If you’re thinking about starting a wedding venue business, the most important first step is taking off those rose-colored glasses. Running a wedding venue company is more than a labor of love, and far more challenging than you may think. It takes grit, honesty, and resources — not unlike the institution of marriage itself.
Read on to learn the 11 essential first steps to take before opening a wedding venue, and get answers to top questions about the process.
Step 1: Ask Yourself the Hard Questions
Don’t rush into starting a wedding venue business. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, 20% of small businesses fail within the first year, and only about 50% of them stay in business past five years.
You need to be prepared for the bumps and roadblocks that come with running a small business and realistic about your capacity to manage these challenges. Here’s what to ask yourself before you start hashing out your business plan:
- Can you afford the financial risk? Because of the data shared above, it’s essential you’re prepared for the possibility that the business goes under and you lose your investment.
- Are you prepared for a busy schedule that includes weekend work? Typically, weddings take place in the evenings and on the weekends. Hopefully, you will have backup to help you manage, but be prepared to be busy when most people are kicking back.
- Is the timing right? We all go through challenging life phases, and opening a wedding venue business (or any business) is a definite stressor. Try to minimize the other stressors in your life as much as possible before diving into the small-business life.
- Can you open the business and keep your day job? This approach will definitely require a business partner or partners who can share the responsibilities of running the venue. Have enough backup so you can manage the new venture without dropping the ball at your day job. It will provide a sense of security to start because you are launching your business with a safety net.
- After asking the above questions, are you still excited about the prospect of opening a wedding venue business? It takes a lot of passion and energy to run a venue; if imagining your business in full swing makes you happy, then you are probably ready.
Step 2: Research the Event Venue Market in Your Area
What is the demand for wedding venues in your region? Every business needs a market to be successful. You have to do your research and some legwork to make sure you are opening a wedding venue business that will draw customers. Here are the essentials to research and explore:
- Wedding venues in your geographic area. Look up wedding venues in your region. Are there scores of popular wedding venues already? You will have to have a specific offering that makes your venue special. Is your venue a lakefront property in a lake region? How many other lakefront wedding sites are there? Are those venues booked solid, so there’s overflow demand?
- Online reviews of competitor venues. There is a treasure trove of information about competitive venues in the reviews on sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Google. Read them carefully and go back in time. Look for consistent complaints and chronic problems, such as lackluster menus or inexperienced staff. Can you fill in the gaps where those venues fall short?
- Talk to people you know about competitor venues and visit them yourself. Message friends and family to see if anyone has firsthand experience of competitive venues. Also, many sites include restaurants and cafes for the public. Visit several times in the evenings and on weekends. You will get an idea of the overall operation, and you may even see the arrival of guests for an event.
- What is the population density of your region? What are the age demographics? Of course, people of all ages get married and throw parties. But most people across the U.S. get married in their late 20s or early 30s. Additionally, you’ll need a density of population that supports your venue (and any other popular venues in the area). Unless your venue has a spectacular setting or special features that will attract people from across the state and country, avoid areas with a sparse or aging population.
Step 3: Write Your Business Plan
Open business, book clients, make money. Repeat.
If only writing a business plan were that easy. No matter how straightforward your business is, you need to write a brief but detailed plan. This document will serve as a guideline for you and your team, as well as marketing for investors and partnerships you may be seeking.
The good news: You’re well on your way if you’ve done the market research above. The U.S. Small Business Administration has a helpful guide to writing business plans. Here’s how it would look for a wedding venue business:
- Summary: Think of this as the “About” section of a business website. Describe your business niche and what makes your business unique. Include your passion for running a wedding venue.
- Market: Share the market value you determined in your research.
- Your business organization: Are you the sole owner of the business? Do you have one partner or several? Are you a limited liability company (LLC)? How many permanent and temporary employees will you have? Will you have an onsite, fully staffed catering offering? Or will you provide a fully equipped kitchen that catering vendors can use?
- Your timeline: When will you build/renovate the venue? When do you plan to do a soft open? When will you be fully open for business?
- Marketing plan: How do you plan to get the word out about your business? Get specific. How? Check out Step 8 below for a detailed look at building your marketing strategy.
- Business projections: What are your financial and growth goals? Do you plan to open other venue sites?
Step 4: Figure Out Your Finances
Opening a wedding venue is an investment, but the size of that investment depends on many factors.
Are you building a facility from the ground up or renovating an existing building? Is the venue located in a rural area with low taxes and low real estate prices or in a city with high taxes and high real estate prices? Does the venue feature extensive grounds that require tending? Are you buying an existing wedding venue? Or are you leasing the property?
Clarify how much (if any) of your own money you are willing to use for a down payment. Will you have business partners contributing to the funding? What type of financing are you looking to use? Possibilities include:
- Traditional bank business loan.
- U.S. Small Business Administration loan.
- Business line of credit.
- Equipment financing.
- Short-term business loan.
Clearly, you want to avoid endangering personal assets or emptying your retirement savings account. Talk with trusted family, friends, and financial advisers about realistic personal investments and safe business loans.
Step 5: Choose Your Wedding Venue Location
Perhaps you have a barn on a rural property you already own and want to convert it into a wedding venue — a highly popular setting for weddings! Or you may be interested in opening a venue but haven’t selected the location yet. Perhaps you have your eye on an existing venue that’s for sale.
Before you start building your business, you have to find a location. Start exploring properties or land based on your business capital. If your funding is low, consider leasing a property before buying — you can invest the profits in the permanent facility. If you have abundant funding, you may be able to build a brand-new facility.
Now is when you’ll decide how much to provide onsite. Perhaps you want to have a caterer use your kitchen facility, rather than manage event catering yourself. You could scale back even further and offer space for food trucks near a large wood pavilion with a gorgeous view. Will couples need to rent their tables and chairs from a supplier, or will you provide them? If you offer tables onsite, know you’ll need storage space for them in case the couple prefers a different style of table and decides to rent.
Step 6: Create and Register a Catchy Wedding Venue Business Name
Create a unique, appealing, and memorable name for your new business. The name should evoke the style of weddings and clients you hope to attract to your venue. A stately and sophisticated venue calls for a refined name that makes people think of elegant galas and white-glove service (think Rushing River Estates, Sterling Lakeside Manor, Sleepy Hollow Banquets). A rustic and laid-back venue should call to mind joyful times minus any stuffed shirts (e.g. Bear Den Inn, Ivy Lane Lodge, Aspen Farms).
Step 7: Refine What Makes Your Wedding Venue Special
Why will couples clamor to book your venue? What will have them set the date and reach out to you immediately? This is your unique value proposition. Some possibilities include:
- A one-of-a-kind view.
- A pastoral landscape and grounds.
- Outstanding menu options.
- Sophisticated décor and stunning details.
- A historic property.
- Rustic charm.
Other selling points are pretty surroundings at an affordable price, proximity to an airport (for out-of-town visitors), and all-inclusive capacity, such as tables, chairs, table settings, décor, tents, catering, and flowers, so couples won’t have to worry about hiring multiple vendors. Whatever the unique value of your venue, make sure you continue to refine and improve upon it after your business opens.
Step 8: Launch Your Venue Marketing Strategy
Your marketing strategy is how you get the word out about your venue’s exceptional setting, décor, and food. It makes you easy to find and builds word of mouth. Here’s what your venue marketing strategy should include:
- Hire a photographer. You need beautiful pictures of the space to share across multiple channels. Before opening, set up your venue for a wedding and get glamour shots from every vantage point.
- Put your property on wedding venue sourcing sites. Couples visit sourcing sites such as Wedding Spot and the Cvent Supplier Network. You’ll add details such as your location, the venue style, and guest capacity. You’ll also include your unique service offerings, such as catering, included amenities, wedding ceremony space, parking capacity, and a link to your website.
- Design your website. With services such as Wix and Squarespace, it’s easier than ever for any business to build a website. Use those beautiful photographs and include all the details that make your venue special. Write appealing copy that includes keywords that people will likely search to find wedding venues in your area. In other words, if you are opening a rustic barn wedding venue, make sure your website includes those exact words. If you find the process challenging, reach out for help from tech-savvy friends and family, or hire a freelance website designer to help you build the site. As you get reviews from happy couples and permission to share their wedding pictures, you’ll be able to add galleries and quotes.
- Create your social media accounts and handles. Usually, your handle will be the name of your venue, but watch for the formation of unwanted words when you squish the name together! For wedding venues, the most important sites are Instagram and Facebook. Establish social accounts before opening so you can build interest and attract bookings.
- Advertise in local magazines. Though most information is online today, couples will flip through magazines that advertise local businesses while they wait at the doctor’s office or while trying on wedding dresses. Make sure your beautiful venue is among the listings in wedding-specific publications, as well as planner- and luxury-focused magazines such as Cvent Meetings.
- Watch for online reviews after you open. Keep an eye on review sites such as Yelp and Google Reviews. Respond to both positive and negative reviews promptly. With positive reviews, try an authentic “Thank you! We’re so glad we helped make your wedding a special experience!” For negative reviews, apologize sincerely and ask that they reach out to you offline to understand their complaint better. Listen with an open mind; often, being heard is what people want the most.
For more ideas on attracting planners and couples, check out The Venue’s Guide to Booking Wedding Event Business.
Step 9: Zoning Laws, Licenses, and Insurance, Oh My!
This isn’t exactly what pops to mind when people dream of opening a business, but getting insurance coverage and all the necessary permits and licenses helps make your dream a reality.
Every local municipality and state has different requirements regarding business operations licenses, and they vary based on your business type. Head to your town’s municipal offices and share your plans for your business — they should be able to give you a clear rundown of the codes and permit requirements. These may include:
- Building permits.
- Business license.
- Certificate of occupancy.
- Liquor license.
- Food handler’s permits.
For those opening a barn wedding venue, local zoning laws can be a bit dicey. Many barn sites are typically zoned for agriculture, rather than business, and often require individual variances. With your permits and licenses in order, you won’t get unwelcome attention from officials or risk a shutdown on the day of a scheduled wedding.
As for insurance, don’t begin construction, train your staff, or open your doors for business without coverage. You may need:
- Commercial property insurance.
- General liability insurance.
- Workers’ compensation insurance.
You must also make sure couples and vendors have their own event liability insurance in case they cause property damage. Always request proof of this coverage.
Step 10: Select an Event Management System
You and your team need to stay organized and on the same page to run a wedding venue successfully. Event management software is an invaluable tool for venue teams. You can detail the size and scope of incoming events, store contact information for your top vendor partners, manage guest seating, and track special requests.
The best event planning tools allow you to collaborate with wedding planners on table layouts. You’ll be able to share optimal banquet floor plans, seating charts, and special dietary requests, as well as monitor any changes the planners make. If they add a configuration that doesn’t work for the space, you can let them know immediately.
The system will then be the guide for the wedding reception, ensuring a streamlined guest arrival, seating, and meal service.
Step 11: Hire and Train a Friendly and Detail-Focused Staff
You can’t run a wedding venue by yourself. You’re going to need to hire an outstanding staff to help you make these special days extra special. The size of your team will vary, depending on the scope of your venue. A barn venue that depends on food trucks for catering, for example, will not have nearly the same staffing requirements as an all-inclusive wedding venue. Here are job roles you may need to fill:
- Venue coordinator. This is the person who coordinates with wedding planners, couples, and vendors in the runup to the big day. In the early days of your business, this will likely be you. If you expand your venue business to include more properties, however, others will have to take on this role.
- Maitre d’ or event captain. This is the front-of-house person on the wedding day. They will interact with the couple and their guests and coordinate with the back of the house to keep the event running smoothly and the newlyweds happy.
- Kitchen staff. This includes the head chef, who designs the menu; the line chefs, or cooks who help the head chef prepare the food; and food-prep cooks who clean, chop, and prepare the food for cooking.
- Servers. These key employees serve guests their food, either at the buffet table or during table service. They also deliver drinks, cocktails, coffee, tea, and water to guests.
- Bartender. This staff member makes drinks for guests at the bar and for the servers to deliver.
- Coat check attendant. If you offer this service, you’ll need someone who takes coats and gives coat-check tickets to guests at the beginning of the event, and then returns coats at the end of the night.
These workers may or may not be employees of your business, depending on how busy you are. If you plan to use temporary workers, research reputable agencies in your area, because these employees play an essential role in the success of a wedding and your business.
The next step on the list? Booking dates for your venue and hosting your first wedding! When you follow the above steps, you should be ready for the big day and avoid unwelcome surprises.
Now You’re Ready to Begin Your Wedding Venue Business!
Learn how Wedding Spot can help you attract couples who are planning their own weddings. Then, check out Social Tables’ Event Services Solution to streamline your wedding venue business. Or get up to speed on exactly what event planners look for in a venue — so you can meet and exceed their expectations.