Choosing your wedding planner

Planning any event is an undertaking. Just finding the right person to assist you can be challenging. Do you even need an event planner? Many small events don’t. If you’re planning an elopement with your fiancé in a Vegas chapel, chances are your budget would be better spent elsewhere (like bribing the officiant to not wear his Elvis costume). But for many hosts, designating someone to deal with the details can be a very welcome reprieve.

It’s important to hire your planner as soon as possible, preferably before you’ve hired any other vendors. A professional event planner has connections with vendors that can get you better deals, and they will recommend only vendors with a good track record.

How Much do you Need?

There are different kinds of planners. If the traditional image of a person orchestrating your day from top to bottom doesn’t appeal to you, you may still benefit from other types of assistance. In addition to helping people plan different kinds of events (parties, weddings, corporate events, etc), planners can also help you with different aspects of your event. Most planners offer tiered packages to fit your budget, ranging from full service to just “day of” coordination (which still involves preparatory meetings).

A start-to-finish, full service party planner will take care of securing a venue, hiring other vendors, overseeing the creative team, and making sure the event fits the look, feel, and budget you have requested. They will take care of every detail, tailoring the event to your specifications. Your job, apart from consulting with the planner, is to show up and enjoy the event like a guest of honor.

For a less extravagant event, you may want to choose a mid-range planning package. This isn’t as all-encompassing, but will still include services like your planner accompanying you to vendor interviews and location walkthroughs. You can discuss what packages your planner offers. Most professionals are happy to create a custom plan to fit your budget.

You can also hire a “day-of” consultant, who will work on-site the day of your event. The term “day of” is misleading, however, as you will require preliminary meetings starting at least a month beforehand to make sure the planner understands everything you’re envisioning. They will make sure the details go smoothly on the big day, that everyone is in the right place at the right time, that vendors know where to set up, and that problems are dealt with gracefully. They will come early for set-up and stay late for clean up. This service is less expensive than a full-service planner, although more responsibility rests on your shoulders.

You may have already hired a planner. If you’ve already chosen your venue, ask if there is an in-house consultant whose fee is included, or reduced, as part of a package. These types of planners have the advantage of knowing your venue intimately and being able to predict exactly what needs will arise. Be sure to ask your in-house planner exactly what services they offer, however, because many cannot commit to a personalized experience the way a privately hired planner can.

Finding a Good Fit

When interviewing possible planners, you want to get a good sense of their personalities. Find someone whose approach and ideals mesh with your own. If you’re uncomfortable with someone for any reason, you won’t be able to relax and trust that person with control of your event. When you find the right planner, you will feel like you’ve met a friend.

Don’t be embarrassed to ask your planner anything, no matter how “stupid” a question; helping you is their job. Before you hire anyone, go through the basic timeline of the event with interviewees so you understand how involved they will be. Ask if they will accompany you to vendor appointments, if they will bring assistants, if they will help the flower girl remember her cue, if they will stay after the event, and any other details that pop into your mind.

A good planner will do the legwork without requiring you to relinquish creative control. Your planner should give you recommendations when hiring vendors or choosing décor, and let you make the creative decisions yourself. Ideally, your vision steers the event; the planner helps you to clarify your vision and make it a reality. Make sure you have a mutual understanding with your planner before you sign a contract.

Above all, make sure your planner is a legitimate professional. Can they show you their certification? Do they belong to a professional organization? Do they have liability insurance? Do they have a solid contract? Do they have classroom or on-the-job training? How long have they been in the business and how many events do they organize a year? Ask for references, so you can hear what previous clients have to say. You don’t want someone who labels themselves “a party planner” just because they picked the florist for their sister’s wedding.

Determining Payment

Most professionals ask for a flat fee, with a retainer to hold the date of your event. If a coordinator insists on working for a percentage of the event’s cost, beware. Although some planners operate this way, it carries the risk of unscrupulous planners deliberately choosing vendors that inflate your budget.

Be sure to sign a detailed contract before any work is done, and spell out all important details to ensure you and your planner have the same expectations. You don’t want to encounter hidden fees later. Ask your planner to show you how they calculate their fee, and how many hours of work they estimate for your project. If they share their process openly, you can feel confident about where your money is going.

The price of coordinating an event depends heavily on your location. A planner in New York City will charge much more than the same service in rural Idaho. A good rule of thumb is to get price quotes from planners in your area and some surrounding areas to familiarize yourself with what’s reasonable.

Price will also vary based on the planner’s experience. You can hire an established professional for a higher fee, or save money by giving someone just entering the business a chance to build their portfolio. Always ask to see samples of previous work and talk to references, regardless of experience level.

Most planners are happy to work within your budget. Ask about what packages they offer. Full-service planning will cost more than limited coordination, and you can ask about a custom package if you have specific needs. As a general rule, the more complex your event, the higher the price will be, increasing with number of vendors, venues, and activities involved. Factors that make an event more expensive include: planning a large number of meetings, using multiple venues, and asking the planner to accompany you to non-traditional outings like bridesmaid fittings.

Event planners don’t usually expect tips outside of their set fee, but if someone goes above and beyond for you, tipping 15 to 20 percent is a nice way to show your appreciation.