The wedding tax and why wedding vendors are the way they are
We’ve got one final stop on this road trip to Weddingvendorville before we start booking wedding creators and that’s to talk about how the wedding industry isn’t like every other industry.
I believe that one of the leading causes of stress and anxiousness in wedding planning is the beautiful coming together of two people who are, for most likely the first time, planning the biggest event they’ve ever planned, gathering the most people, from the extremities of their family and friendship trees, spending the most amount of money they’ve spent yet, and they’re doing it in an industry unlike any other.
And instead of understanding how the wedding industry is different, people bang on about the "wedding tax" without understanding the complexities of creating weddings and running businesses around that skill.
There’s no industry that can directly be compared with the wedding industry. Just ask all of us who went through the pandemic and tried to get other work. Creating weddings really well is a very specific and valuable skill that doesn’t exactly translate to working 9 to 5 for a global corporation.
You might think that the corporate events industry would be an easy translation, but even the corporate and business events industry is different. If you attend one of those big name conferences or events, the budgets are so much larger, and the events are so much larger. The providers of services have to operate in ways that governments and corporations like, we’re talking tender processes, massive quotes, big numbers, purchase orders, catering for thousands of people, parking and amenities for the same numbers. If you’ve worked in weddings you’ll walk into those government and corporate events and have a real appreciation for doing things on that scale.
But if you’re planning a wedding for 50 to 150 of your closest you’re not calling those people, if only because you don’t want boxed lunches to be handed out, and you don’t want a cookie-cutter corporate event. You’re creating an intimate and personal affair.
The wedding industry is almost exclusively home to micro to small businesses. In my 15 years of meeting and working with wedding vendors I’ve met maybe 10 businesses with staff numbers larger than five people, and revenues of more than $500k. When you contact a wedding vendor it’s more than likely that it’s a solo operator or a duo/couple.
Controversially I’ll say that you don’t want to hire a wedding vendor who does weddings as a side-hustle or a hobby, I simply think your wedding deserves a dedicated artist whose time is devoted to creating the kind of creations you want at your wedding.
Full time wedding creators are limited in the amount of output they can bring to market each year. They’ve done their own maths and come to an understanding that with all of the associated work they might be able to create 15, or 30, or 80 weddings a year. They know their expenses and they have an income goal for their household, so it’s a simple calculation of:
Annual expenses + annual household income + annual taxes = annual required income.
Annual income / number of weddings I can do a year = charge per wedding.
I’ve very much over-simplified the process, and each business and each category of wedding creator will have their own specific way of pricing themselves, but that math is a good start.
There are just so many costs of business that are not immediately known by the general public. You can start by talking about insurance, registration and government fees, income taxes, state taxes, goods and services taxes, vehicles, maintenance, fuel, etc. Then start talking about the cost of equipment to make the art, whether it’s the $30,000 of camera gear, or the $5,000 PA speaker system. Travel, rental car, flights, accommodation and travel time expenses.
And we’re not even at the juicy stuff yet. Let’s talk about the cost of answering email enquiries, taking phone calls and meetings with prospective clients who don’t book you. That’s a cost of business. Marketing, advertising, social media boosting posts and the cost of being found on search and by smart assistants or chatbots.
Add on to all these very explainable expenses the cost of being an artist. Not every creation is great. You need time in the studio or workshop or office trialling, writing, drawing, experimenting and playing. Art isn’t something that is made, but you make an environment, a space where art becomes inevitable.
For many of us, there’s ancillary work to create for your wedding. For some it’s the preparation time, for others it’s the post-wedding processing time. If you have a photographer shoot your wedding for a full day, expect that there’s at least one to two, to maybe even five days of post-wedding work to prepare those images. Videographers require even more work. To create beautiful work you need time.
On top of this is the cost of “not going nuts before or at your wedding” which is very simply explained as having a day or three off a week, going on a holiday or two a year, and spending quality time with friends, partners, family, and kids. So many of us in the wedding industry and in self-employment can very easily find ourselves working 8 days a week, 26 hours a day, 53 weeks a year, and when your wedding finally arrives on the calendar, you want to hope and pray that we’ve had a rest and a coffee so your wedding gets the full breadth of our energy, creativity, and effort.
Then there are the two big expenses: direct time on your wedding, starting with the meetings, the phone calls, video calls and emails. Then the direct hours working on your wedding, maybe the day before, the day of, maybe after. Finally, there’s the wedding hangover. If I work a full-day wedding, creating and working with both of you, your families and guests, other vendors and creators, then get home around midnight, I’m waking up with a wedding hangover tomorrow. There does not have to be any alcohol in my system for this hangover, but I’ve just given so much the day before that the day after, I’ve not got much to give.
Every single failed wedding vendor story I’ve heard in person, read in the news, or seen on TV has failed on one of the above points. They burned out, they didn’t have good or maintained equipment, and they weren’t resourced enough to provide the services or products they were offering. Their failures are theirs to own, but the biggest failure of theirs is that they didn’t charge enough to operate at that level, and they succumbed to the whims of the market which wanted to find a cheap way out of an expensive problem.
I will support you all the way to fight for the best deal for your wedding. I want you to spend as little as possible, and to get as much for your dollar as you can. But I’ll encourage you with these four points:
- You quite possibly don’t know what things cost. I don’t. I often experience professional services and have no idea what they cost, so when I do enquire about the cost, or I find out by way of being handed an invoice, I’m more often than not surprised at the low cost or the high cost. But things never cost what I think they should. So make all the enquiries you can to find out what things cost and what you are getting for that dollar, but read the packages or the information packs and understand that what one person is selling for $5 is possibly different from what another is selling for $10.
- Acknowledge. If you enquire with two vendors and the price is very different, understand that there are differing offerings here, but also appreciate that the offerings and the quotes have been crafted for you, hoping it would bring you value. So reply to the email or the phone call and acknowledge and appreciate value.
- Price always sits within the context of value. How much value is being brought to you? If you’ve been stranded on a deserted island for a week and I offer you water and a meal, you’d likely pay me your entire life savings for that one meal, but if I approached you with the same meal and drink as you left a restaurant, you might not value it at all. You’ll identify value as you enquire with creators, learn more about your tastes and your worldviews as you experience these different offerings and creations.
- You’re enquiring with humans. They’re often more flexible than you’d think, you just need to approach them like humans. For example, you’ll get very different responses to these two questions: “How much?” and “Can you send me information on your packages and prices?” Another good example of two different questions getting very different replies would be “You’re too expensive” versus “I appreciate that you are more than worth that price, but are there any ways I can contract your services at a lower price?” The easiest way to shut down a conversation with a creative is to go all Boomer Karen on them. Talk to them like they are humans with families and their own issues, because that’s exactly who they are.
In closing, before we go out into the marketplace and start enquiring, I wanted to share two personal thoughts I have every time someone books me for their wedding.
The first is that when that booking form and booking fee come through, I feel an immense burden placed on my shoulders to create something epic and beautiful within the terms of that contract. So if you book me for next September, I slowly start manoeuvring my whole life to be able to not just deliver, but over-deliver on that date. When you book me, that’s part of the package, that as I play with my kids or eat a meal with my wife, a little bit of my brain is thinking about you and your wedding.
The second experience is the immense joy in knowing that my little thing that I really enjoy and work really hard at creating has resonated with someone else, and that’s all I could ever hope for in this world. Like this book, it’s so bloody nice that you cared enough to get this far. I don’t deserve any clients or bookings. I’m not promised any more clients or bookings, and as I learned in Covid, things can go as quickly as they come, so I am extremely grateful that you chose me.
I’m certain that every other wedding vendor feels the same way.
That’s the wedding tax, it’s a tax we pay, mentally and emotionally, not a tax you pay.