Top Tips: Ten Things to Know about Wedding Planners

by Marta
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It used to be that hiring a wedding planner was something for the rich and famous. Today though, it’s becoming increasingly more common for everyday brides and grooms, with everyday budgets, to hire a planner. With good reason, hiring a planner can actually wind up saving you as much money as it costs, with the added benefit of reducing stress.

Choosing the right person can make a huge difference in your wedding planning, and the day itself. I recently talked to Heather Lynne Vickery of Greatest Expectations, an event planning company in the Chicago area, to learn what sorts of things couples should know before hiring a planner.

1. There are three kinds of “Wedding Planners”
A) Event Producers – If you speak about your wedding as “a wedding production” and have plans to have the video screened at your local theater, this may be the way to go. Event producers can cost $20,000 or more, and specialize in very large events with multiple moving parts.
B) Wedding Day Coordinator – Many people love doing all the legwork and planning of their wedding, they just don’t want to worry about details the day of the wedding. For $500-$3,500 a wedding coordinator can step in, and take care of making sure all the details are in place the day of your wedding.
C) Wedding Planner – A wedding planner helps bring your vision of your wedding day to life. He or she takes care of all the details from day one through the last dance and beyond. Depending on what services you need, and where you live, a typical wedding planner will cost between $1,700-$15,000.

Knowing which kind of event planner you’re looking for can make your search process a lot easier.

2. This should be your first step
If you’re hiring a wedding planner, do yourself a favor and make it the first thing you do (well, besides finding someone to marry). No matter where you are in your planning, an event planner can always step in and help, but involving one at the very beginning will increase your savings of both time and money.

3. Get recommendations and referrals
If you’ve read a lot of these top tips articles, you’re probably sort of bored with this point. But, as I’ve said before, it’s the single most important thing to do. It’s why sites like OneWed let you rate and review vendors. When you first meet with a planner ask him or her for 3-5 referrals. Heather always tries to refer people to more recent clients, including someone for whom she is currently working. If you have any special concerns about your wedding make sure to ask for a referral to a similar couple. For example, if you are planning a Jewish or Catholic wedding, which both have specific requirements that other weddings don’t, ask for a referral from another Jewish or Catholic couple. The planner should also have a portfolio of events, but keep in mind that each of those events was someone else’s vision, it doesn’t have to be yours.

4. Wedding planners are supposed to be helpful
Contrary to reality shows and movies, wedding planners are not supposed to be scary. They are not supposed to make you nervous, yell at you, or impose their will on you. A good wedding planner will listen to you, understand you, and make you feel less stressed, not intimidated. At your first meeting he or she should be asking you questions about your ideas and vision, not forcing their own ideas or vendors on you.

5. Fit is everything
As with the perfect dress, fit is the most important aspect of choosing a wedding planner. You’ll be working closely with this person through most of your planning. One of the things a good planner can do for you is run interference with family members, if you feel that this is a service you’ll need, make sure you feel comfortable that the planner can handle it with tact and discretion.

6. Understand how a planner saves you money
If you’ve ever been a regular customer at a local store or restaurant, you know that it has it’s benefits. You get extra goodies, special treatment, and special deals. Hopefully, you will not be a repeat customer of any wedding vendors! But, your wedding planner is. This is one of the ways they save you money. It’s not that vendors overcharge brides (of course some do), it’s that planners are repeat customers who know how to ask for favors. Similarly, they know how to check vendors’ contracts to make sure that all your needs are included, and prices are reasonable.

The other way planners save you money is by understanding what is and isn’t needed for an event. For example, if you’re having both wedding cake and a sweet table, do you know how big the cake should be, and how many sweets you should order? Probably not, but your planner does and can keep you from over-ordering.

7. You’re paying the planner to have recommendations
One of the reasons you hire a planner is for his or her expertise with other vendors. Your planner should have great options for venues, caterers, photographers, etc. Notice, I said OPTIONS. Planners should recommend vendors they know will serve you well, but they should not push any specific vendor on you. It is important to note though that the more comfortable all your vendors are with each other, the more smoothly your event will run.

8. Understand what you’re paying for
Different wedding planners charge in different ways. Some have specific packages from which you can choose. These packages may specify the number of hours they’ll be working for you, or the services they’ll provide. Others, like Heather, work with you to determine your needs and then give you a flat fee. In either case, the contract should spell out exactly what the services and fees are. You should expect to pay 50% of the fee when signing the contract.

As with all “day of” vendors, tips are not required, but are of course appreciated. Under much duress, Heather suggested 10% of your planner's bill would be an appropriate amount to tip a wedding planner who had gone above and beyond the call of duty.

9. Ask about emergencies and contingency plans
One of the main reasons to hire a planner is so that you don’t have to worry about anything the day of your wedding. That includes, whether or not the planner will show up! You should ask a planner what happens if he or she is sick, or has a family emergency the day of your wedding. There’s no right answer to this question, but you should get a sense that this person is a professional who has thought about how to handle this issue.

If it won’t stress you out, you might also want to ask the planner about day of emergencies he or she has handled for clients. For example, Heather told me about a limo stuck in traffic, and having the wrong cake show up. These problems were both handled without stressing out the couple, AND after the wedding she was able to contact the vendors and arrange for refunds for the couple. This is another benefit of hiring a planner. If you have a problem on your wedding day, a planner has a lot more pull in getting a refund then you do.

10. The wedding is over, the planner is still working
It may seem impossible to believe now, but the day after your wedding, you won’t want anything to do with weddings! A planner can take care of everything from returning tuxes, to having your dress cleaned and mailing out your pre-written thank-you notes.

Thanks again to Heather of Greatest Expectations for sharing her expertise.