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It can take a lot of time and effort to find the right vendor for any part of a wedding. And while lots of websites have list upon list of key questions that you should ask each and every vendor, here are the things that send up little flags for me personally as to whether I’ll consider doing business with a vendor.
1. Timely responses to my phone calls and emails! First things first–let’s talk about timeliness. I expect that as a prospective client, when I come a-knockin’, that my email will be acknowledged within a reasonable time frame; say, a week. I don’t even expect to have all of my questions answered at that time, a “Hey Mellzah, got your message, I’ll have time to give you a full reply next week” response will suffice (provided that they do actually then respond to me within the time frame they’ve now set for themselves).
I don’t expect anyone to sleep with their phones under their pillow or devote their lives to email outside of business hours, but if a vendor doesn’t reply to an inquiry within a reasonable time frame, they’ve already sent me a message: “Your business is not important to me.” Think about it: when you go out to interview for a job, you’re on your best behavior–you arrive on time, you’re clean and well-dressed, you go out of your way to impress the interviewer because you want the job, even if your natural proclivities tend toward lateness and merely occasional swipes of deodorant, because you want their money.
As a personal example of businesses doing it wrong, when I was searching for my ideal venue, I ended up cutting two I had initially loved off of my list: one had asked me if I wanted a tour, and when I responded in the affirmative, fell off the face of the earth and never replied to me again. The other, while beautiful, has negative review after negative review on Yelp for “weeks of no contact” “emails constantly ‘getting lost'”, “urgent voicemails left with no response”…it’s not something that inspires confidence. My personal belief is that if a business doesn’t impress me while still in the honeymoon stage of trying to get my money, they’re certain to treat me even more poorly after they have it. On the flip side, when a business responds to my questions promptly and thoroughly, I’m nearly overwhelmed by the urge to fling money at them.
2. A decent website, with GOOD photos. My friends, it is 2012 and there is no reason for a vendor to not have a website. Perhaps back in 1997 when AOL billed for internet time by the minute and it took you the better part of an afternoon to download a picture of a unicorn it was fine to go without, but in this day and age, if you’re a vendor who doesn’t have a website, you pretty much don’t exist to me. The one paragraph blurb you paid out the nose to have placed in the back of Seattle Metropolitan Bride & Groom doesn’t begin to give me enough information.
Websites are the single best way to answer a ton of questions that many, if not all, potential customers will have, so you don’t have to answer them individually, saving you an assload of phone and email time. Seriously–put tons of information on your website. Rates, packages, promos, reviews, FAQs–on a well-organized website, no one is going to say “Great googly moogly, I am overwhelmed by this readily available information and wish I could go back to the days of calling someone and maybe not ever getting a response or having to call again later when I remember a question that I forgot to ask earlier and then a third time when I need a clarification!” A great website with a ton of information directly influenced my decision for a wedding and reception venue. I refer back to it when I’m trying to figure out what size tablecloths I need or what length aisle runner I need to construct if I want it to run from the door to the altar. It has been an invaluable resource to me.
Speaking of websites: those babies had better be loaded up with pictures. GOOD pictures. I’m not spending three hours on Pinterest at a crack because of all of the compelling text, and if the pictures of your venue/food/rentals suck, it tells me that you accept mediocrity, and that if you aren’t trying when you advertise yourself, you’re not going to try any harder for me. Venues: If all I see when I visit your site are photos of the same fountain or fireplace from several different angles, you are telling me that there’s something wrong with the venue, because it’s the same trick apartment complexes use on Craigslist to hide the fact that their apartments have shag carpeting and no windows by only showing photos of their modern business and fitness centers.
If you’re a working photographer without a significant amount of photos on your website, this is an even bigger problem to me: how do you not have work available to show? This is your product! It’s what you do! I saw a local photography company host a sale on one of those “deal a day” websites and the only picture they had to show was a blurry (not artistically blurry, just poorly-focused) first dance photo. There is no price low enough for blurry, bad photographs to make it a good deal! If you’re a photographer and I can’t see your work, if you can’t show me a full wedding from beginning to end after I’ve inquired, if all you can show me is one lucky shot that you captured out of 300 weddings photographed, it is an enormous red flag to me.
3. A better than average reputation. I always take individual Yelp reviews with a grain of salt, as I know that people (a) are more likely to write about a bad experience than a good one, (b) like to complain, (c) write bad reviews in the hopes of getting special treatment or perks that they would not receive otherwise in the hopes of getting their negative review retracted, (d) are generally unreasonable douchebags (read: “I visited a steakhouse and there weren’t enough tofu options.” ), but a significant number of bad reviews is likely to sway me.
I place more emphasis on my monkeysphere; do my non-douchebag friends know or have had interactions with this business? I put out a call on Facebook recently to ask my friends if there were any local photographers that they knew or recommended. A few recommended a friend of theirs (whom they had not hired); another friend wrote me privately and told me that he had previously considered this same photographer a friend, but that she had offered to give them a significant “friend discount” for their wedding and then pressured them to sign a deal with her that was $1,000 higher than the going local high-end photographer rate, taking advantage of the fact that they hadn’t shopped around on price. Given my friend’s personal allegation of this photographer’s dishonesty, I am not even considering her in my ongoing search for my photographer.
I love planning lavish parties, and this isn’t my first rodeo–friends still talk about the insane circus sideshow themed birthday party I threw in 2008–so I’m no stranger at throwing gobs of money at vendors to bring my party vision to life. I’m also colloquially known as Seattle’s equivalent of Kevin Bacon; I connect people. So when a vendor impresses me, I intend to use them for future events, and I’ll recommend them to friends as well. Vendors can’t have a “well, they’ll only get married once so it doesn’t matter how I treat them” attitude. It matters. Websites. Reputation. It’s how you’ll get my business. Timeliness, honesty, and respectability is how you’ll keep my business. Because when it comes down to it, I’m just one person and it doesn’t really matter whether I hire you or not…but I’m far from the only person who holds these viewpoints, and the steps you take today will ensure whether or not you have a healthy future business.