We all want to be on those ‘elusive’ venue recommended suppliers lists – but how do we go about getting there? Today I’m chatting with venue consultant Olivia Riddiford as she shares her secrets about how to build better relationships with wedding venues!
Find out more about Olivia:
How to get recommended by wedding venues
Olivia: That’s why it’s really important to actually know the venue. You know, who is the front of house manager, who are the bar managers. That initial venue viewing that you have is gonna be really just swat up on the venue like you work there yourself, and you’ll just become an extension of the team and they’ll love having you back time after time.
Becca: I am Becca Pountney, wedding business marketing expert, speaker and blogger, and you are listening to The Wedding Pros who are Ready to Grow podcast. I’m here to share with you actionable tips, strategies, and real life examples to help you take your wedding business to the next level. If you are an ambitious wedding business owner that wants to take your passion and use it to build a profitable, sustainable business doing what you love, then you’re in the right place.
Let’s get going with today’s episode. Today on the podcast, I’m chatting to Olivia from host venue consultancy. She’s a very busy lady as she runs a venue consultancy, a VA service for venues and her own wedding planning company. She has tons of experience when it comes to venues and is really passionate about helping them stand out and sell out.
Olivia, welcome to the podcast.
Olivia: Oh, thank you so much, Becca. I am so happy to be.
Becca: It’s an absolute pleasure to have you. I’m really glad to have you on because I think the whole venue supplier relationship conversation is a little bit of a mystery sometimes. So we’re gonna unpick some of that today so that whether you are listening to this as a venue or listening to this as a wedding pro, there’s gonna be a lot for you to learn from Olivia.
So before we get into the nitty gritty of that, Olivia, I would love to go back to the start and how you ended up working in the wedding industry in the first.
Olivia: Okay, well go straight back to when I was actually at sixth form, so many, many, many years ago. Now, I’m not going to divulge my age, but basically I loved planning parties and I was part of the coordination team for things like the prom and bits like that, the social stuff that you did as a teenager.
And I loved it. Someone said to me, why don’t you consider this for university? And I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I actually wanted to be a West End actress, but I went into events instead. And actually, there’s loads of similarities because it’s in the entertainments business, isn’t it?
Essentially. And you are putting on a show for people and giving them a amazing memories. So I looked into it and lo and behold, there was an event management course and I, went off to Cheltenham to study for four years and I did event management with business management. As part of that course, I went and did a placement out at a wedding venue near me north of Bristol, and that is where I.
Everything I knew, but everything I know now, you know, from corporate events to weddings, to parties, everything under a venue roof. So that’s when my venue journey began. So yeah, I’ve been doing this for 13 years now and I’ve worked at many venues. I’ve worked for a catering company as well. So I’ve got a really broad, you know, idea of what is going on within the wedding industry.
And I was headhunted to work at a wedding venue called Old Down. Back in 2010 and I set the venue up from scratch as Victorian manor house with 13 bedrooms. I had to look after all the staff, everything. And to be honest, at the very beginning, I was everything. I was hr, marketing, sales, literally I was wearing all the hats.
And I think a lot of venues, if you’re listening, you will be able to , resonate with that. And during that time things have changed. You know, I’ve, I’ve had two children and I decided to become a wedding planner and that’s actually, I was looking at my LinkedIn today. I’ve been doing that for 10 years.
So there was a crossover whilst I was at the venue. So I was doing that and working at the venue, with permission from the owner of course. And the two really went well together as well. So I, I started doing sort of marquee weddings, outdoor weddings for couples within my locality. So I’m just on the edge of the Cotswolds north of Bristol.
And then I left the venue to start a family and I decided that actually I knew a lot about running a venue and I’ve been there, done it, got the t-shirt over and over again, and I wanted to help venues really stand out and sell out within the wedding market. And that’s when host venue consultancy was born about four years ago.
So I see it from both sides of the coin. I see it from a consumer’s point of view and a supplier’s point of view, and I also see it from a venue’s point of view.
Becca: So you’ve really come on a journey then, haven’t you? Because you’ve gone through everything from working at the venue to working as a wedding planner, to working for yourself as a consultant.
So you really do have a lot of different experience. Let’s go back to that time working at the venue. I know you said when you first started there, you were working in every aspect basically, and helping to set it all up. What are the key things that you think you learned during that time?
Olivia: That you have to work in a team.
You have to have people to help you. You cannot do it all. It’s a mammoth task. Running a wedding venue, managing a wedding venue, it’s an absolute beast because I liken wedding venues to almost the center of the ecosystem of the wedding industry because that is where weddings take place. So therefore, Kind of the buck stops there and, and the venues host everything and bring together suppliers, bring together the guests.
A couple and it really is a special place. It really, really is. But behind the scenes there are so many cogs to turn.
Becca: And when you first started there, obviously it was quite new, wasn’t it? You weren’t already doing a lot of weddings there. So how did you help the venue attract those first weddings into the business?
Olivia: A lot of encouragement and great sales spiel because they had to wear hard hats and high vis jackets. You know, there was, it was a building site essentially. It was having a full renovation, which took two years and there were 30 construction workers working on it at any one time. From stone masons to electricians and everything in between.
So as well as managing a brand new wedding venue, I was also managing a construction site. So you can imagine little old me at 22 became a general manager, had to manage people as fresh out of university. It was a huge undertaking. But hit the ground running and learned so much from that moment in time.
But yes, I had to do a lot of visuals, so I, I had some visuals from the architect, so I was able to show what the property was going to look like. I knew what the capacities were going to be. I knew what the rooms were going to be called, and I just had to sell my behind off to get those first weddings in.
And actually, you know, we did some really. Offers at the beginning because we needed clients in because we needed testimonials and we needed to really attract new people from those. So, so yeah, it was interesting. But when we first opened, we were still putting tiles on one of the bathrooms on the day of the wedding.
It was. Wow. Immensely stressful. But we got there and we opened. And we opened and we had our first wedding and it, it went so well.
Becca: I love that. Right up until the wire. So now then you work with various venues through your group programs and one-to-one as well. What are the big mistakes you see venues making in 2023 when it comes to their marketing, their sales strategy, getting weddings booked in their venue?
Olivia: This one’s not necessarily a mistake, it’s. Maybe a mindset thing. I think a lot of venues are worried to show their face. They’re worried to talk openly about their expertise. They just don’t wanna show themselves. And I, I get that, but I think, you know, as you know, you have to be visible in this marketplace.
And people buy people, you know, they’re not necessarily buying a service. Of course they are, but they’re buying into you as well as, as people and as as business owners. And as wedding professionals. So I think that is a bit of a mistake, but it’s not a mistake. It’s a mindset shift. So yeah, just get out there and be more visible basically.
And don’t worry too much about the aesthetics. Just get on and you know your stuff. You know your craft. So yeah, be bold and be brave. Can’t think of anything else right now. , that’s the main one right now.
Becca: Okay. So the main thing is that they need to be more visible Now, one of the things we’re finding with venues at the moment is that they’re very stressed about.
Finding staff, getting people, the turnover of staff in wedding venues seems to be huge. Do you have any thoughts about how venues can keep their staff, how they can incentivize their staff, how you can try and hang on to the good people, and find new people?
Olivia: Yeah, I think, you know, as we all know with hospitality pay isn’t great.
It’s always been the case within hospitality. So if you are able to offer. Better rates of pay from your competitors, then that’s going to help. That’s going to attract people for sure, and it’s about listening to your staff and inviting them to be involved within your business, asking them for their ideas to collaborate on things.
What would you like to see within our business moving forward? What services do you think we should offer? How do you think we can serve our clients? What kind of events would you like to see within our staffing area that we can do to make your time here more fun and more exciting? It’s definitely communication.
I mean, your staff are everything. When you’re running a venue business, you cannot do it without any of them. Everybody from the maintenance team, gardening team, housekeeping. If you’ve got bedrooms. To the sales, marketing, finance, every single person is integral to that venue business running successfully.
So you must listen to them and there’s lots that you can do to incentivize. We did things like Star of the Month and we would give, you know, vouchers to cinema or it doesn’t have to be massive things. People just want to feel appreciated. And just a simple thank you in the day really goes a long way as well, and really genuinely appreciating each person for what they’re doing.
And having regular appraisals and, and, and talking all the time. Very important. But if there’s a sales role, then definitely that needs to be incentivized because the more sales you get, the, you know, the more money you make basically. So definitely we used to have a basket of goodies. We used to set some kind of goals, like how many show rounds can you get in a week?
If you get five show rounds in a week, you get to pick something out of the basket and it might be like a tub. You know, bath salts or something, or just something to pick them up and a little wellbeing gift. And then we had more monetary kind of commission-based sales targets and goals as well.
Becca: I think it’s so important to talk about that value piece because.
Yes, money isn’t always the best in this industry and in many industries at the moment with everything that’s going on. But actually when people feel valued, then they’re more likely to stay. And often when people leave a position, it’s because they just don’t feel valued. They feel like they’ve got ideas to give and no one’s listening to them.
And that’s why we then see people going into their own businesses because. Show their ideas, and therefore you are losing really good members of staff because you’re not listening to people. So I absolutely agree with you if you’re listening to this and you are a venue value, every single member of staff highly, and they’re much more likely to stay with you.
Olivia: And I, I think, Becca, just to go onto that a little bit more, when I was managing my team, I would always ensure that my staff were doing the hours that they were contracted to do because there is. Very easy notion to ask your staff or expect them to stay over their hours because a wedding’s overran or they’re needed because we’re short staffed or whatever that might be.
But that just does not get the best in people. They start really resenting their job. So I was very, very keen as a manager to ensure that they were blocked in, the rotors were set. Everyone knew when their days off were, because in hospitality we do work unsociable hours. It’s just part of the course.
Everyone knew where they were. Everyone knew where they stood, and it got so much more out of, you know, and I love like the Richard Branson model, you know, with Virgin and all that he does with the duvet days and all of that. I think that’s wonderful because you’re really valuing your team and they are, they love work because it’s balanced.
And life needs to be balanced.
Becca: Absolutely. And we talked a little bit around venues, but I’m also conscious that there’s gonna be a lot of wedding pros listening to this who are on the other side of the coin. So I wanna just touch on that a little bit. Now I know because I hear it all of the time, that.
The supplies out there, the vendors, the pros, really want to be working with venues. They can see the value of working with venues, they can see the value to their business, but this relationship sometimes feels difficult to achieve. So first of all, I’d love you to just give me some thoughts from both perspectives, a venue and a supplies perspective around why those relationships can be beneficial to both parties.
Olivia: Absolutely. I, I think suppliers, one of supplier’s first thoughts, I need to work with venues. Perhaps I need to get on their list. I need to be involved because again, like I said before, they are the center kind of of the wedding ecosystem. So, and also they’re the very beginning of that chain of inquiries. So customers will come to a venue as one of the first ports of call.
Once they’ve decided on their date and their ceremony and everything, they’ll go to a venue and then suppliers from there. So it’s a really good relationship to. I used to get contacted probably twice a day when I was at the venue with blanket emails that were boring. And to be honest, I was so busy doing all the jobs and wearing all the hats that I would just delete them.
They didn’t speak to me. So what I would say is, if you want to work with venues and become long lasting friends, you need to be doing things a little bit differently. Do not send an email end of story. You need to be finding out who. The wedding coordinators are, or who even better still, the venue owners are people that are making the decisions with regarding the wedding business.
And you need to pick up the phone and you need to book in a meeting with somebody. So go on to someone like LinkedIn to try and find names, talk to your colleagues. Is there anyone within your locality that knows who the contact is at that venue? It’s always great to start with the name. It makes things a lot more warm.
And once you get in touch, see if you can go around and have a a venue visit. Explain that you’re not gonna take much of their time because that is a massive consideration for venues and time is money, right? But explain to them how, why you love the venue, why you think you’d be a good match. Always choose venues that align with your brand as well, because they’re gonna have the same clients.
And just see if you can have a very quick venue tour so you can then confidently recommend that venue to your clients as well. So it’s a win-win for the venue. It’s win for you. Take as many pictures and videos, do reels. Promote the venue as much as you kind of become their cheerleader. But don’t drop the PSL bomb, the preferred suppliers list bomb to early.
Build a genuine relationship first and then go in with that and see if there’s any. That can be done, but there’s lots of value. You can give venues as well. You can, you know, write blog posts for them. A guest blog post, you could see whether you could provide them with a, I don’t know, team building event for their staff.
So if you’re a cake maker, for example, you could come in and actually do a tutorial or making cakes or decorating biscuits or something to G up the team at the venue. If you do make sweet treats, Send in some before wedding season, kicks off even halfway through wedding season or at the end just to say thank you.
You got through this because when, whenever we used to receive cakes or biscuits in the office, we just were so thankful because we were so busy. You know, little cards, if you’re a stationer, a little card or a note. Just something handwritten, really tangible stuff that they’re gonna remember. Yeah, I’m really passionate.
Suppliers venue relationship because it’s a really important one.
Becca: Yeah. So don’t send an email ring up. Now, one of the mistakes I think people make is they do ring up, but maybe at the wrong time, like in the busiest season. So from your perspective, when is the best time, when a venue’s got the most time to be having these conversations and doing these tours?
I appreciate they’re always busy, but from your perspective, when is a definite no? And when is a, maybe this.
Olivia: Definite no is April to probably early October. That is just a definite no they, operationally they are just so, so busy between now and early April would work. However, we’re obviously going through the engagement season at the moment, so they’re getting lots of inquiries and dealing with new sales and new bookings.
So it’s also a very busy time, but there’s no time like the present. So go ahead and see. Otherwise, any time between kind of mid-October. And December before Christmas, that would be a really good time to do it. But you obviously wanna start these relationships as soon as possible because they take time to nurture.
Becca: Yeah, absolutely. And I love what you said about not dropping the bomb and asking at the end of the meeting. Can I be on your list? Like, I think that is the worst question you can. Ever ask a venue wait to be invited, like do everything so that they want you to be on their list because you have been such an amazing advocate for them.
You shouted about them on social media. You’ve talked about how amazing they are. Then they’ll want to repay the favor, but as soon as you say, can I be on that list? All of a sudden you’ve undone all of that hard work that you’ve put in. Do you agree? Correct.
Olivia: Yeah. Yeah. Oh, totally. It’s . Do. Don’t do it too soon.
Becca: Okay, so we’ve talked a little bit about the mistake that suppliers make by sending an email or maybe coming in at the wrong kind of season. Are there other mistakes you see suppliers making when it comes to venues and building relationships, perhaps on a wedding day or around a wedding day? Where does suppliers sometimes go wrong and what puts a venue off working?
Olivia: Gosh, good question. I think sometimes lack of communication. Communication is key for everything you do, isn’t it? In business and in the wedding industry, massively, because this is somebody’s special day and I think even though you might not be associated with a venue and you’re not on their list or you are new to them or whatever, it does always stop with the venue.
So if something goes wrong, you know, I dunno, your cake falls down or something’s not right. It kind of goes back, it always goes back to the venue because they are hosting it and they’re kind of in charge on the day, aren’t they? So you have to be, you have to make sure that everything you do is on point because you are showcasing your work to a venue.
So yeah, communication, you know, before the day, just making sure timings are correct, making sure they’ve got all the information they need, that kind of thing. Being too kind of pestering and. You know, wanting to work with them, you know, cuz we’ve just talked about getting in touch with venues and becoming, you know, having great relationships with them, but there’s also a level of pestering that can take place and that can become very annoying and frustrating for venues.
So yeah, don’t, don’t be on their case 24 7. But be helpful and, and helpful them. So yeah, communication help helpfulness. Main things, I think.
Becca: Yeah, it’s about making the venue staff’s job easier as well, isn’t it? Because if it makes their job easier, they’re much more likely to wanna work with you again.
Whereas if you make their job harder by being late or doing something wrong, or pestering as you said, or asking a million questions, then they’re gonna think. Please don’t ever come back and work at this venue again.
Olivia: And that’s why it’s really important to actually know the venue from a logistics point of view.
You know, who is the front of house manager? Who are the bar managers? Where do I leave my stuff? You know, if they’ve hired vases from me or whatever, where does it go afterwards? And where do I pick it up from without having to bombard staff When I arrive, can I just go in quietly, pick up my vases and leave?
What are the rooms called so I know exactly where to head to. So that initial venue viewing that you have is gonna be really just swat up on the venue like you work there yourself. And you’ll just become an extension of the team and they’ll love having you back time after time.
Becca: Definitely. Now, we’ve talked quite a lot there around the suppliers making a good impression on the venue, but I do think that this works both ways because actually quite a lot of the wedding pros vendors, they have a lot of influence over clients too.
And sometimes someone will pick their photographer, for example, before they’ve chosen their venue and they will ask for. Venue recommendations. Now I know myself that there’s been times when venues have made a really bad impression on me, and therefore if someone says, I’m thinking about getting married at this venue, I will always say, I wouldn’t if I were you.
And so therefore it does work both ways. The venues do need to make a good impression on the suppliers. So what sort of things do you think a venue could be doing to make sure they’re. Good experience to the suppliers coming into the venue and to make sure that suppliers going out there and telling everyone how amazing the venue is rather than the opposite.
Olivia: Yeah. So same again, just the other way around. Cheerleading for suppliers that they love, whose work that they love and who really does align with their brand and what they do. , but whenever they come into the venue, you treat them like a guest. You look after them. And one of the things that at our venue we were really good at was looking after our suppliers because we knew that they were part of the marketing chain for us.
They were part of why we got sales sometimes, you know, it was that black and white. So when we had things like open days, we would really look after our suppliers and we were renowned for that really. We really were. We got to know every single supplier really, really well and we, we gave them refreshments lunch.
You know, food and drink always is a winner for anyone, especially busy suppliers who are talking a lot at these open days, and they don’t have many breaks because they’re super busy trying to sell their services. If you can provide them with food and drink and really look after them somewhere comfortable to, to sit, that kind of thing, that that goes a long way.
And also inviting them back maybe for some networking events. Again, you’ve got the space to host something. For free, where suppliers locally can come together and network, and I think that’s even more important these days since the pandemic. We just wanna connect and you’ve got the facility to do that.
So go ahead and set up a networking event. You’ve got the space and you can showcase what you do. At the same time,
Becca: that’s so true. I just don’t understand why more venues don’t do this. Like throw open your doors, invite local wedding pros to come and see for themselves. Give them a good time because they will share it on social media and they will talk about your venue to people and if you give them a good impression.
They will shout about it. We know that word of mouth marketing works really, really well. Now that brings me onto my next question, or it’s a little bit of a bug bear of mine, Olivia, which I’m hoping you can give us some insight into. Now I am all about telling my. Pros to be more visible and my venues be more visible.
Show up on social media, build great relationships, tag venues, talk about how amazing they are, all of the things. But quite often I find that venues, social media accounts can be a bit neglected. Often my suppliers will tag and talk about how amazing the venues are, but they don’t ever re-share it. Or like it, or even sometimes it feels like they don’t even see it.
And to me that seems like a massive opportunity missed from the venues point of view when it comes to their own marketing. So I was just wondering, and from your point of view, working with venues, why do you think this happens and what’s the fix?
Olivia: I think we have to be really mindful that venues have it tough a lot of the time.
A lot of venues you see, they might look like these massive corporations with, you know, 30 staff members, but realistically, you are looking at places that have a very small team. Sometimes just a one woman or one man band, and I work with those people so I know that they are wearing all the hats, and so therefore, social media is one of the things that really does get put to the bottom of the pile because they’re so busy working in the business, serving the clients that they do have running the weddings.
They do. undertaking show rounds, which are all of the things that are going to give them business, but I totally get it. You need to be doing the steps, like being visible before to be able to, so it’s a chicken and egg, isn’t it? I think venues, yeah. They need to, to be very mindful of that and bring in people where they can to help them.
You know, even if they brought in an outsourced somebody to do social media for them, for example, that would just take such a load off their mind. Yet they’re still. Really reactive. So yeah, I think that’s probably one of the biggest issues that venues face is they don’t have a lot of time. Social media, blogging, that kind of thing does get put to the bottom of the pile.
Becca: Yeah. So really we need to be campaigning to the people at the top of the venue to say, this person has got far too much to do. And actually, if you spent a little bit of budget on outsourcing some staff or bringing in an additional member of staff part-time, then. This would work well for you because it’ll pay for itself.
Because if you are doing more marketing, that’s gonna result in more show rounds, that’s gonna result in more sales. So unless you’re already fully booked all year round and therefore don’t need to do it, it’s kind of like speculate to accumulate, isn’t it?
Olivia: Yeah. I think it’s an ongoing education, and one that is moving forward and I think people are understanding that they do need to invest in their businesses to, to grow them.
You have to. But it is tough because there are so many cogs within a venue.
Becca: Yeah, absolutely. But if you are a supplier out there and you are finding this, just keep going. Keep sharing those venues. Keep talking about it, because even if they’re not re-sharing it, even if you feel like that you are, they’re not noticing it.
They might be noticing it. They’re just too busy to do anything about it. And also, it’s still good marketing for you because you’re aligning yourself with these great venues that you want to be working at or you’re already working at. So keep on going, Absolutely. Olivia, it’s been such a pleasure to talk to you and to hear your different perspectives on all the different areas that you work on.
Now, we always end this podcast with the same question, which is this. What’s one thing you wish you’d known sooner in your own business?
Olivia: It’s very easy. . I wish I knew about outsourcing earlier for both in my venue business when I worked there as an employee. An employee, but also. As a venue consultant and wedding planner myself, in the last three years, I have worked with BA’s basically, who have been able to come in and take workload off my hands.
You know, I’m a busy mom of two as well. And you know, those of you that are listening may well be in a similar position and the juggle is real. It really is. And just to take some weight off my shoulders. From a wellbeing perspective. It’s everything. Absolutely everything, because it makes you focused, it makes you think clearer.
It means you can work on the bits that you really enjoy, that you are really good at. Because let’s face it, we, we aren’t masters in absolutely every area of our business. We just aren’t. But we are really good at some things that we want to spend more time on, and we want to be able to field out the things that we don’t.
So that is something that I feel really strongly about and outsourcing. You are literally paying for the time that is worked. You’re not having to employ anybody. And as we know, the landscape out there at the moment with recruitment and hospitality is not great, and it’s just a really great way. To ensure your business thrives moving forward.
Becca: Absolutely. So it’s the same conversation really, isn’t it, that we were just having about the people at the top of venues, and it’s easy for us to say, well, those people at the top of venues should think about spending some money and outsourcing that actually as wedding business owners, we need to look inside our own hearts and our own heads and ask ourselves the same question because often it is a bit about speculating to accumulate because if you can offload some of those tasks, Don’t need to be done by you.
You can spend more time doing the things that you are great at, making the sales, getting the business in converting people, rather than spending all of your time doing social media posts that someone else could be doing for you. Olivia, it’s been such a pleasure. If people wanna find out more about your different businesses and all of the things that you do, where’s the best place for them to find?
Olivia: Yeah, so my wedding planning business is host weddings and events.co uk. Same for Instagram, and then the consultancy is host of any consultancy.co uk. And the same for Instagram. So do come and follow me. I’d love to connect with you. And we’ve literally just launched a new service called Venue va, which really touches on what we’ve just discussed about providing outsourcing for wedding venues that need a bit of support, and that’s in partnership with Lucy Hicks va.
So we’re very excited to get that out there today. And I just love working in this industry, I must say, and working with people like. It is a really special place to be. We’re very lucky, aren’t we? And I just love providing both businesses and clients the most amazing experiences. So, yeah. Have a wonderful year.
Everyone enjoy, and I’d love to connect with you.
Becca: Amazing. I agree with you. It is a really special place to be working. I will make sure that I put all of your links to your different services in the show notes. So if you’re interested in finding out more about all the amazing things Olivia offers, go check those out.
Olivia, it’s been a pleasure and I’ll speak to you soon. Thank you, Becca. Take. Such a great conversation with Olivia. I think it’s always interesting to hear these things from both the venue perspective and the wedding pro perspective as well. So if you’re thinking about building better relationships with either a wedding venue or other wedding suppliers, get out there and do it, and don’t just ask to be on that recommended list.
I’ll see you next time.