Written by Jessie Thomson, luxury wedding planner and owner of Jessie Thomson Weddings & Events.
So he/she popped the question… you said YES! What next?
I’m willing to bet with all the excitement you have jumped head first into the wonderful world of wedding magazines and wedding blogs…but it often quickly turns to feelings of being overwhelmed when faced with confusing checklists and hours of research required to find the perfect venue and suppliers. It is at this point that you should really take a big breath and seriously consider hiring a wedding planner – it’s so much easier to point you in the right direction from the start, than it is to try and fix mistakes after they’ve been made.
The word “wedding planner” covers a lot of different roles these days – and it’s no wonder that couples don’t understand the job, or find the process of choosing one quite hard. So just before engagement season starts (hellloooo diamonds at Christmas!), I thought it might be handy to give a handy outline of what different planners offer, and what questions to ask them before you consider hiring one.
SHOULD I HIRE A WEDDING PLANNER?
There are a few criteria I would always suggest you consider honestly when asking yourself this question!
Firstly though, I should say that almost all of my own clients are hard working and extremely successful individuals.They are more often than not, quite capable of creating their own large scale or complex events – however they also recognise the value of using an expert to make sure things are as stress free and flawless as possible.They end up with suppliers they can really trust, and can relax and enjoy the process so much more with me by their side.
Here are a few obvious scenarios when you should really seriously consider having a planner on board:
- You don’t have at least 10+ hours every week for up to or over a year to dedicate to planning the big day (I typically spend 250+ hours planning each wedding, and I have all the contacts and experience to do it quickly!).
- You are planning a destination wedding, or one which isn’t close to home – meeting and interviewing suppliers in person is so important, and a local planner will know all the best contacts.
- You don’t enjoy throwing parties or have never organised a major event before – trust me, it is way more work than you think.
- You lack creative vision or don’t want to simply copy all the other weddings on Pinterest!
- You are beginning to resent the planning process and/or family conflict is an issue – I am often a counsellor as much as a planner, absolutely part of the job.
*I should also note here, many (most) venues have in house wedding co-ordinators, but please do make sure you’re clear on exactly what level of service they provide. In house wedding planners are usually employed by the venue to handle problems and assist on the day of the wedding only, and may only offer a list of their preferred vendors (not necessarily the best for your requirements). They very rarely do the same work as an independent wedding planner, and ultimately their boss is not you!
WHAT DOES A WEDDING PLANNER ACTUALLY DO?
What don’t we do? Although a planner is ultimately hired to create weddings for couples, I personally prefer to describe it as creating weddings *with* couples. They stay in control of the process and make the final decisions. The styling and details should always be personal to the two people getting married.
A really great wedding planner will have extensive knowledge. contacts and expertise in many sectors – from lighting and audio, catering, entertainment, budgeting`and financial planning, design and printing of materials, entertainment, contract law and negotiation, photography and videography, transport and venues, interior design… and so much more. Yes, an experienced and successful planner should have a great track record of beautiful and timeless weddings – but they should also be nurturing and maintaining excellent relationships with other wedding suppliers and vendors along the way. The best planner can combine all of those skills with an amazing vision, and tie it all together seamlessly.
So depending on your individual budget, time and requirements you’ll need to choose one of the following:
- a full service wedding planner who helps to arrange every detail – from budgeting, to design planning, supplier selection and scheduling, guest list management, contract negotiation, detailed timeline creation, on site management etc. You name it, they have it covered.
- a partial planning or styling service – perhaps it’s extra help finding the perfect venue, or a speciality caterer, or a little advice on working out the colour scheme and design details.
- an “on the day” wedding co-ordinator – which almost always starts 2-6 weeks in advance (depending on whom you choose to work with).
CAN WE AFFORD A WEDDING PLANNER?
It depends on what level of service you opt for – full service wedding planning is the most expensive, but also offers the most value and may actually end up saving you money overall. Prices vary hugely in the industry – from under £1000 for on the day co-ordination, to over £25,000 for full service planning.
Typically I would recommend you set aside 10-15% of your total budget for a planner, and be prepared to pay more for the best. There is always someone cheaper, but don’t make a decision on cost alone. Remember that many of the top planners will work on only a handful of weddings each year to fully dedicate themselves to the process – I personally now only work for 5-10 couples each year, and my prices reflect both that and my experience.
BEFORE YOU CONTACT A WEDDING PLANNER
There are some planners that offer set packages, and there are some that only offer full service planning. Personally I prefer to work in a more bespoke way, so after in depth consultation I would price according to requirements. Before you contact me though it’s really handy if you have the following information ready:
- How much money will be in your overall wedding budget?
- How large or small is your initial guest list?
- Where are you hoping to get married (i.e. locally, in the UK, further afield)
- When would you prefer to get married (i.e. August is typically busier than November!)
- Any creative ideas or your dream wedding vision – although if you are contacting a planner who is also a wedding stylist and designer, it really doesn’t matter if you draw blank on this bit!
WHAT TO ASK A WEDDING PLANNER?
I’m going to leave out the obvious here – clearly they will need to be both available and willing! But hopefully these questions will help you assess their experience and suitability. Try to relax and chat easily though, after all you will be working very closely together during often emotional times!
- What made you want to be a wedding planner and how long ago did you start?
- What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced and how did you approach them?
- How many weddings have you planned, and when was the last one?
- How many weddings do you work on each year, and do any fall within the same week/month?
- Is wedding planning your full time job?
- Do you only offer organisation and logistical support, or can you bring a creative vision to life with styling too? Can you recommend an event designer if required?
- Are we restricted to suppliers you have worked with before or can we bring in our own if we want?
- Do you accept or request commission or discounts from suppliers you recommend?
- How many suppliers will you shortlist within each sector?
- Will you come along to all our meetings and review our contracts?
- Do you invoice us for all items booked or do we need to pay suppliers directly?
- What parts of the planning process are we responsible for on our own?
- Will you personally attend on the day of the wedding, and will you bring assistants? How long will you be there?
- Do you have a network and good relations with other planners in case of an emergency?
- Do you offer set packages or can you create something bespoke for us?
- How often and when can I contact you?
- Are there extra costs to attend a dress rehearsal or day after events?
- Do you provide assistance with bridal party styling and dress appointments?
- Can you help us with honeymoon and gift list planning?
- Will you share the breakdown and allocation of our budget openly?
- Can you give us any references or testimonials?
- Can you show us portfolio images and/or videos of real weddings you have worked on?
- How will you charge us? A set fee, hourly, or a % of the final spend?
- Do you hire any items for styling purposes?
- How do we book you? Do you require a deposit and instalments, and will we have a contract?
- What is your refund or cancellation policy?
AFTER THE INTERVIEW
- Can we afford what we really need?
- Was there a good personal connection?
- Did they listen to us?
- Did the planner seem excited by our vision? Did they understand it?
- Are we happy that they can work within our budget?
- Have they followed up with a consultation report and/or contract including a full quote?
Your wedding planner is the vendor you will spend the most time with over the wedding planning process – to create a truly memorable wedding they need to be able to inject some of your personality and it’s essential you get on well together from the start.
Once you have hired them and started working together it’s really important to also trust them – from advice on timings that will flow beautifully, to which floral arrangement will look best in the setting – you hired an expert for a good reason, and a good planner will always be honest with a smile!