Planning a wedding is like a second job, right? So treat it like one — especially when assembling your team.
You've set a date, found your venue, and determined your budget. Now it's time to tackle the next step on your to-do list: booking vendors. Whether your day job has you supervising many or you've never had so much as an intern work for you, you're now project manager of your wedding — congrats! Use these corporate-world tips to make some great hires, and watch them turn your vision into reality.
Sketch out a job description.
Sit down with your partner and decide the big stuff: What's our budget? What look and feel are we going for? What are our top priorities? Write down your answers so you can refer back to them throughout the process.
Search for candidates.
If you're not using a planner, you're your own recruiter. Start by talking to people at your venue about who they recommend; if someone's done a wedding there before, she's likely within your budget. Next, search magazines and blogs, ask for recs from newlywed friends, and visit the local-vendors page on Brides.com. (You can search by zip code and vendor type.) Another trick? Scour the preferred lists on websites for other reputable venues, ones you like but didn't book, says Lindsay Landman, a planner in New York City. It's a built-in reference letter.
Go for coffee at a place where you'll both be comfortable (or Skype if it's a long-distance hire), be punctual, and dress professionally, says Vicki Salemi, a career expert for Monster.com. "You're the one hiring, so you should look and act like a manager," she says. To avoid burnout, meet with no more than three of each type of vendor you're hiring. Besides, says Landman, "You'll never know everyone out there."
Focus on chemistry first.
"An interview is about mutual selection," says Caroline Ghosn, founder and CEO of Levo, a site helping millennials navigate the corporate world. A huge part of that is whether you like each other. "You need to, because you're going to be building a months-long relationship with this person," she says, and you'll be collaborating on a very-near-to-your-heart project. So focus on the rapport: Does conversation feel natural or forced? Do you trust her? "Think about it like this: When her name pops up on your phone four months from now, are you going to be excited?" says Ghosn, who's currently planning her own wedding.
Once you establish that you're simpatico, then move on to discussing details of the job, such as the vibe you're after, timing, and how you see the process should you decide to work together. And be sure to ask how available she'd be to you throughout the planning. As you're chatting, take notes. The questions you should ask every vendor: What's your story? Why and how did you get into this business? What does the process look like, during planning and on the day of? What's your availability, during planning and on the day of? What's your preferred mode of communication?
Don't rush your decision.
After each meeting, debrief. You need time to evaluate the candidate based on your notes and first impressions, call their references, meet with other contenders for comparison's sake, and make sure they fulfill the job description. They should be willing to hold a date for two to seven days after your initial meeting or, at the very least, agree to call you if someone else inquires about your date. "If she won't do you that courtesy, walk away," says Lisa Thomas, owner of Ooh! Events, a full-service planning, floral, and rental company in Charleston, South Carolina.
Once you're ready to pull the trigger, gird for the part that's hard for most brides: talking money. "Always, always, always negotiate!" says Salemi. Of 450 vendors we polled with help from our friends at WeddingWire, 87% say they're willing to negotiate. How do you start? First, make them throw out a number. Then compliment their work — the more specific and heartfelt, the better — which vendors told us is the key to getting them to play ball. From there, ask clarifying, non-challenging questions from a point of curiosity: Can you help me understand this part? What's included in this cost? Finally, thank them for the work they've put into the proposal and say you need to consult with your fiancé.
When you're ready, come back with specific ideas to get you to a place that pleases both sides. (Can you throw in engagement photos? Waive a tasting fee? Add a food station at cocktail hour?) And if it's just that the number is too high, be honest about it. "If a bride tells me she loves my work and asks if I can make my vision work within her budget, I'm happy to try," says Thomas. "If I can't make it work, I'll recommend someone who can." Note: Never use a competitor's pricing as a bargaining chip, which telegraphs that you think everyone's work is the same. (It's not.)
Seal the deal.
Once you've settled on a figure, your vendor will work up their standard contract. Make sure the basics are included: logistics (date, time, and location), payment schedule, the scope of services offered (what's expected to be done and when), and a timeline for deliverables (for anyone who owes you something after the wedding, like your videographer and photographer). And make sure it includes the deal-breaker clauses: one on cancellation, and one for the extent of liability insurance (covering circumstances beyond the vendor's control, like if the photographer's negatives were damaged, and "acts of God," meaning cancellation due to a natural disaster; $1 million is standard). "If a contract doesn't include these things and if the vendor won't add them, walk away," says Landman.
Read the contract in its entirety and understand what you're agreeing to. "If you don't know what something means, have her explain," says Mary Herrington, a New York City lawyer focused on the wedding industry. Says Herrington, "You need to be on the same page about everything for this relationship to work."