If you've been doing your homework on the wedding planner you're considering hiring, then you've either identified some former clients you can contact, or you've asked the planner to give you some brides and grooms to call.
Always check references before signing a contract if the vendor isn't a well-known wedding professional, or someone who was recommended to you by a friend who was a happy client. And be sure to ask the client references the following five questions:
1. Was the planner on site at all of your events? Was she professional? Did your guests have a good experience with the planning team?
Some big-name event planning companies have multiple planners who are assigned to the company's various weddings. As long as you're working with the planner who will actually be executing your events, it shouldn't make a difference. But you want to know that nobody is playing switchy-changy on you when you expect them to be there.
2. What was your favorite part of the wedding planning process?
Everybody will have a different answer, but this also invites them to tell you what was NOT their favorite part, without you having to ask a negative-sounding question that may make them uncomfortable, if asked directly.
3. How did you feel about the vendor recommendations the planner made? Did they meet your expectations?
You must be able to trust the vendors that your wedding planner recommends; otherwise, you might as well DIY the wedding and save yourself a whole lot of money. If other couples were pleased with the DJ and the florist, you can rest a lot easier knowing that the planner has likely vetted her list carefully. Even the best wedding planner's reputation can be destroyed by bad vendors.
4. Did you blow your budget? And if yes, why?
Money is an uncomfortable subject to discuss with a stranger. Don't ask how much they spent, but instead ask if spending met expectations. They may be very clear — they had 30 more guests than they initially budgeted, for example — or they may have decided to add an expensive videography package or bring in a live band that nobody had budgeted for at the beginning of the planning. Ask if they knew they were going to blow their budget in advance, or if their planner let them be blindsided. Couples get a lot less angry about going over budget when they knew they were doing it at the time they signed those contracts.
5. If you had it to do over again, would you use the same wedding planner?
Hopefully, the planner has sent you to happy clients who will tell you they would absolutely hire the planner again. If you sense hesitancy, it's okay to point it out in a gently joking sense — just make sure you've already asked all the other important questions you had first, in case they shut down.
Sandy Malone is the owner of Sandy Malone Weddings & Events and author of How to Plan Your Own Destination Wedding: Do-It-Yourself Tips from an Experienced Professional. Sandy is the star of TLC's reality show Wedding Island, about her destination wedding planning company, Weddings in Vieques.