only for you. Be helpful to them as well. This should be a two-way system, not only for your vendors but also for your client. Did you work with a fabulous bride who is a talented landscape designer and your neighbor needs help in their backyard? Recommend your client! It’s so easy and that might bring another referral your way…
~~~ TAKE ACTION ~~~ Go over your entire database and identify your word-of-mouth referral sources: past and current clients, your favorite vendors, and your favorite venues. Connect with them and say hi, let them know that you still have some dates available in your calendar and happy to accept new clients. Offer your help with their clients and deepen your relationship with them
~~~ LEAVE A COMMENT ~~~ Do you have any other strategies in order to get word-of-mouth referrals? Let us know!
Holistic Life Coach, Brain Fitness Coach, and Life-Work Balance Strategist for busy professionals. I blend well-being principles with neuroscience, biohacking, positive psychology, stress management, and mindfulness techniques to implement effective behavior changes.