If you’re reading this in the US at the time of publication, engagement season is just around the corner. (Not sure what engagement season is or what it means for your business – check out my blog post about Seasonal Marketing in the Wedding Industry.)
As we enter into an influx of inquiries, it’s important to remember that a timely response ranks high in your client’s expectations of a wedding professional. So how can we keep on top of responses, on top of client work, on top of marketing, on top of professional development without putting in extra hours we just don’t have?
The answer is a written inquiry SOP.
SOP stands for Standard Operating Procedure. It’s step-by-step instructions on how to complete routine tasks or services.
Before you think, “I’m doing just fine with it all in my head. I don’t need to write down my processes.”
*Insert Error Buzzer Noise Here*
At the surface level there are a bare minimum FIVE benefits to writing down your inquiry process.
- Saves You Time & Energy
- Creates a Consistent Client Experience
- Identifies Pain Points in Your Process
- Makes it Easy to Outsource or Train New Team Members
- Acts as a Risk Management Plan (and Keeps your Business Working Even When You Can’t)
Saves You Time & Energy
Let’s start with one of the more obvious benefits of documenting our inquiry systems: saving time & energy.
I want you to think about how much time you spend doing repetitive tasks.
How much time do you spend re-writing emails answering FAQs from inquiries?
How about starting from scratch on proposal?
Now, think about what you could do if you got that time back. Maybe you’d not miss your daughter’s soccer game. Maybe you’d work on that personal creative project that you’ve been putting off until you have “more time”. Maybe you would just get to sleep a little earlier.
If you start from scratch each time you get an inquiry, you are wasting valuable time & energy.
I personally utilize GoogleDocs to keep up with all of my own processes. For my inquiry process, I have written out my SOPs from initial inquiry to officially booked. My biggest time saver in this document: templates.
You can create templates for just about anything. Emails, brochures, proposals, quotes, invoices, contracts… it’s all about taking what you frequently need and prepping it so all you have to do when you get a new inquiry is add in the custom info and send it off.
If you want to start building out your template database, but aren’t sure where to start ask yourself this…
What part of the inquiry system is sucking the life out of you? What are you avoiding?
These are great candidates for what you should template out first to make it easier for you to book clients and serve them well.
Creates a Consistent Client Experience
Your client experience doesn’t start once they sign a contract. It begins at the first touch point and requires consistency across every touch point. Your booking process sets the tone for what these couples can expect when they are your clients.
So ask yourself…
How do you want your couples to feel about working with you?
Does your booking process making them feel that?
For example, if you say you want to make wedding planning “easy,” it sure as hell better be “easy” to book you, too.
You can’t bop them around to 15 different places like “sign the contract through this software,” “pay an invoice via this software,” then “onboard onto this CRM for your timeline and this CRM for your design work.” That doesn’t feel “easy” and will make that potential client second guess whether you can do what you say you can do.
You want to create effective, quality communication that makes someone get a taste of the magic you could create for them as a part of their wedding day team. A clear, confident booking process is going to position you as the professional early.
Identifies Pain Points in Your Process
Here’s a tip about written processes – just because it’s written down doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. In fact, part of the reason we want it written down is so we can take strategic measures to improve the process.
If you aren’t booking like you want to or if you aren’t booking the types of people you want to be booking – it’s time to look at your process.
Where are people exiting your inquiry process?
What are their most common objections?
If you don’t already track these two items – you are missing out on an opportunity to better your business. If you don’t know when and why people are choosing not to book with you, when it come to your marketing and booking process, you’re essentially throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks.
You should be asking the people who don’t book with you why they don’t book with you. I have a short & sweet email template I use for this, and sure, I get quite a few no responses, but the responses I do get are so valuable and insightful into how couples are experiencing my inquiry process.
Even recently, this brought to light that the vetting process I was using worked great for booking local coordination clients, but when it came to destination full-planning, my process was actually repelling couples that I wanted to be booking.
But since I have a written system that’s trackable, I could see where I was losing them and specifically address these issues with a coach to fix those pain points. Special note: I booked my biggest package ever after doing this hard look into my process. So this definitely isn’t just fluff.
Sometimes, though, we find that the pain point is simply that templates & written processes alone aren’t enough.
Makes it Easy to Outsource or Train New Team Members
If you can’t keep up with inquiries, it might be time to enlist some help. This may mean hiring an office manager or a virtual assistant. It could also mean training an existing team member (as long as it’s not overloading them).
I am a big believer in giving people grace, but I’m going to take a second for some tough love.
As a planner, I can say with certainty that my clients have chosen one vendor over another based solely on response time.
Yes, it may be a busy time, but there is no excuse for not responding to a client or potential client for a month. There really isn’t an excuse for not responding for over a week. As a planner, other vendors’ performances reflect on me and it makes it hard for me to refer you when you aren’t responsive and don’t follow-through. Especially because there is such an easy answer to this issue to me – hire help.
So, if you’re thinking, man, you’re right, Skylar, I need someone to help me stay on top of my regular responses… but I can’t afford to hire help, you have three options:
- Raise your prices so you can afford help
- Make an autoresponder that accurately states your current response time (sometimes just communicating it is enough! It sets expectations and lets them know you aren’t just MIA)
- Close your bookings until you can level out a little AND make an autoresponder that shares that you’re bookings are closed until further notice
Just not responding is hurting your business’ reputation.
Now, brush off any uncomfy feelings that might have brought up for you and let’s get back into how a written system makes it easy to outsource.
If you’re still having a hard time imagining letting go of control, here’s another reflection question: What could you accomplish with the time you gain back?
And just like we talked about during the saves time & effort benefit, this doesn’t necessarily mean freeing up space for more work. Maybe it just means you can commit to a weekend away with your partner every month. Or that you don’t miss your friend’s birthday dinner to answer emails you’ve fallen behind on.
A clearly defined – and written – process is crucial for your team to ensure consistent client experience regardless of who completes the task.
That GoogleDoc I mentioned earlier houses each email and step of the inquiry process for my team and VA to use and refer to. It’s what I use to train my team and is something they have regular access to whenever they need a refresher or template.
Acts as a Risk Management Plan
(and Keeps your Business Working Even When You Can’t)
Now for the final benefit we’re going to discuss today. A written booking process acts as a risk management plan to keep your business working even when you can’t.
When the unexpected removes you from regular business functions, can you keep booking and serving people?
Have you ever stepped away from your business from maternity or paternity leave? How about a family emergency? An extended illness whether for yourself or a family member?
Have you felt extra stress during those times because you felt like your business couldn’t go on without you specifically?
If you have your inquiry process written down, you can have someone step into that space and help you (whether they’re paid or a friend whose offered to help however they can) keep things working while you can’t.
Risk Management is like a rain plan for your business.
Much like our couples, we don’t always like to think about the worst case scenarios. But when our businesses are our livelihoods, we do not have the sort of luxury.
My written inquiry process guide has a clear flow of what to send and when to send it. In my Aisle Planner Lead Manager there are templates for emails, proposals, contracts, and invoices as well as a consult guide for planners and drop down menus to track where someone is in the process and, if they should not book, why they came to this decision.
Should I need to step away for a time my team could easily step into the gap and keep the ship afloat.
Wrapping it Up
We just covered a lot of ground about the benefits of a written inquiry system, but remember this all extends beyond the booking process.
Having your coordination processes written saves you time and energy.
Using your process to make a checklist you can follow again & again ensures a consistent client experience.
Reviewing your written planning process quarterly can identify pain points you can address to create an even better service.
Assigning a team member checklist items in the process makes it easy to outsource tasks.
And if you ever need to pass off clients, you can add a team member or outsourced planner to their project so there’s no issues in communication or a dip in client experience which is the main goal of risk management.
As you prepare for engagement season, I highly recommend taking the time to write down your inquiry process to help streamline and better your booking season.