The economy still has not affected the number of couples getting engaged and who are ready to tie the knot, either in their home town or as a destination wedding. This my friends is a fact of life. So, the age old question always comes up about whether or not you should hire a wedding planner or even if you can afford one.
As a wedding designer and planner of long standing, of course I would suggest you hire a professional. This is not only because I would love your business. Its because if I had a dollar for every story that I heard where the bridesmaids or relatives and friends of the couple were held to ransom to help on the wedding day, I'd be a very wealthy woman.
Think about it and it makes common sense. Sure, your bridesmaids can be there to support you and help with pre-wedding plans. But there is nothing special or even nice about cleaning up the reception site after a wedding, after the wedding day celebrations, and especially after a couple of alcoholic beverages have been consumed. This is not to say it can't be done as I'm sure there are couples all over the world who DO manage to have lovely affairs in just this way. Instead, consider these basic rules of thumb when hiring a professionally trained, experienced, licensed and insured wedding planner:
- A PLANNER'S CONTACTS - A wedding planner can be worth her (or his) weight in gold with the number of professional relationships they have formed along the way. Planners with experience have taken years to establish their credentials and build up their portfolios of wonderful service professionals. They have lists of service providers in every category of weddings and events and even more lists of people who provide services that you may not have even thought of. Their contacts are the foundation of their business and they rely heavily on reliable, trusted and experienced vendors to ensure their clients are totally taken care of.
- A PLANNER'S TRADE DISCOUNTS - Because wedding and event planners work with service providers all the time, they are in a better position than the average bride to negotiate special rates of discounts. Its a trade secret weapon that is sometimes used as leverage to solidify a contract. Most vendors are happy to offer discounts to wedding planners because they know the planner will refer them on to other clients in the future if they are flexible. That's more business and job security for our industry as a whole.
- DIFFERENT PLANNER RATES - Different planners charge different prices. Beware of wedding planners that will plan your wedding for FREE or for a token amount. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is! Do your research. Ask for references, both from past clients and vendors. Above all, make sure a wedding planner has experience you can trust. Just because someone helped their cousin or girlfriend plan their wedding, doesn't make them a wedding planner.
- NOTHING IS FREE - Nothing is free in the reputable business world and one way or another you are going to pay for it. If someone tells you they'll plan your wedding for free, you'll no doubt pay double or triple the amount on your vendor services because things will be marked up beyond what you could have imagined. This is not a crime. As a matter of fact, as long as you are aware that all your vendor services will be marked up, its perfectly logical. But...wouldn't you rather know up front that the costs you are going to pay for a planner are up front and allocated for in the beginning?
- AVERAGE PRICING - Most reputable planners will sit down with you and go over the services they offer. They will determine how much time will go into planning the wedding, and whether its a full service wedding planner or perhaps just someone to help you the week of and on the wedding day that you'll require. Together you will discuss their fees and how they work. Some planners charge a percentage of the budget (between 10 and 25%) and others will charge a flat rate. If a company charges a percentage rate, then you should incur savings from wedding vendors that they work with. For instance, our company charges 20% of the overall budget. However, the discounts that we acquire from wedding vendors on your behalf is anywhere between 15% and 25%, therefore helping to offset the planning fee. Our discounts are passed on to our clients which just makes sense. All the vendors we work with form an integral part of our team. However, we work for the client, not the vendors and our vendors know that we will be asking for the best possible prices. Its called professional ethics. And at the end of the day, some things are just priceless, like having trusted professionals handle all the details of the day so you can enjoy the day and those cherished memories.
- FOOTWORK & TIME FACTOR - The time and footwork it takes to pull a wedding together can be anywhere from 20 hours to 18 months. It will however take a lot of research, contacts, negotiation of contracts, setting up payment plans, appointment scheduling, budget analysis, liaison between all the professional parties and the sites, creating check lists, floor plans, rental and decor option selections, more scheduling, tastings, more correspondence, site surveys, RSVP management and so much more. Then there is the wedding day itinerary and flow of events to work through, ensuring the delivery times, the vendor contact updates, staffing liaison, being present to oversee the setup and execution of plans that were made. A professional wedding planner can do all this for you and reduce the time factor by setting up appointments and utilizing strict time management skills so you have time to enjoy other things like your engagement parties, bridal showers, luncheons and selecting invitations.
- STRESS FACTOR - While stress plays a daily role in our everyday lives, shouldn't we try to limit it to a degree on something as important as the wedding day? There is no such thing as stress free. A bride might be stressed because she's worried about her hair wilting in the heat, or she's worried about tripping while walking in those new heals and that beautiful wedding gown. She may even be worried about the something else. However, she should not be worried about the elements of the day falling into place if she has a professional there to oversee the day instead of her, her parents or her bridal party.
- MOST IMPORTANT DAY - There will be other important days in your lives, lets face it. You'll buy your first house together, you'll have children together and the joys you will experience through life will be just as important if not more than your wedding day. Your wedding day is just the beginning of your lives together and there will be so many wonderful experiences for you throughout life, that you should not put all the pressure on this one day.
- DECIDE ON PRIORITY ITEMS - Deciding on weather or not you can afford a wedding planner should not be such a dilemma. Instead, decide on whether or not you can afford flowing champagne all night long or whether or not you can substitute the caviar for ham biscuits. Do you need to supply transportation for each and every guest? Perhaps that horse and carriage send-off can be replaced with a fun rickshaw ride to a local hotel and your site will be a convenient walking distance to neighboring hotel accommodations for guests.
- OTHER VENDORS PRETENDING TO BE PLANNERS - Other vendors may talk to you about their services and lead you to believe that they can also plan the wedding for you as well, therefore saving you money on an independent wedding planner. Truth is, a caterer and banquet manager manages the timeline for the food and beverage and while it is not unheard of for them to try and liaison with other vendors, they do not have the time or staff to look after each and every detail of the wedding itself. The DJ or Emcee is looking after the music selections and following a pre-printed itinerary. The florist is looking after the setup and decor of the ceremony and reception site. Your photographer is too busy trying to capture those special memories to organize what is going to happen next. And I've never witnessed a caterer holding the bride's gown while she needs to relieve herself before walking down the aisle. A planner will be there to hold your hand throughout the wedding planning process, design the itinerary with you, make sure the vendors and rentals are all in place on the wedding day and make sure that nothing is missed. Your planner will be there when your button pops, when your dress needs bustling, when a hem comes down, to let your father and best man know when the toasts are going to happen and also ensure the DJ and photographer is there beforehand to capture it all. Your planner will let the banquet staff know when to pour the champagne and be the 'go-to person' on the day so you're not worrying needlessly about small issues that will no doubt go unnoticed anyway.
- EMERGENCY & CONTINGENCY PLANS - A professional planner is trained in emergency plans and also has an emergency kit on her for unexpected little glitches on the day. Your planner will make the call to take action if inclement weather threatens to spoil your day. Your planner will act as referee, psychiatrist, wedding councilor, family councilor, sister, mother or even the bad guy if they need to be. He/she will be your advocate and see that your ideas and dreams are carried out on the day so you can be free to enjoy the day as the guest of honor. Your planner will handle all the plans so you can create memories of a lifetime. And, at the conclusion of your event, you can just leave. Yes....just leave and know that everything will be taken care of for you, right down to the last light turned off.
A Charleston Wedding, Richard Bell Photography, Kim Gissendanner Photography. Copyrights on all above photos and all rights reserved for all photos featured in this article.