At least once a month, someone asks me how I became a wedding planner. My story isn't that exciting... I always loved planning parties and events. I planned some for my sorority (events that ranged from 30 guests to over 200 guests) and a large banquet for the University of Florida's college of Education when I was a graduate student, but it didn't really lead me into anything until a few years ago when I started working as a bridal consultant at Alfred Angelo. Following my experiences there working with brides and other industry professionals, I met and interned for Beth and eventually earned my spot as a coordinator here at Flawless Occasions. Yes, there were multiple steps on my path, but I think all of them lead me to become a better and more experienced coordinator.
Beth, on the other hand, was in the event planning industry for several years at the corporate level and transitioned over to the wedding planning industry a few years ago. She also planned events for a large non-profit organization in Orlando for many years.
But unlike us, some people try to start from scratch and immediately start their own wedding planning business. They will even call themselves "experienced" because they planned their own wedding, or helped a friend with their wedding. Buyer beware, because real experience is important when handling the biggest day in a couple's lives. Although everyone has to start somewhere, being someone's first or second wedding client is a risk that you need to be aware of before you hire a newbie wedding planner.
This article from weddingplanning.com has some great tips on how to find a legit wedding planner -- some of these tips can also be applicable to finding other vendors as well, especially the tips specific to contracts and payments.
SELECTING A WEDDING PLANNER, CONSULTANT OR COORDINATOR
The recent "work at home" business boom has created companies who offer rapid "certification" programs for wedding, party and event consultants, coordinators and planners. For a few hundred dollars you too can become a "certified" wedding or event planner. Unfortunately, there are a number of inexperienced "planners" and "consultants" and "coordinators" running around with "certified" stamps on their foreheads hoping that people will buy into believing that "certified" means "experienced". Selecting an experienced planner, consultant or coordinator is essential if you are going to have a worry free and problem free wedding. There are just too many details that can easily be overlooked or messed up to trust your wedding to someone who has never planned a wedding before. Be sure to inquire about the planner's experience and the number of weddings they have coordinated.
Ask to obtain several recent references from the wedding consultant or planner so you can check their clients satisfaction level. If they are not willing to share several recent references with you, don't waste time. Move on to another wedding planner.
Services that are offered will vary and can range from simple consulting services to make the job of "doing it yourself" easier, to complete "start to finish" coordination of your wedding. A consultant usually takes a more passive role and may simply offer "guidance" in areas where you may not be familiar while allowing you to do it yourself. On the other hand, a full service wedding planner or coordinator will provide more "hands on" expertise and take an active role in planning and supervising your wedding, handling everything from working with you to establish a workable budget, to selecting the best suppliers at the best price, to addressing and sending wedding invitations, to on-site supervision of the components of the actual wedding. Depending upon your budget you will have to decide which level of service is right for you.
When you speak to different wedding planners, take notes and determine your comfort level with the specific planner. Do they seem to listen and understand what you have in mind?
Do they charge by the hour or based on a specified percentage of the total wedding cost? (A percentage based fee is not really a preferred arrangement since the wedding planner makes more money when the wedding costs more - which offers the planner very little incentive to save you money.)
Find out specifically what you are getting for your money, which areas of the wedding planning process they are taking care of and which areas they are not taking care of.
Ask if, in addition to the fee they charge you, they also receive a fee from the vendors that they contract for your wedding. If your goal is to receive the best value, planners who charge vendors should probably be avoided since the fee they charge the vendor sometimes (frequently) is "built -in" to the vendor's charges to the client. This is pretty much like paying the planner twice, isn't it?
*The above also applies to wedding and special event facilities who have an "approved" vendor list and who receive a fee from the approved vendors for requiring the client to use their services. Remember though, that just because a facility may have a vendor list does not mean that they automatically charge the vendor a fee. This is a question you will need to ask the wedding facility.
Payment for the wedding planner's fee is also something to discuss initially. Normally, the planner will charge a retainer in advance that either covers a percentage of the anticipated total or for a specific number of hours of service. The balance is then payable either in periodic time billing amounts prior to the wedding - or in full at the conclusion of the wedding - or a combination of the two.
Avoid paying 100% of all fees in advance unless you know that the wedding planner has a rock solid reputation. From a practical standpoint, it is usually best to reserve final payment until the conclusion of the event - just in case something goes wrong due to negligence on the part of the wedding planner.
Payments to vendors contracted on your behalf by a wedding planner will either be paid by you directly or paid by the wedding planner from funds paid by you to the planner for that purpose. When paying the planner for services provided by contracted vendors, be sure to obtain the ORIGINAL invoice copies rather than paying from a statement.