The wedding industry is special for several reasons: it’s dominated by small businesses, it’s full of extraordinarily creative (and often not terribly business-minded) people, and business owners tend to blur the line between their professional and private lives more than in most industries that come to mind.
It stands to reason, then, that a major event in your personal life has the potential to dramatically affect your business, and possibly for the worse. I do believe, however, that it’s entirely possible to neutralize the damage, and even to come out better.
Most who know me here in the Washington, DC market know that I formed my disc jockey company, MyDeejay, with my husband. And, after ten years of marriage and business partnership, we separated. Of course, there were a ton of emotions to process, but one thing that loomed especially large in my mind was how to spread the word among our industry colleagues. After all, virtually everyone knew us as a couple, and I was terrified that people were going to see his exit from our marriage as an indicator that our business wasn’t stable, which it absolutely was. We’re in an industry where referrals are everything, where most of the coveted awards are based (at least in part) on vendor feedback, and where image counts. To lose our place in this market, when we both had worked so freaking hard, was one of the most devastating things I could imagine.
So, after a lot of consideration, I decided to take the bull by the proverbial horns. (Or maybe it’s more applicable to say I grabbed the wheel of my ship and started to steer.) I knew that, no matter how difficult it might have been, I was going to guide my business through this mess and not lose any fans or friends along the way.
And difficult it was. I am an intensely private person by nature, and a lot of my openness is a construct of the persona I decided to create when I launched myself into weddings at age 21, fresh out of college and completely starstruck by the leaders of this industry. The one thing I hate more than having my personal business out there, however, is being the subject of gossip. Obviously, you can’t control what’s said about you, but you can at least put the truth out there and let people spread that.
Here’s the plan I followed in handling the announcement of this major life change:
I formed a general strategy. One option would be, of course, to have decided that my private life was irrelevant to my business and to have not addressed the divorce at all. (And believe me, I was tempted.) However, my soon-to-be-ex-husband and I had always put our relationship front and center, and had built our business around our family. I felt it was necessary – and really, the only truly honest thing – to address the elephant in the room.
I chose a forum. I could have just told a few select friends and allowed the word to be spread around. I could have posted an “official company statement” on our blog or website. For me, however, Facebook made the most sense. My ex and I have, collectively, over 1600 Facebook friends, the vast majority of whom are part of the wedding industry. Therefore, I decided that a Facebook note, in which both of us were tagged, would be the most efficient.
I crafted a statement that was both truthful and respectful. This was, by a mile, the hardest part. I’m a professional writer and yet I really labored over this. I wanted to put our news out there in a way that didn’t point fingers or air our dirty laundry, yet was honest and acknowledged the fact that this is a huge change. The final product was something that I didn’t mind sharing with my colleagues and competitors (yes, even the haters) and that I wouldn’t be upset for my kids to see someday. It meant a lot to me, also, that I got a lot of positive feedback about my statement after the fact. It was nice to know that people could see how hard I worked on it.
I addressed people’s concerns before they could even be fully formed. It was important to me that my statement contained information on how our company would be operated going forward, and what respective roles my ex and I would play in the business. I wanted people to know that our company was as rock-solid as ever, and that wasn’t going to change.
I invited questions. The last thing I wanted was for there to be awkwardness, or for people to feel they had to choose sides in our split. Therefore, I asked people to feel free to contact myself or my ex directly if they had any questions or concerns, and assured them there was nothing to feel weird about in encountering either or both of us at events.
I cleaned up our marketing. I’d consider this the business version of taking down all your ex’s pictures after a breakup. I had our family photos pulled from our website and tweaked my online bios to remove references to being married, and more clearly identified our separate functions within the company.
I got back to work. Because, really, what else was I going to do? Life goes on, and I knew I had a pretty kickass business to run. (And I’m thrilled to say, we’ve continued to kick ass: we were the top vote getter in the DJ category in Washingtonian Bride & Groom Magazine’s Winter/Spring 2013 edition, snagged a WeddingWire Bride’s Choice Award, scooped up three awesome new DJs, and had our best winter ever in terms of revenue. Know what else? Our industry colleagues, the ones whose judgment I feared, have actually been awesomely supportive, and the referrals haven’t slowed down one bit. Another reason why I love this industry.)
I’ll leave you with a quote I love, by novelist Louisa May Alcott: “I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.”
Pretty apropos, right?