Advice on Being a Wedding Planner

Monday, February 25, 2008

This post is in response to some conversations with professional planners recently about the influx of new planners to the industry. It has been said that ever since JLo came along with her pastel suits, every woman thinks she can be a planner. While I came on to the scene post that movie's release, I will admit that I have not even seen it all the way through and I don't often catch all the references to it when people quote it to me. (Yeah, I don't watch many wedding movies - go figure!)

Anyway, there are a lot of former brides-turned-planners who found their "calling" when planning their own wedding and dove headfirst into being a coordinator without any real clue as to how to go about it or what the industry is like. Not all planners need to have a degree in event management. In fact, some of the best planners I know do not (myself included). A professional planner however is always pursuing her education in the field whether it be through association memberships, studying, or taking design and business classes to add to her knowledge base.

Planning their own wedding doesn't make someone a qualified planner any more than diagnosing a cold and taking the steps to remedy it (Kleenex, soup, sleep, Airborne) makes someone a doctor. If a planner's site has only pictures of herself as a bride or if she is still posting on wedding bride forums like the Knot or Wedding Channel, then she is not truly a professional. Sites like the Knot have very strict rules about vendors posting, even if they do not write about or promote their business and even if they were recently brides themselves. Yet people do it all the time. Planners who continue to hang out and post on those sites are crossing into some very unethical territory.

Matt Damon once said that when people ask him if they should become an actor, he always replies "no", because if they take no for an answer, they are not truly cut out for the business. I think the same advice holds true for the wedding industry. I do not think that everyone who wants to be a planner should be - heaven knows it is an oversaturated market and unprofessional people only pull down the bar that others work so hard to raise. However, to succeed in this industry you have to be tenacious and creative. So if you are willing to take no for an answer or undervalue your services (eg: charging $500 for day-of coordination), then you would probably be better off working in another field.

Here is my top advice for people aspiring to be wedding planners:

*Get educated - hands on experience is a must! Volunteer your time for friends, your church, your workplace, etc. I worked in events for seven years, both paid and volunteered, before opening my own business. I cut my teeth on some seemingly impossible situations and the experience I offer my clients is the better for it. I also studied art and music which helps tremendously with the design side. Apply for internships with event planning firms. Be aware however, that these same firms get several inquiries a day and calls from people who have not done their homework get old really fast. Make sure you read up on their company and application protocol before you call (and if you read mine, you will see that you should not call! Every time I take a call from someone inquiring about a job I know they have not read this blog. It does not make for a good first impression and in event planning first impressions are key).

*Read. If you are not reading, you will shrivel up and die. Period. Read books on business. Read books on marketing. Read books on psychology (you are dealing with people after all). Read books on being a good human being. Read Seth Godin's blog. There are very few wedding planning business books that I like (in fact none come to mind right now), so I don't really recommend any of those (but if you find a great one, let me know - I am always open to new suggestions!). Continually take on the posture of a learner - this will get you a lot farther in life and in business. Click here to see business books that I recommend on Amazon. Yes, there are a lot on that list, and yes, I have read them. You should too. (If you can't decide where to start, I recommend any by Harry Beckwith.) Also check out the Personal MBA.

*Research associations in your area and attend a few meetings to evaluate whether or not they are a good fit for you and your goals. Not all of them are for everyone. In fact, I chose not to join the ones I most expected to after attending a couple of the meetings. These associations aren't necessarily bad, they just weren't a good fit for how I wanted to grow. Most associations will let you attend a meeting or two before you make your decision.

*Research your market and come up with a business and marketing plan that fits your goals. I personally have never done any print advertising, and at this point in time, I do not feel the need to. I do, however, market in other ways and these are mapped out in a plan that is effective for the way I want to run my business. Of course, this is always being evaluated and may evolve over the course of time.

*Being a wedding planner is not glamorous. Sure it has its perks - gourmet food and wine tastings being one of them and the satisfaction of pulling off a successful event being another. But it is also very difficult. If you are a woman, you will be sexually harassed. I cannot even repeat some of the things said to me here by drunk guests because they are that unmentionable. You will also run into a lot of ego, especially among anyone who has the word "coordinator" in their title (site coordinator, church coordinator, etc). The wedding industry can also be very catty, so I recommend finding like-minded people to partner with. Surrounding yourself with people who understand that the world is a bakery - constantly producing new baked goods, and not a pie where everyone fights for the last slice - makes a huge difference and will encourage you to keep moving forward when you feel like burning out.

{eta: to read more about the Knot's rules and terms of service, click here}

{originally posted on January 2, 2008}

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