Last week, in part one of our three-part "Above & Beyond" series, I wrote about the business-sabotaging practice of undervaluing your own time as a business owner. Today's post topic, however, is what inspired the series altogether.
A wedding vendor, at an event earlier this year, was speaking to a large group about her business practices and the tenets that guide her decisions as a business owner. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the title of this series, "go above and beyond" was one of them. That phrase is common enough to be cliche, and I imagine that most of us have incorporated a variation of that concept into our marketing. Claiming "above and beyond" as a service model isn't anything earth-shattering.
This particular speaker's business, though, was one that relies largely on product, and the tangible costs that go with it. That's why I was floored when she revealed her strategy of almost always delivering significantly more product than her clients pay for. She was dead serious as she explained how this has really bolstered venues' perception of her company (as she's creating that "wow" factor at every event she works), how she's getting beautiful images from photographers that she can then use to sell other weddings, and how her clients are super grateful for her "above and beyond" work.
I'm not exaggerating when I say my jaw dropped. For all of the collective talk within our industry about bending over backwards in how we serve our clients, here's someone giving away potentially thousands of dollars in actual goods, in order to look better than the actual contracts she's closing.
Is this a problem? Some might say no; after all, it's on this particular vendor (and anyone else who chooses to throw profitability out the window) if she wants to give away the store.
In my opinion, as a constant advocate for small business owners in general, and those in the wedding industry specifically, I think it's absolutely a problem. For one thing, I would hate to see any business go under because they ignored their costs to this degree.
The problem runs deeper than one business' sustainability, however. Ultimately, we're all operating our businesses that offer goods and services that are purely luxuries - not necessary by any stretch of the imagination - and as such, we're already put on the defensive. Lots of people, from overzealous Yelpers to bitter bloggers, love to call out the wedding industry as being inherently predatory, with inflated prices and manipulative marketing.
So what happens when a client who, by any business standard of profitability, should be paying $6000, is only charged $2000? When lots of businesses around the country spoil their clients in this way (regardless of whether it's out of altruism or a desire to cultivate a particular reputation among other vendors), what happens to the collective perception of the value of our work?
After all, while lots of clients are clueless about what things actually cost, I'd say an equal number have an idea of what their $2000 budget will get them (hint: it's probably not lobster, peonies or Monique Lhuiller). While they may be pleasantly surprised at your efforts to go 'above and beyond," this practice also feeds the idea that the industry's collective practice is to price-gouge people.
And, getting back to the original business in question: when you set a precedent of providing that $6000 worth of product for $2000, where do you draw the line? Surely you aren't going to be able to maintain that level of over-delivering for years to come. So what do you do when the clients you're serving now refer their friends in the future, and they have a very warped view of what $2000 should be able to get them?
We all want to do right by our clients, myself included. I'm just of the mindset that we should deliver what our clients pay for, and deliver it with the best possible service - that's what will differentiate us. I don't think we're obligated to do more than that, and we shouldn't feel bad for it. We can all do an amazing job for our clients by presenting that chicken, those alstromeria and that reproduction dress as beautifully as possible; not everything needs to be upgraded, and certainly not for free.
And if the kinds of weddings that "need" an upgrade aren't your thing? That's totally cool, too. Decide what kind of weddings you do want to work on, present (and price) your products and services confidently, and develop a business that can support you for years to come. Demonstrate your worth by the way you treat your clients, not by running your profits into the ground.