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How to start a wedding venue: Tips from two wedding industry experts

by | Sep 12, 2022 | Best Practices, Event Management, Event Marketing, Event Planning, Event Venues, Venues

Is it your dream to run a wedding venue perfect for tying the knot? Or is the growing $61.9 billion wedding industry piquing your entrepreneurial interest? Whatever the reason, starting a wedding venue can be a great choice to shift your career and improve your financial portfolio–but getting an event venue up and running isn’t always easy.

We talked with two of our clients and wedding venue experts, Monique Jeffrey and Andrea Vallencourt, to see what advice they have for event enthusiasts looking to launch their own wedding venue business. 

Monique has spent the last 10 years as a certified special events professional (CSEP) and the VP of Operations with Bramble Hospitality, helping them run, manage, and grow their two wedding venues, Willowdale Estate and Briar Barn Inn. Her decade of experience working with a maturing company has given her valuable insight into what works and what doesn’t when establishing a successful event space. 

Andrea, venue owner of Clay Theatre, may have slightly fewer years in the venue industry than Monique (having acquired her wedding venue in 2019) but she understands what it takes from a venue owner’s perspective to launch a successful wedding venue startup in today’s environment, even without massive amounts of prior industry know-how. Despite the pandemic, Andrea has successfully renovated and scaled her 1930s movie theatre turned boutique wedding venue, continuously booking new events and growing her team. 

Now, Andrea and Monique are teaming up to share with you the lessons they learned from building a wedding venue business to help you put together your business plan and jump into the role of wedding venue owner. Read on to hear their secrets to running the perfect wedding venue.

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But first, get your systems in place!

One of the things Andrea and Monique have in common is that they both use Planning Pod to manage and run their wedding venue business. Planning Pod is an all-in-one software built specifically for venue owners and event planners to help you run a smooth, professional operation while giving you back hours of time each week. 

Start your new wedding venue business off on the right foot and invest in Planning Pod from the start. It will save you hours of time each week, increase your bookings, and keep your clients impressed from the showing to the big day. Request a demo of Planning Pod and start building your wedding venue business today. 

Selecting an event venue 

One of the biggest decisions you’ll make in your new wedding business is selecting the venue–after all, it will be the very core of your business. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Find an event space that fits your brand 

When it comes to your wedding venue business, what type of experience are you looking to give your customers? If you’re offering a luxury destination wedding feel, you may want a space that offers or is nearby plenty of lodging options. If you want to give cute, country-chic wedding vibes, you may want to invest in a barn wedding venue or even utilize rural property and create a unique outdoor wedding venue. There are also options for multi-purpose spaces or converting unique spaces, like Andrea’s historic theatre. When choosing a space, you will want ample space for different-sized receptions–and don’t forget about scoping out a perfect space for the wedding ceremony itself. 

Buy, Build, or Rent

Navigating real estate can be difficult, so you may want to consider all of your options. While buying would be a preferred choice, you may not have enough business line of credit for a down payment, so securing a good lease could be a better alternative. There are also other options, such as building a new property or looking into less traditional programs. 

One of the properties Monique manages is part of a curatorship program offered through the state. So the owners lease the property from the state in a 55-year lease agreement and are allowed to use the property for capital use. In exchange, they restored the old structure and continue to keep the space looking beautiful. 

Before signing your lease agreement or putting a down payment on a new property, check local zoning laws to ensure you are allowed to legally operate your business on that property.

Navigating Event Venue Renovations

Many wedding venues are historical or converted spaces–it’s part of what gives them their charm. It’s also what gives many event owners headaches as they make big building decisions and continue to dish out renovation fees without pulling in a profit. Here are a few things to keep in mind during your wedding venue renovations to make the most of your building budget and under construction time. 

Start booking while you’re still under construction 

Construction time doesn’t have to mean idle time. Andrea recommends using the renovation period to build buzz around your venue and start booking ahead for opening day, so you can hit the ground running and start making money the second the paint dries. Before officially opening the doors to Clay Theatre, she managed to book 50 weddings!

“Being confident in what you’re selling makes a big difference,” says Andrea. “I was basically selling a construction site, so I would do hard hat tours and get people excited to be part of our opening story. I even did a photo shoot with a bride and groom in front of the construction site.”

She also advertised under-construction promotional pricing to build excitement and entice more prospects to want to lock in their price by putting down a deposit for their future event. 

Invest in the renderings 

Another big reason Andrea was able to book so many weddings before she opened her doors was because of her investment in quality renderings. Andrea invested $16k to have a flyover video created that would take potential clients on a virtual tour of the finished property, seeing room-by-room the space they would be booking. The video helped clients visualize what they were investing in and feel more confident booking the space. Meanwhile, their deposits and scheduled payments helped bring in some much-needed revenue that Andrea used to purchase appliances, venue furniture, and other materials that her construction loan didn’t cover. 

“It was a big investment, but we booked 50 weddings because of it, so I have to believe that it was worth it,” she says.  

Be picky about your contractor 

A bad contractor is anyone’s nightmare, but it is especially true for venue owners whose whole business relies on their building. Andrea recommends leaning toward a contractor with experience renovating spaces similar to yours and who will provide you with a very thorough quote to avoid any unforeseen costs.

“Find a contractor that you trust that’s going to not send you 100 change orders,” Andrea warns. “The one we went with had everything spelled out for every little charge while others just gave a broad ballpark.”

Work with a professional venue designer

Once you hire your contractor, secure yourself a designer. Not only can a designer help you achieve a beautiful, on-brand aesthetic, but an experienced one can also help you anticipate what your building will need to meet your event space needs, saving you expensive mistakes and future renovation needs. 

“My designer had built a very successful wedding venue just a year prior to ours, so they knew what was needed,” Andrea explains. “They knew how big my kitchen needed to be. They knew that I needed two suites for the bride and groom to get ready and that they had to be far apart from each other. They knew the logistics of the catering to the banquet hall, like how close it needed to be. And they knew about all the ADA compliance, like that we needed a handicap lift and our bathrooms had to be ADA compliant going upstairs. Getting a professional was worth it because I wouldn’t have anticipated all of that without them.”

Wedding venue marketing for your new business 

Every good wedding venue business plan needs an equally good marketing strategy. After all, it’s hard to book clients if they don’t know you exist! Here are some tips from Monique and Andrea on what marketing tactics to use to book more wedding receptions for your venue. 

Build your brand first 

Before you jump on Instagram or start building a website, you’ll want to nail your brand first. Monique recommends investing in a good marketing agency to help you develop a brand that fits your vision and speaks to your ideal client. A well-rounded brand should include visual aesthetics as well as key messaging, value propositions, an overview of your ideal target audience, and comprehensive market research. 

Invest in a good website 

Once you have your brand down, make sure you’re presenting yourself well with a quality website. Many clients will visit your website before they even visit your venue, so it’s essential that you’re making a good impression, especially if you are a new venue. Monique stresses that your website shouldn’t be something you cut corners on. 

“Don’t skimp on a website,” warns Monique. “It should be your number one thing because clients see it as a reflection of who you are as a business.”

Leverage social media 

Monique and Andrea both agree that a strong social media presence is a must-have for your wedding venue. Monique loves the platforms because there are no costs to creating an account for Facebook, Instagram, or Tik Tok and it’s a great way to connect with your community. And when you do invest in paid advertisements on the platform, it often has a lower cost and higher return than more traditional marketing routes. 

“Our VP of Communications would say that your money is better off spent advertising with social media than in your traditional magazine, or even through Wedding Wire,” adds Monique. 

Andrea, who relies almost completely on social media for her marketing, agrees with Monique. 

“I do have an account on The Knot and Wedding Wire, but most of my leads come from Instagram, and now I’m also reaching Tik Tok,” explains Andrea. “I’ve actually had two brides that are Tik Tok famous get married here.”

Andrea has helped build her following by connecting with vendors who shared her style. Soon, the vendors were sharing her posts and introducing her new venue to all their followers, helping her reach more prospective clients without paying any advertisement fees.

Network

Building relationships with prospective clients and other vendors is a great way to grow your business. Just as Andrea utilized her online connections to get in front of more clients, traditional networking can also help you build a reputation in the industry and draw in more leads. Monique believes that every venue owner (especially new business owners) should invest in a membership with a relevant association. At the very least, you should attend some of their events and meetings to get the word out about your new venue and generate new leads and valuable connections. 

Working with vendors 

Unless you plan to serve as a full-service venue, you will likely work with many vendors. Understanding what type of vendors your clients will need, how you will want to work with them, and which vendors you know are great can all help to ensure a smooth, successful wedding day for your clients (and more referrals for your business). 

Curate a list of preferred vendors 

While vendors are separate small businesses, the quality of service they provide is often a reflection of your venue, warns Monique and Andrea. 

“The biggest mistake I made at the beginning was letting any caterer or food provider come in, which did lose me some bookings,” Andrea confesses. “It hurts me so bad when someone says they came to a wedding here, and it was very beautiful, but the food sucked. While I can say it’s not my food, when it’s under your roof, it’s your food.”

Andrea now only allows six vendors she knows and trusts to work in her venue. Keeping it to a lower number helps her to ensure that they continue to provide great food, friendly service, and consistent offerings. For other vendor types, like DJs, she tries to push her clients to sign with her preferred vendors by offering incentives like an additional lighting package at no charge. 

Monique, who refers to her vendors as partners, also works from a list of preselected vendors she evaluates each year to ensure they meet their high quality standards. 

“If you refer the wrong person, even a photographer, the client understands that the photographer is their own company, but because you’ve referred that person, it comes back to you at the end,” she says. 

Let the caterers serve the liquor if you don’t have a license 

There are many challenges that come with adding a bar to your venue—one being a liquor license, which can be both expensive and complicated to obtain. Andrea found a workaround for her venue by letting her catering company supply the bar. 

Not only does the catering company carry the license and liability, but it is often much less expensive than what competing vendors charge, helping her clients see the financial value in booking with her venue. While Andrea does believe that a bar can add a lot of revenue to your venue, it could be smarter to get things up and running and start bringing in more cash flow before investing in an in-house bar. 

Collect insurance information from every vendor every time 

Insurance is one of those things you don’t think about until you need it. When you own a venue, you are responsible for everyone that steps into your building, so it’s important that you off-put some of that liability with the appropriate vendors. From the catering company and DJs down to the baker of the wedding cake, Andrea asks each vendor to provide a certificate of insurance, so if one of the vendors causes harm or damages her property, she can hold them liable for the costs of repairs. 

Pricing and packaging your services

Finalizing your packages and pricing can be difficult, so here are some things to keep in mind before landing on your final number. 

Think about what you want to offer and how much it costs 

Starting a wedding venue business can require a lot of upfront planning and costs, which is why Monique suggests you take some time to think about exactly what you want to offer and the costs associated with that before building your packages. 

Willowdale Estate, one of the event spaces she manages, is a one-stop shop for its clients. They provide on-site catering, bar, equipment, rentals, wedding planners, and anything else a bride and groom will need for their special day. This allows them to maximize their revenue streams. However, for startups with a small business line of credit, doing it all at once may not be financially feasible. Instead, you could start off small, using your business loan to secure your venue and slowly add new services as your revenue, staff, and bookings grow. 

Research your competitors 

Andrea exhaustively shopped venues before landing on her prices. First collecting information from direct competitors in her area, then other spaces similar to hers outside of her area. She even canvased similar venues across her state and in large cities of neighboring states. This helped her determine the average market rate for a venue of her size so she knew what clients were expecting to pay. Of course, not all venues are the same, so make sure you’re comparing your place to venues structured similarly to yours. If you are only renting an event space, you won’t want to compare yourself to a venue that offers additional services, such as on-site catering and table and linen rentals, as the prices will differ.

Set clear limitations, requirements, and expectations in your contract

When booking your first clients, it can be easy to want to give away all of the extras, but from a business perspective, you can quickly cut into your profit margin (and time) by doing this. Instead, clearly outline what’s included in each package, and throw those extra services into your larger packages as an incentive to upgrade. 

For example, Andrea used to give her clients access to the space for the entire day of their booking. Now, she limits the time they are allowed for setup, the event itself, and tear down. However, clients that opt for the more inclusive package that includes special lighting, use of the large outdoor marquee, and upgraded linens, also get to have extra hours for setup. She also allows for a la carte upgrades to keep her clients happy while still turning a profit. 

Monique says that you should also anticipate potential hang-ups from the clients end and setup requirements to avoid guests from placing the blame on you. For example, Willowdale Estate has a very long driveway that leads to a smaller parking lot that only accommodates about 70 cars. To avoid making guests park and walk that quarter-mile to the venue (which can feel very long on a rainy day), they require clients to provide transportation if their guest list exceeds 100 people. This way, clients won’t get stuck in the rain and blame it on the event venue. 

Set up your systems and processes 

From tracking incoming leads, to booking rooms, to managing vendors, there are a lot of pieces that go into wedding planning and running an event venue. Having a clear and organized system from the get-go will help you stay atop every task and avoid miscommunications, mistakes, and upset clients. 

Invest in Planning Pod’s Event Venue Management software 

Andrea and Monique both recommend Planning Pod as an all-in-one event venue management solution. The software allows you to create, edit, and manage bookings from any electronic device. Simply log on to find all of the event details, such as date and times, to-do lists, timelines, client requests, vendor agreements, and payment schedules. You can even set up automated payments and payment reminders, request electronic signatures on important documents, create custom templates for packages and contracts, and design custom floor plans for clients. 

Planning Pod will be the MVP of your team, taking care of every detail and keeping you, your clients, your staff, and vendors all on task. 

Staffing your startup 

Hire a full-time event coordinator before opening 

Like any startup, you’ll likely spend A LOT of time working in your business the first few years. Still, being in-person for every inquiry and event while still managing and running the back end of your business isn’t always feasible. Monique and Andrea both agree that starting off with at least one versatile employee who can help you from sales to event planning and coordination can help alleviate a lot of stress and prevent burnout. 

Hire people with experience 

Monique also recommends that when you do hire, to find people that already have experience in the industry and are capable of wearing multiple hats. This way, they will be able to immediately hit the ground running and jump in wherever you need them to ensure successful events. It’s also helpful to have someone with know-how who you can learn from, bounce ideas off of, and help you solve problems as they arise. Monique adds that once you find great employees, ensure you have incentives in place to celebrate and retain those star players. 

Hire as you grow

Once your bookings grow, so can your staff. You can add on event assistants to attend the events, maintenance crews to do set up and tear down, groundskeeping to tend to landscaping needs, additional event planners and coordinators, and even office staff to manage paperwork. 

Andrea and Monique agree that before you start hiring, you’ll need to have a good system in place. Without a centralized system and clear processes, information can easily get lost between team members, and new employees may not always understand what you need them to do. Planning Pod’s event venue software is a huge help, because everyone from the event coordinator and assistants to the set-up crew and vendors can access the information they need to make the big day come together. It even comes with a timeline and to-do list feature that allows you to spell out the who, what, where, and when for every task. 

Making the leap 

The final piece of advice from Andrea and Monique is to jump in. There are many lessons that come with owning an event venue, but with each challenge comes an opportunity to grow. So don’t let the fear of failure hold you back from building the wedding venue business of your dreams, and embrace the journey. 

“A lot is going to change in those first five years,” says Monique. “Something that you thought was going to work when you first opened the venue might not. And that’s OK.” 

What are you waiting for? Launch your wedding venue business today with Planning Pod. Planning Pod is everything you need an event venue management software…it’s your event coordinator, event planner, communications hub, and more. Request a personalized demo today to see how Planning Pod can help you power your future wedding venue. 

1 Comment

  1. Amy Lai

    Superb Post! You are sharing excellent advice. I like these advice. These suggestions are very helpful to me as a wedding planner. This post was incredibly interesting to read and quite informative.

    Reply

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