Success is in the Details

Success is in the Details

“The difference between ordinary and extraordinary, is that little extra.” -Jimmy Johnson



At a recent roundtable for preplanning specialists in the area, I was able to listen to other professionals talk and brainstorm ideas. There were a few people from cremation only firms and I have to admit that I am not jealous of the work they need to put into their contracts.

They have to put a tremendous amount of time into meeting with families and filing paperwork. In the end, their contracts will max out a certain point since they are not planning large services with caskets and vault merchandise. They realistically have to fund three or four cremations to match up to a single service based funeral home contract that I am used to.


However, I had an interesting and uncommon experience this month when I was put in their shoes. I had two groups come in to meet with me to plan and fund an immediate cremation only. This is not normal for our firm since we are so service and hospitality based, but it is something we of course offer.

Typically, when a family comes in for an immediate cremation, it is normal to just fund the items that a family is needing from us as a funeral home. This time, I went through the entire list of items they can fund for and I asked if they would be utilizing them at any point. The first group only wanted a cremation and to take the urn to the cemetery on their own. This is the ideal scenario for many families we serve.

Before printing the estimate for the cremation only, I hesitantly asked them if they were considering having a luncheon afterwards. I felt like a sleazy salesman as I asked them. It turns out, they definitely had plans to eat afterwards and just pay for it out of pocket. I explained how the money worked with Medical Assistance and that they could fund that portion too. The son thought about it and then said “Wait, we set aside money for a luncheon even without you involved?” You sure can, we will just send the check to the caterer.

Then we talked about a clergy person at the cemetery and how we could pay them even if we weren’t there. They jumped on board putting money aside for their pastor. I showed them our centerpiece flower options, and of course they had no idea that the florist could just deliver to the restaurant instead of the funeral home. They ordered 5 centerpieces! Then I asked about printing, this could be picked up with their mom’s urn… Suddenly this immediate cremation family turned into a big contract, we just weren’t going to be invited to the party.

I had a similar experience with the second immediate cremation group that came in. They only planned to fund our items but they ultimately had big plans for their gathering too. We talked about all the extra details and they decided to set money aside for those items as well.

I have been stuck in this mindset that if someone is planning for an immediate cremation, they are not planning anything additional beyond that. This is not usually the case, they just have plans that don’t involve the funeral home.


My grandpa always told me, “You don’t know what you don’t know” and this is important to remember when working in funeral service. People are usually doing this for the first time, it is our job to educate them on their options.

Keep in mind that many families we serve are in front of us because they are spending down their assets to apply for Medical Assistance. By not offering the extra details, it is almost a disservice we are doing to those families because they will end up paying those out of pocket. If they can financially plan now for what they want to do later, it will be so beneficial to them.

My grandpa’s advice is relevant to ourselves as well. If you have an opportunity, go on a service with the funeral director at your firm. This will give you a chance to see all the different aspects of a funeral and you can see the details up close.

If your firm is open to it, also plan to look at recent statements for at need families so you can get a very eye opening idea of where they are actually putting their money during an at need basis. If you don’t know that most families at your firm end up spend an average of $600 on flowers, you will continue to advise them to put $300 away. If you don’t know that most families will get two motorcycle escorts, you may only be advising them to get one during the preplanning. “You don’t know what you don’t know” so help to educate yourself with your firm’s trends.


The worst thing to hear when someone has previously made their prearrangements is “Why didn’t that man tell us we needed this back when we met with him and mom had the money to put away?” It is not because the preneed agent was trying to keep a secret from them, it is usually because they simply did not know what would be needed at some point.

Lastly, look at the neat ideas that people are incorporating into their funerals today. If someone is planning for keepsakes, make sure you advise them to put money away for them. If they are planning for a bagpiper at the cemetery, make sure you advise them to put money away for it.

Your success will be in the details. If you help plan the details, it can add up to hundreds or thousands more on each contract. You are doing the family a favor and you are doing yourself a favor.



Land of the Free, Because of the Brave

Land of the Free, Because of the Brave

“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.” -Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy



In a matter of days, it seems as if winter disappeared and nice weather came flying in.

Just last night I was at Festival Foods Grocery Store and I was hanging out in the bread aisle. My initial goal was to find the good buns for our black and bleu burgers. However, there was no such luck as everyone else in the city was also grilling out.

There was one bag left with some very flattened buns in it and I snatched it up before anyone else could.

I was feeling completely disheartened while checking out, until I saw the envious looks from others in line. They had not gotten any kind of buns to take home so I guess was the lucky one!


On the car ride home, I was thinking about how the time flew by and summer is almost here. There were so many things we had to get organized before weddings, camp-outs, and reunions started coming around.

Once I got home to my husband, Andrew, he was not very impressed with my bread choice but there was nothing that could be done about it so I went to check on the grill.

Opening the lid, I found a note from myself… It was reminding me that grill season meant I needed to start thinking of ideas for Memorial Day mailings. How could I have forgotten? In a little over a month, Memorial Day programs would be starting all over the metro.

Last year, I was too far behind schedule to put a mailing out to our families with the different programs. I was not going to fall behind the ball again.


Many of us consider Memorial Day to be a somber day of remembering. It is a day where we visit the graves of our relatives, a day where we post photographs of our grandparents or fathers, or a day where we attend a program.

Program times and locations are featured on the evening news, online, or through some local newspapers. Through past experience, it is quite difficult to find the current year’s events and oftentimes people just choose to not do the research to find a program.

Do the dirty work for your families, make the phone calls to past events and see if they are doing something again. Try to gain a little insight into what makes their program special and put it into a mailing. If they feature a program with a history of the weapons used at different war periods, put that in the mailing. If they have a fly over, put that in the mailing. If they have a senator speaking, put that in the mailing. You are doing the community a favor by allowing them to choose the best one for their taste.

Always ask the person in charge if you can get their address to send them a mailing. You will probably see that they will brag about how they were featured in it.


It is very important to look at this promotion through the eyes of a marketer. This type of mailing will allow you to get your name into people’s hands without overwhelming them with information about pre-planning. It is so easy to turn the focus onto promoting your local events instead of focusing on planning for death.

Remember to make things as easy as possible for people and include the following things about each program:

  1. Specific Title of the Program (if they have one)
  2. Date and Time
  3. Full Address
  4. Specific Location Within Address (i.e. “at the Guardian Angel Columbarium near the East Gate”)
  5. Short Description of Program and Something Unique About that Program
  6. A Phone Number for Questions
  7. Any Items They Should Bring (a lawn chair, a framed photograph, an umbrella, etc.)

This type of mailing can help your families gain trust and respect for you. Realistically, someone is going to mention it to a friend, let someone borrow their pamphlet, or call for an extra copy. When they are ready to pre-plan, your name will be in the forefront of their mind.

Lastly, don’t forget to attend some of the programs. The people in charge put countless hours into honoring our veterans. They will remember seeing you there and they will appreciate you!

Bring in the New Year!

Bring in the New Year!

“Celebrate endings – for they precede new beginnings.”Jonathan Lockwood Huie



As I walked through Target to buy Halloween candy recently, I was very frustrated with trying to find what I needed. It is autumn but all I could find was Christmas and winter items. Seriously, mistletoe in October? That’s months away!

Well… I am about to do the exact same thing as I offer my pre-planning advice for goals in the upcoming year. As I am getting the hang of my pre-need duties, I am starting to realize that I need to be planning things months in advance if I want the most success.

The hardest realization for any of us is the fact that December is pretty much useless when it comes to seminars and events. As a preneed specialist, you should utilize your time during that month to plan the upcoming year and help out your coworkers with different holiday activities.

A difficult task is convincing the owner of the funeral home to do a mailing in the area for a seminar you want to do. Although a mailing makes life easier for you, I truly believe the best type of response is from a group that you can focus on a mutual topic. These groups are church bible studies, book clubs, veteran groups, and more. You do not need an expensive mailing in order to get in front of interested people.

With that in mind, I decided to spend this morning brainstorming the first quarter of the year in order to find these groups that will not require a mailing. I hope my productivity may convince you to start planning your upcoming year too.

This is what I came up with for cheap and attendee focused events in January, February, and March.


January is all about the New Year so it only makes sense to have the seminar focus on New Year’s resolutions. I decided to work with my pastor to launch my first ever “Mind, Body, and Soul” seminar at my church. We created a three week series where three experts will talk for twenty minutes each week.

MIND: I will be talking about the peace of mind in planning funeral arrangements in advance. I separated the topics into three segments and will focus on a different topic each week. A surprising resolution for people is to actually make pre-arrangements.

BODY: I recruited a fitness coach from Tri-Fitness down the street to come and talk each week about exercise, nutrition, and wellness. It was actually her idea for each of us to talk for twenty minutes each for three weeks instead of one hour for one week. Hopefully she will benefit with some new customers as well!

SOUL: My pastor will be talking about restoring the soul and rebuilding a relationship with God. She has a scripture study for the attendees to try to put into place for the course of 2017.

Although we have plenty of time to focus on the details later, we immediately got our posters up and going so people can get the idea and dates into their mind.


February is all about love and Valentine’s so the activity should help those who do not have someone to spend that time with. I actually got this idea from a fellow mortuary science classmate and I think it is brilliant.

Her funeral home realized that although most holidays are difficult for widows, one of the hardest is Valentine’s Day since the focus is on couples. With this in mind, they decided to promote an afternoon/evening event where recent widows could all join together for a purpose and fun. Their particular event was one of those painting courses where everyone paints and sips wine. Their event is very successful each year and lets past families know that you are thinking of them during a difficult time.

Your February event does not have to be a painting class, it could be any type of gathering. Have a cocktail hour, another type of craft, bingo night, board game night, a cooking class, movie night, or anything to get people together for a purpose.

The most important thing when planning this type of event is that it has to be on Valentine’s Day itself in order to have an impact on the people attending. Keep in mind, doing something on the 13th or the 15th just won’t cut it, you need to just bite the bullet and do something on the 14th.


March became a bit tough for me to find an event because my focus was church seminars and it became difficult to figure out how to incorporate a seminar during the Lent season. As I visited the home page of a small Lutheran church in the area, I was struck by the words, “It was finished.”

This brought me back to my time as a teenager when Passion of the Christ had just come out. My pastor created a study course where we learned about the importance of Lent, the journey of Jesus to his death, and then we were able to analyze the movie.

Many people in the church do not have the opportunity to understand and learn about Lent so I reached out to a pastor in the area to see if he was interested in co-hosting an event. We decided to look at the seminar as a way to educate his congregation on Lent and the importance of preparing for our own deaths. We are considering calling it, Lent: Living Through Death.

We have not talked about many details as we are not meeting until November. However, the plan has been started and that is the important thing right now.


My ideas are not going to fit a lot of people’s personalities or businesses. Every funeral home and pre-need department is different so you have to work with your marketplace.

However, the idea is to start thinking of your year and getting seminars in place now because 2017 will be here before you know it.

So Many Questions, So Little Time…

So Many Questions, So Little Time…

“When you do nothing, you feel overwhelmed and powerless. But when you get involved you feel the sense of hope and accomplishment that comes from knowing you are making things better.” Maya Angelou



It was a Saturday afternoon and people were pouring into our new facility for a Funeral and Cremation Expo. They were met by all types of vendors, casket companies, organ donation booths, cemeteries, hospice experts, elder law attorneys, caterers, and even an adorable dog from a pet cremation specialist (which I was stationed near so I was very happy).

The whole concept of this particular expo was to give them a no pressure and relaxed environment to get information and have some great food.

As people came in, they were given a map and list of vendors to determine who they were interested in talking to or not. As one would imagine, the food was the only section that every single person was interested in but the rest of the booths had a very steady flow of visitors too.

This was a very successful event and took an immense amount of work from our marketing and hospitality director. If you work at a company that is very involved in the community, this is a wonderful idea to put into play. If you are looking to put one on, there is a great article written through the eyes of the vendors and what they are looking for in an expo (remember, you want to appeal to the vendors and show them it is worth their time).

However, the Expo is not what I am writing about today, I am writing about the concept that we used for our pre-planning booth.


When we were initially planning the expo, I was quite perplexed as to how we could pull off our pre-need station as no pressure but still be interactive with everyone and get our name in their mind. It is one thing for people to know they were inside of our funeral home but a completely other thing for them to want to plan with the people inside our funeral home.

Two years ago, I had taken a training with Karl Jennings for his breakthrough Arranger’s Academy program and I kept thinking back to one of his coffee break lessons. He said that people will always plan less for themselves than they would plan for someone they loved. With this thought, he told us that we need to remember that one of the easiest ways to tug on someone’s heartstrings is to put them in the shoes of their loved ones. “How would your grand kids feel about not being able to say goodbye to you?” or “How would your kids feel about you not wanting their family photos on display?” or “How would your brother feel if you did not feed him lunch at your funeral?”

Karl was talking about something completely different but in general, this was the approach I wanted to take with the Expo… Put the people in their family member’s shoes.

As a professional who works with overwhelmed families, I can honestly say the unanswered questions is the part that hinders them the most. The not knowing what the deceased wanted, the not knowing what the right answer is, the not knowing if they are honoring someone’s wishes.


We all know that if someone gets caught up on one question, that can delay the entire planning process. I never knew how many questions so I began researching and I found out that there are over seventy questions that must be answered within 24 hours of someone passing away.

This was the answer to my booth at the Expo. I needed to find a way to show how big of a number seventy is. Although there is no go to list for these average questions, it did not take me long to come up with that many. In fact, as I began typing the ordinary questions that I usually ask a family, I easily reached 150 and stopped trying.

Now that I had a sheet of paper with 150 questions on it, I needed to come up with a visual way to show these questions. No one was going to pick up a sheet of paper and be impressed with my list. Pinterest was my lifesaver and I found a cute memory tree idea to hang all the questions on. Instead of photographs, I would show the questions.

My husband was a trooper and helped me to cut and glue all the questions. Since the Expo itself was an orange and purple theme, we decided to stay with that so people would know the booth was a part of our funeral home.



The last thing I decided was going to be beneficial to my booth was to have a purpose that was not focused on pre-planning. We put out a newsletter every other month so I made it my goal to get people to sign up for our mailing list and give them a hard copy of the most recent edition. For each person who signed up, they had their name entered into a drawing to win a $25 gift card to Caribou Coffee.

As people began talking to me about the newsletter, I was able to learn a bit about them. I was able to find out what town they were from and oftentimes have something in common with where they lived. I was the friendly newsletter lady, not the intimidating and pushy pre-planning woman.

Interestingly enough, most people pointed the tree out to me before I had to show them. By this time, they were comfortable enough to ask me questions about funerals or whisper some question about cremation. I left that day with a solid list of people who want to be contacted to set up an appointment. More often than not, it was their idea to give me their information, not the other way around.

Beyond the tree, I had a visual display of four different things they could take as their next step in planning their services:

  1. Stop by the main booth for a complimentary copy of Scott Mueller’s #1 Best Seller on Amazon, What to Know Before You Go
  2. Set up a no pressure, no cost appointment with me to answer questions and pre-plan their personalized services
  3. Register for an adult enrichment course on pre-planning at the local high school adult education department
  4. Sign up for our bi-monthly newsletter and seminar mailing list to receive more information as it becomes available


There are so many different ways to get your name out there. If your company does not have the capabilities to put on an Expo at their facility, get out there and find an event to set up a booth at.

When your salary is commission based, it is very hard to not be pushy with potential clients. However, if you approach this type of situation correctly, the no pressure feeling can appeal to a lot of your clients. Afterwards, be persistent with following up. There is a difference between being pushy and being persistent. That’s a conversation for another day but if you want to read more, Lauren Smith wrote a very interesting article called Persistent vs. Pushy: What’s the Difference?

Try something different the next time around and you may be surprised. People will always have the questions, let them be comfortable enough with you to ask them.

Breaking the Rules…

Breaking the Rules…

“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”Maya Angelou



About two years ago, I was on a memorable first time trip to San Diego with just my grandmother and mom. The whole weekend was filled with singing “Wild Thing“, nonstop laughter, 40 ounce cans of Lime-A-Rita’s, and seeing new sites.

We were in California to see my cousin graduate from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot but we had plenty of time to get out and about for new restaurants and landmarks.

One of our trips was to the San Diego Zoo. In true great-grandma and aunt style, my mom and grandma wanted to make sure my cousin’s two year old son was able to feed the giraffes. We waited in a line for a little over an hour to get tickets and this is where the goofiness started.


There was a rhino cage right next to where we were waiting… I do not know if it was the sun or the rhino, but something caused us all to become giddy little school girls. After having the unforgettable experience of seeing this little boy and his parents feed a live giraffe, we set off towards the penguins.

We passed the sea lion exhibit and both my mom and grandma looked at each other with excitement. There was a children’s playground with a photo opportunity. There were children everywhere but that certainly did not stop them. On hands and knees, they got into the exhibit and asked me to photograph them through their laughter. I was mortified but could not help to be sucked into their joy.

To this day, they swear the exhibit was not for children, the other adults were just not as fun and outgoing as them. It is one of those small moments that I will never forget and it was one hundred percent because the two of them decided to step outside the norm.


Traditions and norms are not as relevant today as they once were. People are embracing their uniqueness and standing out. It is a beautiful thing to be able to be comfortable enough with yourself to not care what others think.

When I pick up a pre-planned file from many years ago, I can almost predict what is going to be inside. Serving in a traditional, Irish, Catholic community I know that they would have chosen a rose casket spray in either red, pink, yellow, or white. They would have chosen a holy card with either the 23rd Psalm or the Memorare on the back. And yes, they would have chosen to wear their best and fanciest suit.

Things are certainly changing in today’s world. People are finally choosing to embrace their personalities. They are wearing unique outfits (we just had a man wearing his auto body coverall and it was amazing), they are forfeiting flowers and choosing other items more near and dear to themselves (we had a woman who requested stuffed animals instead of flowers so her family could go to Children’s Hospital and donate them together) and they are sending other momentoes home with people instead of holy cards (we had a young man’s family design poker chips saying “He made his last deal with God”).


As a pre-planning specialist, it is extremely important to become a motivating factor in helping people to plan a unique service. Very few people have ever been in the arrangement room for an at-need service so everything they are hearing in a pre-need arrangement is brand new. Unless you give them the platform to make unique choices for themselves, they are not going to think of them.

There are so many resources out there to help families make unique funeral services but searching Google for anything related makes most people nervous.  They are very unlikely to find these ideas on their own so I t is your duty to your families to stay up to date on the new and exciting trends that they can utilize.

Yes, it seems a bit crazy to retain stories of bizarre and over the top stories but you never know what you may need someday. There are many things that are unlikely to fit nine of your ten families, but having it in the back of your mind will help that tenth family and they will love you for it.

The more you can focus on the person and the event, the less you need to focus on the financial piece and giving a value to the numbers. Plus, the most rewarding thing for a family to hear during a time of grief is that their loved one was thinking of them in a special way by planning a special tribute.

Don’t be the traditional pre-planner. Step outside the box and go play on the children’s exhibit at the San Diego Zoo.

Dancing in the Rain

Dancing in the Rain

“I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition.” – Martha Washington (former first lady)



I have always been a big supporter of the whole dancing in the rain theory but I have never been very good about carrying it out. At our wedding in Mexico, we had our reception on the rooftop. About half our guests had just gotten their entree when the downpour began.

Our wedding planner pulled us aside, had us sign several forms exempting them from any damage the rain may cause to our wedding, then asked us several venue changing questions. Before we had a chance to answer whether we wanted them to switch our dinner inside, we turned to see the most fun sight ever. It was our guests forming a conga line in the rain!

We both looked at each other and laughed. We did not have to determine whether to go to inside our not, our friends and family decided to dance in the rain!


The same is true for funeral service. Last year, we had a large set up for a seminar. There had been planning for weeks and huge mailings sent out to the area. A large group came during the day so another large group was expected for the evening session. The food was set up, staff were all present, and then everybody could hear the crickets.

Eventually, two people timidly come into the building. It was a mother and her son. In the lobby they chatted a little with the owner of the funeral home because they knew his dad really well.

After getting them a cup of coffee, he took them to a conference room and they had a very fun and laughter filled conversation. They ended up talking so much about people and things they had in common, that they scheduled a second appointment to come back and have some pre-planning questions answered.

It could have been one of those moments when everyone was devastated and mopey about the situation, but no, every bonded together and knew what to do to make this family feel comfortable. Obviously, the situation was not ideal, but we made the best of it.

Plus, the next day we were able to take all the food down to one of our favorite churches and spoil the staff down there.


Things are going to go wrong, you just need to learn how to prepare for those situations.

If you work with a group of people, there is a resource called StrengthsFinder that allows all staff members to take a survey, then learn about themselves and their coworkers’ strengths. This was a great way to concentrate on the good of people to learn how they work under pressure.

For example, if someone has Achiever as a strength, it is important to give them tasks during a stressful situation that can be measured and seen as productive (such as moving the 30 boxes from one room to another). If someone has Commander as a strength, then it is important to let them take charge and follow along with their requests.

There are also numerous articles and resources for personal growth on how to cope when things go wrong. The truth is, everyone is different and each situation is different. Work to understand how you deal with these situations and work to understand what you can improve on when things go downhill.

Don’t ever forget to dance in the rain, there is good to be found in almost every situation!


Chasing Ambulances

Chasing Ambulances

“The world is so unpredictable. Things happen suddenly, unexpectedly. We want to feel we are in control of our own existence. In some ways we are, in some ways we’re not. We are ruled by the forces of chance and coincidence.” -Paul Auster (actor and director)



Our pre-need person came into the office about in tears. She had made a phone call to a woman she met last year at a seminar. However, she did not dial the right phone number and reached a woman who gave her a piece of her mind.

This woman was screaming into the phone how she was an ambulance chaser and her son was barely out the door on his way to the hospital. How could she possibly be so heartless to call while he was still breathing?!

It was one of those fluke situations that could not have happened at a worse time. My coworker sincerely apologized, she briefly explained it was a wrong number and she was trying to reach someone else, and then she offered the most genuine words to the mother who was meeting her son at the hospital.

Afterwards, we consoled the poor pre-need gal and assured her that there was nothing she could do about it. She was rattled for the rest of the day and there was nothing we could do about it.


The next morning, our office gal came downstairs to an important staff meeting. She interrupted and grabbed our pre-need woman to tell her that she had a phone call. It was the woman from the day before. We knew it was urgent since she seldom interrupted the meetings.

My heart dropped, I just knew she was about to yell at her a second time. Watching her carefully through the doorway, I was shocked to see her smile and nod in agreement. After a long conversation and many notes, she got off the phone.

She took a first call. The woman’s son had passed away in the night after getting taken to the hospital. When the mother told the story of how rude it was that we had called so quickly, her family told her how absolutely far fetched it was that we would have even known he was taken by ambulance. The more they talked, the more they realized it was purely an accident.


Once he passed away, they started thinking about funeral homes. Being a very spiritual family, someone pointed out that maybe it was a sign from God and he was pointing out the funeral home to use.

We were located over 25 miles away from them, yet the decided to come by to meet us. They ended up staying and having his services at our facility. They were an amazing family.


As a pre-need person, there are going to be times when a cold call goes badly or an appointment takes a bad turn. It is so difficult to take the high road and tell the person what they want to hear. A sincere apology, an understanding agreement, or just silence is usually the best response.

A reaction is what is natural to most people. Tensing up, becoming defensive, or just blurting out something inappropriate are all things that are likely to occur. A response is a trained skill, it takes much practice. There is a distinct difference between the two and every pre-need specialist should learn more about the difference between responding and reacting.

Just take a breath and remember to respond, not react. That person will think more highly of you, and who knows, maybe they will use your services down the road because they were impressed by your class.