Vendors: What's your favorite method for attracting new clients?

question faceAs some of y'all know, we're going to be doing more posts on the Offbeat Empire that cater to our surprisingly huge, awesome community of non-icky WIC business folks — ie, the offbeat wedding industry small business owners. We've actually got pages of wedding business advice posts already, but we're going to be doing lots posts here on offbeateempire.com.

I want to be doing lots more marketing and business advice, but I also just want to get to know you guys a little better. We've gotten several requests for an offbeat wedding vendor community, and I'm aiming to have the Offbeat Empire blog act as that! (Pro-tip: to add to the sense of community in the comments, be sure to set up your Gravatar.)

So, in the interest of getting to know y'all better, today I don't have advice. Instead, I have a question for you: what's your favorite method for finding new clients?

…I mean, OTHER than advertising on Offbeat Bride, of course. With banner ads starting at $20, I assume y'all are already doing that. (…Right?)

  1. We make handmade bridal accessories and wedding decor. Our number one way of reaching customers is by word of mouth. We put thought and care into every item we make. Our customers see this and we've noticed positive word for our business spreading.

    • Do you do any promotions to encourage word of mouth, like discounts for existing customers to share with friends?

      • Hi Ariel! Yes, we also offer a 15% discount to our returning customers. We've been getting a huge following of customers and love to give them these discounts as a thank you.

        • What platform do you use to distribute the discounts? Email? Social media? I'm super curious!

  2. This is actually one area where I fall short. My customers find me on their own, for the most part. I did get a message from someone last week who had seen an advertisement that I had put up in a local coffee shop, so, some of what I do yields results- but how much, I'm not sure.

    Other than that, it's people referring and a few search engine queries. People referring via websites like forums or pinterest, that is, and also just talking to their friends and families. I have tried a couple of facebook or other website promotions in the past, but I can't offer super hefty % discounts, which may be why reactions were lukewarm.

    I do enjoy riding around in my wrapped smart car though. I'm sure it is a super important advertisement that I definitely had to have. πŸ˜‰

    2 agree
  3. I do love showing off my smart car:

    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150455323350709

    I have the name on the front and back too, of course, but just black lettering:
    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151752464375709

    I think I may get the side panels redone now that I'm phasing out etched CDs.

    HipInk in Canada has a smart car with her logo on it too!

    People asked me why I didn't go with car magnets, since I make magnets, but smart cars have plastic paneling on the sides, so that wasn't an option.

    1 agrees
  4. In the states, the review site Yelp is extremely popular. I have a ton of great reviews and that drives bookings and also helps potential clients who find me on Google or the like know that I'm legit.

    I also advertise in a handful of other websites and directories.

    • So true!

      This begs the question: how do you handle negative reviews?

      1 agrees
  5. My blue wig seems to bring me the most awesome people. I've started wearing it when I do wedding shows and tours and open houses and often time people will come up to me and say "hey, I saw you at the so and so open house too". It's a great conversation starter (which is good, since I am normally pretty shy and don't like to approach people) and ice breaker. Also, using it as my avatar tends to make my picture stand out in the mass of "normal" ads. πŸ™‚

  6. As we are just starting out we've been advertising on gumtree (uk version of Craig's list). So far it's going quite well, getting a steady flow of enquiries. In time though we'll probably move on from this as our business develops. The reason for this is most people on gumtree are looking for bargain basement prices. And a lot of the photographers on there are quite low quality :/

    • Yeah, this is definitely a challenge … making sure that the audience you're reaching values your work enough to pay for it.

      2 agree
  7. Bless this post. I'm an officiant just starting out and I need all the advice for exposure I can get…tried an OBB media blast which was unfortunately to no avail : I've been leaving my business cards everywhere and with everyone, and have a listing at weddingwire (click on my name to see it), but the only wedding I have right now was a referral from a fellow interfaith minister who was already booked for the day.

    Currently wondering if a craigslist ad for an officiant is too creepy…

    • Yeah, as an officiant, you have a unique challenge… not only are you very region-specific, but you're also philosophy-specific, which can be a challenge.

      I'd love to hear from some officiants who've advertised successfully…

      • Not a reverand or anything.. just a (used to be bride) to tell how we found our minister. We did want a minister, but were not part of any church or anything. Plus we got married in the area where my parents lived, which isn't where I nor Husband grew up to know anyone. The "Golf & Country Club" where we booked to have the wedding gave us a sheet with recommended vendors.. one of which included a minister. We called & met up with him. He was wonderful and just the kind of person who we wanted to marry us!
        Perhaps go to the locales you've worked before and ask if you could leave a card / be a recommendation?

        • Not only the venues, but the PLANNERS. Think about it: the planners make recommendations for every part of the wedding, and the planners have lists of preferred vendors they use. It's hard to get in as a preferred vendor at a venue, but if a planner has had a great experience working with you, he/she will be ecstatic to make you part of a team (DJ, florist, and everyone working together).

          2 agree
          • Forgive my stupidity…is there a procedure to getting in touch with a planner? I assume you don't just ask a stranger for a favor…

          • I'd suggest wedding industry events where you can mix 'n' mingle with other wedding folks…

            1 agrees
          • @Rev. Caitlyn:

            A few ways.
            -Do what Ariel said below and go mingle with some planners.
            -Totally ask friends for favors. Ask friends if they used wedding planners and, if so, who those planners were. Contact those planners and say something like, "My friends [blank and blank] really recommended you because of the great experience they had. I'm now in the wedding industry and would love to work as part of a team with you based on how their day went".
            -Cold call/email. Say something specific about the person's site ("I noticed the flowers you did at that wedding at the W" or "I see we're in very similar areas"), say you're looking for people to start working with and getting referrals from (and why you think you're a good fit), and keep it short and simple.
            -The best one: ask planners you've already worked with (when you're at that point).

            As a secondary consideration, have you considered handing out flyers or cards near the courthouse? I'm not sure the legalities of all that, but could be an idea! People are there getting their marriage licenses.

            2 agree
          • Thank you both (Ariel and Morgan) for all the advice and kindness you've been showing me. I will definitely use all of your suggestions!

        • That sounds like a wonderful idea! πŸ˜€ I wish we'd had this post the day before yesterday, so I could have left my card at the hotel where I met my couple XD Alas…

          • Go back and see them again! Say you really liked the place and wanted to make sure you can work there again sometime soon… flatter and then drop the card, then ask for the contact person, then email that person right away to connect.

          • It's over an hour away and there's at least $5 in tolls, so I might hold off on doing that for that particular locale until the day of that wedding. But once I have a free day I'm going to go around to some of the local hotels and wedding spots and try some schmoozing with them…thank you so much for your advice! πŸ˜€

      • The upside of this is that I'm an interfaith minister, so my philosophy is flexible…as long as I don't have to perform human or animal sacrifice or state that I personally don't believe in God, I can officiate anyone's wedding, even an entirely secular one.

        The downside is that no one's grown up in my denomination so no one thinks to come to someone like me first XD

    • Hi Rev. Caitlyn!

      I'm a bride too, currently planning my wedding, and I had an additional suggestion — I would definitely make sure that you have a clear, nice picture of yourself on your website. (I checked out your Facebook page, and I couldn't tell for sure who you were!)

      I can't say exactly why, but it adds a personal connection and trust factor that's crucial — ESPECIALLY if you're trying to get people to contact you based on your online presence.

      Heck, if you could, a video would be even better! After all, if you were selling dresses you would have photos of them on your website, right? You are selling your ability to talk and speak and your presence — the more you can communicate *who* you are, instead of just what you can do, the better! Especially since you're already tech-savvy enough to be involved on an offbeat online forum πŸ™‚

      (Yes, I am DEFINETLY a millennial, LOL! I would probably drop dead before I cold-called an officiant without knowing how they look or sound, because picking up the phone is hard enough for me when I *know* I want to use someone … let alone if I'm just putting out feelers!)

      Likewise, the directory on OBB would probably serve you far better than media blasts (or having a wedding you officiate featured on here).

      Best of luck!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      3 agree
      • I have given a lot of thought to the picture before. The only real pictures of me acting in a ministerial capacity are at my seminary and ordination, so for the moment I was just using my little logo (the religious icons within the peace sign) since it is in fact an accurate representation of my philosophy as an interfaith minister. I guess I can "fake it" a bit with just some nice clothes and my stole and pose under our oak tree, if it means people are more comfortable seeing a picture of me πŸ™‚ At least until September rolls around and I can get some proper pictures with my two couples.

        My former roommate is pretty good with a camera and editing software, and she is supposed to visit next Sunday, so maybe she and I can plan a little video for me. Thanks for the advice!

        (And oh, do I understand your aversion to cold-calling! I'm not particularly shy; I've starred in plays and am fully able to speak in public and to strangers, but phone calls have always given me the heebie-jeebies, especially cold calls. I'm developing out of it–I have to, given the nature of my jobs–but it's an instinctual quasi-phobia.)

        • I think the photo is a great idea, and I don't think you necessarily need an action shot, as it were. A nice head shot would certainly do the trick. In fact, I'd make sure it doesn't look like you're staging officiating an event. Eventually, you can add those in later.

        • Thanks everyone for putting me onto Wedding Wire for vendor listings! There aren't many UK based people on it but every little helps! I like that we can link clients to leave reviews that could be really good for us!

    • I work at a wedding venue, and we also do a lot of recommending, but in general I won't recommend someone to a bride unless they've worked at our space before. When you do go to venue, make sure to bring some business cards to exchange with the people that work there. Or, if you meet them at a bridal show or other networking event, get a card from them and then arrange a meeting to come and visit their space, show them your portfolio, etc.

  8. Oh, I should also mention that I've tried facebook ads, linkedin ads, twitter ads, google adwords, craigslist… all seemed like the road to nowhere.

    I haven't tried newspaper ads or radio (or tv, lol), because I'm mainly looking to work with internet savvy customers.

    I have recently done some direct mailing to local businesses and have indeed seen more local ip addresses hitting the website… we will see how well that campaign does. Instead of sending cheap postcards I sent my hello-letter + business card magnet in metallic envelopes just to get me some more attention.

  9. For us it is really referrals. We love when past clients tell their friends about us. And of course being an Offbeat vendor. Having real weddings featured on blogs has been a great help to us as well.

    • I'll ask you like I asked someone up-thread: do you do anything to encourage referrals?

  10. Ok, part of two companies here.

    Film: yes, we did a Knot ad for a year. We did get a few inquiries, and those gave us referrals. We do encourage referrals- after people approve the final video and send us emails like all "LOVELOVELOVE" I just ask them to share that love if they have any friends/family getting married soon, and to drop us a review on yelp, weddingwire, etc. if they feel so inclined (direct links totally necessary). We're also hooked up with a couple photographers as their go-to recommendations for video (since couples often book photo first and video almost last, this arrangement works great for us). We're technically subcontractors for that.

    Fashion: etsy gets me a lot of hits, having "styled shoots" done by models, photographers, or events companies that have large followings have gotten me more exposure. I did a few trade shows and they sucked donkey balls. Fairs and festivals and art shows do much better for me.

    • I did a few trade shows and they sucked donkey balls. Fairs and festivals and art shows do much better for me.

      …any chance we'll see you at Lovesick SF in 2014? I know it's a ways from LA, but a girl can dream!

      • Distance isn't really the issue; if we were still doing shows I'd totally be there. Seems like a lot of fun!

        Truth be told, both companies are moving strongly away from weddings. With the film stuff, we've got more business than we can handle with our current schedules (yay!), so we are limiting to one wedding per month. With the fashion, I started making less wedding-oriented stuff (which sells sporadically) and more accessible everyday stuff (which can sell year-round and in large quantities). So shows like that don't make any sense for me right now.

        Now, if you did an Offbeat HOME show… I'm totally there.

  11. I have been trying some of the suggestions from the Book More Brides website and blog, mostly about networking and following up multiple times.
    If you are a wedding photographer, they are having some special on-line video training in about a week about how to get more leads and "grow your business to 6 figures," I think.
    Here's the link to find out more:
    http://bookmorebrides.ontraport.net/t?orid=19777&opid=130

  12. Lots of ways, really! I have a huge chunk of reviews on Wedding Wire, so lots of couples either find me on there while searching around, or Google for a photographer and my reviews pop up. That's one of my most valuable tools, really – couples having the opportunity to see how past couples felt about me and my work!

    I am also VERY active on my Facebook business page. I post teasers for sessions, blog posts, love-related quotes, the occasional personal photo (most likely of my cats or our puppy), updates about my business, etc! It keeps people engaged and makes it so their friends see my page, friends of friends, etc… it spreads like wildfire, and lots of people inquire about my services directly from my Facebook page.

    And, of course, word of mouth! I do lots of weddings and portrait sessions every year, so I make sure everyone is happy, and they do the work for me. πŸ™‚

  13. Thank you Ariel for starting this thread!! We are a stationery company and advertise entirely on blogs, either with sidebar ad buttons or sponsored posts. This works fairly well for us, as well as Pinterest since we added a "Pin It" button to all of our images, and of course word of mouth. I'm very non-Facebook so have let it lapse (what a no-no!) because none of it ever led to sales. I'm also currently looking into AdRoll and ShareASale.

    And here's a very very honest confessionβ€”I've plateaued if not shrunk a little in sales, and I know it's my fault. I cannot bring myself to do all the other business-savvy things that everyone tells me I should do. Read wedding blogs and comment. Tweet wedding media people. Attend wedding industry events. Network network network.

    It goes against all contemporary business advice, but I feel there must must must be a way for anyone, or anyone who's not a jerk, to be true to themselves and still continue growing. Anyone have advice on this odd conundrum?

    • Kimi this is totally something I've wrestled with as well, and for me personally it boiled down to needing to stretch a bit. For years, I was 100% focused on online marketing, and it was only about a year ago that I started to really understand that I needed to get out and attend industry events and yes: network face to face. It was something I used to do more in my former life as a tech industry copywriter and marketing manager, and the wedding industry is DIFFERENT when it comes to socializing… and dare I say it, kinda more fun. Where-as my old tech industry networking functions were 90% self-aggrandizing men boasting about their latest projects, wedding industry networking functions are 90% self-aggrandizing women gossiping about Pinterest and design trends. I don't know… it's just more fun. ALSO: the food & drink at wedding industry events is WAY better. πŸ˜‰

      • Ariel, interesting to hear about tech networking events vs wedding networking events; I actually started this stationery biz while getting a degree in comp sci, and so far haven't actually attended any wedding professionals networking events. I'm planning to get out there though, and admit that it's a good idea.

      • How do you find out about the wedding events you want to go to? I'd love to know!
        If you were in New York I'd tell you to c'mon down to one I'm doing with some other wedding entrepreneurs, and we've got mimosas and CRONUTS. Do you know about this phenomenon? Where crazy folks line up for 2 hours for them?

        1 agrees
        • I found some groups local to me just by poking around the internet- for example, the north East Wisconsin Wedding Professionals group seems to meet up just about every month. Sometimes just networking, sometimes with topics/presentations. I'm on the email list and am really going to push myself out the door soon to get to one of their meetings.

          ::googling "cronuts"::

        • Hi Kimi!

          I'm in Fairfield CT (outside NYC) and your wedding events sound like a blast. When is your next event?!

          • Karaβ€”I don't think we're planning another until January, but I'm thinking of doing a diy workshop if you're interested! Though of course Fairfield is a little far…

  14. It's not very original or offbeat, but we get lots of business from bridal shows. We make cakes, so getting samples in their mouth really helps more than anything. Also, they get to meet us, see dummy/sample cakes and ask us questions. It is "expensive" but if we get about two good cakes out of the deal, we will break even. Anything else is GRAVY. Keep in mind the a show today is for the next years business. Our very best marketing is through other vendors. They will talk big if they like you and if you bring them cupcakes πŸ™‚

  15. I too am relatively new to all of this, custom made clothing and costumes. So far I'm working the Facebook page and actually managed to pay my bills in my first month of business! (really stoked about that). I have an actual website on the way as a kind of show case. I just found a photographer who needs more shots in her portfolio so we are working a deal to reshoot all of my catalog pics. Once I get that done I will be hard core pushing things out to the public, facebookology, paid ads, likely at least a vendor listing here. At the moment I realize my etsy shop looks amateurish and I want to look sleek and professional before I put too many dollars into promotion. I'm also looking at the Lovesick Expo in Denver in 2015 (if y'all still bring it here that year), if it weren't so close to my own wedding (may of 2014) I'd try to do it in 2014, but this gives me time to really build up a portfolio of beautiful things between now and then. so far word of mouth has really worked surprisingly well, but I am looking to go way beyond that in the next year.

  16. For me its alot of social networking (facebook ,twitter, instagram), i also joined the Dallas Wedding Community that has get together every month that are amazing. Lots of networking there and they even have guest speakers from TLC and otehr places come in which is way cool. I do alot of advertising and make sure that is part of my budget every year. I also have some car magnets that are on both sides of my car and get lots of looks! πŸ™‚

  17. Begging? πŸ™‚

    Mostly word of mouth and gentle reminders via FB, Twitter, and IG that "Hey! You need this and we do it!" To answer Ariel before she asks, I don't generally offer an incentive for word of mouth, but I do personally thank people that refer me (it usually comes as a FB shoutout).

  18. Holy crap, we're late to the party. Here goes:

    The majority of our business has come from online vendor listings, easy as that. We started out with OBB and another less-WICy blog, saw some pretty rad success from that and started branching out to a few of the more…uhm…y'know, not-not-WICy ones this year. And it's specifically the ads, btw. While we swoon over the idea of Sponsored Posts, we've constantly seen more traffic from local folks finding us in a guide than from that one day at the top of the blog. Maybe it's a geographical issue, maybe not, but vendor listings are totally where it's at for us.

    While we love referrals and word of mouth, a lot of time we've found that friends+family referrals, as well as even from some clients, tend to be folks who are using us because they like the familiarity but may not necessarily be on board with our vision for their images. This, of course, is totally fine (it's your wedding, after all) but we try to ferret all that out before any money exchanges hands so everyone has a better experience.

    So, um, thanks OBB and Co, cuz you guys are easily our most stable source of bizniz.

    2 agree
    • Josh+Ali: Could you elaborate on what you mean by ads? Do you mean sidebar buttons on blogs? Sponsored posts have done really well for me, sales the following month generally go up by a lot, but there's probably a lot of difference between stationery and photography.

      • Hey Kimi>> We've had sidebar ads on one site for a year or two now, taking advantage of sponsored posts on that site as well as OBB a handful of times. The problem with photo and those ads is that your target audience (demographically, usually) isn't the majority of the people coming through the home page. Having a huge sidebar ad on an international blog that is heavily California-based doesn't really help us much in Seattle. But having our biz listed under Seattle in the vendor directory is the bee's knees. When our couples come looking to this fabulous site for a local vendor, there we are. There's no way they'll trudge through 40something thumbnails on a main page to find us. But it totally makes sense why stationary (and anything else that can be mailed) would profit much more off sponsored posts than photo.

  19. Another Officiant checking in! Guess I'm late to the party too but better late than never πŸ™‚

    Referrals are always the best but being listed with one of the major listing sites is a must if you want to be found (at least around here). Until Google changes it's algorithm again the only thing that comes up on the first several pages are the listing sites. You can blog 'til you're blue in the face, you're never going to beat them so you might as well join them, as they say.

    Although I have noticed a dramatic increase on clients using the inquiry form on my website or calling me directly, I have a free listing everywhere and anywhere that will have me. I pay ($20mnth) for one & their leads; it used to be a fantastic source of clients but lately it, well…it sucks. Feel like I'm paying for nothing, all I get from them are tire kickers and price shoppers (not my target market). I've looked into the other listing site but they either have that same budget seeking clientele, get no web traffic in my area or they are outrageously expensive for an Officiant.

    And, for me, that is HUGE problem – unlike most wedding vendors I am thought of last, often replaced by amateurs, have the lowest fees and make the least money; hard to pay the same for ad space as a big bridal store down the street.

    Cold calling on planners, venues or other vendors is okay BUT unless you know something about them first you could end up being connected with the "worst place in town" – do your research first. Search on Google, FB, Twitter to find the ones you do want to connect with and target them.

    Then don't go in with just a business card – nothing gets you put in a pile faster than a "you don't know me but send me business" visit. Bring them something to remember you by; coffee, flowers (unless it's a florist, or if it is buy some from them!), chocolates, bake cookies…something they will remember you for. Just don't expect to show up once and get referrals to come flying in – relationship building takes time.

  20. Chiming in late, but since I just poked at my inquiry vs booking statistics, my best source is actually having wicked good SEO. I don't have the budget to run the big ads that my big-company competitors do, but I have in-depth pages that explain the very specific things I do, some of which my competitors don't, and some of which they just don't mention prominently, or only in text on an image (seriously, why still do that? and without an alt tag!)

    There is one blog that has been particularly good, but the quality of response is changing as that site changes, so I try to keep close tabs on not only where I get inquiries, but which sites send me inquiries that are actually booking enough to justify the price.

    The relationships I've made with other vendors online and locally, however, have been pretty helpful — the people they send me are extremely likely to book, but there are not a lot of them.

    Pinterest is becoming useful, especially since I added pinterest friendly graphics to my how-to posts that are generally useful, as opposed to specific to booking my services. Especially since I *don't* have to actively cultivate that, just create the graphics and put them up with good descriptions, and they get passed around because of their usefulness.

    Adwords became more useful to me, bizarrely, when I lowered my bids enough to be on 2nd or 3rd page instead of 1st, my guess being because the first page of search results when people start with something more generic like "wedding album design" is going to be all results useful to photographers as opposed to my clients, so the ads show up at the same time that the search results start to become relevant. The jury is still out on whether it is cost effective for me in the long run, though.

    Once people find my website, having a link where people can schedule a phone call or meeting with me online without having to actually talk or e-mail first has been very helpful, although I must admit to hating phone meetings. (I'm not a millennial, but still…)

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