So now that you've finally landed a great guy, you thought that the hard part was over, right? Wrong. You've got a wedding to plan, and if you've never thrown a bash more complicated than a keg and a few bags of chips, you may be feeling a tad overwhelmed. That's when a wedding consultant can be a real godsend. More and more couples, in fact, are turning over some of their big-day preparation to an expert. Here are the answers to some questions you may be mulling over as you decide if a consultant is right for you.
Why are wedding consultants growing in popularity?
Richard Markel, president of the Association for Wedding Professionals International, attributes the "tremendous growth" of the bridal consultant industry to a strong economy. "Because of the growing economy, people have a little more money" to spend on their weddings. It's not just the demand for consultants that is growing, but also the supply. According to Markel, the Wall Street Journal recently reported that wedding consultancy is an ideal home occupation. With the pool of certified consultants getting bigger, competition is keen. Consultants are "doing more marketing," Markel says, hashing it out for brides' attention and business. In the process, they're spreading the word about the pluses of having a consultant help you plan your wedding.
Who can benefit from a consultant?
Consultants are "totally awesome in what they can do" for you, Markel says. They're especially helpful if you're…
Feeling clueless. Since they have planned many weddings over their careers, pros will have connections that your average bride will not. They will know of lots of reception sites, caterers, bands—everything you will need for your celebration—in your wedding's area. Chances are they'll also have professional relationships with these vendors and will be able to use these connections to save you time and money.
A bit wimpy. Consultants are "a little more aware of what's in contracts," Markel points out, which can prevent a novice bride from overlooking some important fine print. On a less tangible level, consultants can act as an objective third party and an intermediary—negotiating rates with vendors, smoothing things over between quarreling family members, and handling sticky situations where etiquette is involved. "They can be the bad guy when necessary," Markel says, a role which most brides would gladly give up.
A big dreamer. Consultants can also act as your voice of reason. "They can bring you down to reality about what your priorities are," says Markel, "and help you stay on track in terms of your budget."
A detail hater. For help with headache-inducing minutiae, such as designing a seating chart, confirming information with vendors, and proofreading your invitations, consultants are great. They can map out a schedule of events for the wedding day itself, and act as a wedding-day director to make sure all parties involved stick to it.
Heading out of town. And finally, if you're planning a destination wedding, a consultant is indispensable. "The Internet has definitely [caused an] increase [in the popularity of destination weddings]. You can go online and find people willing and able to assist you anywhere in the world."
What should a bride look for when hiring a consultant?
In addition to phoning consultants to set up appointments, Markel suggests that brides "go to bridal shows, where they can meet with some consultants one-on-one." The first steps in hiring a consultant are the same as they are in hiring any other wedding professional—you must first find someone who is available on your wedding date and who falls within your price range. After these criteria are met, the next important step is hiring someone you feel comfortable with. Your perfect consultant is one who will seem to know what you want before you tell her. "If it almost feels like she knows you, that she can almost read your mind," Markel says, "she is who you want."
To find out if a candidate is a member of the Association of Bridal Consultants, a national professional organization, call the ABS at 860-355-0464. Also, consider phoning National Bridal Service at 804-355-6945 or June Weddings, Inc. at 817-983-3596 for local referrals. Also be sure to check Brides.com's Local Resources listings for wedding consultants and planners in your area.
How far in advance should a consultant be booked?
"The earlier the better," Markel recommends. The sooner consultants are hired, the sooner they can start saving you money. Look for a consultant right after you set your wedding date. When a consultant works with you from the start, he or she can help you with your preliminary plans, such as setting up your budget.
Markel also advises brides to "give lots of time" for their weddings. He says an ideal engagement period is 14 months, with eight months being the comfortable minimum. "The more time you have," he says, "the more that can be done."
How do consultants typically charge for their services?
It depends on the consultant and on the work involved. "It's usually a flat rate, but it could be hourly," Markel says. "Depending on the work involved, the prices will vary. If a couple is trying to marry a thousand miles away, it's going to be more expensive and take more planning."