Everyone wants to grow their business, but what exactly does that mean for you and what exactly should you be focusing on to do this? If you’ve ever walked away after a job is completed and said, “I wish all of my clients were like that”, then that is precisely what you need to work on doing.
By focusing specifically on who you’re trying to sell to and building a relationship with those people, you will have a much better idea of where they hang out and what language they’re speaking, so you can better relate to them on a personal level
Rich: Heidi Thompson is the best-selling author of Clone Your Best Clients, and the founder of Evolve Your Wedding Business, where she specializes in business and marketing strategy for wedding professionals. She helps wedding professionals grow their businesses and reach their goals without going crazy in the process.
Her business and marketing expertise has been featured on several wedding and business outlets including The Huffington Post, Social Media Examiner, Wedding Business Magazine, Sprouting Photographer, Photo Biz Xposed, HoneyBook, WeddingWire World, and she’s an advisory board member of the UK Academy of Wedding and Event Planning. You can also join her and lots of other wedding professionals – just like you – in the Evolve Your Wedding Business Facebook community. Heidi, welcome to the show.
Heidi: Thank you so much for having me.
Amber: Welcome Heidi, we’re so glad to have you. I’m so glad to have a wedding expert this time around. We have a lot of marketing gurus that don’t know a lot about the wedding industry so it’s really fun to have someone that really knows our industry. So I think our listeners are going to be super excited.
Heidi: Well I’m definitely excited and I think, too, having worked in a lot of different industries that the wedding industry is quite unique in many ways.
Amber: Girl, tell me about it. So let’s get started by you explaining to us how you got started in the wedding business and what steps brought you to where you are today.
Heidi: Sure. So I’ll take it way back to right after college. I was working in nonprofits on their fundraising events – that’s how I first got started in events – and being the nerd that I am I found that I really loved the marketing side of it. I loved the event stuff but actually getting people there, I don’t know what it is, I just really like the marketing side of it.
So I continued to work in nonprofits and found this great wedding planner distant role which I tool and loved and you wedding planners of the world have my utmost respect. I am too chill to be a wedding planner, I just want to tell everyone to relax, it’s not that big of a deal. But I loved the industry. You guys are the greatest, you have my utmost respect for that and everything that you have to deal with.
But I really wanted to stay involved in the industry. I wound up moving to the UK with my husband – he’s English so we moved over to where he was from – and I started working in a bunch of different marketing roles. I was in startups, I worked at University of Cambridge, all sorts of different things, but I kept my eye on the wedding industry there and I noticed there was this big gap between what people were doing and what was put out there in bridal shows, wedding magazines, the overarching tastemakers of the wedding industry. And they were going very white and fluffy. And everybody who was actually getting married was going very offbeat bride, very rock n roll bride, very personalized.
So I saw an opportunity to bring those people and those vendors together and I created a bridal show over there, which was amazing and I loved it, but I spent a lot of time coaching my exhibitors on how they could get more bookings, how they could get a better return on their investment. And that’s when I realized that I’m a big marketing nerd and not everybody likes to study the things that I do and I should bring that into the wedding industry.
Rich: That is very cool and I actually wasn’t planning on asking this question but now I’m curious about it. From my understanding a lot of wedding professionals do have to work these shows, do you remember some of the biggest and best tips that you shared with some of these exhibitors on how to get more out of shows?
Heidi: Yeah, and there are still things that I talk to my clients about. I think the biggest mistake that people make is just showing up and seeing how it goes. What’s most important for all of these is that you think about what your strategy is going to be throughout, so how you are going to pull people in. Whether it’s by the design of your booth, maybe you’re going to do something that’s very eye catching, and what happens from there.
Because you want to really build your own lead list of people who are interested in you and not just people who registered to go to this event that maybe didn’t even see you. And of course afterwards, what’s your strategy there, how are you going to follow up? Because that’s where often the transactions take place.
Amber: Interesting. Wedding shows in Maine and New England, there’s either these really over the top ones, or more smaller ones. So it’s interesting to hear. I never thought about that, of having an actual strategy about what’s going on. So I think that’s really interesting.
I am like you, actually our stories are very similar. I’m a marketing nerd, too. And although I’m a wedding planner and that’s what my real job is, I feel like the reason I got successful ad got the clients that I wanted was because of hanging out with geeks like Rich. And that’s why we actually created Streamline Marketing. So I want to hear your opinion on why you think most wedding professionals are not so good at marketing and sales, perhaps.
Heidi: I think it’s really because of why they got into it. I think for most creatives the reason they started a business wasn’t because they wanted to start a business. It’s because they wanted to be able to do the thing that they love doing and be able to make at least enough money to sustain themselves while doing it.
And I think it creates unique problems because when you come in a business from that perspective you’re so focused on the product or the service that you’re delivering. And then it’s a very rude awakening that I get to be a planner this percent of the time, but this other percent of the time I have to be a CEO and do all of these other things and be strategic.
Rich: I hear that from a lot of people. So I know a lot of your focus is on how to identify, or just basically talking about how to find your ideal client. So how do you suggest people identify their ideal client, and what exactly makes someone or a couple “ideal”?
Heidi: That’s a good question, because I think we throw around the term “ideal client”, but what does that actually mean? And to me what that means is the kind of client you wish you could clone and work with over and over and over again, but unfortunately they probably only get married once.
So I think a very big issue with the ideal client exercise that’s existed for years is that it takes us away from the human being that we’re serving and takes us into this mode where we’re just thinking in generalities. You might know the demographics, you might know age range, maybe it’s within a certain range of a zip code, and maybe you know what their professions tend to be. But that doesn’t actually help you do anything. And I think that’s a very important role of an ideal client exercise is that it should inform your decisions and it should make your life easier going forward sooner, so that you learn enough about them so that you can figure out how to bring in more of that exact type of person. Because there are a lot of different people in just age range of 25-35 within 20 miles of your zip code and they’re definitely not all thinking and behaving in the same way.
Amber: Right, that’s really interesting. That’s a really great clarification because in our market we do hear a lot of that “ideal client” being bounced around and what does that person look like. And you’ll hear a lot with photographers their ideal client … I had one friend for example who said that for some reason all her clients drive Volkswagens. And so she actually did a blog post about her Volkswagen. And a lot of her clients had Boston Terriers and she had a Boston Terrier, so she wrote some fun blogs about that and got more of those ideal clients for her.
Is that kind of what you suggest we do? So you reach them in a non generic but very specific way. How do you do that, how do you kind of find them?
Heidi: That’s really awesome that your friend is able to do that, that’s so cool. Then you are doing that you should do with marketing which is connecting with someone one a person to person level, and then you feel like this person totally gets you. Then it’s not all these photographers you have to choose from, it’s these over here and then this one woman who I could totally see myself hanging out with that just gets me.
Rich: Hold on, I want to just double down on this. Is there any concern we should have that all of a sudden somebody might see us and be like, “Well actually I have a rottweiler and I drive a 4-Runner, so I guess this isn’t for me”? Do you ever worry that you’re pushing people away by being so specific?
Heidi: That’s a good question. You don’t have to get as specific as “boston terriers or screw you”, you can just be like. “I’m a dog person, regardless of the breed we’re similar people”. Does that make sense?
Rich: Yeah. And I always think that you should definitely focus on who is your best customer because you’ll start to attract some people outside anyways. It’s about being true and authentic, but I just wanted to see what your thoughts were on that.
Amber: And what about this, one of the things I know I struggle with as a wedding planner – and I know some caterers as well – when you’re working with a client for a really long time your ideal client… I love that I know most of my clients forever. I’m one of the first people they tell when they’re going to have a baby, we follow each other on Instagram and I love watching their family grow, and I cry when they cry is they have a parent or a dog pass away, all those different things. I’ve had some lifelong clients that I’m so thankful for and they are totally my ideal.
But there is also that boundary of professionalism that you have to balance. Because there are some clients you might not necessarily want to continue to have a relationship with. So how do you balance that?
Heidi: I think it all depends on the boundaries that you draw for yourself. I think there is nothing unprofessional about being human. And I see that a lot. People feel like they have to be very corporate in the way they come across when really people don’t want to work with companies, people want to work with people. They want to work with a person or a team that really shares the same values, that sees the world in the same way. And you can’t have that kind of connection unless you actually let someone in.
Where you draw that line I think is really going to depend on what you’re comfortable with personally. I mean, maybe don’t get drunk with all your clients and run around town. I think it’s a personal thing but I think most people err on the other side of holding back too much because they’re afraid of being seen as a normal, flawed human being. But that’s where we actually connect with people.
Rich: Heidi your book is called, Clone Your Best Clients, s let’s talk a little bit about cloning your best client. What is that process like?
Heidi: Ok so the book is really a three-step process. So in the very beginning I try to shift people’s mindset away from this thinking of the demographics and the group because there is something with the human brain where we cannot empathize with a faceless group of people in the same way that you can think about someone that you know and automatically know what they would do in each of these situations, what they value, how they speak.
So I really like to shift the focus – and I say that “bride” is not an identity – you can’t target brides, that’s not a thing that’s part of your identity. It’s a role that you fill for a set amount of time, but it doesn’t actually inform anything about your likes, your dislikes, your values, your goals in life.
So that mindset shift is the first ⅓ of the book. And then I get into really having people stop and think of all the clients, which ones do you wish you could clone and work with over and over and over again, and write down their names. Because I take people through a process of actually interviewing those people in the book so that you can get their language, you can find out things directly from their mouth because it is most often an untapped source of marketing gold. They will tell you pretty much everything you need to know to attract more people just like them.
Rich: So what kind of questions should we be asking them in this survey?
Heidi: I have 2 sets of questions in the book. One for people that you’ve worked with, and one considering you may not have people you’ve worked with. These may be more general people that you feel like might fit into who you think your ideal client is. It’s totally ok to take a stab at it because you’re never going to figure out if you’re right or wrong until you actually test it.
So some of the questions that I recommend asking on the more general side of things are, “What wedding magazines or blogs do you read?” And I find that people get really surprising information here because they’ll have been spending money on a directory or advertising campaign somewhere only to find out that none of their best clients look at that.
Amber: Or they’re looking at one that you could then buy into and get better results.
Heidi: Right. It definitely opens opportunities. I recommend asking what kind of brands they’re really into and why, because these companies have sunk a ton of money into how they are positioning themselves. And if you find this trend that all of your brides seem to be huge fans of Nordstrom and they buy all their clothes there and they love it, sure you’re not going to present yourself in the same exact way, but you can dig around a Nordstrom site and look at how they are using images and how they’te describing their products in order to be able to command the prices that they do for their products.
Rich: And if our clients are all shopping at Walmart, we need to go upscale?
Heidi: Not necessarily. I don’t think that’s a negative indicator because they valued you and your work enough to work with you. So maybe it’s just that they don’t really care where their groceries come from, but they want to spend money on things that they really do care about. So I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.
Amber: So now we know we’ve done all this research – which Rich will tell you I always take notes – so any of my brides who are listening get prepared for a survey to come your way soon. So once we’ve figured that out and I know I have 2 very separate clients – young professionals like doctors right out of med school, and then I have older money – so I have these two very different. And my young professionals like me because they know how to delegate, they have a division, and then they trust me because they consider me their equal and they let it go.
And then my more established clients like me because I’m calm and chill and most of them work because money isn’t really something they stress out about, so because of that they work in whatever passion they have, like the Peace Corps, or a farmer, or a teacher in NYC. And because of that they trust service, so they like me for that.
So now I know what my branding is, the branding is genius. But now once you start figuring that out, what do you do? How do you put all that newfound information to use so that you can grab them?
Heidi: Well I want to point out that it sounds like you probably ask them some questions that are good to really call out here. Like, “Why did you decide to work with me?”, “What did you like best about working with me?”, “If you were going to recommend me to a friend what would you say?” Because you have an idea of why they actually hire you, so that makes me think that you probably ask these questions that are definitely an important part of the process.
Heidi: So how to actually put this to work. So what I like to do is recommend people do whatever number of these they can. If they only have one person that fits the bill, that’s ok, it’s still better to do one than none. But if you have a group of people, maybe you have 3-5 people who you want to interview and talk to, you want to hear how they communicate certain things.
It’s really important to not just stop there but to actually go back and look at your notes and you’ll probably find patterns among people, among the things they really value, or the things they really enjoy about working with you that they would want someone else to know about working with you.
So once you have this information and you’ve found the patterns, that’s when the work starts of going through your website, your marketing materials, everything you have with a fine tooth comb and really asking yourself is the way that I’m positioning this look and sound like something that my client that I just spoke to would have said. Because if not it needs to change. If not it’s probably using a lot of jargon and/or it’s trying to be too professional and going in that corporate direction, like we were saying earlier.
Rich: I’m definitely hearing from you that we want to be sharing our personality, be sharing our human side, and making sure that we understand more about our clients so that we connect with them. Not necessarily form a demographic sort of way – more like psychographic – so we better understand them.
You mentioned Nordstrom earlier, I’m assuming that a lot of this is going to dictate not just our website but also our social as well?
Heidi: Yeah, absolutely. The kinds of things that you’re sharing just like it would impact your content marketing . It really impacts everything once you have an understanding of trying to attract this person and now you have a test to run it through in your head, would this person – who I know well because I worked with and I spoke to them about these things – would this be something they are attracted to.
Amber: Interesting. So this has been really insightful and I feel like I’m writing so much that I’m not making sense of my statements back to you. Where can we find you online so that we can learn more from you?
Heidi: My website is over at evolveyourweddingbusiness.com, and the book, Clone Your Best Clients is on Amazon, but if you go to evolveyourweddingbusiness.com/clone it will send you right over there. You can pick it up in Kindle or in paperback.
Rich: Awesome, and we’ll have those links in the show notes. Heidi this has been great and thank you so much for your time.
Heidi: Thanks for having me.
If you’re looking to break the status quo and make real changes to reach more of your ideal customers, then Heidi is the pro you need. Definitely head over to her website for more information on how she has helped countless wedding industry professionals grow their businesses. Her book is also a great read and will help you to find more of your ideal customers.
Amber Small makes a living by making wedding dreams come true. Make sure to reserve your spot now for the Streamline Marketing Workshop Conference that she – along with Rich Brooks – have created specifically for wedding professions, with the goal of helping them reach, connect & engage with their best customers.
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine. He knows a thing or two about helping businesses grow by reaching their ideal customers, and he puts on a yearly conference aimed at that as well. Head on over to Twitter to connect with him, and grab a copy of his brand new book geared towards helping businesses generate more leads.