We’re in the full swing of booking season while also managing postponed weddings, and 2022 is expected to have the most weddings since 1984! Most of us are busier than ever but we can’t neglect our inquiry systems since timely responses rank top in client expectations. We’re continuing our AP|EX series with Skylar Caitlin from Chancey Charm, a long-time Aisle Planner user giving you actionable advice on how to build stress-free inquiry systems that turn leads into loving clients!
Benefits of Streamlining
It’s often forgotten, but the inquiry process is still a part of marketing. It’s the bridge between when a potential client first sees your work and when they actually become your client. And we should treat the booking process with as much care as we do our marketing strategies. As we enter into an influx of inquiries, how can we keep on top of responses, client work, marketing, and professional development without putting in extra hours we just don’t have? The answer is to streamline your processes! So let’s talk about streamlining our inquiry process and even more specifically, how using a CRM to streamline your inquiry process will benefit you.
For those of you not familiar with the acronym, CRM stands for Client or Customer Relationship Management. Simply put, it’s the process in which a business or other organization interacts with customers - often referring to software like Aisle Planner, Dubsado, 17Hats, Honeybook, or any of the other CRM offerings available.
Now, I’m going to dive into each of these a little more in-depth, but at the surface level, there are a minimum of five benefits to streamlining your inquiry system:
- Saves You Time & Energy
- Creates a Consistent Client Experience
- Identifies Pain Points in Your Inquiry Process
- Makes it easy to outsource or train new team members
- Acts as a risk management plan to keep your business working even when you can’t
1. Save Time & Energy
if you’re workshopping while you read this piece, whether on paper or in your head, think about how much time you spend doing repetitive tasks. How much time do you spend re-writing emails answering FAQs from inquiries? How about starting from scratch on proposals?
Now, think about what you could do if you got that time back. Maybe you wouldn’t miss your daughter’s soccer game. Maybe you’d work on that personal creative project that you’ve been putting off until you have “more time.” Maybe you would get more sleep. You need to make it easier for yourself to book clients! It’s not helpful to try and reinvent the wheel each time you get an inquiry.
The easiest way to streamline your inquiry system is through Aisle Planner Templates. You can create templates for just about anything. Emails, brochures, proposals, quotes, invoices, contracts, etc. It’s all about taking what you frequently need and prepping it so all you have to do when you get a new inquiry is add in the custom info and send it off.
I use both Google Docs & Aisle Planner’s templates to keep up with my own process. In Google Doc I keep all the emails from the initial autoresponder through the welcome email - this is where I review these at least quarterly for updates if needed. Then I house the ones that are attached to items I send through Aisle Planner (like my proposal, contract & invoice) into the email templates on AP. What part of the inquiry system is sucking the life out of you? What are you avoiding? These are great candidates for what you should template out first to make it easier for you to book clients and serve them well.
If you’re looking for a proposal template, Terrica Skaggs has a fantastic proposal course, Unstoppable Profit for Wedding Pros, that’s great for all pros across the industry!
2. Consistent Client Experience
A streamlined process also creates a consistent client experience. Just as the inquiry process is also a part of your marketing, your client experience doesn’t start once they sign a contract. It begins at the first touchpoint and requires consistency across every touchpoint. Your booking process sets the tone for what these couples can expect when they are your clients.
How do you want your couples to feel about working with you? Does your booking process make them feel that?
For example, if you say you want to make wedding planning “easy,” it sure as hell better be “easy” to book you, too. You can’t bop them around to 15 different places like “sign the contract through this software,” “pay an invoice via this software,” then “onboard onto this CRM timeline and this CRM for your design work.” That doesn’t feel “easy” and will make that potential client second guess whether you can do what you say you can do.
I’m going to ask those two reflection questions again. How do you want your couples to feel when working with you? Does your booking process make them feel that?
You want to create effective, quality communication that makes someone get a taste of the magic you could create for them as a part of their wedding day team. A clear, confident booking process is going to position you as a professional early on.
Another great way to position yourself as a professional early is to ensure you’ve set up consistent branding through your CRM. I love that my emails, proposals, and even the login page with Aisle Planner are branded for our company - it makes it feel like a seamless part of the overall client experience. So when it comes time for me to onboard couples into AP for planning, it feels like they’ve already gotten a taste of it and understand how integral it is to what we do.
3. Identify Pain Points
Here’s a tip about written processes - just because it’s written down doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. In fact, part of the reason we want it written down is so we can take strategic measures to improve the process. If you aren’t booking up for 2022 like you want to or if you aren’t booking the types of people you want to be booking - it’s time to look at your process.
Where are people exiting your inquiry process? What are their most common objections?
If you don’t already track these two items - you are missing out on an opportunity to better your business. If you don’t know when and why people are choosing not to book with you, when it comes to your marketing and booking process, you’re essentially throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks.
You should be asking the people who don’t book with you why they don’t book with you. I have a short and sweet email template I use for this, and sure, I get quite a few no responses, but the responses I do get are so valuable and insightful into how couples are experiencing my inquiry process.
I’m not saying to throw everything you’ve ever learned about attracting and repelling clients out the window. Of course, we don’t want to increase our booking rates at the expense of our creativity or goals. This is actually why you should be tracking this information. Let’s do some quick math. The average conversion rate for the wedding industry is around 25% - ideally, you’d learn your own conversion rate to do this, but for the sake of the exercise we’ll use the average. If you want to book 12 weddings next year, and the average conversion rate is 25%, you’ll need to get at least 48 inquiries from your ideal client. Not just total, but from the clients you want to book.
So how many inquiries are you getting from your ideal clients each year? If it’s less than what you need to book, you have a lead flow issue. You’ll know you need to look at your marketing and lead generation to figure out where the disconnect is.
Aisle Planner’s Lead Manager has helped me with tracking the when’s & why’s of the “no thank you”s I get. I made a custom flow for my inquiry process in the Lead Manager section so I can track where people are in the process as well as when and why someone doesn’t book.
Recently, it brought to light that the vetting process I was using worked great for booking local coordination clients, but when it came to destination full-planning, my process was actually repelling couples that I wanted to be booking. But since I have a written system that’s trackable - I could see where I was losing them and specifically address these issues with a coach to fix those pain points. Special note: I booked my biggest package ever after doing this hard look into my process. So this definitely isn’t just fluff.
4. Ease of Outsourcing & Training
If you can’t keep up with inquiries, it might be time to enlist some help. This may mean hiring an office manager or a virtual assistant. It could also mean training an existing team member (as long as it’s not overloading them).
I am a big believer in giving people grace, but I’m going to take a second for some tough love. As a planner, I can say with certainty that my clients have chosen one vendor over another based solely on response time. Yes, it may be a busy time, but there is no excuse for not responding to a client or potential client for a month. There really isn’t an excuse for not responding for over a week. As a planner, other vendors’ performances reflect on me and it makes it hard for me to refer you when you aren’t responsive and don’t follow through. Especially because there is such an easy answer to this issue to me - hire help.
So, if you’re thinking, you’re right, Skylar, I need someone to help me stay on top of my regular responses but I can’t afford to hire help, you have three options:
- Raise your prices so you can afford help
- Make an autoresponder that accurately states your current response time (sometimes just communicating it is enough! It sets expectations and lets them know you aren’t just MIA)
- Close your bookings until you can level out and make an autoresponder that shares that info
Not responding is hurting your business reputation. Now, brush off any uncomfortable feelings that might have been brought up for you, and let’s get back into how a streamlined system makes it easy to outsource.
Where is your time best used?
This is actually a question that is asked a lot in my business and household. And it’s influenced by author Gay Hendricks’ book, The Big Leap.
In The Big Leap, Hendricks posits that all tasks fall into 1 of 4 zones on a graph of your time and talents. There’s the Zone of Incompetence - others can do these things better than you can, the Zone of Competence - others can do these things just as well as you can. The Zone of Excellence - you do these things extremely well. And the Zone of Genius - these activities are uniquely suited to you and draw upon your special gifts & strengths.
Many people get stuck in their Zone of Excellence. The Zone of Excellence is comfortable and often you can make money just fine doing it, but it holds you back from doing what you were really made to do.
If this strikes a chord for you, I highly recommend reading the book - it’s short & sweet - and I recommend making a chart like this for your own business.
- What are you not great at? You should outsource or hire for that for sure.
- What are you good at, but others can do just as well? You should outsource that all the time, but especially during a busy season.
- What do you do great at, but maybe it isn’t your passion or your best use of your time? This is harder to decipher, but finding what pieces from this you can outsource will open you up to more of this.
- What do you love doing? What lights you up inside and everyone knows you’re the go-to person for? This is where you should be prioritizing your time and efforts.
If you’re still having a hard time imagining letting go of control, here’s another reflection question: What could you accomplish with the time you gain back?
And just like we talked about during the section on saving time and effort, this doesn’t necessarily mean freeing up space for more work. Maybe it just means you can commit to a weekend away with your partner every month. Or that you don’t miss your friend’s birthday dinner to answer emails you’ve fallen behind on.
I personally have an awesome virtual assistant, Julie of Dallas Girl Friday, who helps me with many tasks, but when it comes to my inquiry process I use her primarily for data entry. She inputs the important info from our website form into Aisle Planner’s lead manager so it’s ready for me when it comes time for the consultation. One place I could get better at using her: letting her take over the initial inquiry responses for me. That’s firmly in my Zone of Competence. I have a templated email that doesn’t really require any Skylar “Special Sauce,” so it’s time for me to train her to take that over so I can focus on my Zone of Genius.
Speaking of AP’s lead manager - I’ve created a custom form that helps myself and my team guide consults. This lets me allow the other planners on my team to handle their own consults knowing they have our form to guide their flow of conversation. Then after the consult, they can use our branded, fill-in-the-blank proposal template to quickly get our quote in a potential client’s hand. All giving them a quick response and a consistent client experience without spending unnecessary time or effort starting from scratch.
A clearly defined - and written - process is crucial for your team to ensure consistent client experience regardless of who completes the task. That GoogleDoc I mentioned earlier acts as a SOP (or Standard Operation Procedure) where I house each email and step of the inquiry process for my team and VA to use and refer to. It’s what I use to train my team and is something they have regular access to whenever they need a refresher or template.
5. Plan for Risk Management
Now for the final benefit, a streamlined booking process acts as a risk management plan to keep your business working even when you can’t. When the unexpected removes you from regular business functions, can you keep booking and serving people? Have you ever stepped away from your business from maternity or paternity leave? How about a family emergency? An extended illness whether for yourself or a family member?
Did you feel extra stress during those times because you felt like your business couldn’t go on without you specifically?
If you have your inquiry process written down, you can have someone step into that space and help you (whether they’re paid or a friend who’s offered to help however they can) keep things working while you don’t.
Risk Management is like a rain plan for your business. Much like our couples, we don’t always like to think about the worst-case scenarios, but when our businesses are our livelihoods, we do not have the sort of luxury.
My written inquiry process guide has a clear flow of what to send and when to send it. In my Aisle Planner Lead Manager there are templates for emails, proposals, contracts, and invoices as well as a consult guide for planners and drop-down menus to track where someone is in the process, and why they did or didn’t book. Should I need to step away for a time, my team could easily step into the gap and keep the ship afloat.
We just covered a lot of ground about the benefits of a streamlined inquiry system, but remember this all extends beyond the booking process.
- Templated questionnaires that gather important info save you time and energy.
- Using your process to make a checklist you can follow again & again ensures a consistent client experience.
- Reviewing your written planning process quarterly can identify pain points you can address to create an even better service.
- Assigning a team member checklist items in the process makes it easy to outsource tasks.
If you ever need to pass off clients, you can add a team member or outsourced planner to their project so there are no issues in communication or client experience. Take some time to write out your inquiry process so you can outsource, create email or proposal templates, or simply add your branding to Aisle Planner so it is auto-added all over your account. These are all helpful steps that will make your inquiry process seamless!
Hero photo courtesy of JAMSTUDIO Weddings