Women in the workplace

Sarah-Jayne Hall: Independent Marriage and Family Celebrant

Sarah-Jayne Hall, Celebrant. Photography: Jenny Appleton.

Name: Sarah-Jayne Hall

Job title: Independent Marriage and Family Celebrant

Career path: Throughout my education I wasn’t aware of the role of a Celebrant and when I did know what it was I had no idea initially how I would go about training to be one!

I attended Poynton High School and always enjoyed the creative lessons like drama, I was definitely an expressive person.  This continued on in my university years when I studied for my BA(Hons) in Media and Performance at Salford University. The course was actually recommended to me by Peter Kay – I’d written him a letter asking for advice and he was kind enough to reply. I was over the moon and followed in his footsteps and signed up for the course.  Whilst studying I worked for free on various television shows including a pilot for a cooking programme where Gino D’Campo was the host. I like to think me washing his pots led to his success and fame today! I was a typical arty, theatrical, outgoing, expressive soul with so much love to give. 

Fast forward and I finished my degree. I successfully gained an apprenticeship at Granada TV at its flagship building on Quay Street in the heart of Manchester. I was incredibly lucky and ended up working there for seven years. My role as a Technical Operator for ITV regional news (Granada Reports) taught me so much and gave me lots of skills to become a Celebrant… even though I didn’t realise it at the time. 

After many happy years there I jumped ship to work for BBC Sport where I spent six years as a TV Director and vision mixer.  14 years in the media industry gave me bucket loads of transferable skills – organisation, multitasking, communication to name a few, not to mention drive, determination and pride in my work. 

After having my son (in 2016) that’s when things changed and so did my career.  Whilst on maternity leave I attended a wedding that was led by a Celebrant, it was amazing! So personal and like no other service I’d been to before. The amount of people that turned to me and said, “You’d be great at that job” and “I could see you doing that” was incredible and it got me thinking… ‘where do I go to be able to do that?!’

Ideas & Planning: I liken the job of being a Celebrant to my previous job of being a TV Director/Vision Mixer.

You have to be able to communicate well with everyone. You need to be approachable and fair, but in control of the run order of the day. Not only that, you must listen to everybody’s views and opinions and represent them well in the show that you are making. You must be clear on your direction so that people understand what is happening and you must fix any problems as quickly and efficiently as possible.

You need to be able to reassure and make your presenters and guests feel comfortable, relaxed and informed. Timing is essential, not just being punctual to meetings, but to make sure elements of the day are timed and executed in a professional manner. This is just a handful of requirements that I transfer into my role as a Celebrant. I’m friendly, kind, easy to talk to and fun. I take on board my clients’ wishes and make them into their very own special ceremony. I’m always there to answer emails, texts and calls and on ceremony day I arrive super early so that my customers can be confident that I’m ready and waiting to give them the best day ever! My aim is to take away the stresses and bring smiles so that all they have to be concerned about is immersing themselves into the celebration.

My job is to tell a story, whether that’s someone’s life story at a celebration of life service, love story at a wedding or name story at a naming day. I am honoured that my job involves listening to lots of wonderfully amazing anecdotes, memories and tales that make up the heart of these milestone moments.

For each type of ceremony, I have to work differently due to time scale. Weddings are often booked a year or more in advance so there is more time to ponder and re-write, whereas with a funeral it can often be an extremely tight turn around in difficult circumstances. No matter what I am doing it has to be done precisely, diligently and with respect and care.

Finance: There are people that think being a Celebrant can only be a part-time job. You may find that some Celebrants do work in other jobs, whilst leading ceremonies. I believe it’s down to personal choice. I think it works as a part-time or a full-time position. Don’t get me wrong, setting up this business after being in the same role for 14 years working for companies was totally daunting. I’m still learning new things every day and I will continue to do so as a small business owner.

On average, for a funeral service you can expect to earn around £210 – that includes meeting with a family (usually at their home) and then writing the service and eulogy. For naming days and vow renewals you can earn somewhere around £300 and up, and for a wedding it can be anything from £450 up to £900 depending on requirements. But it’s worth remembering that if you’re an independent celebrant those prices can differ hugely depending on your style, location and time of year. All I’d say is, know your own worth and you can’t go far wrong.

The trickiest part for me is the financial side of things. Being self-employed I set my own prices and I have to be completely aware of budgeting and expenses. Luckily there is an app for most things these days, so I rely heavily on that to do a lot of my sums for me. Seriously though, this job has busier and quieter times, but that’s like any job or company. You just have to make sure you manage your money well. Think about everything, from travel expenses to business cards, to your website. I saved a lot of money by building my website myself, maybe there are other ways you can be clever with your incomings and skills so that it doesn’t all become one big outgoing!

Networking: One of the hardest things about being self-employed is lack of contact with humans! Now, you may think that is impossible because I am lucky enough to connect with many families and couples when I prepare and conduct ceremonies. But, the vast majority of the time I spend alone sat at my desk writing. So, having connections outside of my home is hugely important to my health and well-being.

Many of the networking groups I am part of are virtual ones – for example, Facebook groups. Being part of these forums gives me access to styled shoots and meet-ups within the industry. A styled shoot is a great way to meet other vendors and showcase all the incredible talents we have. What usually happens is a supplier from the wedding industry creates an idea and theme and puts a team of highly skilled florists, venue dressers etc… together to make a mock wedding. From there ideas are shared and a vision realised. It’s the perfect platform to try out ideas and you get to chat and meet people along the way. These shoots are always enjoyable and help to keep me sane.

Local community groups are important to me too, even if it’s just popping into the ‘Women in Business’ drop in once a week for a coffee. It’s connecting with people that helps me to enhance my network.

Another thing that I find useful is at least a few days a month (sometimes more) working in a different environment, that might be a shared office space where I can hire a desk for a day or a spot in my local restaurant. That way I get a change of scenery and I put a little bit back into my local businesses too. It’s win, win!

Speaking of local businesses, I make sure I know them and that I invest time in getting to know what they do. It might sound simple, but having relationships with those people can only make your profile stronger and therefore people trust you more and want to recommend and invest in you too.

Quote to live by: “YOU WERE BORN WITH THE ABILITY TO CHANGE SOMEONE’S LIFE – DON’T EVER WASTE IT.”

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