A reader asks:
I have a handful of elopement related questions, and I think they will be more relevant than ever given how our world has changed in 2020 and how weddings have changed/will change in the coming year(s). Last year I started doing these helicopter elopements, they’ve been 1. awesome 2. a fun new way for couples to get married and 3. given me lots of credibility as a pro in my area since literally no one in the area is doing this kind of elopement but it has a big-time cool factor. Oh ya, and it makes money on days I’m typically not doing a wedding (Monday-Thursday exclusively). I’m working at packaging a few more experiences for couples but I’ve been thinking through the entire process and want to figure out how to make it A+. The helicopter to a private island is an easy one – we’re on a helicopter, and we land on an island. That’s plenty cool. But these other elopements are more like hikes to great lookout points – how do you make that, from start to finish, awesome? How long is the experience typically? Do you have any +1 type things you might recommend adding to the experience or things to avoid? For the chopper, I’ve been bringing some random food (like specialty donuts and a bottle of champagne) to increase the fun and photo ops. I also don’t reeeally know about permits and things like that for some of these public spaces – better to just go on with it and hope for the best? Regarding back up-dates – do you normally have 1-2 other dates in the calendar for them? Lastly – pricing. The helicopter one right now is $6999, which is, I think, still a bit of a steal for couples, it includes basically 2 hours photo, a 2-3 minute video + me (and I’m worth at least $47.28). Choppers are crazy expensive. But the elopement without the chopper I just made up a price and sold it this morning – $3500, gets photos + me. Is that reasonable? I feel like I could go higher but really don’t have a frame of reference for pricing since no one is really doing these around here…
Before I address your questions, I’ll tell you – and of course I’m biased – but I think that the celebrant creating and leading the elopement packaging is a really powerful position. I see a lot of celebrants being bundled up by venues, florists, planners, and photographers, and at that stage they’re just part of the furniture. But when a celebrant leads the charge, or in my case my wife leads the charge (with The Elopement Collective) and on the day I run the actual elopement, it’s being run from the right place, the right heart.
We hold the spirit of the day in our hands, and we create the atmosphere. When you see me at an elopement it’s pretty much completely different to what I do at a wedding. I’m obsessed with making sure the couple have an amazing experience, considering that they’re not surrounded by 100 friends and a doting mother. I’m there from start to finish, but often taking a visual backseat, but still holding the spirit of the day close to my heart. Reading what I’v just written doesn’t seem to convey exactly what I’m trying to say, but it’s really powerful for a celebrant to take charge of an elopement experience, from head to toe, not just for the ceremony in the middle.
Now, onto your questions:
I want to figure out how to make it A+
Merely wanting to make an experience A+ is the best place to start. I feel like a lot of celebrants don’t consider how something feels for the couple, so simply considering it is a powerful start. But here’s a few thoughts on the idea:
- I feel like a lot of people approach weddings and elopements as crappy things we need to make better, like the proverbial pig and lipstick. However they’re not a pig needing lipstick, the mere fact that two people want to marry is a powerful and beautiful thing, and honestly we don’t need to dress it up, but we just need to create a space for it to happen organically.
- Obviously we need to take into account personality types. I’m pretty good at reading the room so for some couples I’ll be a little bit more hand-held, and for others I know I should take a step back. Just remember that you’re not trying to replicate an experience but to create a fresh and new experience for this couple.
- Know, communicate, and manage expectations. I start this with the customer journey and the product being sold, but then maintain the conversation through a FaceTime call before the elopement and on the day. I want the couple to know that “I’ve got this” and they just need to let the day happen.
- Use your intuition, and allow yourself from a budgeting and pricing point of view, to be able to create special experiences. Hopefully you’ve got enough room in the budget to bring a bottle of wine for one couple, or to buy a bottle of wine for a property owner for another elopement to get access to land. Amazing experiences are expensive for that reason, because you’ve got the flexibility to shout a drink somewhere to wait for the sun to set, for example.
How do you make hikes or longer experiences, from start to finish, awesome?
Honestly, I do try to limit the longer exposures like a long hike or a long car drive. There’s been the odd couple where we’ve driven together for 2-4 hours and it’s been fine, but there’s something special about “meet two hours before sunset, and let’s elope!”
Aside from the odd wine or beer, I generally avoid food and beverage provisions, everyone has different tastes, different dietary needs, and if the timeline has been explained to them, they should know to look after their own nutrition and hydration. A spare water bottle might be nice, but for hygiene sake, make it a sealed bottle so they feel safe.
That al said, the longest hike I’ve done with a couple might be 45-60 minutes and the ten or so times that’s happened it’s always been a nice opportunity to connect with the couple. I avoid asking too many questions about their personal life ahead of the day for this reason, so we have things to talk about on the day, and I’m not apologising the whole time because I’d forgotten from when we talked.
How long is the experience typically?
We work back from sunset, or if need be, when the sun leaves the area we’re working in, so for some forests that might be sunset plus two hours.
If it’s an open area like a beach or a mountaintop, we aim to meet about 1.5 hours before sunset, I’m there with a photographer, sometimes a videographer, and a bouquet, and we walk in together for their ceremony. After the ceremony they have time for portrait photos as the sun sets. If they’ve got some family joining them, we might push it back 30 minutes so there is time for some family photos.
Do you have any +1 type things you might recommend adding to the experience or things to avoid?
We add optional guests, optional videographer, optional extra florals for the second party, optional ceremony-only video (like a live stream). Then we deliver the photos through our own gallery – not the photographer’s – and we offer prints and albums.
I also don’t really know about permits and things like that for some of these public spaces – better to just go on with it and hope for the best?
An elopement is different to a wedding, in that there’s no furniture, no seats and arbour, either no guests, or maybe a handful (we try to keep things under 10, maybe under 20, over 20 you’re having a wedding). So because it’s not an event, it’s just a couple and a person having a ceremony, whilst 1-2 people stand around and photograph it, I’m of the belief that most places that don’t need permits for picnics also don’t need permits for elopements. Of course, I’m no lawyer, so do your own research.
Regarding back up-dates – do you normally have 1-2 other dates in the calendar for them?
I only ever hold one date at a time, life’s too short for any other BS. But especially through COVID we have great flexibility, and they often do too, because it’s just them.
Lastly – pricing. The helicopter one right now is $6999, which is, I think, still a bit of a steal for couples, it includes basically 2 hours photo, a 2-3 minute video + me (and I’m worth at least $47.28). Choppers are crazy expensive. But the elopement without the chopper I just made up a price and sold it this morning – $3500, gets photos + me. Is that reasonable? I feel like I could go higher but really don’t have a frame of reference for pricing since no one is really doing these around here.
Pricing is an intricate marriage of:
- What things cost, plus tax, etc
- What your and the team’s time costs
- The experience and talent you bring to the event
- What people think it’s worth
- What you think it’s worth
- What they’ll actually pay.
Honestly, when we started doing elopements we started at $2800, realised that we were pretty much financing other people’s elopements, and worked out way up to a little higher than you are. It’s for that reason that we’ve always maintained a fluid pricing policy. Our price is today what it is, and tomorrow it might go up or down. In the end we know our base costs, and we know what we’d like to charge, and we’re often hovering a little lower than that, but we maintain the ability to turn the dial up or down depending on our life circumstances and business circumstances.
If things are crazy, we’ll often close the gate a little – raise the price – and then when things are a little quiet we’ll open the gate a bit more – lower the price.
A final thought, we own the trademark for the words Elopement Collective, so please do me a favour and save me the cease and desist letter, and call your elopement packages something else 🙂