Of all the problem vendor behaviors we've written about this month - expanding unethically, wedding show shadiness, marketing while working, and poaching people - is there anything more shady than running a business in a straight-up illegal fashion? In spite of the fact that wedding vendors may be divided on just about everything when it comes to running a business, we'd think one thing everyone would agree on is that operating a legitimate company, and adhering to the law in one's business practices, is a pretty basic standard of functioning. Apparently that's not everyone's standard, though.
We've personally observed a number of business owners completely flouting the law when it comes to their marketing and operations, and have heard horror stories of others' experiences with these kinds of companies. And frankly, it sucks. It sucks for a lot of reasons, and here are just a few:
Your clients deserve better. A business that is breaking the law is going to get caught. Period. (Okay, maybe not - some folks are just lucky that way.) And when they do, what are their clients going to do? Weddings are booked up to a year or two in advance - if a business is shuttered because of having operated unlawfully, it stands to reason their upcoming clients will be left in the lurch.
A competitive advantage created through illegal means is shameful. If you're keeping your operating costs down (freeing up more of your money for marketing) by operating without necessary licensing or certification, that's just wrong. If you're using others' creative work (which is intellectual property) to market your services, that's wrong, too. And if you're taking shortcuts on safety and sanitation to run a business on the cheap, that lands somewhere on the far side of wrongness.
You are, or at least you should be, better than that. I know I can't possibly be the only person whose reputation, and integrity, are worth everything to me. How can you take credit for your successes if they're earned through means that are not only unethical, but illegal? I want to own my accomplishments. I want to feel like, in a sea of highly talented people and well-run businesses, I'm still the best. (Not saying it's totally true. Yet. But it's a goal.) I could never enjoy that status if I knew I skirted around the law to get there.
So, with that said, let's take a look at some of the ways wedding vendors are operating illegal businesses, and/or engaging in illegal business practices. If you're doing any of these things, this post is about you:
Running your business without proper documentation. We won't even attempt to address all the ways that the law regulates businesses - this can vary tremendously by country, state/province, county, and industry. If you're legit, however, you'll have whatever business documentation, license, certification, etc. that is required, and you'll keep it current.
Not operating a clean, sanitary and appropriate space. Perhaps this is redundant in some cases, because, for example, a caterer with proper licensing wouldn't be able to chop vegetables in their home garage. If you're doing this, though, you're both breaking the law and being disgusting.
Stealing content (text or images) to use in your marketing. I've written exhaustively about the topic of copyright enforcement, and even offer free coaching to help business owners protect their intellectual property from thieves. In a nutshell, though, taking someone's words because you like how they sound, or their images because you like how they look, or either of these things because you think they apply to your business too, isn't okay.
Stealing music to use on your website. I know of a number of wedding vendors who use major artists' original, copyrighted music on their website (a practice that manages to be simultaneously illegal, outdated, and annoying - kind of like the world's worst hat trick!). Joking aside, it's no more acceptable for you to take someone's music than it would be for them to take whatever it is you create. (Oh, and "I just really like it" isn't an excuse. Also, buying a song off iTunes for a dollar is not the same as purchasing the license to use the song on a website.)
Stealing music to use in a product you sell. Lately I've been seeing some fairly well-regarded videographers using popular music - John Legend, Taylor Swift, Jason Aldean - to use in their videos online. If these companies have purchased the appropriate license to use these songs for commercial purposes (and my understanding is that there's more than one license involved), then more power to them. On the other hand, if Videographer A is promoting and selling wedding videos with a couple's actual first dance song, in competition with Videographer B who's using unrecognizable, royalty-free music, Videographer A is going to have a pretty clear advantage. When that advantage is earned simply by them stealing the music they want, that's a huge problem.
Obviously, this post could never capture the breadth of ways that a wedding business can operate outside the law. We'd love to hear from anyone who's observed, or heard of, other illegal practices. Please leave your comment below, submit our completely anonymous feedback form, or email us directly. And for those who do run their business legally, even when it would be cheaper or easier not to do so, we acknowledge you. Your efforts don't go unnoticed.