Mar 30

A bit of a departure from the normal topics but ponder this for a sec:

Would weddings benefit from having a short biz plan or executive summary drawn up?

I’m not speaking to the institute of marriage itself, just the actual event that is a wedding. I’ve attended maybe twenty weddings throughout my life and in at least 70% of them the stress level surrounding the preparation and execution eclipsed the enjoyment of the day for those putting it on. I’m thinking about why this situation occurs consistently and it seems to all come down to one thing: trying to desperately meet some expectation for what the day should be instead of just enjoying whatever it is.

I have a string of four back-to-back weddings over the next two months and I’m starting to handle the travel arrangements and gifts. It’s one of those odd cycles where a handful of friends have all chosen to tie the knot around the same time. Thinking about the resources spent from their angle as well as from all the guests, this is an enormous expenditure for everyone involved. What if we all just agreed to have a huge group vacation with that money instead?

The wedding industry is one I’ve never thought much about but as with any industry where there’s an entire ecosystem developed around it, it has unstoppable inertia. The industry revolves around perpetuating the idea that you need to have huge fanfare on that day- giant bouquets of exotic flowers, invitations hand-etched by buddhist calligraphers done on papyrus, dresses sewn from silk of an exotic butterfly, cakes made with wind-milled flour… The future brides of my guy friends all have these magazines that tantalize them with the various options for the flowers, cakes, dresses, invitations, etc. I do understand that it’s an important day that women want to have it perfect, but doesn’t it all seem a little… off?

You’ve probably seen those data visualization maps of the world that show countries disproportionate in geographic size that instead express size of the country relative to another scale like GDP or emissions or population. The data viz map for the typical wedding looks like:
TypicalWedding.jpg

I’m probably forgetting obvious things but that’s about how I remember it from my brother’s wedding. The funny thing is, in every wedding I’ve ever attended it’s never been about any of that stuff. I couldn’t tell you what any of the cakes looked like or how the flowers smelled- all I remember is the people that were there and the interaction of the different circles of friends coming together. If there was a map to express the ideal proportion of the elements involved, it would look more like this:

IdealWedding.jpg

with the focus entirely on the guests. I’ll concede that having a skilled photographer is a worthwhile expenditure for capturing the moments and preserving them. But looking at the reality of how the normal wedding goes down, it’s strange to see how misaligned the budget is with the real goals. I can hear Kathy Sierra and her mantra of “help your users to kick ass” and how she would probably agree with the notion that your wedding should be about “helping your guests kick ass.” So this proposal will probably sound cold to anybody currently organizing a wedding but for such an important event, shouldn’t a wedding have a business plan for the same reasons that businesses have a business plan? It would ensure that the actual focus is accurate with the intended one and that the budget reflects the same story.

If that day comes for this guy, it’s going to be a pretty simple formula:
MyWedding.jpg

Friends + booze + tropical place + pictures to crystallize the memories = ideal wedding.

The mission: to get all the right people to a special place for the purpose of having an unforgettable weekend. All expenditures support that mission: axe the calligrapher in favor of web RSVP’s, scratch all fancy flower arrangements and expensive clothes and instead do a travel fund to disburse amongst guests to defray travel expenses and a local tour guide organizing a weekend of fun activities for guests to meet each other and enjoy the island.

So if you’re not already married but you’re in the process of planning a wedding, some questions for you:

  1. What are the elements of your ideal wedding?
  2. What would you consider the mission of your wedding day to be if you had to distill it to one sentence?
  3. How would your budget support this mission?
  4. Would thinking about the event in this way change how you execute it or is your game-plan already pretty much consistent?
  5. If you had never seen a wedding before or had any idea of what they’re traditionally like, and someone asked you to set the tradition of how weddings should work, what would yours be like?
  6. If you agree that the focus has been somewhat derailed by the economics of the wedding industry, is it possible/desirable to reshape how weddings are done and how could that occur?

15 Responses to “Why weddings should have a business plan”

  1. Sammy Larbi says:

    Great post Sean. I’m sending this to my fiance. Hopefully, she’ll still talk to me after reading it =)

  2. Cheryl says:

    I would send this to my son and future daughter-in-law, but they would probably not speak to me again! I remember planning my own marriage and a subsequent article would be the “roles” of the people implementing this party / celebration. In a well oiled agency, the project ‘due date’ is known, and responsibilities are divided among those who are all working toward the goal. A wedding is different. There might be two or three (throw a mother in) doing all the work.

  3. TOMAS says:

    Hey Sammy, you might also want to let your fiancé watch this (…if she’s still talking to you)

    :)

    Wedding Tips by Baba Ali

  4. Larry says:

    Great post. I sort of stumbled into this. First goal of the wedding was to move in with my girlfriend, who was living in her parents’ house with her kids. Second goal was to have family and friends. First goal dictated wedding as soon as possible after engagement; second goal gave us a date two months later. It’s amazing how many difficult decisions vanish in the face of a tight deadline.

  5. Heather says:

    Sean…I’m little confused. Here’s why:
    1. “I’ve attended maybe twenty weddings throughout my life and in at least 70% of them the stress level surrounding the preparation and execution eclipsed the enjoyment of the day for those putting it on” – Um. Let’s discuss why: a. it’s stressful to plan a party, & b. why the rest of said blog contradicts this VERY SENTENCE
    2. “What if we all just agreed to have a huge group vacation with that money instead?” – & that wouldn’t be stressful to plan? There is another word for a huge group vacation to celebrate someone’s nupitals – it’s called a “DESTINATION WEDDING” & it’s about fifty thousand times more expensive AND stressful than your average wedding.
    3. “The funny thing is, in every wedding I’ve ever attended it’s never been about any of that stuff. I couldn’t tell you what any of the cakes looked like or how the flowers smelled- all I remember is the people that were there and the interaction of the different circles of friends coming together.” I wonder why this is what you remember? I wonder what you would remember if the bride and groom didn’t plan ANYTHING but where they say “I do”? All these people would show up then…what? They all go to Salty Senoritas? There is no hotel discount for people flying in from out of town? There is no PLAN? I imagine that not ONE of those guesets would remember having a good time AT ALL. All they would remember was that the couple had the nerve to invite them out and not plan a thing.
    4. “sound cold to anybody currently organizing a wedding [not really cause you're contradicting yourself right here] but for such an important event, shouldn’t a wedding have a business plan for the same reasons that businesses have a business plan?”….Um. This is where I really get lost. You spend the first half of his blog saying that PLANNING THE WEDDING is a waste of time & energy then you finish up by saying every wedding should have a business plan. I don’t get it. I mean, I don’t even have a real response to that because it just flat out makes no sense.
    5.”Friends + booze + tropical place + pictures to crystallize the memories = ideal wedding.
    The mission: to get all the right people to a special place for the purpose of having an unforgettable weekend.”….Ok…that is exactly what people planning a wedding do! I mean, I feel stupid even saying that because it’s so….obvious. You don’t just wake up one day and it’s all planned. I suppose when you go to Mexico with friends you just show up at the airport one morning and your ticket has already magically been purchased, your accomadations have miraculously been made, & all of your friends know exactly what’s going on without having any sort of previous planning converstaion.
    So, Sean, you’re entire blog made my brain fuzzy. I guess you’re just hoping that if and when you ever get married, you can pull this up and say, “I just want to elope.” But then you’ll say, but I want to invite my parents, my friends, some other family memebers….but they’ll just show up and we can’t be expected to help them in their travel planning because they’re not really coming to help US celebrate OUR wedding, they’re just going on their own vacation and we happen to be there at the same time. Good luck to you.

  6. TOMAS says:

    Whoa, Heather’s rebuttal deserves its own blog post.

    :)

  7. sean says:

    @Sammy – congrats!

    @Heather- okay lemme try to tackle each one at a time:
    1. “it’s stressful to plan a party” – it shouldn’t be. this is exactly the point of the idea to cut out all the formalities and expectations of traditional weddings and distill it down to a honeymoon with your friends along for the ride at the beginning.

    2. no it would not. Trust me having seen the 8mos of preparation that went into my brother’s wedding- it would take you half a day to plan a tropical vacation via a travel agent. once everyone gets there, outings are coordinated by a local tour guide. no headaches, use whatever your budget would have been for the traditional wedding. The $7k for the jazz band alone should make for a pretty sweet weekend and all the floral arrangments, venue bookings, cake, etc can be disbursed to defray airfare and lodging expenses for people.

    3. hello? i’m not proposing a local bar I’m proposing a weekend at a beach somewhere tropical which I guarnatee you people would remember way more than folding chairs at the local marriot patio.

    4. where exactly have i contradicted myself? you draft a one-page exec summary to confirm that whatever you DO decide to do is consistent with your goal of the day. That would take all of 30min to prepare and would ensure you’re not flailing hopelessly with other BS arrangements that run counter to your goal. The whole “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure idea…” I’m not sure how to explain it beyond that if you don’t grasp that concept.

    5. “you just don’t wake up one day and it’s planned” – actually you do. get a good travel agent and have them book 10 bungalows on a remote beach and have some fun events lined up to bring guests together. it’s pretty simple.

    Heather, i’m sorry your brain’s fuzzy after reading my blog. I would recommend you stop reading if that’s the case. If and when i get married, yes- there will be minimum planning and maximum enjoyment for the guests. It will be a honeymoon that includes friends for the first few days. I think the disconnect here is that YOUR wedding should be for YOUR GUESTS in celebration of you and your husband. Good luck to you too!

    sean

  8. Heather says:

    I guess my point is that no matter what you are trying to do, there will ALWAYS be some stress involved in trying to get everyone you love in one spot. Unfortunatly, there are people out there that want a crazy, insane wedding that doesn’t even constitute as a party, and they DO spend far too much time worrying about stupid little details like streamers and ribbons or whatever. But these people do not make up the majority of the population. I would venture to say that I have never met anyone that did not enjoy their own wedding, which means that they stuck to what they wanted, which is the point. The point is for the two people getting married to have what they dream. There is no way to plan a wedding, ANY wedding, without a business plan. I guess that is where I am getting fuzzy. The implication that people do this everyday without a plan is completely contradicted by what you say you hate so much about weddings…the planning. In addition, some people’s one page executive summary would say that they want exactly what makes you shudder so much. I suppose I’m thinking that it’s not YOUR wedding. All I really want to say is that I guarantee that a wedding has never been planned without a business plan. Ever. Some people want a “mom n pop deli” wedding and some people want a “Microsoft Corporation” wedding. There is ALWAYS a business plan, whether you are Jim Bob or Thurston Moneymaker IV.

  9. Ha ha loved the pictures. We have just launched out planning software which we intended for businesses, but looking at this it suits well. Basically what you are saying is you need to set goals and budgets and action plans and keep focus on the main things you really want. I’d like to hear any feedback from people who look into planning from this perspective. http://www.planhq.com (you get a 30 day free trial)
    Thanks, I found you through 9rules and really liked this post :)

  10. Michael says:

    Sean,

    You are so enlightened. I hope that the future brides see the same “big picture” that Sean sees. Let’s me add that generally perception and reality tend to be at odds with each other. Please allow me explain: If you ever travel to Europe, you’ll realize that there is no such thing as a wedding industry. You do not pay inflated costs for things just because the expense is prefaced with the word “wedding”. A dinner that costs 30 euros at a fancy restaurant doesn’t cost 70 euros just because that same dinner si going to be served at a wedding reception. You could get married in a beautiful church built eons ago and a five-course meal reception for less than 10 grand for 200 guests. In the US, however, the media and marketing groups cloak a bride’s reality with their own perception of what her ideal wedding should be: a perfect fairy tale wedding with at least a 1 carat diamond engagement ring to go along with it. This perception does not exist elsewhere! I should know, because I am marrying a Swede, and she understands Sean’s point very well. A wedding is not about trying to attain an unascertainable goal of having a perfect wedding. It’s about friends and family.

    A sidenote – did you know that taxi cabs in Germany and other parts of Europe are Mercedes E and S-class? The US marketing and media makes people think that Mercedes’ are luxury cars. They are not my friends. They are taxis. Like I said, perception does not agree with reality, here.

  11. Timothy Jones says:

    Hey Sean, you’ve mentioned everything but ecards, which seem to be a must in this cyber age. Check out how cool wedding ecards can be, I stumbled upon these the other day.

  12. Hey Larry, you might also want to let your fiancé watch this

  13. In My Opinion Ideal Wedding Foods: Include shallots, capers, mustard, chilli.Ideal Wedding Flowers: Honeysuckle, Bryony, Peppermint Ideal Honeymoon Destinations:TRANQUIL places Ideal Wedding Theme Colours: All shades of red and orange Ideal Wedding Theme Colours: All shades of red and orange

  14. [...] Ouch. I would think the girl would be stoked about that situation – more money for the honeymoon… apparently not though. That story here. [...]

  15. Kristy Stocek says:

    WOAH Heather needs to chill… I’m currently planning a destination wedding in Maui, Hawaii and all we are having is friends, photos taken by one of our friends, booze, an officiant, and the beach! SIMPLE and STRESS FREE – no photographer, no flowers, no groomsmen or bridesmaids, no linen colors to pick out, no harpist…And it’s actually turning out to be VERY inexpensive (=

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