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A couple can get married without dresses, tuxedos, caterers, or photographers, but they cannot get married without an officiant. As an officiant, you are in the enviable position of providing the only wedding-related service that is not discretionary.

In spite of this, the potential market for your services is not 100 percent of the couples that are getting married. Some couples have a church affiliation and do not need an outside officiant. Others are going to the justice of the peace. Some might be looking for a type of ceremony that you do not provide. How do you capture the attention of the couples that do need you? You do marketing.

I have talked to dozens of officiants over the years, and there is one thing that I have heard from many of them:

“Oh, you don’t understand. Being an officiant is different. I don’t need to (or can’t afford to) do marketing.”

If you want to keep doing weddings, and perhaps do more of them, you need to do something to attract future customers. The wedding business is unlike almost any other, because you have a completely new audience of prospective customers every year. Each week, new couples become engaged and enter the marketplace, while others get married and exit. You have no choice but to market yourself, and you can never stop.

Marketing does not necessarily mean paid advertising, rather it is anything you do to create awareness among prospective customers.

On one end of the spectrum we have publicity, which includes networking, social media promotion, search engine optimization, and word-of-mouth. These marketing methods cost little or no money but require an investment of time to do them effectively.

On the other end of the spectrum we have advertising, which includes paid online listings, print ads, and displays at wedding shows. These marketing methods reach many more people and do not take as much time, but they do cost money.

If your goal is to create an effective marketing program for your business without spending much money, you must be prepared to invest a lot of time. Conversely, if you do not have a lot of time to spend on marketing, be prepared to get out your checkbook. If you cannot invest time or money, marketing is impossible.

Because you have a brand new audience every year, you can easily try new marketing methods. The key to finding out what works best is as simple as asking each customer how they learned about you. This information is crucial to planning your future marketing.

Investing a combination of time and money is only the first consideration in the marketing process. The message you send is vital, and this is an area in which many wedding professionals fall short. I have seen many companies make a large investment in advertising, but then deliver an ineffective message. Not surprisingly, the results are disappointing.

For a wedding officiant, the key to a powerful marketing message is one of differentiation. You must articulate those things that set you apart from the other officiants. Do you want to attract couples who are more conservative, or those who are unconventional? Is your presentation religious in nature or not? Do you focus on a certain geographic area or are you willing to travel? Are you willing to perform same-sex ceremonies? Do you offer assistance in writing vows? Do you walk the couple through the legalities? If your marketing effectively portrays who you are, what you provide, and what makes you unique, you will attract those couples that are the most likely to choose you, and weed out those that are not. This will allow you to focus your time on your most qualified prospects.

Second, and closely related, is the need to analyze why your past clients have chosen you. You might think that there are many reasons, but there are likely only a couple that are driving the majority of your sales. When you gain a new client, simply ask them this question: Can you share the primary reason you chose me over everyone else? Keep track of those answers, and you will find that two or three will rise to the top.

Armed with this information, you can then position your marketing in a way that speaks directly to your desired customer. In most cases, your advertising will be your only opportunity to make a great first impression, and get you on their “short list”. Consider enlisting the services of wedding marketing consultants, professional graphic artists, and copywriters to help with your efforts.

As an officiant, the most important thing you are selling is you! The personal relationship between a couple and their officiant is more important than the relationship between the couple and most of their other product or service providers.

With this in mind, a wedding show provides you the opportunity to make that personal, face-to-face connection with a large audience of couples in just a few hours. Unlike social media and online advertising, where everyone has some sort of a presence, officiants will find that they often have little or no competition at a wedding show. Many shows have small exhibit packages that are offered to officiants, so be sure to ask what options are available.

There are a number of things that you can do to increase your results from a wedding show. A nice display is a plus, but it does not need to be elaborate. You should have a sign or banner that clearly states what you do, along with your targeted marketing message. Pictures showing you “in action” can be very effective. You should also have a simple handout piece that reinforces your marketing message. Most wedding show producers will provide direction on these items.

Consider offering an incentive for couples that book you on the spot. A wedding involves many decisions, and you might meet a few couples that would like the sense of accomplishment by checking something off their list. Give them an incentive to do so.

By all means, do not miss out on the networking opportunity that a show provides. Arrive early to ensure that you have the time to meet as many of the other exhibitors as you can, as these wedding professionals can be a great source of future referrals.

Most importantly, do not forget to follow up with the attendees of the show. Whether you collect the names of interested couples, or rely on the list provided by the show producer, you will maximize your results by contacting these couples by phone, email, or direct mail. Choosing an officiant tends to be a little further down on the typical wedding to-do list, and this makes post-show follow up especially important.

I want to leave you with one final thought, which relates to your marketing budget. An officiant tends to be one of the least costly components of a wedding. While this likely means that you cannot justify a large investment in advertising, it also means that you are not typically competing on price. If you raise your fee a little, and then put that extra money into your marketing, you will place yourself on the path of solid business growth.

Marc McIntosh is the producer of the Wedding Experience, the leading wedding shows in the Washington, Baltimore, and Richmond markets. The Wedding Experience provides the opportunity to promote your business through face-to-face contact with a large audience of motivated buyers. For information, call 703-425-1127, email marc@weddingexperience.com or visit www.weddingexperience.com.