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Women In Wedding Business With Sarah Haywood

Author: Sarah Haywood

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We are so excited about this week’s Twitter interview @WeddingHour. We were joined by co-host @SarahHaywood, who curates bespoke events and has been named No.1 international luxury wedding planner by Vogue. She’s also an award winning businesswoman, author, speaker, UK Weddings Taskforce spokesperson and VOW to end child marriage ambassador.

We spoke to her about women in wedding business, how she started her career in the industry, and the impact Covid has had on weddings.

What’s your ‘why’, what is the reason you started your business?

I fell into wedding planning by accident. I had some transferable skills, wanted to be my own boss, and had planned a few events and being organised and creative it just worked. I found I enjoyed learning about running a business and got excited about growing one.

Your business survived the recession: does trying to navigate a business through a pandemic have any similarities?

No! Aside from the obvious – that couples were still allowed to marry – there are many aspects that are just not the same. A frustration is that there was nothing wrong with our business models. We are simply being prohibited from trading in a commercially viable form…

As a sector we’ve been sidelined and our issue is not a loss of business – most of our business is not lost at all, it is deferred. But even the most robust business is challenged after nearly a year of no income…

It is beyond frustrating that after all this time we still have to explain to decision-makers that there is no economic reason to fail to bridge the wedding industry to the other side where this viable sector can pick up where it left off and contribute to the recovery…

It surely cannot be that the wedding industry is largely being ignored because it is female driven with many small and micro-businesses run from home. I really hope not (and do not want to believe it to be the case).

With venues and businesses unable to trade and with some receiving no funding, how do they retain their skilled workers and reputation they’ve built up over years?

Retaining skills is a huge challenge for wedding businesses and the entire industry going forward. And every week that we fail to get clarity and parity with other sectors that challenge and that risk is increasing…

From the first lockdown I worked on the premise that we wouldn’t know how long the pandemic would last and my event team had to be protected. A key objective remains extending the financial runway as far as possible to ensure we retain key staff -without them we can’t bounce back…

Many of us in the wedding sector cannot furlough our staff. They are still working: postponing and re-postponing weddings, reassuring couples, and taking enquiries that will not convert because there is no certainty and no guidance as to when weddings will start up again…

Businesses have had to make tough decisions: furlough – although a lifeline for a business like mine – is not “free money” it still costs the employer. Premises still cost money and weddings are not recognised as hospitality and have no access to some grants we badly need…

Many of our sector (possibly more than 50%) are the forgotten Ltd and sole traders who’ve received little or no support. We need them to survive to service pent-up demand for weddings that exists on the other side of the pandemic – they’ve always been our silent army of workers

What are we and couples to do if there are limited photographers, filmmakers, cake makers, gowns, venues, caterers, stationery providers, DJs and bands, florists, bridal boutiques, stationers and caterers etc.?

I reevaluate constantly to ensure the access to cash we have extends as far as possible. I run a service, with little infrastructure to maintain yet we are suffering. There are businesses with infrastructure – venues, retailers, caterers, floral studios and production houses…

Bridal retailers unable to open (after investment to open up safely) with premises filled with stock. What are we going to do if there is no hire-ware available, no sound and lighting, because companies have had little or no support whilst their kit sits un-rented in warehouses?

I am very nervous about the loss of expertise within the wedding sector. We’re a world-leading industry and many of us have invested in promoting it. I’m angry this is not considered important. It will take years to rebuild the expertise if lost and the business will go overseas

We’ve spoke to a few women who feel like they’re not only losing their income but it feels like they’re losing their identity, can you relate?

Yes I can! I want to get back to work and be the person I was before. I barely recognise myself now and have aged a decade.  I have of course been trying to lobby for our sector, but I miss our work, my team and all the amazing people we work for and with. Truth be told I am bereft…

I miss seeing a wedding come together, the camaraderie of the teams we assemble. Some of the moments I miss most are those behind the scenes. It’s magical to play a part in the creation of a dream and it’s inspirational to work and spend time with so many talented people…

I have faith that one day weddings will resume and what we all do will be at the heart of the recovery and celebration (and it cannot come soon enough)

What social media platform or form of marketing do you think is the most successful for you and generates the most enquiries?

Much of our business is still word-of-mouth. But clients increasingly find us on Instagram. Or they go to Instagram when they hear of us and that entices them to explore our website (which I still consider our shopfront). Twitter I’d not used for years -until reacquainting recently!

Many people are being faced with the prospect of having to sadly look for alternative ways to make income, how can people use their talents and creativity to diversify?

If forced to look for alternative work now to make ends meet I would advise people in the wedding sector try to not lose their skills. We will get to the other side of the pandemic so ensure you and your business are ready to resume as soon as we are allowed to…

Be ready to bounce back: prepare every aspect of your business to run smoothly and efficiently; re-evaluate your strategies, processes, skills and those of your team. Look at the very DNA of your service or business so you can set yourself apart from the pack when things pick up.

I’ve seen you are part of #OneIndustryOneVoice on behalf of the wedding sector. What would you suggest to those women out there who are struggling to keep motivated at the moment?

That is a tough one as motivation is something I have in spades! So I can only speak for myself: I could not just sit back and watch the #wedding sector sink without trace – and it has dominated my time and life for 10 months…

Very early on I reached out to the ladies who are now running what became #WhatAboutWeddings and I am proud of the work we did together and that they do now. That spurred me on to try and acquire government support for a taskforce (which we eventually secured for the sector)

The work of the many that formed associations, lobby groups and campaigns is why we were successful in getting the #WeddingsTaskforce. It has been an industry-wide collective effort. And the entire events industry has pulled together in an unprecedented way

I’ve also been involved with We Create Experiences from early-on as well as 1 Industry Voice. One of the best things to have come out of this time is the links and friendships formed with colleagues across the events sector

I hope momentum will build and on the other side of the pandemic we will be a stronger, more unified sector capable of properly representing, promoting and championing weddings – and so that we’re never again left out in the cold by decision makers failing to recognize our worth

Apart from grants for the sector, what other things has the UK Weddings Taskforce asked the government to help with?

In addition £680m available to all wedding businesses, the Weddings Taskforce asked for access to support grants already available to other sectors, an extension to measures wedding businesses have already been able to access, measures to protect deposits and an exit strategy.

Do you think a roadmap will be achieved?

The wedding industry is a sector that plans for a living and we can plan our way out of this. But that requires meaningful engagement with government. They’ve committed to talking but progress is slow. Given the lead-time of a wedding we need the plan now and to be giving couples answers

What do you say to those who think weddings are nothing more than parties?

The survival of the wedding sector is not just about the economic survival of wedding businesses, but also about the resumption of society’s traditional pillars of cohesion after a traumatic 2020…

The mental health of couples wishing to make a lifelong commitment, and their families, has been impacted throughout 2020 and the Government has an elected responsibility to address this impact…

Government must meet their responsibility to the economic and mental health well-being of wedding business owners, their employees, the associated regional support businesses and couples who want to demonstrate their commitment, and the traditional values that define our society

What is the one piece of advice you can offer to brides and grooms on their big day?

When you are planning a wedding all you’re really doing is creating a backdrop to the day. When the celebration arrives it is people who will define the success or otherwise of the day. So keep the guest experience at the very heart of every decision and plan you make.

Personally, what do weddings mean to you?

For me, a wedding is an affirmation of the very concept of family and a celebration of friendship. And when you find the right person, life takes on a whole new meaning. It’s everything – and therefore so is the occasion you gather those closest to you together to celebrate it.

And for those who may be required to host smaller celebrations over the coming months?

If we are required to celebrate slightly differently and in a smaller way, it requires thinking about who is really important to you to celebrate with. But scaling down your wedding does not diminish your commitment, the joy or in any way lessen the significance of the day.


Written by

Sarah Haywood

Sarah Haywood is one of the world’s leading party planners and event designers; sought by luminaries, public figures, and international royalty. Ranked No.1 International Wedding Planners by VOGUE USA for two years in a row, as well as Harpers Bazaar 2020 list of Top Wedding Planners in the World, Sarah Haywood and her team have produced events across the globe…

Learn more about Sarah Haywood