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3 Lessons I Learned Officiating Weddings Full-Time

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January 5, 2018

In 2017, I launched my own wedding officiating company Unboring!Wedding. For the first time in my life, I was officiating weddings almost every weekend for months at a time. This was no side-hustle. This was it.

I learned a lot about weddings, couples, and what I’m all about.

Here are three lessons I learned as a full-time professional wedding officiant in my first full year of taking the leap.

1. I learned that telling the couple’s story is my unfair advantage

Pat Flynn talks about how every person has a competitive edge that’s unique only to them. Some of us are overly patient. Others of us exude a warmth that makes people just want to bask in our glow. Some of us are wicked smart with numbers. Others can build a fully functioning residential dwelling with just a ball of yarn and a can opener.

You get the picture.

Pat Flynn calls it our “unfair advantage:” that thing you have a knack for that comes kinda naturally to you, but not so much to others. Others can do it and do do it. But for you, it just oozes out of your pores. You make it look effortless. It’s who you are.

As for me, I’m not overly patient, warm, good with numbers, or crafty. But I have figured out my unfair advantage over the past year.

My unfair advantage is writing and telling my couple’s story in their wedding ceremony on their wedding day.

As soon as I realized that was my unfair advantage (early in the year), I honed a replicable process for writing these stories weekly and well. I found my voice, my confidence, and what makes my “brand” truly exceptional.

So does our unfair advantage mean we use it as a hammer to wipe out the competition? On the contrary! I want everyone to learn how to do what I do. I think telling the couple’s story makes weddings better and the world more beautiful. That’s why I created an online course called Unboring!Officiant where I teach everyone exactly how to do what I do.

So what’s your unfair advantage as a wedding officiant? Maybe you’re warmer, more parent-like, spunkier, punkier, quirkier, more esoteric, more laid-back, less inhibited, more commanding, have an English accent, or any number of things that the rest of us just… aren’t.

That means you’ll serve a certain kind of person better than I ever could. You’ll have something unique and true to you that’ll translate into the kind of wedding ceremony that only you can provide.

2. I learned that I provide only one level of service

Every day I get several wedding enquiries. And here’s what couples usually ask when they find me through WeddingWire instead of my website:

“Can you please provide us with a list of your packages and pricing?”

It’s a short list. I only provide one package. One level of service. I unofficially call it the full-blown, best-ceremony-ever package.

I’ve posted about staying true to our ceremony non-negotiables in other posts here and here. Vendors working a wedding with us might ask us to compromise on some of the important things we feel strongly about to make their jobs a bit easier. And it’s not a malevolent thing! No harm no foul. It’s what they want from us to make their lives and jobs easier. But when it comes to our ceremony routine and what makes us comfortable and ready to do our absolute best, I strongly advise against letting go of our non-negotiables.

Well, the same idea applies to our wedding officiating business in general.

A few times a week I get at least one couple asking for a “simpler” (read: “cheaper”) level of service.

  • “We don’t want a rehearsal. Can we cut that and save a bit?”
  • “We don’t want the story. Can we just do a quick pre-fab ceremony?”
  • “We just want you to come and sign the papers. Can you do that?”

I totally understand that many if not most couples will want something different than what I offer. Great! There are other wedding officiants out there.

I’ve figured out what I’m good at, how I want to spend my professional time, and what kind of couple I serve best.

Here are two benefits of providing only one full-blown, premium level of service.

A. My limited time and energy are focused only on the top level of service for my existing and prospective clients.

We only have a limited number of hours in a week to spend on work, sleep, family, leisure. Tweaking and tailoring packages for this couple and that couple fritters away some of that time! And even if it’s not a lot, it takes time away from the kind of service I want to be providing answering questions from clients who actually want what I give.

Do we want to spend a ton of time on people who might want what we give if we change it for them? Or do we want to spend our time on the people who do want what we give?

I don’t spend my limited time and energy tailoring my service level. And that means I can be the best at the service level I actually offer.

B. My calendar is filled up only by full-blown premium appointments.

There’s an opportunity cost to filling up our calendars with lesser engagements.

I got a taste of this over the course of this past year. For the past few years, I’d worked for a wedding officiating company that charges $800 and gives the officiant half of that fee. I’d get $200 when I booked the couple, and then the remaining $200 after the wedding.

In 2016, I’d booked a lot of weddings with that company for 2017. So in 2017 when I launched Unboring!Wedding, I had to book my own new clients around all the weekends I was already booked with the company.

When I booked my own clients, I was getting $800.

When I completed a wedding for the company, I was getting $200.

Sure, I’d collected the other $200 way back in 2016, but man – it was really, really hard to do a full-blown wedding with all my 100% signature dedication… for a quarter of the compensation of an Unboring!Wedding client. It was even harder to say no to a prospective Unboring!Wedding client because I already had a company wedding to do on their date.

I loved the couples, had a blast, got to write a lot of thrilling stories… but the pay was waaaaay lower.

Now, I’ve fulfilled all my bookings with that company. 2018 is all Unboring!Wedding couples. But I think about that feeling I had.

Do we want to have a $150 paper-signing sitting there on the calendar when that enquiry comes in for a full-blown $800 ceremony at the Shangri-La Hotel coordinated by one of the city’s top wedding planners?

“Sorry, I’m not available. I gotta sign some papers at City Hall for a hundred and fifty bucks instead.” Ouch.

Having one level of service means this: when I’m booked, it’s always for what I do best.

There are no second-class clients. And more importantly, I never have that feeling that I’m working for less than I could be.

What’s your premium level or service? Can you stick to doing only that? What difference would that make in your officiating business’ growth?

3. I learned that it takes a full year to get to the top

How can we get a constant stream of wedding client enquiries?

Ideally, there are 3 sources. When we get these three sources firing on all cylinders, we’re in a position to be pretty full-time:

  1. Word of mouth recommendations by our customers,
  2. professional recommendations by other vendors,
  3. Internet traffic.

At the start of 2017, my new-client-enquiry situation after officiating on a very part-time basis for a few years was pretty meagre. A few vendors knew me from my work with the officiating company. Some couples were recommending me to friends. I had an Unboring!Wedding profile on WeddingWire with zero reviews, and my website didn’t even appear on Google searches for “Toronto wedding officiant.”

But here’s the really exciting, great news. I almost wouldn’t believe it I hadn’t experienced it and weren’t telling you myself.

This is the situation in January 2018. Unboring!Wedding:

  1. gets a regular stream of professional recommendations from photographers and planners,
  2. receives several word-of-mouth enquiries a month from people who were either at weddings I officiated or were recommended to me by their newlywed friends or family,
  3. (and last but not least) ranks on Google’s first or second page when people search for “Toronto wedding officiant,” “fun Toronto wedding officiant,” “best Toronto wedding officiant,” and “great Toronto wedding officiant.” (That’s huge.)

So how did I do it? Sure, I was patient. Yes, I bided my time. But I was also very intentional about a few things in 2017 that I’d never bothered with before.

First, I cultivated strong relationships with vendors I wanted to work with again.

I always followed up with them after the wedding. I thanked them and told them what a fantastic job they did, and that I look forward to recommending their work.

Second, I reached back out to my clients after their wedding.

I’d mention specific things I loved about my time with them, and I’d gently ask if they wouldn’t mind writing a review that I could post to my website.

Finally, I worked on my website’s SEO optimization.

It was absolutely crucial that Google started ranking Unboring!Wedding in searches for Toronto wedding officiants or the business would never take off. There are great free tools like Yoast and SEO Profiler that we can use to make sure our sites rise to the top. After some time.

What a difference a year makes. Sometimes starting out can feel like a wasteland. “Is anybody there…?”

But when we keep our nose to the grind, stick to what we do best, provide the most premium level of service we can, and we’re intentional about the long game, time will reward the effort and get us to the top.

Being at the top doesn’t mean being there alone. There are others with us at the summit. Some who’ve been there a long time. Others on their way.

But we’ll be there. With a lot more to do, too.

Just give it a year.

6 Comments
  1. Doug Grey says:

    Great advice. I performed my one and only wedding for some friends but think I’d like to do more. Thanks for the blueprint

    1. You’re welcome, Doug! I’m so glad you found it helpful. Officiating for friends is the perfect place to start. Stick around here, follow the blog, and you could be pro in no time! 🙂

  2. Trina says:

    I’m an officiant. Lately from wedding wire, I had 5 request to do the signing while family/friend does the wedding. Legally I’m told as am officiant we need to do the declarations and pronouncement. When I tell couple that, they look elsewhere. I’m struggling with letting go of that. I rather be professional and have certain standards and level of service. Thoughts on that?

    1. Hi Trina, this is a common conundrum, and I have gotten the same enquiries. Basically, if we say yes without holding to our standards, we’re breaking our obligation as an agent of the state. If somehow it were exposed that we signed the papers without fulfilling the legal obligations expected of us, we could lose our license.

      So, I would explain that to the couple, and make this accommodation: I will attend the ceremony and we can do the required declarations and pronouncement outside of their actual ceremony – either before or after.

      So yes, maintain your standards. If you do feel that you’d like to provide the service of solemnizing ceremonies (“making it legal”) without presiding over them, just offer a “mini ceremony” before or after so you can do what is required and sign the papers with a clear conscience. Even if it feels like a formality, it is! And your license depends on doing it right. ‘Hope that helped!

  3. ANDREW WILSON says:

    Mark,
    I stumbled on your post and am really intrigued. I’m currently a part-time officiant. I’ve been doing it for about 5 years, with some success (you can check out some of my reviews at http://www.andrewsweddings.com) but am giving serious thought to going full-time.
    I think we share a *very* similar approach in our styles and delivery. Because of those shared values and your success, I was wondering if you would be open to chatting some more about how you made it happen. Thanks and I hope to hear from you!

    1. Hey Andrew – this is awesome! I’m happy to talk about my journey with you. Just email me at [email protected] and we can connect and set something up!

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GET THE FREE 5-PAGE STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE FOR WEDDING OFFICIANTS

EXACTLY HOW TO CREATE AND OFFICIATE A WEDDING CEREMONY (IN 5 STEPS)

GET THE GUIDE