In one of WeddingIQ's most popular posts (at least in terms of traffic), I wrote about a DJ who stole my website content and then treated me to a litany of insults when I called him on it. Of course, being a wee bit prone to tangential rants, I also felt compelled to explore the topics of misogyny in the wedding business, and how female entrepreneurs are viewed when they defend themselves and their property. (Thanks for the inspiration, thieving DJ!) Even with all of that said, though, this individual has thoughtfully provided even more fodder for our blog, as a quick perusal of his website reminded me how problematic it is when a so-called "wedding professional" turns his back on standard business practices, all to make a sale.
Of course, it's not just this guy - I've personally seen, or heard about, wedding vendors in all service categories who flaunt their unprofessional policies as though they actually benefit clients. Given that this one DJ is the one who got my wheels turning on this phenomenon, though, let me give him his true moment in the spotlight, and address three specific things he does that I believe are harmful to his clients and to the industry.
No contract required.
Some hobbyist "vendors" choose not to use a contract simply because they don't have one. Either their clients are all friends and family members, or the vendor can't afford an attorney to draft a contract, or they just haven't yet been burned so they don't yet realize the potential for problems. My friend the thieving DJ, on the other hand, makes it very clear on his website that he turns up his nose at contracts - he refers to other DJs' contract as "boilerplates," and claims he has one, but that clients don't have to sign it. He claims this is because he couldn't back up his "guarantee" (addressed in #3 below) if clients were contractually obligated to pay for his service.
This guy's reasoning is ludicrous on so many levels. For one thing, the term "contractual obligation" goes both ways - without an executed contract, he is under no more obligation to show up for a couple's wedding than they are to pay him. Who's benefiting in that scenario? Neither party has a document to point to in case of a miscommunication (about timing, about the location, about setup requirements, whatever).
Secondly, there's no logical reason why a contract - and advance payment, which this guy also doesn't collect - would preclude a vendor from guaranteeing their services, or from thoughtfully addressing a client's dissatisfaction. You, the vendor, took the client's money; you can choose to return it, in full or in part, at any time, for any reason.
Finally, what he probably thinks is coming across as super client-friendly just comes across as insecure, in my opinion anyway. I translate "no contract necessary" into "no confidence to ask a client to commit." And if a vendor lacks confidence on a deep level like that, he or she would be well-served to put some thought into what they offer the marketplace.
Pricing way below market rates.
I've written before about how vendors who charge bottom-feeder prices can't complain about bottom-feeder clients, and how vendors who price their services in response to the "weddings are a ripoff" myth are the ones fueling that myth. So yeah, I've got some strong views on wedding pricing.
Wedding business owners who price their services ridiculously below that of their competitors do nothing good for the wedding industry. They raise clients' expectations of vendors' willingness to haggle over pricing (without lowering their expectations of the quality of service). By doing everything themselves - something that's never sustainable over the long run, because burnout is really a thing - or relying on free or cheap labor, they increase the chances that they won't be able to fulfill their obligations to their clients. Finally, they perpetuate the gross stereotype that wedding businesses are inherently predatory.
In the case of our thieving DJ, he charges below $600 for up to 100 miles of travel, four hours of music, all sound equipment, full lighting setup including custom monogram gobo, uplights and dance floor effects with fog, projector and screen, and "free" bonus photography services from his wife. (More on that last part in a future post!) I do recognize that pricing varies by market - although, per The Wedding Report, the total average wedding price in this guy's state is just a few thousand lower than in mine. Regardless,that rate includes everything but the kitchen sink, and there's no way it's sustainable over the long run (as evidenced by his announced 2016 pricing, which is quite a bit higher).
Of course, the other problem with charging a pittance for your services is that your chances of ever being seen as legit are significantly reduced - you'll always be that DJ, photographer, florist, whatever that used to be dirt-cheap and then tried to be "upscale" later. (I've seen this happen many times here in the DC market, and those made-over vendors are always given the side-eye.)
100% moneyback guarantee.
This is, in my opinion anyway, one of the most ridiculous, yet most commonly employed, sales tactics out there. It reduces luxury services - which all wedding services are, by definition - to a cheap commodity. And, while I'm sure many people view a guarantee as some kind of insurance for their clients, a demonstration of their commitment to their clients' happiness, to me it prioritizes the financial transaction above all else.
Think about it: how many low-stakes purchases have you made, such as buying an e-book, that promised your money back if you weren't "completely satisfied?" How many cheesy TV infomercials end with those very words?
If you're unhappy, it's no skin off these sellers' nose - they just throw your money back to you, and all is right with the world. Only in the case of weddings, we all know that isn't the case. A wedding is, by nature, a much more significant investment, backed by emotion, and some automatic refund isn't enough to make right a vendor's mistake.
(I should point out that I'm a tremendous advocate for issuing refunds when you've messed something up - even when you personally disagree with the client's assessment of your blame. It's important to do everything you can to deliver on your promises, and everything you can to make up for it when your delivery falls short. I just don't think this needs to be broadcasted as a selling point.)
Another issue with advertising a "100% moneyback guarantee" is that it attracts the kind of client who would seek out this kind of vendor specifically for the purpose of demanding money back later, regardless of the quality of the service or product. Most vendors I know who've been in business for more than a few years have encountered some of these - I know I've been asked for a full or partial refund by several clients over the years, and have later found out that their other vendors were solicited for refunds, too. This isn't to say that con artists are the only kinds of people who may find some reassurance in a guarantee, but if someone has to have one in order to feel comfortable booking you, are they really the right kind of client?
All in all, this DJ's entire sales pitch seems to be a completely casual approach where business = bad and BFFs = good. And that, in my opinion, does nothing positive for the wedding industry. I'd love to hear your thoughts.