tl;dr: Things are rarely as black & white as they might appear.
Wedding vs Event
When talking about organising weddings, one often hears two words bandied about: wedding tax. When we were busy planning our own wedding, we had well-meaning people give us advice along these lines: "Call up x business and say that you are enquiring about an event. Call back a few days later regarding the same date but state that it is for a wedding this time. You can bet there will be a significant difference even if you mention that the same number of people will be involved. It's the wedding tax".
At the time we thought this was a great suggestion. We did not have time to implement the process ourselves but the concept sounded plausible, for sure. However, since starting our own business in the wedding industry, this additional cost concept has popped up again but from a different angle.
We own a photography business. Here are just some of our personal expenses: Camera bodies. Different lenses for different purposes (macro, portrait, landscape, to name a few). Travel. Continuing education. Legal paperwork. Software licences. Website host. Website build. Memory cards. Hard drives. Flashes. Batteries. Computer. Insurance. Registration. Marketing. Advertising. Accounting. Tax. Liability. And, of course, time.
Time for: Planning. Emailing. Culling. More emailing. Editing. Emailing (again). Oh, and sick days and limited holidays (necessary for health, contentment and the opportunity to work to the best of one's ability) also need to be factored in there somewhere.
All of these costs need to be accounted for. Moreover, the higher your costs, the more you need to charge the customer for your services. The more you charge the customer, the less competitive your pricing becomes. Adding an additional cost on top of the cost to run your business reduces your business' perceived value. We have a cost-of-doing-business spreadsheet and I can assure you that there is no column for "wedding tax".
So why can wedding services cost so much? The short answer is that different businesses work from different models depending on individual market drivers. We will explain.
We have an amazing business mentor in Las Vegas: Josh Line from Josh Line Photography (professional headshots). One of the first things Josh recommended that we do was to read "Oversubscribed" by Daniel Priestley. Daniel lists four main drivers of market imbalance: innovation (these businesses secure for themselves a niche position in the market), relationships (these businesses invest time in their clients and really get to know them), convenience (these businesses focus on producing the most frictionless solution to client needs), and price (these businesses create an imbalance in the market based on price). You will find these applicable to most, if not all, industries (wedding-related or not). The specific individual driver for each business you approach during the planning process will influence the price you are quoted - more than any arbitrary and ambiguous additional cost in the form of a wedding tax.
Furthermore, we recently read an article entitled The Wedding Tax Is Totally Real Except When It Isn’t. In it, the author (Rachel Sugar) interviewed a high-end planner who works in New York state. He explained the reality of his job like this: “If I ask a corporate client what kind of chair they want, I show them one or two options, and they say yes. If I talk to a bride and groom about what kind of chair they want, it’s a 25-email exchange. Your mom has a chair she liked sitting in at the last wedding she went to; your dad has an issue with pillows and seats; your groom wants long, rectangular tables; and you want round tables. I price so I can stay sane.”
Real Life Example
Lovely Anna, owner of Raw Cotton in Swan Valley, Western Australia, sums up how most of us feel in the bespoke small business industry: "When buying from a hand maker, you're buying more than just an object. You are buying hundreds of hours of failures and experimentation. You are buying days, weeks and months of frustration and moments of Pure Joy. You aren't just buying at thing. You are buying a piece of heart. Part of a soul. A moment of someone's life. Most importantly, you are buying the artist more time to do something they are passionate about. So thank you for supporting me". (Check out Anna's instagram @rawcottoncollection.)
Our advice is to find products and services you love and/or people you value and want to support. We all have a story so find one that resonates with you and your priorities and get behind that small business. Even if you are someone who would score much the same as your cat on an empathy quiz, we are sure that you can appreciate why Rolex charges the amount it does as compared to Quartz. If you're on the market for a Holden, you won't go to a Lambourghini dealership and ask them to match Holden's price.
Work out your wedding budget and set your upper limit. Be realistic. Source your three quotes and get to know each of the businesses at the same time, if possible: you might find you're not ultimately drawn to the lowest price. Perhaps you don't feel like a number with one and they allocate more than enough time to get to know you. Perhaps another one is a standout based on product or service alone. Perhaps another one is hard to beat for price. Or another one offers the most convenience at an already stressful time in life. Figure out where your priorities lie; perhaps you want a unique venue or designer dress or stunning cake? Whatever it is that adds to your story as a couple, find the product and/or service that meets your criteria and support the hardworking people making it all happen. We want to wish you a smooth, fuss-free (wedding tax-less) journey of wedding planning!