…and how to find the right one for you
On some less glamorous days, I must admit that I feel like a “red-headed step child” being a planner within the wedding industry. Every morning, if I’m “lucky,” my day may be filled with countless, unnamed “How much is it?” texts. It’s equally delightful being hung up on when returning calls from lovely brides who have asked me to contact them. This experience runs counter to some of my more “entertaining” colleagues in the wedding industry.
When I talk to some of my fun “friendors” (fellow vendor friends) like DJs, florists, bakers, etc., their experiences are typically filled with joyful, 2-hour-long consults with on-the-spot bookings, unlimited budgets, and the opportunity to fully explain their services. I get it---DJs are fun, flowers are pretty, and who doesn’t like cake!
So I took my concerns to my counterparts, other wedding planners in the Houston area, and determined that their experiences were very similar to mine. A sigh of relief! However, I was determined to figure out why this was happening and how to make it stop.
Take note: Wedding planners, we are in desperate need of an image makeover!
Misconceptions about hiring a wedding planner
It took me some time to figure it out, but potential clients often think of us in many ways---none of them being very flattering. These are definitely not the characteristics of someone you’d want to be around for 6 months or more.
We are the mom telling you to pick up your shoes
So much of our work involves scheduling and making sure that hundreds of tasks are accomplished on time. No other vendor will have that many to-do’s that need to be checked off a list. Because of this, we may have a reputation of being nags, overbearing and pushy with our opinions and recommendations. This could not be further from the truth. Wedding planners are typically sticklers for time because we are trying to make sure that either (1) you get all of the goods and services that you desire and (2) that you don’t get charged penalty fees from your outside vendors/venues.
We are the unsolicited, aggressive telemarketer
If I asked my colleagues what the most important part of customer service is, I guarantee that they would say response time. Wedding planners call and email their potential clients back because we don’t want anyone to feel as though they are not important.
When coordinators participate in Bridal Shows, Open Houses and Expos, wedding planners may receive hundreds of completed inquiry forms. We have no idea of who is actually engaged or not, who just likes looking at wedding stuff (as we all do), who is already married and/or who wants to become a wedding planner themselves (yes this happens), or who is in need of assistance immediately. I reach back out because I want to make sure that everyone is taken care of.
Know that a call back is a gesture of respect---respect of a potential client’s time and feelings. If you do not wish to have a planner contact you, PLEASE do not fill out inquiry forms. Simply take a business card from the planner that you are interested in and tell them that you will contact them whenever you’re ready to talk.
We are the shady used car salesman
Trust is a huge factor in deciding on the perfect wedding planner. Planners will typically have access to the contracts that you sign with other vendors, a general idea of a client’s financial abilities based on their spending habits, email and physical addresses for your wedding guests - not to mention a peek into the family dynamics of you and your fiance/fiancee.
No matter what you think, no matter how fabulous their lives look on social media, I guarantee you that no Houston-area wedding planner is able to finance their entire lifestyle and support their family on just your wedding alone nor are they trying to. Call me optimistic or naive, but I’d venture to say that most wedding planners do what they do because they love it.
Wedding planners love creating beautiful things, seeing their clients happy and experiencing the satisfaction of knowing that they played a huge part. While I realize that some may be in it just for the money, I guarantee that if you trust your instincts and ask the right questions before you book, you won’t buy a lemon!
Not only are there misconceptions around wedding planners, but there are also several myths around the process of wedding planning itself.
5 Myths About Wedding Planning Dispelled
5| A great wedding can be planned entirely via email and/or text message
Next to trust, communication is the most important quality to the client/planner relationship. Although technology makes it so much easier to conduct business remotely, some tasks are still better accomplished in person. For example, tasks such as working on reception table layouts with guest seating arrangements can typically take more than 10 emails to work out. However, discussing this as a small portion of one face-to-face meeting will give you even better results in less time.
Having in-person meetings with clients allows me to gauge every reaction to something they love, something they hate, and make my next recommendations based on their reactions. Meeting in person is also an easy way to set hard targets. Face-to-face meetings are a great way for clients to regroup, re-strategize and even adjust budgets as needed.
Limiting contact to email or text messages allows lots of room for miscommunication and misinterpretation. In general, I like to meet with my clients about every 6-8 weeks to make sure that everything is going as planned.
4| There will be too much interaction and/or hiring a planner will be more than what we need
A good planner’s approach should be flexible and adaptable to their client’s needs, personalities, and lifestyles. Because I understand that every client is different, I have carefully crafted our own services to increase in price based on the number of in-person meetings required. This allows my clients to select exactly what they need and let us know how much interaction they desire with us. While there’s a short briefing period where our clients must give us an idea of their “wish list” items, we can eventually adjust the amount of interactions and allow our clients to email updates, discussing them only during the in-person planning meetings if desired.
3| I can plan the perfect wedding by myself… and still have a normal life
Because a professional wedding planner has likely planned dozens of events throughout their career, we typically know all of the nuances and intricate details needed to successfully plan a wedding. We can predict human behavior patterns when clients are doing things like selecting menu options and calculating their alcohol tab.
We are well-versed in planning weddings under various circumstances, weather conditions and with many different types of couples. We do not need to research how many weeks before the wedding should we order invitations or when should RSVPs be due. Many of us should already have software programs, apps, and spreadsheets that will automatically calculate these targets. There is no “studying” needed on our part with the exception of reading an interesting article here and there to keep up with the times. There is no learning curve because we’re entrenched in our industry.
As a “civilian” however, there will be many things that even the craftiest DIY bride will just not be able to do without doing constant research. Research takes time, and for the average person with a full time job, lifestyles are generally not conducive to an additional 1-2 hours of wedding research per day. This doesn’t include an additional 3-4 hours per day I typically spend planning and scheduling a client’s appointments.
Experience has also revealed to me that there are tasks that couples just simply hate doing. Among the most despised are reading and/or updating contracts, writing specific directions to vendors, gathering certificate of liability insurance paperwork and food safety certifications from outside vendors, and keeping track of RSVPs.
With a wedding planner, dreaded tasks are completed quickly and condensed to basic essentials for the client to review. The client is still aware of everything that is going on, but can focus their attention on more enjoyable tasks as selecting flowers, designing their wedding cake or trying out new makeup looks.
2| The pricing is inflated and unfair
Let’s try crunching some wedding numbers. On average, I spend approximately 10-12 hours coordinating on a client’s wedding day. I will spend approximately 2 hours for the rehearsal the day before and a minimum of 8 hours for in-person planning time before the event. This totals approximately 22 hours of in-person planning time, but excludes the additional average of 20 hours a week that I may spend scheduling appointments, creating floorplans, and developing timelines and instructions for vendors.
For a wedding that I have 6 months to plan, this equates to approximately 480 hours of independent planning plus the 22 hours of in-person planning time. So what would be the value for over 500 hours of service time? Let’s take a look below:
When negotiating prices with a wedding planner, please be sensitive to what you are asking them to do based on a fair hourly rate. Think about how much you get paid per hour at your place of business, would you be fine with being paid $5/hour for a job well done? How about $1/hour?
Also, keep in mind that the prices listed above are based on fairly straightforward events. This does not take into account weddings for clients that require an unusual amount of changes or reworking for the planner. “Rush weddings” are weddings that require full planning in 3 months or less. These types of weddings (we call them Fast-Track Coordination) often include substantially more hours per week with the same amount of in-person planning time. They also require planners to “re-organize” the order in which other events are planned because of the immediate urgency. Therefore, “rush weddings” must be charged at a higher rate so that the planner does not end up paying the client to work on their event.
1| All wedding planners are dishonest
This misconception bothers me the most! Every industry may have a few bad apples and this also applies to wedding planners and coordinators. Most of the issues I see are from a basic lack of communication or a misunderstanding between the client and the planner (especially around pricing).
Another common pattern that I see is when a planner compromises their own pricing structure and/or service provisions just to book a client. As a client, while some negotiation can be beneficial between a potential client and a planner, you do not want to hire someone that you are forcing into a bad deal. If the pricing and services are not a match for you, PLEASE move on and find another planner who’s a better fit.
I also find that that planners are often considered dishonest if pricing and/or services are changed from one verbal or written interaction to another. A professional planner should sit down with a potential client and discuss their payment policies. Potential clients should ask questions like:
Will they charge more for events outside of their vendor service area?
Will your event involve logistical challenges where more staffers or service time will be needed?
What if you change your wedding date?
Sometimes these types of changes to service cannot be avoided by the client. Sometimes it is not until you begin planning an event that these factors come to light; however, it is doubly the responsibility of the potential client but also the planner to discuss your options (and agree to them) before you sign a contract.
My recommendation: Take your time, develop some questions to ask a planner and make sure that everyone is on the same page before proceeding.
So, what’s the reality?
There are lots of wedding planner options available in the Houston area, each with different levels of experience, influence, and motivation. Over the past 10 years, I have seen a surge in the number of wedding planners in the area which has some pros and cons. This surge is great for the consumer because competition and demand typically mean more competitive pricing, as well as more options to choose from. Within recent years, I have seen even the most exclusive vendors have to adjust their pricing structure just to stay in contention.
The negative side effect: there are literally hundreds of unqualified, inexperienced people presenting themselves to consumers as legitimate competition. On numerous occasions, I have personally been approached by ambitious up-and-coming planners with posh websites, social media presence and glossy business cards. Sometimes they are intent on giving potential clients the impression that they are ready for business, yet not revealing that their wedding will be their trial run.
Many times these inexperienced companies do not inform potential clients that there may be a difference between the services that they are able to provide and what the client will actually need before it’s too late. Such “hidden” services typically include liability insurance as required by the venue, familiarity with common clauses and practices within venue and outside vendor contracts, access to competent support staff, flexibility with when they are able to be contacted throughout the day, and experience communicating with venues and vendors on your behalf.
There is no licensing or certification requirement to become a wedding planner. While there are degree programs in areas such as Hospitality and Hotel Management that prove to be invaluable to understanding the industry, I still believe that the wedding planning microcosm is full of opportunity for lots of different kinds of creatives to positively influence the wedding industry.
Every wedding planner that you see today started out from somewhere. My recommendation is to not rule out a planner because they’re new, don’t have the fancy websites and/or don’t have tens and thousands of IG followers. Interview them by asking questions, compare their rates and services to other vendors, make the best decision for you, take your time, relax and give a wedding planner a hug- I bet they need it!
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