Hiring a wedding planner is a big investment, but it's also a total sanity-saver. You might start off the wedding planning process excited about buying a dress or going to your cake tasting, but the nitty-gritty details that make up the less-fun parts of planning a wedding can really bog you down. Having an amazing planner by your side to help with mundane tasks such as checking if your caterer is available or making sure you rent the correct number of wine glasses will transform a good wedding into a great one (and make the months leading up to the big day a little more enjoyable). While the basics of a planner's job are pretty well-known, how do you make sure you're getting a good return on your investment? We talked to Anne Book, founder of D.C.-based Anne Book Event Design, about how brides can really get the most out of their wedding planners.
Know their strengths. Before you even hire a planner, find out a little more about them and their background. Were they the events manager at a major venue, the head of catering at a hotel, or are they a long-time planner with 15 years of experience and vendor contacts? "They might be a wiz at styling tables after years with a rental company, or know everything there is to know about menus because they used to work for a caterer," says Book. "Once you figure out their strengths and passions, you'll have a better sense of ways they'll be able to help with your wedding that might not be evident on paper." Also, think about how these strengths play with your own. If you're an organizational genius without an artistic bone in your body, a planner with a serious creative streak will be perfect for you, whereas if you've got all the design details under control but need help keeping it all straight, a planner with a background in management could be your best bet.
Go beyond the basics. Everyone has their own version of a wedding timeline and budget, but that doesn't mean it will fit your wedding from the get-go. "Ask your planner to customize the timeline to fit how much time you have and to create a monthly macro to-do list that's specific to your wedding," Book explains. The same goes for budget. Ask your planner to help you customize the budget to fit your priorities, whether that means cutting back on flowers to put more toward your dream band — or squeezing in the rentals you've had your eye on.
Trust their insight — and their network. Wedding planners are more than happy to offer vendor recommendations, but did you know they can also do a little digging if you've got your eye on someone they've never worked with before? "Let us use our phone full of contacts to do some due diligence," says Book. There's no better way to find out if an up-and-coming photographer is an amazing find or difficult and disorganized than directly from someone who has worked with them before. When it comes to the vendors that made the cut (and are on your planner's recommendation list), give them some serious consideration. It's a combination of amazing work, easy personalities, great value, and overall positive experiences that give a vendor a wedding planner's gold star.
Let them be creative. Most planners are in the wedding business because they love it — and because planning events gets their juices flowing. Sure, their job is to help execute your vision, but you might be pleasantly surprised (or totally blown away!) by the new ideas they'll come up with if you give them some flexibility. "It makes me so happy when a bride wants to brainstorm new ideas to take her wedding to the next level," says Book. "More than just pulling inspiration images together in a design meeting, it gives us a chance to really elevate the event."
Make the extra investment. You might be tempted to go with a slightly less expensive option so that you can keep some extra money in your budget, but the planner whose rate is $2,000 more may actually save you money in the long run. "Planners with higher fees usually have fewer clients (which means more time to devote to your wedding) and more experience (which means they know what's worth it and what can be nixed from your budget). They'll help you spend smarter, and you'll get so much more out of the process," Book explains. "It's like the 10% - 90% rule. Ten percent of your efforts will impact 90 percent of your gain."
How do you know when "making the most of your planner" becomes "taking advantage"? Here are a few things Book advises clients not to do.
Don't ask for a consultation before you've signed a contract. While a planner will give you a peek into their services during your initial conversation (like letting you know if they're familiar with your dream venue or providing insight into budgets they can work with), don't ask a planner to start giving you recommendations before you've officially hired them. "That first interview isn't the time to ask if they can recommend a photographer or share their catering contacts," Book says. You wouldn't want to give away your expertise for free, either!
Don't ask for a discount. The market is competitive, so most vendors are already giving you their best pricing in the hopes of securing you as a client. "Trust them and look for the value of the vendors you're hiring, instead of the savings," says Book. "And don't ask your planner to ask your vendors for a discount, either. We work with these vendors because we know their value, work ethic, and consistency, and it's frustrating when it seems that the value is lost on the client."
Don't forget that they're business professionals. Aside from peak wedding season, planners usually keep normal business hours, so don't expect them to answer your texts at 10pm on a Tuesday. Better yet, swap the texts for emails instead. "Texts get lost or missed, are easy to misconstrue, and are too casual for the planning process," says Book. "We want to keep organized files and communication records, and there's more space to explain a question or idea in an email." If you're going to call your planner, schedule a time instead of just picking up the phone. "If we have you on our schedule, we can make sure to be in the office with access to any files we might need — which means the call will be much more productive," Book adds.
Finally, know when wedding season is! If it's the end of June and your planner is totally booked for the next 6 weeks, avoid calling or texting over the weekends. Chances are he or she is helping another bride down the aisle and will be giving that bride her full attention — the same full attention you'll want on your own wedding day.