Maria Romano is a Minister, wedding officiant, podcast host, author, and motivational speaker. Through her company, True Love Knots, Maria has officiated over 5000 weddings, and created courses on becoming officiated yourself. Prior to finding her passion in the business of love, Maria's entrepreneurial journey began with a rental car company, granting her extensive expertise in business management.
Episode 15 – Maria Romano
[00:00:55] Sanjay Parekh: Joining us from Las Vegas, Maria Romano is a Minister, Wedding Officiant, podcast host, author, and motivational speaker. Through her company, True Love Knots, Maria has officiated over 4,000 weddings and created courses on becoming officiated yourself. Maria, welcome to the show.
[00:01:13] Maria Romano: Hi. Hello. How are you, Sanjay?
[00:01:17] Sanjay Parekh: I'm great. I'm excited to have you on because we have not had anybody that is a wedding officiant before, and so I'm super interested in kind of this as a side hustle, but before we get there, why don't you give us a little bit about your background. Just like a minute or two about you and how you got to where you are now.
[00:01:34] Maria Romano: I came to Las Vegas in 1976 and I met my husband, my late husband, in the rental car industry, and we opened up our own rental car company. So, we actually had one of the first woman-owned car rental companies in Las Vegas, in the airport. Which I was, listen, let's face it, that made me feel great because, an industry that's so male dominated. And we sold it in 2010, and then unfortunately my husband passed away in 2012. But I then transitioned from a male dominated industry, believe it or not, to another male dominated industry, where right now, being a minister, believe it or not, a lot of people, still, some of them are still not used to a female officiating.
[00:02:20] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, you're just all about moving into industries where you're the oddball. But I love that. That's really what being an entrepreneur and a founder is really all about. Let's talk about the rental car piece just for a minute before we get into this other stuff. That's like a really capital heavy business to get into like that. Like how did you guys manage that starting out fresh?
[00:02:44] Maria Romano: We started with seven cars. We're talking, we're going back in the seventies, and it evolved. And you're right, it is a capital heavy company. You're a hundred percent, you need credit lines, and you need to make sure you have the revenue streaming in and it's managing people and you have moving inventory all the time, which is a liability. So, those are issues and as we grew, what happened was the larger companies dominated and they do it well. Because they buy in bulk. They're able to provide great rates, great services. Not that we couldn't, so we wound up selling to Hertz in 2010, which was probably the best decision. We were able to get out. But it was, it really, I leave it up to the big guys. They do a great job. Now the big guys are complaining about Lyft and Uber. And what's, there's another one out there. Turo is a big one. I was listening to a podcast about that. So, it's changing, it's evolving.
[00:03:43] Sanjay Parekh: I'm sure you like sit back, it's been many years, but you probably, you spent so many years in that industry that you probably are watching some of these things and being like, oh man. If that had been around, if Turo had been around when you started, or like any of these other things, like it would've probably radically had changed your business or maybe made it easier. Maybe it made it harder. I don't know.
[00:04:02] Maria Romano: Actually, would've made it maybe more profitable. Because, they don't have a lot of restrictions on the type of cars, but you still have, again, even though it's still moving, it's a moving object, a car. You have to worry about people. People can't be replaced, cars can. So, that's the difference. And it was definitely a very interesting industry when we started, when I left, and I still work with the American Car Rental Association every year they have me help them with their membership and I love it. So, it kinda keeps my finger in the pie on what's going on.
[00:04:41] Sanjay Parekh: I love it. So, you've now spent, I'm doing the math, over 40 years as a founder, entrepreneur. Was the car rental thing the first thing that you'd done entrepreneurial? And were there entrepreneurs in the family that you got to watch? That's what made you comfortable of making this to move, or was there something else?
[00:04:59] Maria Romano: My late husband, of course, was very entrepreneurial and my grandfather on my father's side started a construction company. Actually, it was brick and stone. They were actual brick layers. In New York. So, my dad, of course he had his sons working for him. Then they sold, and then my dad moved to Vegas. I came with him and my stepmom in the seventies. And he actually was an entrepreneur in pool tables and a few other things and yeah, that's how. So, I've been around that. I'd rather, I like working for myself. I like the idea of making my schedule, having the time if I need to do something. And it's difficult and, we've been there when you think about this, answering to somebody else. So, that's tough for me, I have to tell you.
[00:05:52] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, I can understand that. Okay, so you started the car rental company, exited it, and then at what point did you decide, how many years after that was it that you decided to start this and what caused you to want to start this?
[00:06:08] Maria Romano: Actually, it was the same year. So, a little backstory.
[00:06:12] Sanjay Parekh: You just can't stop, can you? It's just like you got to keep going. Love it.
[00:06:15] Maria Romano: You know what, I actually started when we sold our rental car company, I knew that I needed to still do something, and I wanted to keep myself busy and occupied. My late husband had a heart transplant in 1997. Yes, I’ll say that again. A heart transplant. So, I always knew we were on borrowed time. We were very fortunate. We were married 33 years when he passed away. And I knew I wanted something to keep me busy and I went to a wedding ceremony in Las Vegas over at the Las Vegas Country Club. And there was a woman, actually, a woman was performing the ceremony. I said, you know what? I think I want to find out and see if I would like to do that.
So, I did some research in 2010 after we sold the car company, I actually got my license. And in Nevada at the time, in Las Vegas, you had to be affiliated with the religious organization, either online or brick and mortar here. So, I received my ordination online. You don't need that anymore. Now, you can pretty much get your license anywhere in the country, it's very easy. That's when I started. I put together a CD, of a mock wedding, a little bio, some references about who I am because it is an industry, where it's about the customer experience. And I went out on the strip, pounded the pavement, and crickets. Sunday crickets.
But after some persevering I went back and actually, I got hired at the Venetian and the Flamingo. And the reason I got hired as an, and we're outside, we're vendors, I said I would do commitment ceremonies because at the time, same gender wasn't recognized. It wasn't legal. So, that's how I broke in. So, fast forward to today, what I've learned, and now I've performed close to over a thousand weddings a year. Which is great.
[00:08:12] Sanjay Parekh: Wow.A thousand weddings a year. That's like almost two a day, three a day.
[00:08:16] Maria Romano: They're condensed tours. I try to work Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. So, we condense them, but yeah. I keep a few clients; I perform them in helicopters. We go to the Grand Canyon in a helicopter. It is so fun. So fun. I have to tell you.
[00:08:32] Sanjay Parekh: Wow. That is amazing. Okay, so you started pounding the pavement and crickets. Was there anything like when you started then, was there anything that made you nervous about making this leap? That you were worried about?
[00:08:48] Maria Romano: The only thing that I just wanted to be able to perform weddings, so that made me nervous. Like, how am I going to do this? You can put it out there, oh, I'll do free weddings. That doesn't always get you the clients. So, what I really, and I even looked for somebody to help train me, to take me under their wings, and nobody wanted to do that because I was then interfering with their territory. And that happens, it's, like I said, it's a big business here in Las Vega. Well, not anymore. It's so different now. I'm now part of the Las Vegas Wedding Chamber of Commerce and completely different makeup than it was then. But those are things, are going to make money?
[00:09:30] Sanjay Parekh: Wait, wait, wait. Did you just say the Las Vegas Wedding Chamber of Commerce?
[00:09:35] Maria Romano: Yes, I'm on the board. Absolutely.
[00:09:38] Sanjay Parekh: Wow. I had no idea that there was a Chamber of Commerce just for a specific industry in Vegas. That's amazing.
[00:09:44] Maria Romano: So, let me give you a little bit of information. So, actually the wedding industry generates to Las Vegas $2.7 billion a year in revenue, 2.7. And that's destination weddings when they come in and money being spent in all areas. So, really, when you think about it, all those room nights, all that entertainment, that gambling, going on excursions, shows, restaurants, so that sort of thing — so it's a big industry.
[00:10:18] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. That's amazing. I want to rewind a little bit. So, you started pounding the pavement. And like all of us, I think, know that people go to Vegas for a quick wedding, or they go there, get drunk and get married, a la Ross and Rachel on Friends, right? What was your challenge there in terms of getting your first wedding? And then the second part of that is now looking back on 4,000, 5,000, however many weddings in, thinking about how you do them now versus that very first one you did, like, how much of a difference is it in terms of your experience and the experience that you provide to your clients?
[00:11:02] Maria Romano: Then, of course, I was concerned because, you want to build up revenue. You're spending a bit of money out there on different websites promoting yourself, right? And if you don't have the reviews, you're not getting the reviews, you're not going to get the client. So, what comes first, the chicken or the egg? So, for me, I changed my business model where I actually am an outside vendor for about four to five companies, and I limit myself, and that's where I generate most of my business. I do private weddings.
Now, today it's a lot easier, fast forward, because of social media. And social media is your friend, and most of the time it's free. It's free, and that's what I tell everybody, which is part of what I provide in my training is, utilize that because you know what, couples, they want to know, first of all, you have a website, because that's your brick and mortar. And also, what are you posting on social media? Is it frequently, is it infrequently? It says a lot about you. Are you current? Are you current with the trends? So that is a way, and you can, of course, there's wedding — The Wire, there's The Knot — there’s here's several websites you can advertise on, getting reviews, but you can also have those posted on Google as well, and then put them on your website too. And I tell people, you want to be known. Also go out in the business community and get on every podcast that you can.
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[00:12:55] Sanjay Parekh: I wonder if you can think about somebody that's starting out like you now versus how you had to start out, right? When you started out, there was no social media, so it made it harder for you to hustle and get clients. And now it seems okay, yeah, there's this easy way. But it's not just simple just because you have social media, right? It's still a lot of work and I think for a lot of people you feel like, hey, I can just put something out there and then the people will come. And I don't think that's true, necessarily. And I think there's this false dichotomy of, social media makes it easier. So, how do you think about that? If you were starting from scratch now, how would you approach building your business?
[00:13:40] Maria Romano: First of all, myself personally, I would be doing a lot of live on my social media and I'd be doing a lot of live talking about how passionate I am about love, and about being part of a couple's special day and how important that is to be able to share their message with them. The couple, what they perceive to be a wonderful ceremony and their guests as well. So, I would definitely start off at that point in time talking about that. And again, I would go out there and I would be networking with different networking opportunities. So, if for example, in Las Vegas, we have the Wedding Industry Professional Association is known as WIPA. Throughout the country you have the American Bridal Consultant Society. So, they're all over the US, actually, yeah, they're all over the US. You have WIPA, and then you also have other social or event companies as well.
Getting out there and getting people to know you as well, because event planners will book you. They want to know how you show up, what you say. And I always tell people, when you show up at these events, you are still a professional person. You are your own brand. Make sure you don't drink too much, if you're a drinker. My rule is you don't drink. And also, don't talk about drama or what's going on in your life. They don't want to hear that. You want to talk about what you're doing, how you're current. Hey, I found this new trend, and I see that couples now are not just sharing a glass of wine during the ceremony. They're now doing shots. I'm just, something else, just talking about what's going on in the industry or there's no they're replacing flower girls with flower dudes. Have you seen that one yet?
[00:15:37] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, no, I haven't seen that. That's interesting.
[00:15:40] Maria Romano: That's where a flower dude walks down the aisle with a tight t-shirt, a friend of yours, and a little fanny pack, and they throw out pedals and they dance, and it's like a version of an overweight Tiny Tim, if you remember who Tiny Tim was. I'm dating myself. But I think that those are the ways that I would start off but again, showing that you have a passion for what you do. That's what it is. Also, on another note, Sanjay. And I believe there's only four states that this is not, it's not the reciprocal, but if you are a notary, you also can perform wedding ceremonies. So, for notaries, this is a great side hustle as well.
[00:16:19] Sanjay Parekh: Yes. Oh, wow. There you go. So, let's talk a little bit about managing the business and the stress of it, right? When you're doing your own thing like this and you've been doing it for a while, right? With the rental cars and now this, there's a lot of stress because you're like, you're the boss, but you're also the boss. So, you're responsible for all of that. And then I think for you, there's this other layer and you kind of touched on it. The stress, weddings are not always stress free. There is the drama that's happening in the weddings themselves and the stress of all that. So, how do you manage both pieces of that? The stress of managing the business and then the stress of the events themselves?
[00:17:04] Maria Romano: I have to tell you, I wish I would've had somebody teaching me like I teach today, because I would have definitely, I’ve learned how to manage stress, but it didn't happen overnight. It takes time to develop that demeanor about you and that you have to remember that if you have somebody coming at you that all of a sudden, they seem like they're a little bit more aggressive and you have to remember not to react. So, the difference between an action and a reaction is a hesitation. But there's a word that I use that, Ed Mylett used it in his book and on his podcast, called ‘equanimity,’ and now that's what I use, which means how to remain calm under distress, duress, or chaos.
And I have to tell you, lately there have been some interesting situations just with couples or, trying to get to a wedding on time and there's a lot of traffic and just having to just take that internal knot in your stomach, right? I'm sure you have. How does that feel when you get that, and it feels like there's a knife and just breathing through it. But it does take time and there are things that you can do that you, things that you can't control. And you know what? Make sure your phone is always charged up. If something's going on, you're delayed, maybe for a wedding. I am a stickler. You have to show up on time. Must, always, on time. Unless something happens, that you cannot foresee. That to me was the biggest thing. Showing up and showing up prepared. You don't want to look like a hot mess.
[00:18:42] Sanjay Parekh: It's true that's true in all of life, I think. But so looking back on 4,000 plus weddings, how many have you ever been late to? Five?
[00:18:52] Maria Romano: 5,000?
[00:18:54] Sanjay Parekh: Oh, 5,000 weddings. Okay.
[00:18:55] Maria Romano: There was only one wedding that I had miscalculated I was rushing from the Flamingo Hilton. I was going all the way up the 215 to a country club, and I was a few — I was actually there, I was there on time, the actual ceremony time, but fortunately I had told them, I said, listen, I have another commitment, and they had moved the wedding up, so something like that. Other than that, no. There are times when I have put something down, I forget to put something in my calendar. I had that happen a couple of times. Thank God my clients love me. And thank God I don't live too far from the strip, okay? So, I'm able to get there right away. But now we have so much construction going on in right Las Vegas, we have Formula One coming in, we have Super Bowl. So, I really prepare. Now I pace myself differently and I think you need to prepare for that. And you have to factor your time in when you're in this industry, where you're traveling to.
[00:19:58] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. These are not ones that you can just zoom in on. You've got to be there in person. So, it's a different thing. I want to ask you, the last few years have been very tough for hospitality-based businesses because of the pandemic. How did that affect you and how did you deal with that, through the entire pandemic?
[00:20:17] Maria Romano: The pandemic definitely did put a damper on some of the industry. I remember that I had several weddings on St. Patrick's Day, and all of a sudden, I got these cancellations and I heard that we had this issue with this virus and so on. And I figured, okay, they closed everything down. I said, it'll be for two weeks.
[00:20:42] Sanjay Parekh: You and all the rest of us. We all said the same thing.
[00:20:45] Maria Romano: Was I so naive? However, we did, we closed down for six weeks. The actual marriage license bureau. We opened up because we were able to get that reversed because it was necessary, because there were people, there were other municipalities throughout the country that were not issuing marriage licenses. It wasn't a necessity.
We did it. There were people that still needed to get married. For insurance purposes, whatever it was, it was. Or they were in the military, and they were getting called to leave. So, they wanted to, so we understood. So it opened up and, actually 2020 was the year that it actually started getting busier for me because I, first of all, I was vaccinated. There were some ministers that weren't vaccinated. I don't have any health issues. So, I was able to get there.
I am very proficient on Zoom, any type of virtual. So, I started doing wedding ceremonies with a couple in front of me and they had their family on Zoom. I would have them mute their mic, unmute their mic, help me pronounce them, present their daughter that couldn't be there. So that made a big difference. And I actually did, I want to say I performed close to 900 weddings. That was my big year, that started. It started for me. So just, but again, I was fortunate I was in good health, I was able to do that. And they wanted you to be vaccinated — a lot of the different properties.
[00:22:24] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. That's great that you were able to kind of fill that void.
[00:22:29] Maria Romano: It's an anomaly that doesn't happen everywhere. We know that.
[00:22:33] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. And let's hopefully like the rest of our lifetimes, we don't get this again because I think all of us are exhausted from any of that stuff. Is there anything that you do in terms of regular routines that helps you stay grounded? Things that you do every day. Do you sleep at a certain time, or exercise, or is there anything else like that is like a must for you? In terms of making sure that you stay grounded and focused on, on what you want to accomplish?
[00:23:01] Maria Romano: I always I believe that there's nothing that makes you feel better when you get up in the morning and you're clearheaded. And it has to do with what you are doing the day before and what you're consuming, whether you're consuming something, putting it in your body or whatever you're reading, or whatever you're doing. So, if you're watching three episodes of Law and Order before you go to sleep, you don't necessarily go to sleep with a great focus in your mind.
So, what I do is, it starts really for me the night before. And the night before is when I put together my routine and I actually put on an app, a meditation app. And it's actually shut down near my nightstand. So, I listen to meditation. I have my puppies, I'm a widow. And I start off with that and being grateful. And I have to tell you, I have a journal. I write in it in the morning when I get up, my first thing are my puppies that I take care of. And I do have my coffee, but I do meditate. I listen to bird sounds. So, bird sounds, if you can't, if you don't have live birds, for at least a minute or two, will put you in a mood and they boost. They boost your mood, your hormones for about eight hours. They make you feel happy. So, for me, I exercise. Those are things that I do. That's my prerequisite.
But again, I have changed my whole lifestyle because it's very easy when you're out there networking, you can consume a little alcohol. You don't really feel great the next day. You don't eat the right thing. And especially if I have a heavy wedding load on the weekends, for example, so I'll have 10 weddings usually, maybe at one chapel. I have to be ready because, Sanjay, if I mispronounce a couple's name, don't pronounce their name, the right name, I omit something — there are no do-overs. Think about it, you cannot have everybody come back, photography, videography, guests. So, I have to be ready. There are no dress rehearsals, has to be doing it right.
[00:24:56] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. And the couple is going to remember that too, right? That's going to be the thing that sticks out to them. I wish this had gone right. And so, you don't want to be a part of the thing that they wish had gone differently. Okay. So, thinking back now, you've got a long career as a founder, which I love that. Going back, if you were able to go back in time, is there anything that you would do differently based on what you know now?
[00:25:24] Maria Romano: Listen, let's face it, as we go through life with experience, we would love to be able to take what we have now and bring it back to then. And actually, one of the things is I think it's important to have a lot of mentors in your life. And finding your passion. So, the rental car business I fell into. Was it my passion? No. I found my passion loving what I do. I created, as you know, my digital course and also, I officiate weddings and I speak about love. So, I personally, would've loved to have fallen into this sooner. But when I think about it, my life experiences brought me to today to where I am so that I am better at what I do. Yeah. But surround yourself with people where you're going to grow. Find your mentors, find your coach. That's going to make a big difference, and that's something that I started doing over the last few years, but I didn't do that when I was definitely younger. We think we know it all.
[00:26:23] Sanjay Parekh: So, if there's somebody that was in front of you that's thinking about taking the leap and launching a side hustle or taking their side hustle into a full-time business, what advice would you give them?
[00:26:37] Maria Romano: Find out, first of all, do some research on whatever side hustle you're looking to get involved with. I think that's the first thing. Making sure that you have enough capital, depending upon what you need in order to do that. In this particular business, you don't need that much. It's very little. However, there are other industries, so making sure you have access to capital and for growth, because one, sometimes for growth, you need to have more money. Okay, that's something else.
And then also understanding that you're not going to be an overnight success. That this is set. Something that you just need to persevere and every day you get out there and always being relevant. If the industry's changing with whatever you're doing. It's like technology. Now they're talking about AI, right? Chat GPT. So, now if you're not utilizing things, depending upon what you're doing, do that. And you know what? Take the leap because at the end of the day, what’s important is, you want to make sure that you're doing the things you love, provided it's not hindering, maybe your family or whatever, financially, but you got to try to take that chance, even at part-time. That's what's great today. You can have multiple streams doing different side hustles, and then find your passion and then just go with it.
[00:27:54] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, I love that. It's great advice. Maria, where can our listeners find and connect with you?
[00:28:01] Maria Romano: Oh, you can find me, first of all, I’m on social media under True Love Knots, and of course it's True Love and the Knots is K N O T S. and you can reach out to me, Maria at [email protected] or [email protected], my website. And definitely I'd love to hear if anybody has questions, even they're getting married, and they want to just know something. I'm your girl. Reach out to me.
[00:28:27] Sanjay Parekh: I love it. Thanks for coming on today, Maria.
[00:28:31] Maria Romano: Thank you so much, Sanjay. It was such a wonderful experience. I appreciate it.
[00:28:38] Sanjay Parekh: Thank you for listening to this week's episode of the Side Hustle to Small Business Podcast, powered by Hiscox. To learn more about how Hiscox can help protect your small business through intelligent insurance solutions, visit hiscox.com. And if you have a story you want to hear on this podcast, please visit www.hiscox.com/shareyourstory. I'm your host, Sanjay Parekh. You can find me on Twitter at @sanjay or on my website at www.sanjayparekh.com.