Confessions of a Wedding Planner: 5 Lessons I Learned the Hard Way

When it comes to learning and growing in life, there's nothing better than some good ole' on-the-job training. With every new bride and groom comes new and valuable learning experiences for me as an industry professional.

I may have lost count of the number of weddings I've done, but I will always remember each of the lessons I've learned along the way. Now, I am a big believer in sharing the love, which is why I'm passionate about analyzing my experiences and sharing them with others so maybe they will be able to sidestep some of the mistakes I've made.

Here are a few examples of lessons I've learned over the years, and I hope they'll help you know how to best handle them should you face them in your own life and business.

1. Know your bride's budget

Thank you Lord that I learned this one early! When I first started Le Rae Events I didn't have a new client intake questionnaire. I would just verbally ask brides what their budget was during our initial consultation. At one point during my first year in business, I met with a bride and her future mother-in-law. When I asked what their budget was they replied, "We don't know." They wanted to see the rental quote to get a better idea and figured then they could maybe figure out a finite budget. Well, I was "green" back then and left it at that.

Fast forward to putting together the floral quote. For those of you who don't have experience doing flowers - they take a LOT of work. When I do my floral quotes I give options, descriptions and detailed pricing. This particular bride almost had a nervous breakdown when she got to the floral proposal! I tried to explain to them that the only thing I had to go by was her inspiration pictures and a list of flowers she liked (hydrangeas and orchids).

Well, needless to say I had to redo the proposal! Now had I known their budget from the beginning I would have saved a great deal of time and headache and stress for everyone. Lesson learned.....set a budget framework up front!

2. Know the rules of the venue

About two years ago we did a wedding at a civic center in a city about an hour and a half away. While we were getting set up the onsite venue manager asked if I was ready to do a walkthrough. I agreed and she proceeded to walk me through the facility. This process was new to me and I assumed I was signing off saying everything was acceptable. WRONG!

Once that wedding was over it took 2 hours for my staff to clean up and all that was left was the rental and lighting equipment pick up. I went to the venue security to let them know we were done and heading out and a guard said, "No ma'am you were the one to sign, so you'll have to stay until everything is going and we do another walkthrough." Um....WHAT?! Well I was upset, but what could I do? My hands were tied. I figured I would run to the nearest fast food place to grab some food and come right back while I waited. NOPE. I wasn't allowed to leave the premises.

Furious would be an understatement for how I was feeling (can someone say "Hangry?!") As a representative of my bride and her parents, I had to bite the bullet and sit there until 3AM. Yes, 3AM!! So what did this experience teach me? Actually, it taught be a few things: 1) Know the rules of the venue in advance and 2) If I ever work at that venue again - charge WAY more!

3. Start early

The way I got started with LeRae Events was by doing several free weddings. Four of my friends got married in a year's time. They paid for everything, we did the work and got to keep all of the inventory. The more we did, the better we got and the more details we added.

The last one of these "friend discount" weddings was completely amazing. My website still has photos of their fabulous vintage-inspired day. But, there were so many things that didn't get to happen for that wedding due to poor time management.

Unique food signs are a signature of mine. My plan was to have antique silver forks bent to hold the signage. This would have been awesome for pictures and could have been done a month before the wedding. But, sadly in my mind I was thinking it would happen on wedding day!

Well, we all know how THAT goes. On wedding day there are about a million people asking me questions and pulling me in 100 different directions. It can't all happen on one Saturday! Lesson learned....get to work early and do everything you possibly can ahead of time!

4. Put it in writing

With every single wedding I do I learn something new. I actually update my forms and contracts several times a year to reflect these lessons I regularly learn. For example, I once allowed someone to do their own lighting at a full-service event and minutes before the ceremony the musician lost power to his microphone and instruments! The breaker had apparently overheated and tripped because an insufficient cord had been used. Needless to say, my agreements now clearly state that lighting must be done by a professional lighting company!

It's important to hash out as many details as possible in advance so there aren't any surprises. Things won't always go according to plan, and you'll have to get good at thinking on your feet. But, preparation, communication and clarity are key. Get everyone's agreement on expectations in advance.

5. Charge what you are worth

I can't even begin to stress the importance of this enough. I realize that when you're just starting out you can't charge a huge amount. I have lived it, so I get it! I've done the free weddings and the "charge as little as possible so they'll hire you" weddings. But, there is going to come a time when you start to feel confident in both your work and your worth, and your prices will need to change to reflect that!

I always set a minimum, PERIOD. I know for a fact that I have lost weddings because my starting price was too high. But, I also know the amount of time I will work for each wedding, the details I will put into them, and the time I'll be spending away from my family. When figuring out your prices, it's not just about what you are worth but what it's worth for you to be gone (mentally or physically) from the ones you love.

For example, I do full-service weddings. This means clients must use me for floral and catering service. Currently my minimum for flowers is $2,000. A few weeks ago a potential groom's mothers asked me, "What if she doesn't want $2,000 in flowers?" My response to her: "I'm probably not your girl then." Now, obviously I said it a little different, but she got the gist. And honestly she had a look of total shock on her face! I haven't heard back from them and probably never will, which I'm completely okay with!

The fact of the matter is, if a potential client is unsure about spending at least $2,000 on flowers, they probably aren't my ideal client. The majority of most brides these days spend over $2,000 on flowers. This number is my minimum (the lowest possible) not an average, and here's why: I am not a florist. Every time I do flowers for a wedding I order them from a wholesaler and pick them up. I don't keep a cooler full of lowers. Here is an estimate of the financial breakdown of a $2,000 floral order:

EXPENSES:

  • Flowers - $750
  • Supplies - $50
  • Gas - $20
  • Labor - $300 (not including my labor)

REMAINDER: $880

OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER:

  • Miles Driven - 69.8
  • 1 hour consultation time
  • 1 hour proposal time/email 
  • 1 hour getting order ready/talking with wholesaler 
  • 1.5 hours driving to wholesaler and back
  • Use of my containers
  • Use of my electricity for cooler
  • My labor (I work alongside 2 other gals when doing flowers - 2 of us design and the other does the prep and clean up)
  • Setting out/placing the flowers
  • Clean up and removal of flowers

The moral of this story? Charge what you are worth AND after the seeing the above list I need to raise my minimum ;)

I hope that sharing these lessons I've learned over the last few years of building up a successful wedding planning business is helpful to you and that you can learn from some of my mistakes instead of having to make them yourself!

I'd love to hear your feedback or any stories of your own "lesson learned" experiences so don't be shy - go ahead and share in the comments below!

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