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Side Gig Thursdays: Celia Milton, Life Cycle Celebrant

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In our second edition of Side Gig Thursdays, I want to introduce you to Celia Milton, Life Cycle Celebrant. When I sent out the email to ask for side gigs, Celia immediately stood out as someone who was doing something she absolutely loved and was now able to do it full time. A celebrant is simply someone who officiates at ceremonies (also called officiants), such as weddings, and chances are you’ve been to an event where there was someone like her leading the ceremonies.

Celia’s story is great, she once had a catering company and this side gig grew out of that (she’ll go into in more detail).

What is your day job?
Now, my day job is the same as my side gig, but when I started, I owned an upscale, off premise catering company outside of NYC.

What is your side gig?
I’m a Life Cycle Celebrant; I’m an officiant who performs weddings, baby welcomings and memorial services.

How much does it make each month?
I perform about 120 ceremonies a year, and I make more now than I ever did in catering (except I have lost my unlimited supply of fresh mozzarella…).

How were you able to get it off the ground? 120 ceremonies a year is fantastic, given most ceremonies are on weekends, how long did it take to get where you are?
Well, common wisdom that I’ve heard is that it takes about three years to get a biz up to speed; your social media presence takes hold, happy clients refer you to their friends and write reviews, you network and establish yourself as an authority.

I did a LOT of marketing; had a designer build a great (and at the time, expensive) website, worked on Facebook, Twitter, and now Pinterest, contributed regularly on industry forums and boards and participated on other pros’ blogs.

I would tell anyone who wants to build a business that they should be prepared to spend as much time marketing as they do ‘working’, possibly even more. That work is never done. In some ways, this particular market is challenging because there really isn’t ‘repeat’ business like there is for other endeavors. A couple probably has a friend or relative that is getting married, but ideally, they only do it once themselves (though I do get to welcome a lot of babies!)

How did you start doing your side business?
I thought I wanted to be a parish minister, and went to Union Theological Seminary, in NYC, with that goal in mind. When I discovered Celebrant Foundation USA, where I trained to be a wedding officiant, I knew I had found my calling. I have the best job on the planet; I write love stories!

How do you get clients/customers?
I have a compelling, well optimized website, that doesn’t make me sound like everyone else; niche marketing rules. I advertise on several well chosen and proven wedding gateway sites. Work of mouth from happy clients, other wedding pros and venues is very important as well: people trust their friends and the pros that they have confidence in.

What have you tried that has worked and what hasn’t?
This is a funny business, and not every advertising medium works for every pro in every area. I have colleagues who do very well with print; I do not. I’ve probably tried every wedding gateway site that exists; only one works for me, so I spend significant time improving my presence there with client reviews and participation in their pro forums.

Cold calls from lead sheets don’t work for me; others swear by that. I think when you’re starting out, you try everything and then track the returns very carefully. The key is having your message in front of your potential clients when they are ready to buy. For me, that’s a different time than it is for a wedding gown shop or a venue, who are usually earlier decisions. It also helps to know where you are in the buying cycle so you know logically who can refer you (realtors can refer landscapers; landscapers can refer lawn ornament stores…)

Did you have a plan to try to turn it into your full time gig?
I would love to say that I did, but when my catering business was dissolved (my ex husband, who was my partner, passed away several years ago) I was faced with the reality that I didn’t have a lot of salable skills. I was 51, I’d been an entrepreneur forever, (which made me a terrible employee) and all I could do was cook, write and talk. I was very over cooking (I think I’ve made dinner about four times in the last five years; cooking for two is way less exciting than cooking for 200!).

Fortunately, writing and talking well turned out to be the perfect qualification for my officiant practice.

What resources did you rely on in starting the business?
I read everything I could about my craft, took advantage of every free resource (webinars, SCORE, the SBA, industry groups), joined every wedding business related facebook page I could find and worked every day as if I was working for someone else. I read all the classics; Raving Fans, The E-Myth, Free Prize Inside, Purple Cow and every wedding book ever printed. I reached out to other people in my industry and really networked (that means actually interacting with them on a regular basis; not handing a card to someone at a mixer and considering that you’ve networked…)

Any funny or otherwise entertaining stories officianting? (is that even a word?)
There is a new funny story every week; fainting grooms, ring bearing dogs, forgotten dresses and licenses (that’s actually not that funny), ring bearers who have a meltdown on the aisle. I’d never say I’ve seen it all because something new happens all the time.

Anything surprising about being an officiant that you didn’t think of before starting?
I am consistently surprised as how much my couples, who are in my life for a relatively short period of time, touch my heart. And I’m surprised that so many guests think I’m the Maître d’… it’s the black suit and the big black notebook I guess…

Do you have any advice for people looking to start something on the side?
Just do it!

Don’t over think it, don’t look down, but don’t quit your day job just yet. See what it’s like to do that side thing; see if you still love baking cookies after you’ve made 100 dozen in four days, if you still love walking poodles after your charges have chased every squirrel in the park, if you if you still love your clients when they’ve bounced a check. The beauty of a side gig is that you can try it on, tweak it and see how it fits.

If it feels good, makes money and makes you happy to get up….well, maybe it’s time to make that scary leap to full time. But even if you never make that jump, you might have fun! And if you never do it, you’ll always wonder what might have happened if you did.

Thanks Celia! If you want to reach out to her, give her a call at 201-563-5544 or via her website.

I hope you enjoyed the interview – if you know someone who would make for a good profile/interview for Side Gig Thursdays, please let me know!

{ 4 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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4 Responses to “Side Gig Thursdays: Celia Milton, Life Cycle Celebrant”

  1. celia says:

    Thank you so, so much! I love your blog, and it’s an honor to be a part of it!

  2. Celia is truly one of the most accomplished, dedicated, true-to-herself and client loving Celebrants in the United States. She adores her work and her super-sized commitment to her craft shines through! And she’s very fun, too! Thank you for this beautiful interview and sharing – I’m passing it on!

  3. Shirley says:

    This was a super column! Celia’s enjoyment and enthusiasm for her job shine through in a big way. She would be a great role model for so many.

  4. Jim M says:

    Love this series. Celia’s story is compelling. She really re-made herself.

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