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It’s no secret wedding budgets are out of control in the US. The average couple (or their families) spend around $30,000 for the whole dinner-and-dance party reception people have come to expect.
But, for a rainbow of reasons, millennials in particular are opting out of trying to trim the wedding budget on a traditional affair to, instead, elope or have a microwedding.
As I’ve said before, where trends go, (earning) opportunity will follow. This point-by-point plan expands on a series of wedding-related side gig ideas I recently wrote about for starting a microwedding and elopement service business in your hometown.
Not sure what a micro wedding even is? Unsure where to start? Or how much you could make?
Starting a business can seem daunting. It’s true there are a lot of questions to address. There’s the naming of the business, the website, figuring out how to advertise, where your first clients will come from, and whether you’ll even make money.
To get you rolling on a modest budget, we present to you this how-to guide on officiating microweddings and elopements as a side hustle.
What’s a Microwedding?
A microwedding is what it sounds like: an ultra intimate wedding affair. That might look like a couple plus their immediate families, for a wedding party of less than 10 people total. Or, it could be 20 people enjoying cake and champagne on a Wednesday night. Heck, it might be as intimate as you (the officiant), the couple, and a witness or two. There aren’t hard and fast rules about what is what.
Step #1) Get Ordained (For Free)
How many movies have you seen where best friends or relatives get ordained online, last minute or otherwise, to serve as an officiant of a wedding? i don’t think I’ve ever actually seen a tv show or movie show the process by which characters become ordained, but they certainly imply it’s a simple enough thing to do.
It turns out, it is actually about as straightforward as it looks on tv to get ordained to perform a ceremony — and usually free! For that reason, we have made this step number one in your plan for side hustle success. Let’s look at a few options for getting ordained.
American Marriage Ministries
One popular site for becoming ordained online is American Marriage Ministries (AMM).
This non-profit group was formed in 2009 with the express mission of advocating on behalf of “ministries and couples rights’… [and] with the mission of securing the rights of all people to celebrate marriages that reflect their values and beliefs.”
The theological summary on their website goes on to specify AMM and members and ministers associated with it believe marriage is the “ natural right of all people, regardless of race, sexual identity, nationality, socioeconomic status, or religious background.”
What to love:
- Their free wedding ceremony training for newbie officiants.
- Non-denominational group who believe everyone has a right to marry. #LoveIsLove
- Ordination open to anyone. No ministry background or religious beliefs required (atheists welcome).
- Clear directions for legally registering your ordination in your state, if applicable.
- Immediate (no waiting period) and certificate does not expire.
Costs: $0 for Ordination; $40 for Minister Ordination Package (optional, but handy for records or
registering with states, as needed)
Universal Life Church (ULC)
Another vastly popular site for getting ordained online is the Universal Life Church (ULC).
Like AMM’s relatively lax expectations about religious core beliefs, ULC does not have a narrow faith statement. The church has to core belief items. The first is to do what is right; the second is that everyone should be free to worship as they see fit. Most people could agree on that.
Naturally, they offer all of the trappings that most other sites do. Wedding ceremony planning packages, t-shirts, letters of good standing, and wallet cards showing your ordination are all options available for purchase. (Who doesn’t want one of those in their wallet to pull out at parties, amiright?)
What to love:
- Like most ordination services online, it’s free and includes a certificate.
- They have a free Training Center and Script Generator tool; that should make prep for a wedding a breeze!
- Millions of customers have chosen ULC for ordination and as a body of faith. They claim to be one of the largest religious organizations in the world.
- As a ULC minister, you could officiate Muslim weddings if no Islamic officiant is available.
- The celebrity factor. This organization claims to have ordained Stephen Colbert, Paul McCartney, Dwayne The Rock Johnson, Lady Gaga, Richard Branson, and Conan O’Brien.
Costs: $0 for Ordination; $39.99 for their Classic Wedding Set (optional, but handy for
records or registering with states, as needed)
Although I hadn’t heard of this organization before researching for this article, the reviews on the site suggests that people who have been ordained through open ministry are satisfied. With roughly 4,000 people following their facebook page, it is on the smaller side of these three organizations, but does have a Facebook community for peer support! Their resources and blog are pretty solid, too.
Their mission mimics that of the other two listed above. their website says they believe in marriages being available to everyone who wants to be recognized as spiritually and legally bound partners.
What to love:
- Facebook community of peers.
- Also free (pssst, are you starting to see why this is a good side hustle?) and includes a certificate.
- Non-denominational, “welcoming of all.”
Costs: $0 for Ordination; $19.99 for their Ordination Package (optional, but handy for
records or registering with states, as needed)
- Looking for something a little… quirkier? Check out this Dudism (yes, as in The Dude) ordination.
- MinisterNow.org offers quick paperwork in a pinch. They do charge a fee of $25, effectively to pay for the rush delivery of ordination certifications. The site is affiliated with Christian Global Outreach Ministries.
Step #2) Draft a Simple Business Plan
Again, this is something you can do for free, although a smidge of braining is required.
Drafting a business plan may seem intimidating, but it doesn’t need to be. I have noticed in conversation when discussing side hustles that the notion of running a business can seem more difficult than it is, in reality.
You’ve got this! While there are definitely a number of details she will need to be prepared for and mindful of, things don’t need to be overly complicated. I recommend this handy (and free) tool, the Lean Startup Canvanizer, to organize your thoughts. Be sure to answer the following questions at a minimum.
How will you make money? What are your rates?
This article recently popped up in my newsfeed. It offers great insight into how much blissful couples spent on certain parts of their own elopement experiences.
In most cases, the biggest expense was photographers. In some cases, people splurged on convenience packages (ex: location, cake, photographer, officiant, and champagne included).
There’s plenty of room for you to cash in by mimicking offerings like to be a one-stop shopping option. People will pay for convenience.
For inspiration, check out these offerings around the country:
- 12 Hotel Packages That Make Eloping a Breeze
- 12 Terrific Inns That Offer Elopement Packages for $1,000 or Less
- Choose Your Elopement Vibe
- Cheap Elopement Packages in the USA for less than $999
- Dreamy Elopement Packages That Will Make You Rethink a Big Wedding
How will you reach potential customers?
See the section below for more specifics considerations and recommendations for marketing.
Who is your competition? What do they charge?
While you’re busy checking out the articles linked above, be sure to see how they are charging for the services they offer. As a newcomer to the market, setting your prices a little bit below market rate can be a valid approach to try first.
Alternatively, if you have a few tricks up your sleeve — or connections — you might be able to present your offering as a luxury service, commanding a higher price.
Either way, getting to know the market you are in and the people who provide services there will help you determine a smart pricing strategy.
Step #3) Set Up a Website
No idea how to set up a site? It’s easier than you may think it is given the available options in 2018. There’s also no shortage of tutorials online to help you spin up a site in mere hours, if not minutes. For flexibility in how you set up your site, WordPress is the gold standard option and my personal recommendation.
An investment in a website should cost you about $200 or less for a year. You should recover that investment with your first customer.
|Maximum flexibility and control||Steeper learning curve|
|Huge user community for help with common issues||Limited support if not using a managed service|
|Tons of themes and plugins available free/cheap||Site security if not using a managed service|
The major trade off you’ll make in going with WordPress over other options is the learning curve. If you’re up for the challenge, a great deal of the advice here about setting up a blog applies.
In fact, blogging is a very smart way to build credibility, promote your area as a great place to elope, and help people learn about you! When you use our link to sign-up with Bluehost, you can get a year’s worth of hosting for just $3.95 per month (under $48 per year) and a free domain your first year.
→ Pro Tip: Be sure to identify key search terms so you will rank in Google for the relevant terms as your business grows over time.
Of course, you can always go the route of using Wix or Squarespace. Wix or Squarespace are popular alternatives to WordPress for beginners because they’re inexpensive and user-friendly. Unless you want to hire a developer to build a custom for you, in which case you’d better have a budget of a few thousand dollars, these are top options.
Step #4) Get the Word Out
Before you go on a marketing campaign blitz, blowing money indiscriminately to market to everyone on the planet, you’ll want to be sure you understand what your potential customers are looking for on their intimate day.
Many people who elope are doing so because it saves money in, but another motivation might be that they just aren’t into the elaborate traditions and headache of planning. So, who is your ideal customer?
→ Pro Tip: Your ideal customer is NOT “everyone.” Jot down the characteristics of the people you think you would be absolutely perfect to be an officiant for or offer specific types of packages to in your area. Why are you perfect for them? These are your ideal customers and your value proposition. The more specific you are, the easier it will be to refine your marketing direction, and the farther your budget will go. (Marketing to “everyone” is expensive.)
- Are they people who want the non-wedding wedding experience (major introverts)?
- Do they care most about the food they’ll eat that day (are you in a foodie town)?
- Are they renewing their vows, or marrying for the first time (maybe you’re in an area that attracts senior citizens)?
- Did they want something really original and quirky (llamas, you say)?
Digital Marketing, Lead Magnets, and SEO
Another very specific reason you should identify who your dream customer is is so that you can use facebook advertising criteria to maximize your budget.
My favorite tool for planning a Facebook marketing budget is the Hubspot AdSpend tool. You’ll need to do a little research to plug in the right numbers, but this bad boy can tell you what your ROI might be relative to how much budget you spend.
For fast leads, Facebook advertising may be a good option. In addition to the powerful Facebook ad options, Instagram is a great option for digital advertising. As a bonus, because Insta is owned by Facebook, you can actually create a campaign to use on both platforms.
Another awesome resource for marketing planning can be found here. CoSchedule has awesome materials to help you learn about content marketing, in particular. Content marketing is a brilliant strategy for attracting clients because it gives you a wonderful opportunity to show off your ideas and brand.
By way of example, you could create an Elopement Checklist or Idiot’s Guide to Eloping (Legally) with key points like this for download from your site. That shows you know how to help people plan and are thoughtful and organized.
Giving away great advice (providing value) to your customers will encourage them to think, “Hey! This person seems like they know what they’re doing!” That makes people more likely to hire you. 😉
In addition to directly marketing through digital media, a highly effective strategy for wedding professionals is to develop a personal referral network.
For example, you may want to introduce yourself to local venues or public park officials in your area (Leslie Knope IRL!).
This strategy will require a bit of an investment of your time because professionals like to get to know the people they refer their customers to before sending business their way to make sure they are protecting their own reputation.
But, if you intend to do this for several years, starting now will pay dividends in the future.
In the wedding industry, one of the single biggest ways customers find business is by marketing at bridal shows. Costs vary widely from one show to the next and different shows also bring in different types of customers.
Some might be a few hundred dollars while others can cost thousands for large booths. Typically, shows are held in the spring and fall.
If you decide to specialize in elopements and your customers may come from out of town, this may not be the most obvious option for finding clients. However, if you plan to mostly work with local couples as an officiant for intimate microweddings, this is worth researching.
Step #5) Close the Sale
This is the best part!
Once you have gears in motion for your marketing efforts, hopefully you will start seeing the fruits of your labor and leads will be visiting your website or calling you to get more information.
Consider offering a free 30-minute phone consultation or brainstorming call to see if you are a good fit for working with the couple contacting you.
Other things to have handy to send prospective clients when they contact you:
- Brochure or landing page with pricing information
- Basic legal contract (ideally for digital signature)
- Proposed areas for ceremony/event
- Way to take payment/reservation fee
You can spin up this side hustle in your own town, even if your area isn’t a booming tourist area (in fact, that means less competition). Following the simple guide above, you should be prepared to launch a side hustle in your city officiating micro weddings and elopements on a modest budget.
In most cases, the cost of your website/domain and a few marketing investments will be the bulk of what you need to get started and can be recovered with your first few customers!
Because it is increasingly popular to throw an inexpensive wedding, it’s likely this trend will continue to be popular or possibly even be overshadowed by the even newer trend of pop-up weddings. Good luck, FFL readers!