Last week the coronavirus, COVID-19, blew up life as we knew it. Schools are closed, restaurants and bars are closed, grocery stores are overwhelmed, and hospitals are filling up. Everyone is affected.

As of March 15th, 2020 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends no gathering of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks. (Things have changed even since I started typing this. The Federal Government now recommends no gatherings larger than 10 people!) As you can imagine, this is going to massively affect the wedding industry. Brides & grooms are worried. Wedding professionals are worried. So, where do we go from here? There is a lot to unpack and I want to speak to both couples and wedding professionals.

First, to the couples…

I’m going to talk first to the couples getting married. (Wedding pros: Don’t worry, I got you below!) Couples: Don’t automatically assume you have to cancel your entire wedding! You do have other options. Consider the following factors before making a decision:

  • Do you have any guests traveling from overseas?
  • Within the United States?
  • Do you have any guests 65 years old or older attending?
  • How many total guests are attending?
  • How will your venue and each wedding pro handle a postponement?
  • What are the current CDC recommendations?
  • What has your Govorner mandated for your state?

Once you have a general idea of the situation, consider your options.

Continue with your wedding on your chosen date.

If you choose to continue getting married as planned, you may have to shorten your guest list to below the current CDC-recommended gathering size. Shivani & Anne, founders of Salud, have some great tips! “Work with your caterer to see what meal options you have available other than buffet style. Incorporate hand sanitizer wherever you can (at the bar, before the ceremony entrance, even in small pretty bottles by your centerpieces), live stream your event to those who can’t attend, and place a smaller number of people at each table to increase the distance between them.”

Be flexible. Ask each of your wedding pros if any changes need to be made to ensure the safety of themselves and your guests. Ask if they have any suggestions on what you can change to make your event safe for everyone. For example, your caterer may suggest changing the buffet station to a plated dinner. Your venue might increase the frequency of restroom cleaning and supply stocking. Your photo booth company might suggest limiting photos to one person at a time.

Get creative. Come up with a greeting signal, sign, or gesture that replaces handshakes & hugs. Provide fancy gloves at the door for your guests to wear. Provide everyone a pen or marker to sign your guest book rather than having them share just a few. Think of all the “touchpoints” at a wedding and try to come up with alternate ideas that minimize the transfer of germs.

The Micro Wedding.

Another way to get creative with keeping your wedding date is to consider the micro wedding. This trend is starting to gain traction as more and more wedding professionals are embracing the smaller, pre-built wedding packages. Jaime, Marketing Manager for Zingermans Cornman Farms says “We’ve also been offering guests to keep their wedding date but switch from a larger wedding to some of our smaller, all-inclusive packages (e.g. an Elopement Wedding which has 20 or less or The Tiny Wedding, which still has four spots open for Spring).” If you can’t keep your date at your current venue, contact The Lost Forty. She offers micro wedding packages and is ready to help couples get hitched!

I spoke with Ashley of The Dulce Experience about how couples can approach their wedding vendors if they choose to have a smaller wedding. She says “I, personally, am compassionate. I think this situation fits under the Random Acts of God clause in my contract.” She says she would work with the client to work out something fair. It may involve a smaller cake, but more decorations or a smaller cake now and a cake on their anniversary. It is a case-by-case situation, so communication with your wedding pros is essential!

Postponing.

Venues are already dealing with postponements. “We’ve postponed all events in the next 30 days.” says Jenny Dillon of Plymouth Manor “We’ve spoken to almost every guest booked in the next three months just because they are calling wondering what our policy is and how we are handling it.” This news may have brides & grooms-to-be panicking about increased fees associated with canceling or postponing their wedding. Jenny says “We are waiving any fees associated with transferring the date and giving those clients first choice on future dates we have available.”

In fact, most venues I’ve spoken to are being very understanding and lenient when it comes to assessing fees or penalties. Terra Brock, Event Manager of Zingerman’s Greyline, says “We have waived all cancelation fees in an attempt to help our clients during this era of uncertainty in which the most important thing is that we are generous with each other and unify as a society.  We will get through this together and hopefully, the future is bright on the other side of this crisis.” It is very heartwarming to see so many companies have empathy toward couples in this situation!

The key is to “communicate early and often” with your wedding pros, according to Courtney Recklien of Reckless Hair. “I have seen an upswing in the past week of salon professionals choosing to cancel rather than waiting for their clients to do so. Initially, people were skeptical about the seriousness of the situation but as it continues to unfold, more and more weddings will be postponed.” Each specific vendor type has unique situations that will affect them during this crisis. Courtney says, “Given that I travel to the party wanting the service I feel that I am, in general, at a higher risk than someone in a salon who has control over the sterilization of their surroundings.”

Wedding Pros…

Let me start off by saying I AM SO PROUD OF MY INDUSTRY! Seeing everyone come together during this time, waive fees for clients, show concern for both worried clients and fellow creatives, go above and beyond for their clients…it’s just so inspiring! I am fortunate to know so many leaders in this industry and you all are leading us in the right direction!

But, let’s address the seriousness of this situation. We are losing money. For those that work their wedding business full time, there is no other job to fall back on. We are all wondering about the future of our businesses. This could mean a drastic income loss. Potentially life-changing decisions need to be made.

These are just some of the questions we need to consider: What is our comfort level in attending weddings that go on as planned? How will we change our services to ensure the safety of everyone involved? How will we navigate client postponements & cancelations? What does our contract say if we decide to cancel services? (Honeybook has stepped up and provided all creative entrepreneurs with resources and some clauses to strengthen our contract.) Ultimately, only you can answer these questions for your personal life and your business integrity.

To help you make a decision, follow the science. The CDC has a website dedicated to all the emerging coronavirus news. The state of Michigan has its own site dedicated to the virus. Your doctor is available to answer questions related to your health. Make decisions based in fact, not fear.

Once you’ve decided how to navigate these unchartered waters, you need to reach out to your clients. Show concern for the tough decision they have to make–or empathy upon hearing the news that you’ve made the decision for them. Decide together how you will move forward and what would be fair for you both. Be patient and explain things as simple as possible. Most of your clients won’t understand that you have to think like a business owner and not just a service provider. Chettara, owner of Chettara T. Photography says “I personally shared my calendar so my clients can use that to see dates I have available. I plan to let (their deposits) go towards a future date (doesn’t have to be wedding related) or carry over should they later just reschedule their wedding.” She is also encouraging her couples to reschedule rather than outright cancel their wedding.

As a wedding planner, I am reaching out to all the professionals I am working with in the near future and asking about their comfort level and if anything is changing with their services. I am asking what my client’s worries are. I have moved all meetings and consultations to phone, video, or email. With some things, I’m taking it day-by-day as the recommendations are changing that quickly!

Wedding vendors need to practice self-care during this time. Chettara is active in Detroit’s photography community. She says, “Everyone is doing business as usual, but taking more personal care like being mindful of surfaces and carrying hand wipes since we touch things and then our cameras (which of course goes to our amazing faces)”

So, as a business owner, what are some things we can do to earn money when clients are canceling? Is there a digital product you can create and sell online (either for your clients or fellow wedding pros)? Can you create a mentorship package for those that want to start a business in your zone of genius? Do you have any skills you can market on freelancing websites like Upwork or Fiverr? Jessica of Girl with the Tattoos says “What is your secret superpower? It doesn’t even have to be wedding related. For example, I am making homemade bread and noodles for people. It’s hard to find it in stores right now. I am also hosting google hang out cooking classes to help people who don’t know how to cook. Think of something you enjoy and are good at- and help people.” Sit down right now and think of 5 possible new revenue streams!

Jessica has been very vocal on social media about this situation. “Stay positive!!! Don’t approach this time with panic and a negative mindset. Look at this as a time to finish an online course you bought and never logged into. Re-do your website. Learn a new skill to help your client experience once this is over. The energy you put out there will come back to you. We got this. We have each other’s back. Let’s show up and show off how good we are at being calm and resource for our community. “

My ultimate suggestion for you, whether you are a bride, groom, or wedding pro, is the same. Think through your options. Be flexible. Get Creative! If you need any help rescheduling, thinking of creative options, or creating new revenue streams, I am available to chat! Send me a message at hello@christagraham.com

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