Yall, I am so excited to share with you all one of my favorite interviews thus far—Megan with A Southern Soiree! Megan has been in the wedding industry for over 10 years, and her business will reach its 10 year mark in 2020! Not only is she an amazing wedding planner and mom of 3, but she also co-hosts one of my all time fave podcasts— Weddings For Real (you guys should check it out! I swear, it’s one of the few podcasts that I look forward to!). She even offers wedding business consulting and you can find more information about that here.
I have to be honest, I could have chatted with Megan forever. She has the bubbliest of personalities, and just the best stories. Her interview not only dives in to how A Southern Soiree came to be, but she gave me solid information on photographers from a planners perspective. This interview is perfect for those just starting out in wedding photography, or perfect for wedding photographers who are just feeling like they dont have much traction in the wedding industry.
There is some solid advice tucked into this conversation, and I would love to hear your thoughts on them!
N: How long has A Southern Soiree been in business?
M: It was founded in 2006 by the original owner.
N: How many planners do you have on staff?
M: Currently 3.5 but looking to hire one more potentially soon. The goal is to bring on another planner for month of coordination and for most of the office/admin side of things.
N: When did you officially purchase A Southern Soiree--what intrigued you about this endeavor?
M: 2010! I reached out to the original owner for a job (after getting married myself a month before) and having planned weddings from a venue perspective for a couple years. Jason and I got married in 2010. I was working at North Hills Renaissance Hotel. I had reached out to the owner of A Southern Soiree at the time just to pick her brain and to see if there was a potential job with her. The day had come for my interview and I remember sitting at the Starbucks waiting for her. It was a long wait time, I think it was about 15 minutes or so that I was there waiting.
She was late getting there. She quickly sat down with me--and what I thought was a job interview turned out to be something else. She sat down and told me that was was overwhelmed with her business, just got engaged, she had 4 weddings next year, and she wanted someone to take them over and buy her business. So much for the job interview. I went home and talked to Jason. Now, buying this business was never in my plan, I just wanted a job. But, once I talked with Jason he had mentioned that this may be a really good idea and that he was all for it.
Jason and I purchased the business in 2010--and that business was a lot different in 2010 than what it is currently. When I purchased it I would do the typical new business thing--I went to all of the venues around the area to introduce myself, and let them know I was the new owner. I realized that I would need to work pretty hard to infuse the business with my own personality and professionalism for it to flourish and succeed in the long run. The brand needed a refresh and a change and was not as “easy” as I thought it might be to walk into ownership of a pre-existing company. From 2010-2013 I made it my priority to put my head down, do the work to get my name out there and rebuild the brand based around my own business goals and core values which center around “”Under Promise and Over Deliver”, and by 2013 I felt like the business had entered new territory in a season of consistent growth.
N: Does A Southern Soiree work from a preferred vendor list?
M: We do not have an official list but we do have an "unofficial" list that we compile based on vendors we have worked with before and would refer again. We basically look for good communication between staff and guests at events. We do update this list periodically, especially when we have worked with vendors in the past and they maybe have not exceeded expectations like we originally thought. For instance, maybe we have referred them in the past and then we see some things that have happened after or even during the wedding that we don’t really condone (more than just a one time minor issue)--we adjust to fit.
N: Is this beneficial to your business or do you think otherwise?
M: This list is internally for us as a team to share insight on vendor experiences. From there, we customize our recommendations to clients based on style of event, personality of client, and budget. Making sure the personality of the vendor and client will mesh is super important!
N: In regards to photographers, what are the main things you and your team look for when referring photographers to clients?
M: Someone warm, friendly, and professional. Someone truly wanting to exceed expectations and takes great pride in their work. It's important they work together with us in terms of timeline instead of against and that we are both working to make the client happy! Efficiency and the ability to deal with any family dynamics that may arise with grace is also important.
We also look for common courtesy. For instance, who is paying for the wedding? Is it the parents? The parents need to be respected and heard at a wedding (even if they are not the one fronting the bill). We have worked with photographers in the past that have said to parents of the couple that since they are not the couple that they are not going to listen to their thoughts or concerns. This is not how we want our clients to feel, and although we know it can be frustrating around the family formal shot list time, we want all of the vendors at the wedding to treat every guest with respect. Little annoyances like this do not go unnoticed, and we want our clients and their family to enjoy the entire process.
N: Is it often that a client books their photographer prior to booking with A Southern Soiree? If so, do you ever reach out to that photographer to discuss communication, things you are looking for in regards to planning, etc.?
M: If we are providing event management/month of, then they normally have booked their photographer prior to hiring us. In that case, yes, we email to check in, confirm package details, and see if there is anything they need from us at the time!
What can be frustrating is when it is a collaboration from a vendor standpoint. The timeline is SO important. We reach out 4-5 months in advance and ask if everything is right with the package that the client had booked, if there is anything that we should know about the timeline from their perspective, etc. We want to know how we can simplify things for them--making the process smooth and stress free from both a vendor AND client standpoint is always our ultimate goal!.
If we are doing full service, we definitely want to be looped into all correspondence from the beginning. We want the photographer to build that bond with the client as well but if we are left out of the loop or not copied on emails, it makes it so much harder for us to do our job. For instance, if the photographer is chatting with the client via an email that we are not CC’d on, and they are talking about how at 7pm there will be a sunset and they want to be taken outside for those nice sunset photos...this would be something that we would need to know to place in the timeline. The last thing that we want is to not know that the couple will be outside at 7pm for 10 minutes outside and we may have coordinated something important occurring at that time that requires the couple to be there--on our end we need to place this in the timeline. We wouldnt know these things if we were not CC’d.
N: From a planners perspective, what are the top things to have photo-wise from a wedding? Are these mainly details, is it venue setup, is it photos of the bride and groom?
M: Oh man, I LOVE when photographers capture the details AND the candid moments with the bride and groom. I really recommend 2 shooters for this reason. I find that when it's just one, details get missed because the photographer is only one person and it feels impossible for them to be in two places at once. As a planner, It's frustrating when the photographer doesn’t capture all the details that we have worked hard to plan out for several months. The candid emotions are of course a top priority but having our work to showcase is really meaningful as well!
There’s no way to showcase these details other than solid photographs. I love when photographers make the details a priority to capture. This includes everything from menu cards, floral arrangements, cake (different angles), and especially that one shot of the entire reception room before guests enter.
I have a hard time getting behind just 1 photographer at a wedding. We need that second photographer to purposefully capture that room shot especially if the ceremony and reception are at 2 different places. When we don’t get those images, it is a little disheartening. If there is a flip from ceremony to reception then we need to talk about it and plan out those detail shots a bit more to carve out time. Again, we are here for the logistics purposes. Lets work together to make it happen.
N: Have you ever dealt with a photographer who did not share the images with you after a wedding? If so, how did you handle that situation?
M: No, and if that happened, I definitely would not refer them again.
N: What would you suggest to photographers that are going in to weddings do to help grow their business? Would this be to reach out to planners in the area, offer up styled shoots, meet face to face, etc.?
M: I would recommend that you not send a blind email inviting the vendor to go get coffee. During busy season, an email in my inbox from someone I have never met that asks me to give up my time to grab a cup of coffee with you just falls on the bottom of the totem pole sadly. If you are trying to grow your business you should get out there in the networking world where other businesses are networking at. You should be putting your face out there. Also-- I heard this from Nina with Wedded Kiss when she mentioned it on our podcast...and I just feel it is the best advice ever-- don’t go searching for people who have been in the business for 10+ years to become friendors with right off the bat. You should find your tribe with people who are on the same playing field as you and you should GROW together with them. This way you all learn and grow at the same time. To network you should show up to these venues if there is a marketing event--just go for it! Again, show that face of yours! The more people who see you time and time again, the more likely it is that they will want to refer you and network with you! Also, give some love to your favorite vendors in the form of social media engagement. Like, follow, and support them virtually (and then also in person).
I think styled shoots are a piece of the puzzle when you are first starting out. These can help foster great collaborations with other vendors and can help showcase your work.
N: Since you have been in the business for years and have probably worked with some photographers continuously--what makes you refer them time and time again? Is it the actual photographs, personality, communication skills, etc.?
M: It's a combination of all these things! A photographer that makes my client's life easier, my life easier, takes amazing photos *including well thought out details*, does a sneak peek within a week or so of a few images, and credits us properly on social media/instagram (this is important to me because of how often our clients find us on insta). I LOVE when photographers share sneak peeks--just like 10-15 images. I think this could be a great selling point if you place in your packages that you will receive 10 images a few days after as your sneak peek. I would totally refer that photographer again because of this.
Another thing...proper crediting! I have this saying “if you can see it in the photo, you need to tag the appropriate vendors.” If you are a photographer and not sharing the love, I have a hard time referring you because it feels like you don’t care about your vendor team. We worked hard on that wedding, too, and we need credit. :)