So you want to be a Wedding Planner…

October 16, 2014

I wanted to take a few minutes to jot down some thoughts I have on what it takes to be a wedding and event planner. I have students and aspiring event planners approach me all the time either wanting to intern with us or shadow us on weddings or just pick my brain about how to break into the industry. They want to know what kind of background they need to have and if they need to get certified, take a class etc. Yes I think if you’re new to the industry a course on wedding planning is definitely helpful but that’s no match for actual hands on experience. I’ve listed a few key points to consider if you’re thinking wedding planning might be a good career choice for you.

Service Industry, Service Industry, Service Industry –
If you haven’t waited tables, do that first. You will learn much of what you need to learn for wedding planning through either waiting tables, bartending or working events with a caterer. You learn how to deal with customers, think on your feet, get along with co workers and crazy owners and kitchen staff. It’s the fastest way to develop a thick skin and it teaches you diplomacy. Those are all key ingredients in wedding planning.
I truly believe that if you hate restaurant work, you will not like wedding planning. If that’s the case, that’s fine! There are so many avenues to the wedding industry that you may be well suited for but at the end of the day, wedding planning is so much like working in a restaurant you just have to try that first and see if you like it.

Marketing –
You must learn how to put yourself out there and not spend a ton of money doing it. Especially in the beginning when you have more time than money. I learned a lot about self promotion doing real estate. That was very helpful when I went to launch my own business. I think the key is blogging/writing about what you know so that potential clients can get a feel for you as a person and whether you are a good fit for them.
Getting involved in your local bridal association or group of wedding vendors is key as well. You have to get to know your sphere of local vendors face to face.

Slow and steady wins the race –  
Be patient. The first year I went into wedding planning, I did 2 weddings. Then the next year it was 5 and then 10 and then 15 and now we’re at 30 plus weddings a season. It’s definitely not a get rich quick scheme. It takes a while for local vendors to get to know you enough to throw your name out there to their brides. Reputation is key and it takes a long time to build that trust. Be patient and keep another job on the side as long as you need to so that you don’t put pressure on yourself to under sell your services or book brides that aren’t a good fit because you are desperate for work. 
Now when you’re first starting out, you’ll charge significantly less than you will once you get established and that’s ok. You’re training yourself as you go along but on that same note, once you get to where you really really know your stuff, make sure you get paid for your time and expertise. Log your hours and see how much time you are actually putting in and then divide that into what you’re actually making to see what you’re making per hour. Then think about how much money you’re putting into marketing and gas and supplies on top of that…
Most importantly, don’t work with clients that don’t see the value in your work. Make sure that you know how to educate your potential clients about what you do and why you charge what you do without sounding confrontational. People will ask you “why do you charge more than this other wedding planner” or “can’t you just do “day of planning”” or “why does it cost more for you to plan a wedding at one venue than another”. It’s important to be comfortable answering these questions. Think of it as educating your clients so that they see your value or your work rather than feeling like they’re trying to shake you down in price. People are willing to pay more for quality service but they want to feel justified in that decision. Write down your strengths and why you charge what you do on a piece of paper that you can pull out when you are on the phone with them so that you have the talking points right there. 
Be skeptical of clients that are making a decision based solely on price. Having a “here’s what I do, take it or leave it” approach will take you a long way. There are plenty of fish in the sea and if you can afford to play the waiting game and not go for those clients who are not a good fit, you will build a solid reputation faster.

Make sure you hire enough support staff to make the job look effortless –
This is something took me forever to learn. When I think of all of the years I worked by myself or with only one assistant and just ran my tail off.….I don’t think the quality of service was lacking but it was way more stressful for me. Finally I’ve learned that you can almost never have too much staff . Now that I’ve figured that out, weddings are a walk in the park. It doesn’t cost that much to have a few extra hands on deck so that you, the planner, can focus on the important stuff and not get sidetracked with random details. 

Organization –
Obviously this is a key element. There are so so many details to keep track of. Putting your systems in place is an important thing to do when you first set up your business. Your methods and checklists etc. will evolve as you go along but you need to have a clear game plan and stick to it. Be constantly figuring out new ways to work smarter and more efficiently.
It’s also important to size up your client and figure out how they fit into the picture. Some clients are very involved and want to share checklists, spreadsheets etc. Some clients are more hands off and just want you to handle everything without bothering them. Know your audience. You don’t want to inundate a hands off bride with lots of details…that’s why they hired you. You also don’t want to seem unorganized to a Type A bride that wants to see the process. I think it’s important to ask what level of involvement the clients wants and what kinds of organizational methods they find helpful.

Go with your strengths –
Know yourself and learn what comes natural to you. Let that be your focus. Wedding planners come in all different forms and offer a range of services. Don’t promote something that is not your strength. For example, I don’t promote myself as a designer because I’m not the creative type. That’s why I have people on my team that are! I’m a business person, I like putting all of the details together and running the show. I can’t take 3 adjectives and 2 colors from a bride and miraculously come up with a whole design concept. I have a good eye and know what looks good and what does not. I’m a great person to bounce ideas off of. I can put together the decorations that the bride sets out for me but I don’t pretend to be a visionary and I’m very upfront about that fact. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not!

Smile!!! –
You should never ever look stressed out. Your face should be locked in a pleasant expression…always. Pretend you’re a flight attendant. They can’t look worried or flustered or everyone starts to panic. Same thing with weddings.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of what I have to say on starting a career in wedding planning.  I’m considering writing a book called “So you want to be a wedding planner”. I don’t pretend to know everything  but I do think I have come at it from a unique angle since wedding planning is never something I ever imagined myself doing.  I was actually a Music Theatre major in college but finally realized that wasn’t the life I wanted so I mainly worked in the service industry after college until I fell into this. I think it’s actually a pretty ideal background. Running restaurants with a side of directing musicals is about what wedding planning is at the end of the day!

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