Using frequently asked questions from her Facebook Group for wedding venues, industry expert Kelly Chandler shares her advice on common queries
This month wedding venue expert Kelly Chandler is sharing her advice and insight on a range of questions and topics that crop up time and again in her private Facebook group, ‘Wedding Spaces Going Places’.
Usually, if one person needs to know, others do too, so we hope you find this open Q&A helpful. Feel free to submit your questions for future issues and Kelly will be happy to answer.
What payment terms with customers should we set up as a new venue?
It’s very customary within the wedding sector that all venue hire payments are received prior to the wedding day. Trust me there is no hurry for a couple to pay once their wedding day is done and you do not what to be left waiting.
Good advice is that you should stagger your payment terms to ensure they are fair to all but ultimately protect your business. General terms are to take a 25 per cent deposit upon booking, up to 50 per cent of the wedding is paid six months before, with the remaining 50 per cent one to three months before. However, for a lot of wedding venue businesses where bookings are taken very early and are not easy to replace, this leaves you exposed if a client cancels at say the three month out stage and still owes you half of the hire.
For many, this booking will be hard to replace. While a contract technically would allow you to pursue that money, most agree that the cost and time of going legal and to small claims is best avoided, so best advice is to stagger the payments in your favour. I have heard some venues incentivising couples with a small discount if they pay 100 per cent up front, which may work for some.
How do you handle cancellations?
My best advice is always to check first of all if we’re talking an actual cancellation. Some couples talk about “cancelling” when a postponement or rearrangement may be what they are seeking. Naturally it depends on the circumstances but in the situations of lack of funds, family illness, pregnancy etc. it is often possible to rearrange and “save” a booking than entirely cancel. Make sure that you listen and ask the questions sensitively before assuming an all-out cancellation. And sensitivity and diplomacy is needed as most people really do not want to be having this conversation and emotions run high.
That said, don’t forget that wedding insurance exists for a reason and you are best to refer clients to that where relevant. A lot of couples come to their venue first to try and get out of a booking contract when they should be making an insurance claim.
Should you recommend wedding insurance specifically or not?
You should strongly recommend that couples take out insurance. Many established venues I know insist in their T&Cs that couples do this and ask for proof during the planning process. You should not however get involved in recommending a specific policy unless you are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority which venues/individuals would not usually be. Referring couples to, for example, Martin Lewis’ resources (Money Saving Expert) online is a good place to direct people.
For clarity, the areas that are most relevant to couples are the cancellation and postponement payouts due to illness and accident (change of mind is not covered by the way!). From your point of view, public liability cover taken out by the couple to cover any damage they or their wedding guests do is key – different levels are possible ranging from £1million upwards. Most venues tend to insist on £2million, with heritage properties, a £5million cover is not unusual.
Much like enforcing a contract, it’s increasingly common for venues to take a decent level of a damage deposit (£1,500) from couples to cover smaller level breakages/damage that are usually the main offender.
For clarity, when I refer to wedding insurance, this is specific event cover and should not be something that replaces your own business insurance as a venue and employer – this is separate and undertaken by you, usually annually.
Do people use telephone answering services when not in the office?
Generally when a venue starts to get into the 50+ level of bookings and has a sizeable team who are not 100 per cent desk based, this becomes worth its weight in gold. A number of my clients use Moneypenny as a telephone answering service and rave about it.
It is important however that if you do this you fully brief any company you use, and that you monitor and spot check its efficiency as this first port of call is vital to creating the best first impression of your business.
What’s a good conversion rate of enquiry to wedding booking?
I’ve found 4 per cent to be an average for hotels/volume venues, with smaller, privately owned and niche venues tending to be more like 8-10 per cent.
Conversion from showround to booking can vary but an average rate is that 1 in 4 will result in a booking, again this should be higher for more niche venues and be more like 1 in 2 if successful.
Is it useful to have a qualification in event management or wedding planning to run or be part of a wedding venue team?
I have no formal qualification in event management or weddings and it’s never stopped me securing roles when employed agency side as project and event manager in corporate and private parties and when self employed. It has also never been something I’ve focussed on when recruiting for my wedding planning or consulting business. That said I believe passionately about being a life long learner and am always learning new things and believe that people generally stand out if they do the same.
There are some excellent courses out there on wedding planning – two I know very well. Check out Dominique Douglas of Stylish Events’ course and the step-by-step training offered by the UK Alliance of Wedding Planners (run by Bernadette Chapman). They will certainly give you a great grounding in weddings, ceremony laws, the wedding market, etiquette, logistics and how the industry works. You would do well to look at training for sales, marketing and finance in addition, depending on your role and responsibilities within a venue’s team. Most of my clients never stop learning as they are always launching new things, working in new markets and growing!