Dana Carlson runs one of the most interesting website/blogs on the internet. He spotlights new products, businesses, unique entrepreneurs, and it’s one of the few things that virtually crosses my desk and gets read end to end. And yesterday, I was lucky enough to have him spotlight me. (And this beautiful photo of my couple Tracy and Mike is from Daniel Hedden, a photographer based in NJ.
WEDDINGS WITHOUT THE TRADITION
by Angela Shupe for Dana Carlson’s Business Opportunities Weblog Network, May 6th
Who do you call when you want a wedding that is ‘outside the box’?
Celia Milton is the woman you’re looking for. She’s a wedding ceremony officiant and minister located in New Jersey. Simply put, she is the woman you call if you’re not religious, don’t belong to a church or simply would like to have someone preside over your civil union ceremony. Sometimes people just don’t want that white wedding inside a church. Even if they do, she can do that too!
Tell us a little about what you do.
I do “I Do!” s! Okay, I couldn’t resist….I write and perform wedding ceremonies and civil unions for couples who want their ceremony to be more than 20 minutes of yawn that comes before the champagne flows at their reception. I take their story and create a unique narrative that connects with their guests in inspiring and entertaining ways.
Many of my couples either don’t have or don’t feel the need for a spiritual home like a church or temple. Most describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious”, some as agnostic, some as atheist. Many of my couples are hoping to blend different cultures, religious backgrounds, and traditions; many of my gay couples have not felt welcomed by “mainline” religious institutions. All of them are looking to express their personality as individuals and a couple. I tell them that their ceremony should be as interesting and dynamic as they are; not an impersonal and abstract string of sentences with their names plugged in here and there. A wedding or civil union is more important than that; it’s a life changing move of epic proportions and should be treated with great care and sensitivity.
How long have you been a wedding ceremony officiant and minister?
I officiated at my first ceremony in the spring of 2005, although I’d been speaking in several churches in a ministerial role for about 10 years before that. It was actually a sweet vow renewal for a couple who had been married by a judge. The bride’s father was ill, and his wish was to see his daughter married by a minister. It was one of the few times I’ve been picked as a more ‘religious’ option! And I got to wear my robe, which I NEVER get to do…..
What got you started on this path?
I’d always had an interest in ministry, which is how I found myself at Union Seminary, in NYC at (oh, this hurts…) the ripe young age of 47. I loved Union, and being a grad student in NYC was both exhilarating and scary; good training for anyone thinking of going into any facet of the wedding industry. As I got further down the path towards what I thought was my goal, being called as a parish minister, I realized that there were certain parts of ministry that I loved (working with people: the research, writing and performing) and certain parts I didn’t (why is the stained glass leaking…did anyone re-order candles for the sanctuary?).
I was literally sitting in front of the computer, ready to register for another semester at Fordham‘s school of theology, where I was studying Spiritual Direction. I stumbled upon the website for the Celebrant Foundation and Institute, which trains people in ritual creation and performance. I think there was one day left to register for either. I took the proverbial “Road Less Traveled”, and that has indeed, made all the difference. Thank you, Robert Frost.
What did you do before this?
I owned an upscale catering company for more years than I care to admit, and we had a great run. It was never boring and often downright exciting. After about 19 years, I started to doubt my ongoing enthusiasm for unloading trucks at three AM and scraping clam dip out of the radio knobs. When I realized I was catering weddings for the same kids we’d made Christening parties for, I knew I had to explore other options….
In what ways has your past experience helped you in this business?
I learned to have a healthy respect for details and deadlines. I realize that someone’s wedding is a milestone event that can’t be done over. It has to be perfect the first time. No, I take that back; it can’t be perfect, and if it was, it would be boring. It has to be what the couple hoped for and imagined, but beyond what they could ever hope or imagine.
Anyone who chooses to be part of the “wedding industry” (an unfortunate title for what is, overwhelmingly, a group of professionals who would do anything for their clients), needs to realize that the process of producing a wedding is one that is galvanized by giant investments of emotion, time and money. It is extremely stressful for the couple and their family, and the less drama we can create in the process of getting our ‘work’ done, the better.
What are some of the lessons your business has taught you?
Hmm….never give a 7 year old ring bearer the real rings? I’ll spare you the ugly story of a barefoot, beachfront wedding at Cape May, NJ. Suffice it to say it included a small child, a satin pillow and a metal detector. I think you can fill in the rest….
Seriously though, the biggest thing that I’ve learned is that there are only a few simple things that are truly important to creating a successful and enjoyable business.
The first is to remember that it should be both of those, successful and enjoyable, no matter what that business is about. If you’re not having fun, your potential clients will sense that and go elsewhere.
The second is that you need to be authentic to who you are; everything you do for your business, whether it’s business cards, your voice mail message, your website, your contract, even your checks; everything should be so consistent that they are instantly recognizable as reflections of your business personality, whatever your business personality is. If you’re an authority; be authoritative. If you’re an entertainer, be entertaining. If you just try to be like everyone else, you’re entering a crowded race with a lot of dogs who had a giant head start. If you’re entirely “you” in your approach to your product or service, you’ll have a smaller market, but your raving fans will be yours alone.
The third is that when your business ceases to be fun for you, it will wither and die. So strive to make every part of it either more fun or outsourced. I am the quintessential magpie; I steal from the best and this such a simple concept that it’s repeated over and over by numerous success gurus. If you hate doing something, no matter how much you try to improve your skills at doing it, you’ll be mediocre at best. Give it to someone else and concentrate on being the best you can be at what you love to do; you’ll be unstoppable. Someone out there loves sending invoices or doing laundry; pay them to do it and do what you love instead.
What are some goals you still hope to accomplish?
I feel almost embarrassed to say that I’ve gotten pretty close to achieving what I hoped; maybe my goals were modest! My goals were never to have X amount of dollars or a closet full of Prada, or to retire at 50. My goal is, and always has been, to do work that I love, that is fun and meaningful to me and the people I serve. I have been very, very lucky to have achieved that, although the actual mechanics will change. I hope to move into training other professionals in the wedding industry. Right now, working in my Sponge Bob sweatpants and officiating at cool, lighthearted weddings every week (not at the same time, silly…) is about the perfect life for me. I’m grateful every day.
What helps you maintain a balance between your life and your business?
I’m not sure that I’ve actually accomplished that. I find it hard to distinguish between the two; I’ll be reading in the hammock and come across the most perfect phrase to include in a wedding vow. Is that work or life? I’ll be out shopping the flea markets and find the funniest, cutest, weirdest toy to use as a ring bearer pillow for a client. Is that work or life? Who knows. I try to take time away from “work” to blow glass, to cook (now that I can do that recreationally, it’s actually fun again…), to spend time with my dog and my partner. But I always come back to the sheer enjoyment, the yelping, hand clapping, “AHA!!” thrill of finding or writing the perfect words for one of my couples, because really, my work isn’t selling widgets; it’s making memories. It’s a humbling and joyful path.