Dealing with nerves and stage fright

Cass asks:

My question is more of a concern. I already have full time work in the theatre so celebrancy for me was more of a service I wanted to provide for friends and family. I think celebrating love is one of the most beautiful and important things we can do as a society and for me it has always been about the intimacy of the couple. I used to be quite a confident public speaker when I was in high school but now I’m almost 30 I feel absolute terror at the thought of performing such an important task in front of potentially hundreds of people. I know the day is obviously about the couple and not me but I don’t want my nerves to interfere with their special moment. Do you have advice (apart from practice) to combat serious stage fright?

I suspect Josh would write something a response to this question that would be far more poetic than the response I’m about to give, and would refer to something about forgetting about the guests, this isn’t a performance, you’re just having a conversation with two people about creating their marriage. But I’m not poetic and I can’t forget the guests, and I totally understand the fear of public speaking because I used to have it as well.

A little history from me. When I was at high school I was one of the drama kids. I was also a dancer and a music student. In short, I was a performer, and I was on the stage in one way or another every chance I got. I never suffered from stage fright; nerves were always with me, but I strongly believe nerves are good for you. I was pretty much completely confident to get up there and do whatever needed doing in whatever medium I was working at the time. Looking back, I can now see that the main thing was that I was always comfortable with the work; I always knew my lines, I always knew the choreography, I always knew the music. I’d practised and I was confident and comfortable that I would “get it right”.

Then I got older. And way more self-conscious about the way other people perceived me, whether I was going to embarrass myself, and whether I would “get it right”. After uni I spent years working in administrative, behind the scenes roles; I ran a lot of events, and was always happy running around in my blacks, but as soon as someone suggested that maybe I might want to present at one of the conferences or workshops I was running, I froze. Again looking back, I’ve now realised it was because I was never completely confident with the content I was working around; I worked mostly in medical research and often felt out of my depth when it came to understanding the content and answering questions about it. (I also had a boss who took great pleasure in destroying my self-confidence, but that’s a story for another day.)

And then I decided I was going to be a celebrant. For someone not particularly comfortable standing in front of people and presenting, nuts, right? But here was the difference: I knew that I would telling stories I had written myself, that I would be talking about relationships I had grown to know as if they were my own, and that if all else failed, I would have a script to rely upon.

So now here I am, five and a half years in to being a celebrant, and I’m not only confident presenting in front of groups of people with a script in hand (at weddings and at funerals) but I’m also comfortable talking to groups of people for an entire day with no script when I’m training. I firmly believe this confidence and comfort comes from talking about a topic I am completely comfortable with, one that I know inside out and back to front: celebrancy and how it’s done. I’m saying my words, I’m presenting my ideas, and I’m teaching content about which I know all of the things. For me, losing the stage fright has been all about being comfortable with the content. I still get nervous about a particularly difficult funeral or when I’m teaching a new topic for the first time, but I’m no longer paralysed with fear the way I used to be.

So now to the practical suggestions I came up with for Cass. The only suggestions I have for combatting stage fright are:

  • practise, practise, practise, in the backyard, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, in the car, and not just ceremonies but at something like Toastmasters, which is a community organisation for public speaking education. Go along to a few of their sessions, where it doesn’t matter if you stuff up, and see if that helps (this one is all about being comfortable with your content)
  • meditation and mindfulness; see if you can find someone to teach you some relaxation techniques for using at ceremonies before you’re about to speak
  • if all else fails, low dose beta blockers; your GP can prescribe them. Many professional musicians and speakers use them before performing, and my friends who have used them rave about them!

I hope this is helpful for some of you. Feel free to share your tips and tricks for stage fright in the comments!

Witnessing the NOIM: how much information is required?

Lauren asks:

I got this question from my bride and I’m second guessing myself! ‘Went up to the police station on Sunday and got this signed, but I just wanted to check before I send you the original…in the qualification section, is it fine that it just says police officer? I only realised when looking at it later that there is no section for the witness’ name or identification number or anything, so hoping this is ok!’

In short, absolutely fine! Lauren’s bride is absolutely correct; there’s nowhere on the current NOIM for a witness to a party’s signature to write their name or identification number. All it asks for is their qualification, and I simply want to see a qualification that matches one that’s in the list of authorised witnesses below the signature boxes.

I often get asked this question in relation to stamps as well, particularly with JPs and police officers; is it okay if the witness doesn’t stamp the NOIM? Again, absolutely fine. I can find no mention in the Marriage Act or the Marriage Regulations or the Guidelines of requiring a stamp to prove their authority to witness the signatures on the NOIM. All that’s required is that they sign it, date it, and write their occupation in the box 🙂

Passports: how old is too old?

Sean asks:

I know expired passports are okay, as long as they haven’t been cancelled but is there a time limit on that? This one expired in 2012

There are two ways a party can use a passport when they’re getting married: as proof of their date and place of birth, and as proof of their identity. So what are rules around expired and cancelled passports and the age of these documents?

Date and place of birth

A person’s date and place of birth will never change, so we can accept an expired passport that is 40, 60, 80 years old for this function. No problems how old it is. However…

Identity

What a person looks like changes dramatically throughout their life (as if I had to tell you that!) So for satisfying us as to their identity, the age of the passport matters very much. The current guidance (as per the Guidelines on the Marriage Act 1961 for Authorised Celebrants 2018, p52) is that:

An expired Australian passport that has not been expired for over 10 years can be used to determine the identity of a person [emphasis added].

However, the age of the passport is not the only deciding factor here. Sure, the passport might have been expired for less than 10 years, but it might also have been issued to the party when they were five years old; a child’s passport lasts for five years so it expired when they were 10, and they’re now 19 so it’s been expired for less than 10 years. But does the photo on the passport actually look like the person sitting in front of you? The Guidelines say in this regard:

An expired passport that belonged to a child may not be useful to determine the identity of an adult (even if it has been expired for less than ten years).

So yes, we can accept a passport that has been expired for up to 10 years, as long as the picture on it looks enough like the person sitting in front of us that it satisfies us as to their identity.

Clear as mud, right?

How I perform ceremonies without notes or a script

My couples tell me they love it, wedding vendors are always surprised, and other celebrants are always blown away. They are bewildered by my ability to perform a marriage ceremony without a script or notes.

Today, I’ll tell you my secret, and it comes via Mark Twain:

If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.

The fact is that I’m a terrible script reader, I have tried my hand in theatre and it is not somewhere I excelled. The ability to read and perform a script well is not a talent I hold. So if you can do it, you’re doing better than me. Faced with this dilemma early on in my celebrancy career I had to find a better way.

I reflected on my radio career and my best moments on air were when I was passionate about the subject, I was knowledgeable, I wasn’t acting, but I was vulnerable and authentic.

I knew that I had to bring that to my weddings.

Back to Mr Twain, if I simply told the truth in my marriage ceremonies, I wouldn’t have to have a script, or notes, or I wouldn’t have to try hard to remember anything. It would all just come naturally.

So how can you create a commercially viable business out of speaking the truth two to three times a week for completely different couples?

My truth

I would need to dig deep into my brain and really figure out what my truth was. In regards to marriage, weddings, and what it all means. Why do I think marriage is important, what do I think marriage is, and how does it affect people? How do I think it makes the world a better place and why am I encouraging of people entering marriage?

Further to that, once I had a solid understanding of what marriage meant to me, and what weddings were for, I would need to avidly, tenaciously, and boldly communicate that over a course of not just days or weeks, but months and years. In my case it’s been for almost ten years.

I hope that if anyone looks over the past ten years of my social media, blogging, vlogging, and podcasting, that you would see that scarlet thread of truth running through all of my thoughts. I might have grown up, matured, and possibly even got a little smarter, but that authenticity would run deep through it all.

Their truth

This is the tricky part, because I completely want my couples to have their own agency, their own thoughts and beliefs, but all the time being close to my worldview.

I’m essentially looking for my truth and their truth to line up.

We don’t need to be facsimile’s of each other, but we would need to be able to be friends even if I wasn’t marrying them.

It’s still up to me to get to know the couple, and learn their story, but if I never knew their story and was thrown in the deep end, I could probably present a ceremony for them.

The truth of the day

Finally, the last piece of the puzzle is being aware of the event and the day. What crowd is rolling in, and how do they feel? What does the venue feel like and is the ceremony in a good place or a weird place, position-wise?

The actual physical surrounds, the weather, and the guests all weigh in on how the ceremony will feel and they definitely factor in to the truth of it.

The meetings

In all of our meetings together I am writing down notes about the couple’s truths, what matters to them, and how we all line up, but ultimately I’m building their trust in me and making sure that we are all in alignment as to what their marriage is and how we can celebrate it the best.

At the end I have a Google Doc full of notes about the couple, their story, and what matters to them. I’m essentially writing a note that future Josh will read on their wedding day.

The preparation

Before the ceremony I read that note past Josh wrote for me, and I get enveloped in their story.

I try to make the effort to catch up with both parties before the ceremony so they know I’m there and I have connected with them even briefly on a personal level outside of the ceremony.

Minutes before the ceremony I literally write (or type) their full name as a physical manifestation of remembering their middle and last names.

And then the music starts.

The ceremony and my ‘bits’

If you talk to comedians, their whole act, even their whole career, is split up into ‘bits’. The bit about Melbourne, the bit about public servants, the bit about that politician. They write all their bits, rehearse them, memorise them, and in their show, depending on the crowd, the vibe, and hope they’re feeling they bring out different bits and sometimes even customise them for the crowd.

My marriage ceremonies are very similar, I have a library of bits that I have written, rehearsed, tried, loved, and memorised.

I saw the band Weezer play recently and their’s a line in one of their songs that references ‘going to the Green Day concert’ but on the day I saw them they were opening for the Foo Fighters so they changed that bit to ‘going to the Foo Fighters concert’.

That’s how I perform a ceremony, I have all my bits, the bits I know that work, and those that work for certain kinds of couples. Some days, like yesterday, I think of a new bit on the fly and I try it out, and some days I’ll bring out a bit I haven’t used in years.

And it works because of this core belief of mine: people will never remember what I said in their ceremony, but they will always remember how I made them feel.

It’s that easy

I’ve always believed that things like this are easy until they’re not, and that’s where talent, skill, and experience come into play.

That note I wrote with the couple’s names is in my suit pocket, and I’ve been doing this long enough that I can’t make an awesome ceremony happen even without a script.

How will you go? We’ll never know until you try, but make sure you stay true to yourself and what you’re good at. The best celebrant you can be is you, everyone else is terrible at being you.

A massive change to how marriage celebrants can sight ID

For the past six months I have been pursuing a line of inquiry with the Attorney-General’s office Marriage Celebrants Section over the line in the Guidelines section 4.4.2:

It is not acceptable for a celebrant to accept a NOIM and/or supporting documents via videoconferencing services such as Skype. Actual documentation must be received by the celebrant.

That line is from the Guidelines to the Marriage Act, not the actual Marriage Act. But even if it was, there is another piece of legislation called the Electronic Transactions Act that allows for the following:

If a Commonwealth law requires you to give information in writing, provide a handwritten signature, produce a document in material form the Electronic Transactions Act means you can do these things electronically.

So I’ve pursued this with the Attorney-General’s office and received the following instruction today:

The Act does not prescribe how a celebrant is to satisfy themselves that the parties signing the NOIM are who they say they are. If a celebrant is satisfied as to a party’s identity using video conferencing media, then this is not inconsistent with the Act. A celebrant should ensure that evidence provided to establish date and place of birth can be reconciled to the identity of a party. For instance, if a party produced by email their birth certificate to the celebrant as evidence of their place and date of birth, the celebrant should reconcile that evidence against a photographic identity document to confirm identity. This might be achieved by a video conferencing call whereby the party presented their birth certificate and also a driving licence to the celebrant by showing it up to the camera during the video conferencing call.

Further to that point, I felt relieved to also read the following:

The Guidelines on the Marriage Act 1961 for authorised celebrants is issued to assist celebrants to comply with the Marriage Act and Regulations. Ultimately it is up to the celebrant to comply with all of the requirements of the Act. I appreciate that some of the language used in the Guidelines is of a directive nature, rather than of best practice nature. I will undertake to review and amend the Guidelines, where appropriate, regarding the matter you have raised to ensure the language is best practice rather directive.

I’ll let you use your best judgement on ID and the Guidelines into the future.

It’s not you, it’s me

Tenielle asks

Hey guys, I’m hoping you can lend me some advice or wording to send to a couple. Met with them on Saturday and whilst they are lovely, the vibe was NOT there. Conversation was really stunted and it didn’t seem like a natural fit from my perspective. I’m really not wanting to take their booking, but I don’t know how to politely tell them, ‘Thanks but no thanks’. I’m especially aware of any legal obligations we have to marry couples and not discriminate against them.

I would use the whole, ‘Sorry I’m double booked!’ route, but their date just opened for my bookings and that would be a blatantly obvious lie.

It’s funny, both Sarah and my first reaction to this was “sure, we’ve felt that way, but never actually done it.” Which highlights an important difference between many celebrants. Sarah and I both pay all our bills with celebrancy. Our celebrant income is our primary, and only, income – and although I’ve never acknowledged it before on this website, I think it’s an important lens to see us both through. This simply means that sometimes we make decisions that lean towards “we got paid” away from “this couple is the best couple ever!”

More importantly though, I’ve got three responses to Tenielle’s question because this situation is not unfamiliar to many of us.

Prevention

As with anything in life, prevention is better than a cure, so I go so far out of my way to craft my whole sales process – my website, my advertising, which fairs I exhibit at, who I refer to and from, my social media presence, and which venues I work closer with – so that couples that will love what I do, contact me.

I am so enamoured with this process that if I marry a couple who were not the right fit for me, my style, my personality, I over-analyse them to the point of no-return, trying to figure out what attracted them, and why they paid me so much money to play such an insignificant role in their life.

If you read through my content I’ve been creating for the last decade, it’s all designed to offend the right people and attract the right people. It’s no accident that I pick the battles I pick and I’m silent on other issues. Generally speaking, I’m terribly deliberate about my business actions.

Dealing with it in the meeting

One thing I require from my couples is active participation in our meetings, the ceremony planning, and the actual ceremony. So when we meet, even for a sales meeting, I try not to be the number one talker. I definitely lead the conversation, and the entire process, but I work hard to get them talking.

I’m literally typing this sitting in a pub in Western Sydney’s Kingswood waiting for a couple. I like to meet in person over Skype if possible because it brings a level of personality and relationship I thrive in. The couple had suggested meeting at their home, and I turned the meeting around to meeting at the tavern because I wanted to own the situation. Meeting at their home makes it less of a date and more of an interview for a job. I use the word date deliberately, because it is a meeting to make sure we’re right for each other.

I’ve already plastered who I am over the website and social media, and I revisit some of these topics when we meet, but I am always pushing the conversation back on to them with questions like this:

  • Tell me about the wedding
  • Why did you pick that venue?
  • Which other vendors like photo or video have you locked in? What did you love about them?
  • How did you find me?
  • How do you think I could make your wedding amazing?
  • How did you two meet?
  • What does marriage mean to you?
  • Is there anything I can answer for you that’s not answered on my website?

After a barrage of questions like that we’re either best friends or you never want to hear from me again.

Breaking up after the meeting

If you’re charging a good fee, and you have communicated well about who you are, what you do, and what kind of couples book you, and the couple still want to book you then I would question your judgement on the couple. It is totally important that you have a good vibe on the couple, and that you gel, but if you’ve gone through the last two steps and they still want to pay you money to be their celebrant I would take it and write the afternoon off.

However, if you need to break up with them, I wouldn’t lie, and I would not discriminate. I would tell them that for me to do my job best, the three of us really need to be able to communicate and understand each other well, and that after our last meeting I felt that you weren’t able to communicate what you wanted and how you were feeling well, and ultimately I think that would result in me not doing the best job as a celebrant for you.

But I wouldn’t be too worried, I don’t think this couple is going to be in touch 🙂

Do you really want that exposure?

On a road near my house there’s a billboard that promises to expose my business to many thousands of people. A similar promise has been made by the producers of Married at First Sight and other TV shows. Everyone wants to sell us exposure.

I would argue that exposure is the last thing we need.

A bad day

I’m willing to bet that your day would be significantly worse if you had 300 daily enquiries for people who would never book you. I know my life would be unimaginably more stressed if I had to take even 10 or 20 more phone calls a day.

Exposure

Exposure can bring all that. You can spend enough money on advertising, billboards, social media marketing, SEO, public relations, magazine features, and mailbox drops that you’ll get that exposure, and your life will be worse off for it.

Because most of us would be financially and soulfully happy if we married a certain number of couples. For some it might be 30 a year, or 100. I can tell you from my own experience that more than 200 is a drain on your soul that none of us are prepared for.

Number one

Gaining that massive exposure where you get to call yourself the number one celebrant, or the most popular celebrant, or the best, or whatever tagline you think works for you, will certainly take you to that number quickly.

But can I propose a different way, a way that might bring you to your goal albeit slower, but whilst maintaining your sanity and your joy.

Awareness is not action

Just because all these new people know you exist, it doesn’t mean they will enquire with you, book you, and love what you do. Just because they are aware of you does not mean they will act on contacting and booking you.

I would focus my energy on trying to expose myself to people that would take action.

First step is self-awareness

Know what you’re good at and not good at. Cut out everything that is hard for you, too much work, things that don’t bring you joy in your celebrancy business. For some it might be travel, for others it might be supplying furniture, if it doesn’t bring you joy, bin it.

Second step is client awareness

What about you have people loved? What elements of your business do people go out of their way to compliment you on? I know in my business my couples love that I don’t read from a script, but in your business it will be something special about you.

Third step is clarification

Bring that self-awareness and the things that matter to clients, and mash it together into a brand, a product offering, a price, and a package, that sits well with your soul. Once you’ve built the product, and the storefront (website and social media), you need to find the right people to tell. And that’s a story for another article.

Ceremony design process

Veronica has had a pretty rough trot with a renewal couple:

They were one of my first bookings after becoming a celebrant. I was really unsure of how a renewal should run…only that it would be similar to a wedding just really without the legals. Since our first meeting in September, I have met with them four times, multiple messages and numerous phone calls. They sent me their desired ceremony plan. Which essentially had me as an MC…introducing a number of speakers and readers. They had also put my name against a couple of tasks. So based on that I wrote a script (as not very good at ad lib) and went to meet with them for a “rehearsal”. They almost tore the script to shreds. They had also added and removed things from their original plan without telling me and wanted to know where I planned on putting these new ideas in the ceremony. Not liking my suggestions and especially suggesting that it was getting a bit long. Decided to sit back and let them decide. We finally came to a mutual agreement and now they want to see my amended script so they can check it all over before finalising.

So, feeling a little flattened and that I have had to work exceptionally hard for my fee (which is less than what I charge for a wedding). Did I miss something? Should I have asked questions differently? Really not wanting to go anywhere near Vow Renewals any more. How should I have handled it all?

Part of what happens when we start a new business is we very quickly learn that some of our well thought out processes don’t work as well as we thought they would 🙂 This is a pretty awful situation for any celebrant to be in, but I think Veronica and others will learn a lot from it.

I think one of the first things to note here is that this is not about vow renewals as a whole. I see this as a process issue, and this couple could have been getting married and there would have been the same issues. So don’t throw out vow renewals altogether!

I’ve talked in the past about how incredibly process driven I am. I map out for my couples from the very beginning of our time together when and how often I’ll meet with them, how I’m going to work with them to create their ceremony, and give them plenty of resources to help with their ceremony creation.

What this all boils down to is that I am generally in control from the very beginning of the relationship, and I think it’s important to assert your authority.

I’m not sure what Veronica did to gather information to build the ceremony, but from her question it sounds like the couple just sent a ceremony plan out of the blue. Yes, some couples will try to take control like that, but if you have a strong process you could potentially avoid it.

I have no problem at all with Veronica writing a script, I write scripts for every ceremony, but I would recommend sending it to the couple before turning up to the rehearsal, so that they’ve got time to read and digest it, and send you back their comments, before you’re sitting in front of them. I always plan to have the ceremony script finalised before we get to the rehearsal stage. I can only imagine how awful it was for Veronica to have her script torn to shreds in person; it would be much easier to deal with that by email.

And yes, I’ve absolutely had clients who’ve entirely rewritten a script, and it definitely stings, but I remind myself that it’s their ceremony and the whole reason for me giving them a script beforehand is so they can make any changes they like.

So in a nutshell, if I were Veronica I would be looking again at my process. Did I tell the couple how many times I was prepared to meet with them? Did I give them suggestions of how a ceremony generally works? Did I use a questionnaire or a checklist to gather information from them about what they wanted included in their ceremony? Did I ask them how long they wanted it to be? Did I give them a timeline for when I would send a script and when I wanted it finalised by? Was I in control? Did I set boundaries?

Now it’s absolutely possible that even with the very best process in place, this couple would have been difficult. Some clients just are, and there’s nothing we can do about it other than paste the smile on our face, do the very best job we can for them, and remember that not everyone is like them. Sometimes we work harder for our fee than others. My mum always tells me I don’t have to like all my clients, as long as they pay the bill 🙂

So my advice to Veronica is do your very best job for this couple and remember you never have to see them again, go back and look at your process, make sure you explain your boundaries and the way you work to future couples, and don’t give up on vow renewals!

[/MM_Access_Decision]

 

Vow and ring exchange logistics

Tori asks:

I have a logistics question for you around microphones/vow cards/ring exchanges. My first ceremony is fast approaching, and my couple have written their own vows. The plan at the moment is for me to hop out of the way during the vow exchange, leaving them to hold the mic for themselves while they read from their respective vow cards. They like the idea of ending the vows with the ring exchange (e.g. the bride would hold the mic for herself, read from her vow card, and wrap her vows up by presenting her partner with the ring. Then they would swap, and he would hold the mic for himself, read from his vow card and finish it off by presenting her with the ring). My concern is this – doing it this way would leave them with a lot to juggle – holding the mic and their vow card, plus a ring which they will be slipping on the other person’s hand at the same time. 

I guess my question is this: what do you find works best in the situation – do you tend to always hold the mic for the couple if they are reading from vow cards, or would you just avoid combining the ring exchange in with the vows, and instead let them do the vows with you out of the way and then come back in to feed them their ring exchange wording while holding the mic for them?

Excellent question Tori, and one I’ve spent a lot of ceremonies experimenting with!

When my couples write their own vows, I always print them onto a card to read from rather than have them repeat after me. The reason for this is that they don’t want to hear their partner’s beautiful words coming out of my mouth first; I did it once in my first year, he’d written a beautiful joke in his vows, and she laughed when I said it. Never again. So you’re spot on with the vow cards.

I spent a lot of ceremonies holding the microphone for them while they held their vow card, but with me standing directly behind the person speaking rather than in between the couple.

Vows read from a card with me holding the mic, but standing behind the groom

I did it this way because I always wanted the couple to be able to hold hands with their free hand. I feel sad when I see photos of couples not holding hands during their vow exchange; I feel like it’s such an intimate part of the ceremony, they should be touching.

But then at one of my OPD sessions in 2017 a couple of lovely celebrants showed me there was a way they could hold the vow card, the microphone, and be touching, and I could get out of the way altogether!

Vows read from a card with me out of the picture!

They face each other. With the hand closest to the guests they hold the vow card. With the hand furthest from the guests they hold the microphone. The partner holds the hand holding the vow card. Hopefully that makes sense!

But you’re right, adding the rings in to that equation makes for a lot of things to juggle. If they’re saying words with the rings, I just separate them out from the vows altogether, so after the vows are finished I come back behind them, I get the ring bearer to come behind them and open the ring box for one partner to take the ring out and put it halfway on the other’s finger, and then I stand behind them again to feed the ring wording while they’re putting the ring on.

Ring exchange with me feeding the words and holding the mic

My suggestion would be to separate the rings out if they’re okay with that, especially if there’s ring wording to go with the exchange. They really need both hands to put the ring on anyway – one hand to hold the other’s hand, and one to hold the ring, as in the pic above. And if there’s words to be said that go with the rings, it will be impossible for them to hold the ring, card with the words, and microphone at the same time. That sounds like a recipe for disaster! Explain the logistics to them and why you’re recommending that.

If they really want to end their vows with the ring-putting-on, and there are no words that go with the rings, I would suggest they don’t get the ring until they’ve finished saying their vows. So they hold the vow card and the mic and each other’s hand, say their vows, and then when they’ve finished speaking the ring bearer comes forward with the ring box, they take the ring out and put it on the other’s hand with no words.

I have actually scripted that I would do that before, but each time I’ve gotten so caught up in the beautiful vows that I’ve completely forgotten the rings in between the two sets of vows, and just done them in my normal place, both being exchanged at the same time after the vows are said 🙂

Also just a tip with the rings, and this is my personal preference (I know some celebrants are the exact opposite to me in this regard). I always insist the rings are in something (a bag, a box, on a pillow, whatever), because loose rings are another recipe for disaster (try saying that to a gay male couple and watch them try not to snigger). Then my rule is that neither I nor the ring bearer (or best man or whoever has the ring/s) touches the actual rings, then we can’t get in trouble if they fall on the ground. I have the ring bearer come behind the couple, open the box, and have the party take the other’s ring out, then the ring bearer goes back to the side while they put the ring on and say the words, and vice versa. I hope that makes sense!

What do I read my ceremony from?

Tori asks:

I have my first ceremony coming up in a week and a half (for a good friend), and while I am feeling pretty on top of things overall, I am still trying to work out what I will use to read from on the day. I was hoping you could talk a little bit about your experience/thoughts on using a tablet (which I’ve noticed quite a few celebrants tend to be doing?) VS something like a nice looking binder. Any specific tips/considerations either way (e.g. if you use a tablet, do you find a cover for it that you can tuck vow cards into?), and if you do go the binder/folder route, any ideas for where to buy something appropriate? Last question! If you do tend to use a tablet, do you always have a hard copy as backup anyway?

First of all Tori, congrats on your first ceremony coming up! It’s an exciting and nerve wracking time all in one, but I’m sure you’ll be great 🙂

I’m answering this one because Josh doesn’t read from a script, so he’s of no use whatsoever for this question 🙂

I have literally tried all of the things when it comes to what I read my ceremony from.

For my very first ceremony, another celebrant had told me that an A5 folder was easier to manage than an A4 folder. So I promptly went out and bought a (very ugly) A5 binder and some A5 plastic pockets, and read my ceremony from that. One fairly major problem: I found myself holding the folder against my stomach to steady it, and I couldn’t see the ceremony over my boobs. Sorry if that’s too much information, but they’re kind of big and it was a legitimate issue! So I did away with the A5 folder, which was just as well because it really was very ugly.

(As an aside, my aunt was also horrified by the ugliness of the A5 binder, so my uncle played around with some leather offcuts in his shed and made me a beautiful leather A5 folder and an A4 one, which was lovely, but by then I’d figured out A5 wasn’t going to work for me, and I’d found the A4 folder I’ll talk about below, so they didn’t get a lot of use.)

I headed back to my favourite shop of all time, Officeworks, and spent a long time in the display folder aisle. Eventually I found a black, hard cover display folder with a normal book spine, not ring bound or with that big ugly plastic thing you usually see on display folders. They don’t seem to stock them anymore, but this is the closest one I could find.

I bought a bunch of those and I still use them to display my Ceremony Builder Booklets and other info for taking along to couple meet and greets. They look nice in my hand, they’re hard cover so they don’t flap around, the plastic sheets are thicker than normal so they’re better on windy days, and overall I was pretty happy. I still had the boob problem, but I solved that by printing my scripts with an 8cm margin at the bottom of every page. Oh, and for the record, I printed my scripts in 14pt Calibri font at 1.5 spacing, with normal margins at the top and sides (2.54cm) and the 8cm margin at the bottom.

Black folder front cover
Black folder nice spine
Black folder open (and sideways, sorry about that!)

There are lots of places to buy lovely folders that aren’t Officeworks. I know several celebrants who’ve had folders custom made by a book binder, and many of the quirkier stationery shops (think Typo, Kikki K, etc) also have nice folders.

Towards the end of my first year as a celebrant I got sick of other people looking after the music at my ceremonies and ALWAYS GETTING IT WRONG. So I decided I was going to take charge of the music; I bought a Bluetooth receiver to plug into my PA system and a small iPod that I keep just for ceremonies, but I knew using my folder could be problematic – I knew I could velcro the iPod to the inside cover of the folder, but I’d then have to flip the pages back to get to it when I wanted to press Play. That was not going to work. So I decided to give my Kindle a try.

Now I’ve been a Kindle fan for years; I’m a heavy reader and the last time I went overseas I had a significant extra weight charge because of all the books I was carrying. I got my first Kindle for my birthday in 2010 and I haven’t looked back. So I knew how to work a Kindle, I felt comfortable with reading from the screen, and I was happy to give it a shot. My original Kindle had buttons at the side to press to move back and forth between pages; my current one is a touch screen, so you tap on the left side of the screen to go back and page, and the right side of the screen to go forward a page.

The big issue was figuring out what size font I needed to save my document in so that when the A4 page of my document shrank to the size of the Kindle screen, it would still be readable! After a bit of trial and error I settled on narrow margins (1.27cm) all around, and 26 point Calibri font at 1.5 spacing. So I prepare the document as usual in Word, print it to PDF, then email the PDF document to my Kindle account email address (which you can find if you go into your Kindle account information online). Lo and behold, the next time I connect my Kindle to wifi, the document downloads, ready to go!

A page of text on my Kindle (sideways, sorry!)

Because the Kindle is so small and fits cradled in one hand, I don’t need to rest it against my stomach; I tend to hold it at chest height, so my boobs don’t get in the way 🙂

Kindle fits in my hand

I have a plain black case for my Kindle (it’s a responsive one, so when I close the case the Kindle switches off). I know others have gone down the track of getting larger covers that they can fit vow cards and tissues etc in, but I stuff my tissues in my bra (sorry, TMI again!) and give the vow cards to the second groomsman to hold (the best man usually has the rings, so this gives the second groomsman something to do).

I have a Velcro strip on the back of my iPod, and Velcro dots on the left inside cover of the Kindle, and that’s my ceremony kit. I can hold it comfortably in one hand, and move the pages back and forth and control the iPod with the other hand. I wear a headset microphone so that I have both hands free for this reason. If there’s live music and I’m not needing my iPod, the Kindle comes out of its case and I just hold it and control it with the same hand.

Kindle with iPod attached (upside down, sorry)
Kindle out of its cover

I always have a paper copy of the ceremony with me as well; I like to give the couple a keepsake copy of their ceremony on pretty paper, so that’s in my bag if I need it. On the odd occasion when my Kindle threw a hissy fit though, I’ve just opened up the Dropbox app on my iPhone and read the ceremony from there – I save EVERYTHING in Dropbox, so I can access it from my phone, iPad, or any computer anywhere.

I personally don’t like to use an iPad; I’ve seen many photos of celebrants with an eerie glow on their face from their iPad screen. A Kindle isn’t backlit, which makes it easy to read in the sunlight (it’s just like reading from paper) and it doesn’t shine a light on my face. I also find my Kindle easier to hold onto than my iPad; it’s just that bit smaller and more comfortable in my hand. I’ve also heard far too many horror stories of iPads shutting down in the heat; I’ve yet to have that happen with my Kindle, although I am careful to keep it out of direct sunlight as much as i can.

(And yes, I’ve heard the arguments about being able to make edits on the go if you’re using an iPad, and about being able to control the music from the same device you’re reading your script from. I’m very bossy with my couples and don’t allow edits on the day of the ceremony; in over 280 weddings I’ve only had one wedding where they insisted I add something on the day, and it was minor enough that I could remember it. And for the same reason I didn’t want to be flipping pages in my folder, I don’t want to be switching between apps to play music and read my ceremony. That’s just me though.)

I still use my hard copy folder for funerals, because I don’t have to control the music and I always have a lectern to put my folder on, although I am considering trying my iPad at a funeral ceremony or two to see how that goes. Having said that, at burials lately I’ve been using my Kindle/iPod combo because it’s just easier at the graveside rather than dealing with the pages in my folder.

So that’s my journey through different tools for reading my ceremony! I hope it’s been useful 🙂 (And sorry that I’m so useless with images and some of them are sideways or upside down!)

How to become the celebrant in the know

Anka asks

I’m wanting to start blogging this year and making myself known as the “celebrant in the know” within my area with some personality thrown in as well but I’m not sure exactly how to start? Any suggestions or topics?

This is another fantastic question Anka, and the answer is simple and complicated at the same time.

You’ve identified blogging as a possible area for content creation, and I’d encourage you into it as well into other areas that match up with your personality type. If you’re a speaker, speak into a podcast, if you thrive on video, make videos, if you love to write, write.

The key isn’t the medium, but the message. Make sure your message is one that matters, a message that the community needs to hear. No-one’s trawling the web looking for selfish, useless, unhelpful content.

I could talk on this topic for ages, and we will be at the conference on the Gold Coast in August, but between now and then, devour this content deck from Gary Vaynerchuck, it’s the real deal.

What’s the go with overseas weddings

Anka asks

Lately I’ve noticed a lot of celebrants on Facebook have started advertising that they can do weddings overseas?? I didn’t think we could? Im presuming they might be just completing paperwork at the airport before they depart? Or did u miss something

Hi Anka, this is a question I personally field often and I’m glad I get to address it on the Celebrant Institute today.

Under what authority?

The Attorney-General’s office has the authority to appoint marriage celebrants according to Australian law. That law and authority is only valid in Australia. So when an Australian authorised marriage celebrant leaves Australia and enters another country they no longer carry the authority they did in Australia, and they are subject to that country’s laws – marriage and otherwise. In simple terms, Australian marriage celebrants in New Zealand lose the title “marriage celebrant” whilst retaining the title “Australian”. Outside of Australia you are not a celebrant. That’s why celebrants cannot witness notices of intent overseas.

So if you see myself or others performing ceremonies overseas, we are subject to the laws in that country. In that country, if we have the authority to marry we may well be, and if we are not then in a technical sense it’s not a legal marriage ceremony.

I personally at the time of writing this article have the authority to marry people according to the law in Australia, the USA, and British Columbia, Canada.

If you see me in any other country, the couple are not getting married-married, just married, in their hearts.

Even with the opportunity to legally marry in Canada and the USA many of my couples choose to still take the Australian paperwork route just so it’s free to change names and get new passports and drivers licenses.

So how do people get married-married?

In each country around the globe the people getting married have the responsibility to seek the best route for themselves. Some people value the ease of paperwork an Australian marriage ceremony presents an Australian couple so before or after the international ceremony we’ll go through the required steps on Australian soil. Others value the date on their marriage certificate being the date they exchanged vows, so it’s up to them to figure that out.

Isn’t this weird?

I know that for many of our European it’s very common for the celebrant to have no actual legal authority so the couple will visit the marriage office in the days before their wedding, or even on the morning, and solemnise it there. (Do I get 10 points for using solemnise in a sentence?)

For many Australian couples who would like a friend to marry them I perform a similar service.

The business end of the deal

You’ll meet very few wedding vendors who have made a successful life, financially and socially, from being a destination wedding vendor. I’m lucky that Britt’s a bigger traveller than me and Luna, well Luna has no choice. So we love travelling the globe and we build our international wedding schedule around our own hopes. I’m sure most reading this would like to travel as well, so I wish you the best of luck, it’s not easy living with the word ‘destination’ in your bio, if only because everyone else has it there too. My advice would be to focus on your local market and take the destination work that suits you and your family.

Interpreters and translators

§ MEMBERS ONLY CONTENT

Sarita asks:

We’re away at the moment and then the couple in question head away as we get back – so the NOIM will be getting lodged in Jan, with a day to spare.  


The bride is from China and all her ID is in Chinese. 


As long as I tell them to get the passport, (birth certificate) & drivers license/ID card interpreted by a NAATI registered interpreter – is that all ok?  


Just wanted to check I’m not missing anything as it’s my first time doing a marriage that will involve an interpreter. 


Only members have access to the full article – To access all of the advice and content on the Celebrant Institute website, and to ask questions, you need to be a paid member and if you already are a member, log in here.

Membership is $10 a month, and because we can tell you’re keen to check the site out, if you join via this link only, we’ll give you a three day free trial so you can cancel if you don’t love us like our mothers do.


How do I do marriage certificates?

I was just wondering how you all prepare your pretty Form 15s. Does anyone use traditional calligraphy? Hand write? Use a template on a printer?

Julia Hern

I’ll answer Julia’s question along with a wider explanation of how I prepare all of my paperwork, including the Form 15.

I recently found my original “red book” of marriage certificates whilst packing to move house. I used it five times before I started investigating other means. Around that time I found Ron Hoare’s Celebrant Suite (I particularly enjoyed his company name “Byronware” aka By Ron Ware, ware being slang for software). Almost six years on I still use Celebrant Suite and have particularly enjoyed Ivan Conway’s addition to the product (Celebrant Connection) with the ability for couples to fill out an online form and then I can import all of their information into Celebrant Suite. When I first started using Celebrant Suite I used the software on a spare Windows laptop and printed the paperwork onto good A4 paper. I kept the celebrant copy (instead of the red book), and mailed the BDM’s copy to the BDM. Today my Celebrant Suite use is a little different, so I’ll lay down how I manage my paperwork today, and maybe some of these tips can rub off on to your workflow.

Bye bye red book

So step number one is to put the red book away. Retire the book, step out from behind it like the big bold awesome celebrant you are. And now everyone hates me because they love their red book selfies, but I’m cool with that. The thing is, the red book isn’t the only way to fulfil that part of our obligation as a marriage celebrant, and the mere fact that you need to pick up a pen to do the work means that we’re letting potential errors enter our workflow.

How do I use Celebrant Suite?

My marriage paperwork workflow starts with every single couple being entered into Celebrant Suite, even though for a majority of my couple’s today I won’t even generate their paperwork in Celebrant Suite. But in my workflow Celebrant Suite is the ultimate keeper of answers to the following:

  1. Who has booked me?
  2. Has the couple competed a NOIM?
  3. When and where is the couple’s wedding?
  4. Record of use of Form 15 certificates and printing the certificates (with pretty fonts)
  5. Have I submitted the paperwork to the BDM?
  6. How many weddings did I do this year?

I know that Ron will be horrified when he reads that list, but being a Queensland-based celebrant who works primarily in New South Wales there are too many benefits in me registering my couples marriages directly with the BDM online, plus NSW BDM calls me every time I lodge a marriage the traditional way, just to make sure that I know they have an online system. They won, I got sick of the phone calls. For couples marrying in Queensland or New South Wales I enter the data into Celebrant Suite and the state’s BDM online system for double data dexterity (the BDM online systems are far from perfect) and then print the forms from the BDM because that’s the most important data point. I need the BDM-entered data to be spelt and typed correctly.

Couples of mine who are not getting married in Queensland or New South Wales, have their marriage paperwork generated in Celebrant Suite, because it’s quite simply a really beautiful way of generating and printing their paperwork.

The base premise is that you enter data once and use it many times. So in Celebrant Suite you’ll enter the couple’s names once and then on every certificate that original spelling is used. I’ll even enter the couples details either manually, or via the Celebrant Connection, then export a PDF of their NOIM to send to them just so they can check spelling and typos. No more errors!

Isn’t Celebrant Suite a Windows program?

I am a Mac and iPad user, who has a single Windows program to run – and Celebrant Suite is that app. I know there are other web-based programs but I’m not happy with them, and all my data is in Celebrant Suite. So I actually pay 9 cents per hour to rent a Windows computer in the cloud. When I’m not using it I shut it down and it costs me nothing. I can just remote desktop into it from my iPad or Mac, where ever I am in the world. It’s quite handy!

Celebrant Suite running on a Windows Server instance in the Alibaba Cloud for 9 cents per hour, being accessing through the Remote Desktop app on my iPad

How do I print/do the paperwork?

“Printing” the paperwork takes on two different meanings here. I personally print as little as I need to, but for most of you, that is, people who aren’t asking their couples to sign on iPad, you’ll need to print more.

So, if I’m printing paper: In my office I’ll print the paperwork from either Celebrant Suite or the BDM online and carry it in my Oroton folio. The BDMs online give you PDFs to print.

My general use case is that I’ll export a PDF from Celebrant Suite or BDM online and save it into Notability, my iPad singing app of choice and have the couple sign the paperwork in Notability. The only paper at the marriage ceremony is the Form 15 which the couple takes home.

If it’s a NSW wedding I can get home and upload that paperwork directly to BDM, essentially a paperless wedding on my end. In Qld I can upload but I still currently have to print and mail the paperwork as well. In the ACT I can simply email the paperwork in, and in other states I mail it in.

Printing the Form 15

The online BDM’s template for printing the Form 15s are pretty ugly, so I still use Celebrant Suite for my Form 15s. Coneria Script is my font of choice (to instal custom fonts onto your iPad, use AnyFont).

If Celebrant Suite is having a bad day, or if I’m too lazy to turn on the virtual machine that runs it, I also have a Apple Pages template which I can manually type the information into. Those templates are available for purchase below.

Form 15 (Marriage Equality Version) Apple Pages template

$5.00 – Purchase Excluding 10% tax

Form 15 (Old Version) Apple Pages template

$5.00 – Purchase Excluding 10% tax

How I make personal ceremonies

When creating a marriage ceremony, my goal isn’t to personalise my ceremony, but to make it personal.

That’s a subtle but pointed difference.

Personalising my ceremonies is the act of having existing ceremonies and then changing them to suit the couple. It’s the mail merge of ceremonies. And for many celebrants, for many of their packages and price-points, thats’ as much work as the couple paying that fee deserve.

But if you’re interested in doing work that matters, the kind of work that fills your cup every day, whilst also filling your sales budget and bank account, let me tell you about another way.

I don’t personalise my ceremonies, I make my ceremonies personal.

I’ll take your through my processes as if I was marrying fictional Jack and Jill today.


I’ll sit down before the wedding and think about how I can make Jack and Jill’s ceremony personal. What can I do that would make it feel like this ceremony was 100% about Jack and Jill, and not a mail merge ceremony.

What can I say that would give everyone there the idea that I actually know Jack and Jill, and that I care about them?

What can I say to Jack and Jill that would truly encourage them and engage them in the ceremony


You can take those points and go to the extreme, a dangerous place to be. Imagine if you just met Jack at a party, and in an effort to make Jack feel included and special, you call him Jack every 45 seconds for the rest of the night.

Friends don’t talk like that, people that know you personally almost always don’t call you by your name. They’ll call you by cute names, or nicknames.

So in the ceremony I don’t begin with the classic line “We are gathered here today to celebrate Jack Daniel Smith and Jill Rebecca Brown’s marriage” because that is possibly the most impersonal thing you could say. If everyone at the ceremony doesn’t know their name then why are they even there?


Many celebrants personalise their ceremony by including the couple’s full story. Which is an easy and comprehensive way of making it all about Jack and Jill.

But I actually don’t tell the whole story for four reasons:

  1. I’m assuming everyone there know’s the story. With weddings being so small and personal today, it would be weird for strangers to be there.
  2. A common complaint I’ve heard from couples is that they have heard other celebrants do this and it seems insincere.
  3. I think reading the story off a page is a dead giveaway for a not-personal ceremony.
  4. I’m really bad at reading long passages of text off a page into a microphone.

So if I’m not reading the whole story, but I still have their story, how do I make it personal?

Jack and Jill might have met at the baggage carousel at Nashville Airport, tow kids from Brisbane meeting on the other side of the world in the least friendly of places. So in the ceremony I might say:

“We’ve come a long way from the baggage carousel in Nashville airport to this little wedding ceremony in Byron Bay, but that’s the beauty and oddity of love, is that you find it in the weirdest places, and it doesn’t get any more normal along the way!”

So I’ve referenced their story, but not in a “reading off a page” kind of way, meanwhile I’ve proven to everyone there and the couple that I care and I listened when they told me that story.


Everyone receives encouragement differently. Some people would prefer a gift, or a cuddle, and some respond better to words than high fives. I always look out for ways in which the couple comfort each other and encourage each other, and use those methods before and during the ceremony to encourage them.

I know that if a guy is a hugger, then a hug before the ceremony will make him feel at home, and he’d probably appreciate a warm slap on the shoulder as his partner comes down the aisle.

If a person is wordy and descriptive in how they explain their love of the other person, I know that a personal affirmation that references something they’ve done or said in the closing words of the ceremony would really warm their heart.


I believe that subtle references and encouragements, maybe towards pop culture favourites of the couple, or references to personal jokes or cute names, references that most people there would’nt even get will make for a much more personal ceremony that brings rave reviews and referrals.

I know that this style of ceremony isn’t what they teach you in Cert IV training, and it’s also not the normal kind of ceremony, but I do believe that if you can start making your ceremonies more personal and less personalised that you’ll start finding a new well of creativity and joy in your ceremony creation.

Marketing: if I was starting today

If I was starting as a celebrant today I would do so many things differently.

This article is hopefully timely for our readers, after all it is enquiries season! My rough research tells me that more people are engaged in between Christmas Eve and Valentine’s Day than any other period through the year. Many couples engaged last year decide to start planning their wedding “in the new year” which is only days away.

We’ve also had a number of questions about marketing ourselves as celebrants, from new and existing celebrants, and I wanted to wrap up that conversation into a personal one for me, that will hopefully help you too: if I was starting as a celebrant today, knowing everything I know, what would I do?

You’ve got to get the foundations right

So many Australians consider the basic foundations of a business to be a logo, a fancy business name, business cards, car signage, name badges, brochures, and a yellow pages listing. But if I was starting today I would have none of them. Today I would consider the basic foundation a celebrant business needs before they start marketing to be: your name, a simple, culturally relevant, informative website, social media accounts that have the same username as your domain name and are branded the same way, an email address at your domain name instead of blahblah@gmail.com, a system for taking enquiries, bookings, and payments, and finally, a purpose. We’ll get to that soon.

I’ll detail how to get your foundations right first because before anyone enquires you need to be able to process that enquiry, plus I have an expectation that before enquiring with us our couples are doing their due diligence and researching you, finding out what kind of business person you are.

Why no logo or business cards?

In a world where most communication is electronic, and we’re trying to use less paper and waste materials less, a paper business card is out of fashion. At expos I’ll set up an iPad app so instead of handing a business card I’ll send them an email, and at client meetings they’ve hopefully already got all of my contact details in my emails.

As for logos, they’re fine, but distracting. If you’re starting fresh today investing the time and engergy into creating your own logo will probably result in an ugly logo if logo design isn’t your daily job, and paying for a good one is fine, but I’d rather put that $500 into paid marketing so you can make $5000 then spend the $500 on a good logo.

Your business name

Much like a logo, inventing a cool and fun business name (in my humble opinion) is a distracting exercise on day one. Plus in a world where our couples are being marketing to about 7000 times per day (look around you, at the brand computer you’re using to read this, the watch on your hand, the car you can see, there are logos and brands everywhere all day long), I think it is a bridge too far to ask our couples to remember our personal name and our business name. It’s double the work.

A basic website

The easy way to identify whether your website is a winner or a failure is to see if you can answer these questions in the first 10 seconds of viewing your website:

  • Whose website is this?
  • What do they do?
  • Where do they do it? (I get it, you do destination weddings, but where do you actually live?)
  • What does the celebrant look like?
  • How can this celebrant make my life better? Not just my wedding day, but my life between now and then.
  • How can I contact you?
  • Bonus question: Price/package information.

Your website is a failure if you can’t answer those first six, and it’s definitely a failure if you’ve only got stock photos of rings, flowers, brides and pretty dresses. Couples are visiting your website to hire a celebrant, not to receive an empty and inauthentic “congratulations!” alongside stock photography.

It’s important to remember the purpose of your website, it’s your storefront, the place where you are 100% in control of how your brand is perceived. Don’t waste this fleeting opportunity.

People visit your website to verify that you’re a real person, not a scam or a fake business. Impress them with your “you’ness”.

Social media accounts branded the same

I’m not going to detail an all encompassing social media strategy in this article, but if I have your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest pages all in front of me, along with your website, I should be able to tell that they’re the same person.

Hopefully you’re using the same usernames, display names, and profile photo, and the profile photo isn’t the logo of the latest popular awards system, but it’s a stunning photo of you and your cake hole showing teeth inside a massive grin.

A professional email address

Your website is hopefully something along the lines of yourname.com.au and I’m hoping and praying that your email account is yourname@yourname.com.au. There are some other clever email addresses like hello@yourname.com.au or info@yourname.com.au and they’re awesome, in fact there’s room for your to become even cleverer by utilising all of your personality and using janitor@yourname.com.au. Whatever you do, please don’t use yourname76xx@hotmail.com. It is a well researched fact that the brand perception of emailing a professional at their yahoo.com or hotmail.com or gmail.com email address is a negative.

Enquiry and booking systems

This is a whole other conversation, but before you start trying for enquiries and bookings you need to be able to receive and act on enquiries and bookings.

I use Dubsado, Sarah uses Tave, others use Studio Ninja and 17Hats, and some craft their own systems. Whatever you do, figure out what that customer journey looks like so when someone responds to your fancy marketing, they don’t fall into a pit of no reply.

Pre-marketing research

So you’ve got the foundations in place, and you’re about to spend your first $100, we’ve just got one last hurdle to complete: your ‘why’.

Why are you a celebrant?

Why would people hire you?

What difference do you bring to couples lives?

How can you help them?

There are the other 99% of celebrants who simply advertise the fact that they exist and they cost this much, but you’ll be the 1% who have as story to tell. A reason for existing. A purpose for being a celebrant.

Identify the kind of people you would like to marry, and then imagine how you can help them. Write down a bunch of dot points and ideas on how you can be useful to these people and these notes will form the basis of your marketing.

Marketing time

If I was starting today, I would do everything I’ve just talked about, and then I would start creating content in a way that was natural and fun for me. Here’s some places to start thinking about:

  • If you like to talk, a podcast might be for you (check out Anchor)
  • If you like to talk and you’re not scared of the camera, a video blog might be for you (heard of Youtube? or even Facebook Watch!)
  • If you’re a writer then Medium and your own blog is a good start. You could even pre-write some content that you think other wedding vendors and venues might like to publish and offer it to them.
  • If you have a knack for answering questions, create a Quaora account and start answering questions in your own flavour on Quora or even Reddit, and build a brand that showcases your expertise and knowledge.
  • If you’re handy with a camera, hit up Instagram and start creating the most valuable content Instagram can take: original content (because everyone else is busy re-posting everyone else’s content while you can create your own)

Start creating content that is helpful to people you’d like to hire you. Whether it’s recommending other vendors or sharing ideas on writing vows, start being useful.

Then once you are useful, start promoting and cross-promoting that content in places that matter.

So firstly, publish to Anchor, Youtube, or Medium, but then share those links on your own website’s blog so that as people research you they see that you’re active online.

Then on the platforms that allow it, boost those posts to targeted audiences that match the people you were thinking of earlier.

Rinse, and repeat.

If I was starting today I wouldn’t bother with all of the directories and the magazines, I would go straight to the people and prove my worth and value by creating content that is helpful and useful to them.

By backing that content up with paid advertising on the different platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Google, and even on Quora, you’re going into uncharted ed territory for celebrants, which is a brave and fruitful place to go. If “every celebrant” is advertising on blah blah weddings.com then that’s the last place I want to be. But if I can be useful to my target demographic I’ve got guaranteed sales plus I’m building a fanbase that will evangelise for me.

If I was starting today I’d stop wasting my money on the maybes and start spending it on reaching real people that are in my target demographic.

And you can too!

When to provide documentation to couples

§ MEMBERS ONLY CONTENT

Peter asks:

By when in the process must we have given the required documents to the couple?

I have been giving the required documents (happily ever…, code of practice, complaint info, etc.) with the engagement letter / quote, however, often I only have an email address at this stage for one party, not both. As I understand it, this doesn’t satisfy the requirements of the act (giving happily ever… effectively to only one party).

Upon booking, that’s when I get my now clients to give me their complete contact information. I’ve trialed different methods of getting complete contact info on enquiry but nothing has really been effective.

I’m trying to optimise my systems and I don’t want to send more emails in my workflow than I have to, so I was wondering can I send this info at the point of our planning meeting (circa 4 months out) as part of an email that already sits in my workflow rather than at the point of booking?


Only members have access to the full article – To access all of the advice and content on the Celebrant Institute website, and to ask questions, you need to be a paid member and if you already are a member, log in here.

Membership is $10 a month, and because we can tell you’re keen to check the site out, if you join via this link only, we’ll give you a three day free trial so you can cancel if you don’t love us like our mothers do.


Signing two Official Certificates of Marriage electronically

§ MEMBERS ONLY CONTENT

Alison asks:

This might be more of a Josh question because it’s about electronic paperwork – or maybe it is for Sarah because of the legal side. I’m performing my very first ceremony tomorrow (hooray!) and I’ve received permission from the ACT BDM to accept electronic signatures and to submit the paperwork by email. I’ve watched Josh’s video for how to sign the marriage paperwork on an iPad and I’m all set to go.

My question is, since I have the electronic paperwork, do I need everyone to sign TWO official marriage certificates (plus the Form 15) after the ceremony, or just the one connected to the DONLIM since I am sending electronically and will retain the digital copy. I can’t see any reason to sign two copies of the same digital document, except for the fact the Marriage Act 50(1)(b) says: Where an authorised celebrant solemnises a marriage, the authorised celebrant shall: prepare 2 official certificates of the marriage.


Only members have access to the full article – To access all of the advice and content on the Celebrant Institute website, and to ask questions, you need to be a paid member and if you already are a member, log in here.

Membership is $10 a month, and because we can tell you’re keen to check the site out, if you join via this link only, we’ll give you a three day free trial so you can cancel if you don’t love us like our mothers do.


Sighting identity documentation

§ MEMBERS ONLY CONTENT

Precious asks:

I have a couple that I’ve met but they forgot to bring their ID when they signed the NOIM. One of them is available tomorrow to come round with both of their ID, but do I need to see both of them at the same time I see their ID, or can I see partner A and both partner A and Bs ID then? 


Only members have access to the full article – To access all of the advice and content on the Celebrant Institute website, and to ask questions, you need to be a paid member and if you already are a member, log in here.

Membership is $10 a month, and because we can tell you’re keen to check the site out, if you join via this link only, we’ll give you a three day free trial so you can cancel if you don’t love us like our mothers do.


Lodging marriage paperwork electronically

§ MEMBERS ONLY CONTENT

A celebrant asks:

Hey there.. a question – I’ve just registered to submit ceremonies online in NSW (I am in Vic). In reading the manual, I discovered you can scan/lodge all official documents ONLINE once the ceremony is over and that’s that. I emailed them to ask if that was for real – we don’t need to mail the official docs in? They emailed back that is correct and we just file the documents.

Now – that’s not what the Act says. Hmmmmm. I don’t want to be responsible for holding the originals. I asked a few celebrants who all say they send the docs in as well. One celebrant said he rocked up to NSW BDM to hand the documents in and they flatly refused to take them from him, saying once they are uploaded online there is no need for the BDM to have them.

So I guess they are binning / destroying all the original docs people are sending them, if those same docs have been uploaded online.

I am dying to know: what do you two do when registering a marriage in NSW then uploading the documents? Do you send/destroy/keep the originals?


Only members have access to the full article – To access all of the advice and content on the Celebrant Institute website, and to ask questions, you need to be a paid member and if you already are a member, log in here.

Membership is $10 a month, and because we can tell you’re keen to check the site out, if you join via this link only, we’ll give you a three day free trial so you can cancel if you don’t love us like our mothers do.


Different signatures by parties

§ MEMBERS ONLY CONTENT

A celebrant asks:

I have received a Notice of Errors in documentation email from BDM. They have requested the bride provides a stat dec indicating why her signature on the NOIM and Marriage Certificate are different. Is there wording we can provide on the stat dec to assist completion? Can we provide a scanned copy of the stat dec to BDM (or do they need to sight originals)


Only members have access to the full article – To access all of the advice and content on the Celebrant Institute website, and to ask questions, you need to be a paid member and if you already are a member, log in here.

Membership is $10 a month, and because we can tell you’re keen to check the site out, if you join via this link only, we’ll give you a three day free trial so you can cancel if you don’t love us like our mothers do.


Starting a business

§ MEMBERS ONLY CONTENT

Linda asks:

I have completed my cert 4 at last and am in the process of doing my AG application so now I am thinking about the set up of my business. I have no previous experience in this area and wondering where to start really. Should I be sourcing and / or starting to create a website now ( not go live of course!) do I produce business cards etc, basically when and where is a good time to start if you’re not an expert! Considering it can take up to 3 months to hear back could you suggest a timeline please?


Only members have access to the full article – To access all of the advice and content on the Celebrant Institute website, and to ask questions, you need to be a paid member and if you already are a member, log in here.

Membership is $10 a month, and because we can tell you’re keen to check the site out, if you join via this link only, we’ll give you a three day free trial so you can cancel if you don’t love us like our mothers do.


Witness signatures, or the one in which Josh and Sarah disagree…

§ MEMBERS ONLY CONTENT

Sometimes (often?) Josh and I disagree on the answer to a question. This was one such time…

Bree asked:

I have a grandparent as a witness this coming Saturday who has a very shaky hand and is apparently really nervous about the signing duties. The poor darling! They are adamant they want him as a witness. Any tips on how to beat / manage this? I think he is worried about people watching him… would it be ok to get him to just sign one document while everyone is watching but then the other two after? Appreciate your advice!


Only members have access to the full article – To access all of the advice and content on the Celebrant Institute website, and to ask questions, you need to be a paid member and if you already are a member, log in here.

Membership is $10 a month, and because we can tell you’re keen to check the site out, if you join via this link only, we’ll give you a three day free trial so you can cancel if you don’t love us like our mothers do.


Rehearsals – to have them or not to have them?

§ MEMBERS ONLY CONTENT

Sarita asks:

Normally I’d do a rehearsal or rough run through with the couple. I have a couple asking about a rehearsal with the full bridal party. 

Would I be ok to say I’d normally just do it with the couple? Or should I go with the flow & do it with everyone? 

What do we normally do?


Only members have access to the full article – To access all of the advice and content on the Celebrant Institute website, and to ask questions, you need to be a paid member and if you already are a member, log in here.

Membership is $10 a month, and because we can tell you’re keen to check the site out, if you join via this link only, we’ll give you a three day free trial so you can cancel if you don’t love us like our mothers do.


When a party’s recorded sex is different from their gender identity

§ MEMBERS ONLY CONTENT

A celebrant asks:

The groom was born female, and identifies as male. He is male on his passport (that’s the doc I saw for ID purposes), but he’s just asked me if it poses any problems that his birth certificate lists him as ‘female’. I said no, because the changes to the rules have allowed for him to identify as male, so no dramas at all. However, my question is do I need to write a note of explanation in the ‘Additional Information to BDM’ section online? I know they sometimes cross reference with birth certificates and I don’t want to put the groom to any trouble by having to justify his gender. (I’d prefer not to make an issue of it by raising it if I don’t have to, but I know BDM can sometimes be a bit heavy-handed and insensitive).


Only members have access to the full article – To access all of the advice and content on the Celebrant Institute website, and to ask questions, you need to be a paid member and if you already are a member, log in here.

Membership is $10 a month, and because we can tell you’re keen to check the site out, if you join via this link only, we’ll give you a three day free trial so you can cancel if you don’t love us like our mothers do.


Signing and transferring a NOIM

§ MEMBERS ONLY CONTENT

A celebrant asks:

When I first enrolled in my course, my Dad asked if I’d solemnise his wedding in December 2018. Of course I said I’d be thrilled if I passed and got authorised. I’ve now completed my Cert IV and applied for registration.

My dad and his fiancée are adamant they want me to do the ceremony (even if it means delaying the proposed December 8 ceremony), so I’ve asked a celebrant who lives near me to accept the NOIM, so it’s easier to transfer it to once I’m registered. My friend has only been a celebrant for a year, so he’s never done a transfer or interstate NOIM. I want to make sure I have all the steps correct. 

Adding to the complication is that my dad and his fiancée are currently living in different states due to work. Can you tell me if I have all the following steps correct:

1. Party 1 fills in the NOIM and has it signed by a police officer (or other authorised witness)

2. Party 1 posts the physical NOIM to Party 2, and scans or posts photocopies of supporting documentation (in this case an Australian passport)

3. Party 2 fills in the NOIM and has it signed by a police officer (or other authorised witness)

4. Party 2 emails a copy of the NOIM along with scans of all supporting documentation (ie both passports) to Celebrant 1 (my friend) in order to make the deadline

5. Party 2 posts the physical copy of the NOIM to Celebrant 1 via registered post

6. Once Celebrant 2 (me) is registered, Celebrant 1 transfers the NOIM, and makes the appropriate marks on the NOIM

7. Celebrant 2 must bring the physical NOIM to the wedding and witness the supporting documentation (passports) before the ceremony commences

Is that right? Does Celebrant 1 have to witness the physical passports as well? I’m guessing that even though the ACT is accepting scans of documents at the moment (according to what you said on your podcast), because of the need to transfer the NOIM around there will need to be a physical copy.

Also how do you transfer a NOIM? It doesn’t seem to specify exactly what you need to do in the Guidelines. I saw you mentioned that the proposed new NOIM has a spot specifically for this, but in the meantime, could you maybe post an example on the CI? Does it need a covering letter? 

What about other changes, like a date or venue change? Or is this filled in just before the ceremony? To be honest, I’m also a little confused about when the celebrant is meant to fill in certain sections on the NOIM, because all the exercises in the Cert IV was about handing in the fully completed paperwork.


Only members have access to the full article – To access all of the advice and content on the Celebrant Institute website, and to ask questions, you need to be a paid member and if you already are a member, log in here.

Membership is $10 a month, and because we can tell you’re keen to check the site out, if you join via this link only, we’ll give you a three day free trial so you can cancel if you don’t love us like our mothers do.


Cost to register a marriage?

§ MEMBERS ONLY CONTENT

A celebrant asks:

Does each state charge different fees to submit completed marriage docs? 

I’ve got weddings in NSW, SA and VIC coming up and I can’t find any details on costs associated with registering the paperwork? 


Only members have access to the full article – To access all of the advice and content on the Celebrant Institute website, and to ask questions, you need to be a paid member and if you already are a member, log in here.

Membership is $10 a month, and because we can tell you’re keen to check the site out, if you join via this link only, we’ll give you a three day free trial so you can cancel if you don’t love us like our mothers do.


Sighting identity documents from parties living interstate or overseas

§ MEMBERS ONLY CONTENT

A celebrant asks:

I have a question about sighting ID when the Celebrant and marrying couple are in different states. 

I have a number of family and friends in other states that have asked me to perform their ceremonies for them, which is super exciting. The question I have is, how do you manage the sighting of the ID in these cases? 

What do you guys do in this instance? 


Only members have access to the full article – To access all of the advice and content on the Celebrant Institute website, and to ask questions, you need to be a paid member and if you already are a member, log in here.

Membership is $10 a month, and because we can tell you’re keen to check the site out, if you join via this link only, we’ll give you a three day free trial so you can cancel if you don’t love us like our mothers do.


Documents translated by overseas services

§ MEMBERS ONLY CONTENT

Alice asks:

I’m lodging a NOIM for a couple where the bride is Japanese. She has a passport (which is in English), but Japanese passports do not include place of birth, so I’ll also have to use her birth certificate (which is in Japanese). She already has a translation of her birth certificate from the American Translator’s Association from 2016. Does she need to get another from a NAATI-accredited translator or will her ATA translation suffice? 

The guidelines state that “The Marriage Regulations do not require translations to be provided by an accredited translator, except where a person consenting to a minor’s marriage gives a consent that is not in English” but they also state “When a party to a marriage produces a document in a language other than English, the celebrant (even if they can read and write in that language) should ask the couple to seek an official NAATI certified translation of the document.” 


Only members have access to the full article – To access all of the advice and content on the Celebrant Institute website, and to ask questions, you need to be a paid member and if you already are a member, log in here.

Membership is $10 a month, and because we can tell you’re keen to check the site out, if you join via this link only, we’ll give you a three day free trial so you can cancel if you don’t love us like our mothers do.


Correcting errors on the NOIM

§ MEMBERS ONLY CONTENT

Bree asks:

Some of my parties have completed their NOIMs ready for our meeting and for me to witness. I have noticed as I have gone to log them into BDM that there are certain things I am concerned about as follows:


– Use of blue pen for signatures
– Using ‘JAN’ and ‘FEB’ in birthdates instead of ’01’ and ’02’
– The selection boxes that we normally mark X are not in one of the printed NOIMs, so they have circled the word instead e.g. Groom / Bride / Partner

And then one error of my own, COMPLETELY the wrong date under my witness signature – just the first number. Can I cross out and write the correct number above, or will this not be accepted?


Only members have access to the full article – To access all of the advice and content on the Celebrant Institute website, and to ask questions, you need to be a paid member and if you already are a member, log in here.

Membership is $10 a month, and because we can tell you’re keen to check the site out, if you join via this link only, we’ll give you a three day free trial so you can cancel if you don’t love us like our mothers do.


Changing first (or middle) names after marriage

§ MEMBERS ONLY CONTENT

Klara asks:

I have a couple where one of them wants to change their first name (well, actually drop their first name and take on their middle name) and wondering if this can be done using the marriage certificate or if they’ll need to apply separately to BDM for this bit?


Only members have access to the full article – To access all of the advice and content on the Celebrant Institute website, and to ask questions, you need to be a paid member and if you already are a member, log in here.

Membership is $10 a month, and because we can tell you’re keen to check the site out, if you join via this link only, we’ll give you a three day free trial so you can cancel if you don’t love us like our mothers do.


Insuring your PA system

§ MEMBERS ONLY CONTENT

Ella asks:

I’ve purchased my PA systems and equipment because this isn’t covered under my home contents as it’s business use. Most home insurers will find a way not to pay if I did try to claim if something happened! (Previous industry knowledge). Who do you use for insurance on your equipment? As my other insurance is the association group on – can’t just add it on it.


Only members have access to the full article – To access all of the advice and content on the Celebrant Institute website, and to ask questions, you need to be a paid member and if you already are a member, log in here.

Membership is $10 a month, and because we can tell you’re keen to check the site out, if you join via this link only, we’ll give you a three day free trial so you can cancel if you don’t love us like our mothers do.


Scheduling multiple ceremonies in a day

§ MEMBERS ONLY CONTENT

Sean asks “Do you have any advice on taking multiple bookings in a day? Accounting for travel time of course what’s the minimum amount of time you leave yourself in between ceremonies, and is this something you discuss with your couples at all?”


Only members have access to the full article – To access all of the advice and content on the Celebrant Institute website, and to ask questions, you need to be a paid member and if you already are a member, log in here.

Membership is $10 a month, and because we can tell you’re keen to check the site out, if you join via this link only, we’ll give you a three day free trial so you can cancel if you don’t love us like our mothers do.


Remarkable

Every few weeks contractors hit my suburb with a vengeance, lawn mowers, whipper snippers, blowers, the lot and for the next week the grass is low, but the streets are dirty.

Everyone knows they’ve visited, and all of us residents have mixed feelings about it because although they did the job they were asked to do, they left our homes messier than before. We are all able to remark on the mess they’ve left our suburb in.

Doing the job is one thing, leaving the place better than you found it is another, and delivering excellence where you do the job beyond expectations plus you left the wedding in a better place than anyone could have imagined should be the goal.


Delivering excellence is a remarkable action, an action that can be remarked on, that the people who witnessed it are able to remark on it.

We often think of our couples being able to remark on our excellence, and I hope they can, but I wonder what the family though? How can the guests remark on your efforts? Did the videographer leave the ceremony feeling blessed? Was the photographer enabled to make better photos because of your excellence?


This is the kind of work I want to create as a marriage celebrant: remarkable excellent work. That all who were there are able to remark of me well.

I hope you do the same.

How to sign marriage paperwork on an iPad

I’ve had a few people ask how I sign marriage paperwork on an iPad, and I had the grandest of intentions of preparing a fully professional video detailing that. However we’re expecting a baby any day now and I figured a low quality video with high quality information is better than no video at all.

Enjoy!

In this tutorial I’m using a MacBook Pro, and Apple iPad Pro with Apple Pencil, and the Mac and iOS versions of Notability. The hardware and software may be able to be changed up for your own equipment.

New draft NOIM. Sarah’s thoughts

§ MEMBERS ONLY CONTENT

Hopefully all registered celebrants received an email from the Attorney General’s Department on 27 September 2018, inviting feedback on a new version of the Notice of Intended Marriage.


Only members have access to the full article – To access all of the advice and content on the Celebrant Institute website, and to ask questions, you need to be a paid member and if you already are a member, log in here.

Membership is $10 a month, and because we can tell you’re keen to check the site out, if you join via this link only, we’ll give you a three day free trial so you can cancel if you don’t love us like our mothers do.


My disappointment every car service

Every time my car gets serviced, at 10,000km a service that’s about four to five times a year, I have this sinking feeling as I drive away from the mechanic’s workshop. After spending six odd hours away from me, and an average of $500 to $700 invoice, the car I drive away in feels pretty much the same as I brought to the workshop that morning at 8am.

I know that a regular service shouldn’t really impact my car’s drive or feel, and I’m not paying them to clean the car, but after spending the morning with a mechanic and my credit card being $700 poorer my gut tells me that the car should feel different.

There’s this disconnect between my intellectual mind that knows that the service is important and holds value, and my emotional side that can’t “feel” the service.

I wonder how much this plays out in other businesses, like in weddings, where we charge a certain amount for a service and a lot of that preparation happens behind closed doors. I wonder if our clients question what they get versus what they pay for?

When it comes to my car being serviced it’s up to me to recognise the value of a service and just get over it, but I wonder if they cleaned the car – a completely unnecessary service for a mechanic to provide – if I would walk away feeling better.

It’s partly for this reason I provide a the best quality PA speaker system and a high definition video recording of the ceremony in my packages. Both things I can already provide at no extra cost to me, and minimal extra effort on my behalf, but the couple feels an increase in value. Not only does it feel better, it actually makes the wedding better, and if the couple don’t have budget for a videographer they do get a good quality video of their ceremony and vows.

I wonder how else we can bridge that gap?

Don’t forget as well, merely adding value doesn’t make it valuable, your client needs to feel its value.

Beginners guide to not getting hacked

Reading the news today I realised that after Kristy Merlino’s email and Mailchimp accounts were hacked, that Kanye West’s iPhone passcode is 00000 and that Facebook doesn’t care about your privacy – it might be possible that other people aren’t 1) as passionate about Internet privacy and security as I am, 2) and even if they were, they might not know how to protect themselves.

Why should you care

If you don’t value your personal privacy, then anything I write won’t convince you otherwise, but there are three reasons you should value your business data security.

  1. The Code of Practice for Marriage Celebrants, section 5 part (c) requires you to keep “facilities for the secure storage of records” which is more related to digital data security than it is to a filing cabinet these days.
  2. Federal law requires you to “Protect personal information from theft, misuse, interference, loss, unauthorised access, modification, and disclosure.” You are also required to “take reasonable steps to destroy or de-identify personal information when it is no longer needed for any purpose permitted under the Privacy Act 1988. This might include shredding documents or storing them in a secure area.”
  3. Even if the Marriage Law section of the AGD office skips you, and the Australian Federal Police decide to leave you alone, you’re at risk at looking silly (screenshot). And second to obeying the law, having a good reputation is paramount to a successful business in this era.

How do you protect your business’ data?

Answering this question truthfully and to the full extent it deserves will take a lifetime, but here’s some starter ideas that you can take home, chew on, and hopefully implement.

1. Passwords

You probably have a bad password

There is only one kind of good password: a unique password.

I don’t care how advanced, fancy, and awesome your current password strategy is, if all of your passwords are the same word, or the same word with a differentiator like a number, a capital letter, or the name of the website, then you have a bad password.

There’s an extremely simple reason behind this strategy of having unique passwords. Every day other businesses, websites, and companies are hacked, and those companies may have data and information on you. Worse, if they are a company you created a user account with, they have your password and username, so when that company is hacked, those hackers now know your password.

If you’re curious as to how many hackers possibly have your personal private data, usernames, credit card numbers, passwords, and phone numbers, enter your email address into this website: https://haveibeenpwned.com. “Have I Been Pwned” is an Australian operated legitimate website that matches your email address against known hacks. “Pwned” is slang for “owned” meaning that someone owns you.

If I know your email password, does that mean I can access your online banking and your Facebook too?

I can’t remember all the passwords!

So if every website, service, and account has a different password you’ll never remember them all will you? So that’s what you need a password manager for. An app that is a secure vault of all of your unique passwords. I personally use 1Password. 1Password can generate random passwords so each place you need a password has a unique password and when that place is hacked, the hackers only have that unique password, not your top secret password you use everywhere.

There are other free password managers, but I like paying for my password manager for the same reason I liked using paid-for antivirus: I wouldn’t hire a free security guard. If I pay for it I can trust it. I pay for a 1Password business subscription so that Britt and I can share our passwords with each other. The 1Password app is on all of your Mac, Windows computer, Android, and iOS devices – even the Apple Watch – so you can access your secure password vault everywhere. I’ve even started storing all of our personal details like Passports, Medicare Cards, and Credit Cards in there so we can access them any time.

2. Two-step authentication

Many services today offer two-step authentication, which simply means that there are two steps to authenticate you. If the service only asks for a password that is one step, but if it asks for a password and an SMS code that’s two step. You’ve probably already experienced this with your bank.

Identify your most important services and make sure that if two-step authentication is available, that you enable it and use it.

My most important services are

  • my email, firstly because that’s all of my conversations but also how you can authenticate me if I’ve forgotten my password
  • my mobile phone account, because that’s the first point of call for most hackers, they’ll steal your number so they can then steal your two-step authentication codes and your “forgot your password” codes
  • my Apple ID, because that secures my three main computing devices, my Macbook, my iPad and my iPhone. If you can access those devices, you can access everything, plus that Apple ID contains backups of all of those devices, plus it has my Apple Pay and credit card information
  • my Dropbox account because that’s my “filing cabinet”
  • my online banking details, because money
  • my Paypal account, because money
  • my Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts because those three places comprise my “online identity” and if that is compromised a hacker could claim falsehoods as true and maybe ask you guys for help or money

For all of those services I am doubly sure that I have a two step authentication method and a unique password for each, I like the 1Password “three word” style of password for the same reason this XKCD web comic likes them.

If nothing else, please, for the love of God, just do this, if nothing else.

Pathways to accessing your data

Good passwords and two-step authentication are important, but if a bad actor or hacker can simply walk up to your computer and access everything then you’ve already lost.

Mobile devices

If you have an iPhone or iPad, is your passcode less discoverable than five zeros? I actually made mine a word, because I didn’t want people to be able to watch my number passcode over my shoulder. On the same device, have you activated FaceID or TouchID? If you have a good passcode and FaceID or TouchID enabled, not even the FBI can access that device. This is the main reason I use Apple devices, for their security detail. If you have a new Android phone on the latest operating system, it very likely is very secure, but most Android phones don’t receive regular security updates so if it’s more than a year or two old it’s likely that the phone is insecure.

Desktop or laptop computer

Is the login password to your computer easy to guess? My father-in-law’s desktop computer password used to be his name with a capital first letter. Second to the password for your user account, are the other user accounts also secure? Is there a guest account that can access the computer without a password?

An often forgotten security tip on the more traditional form of computers is hard drive security. The computer might be secure, but can I take the hard drive out and put it into my computer and simply access all the data? On a Mac go to “System Preferences” then “Security and Privacy” and “FileVault” and make suer FileVault is turned on. On your Windows computer go to search and enter “manage Bitlocker” and enable it there.

External disks, USB sticks, CDs, DVDs

Do you have important and private business data on a USB stick, or a backup drive, just sitting on your desk? For a data thief that’s barely called hacking, it’s just simply taking advantage of a silly person.

Trust no-one

Every day I find emails and social media posts from friends and family that have had their email or social media compromised, and the number one culprit is trust.

They’ll receive an email that seems legit, or read a Facebook post which must be true. That direct message which claims to have information it can use against you to expose your embarrassing secret life or a lie about how you’ve already been hacked.

Learn how to identify which emails, messages, phone calls, and direct messages you can trust.

  • Look at the email address it’s coming from, does it seem real like josh@anz.com.au or is it something tricky like josh@anzbankofaustralia.com
  • Think about who is sending the message, click on their profile and see if they look trustworthy
  • If it’s a Facebook page with a too-good-to-be-true competition or offer, firstly, it probably is too good to be true, but secondly, look at the page and maybe it’s weird that Jetstar’s facebook page has a weird full stop at the end of the page name and it only has 2000 fans.
  • If an email is asking you to log on and confirm details it’s most likely false.
  • Almost nothing good comes via a phone call today, if it’s actually important the authority will send you a written letter or email.

Follow your gut

In the end you need to develop a gut instinct for what’s good and bad. Recently I followed this instinct on leaving Gsuite, Google’s email and business services product. Most of us have our email and calendar hosted by Google’s Gsuite for $5 a month but over the past year I’ve started to develop a distrust for Google as a company. I don’t trust them with my personal data, my business data, nor do I trust that they are doing the best things with that data.

So I’ve followed my gut and moved all of my email to Fastmail (10% off if you follow this link).

I’m not going to advocate for you to follow me and do the same, but read the news, read the tech articles, develop a gut instinct for who to trust, and who to ignore. This is your business and you are storing your own and your client’s private data (think of all the marriage paperwork you have with all that private information) and if your systems are compromised the law and the court of public opinion will hold you to account.

Evidence required for a change of name by marriage

A celebrant asks:

Groom previously married - all documents are satisfactory. Bride previously married - Has returned to her maiden name. Provides Passport in maiden name & Driver's Licence in maiden name but divorce papers are in married name. Is a stat dec required?

The simple answer to the question here is that no, a stat dec is not required. But the chain of evidence that we should see is a bit more complex than most celebrants realise.

Read More

Change of name and identity documents

Sean asks:

Bride has officially changed her name. Has new birth certificate with new name on it. Her passport still has her old name on it. Can I accept her passport as photo ID for completion of NOIM?

I’ve written before about what to do if the names differ on the documents used for date and place of birth (e.g. birth certificate) and for proof of identity (e.g. driver’s licence). However in the previous post, the party had changed her name by usage (and therefore had a driver’s licence in her new name) but never bothered to change it formally (so didn’t have a birth certificate in her new name). This situation is the other way around. 

Read More

Dissolving a registered relationship

Charis asks:

My client has registered a relationship. She was never married but registered a relationship with BDM. They told her she could not get married until this is cancelled by them. Do I record this info anywhere? She has never been validly married so I feel as though she write that on the NOIM and then I record the info about her registered relationship on page four?

This is an issue that gets far more attention from celebrants than it deserves, mainly because the people on the phones at BDM usually don’t know what they’re talking about. Let me explain.

Read More

What it’s like to be deregistrated

351 Australian marriage celebrants were deregistrated this week because they “did not pay the celebrant registration charge“ and here are the three letters they received after their initial invoice:

Date: Wed, 8 Aug 2018 12:07:09 +1000
Subject: Annual Celebrant Registration Charge Notice –Reminder
Dear Marriage Celebrant

Our records show that you have not paid your annual celebrant registration charge of $240 for 2018-2019. Your payment is now past the invoice due date. Please pay this invoice by 31 August 2018.

What is the consequence if I do not pay?

If you do not pay your annual celebrant registration charge by the charge payment day of 31 August 2018, then under section 39FB of the Marriage Act 1961 you will be deregistered. There is no discretion to accept payments after the charge payment day.

What if I haven’t received my invoice?

You should contact us immediately.

What if I have already paid?

If you believe you have paid the annual celebrant registration charge and have not yet received a receipt, please email us with a copy of your bank statement showing the payment being debited from your account. This information will help us identify and reconcile your payment.

It may take up to 3-5 business days to reconcile payments. If you have recently paid your invoice and have still not received a receipt within 3-5 business days you should follow up with the department.

What if I want to resign?

If you do not intend on paying the celebrant registration charge as you intend to resign before the charge payment day, you should advise the department of your intention to resign and you will be exempted from the liability to pay the charge.

The form for resigning as a marriage celebrant is available here.

Can I apply for an exemption from the charge?

Applications for exemption from the charge closed on 23 July 2018. It is no longer possible to seek an exemption from payment.

Updated Website

Information to assist you to make your payment is available on our website under ‘Celebrant Resources’ at www.ag.gov.au/marriage. This includes details on how to access your self‑service portal to pay your invoice.

Regards, Marriage Law and Celebrants Section

That reminder email was ignored because the celebrant thought the invoice was paid. Which led to this email:

Date: Mon, 10 Sep 2018

Notice in relation to deregistration

Our records indicate that you did not pay the celebrant registration charge (the charge) by the charge payment day of 31 August 2018.

If you believe you have paid the charge or that you have no liability (you are liable to pay the celebrant registration charge if you are a marriage celebrant on 1 July of the financial year, or become a celebrant later in the financial year, and have not been granted an exemption from the charge) to pay the charge please immediately contact the Marriage Law and Celebrants Section on 1800 550 343. You should be ready to provide evidence in the form of a bank statement which identifies the bank, the date the payment was made and the description used. Once evidence is received we will pursue this with our Accounts Section.

I am writing to advise that, because of your non-payment of the charge, you will be deregistered as a marriage celebrant under section 39FB of the Marriage Act 1961 (the Act).

You will be deregistered as a marriage celebrant after 2 October 2018.

Effect of deregistration

As a result of your deregistration you will not be legally authorised to solemnise any marriages. I will deregister you as a marriage celebrant by removing your details from the register of marriage celebrants, as soon as practicable after 2 October 2018. You must not solemnise any marriages on and from 3 October 2018.

If you have existing marriage bookings to solemnise marriages on or after this date, you should transfer these by transferring the Notice of Intended Marriage form, to another authorised celebrant after discussion with the couple.

It is an offence under section 101 of the Act for a person to solemnise a marriage when they are not authorised to do so. If the department becomes aware that you may have solemnised a marriage when you are not legally authorised to do so, the matter may be referred to the Australian Federal Police.

I will be notifying all state and territory registries of births, deaths and marriages (BDMs) once your deregistration has taken effect.

Right to seek a review of this decision

You have the right under section 39J of the Act to apply to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) for a review of this decision. Further information about the AAT’s application process can be found on its website at www.aat.gov.au.

Enclosed with this letter is a factsheet containing further information about seeking AAT review for non‑payment of the celebrant registration charge.

As noted in the factsheet, you may wish to seek independent legal advice before approaching the AAT. The Australian Government funds a range of legal assistance services that may be able to assist you, including legal aid commissions and individual community legal centres (CLCs), which offer free and low cost legal advice. Information to assist with finding legal services is available at www.ag.gov.au/LegalSystem/Legalaidprogrammes/Pages/default.aspx.

Marriage stationery and records

If you have any unused marriage stationery please ensure that you dispose of it safely. Please refer to the ‘Changes to marriage forms and certificates’ factsheet for information on validity of marriage forms. Particular care must be taken with any unused Form 15 certificates of marriage (the certificate of marriage that is given to the couple on the day) in your possession. They should either be destroyed, provided or sold to another authorised marriage celebrant but must not pass into the possession of an unauthorised person.

How you choose to dispose of any unused certificates of marriage should be noted on your record of use form. If you provide or sell the certificates to another marriage celebrant, please make a note of the celebrant’s name and authorisation number as well as the number of each Form 15 certificate you provide them. If you choose to destroy the certificates please make note of the number of each Form 15 certificate and mark that certificate as destroyed.

As part of your record-keeping obligations you are required to keep any Form 15 certificate record of use form for a period of six years from the last entry on the form.

You are also required to keep any completed official certificates of marriage for a period of six years from the date of the marriage.

While I understand your deregistration may be disappointing, I encourage you to comply with these record keeping obligations.

Yours sincerely, Bridget Quayle, Registrar of Marriage Celebrants

Followed by this email:

Date: Wed, 3 Oct 2018

Deregistration as a Marriage Celebrant

On 10 September 2018, I wrote to you advising of my intention to deregister you as a Commonwealth-registered marriage celebrant due to non-payment of the 2018-2019 celebrant registration charge.

This letter confirms that on 3 October 2018 you were removed from the register of marriage celebrants in accordance with section 39FB of the Marriage Act 1961.

This means that you are not authorised to solemnise any marriages. If you have not already done so, you should transfer any future marriage bookings to an authorised celebrant after discussion with the couple.

Section 101 of the Marriage Act makes it an offence for a person to solemnise a marriage when they are not authorised to do so. The penalty for an offence under section 101 is a $1,050 fine or imprisonment for 6 months.

I have notified state and territory registries of births, deaths and marriages of your deregistration.

You should also refer to my previous letter and familiarise yourself with your record keeping obligations and how to appropriately dispose of unused marriage stationery.

As previously advised, you have a right to seek review of this decision with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). There are statutory time limits for applying to the AAT. The date of the decision to deregister you as a marriage celebrant was 10 September 2018. Further information about the deadlines for lodging an application can be found on the AAT website or by calling 1800 228 333.

Enclosed with this letter is a factsheet containing further information about seeking AAT review for non payment of the celebrant registration charge. You may wish to seek legal advice prior to applying for review in the AAT.

If you wish to reapply to become a Commonwealth-registered marriage celebrant, you will need to meet the current requirements for registration, including to: hold a Certificate IV in Celebrancy qualification and pay the application fee of $600. For further information about the application process please see: www.ag.gov.au/marriage.

Yours sincerely, Bridget Quayle, Registrar of Marriage Celebrants

Sarah and I discuss the 2018 deregistration event in the most recent podcast episode.

If you take issue with the lack of reminders and the abruptness of the deregistration, the only course of action you can take is to talk to your local member of parliament. This is the Registrar of Marriage Celebrants doing their job as public servants enacting the law as the Marriage Law and Celebrants Section of the Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department requires them.

Don’t call or email the AGD, or a BDM, talk to your local federal MP.

Two marketing positions better than “cheap celebrant”

There are only three positions you can take in any marketplace:

  • First
  • Best
  • Cheapest

That’s not to say only three businesses can win in any marketplace, after all, there are almost 10,000 celebrants serving over 120,000 weddings in Australia every year, clearly there are more than three people winning.

Even more arguable is that only two of those positions are winning positions. Trying to win at being cheapest is a race that every participant loses. You’ll invest so much energy and resource into trying to be the cheapest and end up under-cutting all of your colleagues whilst equally not charging enough to stay in business.

(Side note: have you noticed that the only successful “cheap” businesses like Crazy Clarks, McDonalds, Jetstar, Tiger, Aldi, Android, are all major corporations with systems and thousands of staff – unlike your local suburban celebrant undercutting everyone whilst doing twice the work?)

The other two positions are the two I would encourage you to aim for.

First

Be the first celebrant, or if you can’t be the first celebrant, maybe be the first celebrant in your area, or if you can’t be the first in your area, maybe try being the first to do a ceremony over Twitter, or if you can’t be the first on Twitter, be the first on Snapchat, or the first to advertise in a certain magazine, or the first to do a certain technique, or to use a certain piece of equipment, or the first to offer a certain type of ceremony.

Break new ground, make new paths, go where no-one else is going.

Best

Walk the path already made, plant in the already broken ground, but do it better than everyone else.

Be the most entertaining, the most personal, the best sounding, the best looking, the most helpful, the biggest blessing to videographers because you know how your PA system works, or the best friend of photographers by helping them call out people for family photos over the PA system after your ceremony.

Be the absolute best in your area of influence.

Be so good they can’t ignore you.

So good that people can’t help but comment on you, that people are able to remark on you, that you are able to be remarked on – be remarkable.

Cheapest

If you want to win as the cheapest celebrant, here’s what I’d do:

  • Automate the entire enquiry, booking, consultation, notice of intent and any other process
  • Start with a low-ball offer of about $200 then add on extras that when they are all selected your price is much more closer to the average $1100.
  • Remove reviews, recommendations, and testimonies from your marketing processes because if you look at the comments of your local McDonalds Facebook page, or for real horror, the Jetstar Facebook page, no=one has anything good to say about cheap.
  • Minimise the amount of access the couples and the business has to your life – it’s highly likely that the amount of life, energy and experience required from you will be low, and none of your customers are looking for an innovative and inventive “first” celebrant, and they’re not looking for the “best” celebrant, they’re looking for the cheapest. They’re looking to transfer as little value as possible for what you do, so make sure you meet their expectations.
  • Prepare yourself for the inevitable loss where you realise that first and best positions would fill your heart and cheap would barely fill your wallet.

If you think you’ve got what it takes to be Australia’s first best cheap celebrant, let me know, I’ve got just the domain name for you: http://celebrant.cheap. If you pitch an actually really good idea for a cheap celebrant I’ll transfer the domain name to you.

Or you could invest that energy into being the first or the best.

How to get enquiries to reply to your emails

Great question today:

Let’s talk follow up emails. You’ve received an enquiry, or worse, have met with a couple. You’ve sent them an email back, but it’s crickets from their end. How do you word your emails to try and elicit a response from them? I don’t want to rush them, but at the same time I’ve got a business to run.

This is an open/shut case whilst also being a deep cave you can get lost in.

My first point of action is to understand that when people hit your inbox they’re at a number of different stages, here’s a few examples:

  • They think they might be married one day so they’re dreaming of a wedding.
  • They think they’re getting engaged this weekend and they’re keen to start planning.
  • They just got engaged and have no idea what a wedding even costs.
  • They just found out that you exist and would really like you at their wedding as long as you only cost $50.
  • They’re getting married in four years.
  • They’re getting married in four weeks.

What a mixed bag of humans enquiring with you, and often you don’t even know what stage they’re at so your replies have to have that personal edge whilst also addressing people in all of these categories.

Now that we know that anyone from the dreamer to the rusher is emailing you with an enquiry, they all need to know the same thing from you:

  • Can you do what they need you to do?
  • At a date and place they need you to do it at?
  • At a price that they are willing to pay,
  • For an exchange of your value and life that has been accurately and romantically communicated.

And here’s where people get stuck. If any one of those points aren’t met, they don’t always know what to do. It might be that they don’t know hat kind of celebrant they are going to hire so they’ve emailed 50 of us. Or they might find out you’re not available but they really want you so they need to make other plans.

It’s just a hot mess of

  • people like you doing your job,
  • people that almost never plan events, planning an event, and
  • both of you trying to figure out if you both hold the same amount of value for what you say you do.

How to get a reply

The easiest way to get a reply, is to write a good email. Good emails get replies. Unless the people are terrible people then you probably don’t want a reply from them anyway.

Also, you’ve got to remember that when they ask “how much?” they don’t often enquire with celebrants and so they don’t know how to be polite and nice about it.

What does a good email look like?

A good email, particularly in these early days of our relationship looks like this:

  • brief and to the point,
  • whilst offering answers to all questions asked, and
  • communicating the value you’re willing to exchange for a price you’ve communicated, with one final banger:
  • a call to action.

End the short yet powerful email with a call to action.

Not a call to some kind of response like “let me know if that’s ok”

Give them a reason to hit reply. Here’s a few examples:

  • If you would like me to hold this date for you, hit reply and I’ll let you know how to proceed.
  • The next step for us is to meet either in person, on the phone, or on Skype, I’m available on Wednesday at 6pm, does that time work for you?
  • My quote for your wedding is $100,000. That price is valid for the next 5 days, please reply and let me know that you would like to proceed at that price.
  • If you read this far and still care, reply and let me know that I’m a valid person and my mum loves me.
  • You might understand that I receive many emails like yours each day so if you’d like to talk about me being your celebrant, please reply and we’ll proceed with booking in your wedding.

Or words to that effect.

What about meetings?

I end my meetings the same way. “When you both have made the decision about me being your celebrant, please email me and I’ll send you a booking form”.

People are stupid

People are stupid, well most people are stupid, clearly not you because you’re a member of the Celebrant Institute, but many people don’t know what to do next – so you need to lay the path forward for them, that’s what a call to action is.

Uploading documents to NSW BDM from a Mac

A little tip for celebrants using the NSW Lifelink system.

I tweeted at the NSW Justice Department decrying their developers of not allowing Mac users to upload documents into Lifelink and one of their staff wrote me back with this little tip. 

Don’t worry, I’ve let them know that this is a silly bug, but I bet most of us didn’t know the fix was this easy.


From the NSW BDM:

If the save button does not appear to be functioning when attaching a document in eRegistry, simply refresh your page and then add the documents for uploading.

Select your image to attached, the press Command R if you are using a Mac. If may be necessary to add the documents again after refreshing your page.

Attaching documents in eRegistry

After you have completed your notification and you are ready to upload, attach scans of your documents to the record. Documents must be in jpg or pdf format.
View the record.
Select Add documents from the Action List and press go.

If the save button does not appear to be functioning when attaching a document in eRegistry, simply refresh your page and then add the documents for uploading.

Select your image to attached, then press Ctrl + F5 to refresh your page if you are using a PC, or Command R if you are using a Mac. If may be necessary to add the documents again after refreshing your page.

Sighting original documents

Josh asks:

What is your best understanding of original forms of ID like passports, birth certificates, and drivers licenses being "sighted by the celebrant before the marriage is solemnised"?

Can we receive a scan, or sight them over video chat, or must we the celebrant be standing in the same room as the passports for them to be "sighted"?

We must be in the same room. No ifs, no buts.

Read More

Co-delivering a marriage ceremony

Josh asks:

I have a celebrant mate of mine whose registration is pending with the AG’s office. But, she has a friend’s wedding coming up towards the end of September, which is the reason why she completed the course. I initially completed the NOIM for her and kept the date in September free (just in case), but what would you recommend I do to help from here? Should I just hang tight and wait for the AG or can I take care of the legals and have the other celebrant deliver the ceremony (other than the legal elements of course)? Also how would this work if the other celebrant has spent the time getting to know the couple and I have simply helped in a legal capacity? 

It's definitely possible for an authorised celebrant to manage the legalities of the ceremony while another person (whether a pending celebrant or a friend of the couple) delivers the "ceremonial" aspects of the ceremony. 

Read More

Charging for travel. Sarah’s view

Mercy asks:

I've been asked to do a wedding two hours from Sydney and quoted an extra $50 above my usual fee each way, but they want to do a rehearsal the day before which would require me driving an extra four hours plus the time it takes to do the rehearsal. How would you recommend I charge for this?

Josh and I, along with every celebrant in the universe, have different ways of calculating travel fees, so this article is definitely just my view and the way I do it.

Read More

Names on the NOIM: legal change of name

Veronica asks:

I have a couple that had a commitment ceremony four years ago and legally changed their names, and are now wanting to get married. What names should I use on the paperwork? What's on their birth certificate?

In a word, no. When a person changes their name legally, they forfeit the right to use the name on their original birth certificate. How this happens is a little more complex than that though...

Read More

iPad Celebrants, you need this tip

If you’re a celebrant who reads off your iPad, you might not be aware of a simple way you can help photographers and videographers.

If the ceremony is inside with lower lighting, your iPad’s screen brightness will often reflect onto your face, like this:

iPad reflecting off my face with standard brightness settings

This is normal and to be expected, you do after all need to be able to read your iPad’s screen. The problem is that most lighting in a darker setting like this would be warmer coloured lighting. The normal colour from an iPad’s white screen is quite blue, instead of warm.

A simple flick of a switch on your iPad can make the screen warmer, like this:

iPad reflecting off my face with warmer brightness settings

Enabling this setting will make it so much easier for videographers and photographers to edit the wedding because the light on your face will be a similar colour to the rest of the lighting.

If you’re outside in full light you need not worry, and if the room is lit with cool (blue/white) colours then adjust appropriately.

The setting is called “Night shift” and it’s designed to make it easier for your iPad screen to be viewed at night.

You’ll find it in the Settings app, then “Display and Brightness” and manually enable it until tomorrow.

How to MC a wedding reception, a guide for celebrants

We’ve had a number of questions about MC’ing wedding receptions recently, so I’ve wrapped it all up in this quick and easy how-to guide.

The host, or MC, of an event is as unique role as the whole event is held in your hands but you’re not at the centre of it. You’re the ringleader, the master of ceremony, the voice, and the host, but if you’re any good no-one will remember you – because it’s your job to make the couple shine and for all of the guests to have an amazing night.

MCing the reception is a natural fit for a celebrant, we’ve already spent the time getting to know the couple, and we already start the event, it’s only natural that we’d continue hosting the after-ceremony proceedings.

Ultimately what happens at the reception, and how you navigate those waters, will be 45% the couple’s doing and 45% you being you, so this article is on the remaining 10%: how to be the best MC.

Your role

I see the MC’s role as being the middle-person in-between the couple, the venue, the kitchen, the other vendors, and the crowd.

We want to have a good understand of the couple’s needs and desires – they’re paying the bill after all – so that as we interact with everyone else we can respectfully communicate that “all of that is great, but the couple would like it to happen this way” so that a suitable outcome can be found when the kitchen needs to serve dinner, but the photographer ran late with photos, the band is due to start soon, but you haven’t communicated the housekeeping and introduced the couple yet.

Your role is a little bit like a doula. A doula isn’t a midwife, but they are a third party liaison for the couple giving birth so that they aren’t hindered with making decisions they don’t need to make. A doula is like a professional best-friend when giving birth, and a MC is a professional best-friend on your wedding day.

Speaking is only part of your role, the rest of it is understanding the flow of the event, everyone’s priorities, and then leading the couple and the crowd through that.

Runsheets

Runsheets are powerful yet useless. They are powerful because they lay out the groundwork for what’s going to happen at a wedding, and what order they’ll occur in, but they’re useless because in the 15 years I’ve been running events I’ve never seen a runsheet obeyed. They’re a rough guide as to what will happen and when.

The kitchen

The chef and kitchen staff hold an important aspect of the day: the food. It’s your job to be in communication with them around their timelines and what they need so that everyone has hot food in front of them, so establish a good relationship with the appropriate people in the kitchen so that flows well.

Another aspect of your relationship with the kitchen is working out if they would prefer to clear plates before speeches begin, or after. I prefer that the plates are cleared before we begin speaking, but some kitchens can do it quietly.

Photographers and videographers

It is your responsibility to communicate to the photography and videography crew about what they need to capture on the night, and how you can make that easy for them. It might be that they need 10 minutes notice on speeches so they can set up, if so, give them 10 minutes notice, and not less. I recommend talking to them about positioning in the room, if that is flexible, so they can get great photos and video with ease.

Band or DJ

I prefer to use my own PA system in a reception, but if the band or DJ has a good setup that you trust, use theirs, and that will require you to work with them on levels, and also cues on you speaking and them stopping the music.

A hint here: try not to cut in to the middle of a song, but tell them “I’d like to speak at the end of this song”. That way they have notice and can also give the event a better flow and feel instead of you interrupting everyone’s favourite song.

The couple

As the couple’s liaison, through the event stay in touch with them about what you’re planning on doing next and if that suits them, also offering them an opportunity to change things if required. The couple having a fun and relaxed night is more important than any runsheet.

You speaking

Imagine that the whole crowd are idiots, but treat them with the upmost respect. Simply, don’t assume that everyone knows what is happening, and why, but talk to them kindly, slowly, and clearly.

My MC style is to talk as little as possible while saying everything needed to be said, however there are other equally good wedding reception MC styles that are on the more verbose side. DJ friends of mine are trained in the Marbecca Method which really intrigues me, but for today I like my minimalist approach.

Most of your role on the night is off-microphone, but what you say on microphone is also important, just be sure to be clear as you communicate it because as you start speaking you’re interrupting everyone’s conversations so it best be good.

How much to charge

I’m not going to dictate a fee, but the way I view it is that I could be at home with my wife, so it better be worth it. I don’t like charging by the hour, only because I don’t want to be the guy that tells the couple that my time is up. I’d rather charge a good price for the whole night and then leave when appropriate. But if you’re going to charge by the hour, make sure it’s clearly communicated to the couple.

How to sell it

Many couples have already identified a friend or family member that will MC, and most of those MCs are terrible at it. Your pitch should communicate your professional public speaking ability that has already sold you as a celebrant, but you just extend that service past the ceremony into the reception.

Which directories should we advertise in?

Sarita asks

I’m a relatively new celebrant and just after some advice on the world of wedding directories. There seem to be loads. Apart from the obvious ones like easyweddings, ABIA, there’s lots of smaller ones like polka dot bride, wedding guide, celebrant society, etc etc & a huge variation on how much it costs to list with them. Have you any tips, recommendations on where to go and where not to go. I feel like I should be listing somewhere (shouldn’t I?) but where to go!

I’m going to address the most important aspect of Sarita’s question straight up: “I feel like I should be listing somewhere” because it’s a trap most businesses get caught up in. For years Easy Weddings advertised its services to celebrants on the back of “Josh Withers lists with us, you should to” and that is the worst reason to ever list with a directory, because someone else is there. The only thing you should be doing is telling your story in a way that motivates other humans to pay you money to be a part of that story. There are zero directories, blogs, websites magazines, fairs or expos that you should be in. There are literally thousands that you could be in, and the space in between is for you to navigate, let me lay out the map.

Directories in the pre-internet era

In 1999 I was a junior in a team that sold, installed, fixed, and configured point-of-sale (POS) systems for businesses. Point-of-sale systems was fancy industry speak for cash registers and stock control. If you were a business that needed a POS system you would find our business a very finite number of ways:

  1. Through relationship – one of our sales team would have knocked on your door, or met you at a networking event, and formed a relationship with you so that when it came time for you to get a POS system (1999 was definitely that year thanks to a little Year 2000 bug) you would contact your salesperson and start the process. Word of mouth is a form of relationship, just one step removed.
  2. Through a directory – like the Yellow Pages, the Bartercard (remember them?!), or the Chamber of Commerce directory. You would identify your own need for a POS, realise you have no relationship with someone who can provide one, and thus seek out a directory listing.
  3. Through advertising – we would advertise in places like TV, radio, newspapers, local magazines, and on billboards, forever impressing on yours (and everybody’s) brains that if you were in business you needed a computerised system to track sales and inventory, and we were definitely the people you needed to pay for such a system.

It was an easy system, our focus was on building relationships with potential clients, and those we didn’t form a relationship with would find us in a directory or through our advertising. We even bought competitors purely to increase the value of our relationships, in that we now had a wider range of POS systems available for purchase and we also had three different businesses and phone numbers listed in the directories. So we would receive three different phone calls from the same potential client, and three different sales staff would quote for three different systems, and the one we actually wanted to sell was always the best deal, so the relationship with the first salesperson was cemented because even after two other phone calls, the first one was the best deal.

That’s how local business operated before the age of accountability, relationship, and knowledge we access through the information superhighway we now call the internet.

Directories in the early internet

The transition period between not having the internet, and now, was a messy time for the internet. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry had the power to create their own directories – and they did – and the easy way to find out their effectiveness today is to ask yourself which directories you used?

I remember accessing the Yellow and White pages for a time, but that time has long passed.

Some of the directories really invested in SEO (hi, Easy Weddings!) so they actually did provide real value for many businesses, and some even invested heavily in offline brand awareness (hi, ABIA). But a quick survey of most couples being married today would tell you that the brand awareness (relationship) isn’t there anymore.

Directories today

The world wide web that we know as the internet today provides a completely different basis for doing business, and every sector of business, at every level has had to re-think what it does in advertising and marketing and why it does it.

Many directories today have a modicum of success today because they had it yesterday, but a wise business investor doesn’t invest in a business because of past profits, but for future returns.

I believe the successful directories of the future will based on

  1. Relationship, as in “these are people I know and trust and I recommend them”, or
  2. Niche market segments, as in “these are celebrants that perform hand fasting ceremonies”, or
  3. Exploiting algorithms like Google’s, Facebook’s, and future algorithmic influences that we don’t even know about. A good example of this is how I list on a number of directories purely because my research has proven to me that those websites help lift my own website on Google’s pagerank algorithim.

But that’s not to say you shouldn’t advertise in a directory or on a website today, I just believe that we have the personal power to reach people directory, so we don’t need to be in directories, instead, we get to choose.

The attention gambit

The greatest currency in the world today is attention, and the fact you’ve read this far means I have yours, but most directories don’t have the attention you need them to have for you to have a return on your investment.

What should we do?

My regular advice in this respect is to remember that you as a celebrant have different sales goals than Coca Cola, so just because they advertise somewhere, it doesn’t mean you should. This even extends to others in the wedding industry. A popular wedding venue might have the sales goal of selling 150 x $20,000 wedding packages a year, and a photographer might have the goal of selling 30 x $6000 wedding packages a year, while your goal and mine will be different, so reaching those goals requires thought, research, process, and strategy.

Thought

Who are you hoping to attract to your business? What’s their world view and what kind of celebrant would they hire? Where do people like that find people like you? What influences their decisions? Do they care if you are an ABIA member? Are they scrolling through the 200 other celebrants on Easy Weddings to find you?

Research

Ask the big questions, not on social media, but make the phone call or send the text, ask people what sources proved helpful in planning their wedding and the vendors they did hire, where did they find them? The websites, magazines, guides, expos, that are coming up as potential successful places to advertise in – what do they look like? Does your brand fit in there?

Process

You won’t get this right every time, but start investing in advertising in a small number of places you’ve identified and track their success. Don’t commit long term, but if you are going to advertise, don’t get the cheapest and smallest package because you’lll get the smallest result. Watch your website analytics and see where the clicks are coming from. Ask your enquiries and bookings where they saw you online. Don’t ask in a form, but ask them in person when you talk, find out the whole story that a web form can’t provide.

Strategy

With the information on advertising you’ve gathered, researched, and experienced, look at how it affected your business’ financial results, and then readjust and try again. If the biggest most intelligent businesses are changing and improving their strategy regularly, you should too.

What if we just ditched directories?

Directories, and most of the online websites, are not necessary to succeed in business, they simply provide and opportunity for you to jump on their back and ride their success.

But if you were feeling bold, and adventurous, and wanted to take your fate into your own hands – you could try reaching people directly.

My personal directory success

I’ll round out the article lightly detailing what has worked for me in the past.

  • Directories that rank really high on Google. It’s a little bit like scraping the bottom of the potential-clients-barrel but it sells. Search for terms you want to be found for, and see who’s there.
  • Directories that are run by wedding planners for specific regions and the wedding planner tells couples about the preferred vendors directory.
  • My directory, the celebrant.directory, because it lists the small number of celebrants that are of a similar price-point to me, that are of a similar worldview to me, and everyone on there might be suitable replacements if one of the others wasn’t available. It’s a relationship-based directory where we all refer couples back to if we’re not available.

I can tell you that I don’t advertise on Easy Weddings or any of the other big directories because I’m certain that I won’t be found amongst the hundreds of other celebrants there, and even if I am, the couple haven’t identified my personality or worldview, and they’re not sold on brand me. They’re just scrolling through a massive list.

I also don’t list with ABIA or any of the award based companies because I don’t subscribe to there being a singular “best celebrant”. The world we live in today doesn’t allow for it. I might be the single best celebrant for a couple, or for a couple of couples, but the idea of there being a single awarded top-spot for such a personal service doesn’t suit my purposes in my marketing and advertising strategy. I’d rather people find me and book me because I am me, not because a third party I paid hundreds of dollars to said I was the best.

Doing deals with other vendors

Pete asks:

I have a question about the legalities of commercial arrangements with third parties given that as a Celebrant we’re government officers and our duty to avoid potential conflicts.

Just about everyone has a people we love section on their website, but, there’s obviously a line somewhere between [accepting a commercial discount on product/services for repeat business and independently giving a genuine recommendation to my clients] and [entering into commercial arrangements for non-commercial discounts / free products as a quid-pro-quo for implied or explicit endorsement & referrals].

I guess I’m just wondering where that line is as I’m currently faced with two potential arrangements – one in my gut I feel is ok, the other in my gut I think is not ok.

The one I think is ok: Is with a sound and lighting hire company who I’ve been hiring and buying sound gear from for over 15 odd years. When I’m booked to be the sound-man for a reception, I hire the big PA & lighting gear from them. I also bought half the components for my ceremony PA from them and do all of my servicing through them. So, they’ve offered me a discount of 25% on hire products for being a great repeat customer who always returns the gear in perfect condition, etc. etc. etc. and this is a discount that they offer to other great customers (i.e. it’s a “commercial discount”). I’m quite open with anyone who asks where I hire and buy my sound gear from because they offer great service, the gear is well maintained and high end, etc. etc. etc. and importantly it’s a genuine recommendation if anyone asks me where I think is the best place to get sound and lighting gear in Brisbane. Why I think this is ok is because it’s a commercial discount that I’ve been offered, the discount is based on being a good repeat customer, etc. rather than a quid-pro-quo, etc. etc. etc. and finally, as the hire is an expense that I pass on to my clients, it’s actually my clients that benefit from this discount, not me.

The one I think is not ok: Is a proposition from a contact that I was a client of, who just left his previous suit shop that does hire and sales to go out and do his own thing. He’s offered to figure out an arrangement where I hire suits from him on a rotating basis so that in effect I’m pretty much wearing a new suit for each wedding I do. He is currently on my “people I love list” based on the exceptional service I received as a client of his, but I’m getting the feeling that he’d like me to include something like an “I’m dressed by @company” to all of my social posts. The first thing that I think might be inappropriate is that while I delt with this person (I bought, and my groomsmen hired the suits from my wedding from this particular person) and he was my sole contact there (and frankly he was carrying that business) our transaction happened while he was working for another company for which he no longer works and I’m a client of ‘company x’ not a client of the contact. Finally, to me, I feel like it’s much more of an endorsement type arrangements as there’s a quid-pro-quo involved because I’m getting something (suits) at a non-commercial discount and he’s getting something (endorsement & social media props) rather than a genuine testimonial. So obviously, given that I’m iffy on it I’m not going to take him up on the offer, but it sparked a thought for me of “where is the line?”. I’m also really interested as to what the literature says about these kinds of things as obviously if the agreement was struck on a commercial basis that was appropriate this is something I’d love to take advantage of so that I’m not recycling the same 5 suits over and over again.

Do you think this would this be ok? If I were to pay a recurring “subscription type” fee to him that on an annual basis would be similar to what my annual expenditure on suits would be with some premium for things like increased dry-cleaning costs, etc. I openly say that “I get my suits from ‘company’ who I like and I’m treated well by” if I’m asked and if one of his suits is in a social post, the company is tagged – as I would with any other supplier. I’m still not a 100% on something like this, but it doesn’t feel distinctly wrong like the current proposition does.

So the good news is that the new conflict of interest guidelines mean that both of these circumstances are pretty much ok, the AGD simply asks that you manage your own potential conflicts of interest, so that you don’t have any. Always remember that the key words in a conflict of interest are in the actual title words: conflicted interests. Does situation A sit in conflict with situation B? Is your interest in one affecting the other. That’s why the AGD maintains a tight hold on the scenarios around celebrants employed by venues and celebrants who are migration agents (you can’t be either) because there are numerous obvious situations where your interests could easily be conflicted on a regular basis.

The most obvious conflicts of interest for the “employed by a venue” situation would be if you deemed the couple not fit to marry and if you were self-employed maybe you’d lose $1000, but because your employer could stand to lose $20,000 then maybe your judgement would be blurred. The migration agent situation is clear enough.

But that’s not to say that both of these situations are within the law. In the realm of the Celebrant Institute website we are not qualified to offer legal advice of any kind at any time. Sarah and I are not lawyers, although I have watched six seasons of Suits, so I know my way around a courtroom. We do however offer advice and insight on the marriage laws and guidelines as we interpret them, and Sarah actually is qualified and authorised to offer training on those laws and guidelines, but when it comes to other laws like consumer law and business law, we’re as intelligent as you are after a quick Google search.

So this isn’t legal advice, this is just Josh advice:

I would commercially marry myself to as few people as possible. The wedding industry’s least favourite people are those that have their hands in everyone’s pockets because they value relationship less than dollars. My argument has always been that we should all expect nothing from each other and make genuine and generous offerings of recommendations based on relationship and talent. If we employ low expectations and high quality recommendations then logic would tell us that it will all come back to us, and if we’re charging enough to run our business then we don’t need the $50 from him and the discount from her.

It’s a simple methodology but its one that has served me well for almost ten years.

If I do ask for money (or value) from you, you’re either getting married by me (or I’m performing some other service for you), you’re attending a workshop I’m running, or you’re a celebrant looking for advice or referrals, I charge for my celebrant directory because it’s an easy path of referral – I list celebrants similar in nature to me and they receive referrals of couples who enquiries with me that I’m not available for, and because my enquiry rate is high enough, its a solid business model, but the expectations are still low on all sides, and if anyone leaves, there’s no hurt feelings. The celebrant directory doesn’t negatively affect anyone.

In a similar vein, you may have read our “PA system for celebrants” article in which I highly recommend a Bose S1 PA system. As of today that article has no sponsorship or commercial arrangement around it, but I’ll honestly tell you that before I published I attempted to get a deal in place which included a package for members and possibly a deal for Sarah and I, but I couldn’t wrangle one in time. I’m still pursuing this arrangement and if it comes into play, I’ll update the page accordingly offering a disclosure that the review was prepared independently but now we’ve entered into a commercial arrangement with someone. I won’t be apologetic or awkward about it, we won’t be the first business to enter into a commercial arrangement and we won’t be the last, and we’ll probably be far more open about it than we are required (its not required) because that’s Sarah and my nature, and plus we’re betting on the fact that you guys aren’t idiots and you’d see right through it if I only l linked to one company. I’d also be expecting you to be smart enough to Google the PA system name and do your own research, and if you’re not smart enough, then our commercial arrangement wins.

I can foresee other commercial arrangements being viewed negatively by industry, but Pete’s suit example doesn’t look to be one of them.

Do note that when you do have a commercial arrangement as a self-employed sole trader you are only required to publicly disclose that arrangement if the marketer has “control” over your posts, that is, they tell you what to post, and how to post it. More on that on the ABC News website.

As we’ve already covered, I can’t talk to the legal side of the suit deal however (it sounds ok), but I’ll let you do your own Google search or ask a lawyer yourself.

Where to host your website

Emma asks

To squarespace or not to squarespace? What are your tips for starting a website?

This article has the opportunity to be a long and nerdy one, so I’m going to be purposely brief so that you can make an educated decision easily.

All business decisions focus on whether we do it ourselves or outsource it. Most of us make the decision to outsource electricity supply but we’ll supply the presentation of the ceremony at the wedding. Some outsource ceremony script writing and some will host their office at home. While others will write their own scripts and then outsource office supply to a co-working space, or another arrangement.

Your website will come under the same decision making process: do we do it ourselves or outsource it. And truth be told, almost none of us are 100% capable of doing 100% of our website ourselves (you’ll still need an internet connect even if you host your own website on your own computer) so with a website it’s more about how much do you want to outsource, and to who?

100% outsourced

You don’t know anything about your website, you probably just pay the invoice every month. If this interests you, talk to someone who does the whole deal like my friend Robey.

80% outsourced

A good example of a 90% outsourced website is something like Squarespace, WordPress.com or Wix. By the way, my personal opinion of Wix is pretty low for a variety of nerdy reasons, but Squarespace is a pretty good product. I tried to love it, but I just don’t. That’s just a personal opinion from someone who has been developing websites since 1997 but I am of the understanding that the general public love it.

The only real downside to Sqaurespace and its competitors is that each of them is going to have a hard upper or lower limit for customisation. Most of you would never notice this, but I do, because I’m that nerd that notices. A good example of this is a friend has a beautiful Sqaurespace website but when they asked me for help building some automations and forms, Squarespace didn’t really place well there. So we simply developed a small site purely for these functions.

The 20% you haven’t outsourced is the content of the website, with Squarespace, WordPress.com or Wix you will need to look after the design, template choosing, and content.

Note: There are two versions of WordPress. There’s the .com and the .org. WordPress.com (WordPress dot com) is very similar to Squarespace, in the way that Ford is similar to Holden. Same but different. WordPress.org (WordPress dot org) is the WordPress referenced below.

60% outsourced

This is where I sit, I pay WPEngine for my hosting, I host my domain names with Hover, I run WordPress.org (WordPress dot org) on that hosting, and I choose my WordPress theme from Elegant Themes, and then did my own custom design along with purchasing and installing custom plugins like Gravity Forms. This seems very DIY but a big element of a website is the hosting of the website and the domain names. It’s a massive part of the work, and I don’t do it, but I also don’t hire a single company (like Squarespace) to do it. I custom built my own solution that suited me. This very website is built the same way on the same companies.

Everything else

This involves nerdy and geekery that I don’t care enough about.

What’s best?

This is such a personal question. I don’t like Squarespace but that doesn’t make it bad, and I’m sure Sarah would love it if I ran this website on Squarespace because in so many ways it is easier – but it’s not easier for me.

But here’s an easy answer: if all of this nerd talk freaked you out – Squarespace or WordPress.com is probably for you. They both have free trials, so give them a go.

Finally, if this freaked you out too much then don’t be afraid to 100% outsource your website to someone creative (I recommend Robey because I love him, not because he gives me anything) … but let me encourage you to take the opportunity to learn how to do this. It’s so empowering to take charge of business efforts like web design. Just keep on learning how to do it better.

Are you starving yourself because you won’t turn left?

This week I’ve been in Vancouver, British Columbia, for two marriage ceremonies and it has been an amazing experience, with the one caveat: in Canada they drive on the incorrect side of the road. You might think this has everything to do with my ability to drive on the right hand lanes on the road whilst sitting on the left side of the car (ok, that’s a little bit of the issue) but the main problem is that I actively avoid turning left.

Turning left from the right hand side of the road is the hardest activity for my brain to contemplate.

Everything in me screams that it is dangerous, it’s wrong, and I should avoid it at all costs.

So as I was driving home close to midnight last night, after a sunset 7pm ceremony on Vancouver Island which involved two hours of driving and a 90 minute ferry ride, all I wanted was to eat dinner before passing out in a bed at my Airbnb.

Without turning to my friend in Apple Maps I thought I’ll just drive until I find somewhere that’s open.

It wasn’t until I’d passed the third restaurant on the left that I realised that I was subconsciously avoiding turning left and there were no open restaurants on the right.

I was starving and wouldn’t turn left to save myself.

I wonder how many of us are making subconscious decisions based on it being too hard – despite relative ease (turning left is like turning right but you have to try and not hit other cars while doing so, some might say it’s like turning right in Australia).

Are Instagram Stories (or Instagram itself) seemingly too hard so you actively avoid publishing them? Is electronic bookkeeping, invoicing, and accepting credit card payments too hard for you at the moment? Maybe moving to an online booking process, and away from paper processes, is your turning left?

What business improvements have you been avoiding because they’re too hard?

I believe that calling out our struggles and our weaknesses is step one to confronting them and either tackling them, paying someone else to tackle them, or learning how we can tackle them.

In my own business I know that there’s a number of “turning lefts” that I’ve been avoiding. Some are regular to-do list items that I’ve left too long, and some are long term goals to reduce expenses and improve our processes.

What is your turning left? Call it out in the comments and maybe even some of them are things Sarah or I could help with.

Parents’ names on the NOIM. Part 2

I've written previously about listing parents' names on the NOIM, and I've had some follow up questions (from a celebrant who had totally read the first post, yay!):

1) Recently received a NOIM by email (interstate couple) where the Father is listed as 'Unknown' - should I be clarifying if this is actually the case (even though I don't have to see evidence), as opposed to the party just preferring not to list? OR am I able to simply rely on their statement? 

2) In the case where a person does not wish to include one of their parent's names (eg: a party who has renounced a parent and would prefer to write 'unknown' or write a step-parents name) should I be advising that they must include their biological parent's name (even though I'm not required to see evidence)? 

To be honest, this area is quite contentious at the moment (for reasons I'll outline below) so I'm going to answer these questions in two ways: what the Guidelines 2018 tell us, and what I think should be best practice. I will be following up these issues with the AGD and will let you know if/when I get some clarification.

Read More

Proof of divorce: what, when, how?

A celebrant asks:

Divorce certificates. They just get me confused as to what I need to sight, how I need to sight it and what I definitely need to record. What I'd really like clarified once and for all is:

-- Do I need to see the original certificate?

-- If it's from a different country, what do I need to look for?

-- If my couple got divorced in a country that doesn't use English as its main language do I need to see a certified copy of the certificate?

-- If one/both of my couple got divorced in Australia and don't have a copy of the certificate, where do they apply for this?

Divorce certificates can be super confusing, not least because the way they've been issued in Australia has changed multiple times. So I'll take these questions one at a time, and hopefully things will become clearer!

Before I jump in though, the first point is to note that it's entirely up to the celebrant to decide whether or not they are satisfied that the party is free to marry. AGD won't help, BDM won't help, the onus is completely on the celebrant.

Read More

Guidelines 2018: What’s changed? Part 7

In this series of posts (including Part 1Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6) I'll be looking at the Guidelines on the Marriage Act 1961 for Authorised Celebrants 2018: what's new, what's changed, and what's gone. I'm not going to talk about changes such as the checklist for solemnising marriages moving from page 31 to the appendix, or other page or structure changes. What I will be talking about is the changes that affect the way Commonwealth-registered marriage celebrants (both Subdivision C marriage celebrants and Subdivision D religious marriage celebrants) do our work, and there are more than you might expect. Let's dive in!

Read More

One month notice period: we won!

Some of you will have been following my post about the updated guidance received on the one month notice period. If you haven’t had a chance, feel free to review it before you read on. 

I’m absolutely thrilled to announce that this morning at 11.40am I received the following email from the AFCC (of which I’m a member):

The Marriage Law and Celebrants Section (MLCS) of the Attorney-General’s Department hosted a teleconference in regard to the recent advice provided on giving one (1) month notice this morning, which Irene Harrington, Stacey Maguire and Ant Burke participated.

Following an approach by Associations and many celebrants, the MLCS sought further clarification from the Office of Corporate Counsel in regard to their previous legal advice.

This has now been reviewed and the MLCS have advised the recent legal advice was incorrect and the original interpretation on the one month period still stands as reflected in the current Guidelines [emphasis added]. In other words, celebrants should apply the one (1) month notice period as previously applied.

The MLCS will host further teleconferences today with the various BDMs, RTO’s and OPD training organisations to advise the above and will then forward a new draft fact sheet to Associations for review before sending it to all celebrants soon after. 

I would like to thank all AFCC members who made contact directly with the MLCS as requested to express their concern, as this ensured the outcome now achieved.

I am absolutely floored that the AGD has backed down on this, but completely delighted. People power actually works! I’m absolutely not the only person who fought this new guidance, but I’m still feeling pretty chuffed at having played a part in common sense prevailing. 

Yay!

Getting your start in funerals

Mercy asks:

Like you I want to create beautiful funeral ceremonies. Because I think funerals can be beautiful. An assignment in my celebrant course had me visit a local funeral director with a bunch of questions on how they work with celebrants. The funeral director I met was uncharacteristically young and cool, and he said to come back when I have a business card. Which I've done. But how do I approach other funeral directors? One other I did go and visit was very friendly and I could tell he liked me but also felt my lack of experience would prevent him from booking me. It's different when it's not the clients so much who are finding you, but other professionals. Any suggestions?

Getting into the world of funeral celebrancy is so, so, so difficult. I am yet to meet a busy funeral celebrant who developed a marketing plan and made it work. For every single person I've spoken to, it's been about being in the right place at the right time. All I can do is tell you what I personally have done, and hopefully some ideas will come out of it for you 🙂

Read More

What to do about crying

Here’s a fun one for you guys. How do you deal with crying? I’m currently studying and in my performance assignment, my “bride” burst into tears and I realised I was totally unprepared for what I imagine is a very common occurrence. Do I just hand her a tissue and keep going? Do I wait until she regains composure? Do I try cracking a joke? Do I devise a “safe” word with the couple before the ceremony? I don’t want to embarrass anyone by drawing attention to it or making them feel bad about their reactions, but I also want to make sure they have a wonderful ceremony and can be present in the moment. How do long-time pros handle the floods of emotions from the couples – crying, uncontrollable giggling, nervous twitches? I’d love to know your techniques and any other thoughts from celebrants in the comments section.

Alison

Personally I’m a big fan of tears in a wedding ceremony, it’s a visible symbol that the couple aren’t dead inside and that the marriage ceremony means something to them.

But as I thought more about this I do have a few things I do to help the moment pass organically.

  1. If the tears are getting in the way of the person reading their vows and I get the feeling that they can’t get past them, I’ll invite the crowd to show them some love. A round of applause or a cheer sometimes is enough to encourage you forwards.
  2. If the moment allows I’ll step aside from the ceremony and let the couple hug or kiss and calm each other down. This is real life, no need for me to make it more awkward.
  3. Finally, if they seem embarrassed by the tears I’ll vocally encourage them, either personally or on the microphone that its ok to cry, that it means they’re human, and that they’re alive and that this matters to them.

How do you work with a party to a marriage ceremony losing their composure? Comment with your ideas below.

Guidelines 2018: What’s changed? Part 6

In this series of posts (including Part 1Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5) I'll be looking at the Guidelines on the Marriage Act 1961 for Authorised Celebrants 2018: what's new, what's changed, and what's gone. I'm not going to talk about changes such as the checklist for solemnising marriages moving from page 31 to the appendix, or other page or structure changes. What I will be talking about is the changes that affect the way Commonwealth-registered marriage celebrants (both Subdivision C marriage celebrants and Subdivision D religious marriage celebrants) do our work, and there are more than you might expect. Let's dive in!

Read More

Where I stand during the ceremony. Sarah’s view

Ann asks:

Sarah, I've just had a quick look at your website. I noticed you usually stand to the side of your bride and groom, not behind them. It looks really good. I imagine when you first started you tried all spots to stand and this was the best? Any hints on this Sarah?

You're absolutely right Ann, it took me a bit of trial and error and a lot of talking to other celebrants to figure out where I was most comfortable standing during the ceremony. Let me take you through how I worked it out! But first a reminder that this is the way it works for ME; I'm not saying it's right or the only way, I'm not saying the other ways are wrong (even though I will tell you why they don't work for me), I'm simply letting you know that this is how I prefer to operate.

Read More

Getting your financials in order

A pertinent question today as many of us look at last year's financials and taxes and we're in a place where we can make a real effort to make sure our life in July 2019 is a happier one:

I just did my tax and I'm very frustrated!!! I need advice on what software or system to use to make it easier. Most I see are not designed for a sole owner operator that has not registered for GST (I earn less than 75k); they seem too complicated. I know what I earn and spend this shouldn't be so frustrating. But I never know what category to put things in. I don't know. What do you use? I have a subscription to 17hats I thought that might help but its basically designed for America.

The GST question isn't overly important in this issue; most software today can easily adapt to changing to being GST registered, but the question of what software to use, and how to use it, is important. Read More

Answering “How much do you cost?”

Amber asks

Leading from the price on website debate – how do you answer the “How much do your services cost?” enquiry?

I try to start a conversation and speak about value and the experience but sometimes it is just frustrating. For example, l had the following conversation with a Mother of the Bride today. (l have edited out some chatty bits 🙂

MOB: How much do your services cost?

ME: Are you looking to get married, have a wedding or some other ceremony?

MOB: My daughter is getting married and the only day they had available was (18mth away)

ME: Ok, great. Where will the ceremony be?

MOB: (local venue)

ME: Awesome. Does your daughter live local to (venue)?

MOB: Yes

ME: That is great. I would love to have a chat about what they are after. I don’t have a “one price fits all” because every couple and ceremony is different. When would be a good time for me to call your daughter?

MOB: She said a ruff price we already have quotes around $x so if your more than that we don’t want to waste your time.

ME: I understand. My prices start at $x – this is for a legals only ceremony. Let me know if you would like more details or a chat to see if l am the right person to be part of their special day. 😀

MOB: Legals only ceremony not sure what you mean Is that like short and sweet ceremony?

ME: It can be. A ‘legals only ceremony’ is more about the services you require from me. It includes 1 meeting for the paperwork and a ceremony including the legal wording. It does not include a planning meetings, personalised ceremony, rehearsal, pa system, music supply, travel etc.

It is suited to people that want to get married, not necessarily have a wedding.

MOB: Oh ok (insert cricket noises here)

Reading through – l think now l should have done 2 things:

1. Asked more open questions.
2. quoted her my highest possible fee in my first message and saved my time.

So, Sarah and Josh – how do you answer the “How much do your services cost?” enquiry?

In May 2019 my celebrant authority turns 10 and I’ve been thinking about this question for most of it, and I’ve come to a a succinct theory of selling.

Only people with that rare extreme level of confidence should submit themselves to allowing their value and worth to be communicated in a forum like a phone call, email exchange, or instant messenger conversation because it takes a finely tuned sales ability to accurately communicate a price that is directly related to your own time, effort, and self-worth.

So if you’re not that person, don’t submit yourself to that process.

As you’ve already referenced, Sarah and I have talked about pricing on websites last month, but I think that’s just half the answer.

Creating a customer journey

The real solution is to craft a customer journey that all potential and eventual customers take to experience your services.

Part of that journey is discovering your fee, and discovering that fee is part of a process where your value and worth has been also communicated alongside your differentiators so that that price discussion is removed from the “choosing the cheapest celebrant” discussion it sounds like mum is having.

Getting people onto your customer journey

Most of us accept phone calls, emails, Facebook messenger chats, and Instagram DMs, which can seemingly be out of line with having a customer journey.

The secret is to have multiple entry points that allow all of these people to have the same experience.

Website visit: the is my ultimate entry point, and where I’ll send everyone else.

Phone call: I’ll take the call and discuss availability, but I’ll end the call on this note: “to find out about my fees, services, and packages, please visit marriedbyjosh.com and download my information pack”

Social media messages: Pretty much the same as the phone call but I’ll end with a link to marriedbyjosh.com

Preserve your sanity

Hold your sanity, time, and your soul close to your heart, protect them and don’t let that “how much” conversation destroy you. I send them to my website so they experience my carefully created customer journey. If they don’t like that journey, or the fees, they’re not my people and they get the choice to let themselves go – which is a much kinder experience than me letting them go by meekly saying “Seventeen hundred dollars” on the phone with a reply of crickets.

Guidelines 2018: What’s changed? Part 5

In this series of posts (including Part 1Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4) I'll be looking at the Guidelines on the Marriage Act 1961 for Authorised Celebrants 2018: what's new, what's changed, and what's gone. I'm not going to talk about changes such as the checklist for solemnising marriages moving from page 31 to the appendix, or other page or structure changes. What I will be talking about is the changes that affect the way Commonwealth-registered marriage celebrants (both Subdivision C marriage celebrants and Subdivision D religious marriage celebrants) do our work, and there are more than you might expect. Let's dive in!

Read More

How to publish Facebook ads that work

I don't know.

If there's anything you can expect from me today and into the future is that I'm not going to talk BS. The good news is that I know as much about Facebook advertising as most marketers and advertisers do, and they don't know either, because there is no one perfect ad that will close all the deals and make all the bookings. So as much as I don't know how to publish Facebook ads that work, I do know how to publish Facebook ads that work for me, so I'll take you through that process and also weave in some professional best practises and see if we can't help you. Read More

Finding a mentor. Sarah’s view

Jo asks:

In an earlier podcasts (I think top tips for new celebrants) you talk about finding a celebrant mentor and see if you can go along to some ceremonies.

I am super keen to make this happen but where do you suggest I start to find a mentor? I am not yet finished studying (hopefully the end of Aug) so haven't yet signed up to a professional association. Is it best to wait till I am done and have jumped through the AG's final hoops? If so, what do I do? Stalk a celebrant who's style I admire? Ask some friends who have had ceremonies to refer me?

Would love some advice so I can hit the ground running and learn from the wisdom of those before me.

First up, a big thanks to Jo for listening to the podcast. I'm glad you're enjoying it and getting something out of it!

I haven't checked with Josh about whether or not we have different opinions on this (he's on a mountain somewhere in New Zealand as I write this) but it's eminently possible that we do, so I'm making this post my view, and he can post his if he has a different one!

Read More

How to network in the wedding industry today

Networking amongst your industry colleagues, other wedding people, like photographers, venue co-ordinators, planners, and others, is a vital part of being an active member of the wedding industry. For the longest time that’s why I went to wedding expos – not to meet couples, but to meet vendors.

In 2018 and beyond networking still remains vital, and those physical events like vendor nights, expos, and workshops are always going to be king – but they cost money and time, the two things we’re low on.

So if you want to network cheaply and effectively, here’s some food for thought – as you post on social media, you’re hoping it resonates with your audience, and my rough math tells me for every like or comment, 10 other people are exposed to the post by the news feed algorithms.

So if you like and comment on my post, 10 more people see it, and more people like and comment, and I think you’re a legend.

So why not do that to others. Follow local wedding vendors you’d like to network with, and genuinely like and comment posts of theirs that you like and have a comment on. Be nice, be positive, be encouraging, share advice or expert insight. Be you, actively on social media for a month, and I guarantee you that more people will know who you are.

Guidelines 2018: What’s changed? Part 4

In this series of posts (including Part 1Part 2 and Part 3) I'll be looking at the Guidelines on the Marriage Act 1961 for Authorised Celebrants 2018: what's new, what's changed, and what's gone. I'm not going to talk about changes such as the checklist for solemnising marriages moving from page 31 to the appendix, or other page or structure changes. What I will be talking about is the changes that affect the way Commonwealth-registered marriage celebrants (both Subdivision C marriage celebrants and Subdivision D religious marriage celebrants) do our work, and there are more than you might expect. Let's dive in!

Read More

Use of name changed by usage for trans parties

A celebrant asks:

I'm marrying a couple next year - Party 1 is female; Party 2 is a transgender male. What I want to clarify is that if Party 2 has neither a birth certificate or passport in his common usage name that's not a problem as long as I am satisfied he is who he says he is. For example, is it enough that I know people who know him, and that he is listed on his employer's website? My sense is that it is ridgy didge, but wanted to check that I'm right.

This celebrant's thoughts aren't quite right, and the answer is similar to the one I posted not long ago about a bride's birth certificate name not matching her identification documents name.

Read More

The Facebook opportunity

Facebook, owner of Facebook but also Instagram and WhatsApp, is pushing hard to get more advertisers on its platform. In last week’s earnings call they made two statements which stood out to me:

“When we think about Instagram, we think we have a great opportunity: 25 million Instagram business profiles, 2 million advertisers, we see both anecdotally and in the data that this is a great place for people to become aware of a product in the first place,” she added.

and then on the “Stories” medium which is on Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp

We have 400 million people sharing with Instagram Stories, 450 million of people with WhatsApp Status. Facebook is newer, but we’re seeing good progress there. The question is will this monetize at the same rate as News Feed? And we honestly don’t know, we’ll have to see what happens. There are good reasons to be very optimistic about the monetization. The opportunity—full-screen authentic, very engaging, different formats than feed—gives us an opportunity to grow.

Facebook is giving you direct access to people that want to hire you. People that need you to be their celebrant are waiting for you to invest in reaching them on Facebook’s platforms … not through magazines, directories, blogs, expos, or fairs. Direct to them, no middle man.

The age of the middle man is dead.

The middle man still serves value in some areas, for example I even run a small directory that leverages my position in the market. But the investment is small and the return on investment is high.

But when it comes to magazines, there’s not a wedding magazine in the country that is performing well. They’re all struggling, financially, but also in reaching the same people you can reach directly on Facebook.

Names in the legal vows

Jac asks:

I have a bride who no longer uses her birth name for anything except forms. Her invites use her preferred name. She has actually said it’s causing her anxiety that her birth name be used during the ceremony.

 

Am I right in saying that during mandatory vows we need to use birth certificate names (as they appear on the NOIM), however nicknames can be used everywhere else, unless of course she has officially changed her name (which it sounds like she hasn’t).

 

Can I also put the pressure on and say that 1. It won’t be legal and 2. I could lose my registration if we did not use her full name at least once?

Names are so tricky, but the rules outlined in the Guidelines 2018 are pretty clearcut.

Read More

What should we do on social media? Part 3

A member asks

When chatting with celebrants recently I heard again and again that most celebrants aren’t really that interested in following the general Instagram “best practice” advice that you see on social media blogs/podcasts. Most people a) don’t want to invest the time and energy to go down the Pinterest-style heavily-curated aesthetically-pleasing path, and b) think it’s bullshit anyway. They don’t want to follow a posting schedule, they may not even post very regularly. I think most celebrants just want to post photos that they like, when they have them – but want to maximize the appeal/reach of those posts and spend the least amount of time on them. Can you share any practical little hacks to shave a few minutes and a few headaches off your posting/planning time.

There’s a reason Facebook and Instagram have personal and business accounts. There’s a place for you to post what you like, and a place for you to post content that has a positive on your business.

This is part one in a three part series, part one on why, part two on what and part three on when.

How much should we post?

Social media accounts with an intent on growth in followers and reach post at least three times a day. Less than 30% of your followers see your posts, and posting amazing content three times a day is a growth strategy. Personally I’m not that energetic, but once a day is my goal, plus a handful of stories documenting what I’m doing.

But when it comes to quantity, lets go back to our categories:

  • Posts branding me
  • Helpful/value-adding posts
  • Posts about others

Here’s a simple strategy for how much of each: 3-2-1.

3 posts adding value to your couples, posts that help them, entertain them, add value to their lives, a completely generous act

2 posts about others, about how they help, how they’re awesome, and what you love about them

1 post about you, a selfish indulgence to showcase what you are, who you are, why you matter.

When should we post on social media?

This final point matters equally as much as it doesn’t In the age of non-chronological timelines on Facebook and Instagram (that means that you don’t see the posts as they are posted), we’re now subject to algorithms (maths) deciding what you see. So timing matters less than frequency and engagement on the posts.

So think less about timing and scheduling posts and instead worry about creating content that will be commented on, content that people will find value on, content people will like.

The secret word I just mentioned is about engagement: when is your following active? For the wedding industry that’s generally between 6am and midnight, when they’re commuting, at work, at home, watching TV. There’s nothing easy in regards to timing, just post good stuff.

What to do when the name on a birth certificate is different from that on the photo ID…

A question came to us:

I am marrying a couple of brides this week and when I talked about the ID I'll need to witness beforehand, one piped up that her name on her Birth Cert is different to all other ID but she's never officially changed it. So her photo ID is going to be different surname to her Birth ID. She doesn't have a passport. I thought I'd need to use her original name on all marriage docs (for avoiding future issues with passports etc) but am I correct or can I use her preferred surname even though the paper-trail lacks an official name change?

I rang the celebrant about this one because she needed an answer urgently, and it turned out it was even more complicated than first thought!

Read More

Do I need a qualified / accredited interpreter?

Candice asks:

I have a couple wanting to elope with just their parents and children present. I'm just writing because after looking at the guidelines I'm still a bit unclear and just need clarification on the use of a qualified interpreter. My couple are both deaf and they communicate via Auslan and of course their own beautiful way. Their parents are happy to sign and be there throughout our meetings and on the day. They can sign everything I say, and everything they say in return. Is this sufficient? Or do I need to advise them to organise a qualified person to come along? If the parents are okay to do this, do they still need to fill in a stat dec?

Read More

Guidelines 2018: What’s changed? Part 3

In this series of posts (including Part 1 and Part 2) I'll be looking at the Guidelines on the Marriage Act 1961 for Authorised Celebrants 2018: what's new, what's changed, and what's gone. I'm not going to talk about changes such as the checklist for solemnising marriages moving from page 31 to the appendix, or other page or structure changes. What I will be talking about is the changes that affect the way Commonwealth-registered marriage celebrants (both Subdivision C marriage celebrants and Subdivision D religious marriage celebrants) do our work, and there are more than you might expect. Let's dive in!

Read More

You don’t know what ‘word of mouth’ looks like

I wanted to share a story straight from my inbox today, to show you how word of mouth actually works and how your marketing efforts today pay off for years:

I wanted to let you know how I’ve come across you… About two years ago we went to Queenstown for our first holiday there together. Matt had always snowboarded and done trips and I had always wanted to learn to snowboard. This was my first snowboarding adventure. I feel in love with it and Queenstown but particularly Wanaka.

We stayed at this place that provided breakfast and one morning we sat down and this couple was across from us. The pregnant lady said hi, how are you going, what are you doing today.. and I replied so excited saying about we were going snowboarding. I returned the question to her and she said ‘We are getting married today!’ Wow, I thought, how inspiring and she told us they were just going to randomly knock on a strangers door and ask to be married in their back yard / or on their property. This story has always stuck in my mind and I soon found this couple’s photo on Instagram. I was determined to find out how their story went. I feel in love with your stories and I didn’t want to ‘like’ your page in case my partner thought I was ‘giving him hints to propose or something’ haha.. I still don’t follow you yet in case people see and think we are eloping. I would elope. Since this couple’s story I have always wanted to exchange vows in Wanaka. We are winter lovers and mountain outdoor people.

A girl, I use to work with in Brisbane is also using you next October 2019 on the Sunshine Coast. So she always spoke to me about it. I thought this was a sign to email you!

Try and insert that story into your marketing plan?

How to get this?

How do you get enquiries like this? Do the right thing today, tomorrow, every day. Be consistent and strong in your branding and your language online.

To get this enquiry I had to first of all win over Carly and Sam, and then be active on social media for two years.

Doing the right thing on social media all day every day.

There’s no shortcuts, it’s just about being the best you, you can be.

What should we do on social media? Part 2

A member asks

When chatting with celebrants recently I heard again and again that most celebrants aren’t really that interested in following the general Instagram “best practice” advice that you see on social media blogs/podcasts. Most people a) don’t want to invest the time and energy to go down the Pinterest-style heavily-curated aesthetically-pleasing path, and b) think it’s bullshit anyway. They don’t want to follow a posting schedule, they may not even post very regularly. I think most celebrants just want to post photos that they like, when they have them – but want to maximize the appeal/reach of those posts and spend the least amount of time on them. Can you share any practical little hacks to shave a few minutes and a few headaches off your posting/planning time.

There’s a reason Facebook and Instagram have personal and business accounts. There’s a place for you to post what you like, and a place for you to post content that has a positive on your business.

This is part one in a three part series, part one on why, part two on what and part three on when.

What content should we post on social media?

I mention in part one that my posts, and hopefully any good posts, do one of the following for my couples:

  • help them plan a wedding and be married
  • inform and educate them about weddings and being married
  • make them laugh/entertain them
  • introduce them to me and my brand

Hopes and dreams are great, but they need to work themselves out into actual content, so what follows is my content-creating brain looking at that list and giving you a bunch of content ideas I hope you steal, repurpose, and post for your own good.

Here’s the important thing to remember as you post: most people see about 30% of your posts. So don’t assume they do and say things like “as you saw in my last post” or imagine that they care enough to go back. Each post needs to live on its own. Secondly, generosity will go so much further than greed. So offer up all of the industry insight, expert advice, recommendations and truth you can muster up.

The three different types of posts

I like to start by categorise my content into three different types of posts:

  • Posts branding me
  • Helpful/value-adding posts
  • Posts about others

With those three categories down, I start breaking it out into actual content ideas.

Content ideas

Helpful and value-adding posts

  • Shortcuts people could take in planning a wedding
  • Funny observations from weddings (respectful of the couples involved)
  • Your own personal insight about decisions people make in wedding planning
  • Inspiration for wedding planning looks and styles
  • Funny wedding memes (stay classy ok)
  • Things people could skip or drop from their wedding
  • Ways to stay mindful and stress-free planning a wedding
  • Advice on how to build and grow your marriage
  • Insight into your own wedding and marriage that is relevant to your tribe
  • Think about common mistakes or problems people encounter on their wedding day that you’ve observed, not things you’ve imagined or found on a Buzzfeed list
  • Your views on wedding traditions and what they mean
  • Your insight into what weddings mean and how they could be better
  • DIY advice

Basically, be useful to people. Think even about the reason you’re a member of this institute, hopefully it’s because we bring you value through these posts. Bring value to people, with actual help, not another bloody free e-book, social media marketing is one place where if you give away the cow the right people will still buy your milk.

Posts about others

  • Recommend other vendors, giving them a voice to your followers, and a personal recommendation as to why they’re great
  • Helping couples make other purchasing decisions in regards to their wedding
  • Anti-DIY advice because DIY isn’t as easy and cost effective as you think
  • Help people understand the role different vendors have in weddings
  • Relate other vendors/peoples’ works to real results and pinterest trends

Remember, most of your couples have never planned a wedding. So help them not only understand your role and value, but others as well. I’ve never met a person on their death bed who hoped they were less generous.

Posts branding me

  • Testimonies from your own couples so other couples can see what kind of celebrant you are
  • Snippets from your ceremonies either in video or text that might be encouraging to people’s own marriages and also showcase your talent
  • Question and answer sessions regarding your own niche field you’re the expert in
  • Photos of couples enjoying your services
  • Photos of your couples after the ceremony (see how happy they are?! you could be to!)
  • We’re the harbinger of meaning and purpose on the wedding day, so be that person on social media
  • Insights into your personal life, marriage, business

Inform your followers about who you are, do it regularly, do it with variety, do it with pride in yourself – you’re awesome!


In the next part of this series I’ll give you a hint on what your next six social media posts could be, and also some insight as to when to post.

Share any other posting ideas in the comments, I’m sure my list is only the tip of the iceberg!

Guidelines 2018: What’s changed? Part 2

In this series of posts (including Part 1) I'll be looking at the Guidelines on the Marriage Act 1961 for Authorised Celebrants 2018: what's new, what's changed, and what's gone. I'm not going to talk about changes such as the checklist for solemnising marriages moving from page 31 to the appendix, or other page or structure changes. What I will be talking about is the changes that affect the way Commonwealth-registered marriage celebrants (both Subdivision C marriage celebrants and Subdivision D religious marriage celebrants) do our work, and there are more than you might expect. Let's dive in!

Read More

What should we do on social media? Part 1

A member asks

When chatting with celebrants recently I heard again and again that most celebrants aren’t really that interested in following the general Instagram “best practice” advice that you see on social media blogs/podcasts. Most people a) don’t want to invest the time and energy to go down the Pinterest-style heavily-curated aesthetically-pleasing path, and b) think it’s bullshit anyway. They don’t want to follow a posting schedule, they may not even post very regularly. I think most celebrants just want to post photos that they like, when they have them – but want to maximize the appeal/reach of those posts and spend the least amount of time on them. Can you share any practical little hacks to shave a few minutes and a few headaches off your posting/planning time.

There’s a reason Facebook and Instagram have personal and business accounts. There’s a place for you to post what you like, and a place for you to post content that has a positive on your business.

This is part one in a three part series, part one on why, part two on what and part three on when.

What are our social media posts for?

I can’t answer that question for you, but I’ll tell you what my posts are for, and leave you to formulate your own social media plan.

When I post on social media I want to do one or more of the following for couples that are getting married or are married:

  • help them plan a wedding and be married
  • inform and educate them about weddings and being married
  • make them laugh/entertain them
  • introduce them to me and my brand

You might of noticed that I didn’t mention selling, sales, leads, enquiries. Social media isn’t for selling, just like catching up with friends at a cafe is ruined when you mention you’ve got a business opportunity for them and start talking about Amway.

I want my social media posts to brand me to my couples, so when they a) need a celebrant, or b) someone they know needs a celebrant, they think of me.

If you scroll through my feeds you’ll notice I don’t post wedding porn. (Wedding porn is my description of all the Pinterest crap that makes brides and grooms anxious about their wedding not being good enough. It has the same effect normal porn has on relationships, but on weddings instead.)

Instead of finding and regramming and reposting all of the wedding porn that will get you all the likes and followers, post content that will create a tribe of fans that ardently love and refer you.

Create content, just like you do with ceremonies, but do it for social media. In a future post I’ve got a page full of social media content ideas that I hope everyone steals and adapts for their own brand, and in another post I’ve got a social media schedule that I think you should adopt, but before you start posting, you need to get your mental and emotional ducks in a row.

Your business social media isn’t for you, and it’s not for other celebrants. It’s for people to fall in love with you and absolutely need you to be their celebrant.

The do’s and don’ts of email marketing

A pertinent question about building and maintain an email list today:

For anyone looking to follow your example of maintaining "an email list of all couples I meet at expos, fairs, open days, along with all who enquire with me" and sending them a weekly newsletter - are there any legal considerations or permission issues (opt in/opt out) we need to consider? Is it fine to just add any email address to a newsletter database or is there particular wording we need to use in sourcing those addresses for that purpose? Cheers.

So there's three issues to address here:

  1. Consent to being added to a list
  2. Sending commercial messages versus sending spam
  3. Once you've identified that you're within the law, are you sending an email worth sending

Read More

There’s two ways to provide a service

From the heart and soul of Seth Godin today, I’m copying and pasting this from his amazing blog for you today to chew on over how your provide your celebrancy service:

Two ways to solve a problem and provide a service

With drama. Make sure the customer knows just how hard you’re working, what extent you’re going to in order to serve. Make a big deal out of the special order, the additional cost, the sweat and the tears.

Without drama. Make it look effortless.

Either can work. Depends on the customer and the situation.

But it’s a choice. We can make it with intention.

In my business, I choose effortless. Showcasing the drama can work too, but choose one and stick with it.

How to position your PA speaker for a wedding ceremony

Veronica asks

After reading this article and listening to the podcast “A tribute to the greatest episode in the world”, you mentioned speaker placement. Being a newbie to the industry, where would you suggest is the best place for the speaker so I majority can hear?

Speaker placement is a fine art for weddings because you’re battling with venue noise restrictions, keeping things pretty, keeping everything practical, battling with stylists and musicians, whilst also trying to make everything sound good.

So I’ve recorded a short and rather amateur screencast video that you can watch below to explain this post in ways that words cannot, alas I’ll also try put some words down as well.

The three things to keep in mind when positioning your PA speaker system is:

  1. audio feedback
  2. making the audio sound real
  3. radio frequency

On audio feedback, you simply don’t want the microphone to be so close to the speaker, so you want the speaker far enough away from you that it’s not feeding back, but …

While you want to keep the speaker far from the microphone, you also have to be keeping in mind that you want the audio to sound real, so if you’re talking but the audio of you talking is coming from where you aren’t, like the back of the ceremony, that confuses ears and eyes, so you want the PA speaker as close to you as possible (whilst maintaining distance so it doesn’t feedback), all while keeping in mind that …

You want to leave a clear path for the radio transmitter (your microphone) to clearly communicate to the receiver (the speaker system most likely) and human bodies are great deflectors of radio transmissions.

It’s that easy hey!

Increasing your enquiry conversion rate

A question today about enquiries and how to increase our conversion

I have a question about converting enquiries as I am finding that I get a good amount of enquiries but feel my conversion rate could be way better.

Wondering what I could be doing better or is there something I am not doing? Is it the language I am using in my initial contact too passive or boring? Or maybe I am giving them too much information?

I currently do not have my price on my website so I am guessing some of the enquiries I am not converting are due to that and for follow up I send out a very short follow up email to them a about a month after not hearing anything.

How do I better communicate to my leads in the initial enquiry stage to “seel the deal” with me or at least book an initial catch up meeting.

Would love some constructive feedback on my “first email” and “welcome letter” attachment that I send as my first contact.

We live in an amazing time where the access to new technology, new ideas, and new formats or mediums is changing every day. Literally every day. The way we transact and communicate is equally changing, and most popular advice on sales, closing sales, converting enquiries, and conversion rates is not even aimed at us. Most common sales advice is about building globally strong brands, repeat customers, building client loyalty, and all of that means almost nothing to celebrants. On top of that, most sales advice is for attracting individuals or businesses, not couples.

Our ideal client is a couple, who up until now has never paid for a service like ours, and ideally never will again.

So catching that fish requires skill, talent, and the knowledge that the waters are ever changing.

So with that in mind, I’ll address your points then end with what I’ve done and am doing now.

My conversion rate could be better

Measuring your conversion rate could almost definitely keep you awake at night far more than you should be. The secret in micro/macro size businesses like ours is in what you measure. There are so many different numbers you can measure, and I wouldn’t even recommending my method (I measure my accounts receivable, because all my invoices are due in four months so the total accounts receivable divided by four is my expected revenue).

An easy way to increase your conversion rate is to decrease your enquiries. I’ve done that before by listing my price publicly on the website. Enquiries went right down, conversion rate went right up to almost 90% closure, but my total bookings went right down as well. So if you get two enquiries a year and book both of them, you’ve had a 100% conversion rate without much to show for it.

In fact, as much as I continually forever aim to target my marketing so finely, I’m also aware that for many enquiries I won’t be available, I might be out of budget, or just not the right fit, so the only way I’ve figured out how to combat that is to increase enquiries  whilst also trying to make my marketing efforts, website, and social media act as a filter so that if a couple do enquire, they’re already fairly invested in me as a person and a brand.

Is it the language I am using in my initial contact too passive or boring? Or maybe I am giving them too much information?

Your emails and welcome pack are fine, like I mention below you could make your email a little more brief and your welcome pack deeper with more specific info. If you’ve gotten them past the initial email they can choose to read the heavier load of information.

I currently do not have my price on my website

You’ve most likely already read these two articles, but Sarah, and then I, both covered this topic recently.

How do I better communicate to my leads in the initial enquiry stage + follow up emails

Ask anyone in the wedding industry about follow up and everyone has their secret little thing. So many don’t follow up, many swear by it (I swear by it), but I’d like to point out that good follow up is part of a broader strategy.

I take note that most couples are on a wedding planning journey of between three months to three years. What a massive market to aim for. So I aim to maintain a long term relationship with all these couples by engaging with them three ways.

  1. I reply to their initial enquiry with a short and friendly email that identifies that a) I’m available, b) they know what that means in terms of money and packages, and ending with a c) action step. So many sales are missed because they lack a “next step.” Brevity is my goal here as well, as I as assume they’ve got many emails and they don’t want to spend all day reading mine, plus if they want more from me, there’s my website.
  2. I maintain an email list of all couples I meet at expos, fairs, open days, along with all who enquire with me, and send a brief value-adding email to them every Monday. So every week there’s a touch point from me, delivering value into their lives.
  3. If they offer questions, ideas, or ask for help that I think would make for good social media, blog, or video content I use it. I don’t always mention their names, but I’m relying on them following me on these platforms and seeing that I not only answered their question or problem directly, I also shared the advice with the world, so they feel involved in my business now as well.
  4. 6-12 days after a first enquiry, if it goes un-answered I’ll send a friendly email simply “following up after our last conversation” giving them an opportunity to make a time to meet or book me in.

Would love some constructive feedback on my “first email” and “welcome letter” attachment that I send as my first contact

The first email

So to fill everyone else in, enquiries are replied to with an email pretty much like this and a PDF “welcome letter” attached.

Hi couple name,

Thank-you for your enquiry and congratulations on your engagement. At this stage I am still available for date. Please find attached my welcome letter which will give you some information about me and my services as a wedding celebrant and a short video – so you can have an idea of what it is like to pronounced newlywed (love this part) [link to video].

If you have any questions or would like me to send you my booking form (if you think I would be a good match for you both) or arrange a time to catch up to chat about your plans so far please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Happy Wedding Planning!

All in all this is a perfectly fine email reply, in the original email there’s an extra paragraph related to your side business and at least in an initial email I would try and keep things really focused. Humans are easily distracted and I think your side business could be introduced once they’ve paid you some cash.

If I was going to get picky, this initial email is all about you and how you can make their life better. Everyone else in the wedding industry begins with a congratulations, I feel like it’s almost redundant and if you truly are happy for them, say it in person. Open the email with the important details: yes, I am available to be your celebrant. Use as few words as possible so there’s no chance of confusion or misunderstanding.

People always have questions, and the fact they’ve already asked one in “are you available” probably means they don’t need an opportunity to ask more, so I’d quit all the fancy talk and move on to the locking in dates and making a booking stage. I would even drop the “don’t hesitate to get in touch” and simply wrap up the conversation with a solid “To book me in as your marriage celebrant <click here> or if you’d like to meet before doing so, I’m available on x, y, and z times or we can make a time to cal or Skype.”

The welcome letter

If you ignored all of that last advice you’ve still got a fine email to reply to enquiries with, but the welcome letter needs to go to bed.

Modern businesses of 2018 aren’t sending PDFs unless it’s information that absolutely has to be in a PDF, like a NOIM for example.

PDFs have three problems:

  1. They aren’t responsive to screen size, so they are very commonly painful to read on mobile, and I know that more than 60% of my couples are enquiring on mobile.
  2. They aren’t as pretty as your sexily designed website (true for the celebrant asking the question, as well as almost everyone else)
  3. They can’t be updated. So if info in the PDF changes, only new enquiries get the new info.

The solution: non-public pages on your website.

All of the info in your welcome pack that you want to “hide” from public eyes, but share with enquiries, put that on a special page that isn’t linked to from other pages in your website, and make sure it’s not in a menu bar. In WordPress or Squarespace it’s as easy as making a new page but not linking to it. Depending on your SEO plugin, or website builder, choose the option that hides the page from Google and other search engines. On my website this option is called “noindex” so that search engines do not index the page.

For the celebrant asking the question, I feel like a lot of the info in your welcome pack should be publicly available info, squeezed into the rest of your website and into regular social media posts. But embed that video in there, and answer commonly asked questions so you’re not working double time for no pay.

What is Josh doing?

Earlier this year I got sick of replying to enquiries and getting nothing back, so I instituted the four pointer solution I relayed above, and started building out my weekly email so it actually mattered to people.

And then I took enquiries off my website. If you visit marriedbyjosh.com right now, there is no enquiry form. Instead I give you the opportunity to request an info pack which is my way of putting the cart before the horse. Before I ever hear about you or have to reply to your email you’ve been sent a link to my information pack with all my packages and fees, I answer loads of questions, and plus your email address is added to my email list and I start sending you an email every day.

When you’re ready to enquire you get in touch, because I’ve been keeping in touch with you every week, and you already know how much I am and what I offer.

For July 2018, this sounds like a solid idea, but the waters are always changing, so by this time 2019 it might be a completely different game.

I’ll write more on this in the future, but your emails and enquiry workflows should be all a part of a customer journey you’ve planned.

Office facilities – what’s required?

Alison asks:

I'm currently studying to become a marriage celebrant, but there is one thing that worries me about setting up my practice once authorised: the home office.

 

I currently live with flatmates in the city, so space is limited. I'm only planning on doing the celebrancy thing as a side gig (at the moment) as an antidote to my corporate day job, so renting full-time office space isn't practical.

 

In your interpretation of the Marriage Act and Code of Practice, would it be appropriate to maintain an "office" in my lockable bedroom, securing documents in a locked filing cabinet, while renting a separate interview space when needed or offering to meet couples in their homes? Can you recommend any other solutions?

This is definitely something you shouldn't be worried about at all, there's no need to overthink it!

Read More

Five ways to make your ceremonies better

A recent Seth Godin post about presentations of the corporate/Microsoft Powerpoint kind, spurred me on to thinking about our presentation style as celebrants. My ceremony presentation style has it's roots in a) what I'm good at and b) what I like. Yours should too, so don't read this and feel judged or ashamed. If your style is you at your best, and in a style that you would like to receive, then be proud. Hopefully these five points might inspire you to expand your presentation style and take you out of your comfort zone, which can only make you better. Read More

Personal vows and their content

Veronica asks:

I know according to section 45(2) of the Marriage Act, couples are required to say "I call upon the persons here present to witness that I, A.B. (or C.D.), take thee, C.D. (or A.B.), to be my lawful wedded wife (or husband); or words to that effect." When it comes to couples personalising their vows, aside from the previous mentioned, do couples have to say certain things, or are they free to say what they see fit?

This one's almost easy: they can literally say whatever they see fit, almost...

Read More

Pricing on websites; to list or not to list??? Josh’s view

Ella asks:

Price points seem to be a hot topic everywhere… Would you recommend putting your fees on your website?

Some celebrants display their price on their website, others don’t. Some also seem to provide services cheaper then a BDM wedding. Which poses that question that some people expect you to compete on price, they aren’t comparing the quality of service provided. Only the number they see on the page…

As Sarah noted, everyone has a different answer on this, and here is mine. Don’t count this post as the final word, it’s just a brain dump on a Wednesday afternoon. I’m sure this is a topic we’ll return to over and over, and I’d invite you to list your thoughts in the comments.


Price, that big bad number we all freak out about.

Firstly we wonder, are we charging too much, or not enough.

Then we look at the profit & loss, or the budget, and start freaking out because our price multiplied by the number of bookings doesn’t match that magical budgeted number.

Finally, we get the couples with feedback like “you’re too expensive” or worse “is that all??”

This is a discussion that has kept me up at night in building my own business, and even just this week in trying to think how to best answer this question.

What is your price for?

I like to view my price as part of my customer journey. It’s just one of the touch points in between a couple finding out that I exist, and booking me. On the same journey there’s emails, web pages, social media, advertising, conversation, and booking forms.

Because my business is a customer jounrney focused business. Because my business is focused on providing an experience to the couple, well before any ceremony takes place, my price is made available by request. So it’s not publicly on the website, but if you enter your email address I’ll automatically send it to your email and even your phone. You can try it now – visit marriedbyjosh.com and request an information pack.

I’m not ashamed of my fee, and want it to be easily known to my couples, but I also want it to be part of the journey. So I ask for their email address, and every week I publish a value-adding email called “On getting married and being married”. Everyone who has requested an info pack gets that email, so they know I exist, and they know my fee, but I’m continuing the relationship and also building value.

Because I want to have the price position of “I might cost a lot, but you’ll get way more than you paid for”. Because I think that’s a position I can win, and for me to give you more than you paid for, we need to establish relationship. You need to join my tribe. It’s not as a simple as scrolling down a list of celebrants and choosing one.

It’s more than likely that your business has a different price position and purpose in your price. So it’s not a matter of displaying your price on your website or not, the better question is “why am I/why am I not displaying my price on my website?”

If your only differentiator is that you’re the cheapest, then the best way to announce that to the world is to display your price, note how much cheaper you are than everyone else, perhaps offer discounts, and maybe post a photo of your soul slowly withering away.

I’ve also used price as a filter, to keep tyre kickers and price-conscious couples away. I increased the leads into my website (through marketing and advertising) then put my fee publicly available, no info pack request needed. This worked if I increased the volume, but the visit to enquiry rate was right down, because there was no relationship and journey for most of the couples.

For most of my existence as a celebrant I had never mentioned price on my website, and only couples that enquiried would receive pricing information. All this did was lead to a large number of enquiries but terribly low conversion rate because not everyone was willing to pay my price.

In the end I’ll always advocate for the average Australian marriage celebrant to be building a powerfully local and small tribe who value them, their service, and their worldview, and those people want you for you, not because of your price. Obviously price is still a thing, but it’s not the last word, nor is it the first. It’s just part of the conversation.

My final encouragement for you is to embrace the conversation. When people say “I haven’t budgeted that much” know that they are booking and luxury service in a wedding, and if you are a good celebrant and you provide a good service, then don’t be dismayed. Learn to communicate your value outside of those numbers we identify as price, communicate it confidently, succinctly, and in a way that a five year old could understand.

So I guess I’m saying don’t hide your price but maybe don’t advertise it like a $2 store would. Make it part of the conversation. When your price is live on your website for all to read, the conversation around it – your website, social media, and marketing – better be really really good. And if you don’t view the enquiry process as a conversation, over a marketplace or bargaining type of arrangement then this advice will probably not help you at all.

My ceremony writing timeline

Mercy asks:

This relates to the questionnaire you send your couples. I've been doing the same, but as I'm fairly new, don't really have a system in place as to when couples need to get back to me.

 

When you send the questionnaire do you give your couples a deadline, if so do they generally stick to it, and what if they don't?? And when do you tell couples you'll send a first draft, final draft etc? Or do you sometimes have to play by ear according to the couples.

 

So far I haven't had any issues but I imagine some couples dragging their feet could affect getting the ceremony written. Would love your input on this.

I definitely have a process and a timeline and deadlines and reminders and it all works! I’m much more process driven than a lot of celebrants (including Josh!) but it works for me, and my couples appreciate the fact that they don’t have to think or remember anything; I tell them exactly when everything is due and send them reminders when necessary.

Read More

My Ceremony Builder Booklet

Mercy asks:

I'd like to know about your booklet. The idea of printing an expensive booklet seemed a bit outdated to me, given that there are so many resources online and such a diversity of options for couples these days. None of my couples so far have been interested in readings, and I'm reluctant to pin them down as far as ceremony structure goes either, until I know more about them.

 

What does your booklet look like, how many pages etc and what quality do you recommend? Do you find that couples choose structure and content based on the booklet or do you also provide links?

 

And how do you get around the fact that you may want to update it when you find more content? I worry about the expense when I think about how often I come across new stuff and imagine wanting to change things up often.

I know not all celebrants provide a booklet of information to their couples, but I have since the beginning of my life as a celebrant, and I find it helps both me and the couple stay on track and organised, and the couples who choose to work with me love the way it helps them plan out their ceremony.

Read More

The rules for commitment ceremonies

Jac asks:

I have a couple coming up. They got married a year ago (pretty much for their families to have a religious ceremony). None of their friends know this though. Before getting married officially for their parents, they said they would only do it their parents' way if they could have a big bash with their friends the way they want this year. The time has come! It's within a month.

 

I met with them yesterday and they were so stressed about their friends finding out etc that they were already married. I explained that we wouldn't have to focus on that and include in the scripting that "this is the day that Jack and Jill are choosing to celebrate their marriage in front of you special people blah blah blah". Instead of doing official paperwork, I offered a commemorative certificate instead (as this doesn't have any legal bearing anyway). Are there any issues with what can/cannot be written on this? Would 'wedding certificate' be safe?

 

I really don't want to say 'THIS CEREMONY IS IN NO WAY LEGAL/BINDING' so I was just going to gloss over it a little how you explained in your previous podcast. Obviously no Monitum will be said and there will be no legal vows but the couple will still write their own. Obviously I won't be doing DONLIMs or submitting anything formal to BDM, but I thought the 'pretty' certificate or a commemorative certificate would be okay. Anything else I should look out for?

The Guidelines are pretty clear on this, but let me give you my interpretation of what they say.

Read More

Parents’ names on the NOIM

Listing the parents' names on the NOIM is often a huge headache. What if one of them changed their name? Do you put their name when they were born or when the party was born? What if there's a spelling error in their name on your birth certificate? What if they go by an anglicised name? The Guidelines on the Marriage Act 1961 for Marriage Celebrants have, until now, been silent on this matter, and it's often been a point of contention between celebrants. Some celebrants say you should put whatever is on the party's birth certificate, because the important thing is to be able to link all the records. Some celebrants say you should put whatever the father's legal name is now, regardless of what it was when the party was born. But all that has changed with the release of the Guidelines on the Marriage Act 1961 for Authorised Celebrants 2018, so I was pleased to be able to answer the following question.

Read More

Prospective Marriage Visa: the celebrant’s role

Shamini asks:

I have my first Proposed marriage visa letter. Do I get the couple to fill out the NOIM and groom sign it (bride is overseas). Prepare a letter and then only when she gets in the country get her to sign the NOIM? Or does she need to sign the NOIM in her country before I can give a visa letter?

There are multiple different visas a person can apply for in order to emigrate to Australia. If an Australian citizen or permanent resident falls in love with a citizen from another country, applying for a Prospective Marriage Visa (PMV) is one way the overseas partner can start the process of emigrating to Australia.

Remember, celebrants are in no way, shape or form allowed to give migration advice to couples. We must be mindful of the boundaries of our role. However, a PMV requires documentation from a celebrant before it can be approved, so this post is about the celebrant's role in this process.

Read More

Ceremony script writing skills. Sarah’s view

Liane asks:

As a reasonably new celebrant (2016) my question to you both is how can I improve my skills and knowledge on writing ceremony scripts? How do you guys keep yourselves updated and up-skilled in this area?

Can you recommend any resources, websites etc to increase my creative bank (example quotes, styles of weddings)?

What framework do you both use when creating your wedding script?

Once again, Josh and I have VERY different views on this, so we're answering this one separately 🙂

First up, it's really important to know that ceremony writing is a very personal thing, and EVERY celebrant approaches it differently. This is just the way I do it, and that's not to say it's good, bad or other. It's just the way it works for me and has evolved over my celebrant career.

Read More

Pricing on websites; to list or not to list??? Sarah’s view

Ella asks:

Price points seem to be a hot topic everywhere... Would you recommend putting your fees on your website?

Some celebrants display their price on their website, others don't. Some also seem to provide services cheaper then a BDM wedding. Which poses that question that some people expect you to compete on price, they aren't comparing the quality of service provided. Only the number they see on the page...

You will literally get a different answer on this from every celebrant or marketing guru you speak to. So for this question, both Josh and I are going to offer our views! This article is just Sarah's thoughts.

Read More

Running side hustles alongside your celebrant business

We've had a couple of anonymous questions on this in the last week, so I'm going to pop them both in here:

I'm looking at expanding my services other than just celebrant. At the moment I have a little side gig where it is wedding packages with hair, make up and myself this is run on a separate facebook page. But I'm wanting to possibly offer ceremony styling as well. Just wanted to check it I could advertise this on my celebrant website under a tab "Ceremony Styling" and offer DIY or we setup and dismantle the ceremony. Think simple to start with chairs, flowers and arch. Just before I go making any purchases just wanted some feedback and advice. Thanks!

And:

I am currently working for a theatre company and intend to keep working for them, but I want to be able to do weddings occasionally and for friends. However because I’m trained in fashion and costume I thought I’d be able to offer wedding dresses but from what I can understand I can’t? I understand how that can be a conflict of interest now but I was wondering where you draw the line within packages and extras. If I can’t even offer custom veils as an inclusion of a package then I feel like all my other hard earned creative making abilities are of no use?

This has all changed! We can now do (almost) anything we like!

Read More

Ceremonies in public spaces and copyright

Jac asks:

The guidelines state that weddings are usually considered 'private in nature' and so playing music, reading poems etc is fine. The examples the guidelines list are all indoors. What if the ceremony is in a public space?

Do you have to get insurance for this through an association or does it fall under Public Liability, Personal Accident, Professional Indemnity etc if you went for insurance privately.

Would appreciate pros/cons etc of the going with an association if protection is required.

I'm going to look at all three questions here; whether or not we need copyright or other licences or insurances for weddings, and what kinds of insurance may be useful, and whether you should get your insurance through an association or privately!

Read More

How to protect the copyright of your ceremony scripts

Tenielle asks

Just a quick question about intellectual property of ceremony drafts. Hasn't happened to me, but have heard of stories of celebrants issuing a draft ceremony for the clients to look over, and then that ceremony being taken by the couple to a cheaper celebrant. Don't know how true it is, but it did get me thinking about my own Ts and Cs and about how I could best protect myself at the end of the day. Look, I know how easy it is to forward on a PDF or a Word Document and there's stuff all we can do about it at the end of the day, but it's just another aspect of this job that's been on my mind a bit lately.

So there are three angles I'm going to answer this question from:

  1. copyright law, knowing it and protecting yourself
  2. sending scripts
  3. why is your script stolen

And I'll start with the most important one (in my humble opinion): Read More