As recession-proof start-ups go, a wedding venue business is a good bet. Just more than 2 million marriages take place every year in the U.S., according to federal government data. That's an average of 6.8 marriages for every 1,000 U.S. citizens, and many of the ceremonies and receptions will take place in a rented wedding venue. Starting your own wedding venue business is a way to help each couple you host have the experience they dream of while you reap your share of the multi-million dollar wedding industry.
1. Decide on Products and Services
Decide what products and services your venue will offer, such as wedding planning services, catering, photography and flowers. Study what your competition offers, and the prices they charge. Research what the buying public wants by attending wedding conventions and talking to couples who are actively looking to book their venues.
2. Research Zoning Laws
Research zoning laws for your target area. If you already own a facility, such as a farm or bed and breakfast you wish to convert to a wedding venue, verify that a wedding planning business is permissible at the location and that the number of wedding party guests won't be limited by zoning laws. Also, research applicable licenses or permits needed to operate in your area. Some states, such as California and Washington, require a banquet permit for wedding receptions hosted in a commercial venue where alcohol will be served. Some counties, such as St. Johns County, Florida, require a use permit for individual buildings that are used for special events.
3. Choose a Property
Choose a property, if you don't already own one, that is legally zoned for a wedding venue business and that is close to the consultants and contractors whose services you want to include in your list of available features. Look for properties that offer something unique that will make couples choose your venue over their church fellowship halls or their parents' back yard. The Williamsburg Inn and Williamsburg Lodge, for example, are located in the heart of colonial Williamsburg, Virginia and provide an historic, colonial backdrop for the weddings held there. Another example of a unique venue is the Louisville Belle, a riverboat located in Louisville, Kentucky that hosts weddings with an Old South theme.
4. Develop a Marketing Strategy
Develop an online marketing strategy that includes advertising your wedding venue business via social media and other web-based media, establishing a website and starting a blog that can be shared around the social media universe. Ensure your site and blog are formatted for PC, tablet and especially mobile viewing. You may also be able to promote your venue on local bridal website chat rooms, post reviews of your venue on local online business directories, and partner with other wedding vendors such as jewelry stores and bridal shops. Ask these vendors to distribute coupons for a free lunch or brunch at your venue or invitations to wine tastings or wedding workshops hosted at your location.
5. Prepare a Business Plan and Consider Financing
Once you have decided on your product offering and location, an immediate factor is to consider the cost of purchasing or developing the venue versus the income you can expect for the business. Bank loans and other borrowing may be necessary, so you'll need a good business plan to support your loan application. A good real estate agent and construction manager may be vital here, as they can plan and advise on costs right from the start. Weddings are typically good for cash-flow since you'll be making bookings, and receiving a percentage of the fee, up to six or nine months in advance. Pull this information together in a solid financial projection to help with your finances.
6. Market Your Venue
Market your wedding venue in a targeted way that saves money but also raises your profile. For example, you can market the venue to other wedding vendors such as caterers and photographers that can refer clients your way. Join local business organizations and send hand-written notes to those you meet who also can refer business. Buy or exchange ads on wedding vendor sites that appear on the first page of a Google search for your geographic area. Also, buy Facebook ads that refer traffic to your website. Start marketing your business and booking weddings before you officially open your venue to decrease the gap between opening and turning a profit.