Couples: "We’d love to meet with you on the weekend to plan our weekend wedding that only happens on one weekend of our entire lives."
You: "I’d love to meet with you sometime during the week because I work almost every weekend on weddings that occur only on the weekend."
I kid, but the struggle is real, for you and for your potential clients. You may not work every weekend or every day of the weekend, but let’s face it, you might want a weekend off every once in awhile or to recover from a long day by relaxing. It’s difficult to schedule meetings in this 9-to-5 (and exceedingly 9-to-9) culture when your business hours are slightly more ambiguous or the opposite of most of society's schedule. You also don’t want to fall in the trap of working seven days a week just to appease your clients, or neglect to schedule time off so you can recharge and get back to the grind the following week.
So, how do you handle clients that only want to contact you during weekend days or can only meet when you're busy working a current client’s event? Your response might make the difference between booking the job or not, so think carefully before biting their head off or exhausting yourself to meet their needs. I promise there’s a balance that works for everyone.
You’ve arrived on site at your wedding for the day. All of a sudden your phone starts buzzing in your pocket. What could it be? Is it an emergency? Is it a team member with a problem? Maybe the bride needs to communicate with you? No, it’s just a lead coming in for a wedding next year. Whew, you can go about your business. Except you can’t. Believe me when I say there is some other budding florist, photographer or makeup artist sitting at home on a Saturday just scooping up the leads and responding right away. And they don’t have an auto-response email; they are writing back in record time and with excitement for this potential couple’s wedding. It’s not fair - it sucks - but it’s the reality.
Answering leads in a timely manner is the key to success, but it’s not like you can just drop everything to answer an email or phone call during a wedding. Auto-responders work great if you are very specific and follow up with the person within the promised time frame. I suggest giving them some information they can review while awaiting your response, then making it a point to speak with them as quickly as possible. Making a couple wait until Monday or Tuesday just to get your pricing or ask a few questions may mean they’ve moved on to the next awesome DJ, venue, or officiant on their list.
Existing Clients and Managing Expectations
You’ve already booked a client's wedding but somehow they think that you’re just sitting around doing nothing until their date 9 months from now. Part of running a business is constantly educating clients regarding your business practices. They have one wedding to plan, while you have many to execute before theirs rolls around. All weddings are important, but none require you to sacrifice your attention on a particular client's wedding day just to answer questions or concerns about a future event. Making current clients aware of your schedule and the times you are available to them will ease their fears that you have run off with a large sum of their money and are ignoring them for days at a stretch. Logically they understand you are not at their beck and call, but when they are spending a weekend planning and need to coordinate with several vendors over an issue, they may forget that you are in fact at a wedding. Communicating with your clients and regularly managing their expectations in advance goes a long way toward building their trust and their patience.
Rules of Conduct (For Yourself)
Before you’re even in this situation, come up with some ground rules for yourself and your business so you have an answer at the ready and don’t become frustrated at clients' attempts to reach you. If you view the weekend as entirely dedicated to work, then you won’t mind meeting with clients on Sundays for a tasting, trial or sales meeting. Perhaps you schedule your days off during the week so there’s really no conflict except for figuring out a way to respond to inquiries when you’re occupied. If you like to enjoy your rare free weekend or take a Sunday off to relax, you’ll need to plan ahead and have an explanation ready that isn’t defensive or accusatory. Reserving specific days to be available to clients or making a concession (like meeting them halfway distance-wise) will help soften the blow and make them more amenable to meeting with you during the week. Once you’ve made these decisions, be firm and matter of fact as you communicate them to your clients. No one likes to hear someone whine about their busy schedule or feel like they are dumb for asking a question.
Accepting the Consequences of Your Business Decisions
Unfortunately, you may still lose business to someone who has all the time in the world to meet with clients and answer emails. This person is likely either not busy, or they don't yet have in place business practices that are sustainable long-term. They too will one day be fielding communications while working and will have to make the same decisions as you. This is okay. If a potential client contacts you in the middle of someone else's wedding and becomes irate that you cannot speak with them immediately, they are not your ideal client. They would not want someone else disrupting their day, so don’t sweat it. They just saved you from a year of headaches dealing with their unrealistic expectations.
Running a business will run you into the ground if you are constantly trying to please everyone. You can’t and you won’t. Just be firm with how you wish to conduct your business and manage your free time. You work hard and you deserve some time off, but keep in mind that your clients deserve your attention too. You can accomplish both by planning ahead and being consistent.