Getting Started

Wedding Consultants 101

You hire a wedding consultant to handle a serious financial and emotional investment—but do you know how a consultant is educated, or what the job title really means? We answer the questions you need to ask.

What are the differences between a consultant, a planner, and a coordinator?

Most people who plan weddings call themselves "consultants" or "coordinators." But you sometimes hear titles like "wedding designer," "wedding producer," and "wedding stylist." "These differing designations reflect a special expertise," says Joyce Scardina Becker, a California-based wedding designer with Events of Distinction, and author of the book Countdown to Your Perfect Wedding (St. Martin's Griffin, 2006). She says that usually a "planner" will orchestrate a wedding from start to finish, including all details. She has also found that those with a title of "consultant" function more as advisors and will help direct you to vendors, create timelines, and oversee everything on the actual wedding day. A "stylist," "designer," or "architect" is more focused on the aesthetics of the event.
      Of course, this doesn't mean that someone who goes by "consultant" won't act as a "planner," or that a "coordinator" can't design your wedding, but you should certainly always inquire about expertise.

How do these pros charge?

Wedding planners largely agree that full-service wedding production runs approximately 10–20 percent of the total wedding cost, depending on the consultant's level of experience and how much time your wedding will demand. And fees vary: Some planners charge a flat fee for their services (be sure you get a list of everything that will be provided before you sign a contract). Others charge a percentage of the total wedding cost. If you find a consultant you like who charges this way, be sure to agree to a cost cap before you start working together. Finally, there are consultants who charge by the hour—a logical choice, considering that lawyers, interior designers, and other pros use this type of billing system. Just ask how many hours' work a wedding like yours might require.

What kind of training do wedding consultants have?

Some wedding consultants begin as undergraduates majoring in a hospitality field. More often, consultants start their businesses by joining one of the wedding-professional associations that provide education and training. For example, the 54-year-old Association of Bridal Consultants (ABC) offers courses in subjects ranging from etiquette to planning logistics. The 19-year-old Association of Certified Professional Wedding Consultants (ACPWC) holds classes on topics such as vendor selection, ethics, and protocol.
      There are also college-run certificate programs, including one that Joyce teaches at California State University, East Bay. Some of the topics covered are menu planning, logistics, timelines, hospitality contract law, and vendor contract negotiation. Becker's program upholds rigorous standards: To obtain a certificate, students must pass a four-hour exam.

What do all these memberships and titles mean?

You're sure to notice that many wedding planners list organizational memberships on their websites and business cards. They refer to their credentials. Most associations require members to meet certain criteria in order to join and to use specific titles. All of the associations mentioned here promote a code of ethics.
      The ABC has several levels of membership, beginning with a "novice" designation for those just starting out in the field. After meeting further requirements, including writing an essay, a planner can earn the designation of "accredited bridal consultant." A consultant who is a "master wedding vendor" as designated by the ABC has passed an interview with the ABC panel and presented a portfolio of a wedding he or she has planned.
      The ACPWC will allow only members who have reached the level of "professional" or "certified" to use the ACPWC logo. In addition to completing the association's five-day course, planners seeking the "professional" designation need a year of wedding-planning experience along with recommendation letters. Requirements to become "certified" include experience planning at least 18 weddings, a video of one of these weddings, plus other criteria.
      The Association for Wedding Professionals International (AFWPI), by contrast, requires only a standard application to become a member.
      Some non-wedding–related associations that also enhance a planner's skill set include the National Association of Catering Executives (NACE) and the International Special Events Society (ISES).

Should my wedding consultant be licensed?

There is no licensing or certification required for the field. Still, hiring a coordinator is the most critical vendor choice you'll make, so when reviewing a potential candidate's credentials, do your research and, of course, trust your instincts. Membership in a professional organization is one great indicator of talent and expertise, but not the only one. If a trusted friend can vouch for a potential candidate's services, his or her testimonial can be just as valid.

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