When my wife, Rachael, and I first started our St. Louis floral shop, Twisted Willow, it was hard to imagine that we would one day land five-figure weddings. We started out doing rather intimate weddings with a focus on the ceremony. We learned a lot about growing from smaller budgets to events celebrated with a higher investment (and that sometimes it only takes $25 to do so...more on that later). Our average is currently around $6,000 USD, we’re doing half the weddings we used to, and we’re more profitable.
Let me take a moment to stop here and clarify: there’s absolutely an incredible business model in helping clients with a tighter budget and making that your niche. I talked with an event professional from BC the other day who was doing just that. She had optimized her processes and streamlined most of the consult process on her website, reducing her overhead, and was able to make acceptable profit while still serving the market. Aside from the market opportunity, it’s their wedding day too, and they deserve to have event professionals who are excited about the happiest day of their life. Also, while I speak from the perspective of a florist, the principals outlined here can absolutely be applied to other event professionals, such as caterers, and rental companies. So while both viewpoints certainly are valid, our company decided to take less events that were higher revenue. We had a growing family and we love to travel, so we knew we needed something that met both. Further, as Rachael’s design style shifted, we realized that we would be much happier doing fewer, larger weddings each year than we would be maintaining a large number of intimate ones.
So how does an event professional successfully move up market? We’ve narrowed it down to four key things, and it starts with creating opportunities for higher end clients to self qualify for your services.
Allow Your Clients To Self-Qualify
Take a look at your marketing materials and ask what type of client they’re attracting? Are the images on your brochures, business cards, social media pages, and website showing smaller, more budget-friendly arrangements and menu items, or are they showing larger, dramatic installations? One of the first things we had to change when we decided to move up market was our overall look. We changed out the images on all of our marketing materials to reflect the type of event we imagined ourselves doing regularly. If a potential client is looking for an elegant look, they will connect well with the materials we provide and move towards scheduling a consultation. However, if a potential client is looking for something simpler, they’ll see that our style isn’t quite what they’re looking for and move on.
We also made some major updates to our website that not only increased our website conversions by 400% but also created an opportunity for potential clients to self-qualify as our target customers both visually and thro ugh our budget calculator. On the last page of our budget calculator, if the potential client isn’t quite a match for the budget range we typically work with, we give a message saying “Our floral investments start at $3,000. We'd love to hear about your vision and see if we can bring it to life.” This allows the potential client to self-qualify by saying that they’re more flexible with their budget than they thought and fill out our Check My Date form to schedule a consultation or bounce from our site and find a florist that’s a better fit for them.
Finally, we realized we needed a major overhaul to our logo. Even though we worked with a professional branding company when we started and had an absolutely beautiful logo that fit the initial clients we worked with, our shifting company focus made it connect less with the higher-end clientele. The new logo, on the right, immediately allowed Rachael to start connecting with the clients she wanted.
Just as your general marketing materials need encourage potential clients to self-qualify, your very brandmark and company needs to be geared towards your target audience. If your target audience members are high-end brides, your logo should avoid include overly bright colors, a “fun” font, or an emblem that proclaims “DIY.” However, if your goal is to help clients with more intimate budgets develop beautiful floral arrangements or simple, delicious food for their special day, you may be able to have a logo that is a bit more whimsical. Very few clients consciously know when a logo is higher end; yet, most all of them subconsciously have seen enough logos to know what end of the market you serve. Whatever your target audience, it is important to know what design elements will resonate with them before you develop your logo.
Create An Expected Experience
Every week at Curate (we just rebranded from Stemcounter!), I talk with dozens of event professionals about how they’re running their business and one thing I’ve noticed about both luxury companies and those with large, corporate setups is that they focus on providing an expected experience from the very first time their clients interact with them--whether that’s at a wedding show, online, or however else--and continue that experience through the consultation phase, execution, and follow up.
As we moved up market, this was something we realized we needed to do too because the truth is that event professionals are one of the guides for their clients on the journey to their big day. For many clients, it’s their first time getting married (or planning a big event of any sort) and they don’t really know what to expect. Since every client is coming from a different walk of life, the expectations they may have can vary greatly. So it’s your job to educate them on exactly what they should be expecting if they book with you.
If you want them to expect higher prices coming into the consultation, educate them ahead of time (that’s why we created the budget calculator I mentioned earlier). If you want them to expect a certain level of service from you, lay out exactly what you’ll be doing and when. We developed our welcome packet to help us do just that. In it, we creatively highlight our work, which helps us both build brand credibility and re-emphasizes the self-qualification aspect, and introduces who we are, gives a timeline for the whole process, and gives the details of our contract so they know what to expect to pay as a retainer fee. Our welcome packet also folds up nicely so we can easily add in the proposal we build out via Curate during the initial consultation. By doing this, we’re able to gently handle educating our clients without making them feel overwhelmed by the process. We’ve found that by creating a particular expected experience, clients trust us more and are more comfortable with our higher price point.
Take Advantage of Every Opportunity Then Go Above And Beyond
As important as it is to create an expected experience, moving up market means you are going to intentionally look for opportunities to go above and beyond what’s expected. That’s not to say that you deliver flowers that are twice as grand as what you promised for the same price, but there are always ways that you can make the client feel extra special.
Our first “big” event was a $6,000 wedding with a client. She and her mother were handling the coordination of the event and took a chance on us since we had little reputation. They asked if Rachael would do an arrangement for the bridal party in January, three months earlier, to make sure it was to their liking. We were in Louisiana the week before and expected to take a quick flight home Friday morning and my wife would make the arrangement. It never snows in Louisiana. And it was an absolute blizzard. We woke up at 4 am to head out to try to get to New Orleans for what was normally an hour and a half drive. 4 hours later, we pulled into New Orleans, turned in our rental car, and snuck in before our delayed flight was supposed to land around 3pm. “Surely,” we thought, “We can still get back before the wholesaler closes then put together the arrangement.” Then the voice came over the intercom,”The flight from Atlanta was just about to land but had to turn around and go back to Atlanta. You won’t be getting out tonight.”
When we called to explain what happened, they were a little taken aback by the situation. They were kind but very concerned about the fact that we didn’t have team members in St. Louis in emergency situations. So, we did the unthinkable. We rented a car and drove through the night for 10 hours to pull into our wholesaler’s parking lot just as they were opening at 7am, Rachael put together the arrangement right away, and we made it to the preview as scheduled. They were so impressed with the extra initiative we took that they couldn’t help but leave us with a raving review. To them, it was a really big deal but, for us, we knew that if we were going to grow the business, we had to be willing to do whatever it took to get the job done.
Being able to pull through for the client is key--not only when things go awry, but in every step along the process. You’ll have opportunities to move up market and you have to take action on them. Find those opportunities to show the client that they really matter to you and as word gets out about your great service, more people will be willing to pay for the guarantee because they know that you will be able to deliver their dreams and more without fail.
Connect With Others In The Industry
It is so crucial to network with other professionals in the wedding industry, not just potential clients. This may be one of the best ways to market your event business. We receive a large portion of our events from other vendors who refer us. When networking, it's easy to try too hard (and it comes off that way). Just start chatting with people and ask them about what they do. The best connections will come naturally. Just start talking about life and common subjects. The EASIEST and best solution is to ask questions about THEM. What do they do? How did they get into weddings/events? What kind of camera do they use? Do they have clients who price shop in their industry too? Don't tell about yourself unless they ask. The only way to really get this down is to actually, genuinely care about that other vendor. If you're just faking it in hopes they'll extend their favor, it's not worth it. We've seen it a thousand times (and dollars) over, being kind reaps incredibly huge rewards.
When we first started, we sent out emails asking to be on people's preferred vendors list. Bad idea. The effort was worth it because we learned but if people don't know about us, they don't want us on their preferred vendors list. On the flip side, there were times when Rachael would just stop in a place and introduce herself and ask questions about THEM. By the end of the conversation, they said, "We're going to add you to our website to our preferred vendors list!" That said, most of our wedding referrals didn't come from a written down preferred vendors list. It came from the vendors personally referring us.
In fact, remember how I mentioned we landed our largest event ever with only $25 of marketing materials? Rachael decided to make a few Valentines arrangements for some of the vendors we had worked with and one event planner, who hadn’t referred anyone to us in a while, was so appreciative of the thoughtfulness behind the gift that she brought us our largest wedding ever. We weren’t really angling for that type of referral but because we had built that relationship, they were interested in working with us.
So set up a goal for yourself to meet new vendors. When we started, my wife set a goal for herself to meet 2 new people in the wedding industry every week. That could be as simple as stopping by their store, going to an industry event, sending an email, having coffee. Whatever. But every week, a new person in the industry would have been introduced. Nobody immediately started a warm and fuzzy relationship with us. But over time, there have been some great friendships built because we set a goal of exactly how many vendors we needed to meet every week.
Moving up market can be a daunting task when you’re first starting out and it’s something that takes a bit of time to fully transition to. You may find yourself doing a mixture of the more intimate and grandiose weddings at first and that’s absolutely okay. Do your research on what connects well with your target audience and develop your business to cater to that client (no pun intended). Eventually, you will get to a point where you are doing only the types of events that you really want to do and you’ll be able to do them very effectively.
One key part of moving up market is simplifying your processes with a professional software like Curate. Schedule a consultation to chat with a Curate team member about your business!