Officiating is a fun and rewarding occupation. You get to be with two people on the happiest day of their lives! Most of us don’t even like to call it a ‘job” because it is so much fun. This comprehensive guide is for those of you who may be thinking about becoming a wedding officiant, or for those who have already become one but aren’t sure what to do next.
Whether you are considering officiating as a side hustle, as your full-time occupation, or you just want to know how to be an officiant for a loved one’s wedding ceremony, we’re here to answer nearly all of the questions you may have.
The definition of an officiant is “a person who officiates at a religious service or ceremony”, therefore a wedding officiant is a person who officiates at a wedding ceremony. To break it down further, an officiant is the person who presides over the ceremony and pronounces a couple legally married.
We can only touch on this subject lightly, as the process is so varied. There are many online ordination programs out there, as well as seminaries. Each state, and even some counties, or cities have its own rules as to which ordinations are recognized in that locality. Find out from your local government which types of ordinations are legal. For instance, some do not recognize online ordination. We recommend contacting your county’s Clerk of Court office, to begin with, and they can probably guide you from there.
Becoming an officiant is hopefully not a decision you’ve made lightly. Many people started off their officiant careers after performing a wedding for a loved one and fell in love with it. It is a very rewarding career path, but it is not as easy as many people think it is. There are legalities and stresses that come with it. We want you to have all of the information needed to help you decide which direction you want to go in. While there are challenges, it can be a very lucrative business. It is also up to you how many weddings you want to officiate each week. It’s all up to you!
There are many variables that go into setting up a legal business of any kind, and each state, county, and city may have legal requirements that differ from other locations. Consult your tax advisor or attorney to assist with setting up your business and obtaining the proper licenses for your location. It is imperative that you know the laws in your state and county. Get this information directly from the courthouse. Many local governments have official government websites where you can also get information about creating a legal business in your area.
There are many courses and classes that you can take to learn how to be an officiant. We suggest waiting to see if you can get started with help from the Wedding Officiants of America Facebook group and this guide before spending money on classes and coaches. There are no associations or memberships that you need to join at this time. Save money and spend your time gathering information and learning the basics for free for now.
The Officiant Directory is dedicated to the education and support of officiants. We work to maintain the integrity of our profession so that our services are valued. The Officiant Directory is quickly becoming the best resource for couples looking for a professional and ordained officiant to perform their wedding.
Likewise, if you would like to participate in a lively discussion regarding officiating join us in the Facebook group Wedding Officiants Of America. We are all-inclusive and can offer support and tips on performing all types of ceremonies, including LGBT weddings, Interfaith, handfastings, vow renewals, and commitment ceremonies. Couples are constantly coming up with new fun ideas for ceremonies, and we must be ready! With over 1,200 members and growing, there is always someone to help. It is also a great group to vent about that problem couple, share wins, and celebrate our businesses.
A common mistake officiants make when starting out is that they think that it will be easy for couples to find them. You will need to invest a significant amount of time in marketing, creating a stellar website, networking, and education. And of course, there will be some initial startup costs. You must also have patience. It takes time to become established. You will be constantly learning new ways to advertise and become a highly desired officiant.
You absolutely need a website. There are many ways to make this happen, and many price points are available, from free to very expensive. If you choose to go with free options, keep in mind that this comes with limitations, and there is a good chance that you will eventually need to upgrade to a more professional – paid – version. Either way, just because you create a website does not mean you will rank well with Google and other search engines. We only wish this were true. A website that does not rank well is a waste of resources.
Many have found that money spent on an amazing website, created by someone who understands SEO and keywords is worth their weight in gold. There are many DIY website creators like GoDaddy and Wix, but nothing can substitute for a skilled web designer to create a website that is designed for couples to find you, not designed to bring in monthly fees for hosting and website packages. If you do decide to do it yourself, educate yourself on keywords and SEO. We have officiants who are also web designers in our Facebook Group. Feel free to ask away.
Helpful hint: Use high-quality photos on your websites. In our industry, pictures are truly worth a thousand words, even if they are stock photos taken from free sites like Canva and Unsplash. Try to include lots of photos of people having fun at weddings, instead of generic photos that focus on empty chairs. Remember, if you were a couple looking for an officiant, wouldn’t you like to see photos of people having a fun and memorable time? And of course, do your best to get photos of you officiating, or posing with your couples. These “real wedding” photos that show you doing your job are the best photos you can possibly place on your website. Couples want to see you in action, so either bring an assistant with you to your weddings, so they can take photos, or ask the photographer to send some to you. Keep in mind though, that even when photographers agree to do this, they almost never do. So if possible, make your own arrangement to get a few photos with your own cellphone camera, so you have them available to you immediately after the ceremony.
Business cards are becoming less useful while your online presence is becoming more useful. Still, business cards are necessary for exchanging with other vendors at events, and you can leave a few with your couples after the wedding in case any guests want to contact you for their own upcoming weddings. Vistaprint is an inexpensive resource for purchasing business cards.
The very best and most cost-efficient form of advertising is word of mouth. Each time you perform a wedding, everyone there will remember you, so make sure that memory is the best! Network and connect with the guests if possible. This is also an opportunity to give away those business cards, of course.
Before you start advertising, do some soul searching. What is your personality type? Are you comfortable speaking in front of a crowd? Are you more of a spiritual or religious person? Do large weddings or small elopement-style weddings call to you? Are you interested in offering pre-marital counseling? These questions will help shape your officiant personality and attract the couples you desire. We are all unique and have our own gifts to offer. Always remember that! While we all have the same goal, to join people in matrimony, we are all different and there are couples out there looking for someone just like you!
Envision what you see yourself doing, and what your ideal couples look like to you.
Keep that picture in your mind. This vision will help you when you are marketing to your target audience.
There may be many other people doing what you do, but no one will do it like you, speak like you and offer the special gifts only you can offer as an officiant. Always be true to who you are!
The #1 question most new officiants ask when they join our Facebook group is “What are the best sites to advertise on?” This is not an easy question to answer. Believe it or not, the answer can vary depending on location. What works in one area may not work in another.
Ask yourself, who is your target market? Having a niche is a great thing, but you may not know what that is yet. Some officiants specialize in certain ceremonies, like handfastings. Some only want to do big white weddings. Many of us just like elopement style. There are enough couples to go around. Where do the couples that you want to attract go to find vendors? If you were a couple looking for an officiant, where would you go first? (Hint: it’s usually a Google search).
You may have heard of Thumbtack. Thumbtack is an example pay-for-lead site that charges you for leads when a couple searches for services. Others you may have heard of are Wedfolio or Fash. We strongly suggest trying to avoid these pay-for-lead sites. One lead can cost up to $20 and there is absolutely no guarantee that the couple will hire you. Remember that these sites use competition to make money, and encourage couples to reach out to as many vendors as possible. Each time a vendor responds the lead-generating website gets paid by the vendor. Paying for leads is a tricky thing. Many new officiants use these sites to try to get business until they are able to attract couples on other sites, but again this could be a costly adventure. There are free classified listings you can opt for like Craigslist, but what most find is that people who use these sites do not want to pay for a professional officiant.
Many officiants get quite a bit of business in Facebook groups. Again it depends on location. Many people use Facebook to search for vendors so it can be quite beneficial. Some garage sale groups, marketplaces, and wedding groups allow advertising. Facebook offers a few ways to pay to advertise. We suggest just creating a business page on Facebook for now. We have a thread in our Facebook group where you can post your link, and we can get you started with a lot of likes to get you started. You will also need to get others to like your page and have your couples post reviews. It is a great way to showcase your fun wedding photos and promotions.
You know where all the couples are these days – social media, of course. It’s difficult to be everywhere, but when possible, have a presence on the top social media platforms. Some of these include:
If this all seems overwhelming, there is an option to find a company that has a network of officiants that can use your services. They do all the marketing for you. This could be a great option for those who are getting started and are feeling overwhelmed with getting started. There may or may not be any of these companies in your area, but if so, check with them to see if you might be able to be a part of their coop.
All of this will pay off eventually. The good news is that once you get established, you will be so busy you will be turning couples away! You can do this!
One essential task that an officiant needs to know is how to write a ceremony script. While many of us have a knack for it, some of us are just not gifted storytellers. Luckily this is perfectly fine. When many officiants start out, they want to create a completely different and personalized ceremony script for each couple. This sounds wonderful but can be quite difficult. You probably won’t remember the wording and the words may not flow off of your tongue. What we suggest is creating a few ceremony templates, and filling in the blanks for each couple. This will allow you to look up to the audience and not stare at the script for the entire ceremony. Making eye contact with people in the audience and with the couple creates a good memory for them.
The Internet is chock full of ceremony samples. There are so many types of ceremonies that it is impossible to have one template that fits all. You will want to create a few and build from there. You will probably offer for your couple to see the ceremony to start off creating their personalized ceremony. You can send them a template to start the conversation and fill in special content just for them. In the files section of our Facebook group, there are many ceremony scripts for you to use. You want your ceremony to flow. These are the basic steps to a traditional wedding. Other elements such as unity ceremonies, readings, handfastings may be included. Check on the legalities in your county and state to see if there are requirements that some parts of the ceremony be said.
This is another popular question, but luckily, this is easy to figure out. Find out what others are charging in your area and price accordingly. A bit of advice: don’t undervalue your services. It is tempting for new officiants to want to charge less due to lack of experience. This can actually backfire and some couples may not see your value if you price too low. There are couples who feel that officiants should not charge at all, and do not value us as a vendor. Don’t forget to account for a rehearsal if you plan to attend. You may want to set a mileage perimeter and add travel fees for traveling out of your area.
One thing you will always want to do is to look professional so that you are always maintaining the integrity of the officiant profession. Remember, you will be front and center, so everyone will notice you. You will also be in the couple’s wedding photos. You will find your own officiating style and what you are comfortable in. Wear comfortable shoes and colors that won’t clash with the wedding party. Basic black is always a good choice.
Many officiants choose to have the couple sign a contract, and we strongly suggest you do so. Our Facebook group offers a few samples, but we suggest that you let your attorney review them. The contract will spell out who is responsible for what, and by when which will help avoid any issues that may crop up in the future.
Most officiants require a non-refundable deposit in order to save the date. It is up to you whether you do this, and what you require. Most ask that the deposit and the signed contract be returned to be officially booked. You may also want to ensure that final payment is made before the day of the ceremony to avoid any unpleasantness that might arise if payment isn’t made. Another tip: Call it a Retainer or a Booking Fee, rather than a Deposit. This reinforces that they are paying to retain your services or book your time on a specific day at a specific time and that it is non-refundable because you’ve likely turned away other clients who wanted to book you on that specific day, at that time.
The filing of the license is the most important job you have. You want it to be correct and returned timely. Each county in the USA does things differently, so it is essential that you check with your county to make sure you know exactly what they expect from you. Ask your county for a copy of a license and get familiar with it so you know just what to do. Once complete you must return it to the courthouse to be filed. Specific time requirements for returning the marriage license vary. Some courthouses give you only a few days to return it, while others allow a larger window. Regardless, we recommend returning the marriage license sooner rather than later.
We cannot advise you on how to handle the license in your particular county. This is where our Facebook Group can be valuable. Our officiants are more than happy to help with questions.
You should also be familiar with the procedures that couples need to follow in order to obtain the license. You want all the information so that you can advise your couples. These are the kinds of things that ensure your value to them.
Once the marriage license is complete and returned to the courthouse your job as an officiant is done! YOU DID IT!
One final tip: A nice gesture after the marriage license is filed is to touch base with your couple and let them know it has been filed. You should also have information for them on how they can get their certified copy. Get the idea? Always have information to provide your couples, as this is the extra value you bring, as a professional officiant. A week or two after the ceremony, get in touch once again and politely request a review from them. Send them direct links to your Google reviews and other websites where you collect reviews. They may not choose to do this, but it is always advised to ask. One request is enough. Don’t bother them again, even if they agreed to review you and failed to do so.
Joy. That’s the overriding theme of your business. You participate in one of the most joyous days of people’s lives. To be the best officiant you can be, remember these four things: