These days I enjoy a charmed life on an island in the tropics.
I live 2 minutes from a world-class beach. I perform wedding ceremonies in powdery white sand and make a pretty good living making dreams come true.
But it wasn’t always this way. I used to be a trial lawyer. Grinding it out. Day after day. Year after year.
I was miserable. And while I loved courtroom work, 80% of the time I was slogging through endless meetings, conference calls and drafting legal documents.
I still get sick to my stomach at the thought of doing legal research.
I don’t practice law anymore. I’m now a “full-time” wedding officiant.
I was lucky when I started my officiant business since I had no idea what I was doing initially. At the time, I had a full-time job and paycheck as a lawyer so I was able to stumble into the wedding industry without worry of failure.
But pretty quickly I grew my wedding minister business into a monster. And there is no reason you can’t do the same.
Let me show you how to get started.
And since everyone likes numbered lists, here are 7 steps to starting a wedding officiant business:
- Get Ordained
- Learn Local Laws for Ministers
- Learn Local Laws for Conducting Business
- Time to Promote
- Be Amazing
Get Ordained (if you’re not already)
It goes without saying you have to be an ordained minister to perform weddings in just about every state in America. The best place to get ordained is with Wanderlust Bay. It’s true.
Actually many online organizations exist that ordain ministers. You’ll see some for free and other charge. The reality is that there is no such thing as a free ordination.
If you want to perform weddings you have to have ordination papers. And every online ministry charges for ordination papers…even the “free” ones.
So pick any organization you like and within a week or so you should have the legal ordination papers needed to perform weddings.
(Fun fact: In Colorado you don’t need to be ordained…in fact, a couple can perform their own wedding. Seriously. Colorado Wedding Laws.)
Learn Local Marriage Laws (takes 5 minutes)
Sounds intimidating. But basically all you need to know are the requirements to solemnize weddings (I know, “solemnize” sounds like a bad word but it’s entirely legal). 🙂
Things you’ll want/need to know about local wedding laws:
-What are the requirements for 2 people to get married (blood tests, age, family relation, birth certificates, etc.)
-What is required to have a legal marriage ceremony (witnesses, licensed minister, chicken sacrifices, etc.)
-Filing requirements for the marriage license after the ceremony (most counties/states require the license be filed within xx number of days after the wedding ceremony or the marriage license was issued).
-What the marriage license form looks like and the proper way to fill it out.
A quick Google search for “getting married in Arapahoe County” and you’ll find: http://www.co.arapahoe.co.us/318/Marriage-License which gives you every thing you would need to know to assist a couple getting married.
So try a google search for the wedding laws in your county or community.
Or you can call your local county clerk where marriage licenses are issued.
Learn State Laws for Conducting a Wedding Business
Every state has a business licensing office. Most states allow you to register a business online in 20 minutes or less. Some states have special licensing for ministers.
(For example, in Ohio a minister needs to register with the Secretary of State. Sounds worse than it is.)
Google something like: Ohio wedding minister laws
Or you might just need to Google more broadly something like: Conducting business in Florida
Some states’ requirements are more onerous than others. But some states will have you incorporated and operating in under an hour.
There’s also the question of setting up the business entity. Sole proprietor, LLC, C-corp, etc. I will offer no advice on the matter other than to say I operate as a sole proprietor and life is good. Here’s an article if you care – Choice of Entity. But I wouldn’t spend much time on this yet.
Ok, enough of the boring preliminary stuff.
Let’s make some money as an ordained minister.
Getting Wedding Business Clients
Forget business cards.
Forget everything else at this point. In my estimation, the absolutely best, easiest and most effective way to make money at this stage is promoting your business to your own network.
Family, friends, colleagues…people you already know.
Call or email everyone you know. Ask them if they or anyone they know are getting married.
I abhor most social media. I do almost no social media promotion. But at this stage, use your social media account to announce your business.
Again, no need to have a fan page or website. Just an announcement where you tag everyone.
“Hey everybody! Guess what? I’m ordained and ready to do weddings. If you know of anyone getting married or engaged, would you please tag them or let them know I’m in the business?”
At this stage, if feasible, consider doing weddings for a nominal cost. Look for experience and possible referrals down the road.
You might say:
“I’m happy to perform weddings for nothing more than a pass through the buffet line and a couple visits to the open bar.”
The fact is, if you are new to the wedding game, you probably can’t compete in the market against established officiants. So use your own network of people to get you started.
Create an Officiant Website
This is usually a sticking point for many people. If you are feeling anxiety or uncertainty keep reading, it’s easy.
When I started my officiant career I bought a domain name through Godaddy and created a crappy website with WordPress. I had zero technical skills. Today I have level 2 technical skills on a scale of 10 (with 10 meaning people that are technical for a living – so what I’m trying to say is that I’m not very good).
I watched a few youtube videos (here’s one I found just now – Make a WordPress Website) and learned in a couple hours the absolute basics of building a simple WordPress site.
Boy how times have changed.
Now you can buy a gorgeous website template and be up-and-running in minutes. You’ve probably heard about a few of the companies out there offering one-stop web design shopping:
Starting a website will be your first financial investment (other than your ordination and business license) into your business. You’re looking at about $20/month.
Use your website to promote yourself online. Tell your story. Get people excited to work with you.
You can hire designers and copywriters but not necessary. Steal ideas from other officiants. Here, steal ideas from my website: https://stthomasweddingofficiant.com.
*A word on website thievery – if you’re going to steal, make it your own. You cannot outright plagiarize. Get ideas from others and add your style and personality.
The fact is, people want to hire someone that is professional but also personable. Let your freak colors fly.
Your personal network might not net you many weddings. So it’s time to expand into new markets. This is by no means exhaustive, but here are a few avenues to consider:
- Google Adwords
- Local paper
- Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, etc.
- Yellow pages…just kidding!
- Wedding review and listing sites (here’s my WeddingWire profile, The Knot)
- Print media (church bulletin, school bulletin, social organizations, etc.)
- Wedding venue sites (advertise with wedding venues)
Advertising is effective as part of a larger marketing and brand strategy for your officiant business which includes your website, reviews and photos.
Quick note on photos – when you first start you’ll want to find ways to get photos of yourself as an ordained minister.
When I started, I asked a friend who dabbled in photography to take some of me in a suit on the steps of a church.
At your first few weddings you’ll want to ask the wedding photographer to share a few images (if the images aren’t watermarked, make sure to give the photographer attribution). Or, if there isn’t a photographer at a wedding, bring your own to shoot photos of you.
Worst case? Use your cell phone to take selfies of you with the couple. At least it should show some candid, fun images of you with the happy newlyweds.
Advertising is art and science. You have to find what works for you. But try to spend as little $$$ as possible when testing which avenues work.
Be Amazing – The #1 Thing to Making Money
The absolutely most important step in all of this is to be amazing. Like anything in life, be better than everyone else and you’ll have more business than you know what to do with.
I learned this as a trial attorney, as a bartender and now as an officiant. Be the best. It’s the surest way to crush it.
A few absolute musts for being the best in the wedding industry:
- Show up early to every event.
- Look insanely professional
- Be insanely professional – carry yourself with poise, grace and confidence
- Know the wedding script
- Know the anatomy of the wedding ceremony (processional through recessional)
- Be amazing with communication – answer calls, texts, emails quickly
The last one, communication, is incredibly undervalued in the world. Make it your mission to always be accessible to other vendors. If you get referrals from a wedding planner, make sure that you respond to them instantly if they have a ceremony question or if they want to know your availability.
You want them to come to rely on you for help. In return, they will send you most, if not all, of their clients.
(*Cautionary note – this doesn’t apply to your bridal couples. Here’s what I mean: If you respond to a phone call or email on a Saturday evening from your couple, they will then believe and come to expect that you are available at all hours of the day – every day. And then, if you don’t respond to their email on a Sunday morning they will get frustrated and start to question your dedication and accessibility. So it is a good thing to establish boundaries with your clients and reasonable expectations as to how quickly they can expect a response.)
Number #4 and #5 should also be of the highest priority. As the wedding officiant, you are the master of ceremonies. Everyone will count on you for ensuring the entire ceremony goes flawlessly. By knowing your ceremony and how to run a ceremony, you solidify your position as a badass in the wedding world.
If you blow people’s minds at every wedding you do, people will remember. They will refer others to you.
Obvious point: If you don’t have any weddings how can you be amazing? This takes us back to Section 4. Be ruthless with your network of people. If anyone in your group is getting married, you must be the officiant. Demand it.
And once you get that first ceremony or two lined up – put every ounce of your energy into being the greatest wedding officiant ever.
From there, you can quit your job, live on an island and have more free time…
Let’s do this!