What is the new normal?
After every major event we hear about “the new normal,” but what does that really mean? What is normal? Normal is what feels comfortable. Normal is what feels effortless. Is that really normal? Life isn’t always comfortable or effortless, regardless of what’s going on around us. If there’s anything we can count on, it’s that life will throw us curveballs, usually at the most inopportune time. So why don’t we talk about the new normal when the economy is humming along? Things getting significantly better is a new normal, just as it is when things getting worse.
How full is your glass?
One of my favourite Dad-jokes is about the glass-half-full question: “The optimist sees the glass as half-full. The pessimist sees the glass as half-empty. The engineer thinks that the glass is twice as large as necessary for this application.” OK, now that you’ve groaned at my Dad-joke, how full is your glass? Are you an optimist, a pessimist, or are you the engineer? The optimist and pessimist are looking at what’s in the glass. The engineer is looking at the glass itself and wants to know who used the wrong glass.
Where’s your focus?
All of us have lots of reasons to be a little more pessimistic than usual, whatever usual is for each of us. While many of us have powered through past recessions and tragedies, this is very different. The wedding industry has been called ‘recession-resistant’, a phrase I’ve used many times over the 25+ years I’ve been in the industry. I’ve seen you power through stock market crashes, recessions, the housing crisis and even the 9/11 tragedy. What we never imagined was being told that you can’t have a wedding reception, at all. That’s why this is different. It’s not that you don’t want to do your job. It’s not that your couples don’t want to get married. This adversary is unlike anything we’ve encountered. (and if you’ve never read the book “Who Moved My Cheese?“, I highly recommend it. It’s a very short read about adapting to change.)
Are you looking for the opportunities, or a parachute?
I got a call the other day from Jay Fitzgerald, an industry friend in California, who has also been in the industry for a long time. He wanted to share with me that his entertainment company has been selling strongly throughout the lockdowns and crisis. He wanted to share what’s been working so that, if the opportunity arises, I can share some of the ideas with you. That’s the kind of generosity that I’m used to in the wedding and event industry. The idea that a rising tide lifts all boats is in the DNA of our industry. You can’t dedicate yourself to helping others celebrate amazing events without being outwardly focused. Yes, this industry has our share of egos as well, but even most of those people are dedicated to creating amazing experiences for their customers.
So, what’s the secret sauce?
What Jay shared with me was partly familiar and partly new. The familiar part is that he increased his advertising early into the crisis. Yes, you read that right, he increased his advertising, he didn’t cut it back or out. The typical reaction is to look to cut expenses, and too many people look first to advertising and marketing. There’s a big difference between expenses and investments. I’ve spoken and written a lot about this. Expenses are things that you only expect to get value equal to what you paid. When you put gas in your car or truck, you expect to get where you’re going, nothing more, nothing less. When you invest in advertising, you’re hoping to get back more than you invested. I’ve cut back my home TV subscription, that’s an expense. I have not cut back on marketing my business. I’ve increased my advertising. I’m leaning in!
Spend more now? Really?
In 2009 during the recession, I was on my way to a conference in Las Vegas. When I boarded the plane, I met a wedding pro who was headed to the same conference. I asked him: “How’s business?” He said: “It’s fantastic, and it scares me.” I asked, if business is fantastic, why did it scare him? He said it’s because he didn’t know why business was great, when others around him were crying the blues. After chatting for a while, I realized that he had been keeping his eyes open for opportunities. If someone in his market dropped their higher placement on sites like The Knot and WeddingWire, he grabbed them. What he knew then, and Jay knows now, is that while others are looking for a rock to crawl under, they are taking their market share.
And the secret sauce is…?
What Jay also shared with me is some of the ways he’s adapted his sales processes. He’s doing most of his communications through text. The statistics show that 90% of texts are seen within 3 minutes of when they’re received. Jay said that the open rate for his texts was also around 90%, way more than the 35% for his emails. These are not new stats for me. What’s new is to see someone using them to his advantage. I added texting to my site, through ZipWhip, so people can text my office number (as opposed to my cell phone). Not many people use it, but it’s one more way to reduce the friction in the sales process. Jay also has given his customers more perception of control in the process. He asks them how much deposit they’re comfortable with. He asks them how they’d like to spread out the balance. He reserves the right to not agree to something they might suggest, but most of the time what they suggest is acceptable to him, as well. Many times, they ask him what he thinks, and he gets to drive the process for them.
Where’s your victim card?
We all have a victim card. We get to choose whether to pull it out and wave it or keep it in our pocket. Early in the pandemic, we all had our victim cards out. That’s understandable as this is unprecedented in our lifetimes. We weren’t around for the 1918 pandemic (the Spanish Flu). We weren’t around for World War I or World War II. Most of us haven’t had to sacrifice our daily lifestyle. We’ve been able to leave our homes, shop where we want, eat out and visit with our friends and family. My dad is 90 years old and he’s used to being able to go out and just do whatever he wants. This is unprecedented for him, too. If you’re fortunate to not have anyone you know, or care about become ill from Covid-19 or die, that’s great. I’m happy for you. If you, like me, know anyone who’s been ill, or has died from this virus, I’m sorry for your pain and loss. It’s OK to pull out your victim card… for a while, but whether you choose to keep it out is up to you.
The new normal is up to you
I work with and speak to lots of wedding and event pros, one-on-one, in groups and online. There’s no denying that many people weren’t prepared for an event like this. Despite all of the voices telling us that we should have a rainy-day savings, that’s often easier said than done. And a normal rainy-day fund wouldn’t necessarily prepare us for the storm that we’re experiencing now. But some people were prepared. Some people had money set aside. Some people’s new normal is uncomfortable, but not debilitating.
My wings have been clipped, for now
I’m used to traveling, a lot. I flew over 140,000 miles last year and was away almost half the year. I’ve now been home for over 5-months straight, working from my office about 15 feet from the kitchen. Our old routine often involved my wife picking me up at Newark Airport (almost weekly) and stopping at a favourite restaurant on the way home (usually sitting at the bar, having dinner). We haven’t eaten in a restaurant since mid-March. This is a very different experience for both my wife and me. Our new normal is me doing virtual consultations, webinars, remote presentations, etc. Different? For sure. Better, worse or just different? That’s a matter of perspective. I love having more time with my wife (fortunately, she likes having me around as well). I’ve been doing webinars since 2007, so remote presenting is natural for me. Our new normal, while adjusting to significantly less income, has its bright side.
Clear the fog and do something positive
There is no new normal, there’s only what’s happening now, and what will happen tomorrow… and the next day… just like always. We are always taking our next step from where we find ourselves today. Where’s your victim card now? It’s 5+ months into this crisis, so it’s long enough for you to decide where to keep it. If you’ve read the Serenity Prayer, you know that we need to accept the things we can’t change. We can’t make this go away, so we need to learn how to adapt to it, the way Jay did and the way so many others have. What have you done to move your business forward? Are you trying to get your customers to adapt to you, or are you adapting to them? I don’t mean discounting your services, that’s the easy and defensive way to more, and less profitable sales. Have you reimagined your services and packages? Have you been proactive or reactive with your couples about rescheduling? Have you done anything personally that you’d been putting off? The new normal is not one thing for all of us. It’s what you make it for yourself. And you can choose to make it something better than it is now. It’s all about focus and taking action. So, put your victim card away and find a new normal that’s better than the one you’re experiencing now. I know you can, and I’m here to help!