Including the Planner's Fee in the Wedding Budget

Thursday, May 22, 2008

There is a line of thought among some planners that the fee for a wedding consultant should not be included in the couple's wedding budget. They believe that their fee should instead be marketed as the amount of money a planner will save the couple in other areas, thereby causing them to break even on the cost of hiring a coordinator.

I disagree with this and here's why: it's simply too big a promise to make and follow through with on every single wedding, especially if you are charging a fee that enables you to make a profit. For example, say your fee for full service planning is $6000 (or $75 an hour for a package of 80 hours). Can you guarantee up front that you can save the bride and groom a total of $6000 by negotiating with the other wedding vendors? And can you promise to save that much on every single wedding? If you can, and if you can do it legitimately, then more power to you. But be careful that you are not promising something that you can't deliver on each and every time.

In order for this scenario to work every time, one or several of the following factors would have to be at work:

The wedding planner's price point is too low
If you are not charging enough to cover your real costs of business, including paying your employees, paying taxes, buying postage stamps, restocking your emergency kit, etc, not to mention turning a profit, then you are pouring a lot of time into what is little more than an expensive hobby. That may be a tough pill to swallow, but it is the reason that turnover among wedding planners and the failure rate of new wedding planning companies is so high.

The purpose of this website is to help you make smart business decisions, so answer these questions honestly: Are you charging enough to cover your real (including hidden) costs? Are you charging enough for your time? Are you charging enough for your talent? Are you charging enough for the value of that lump of grey matter in your head? If not, why not?

The higher your fee is, the more difficult it is to guarantee that you can save the couple that exact amount or more. Not every wedding planner needs to target the affluent bride or set their price point in an upscale tier, but every planner with a professional business should be charging enough to cover their costs and make a profit.

The vendors' costs are superficially inflated to begin with
With this factor, it appears as though the planner is saving the couple money, when really the prices are just set 10% higher than what they normally are. So a planner saving the couple $700 on their florist bill when the couple could have gotten the same "discounted" price had they not used a planner is not really saving them money. It is just making it look like they did.

The vendors' prices are not set on real numbers
Sometimes vendors will negotiate a lower price, but it ends up hurting them in the same way it hurts a planner if their fees are set too low. If the vendors' prices aren't based on real numbers, then they are most likely losing money by negotiating a lower cost with you. Is their failure to practice good accounting your problem? Not really, but if they keep it up, they'll be out of business soon and you'll be left trying to find another vendor willing to negotiate those deep discounts.

Can a wedding planner really save their clients money? Absolutely. There are some vendors I know who love to work with wedding planners and offer incentives to couples who book with a planner, such as $100 off a photography package or a certain percentage off linen rentals. These vendors know that working with a planner not only makes the couple's lives easier, but that it makes the vendor's job easier as well. Because of this, they actively try to encourage their brides to hire a wedding coordinator.

Making sweeping promises like this could also get you in legal trouble should you fail to save the couple the same amount as you charged them. Is this money-saving promise included in your contract? What are your state's laws on anything that could be construed as a verbal contract? If you don't save your client a monetary amount equal to your cost, could you be held liable to refund the difference? Simply adding a line to your contract absolving you of liability doesn't actually get you off the hook. Make sure your contract is solid and that it is legal.

Your fee should be included in the couple's wedding budget. This helps them stay on track and ultimately helps them stay within their financial parameters. If you can negotiate and help them save money - AWESOME. But those savings should be icing on the cake and never a solid promise. Instead, make it a point to always under promise and over deliver - that is a much better, and more sustainable, marketing strategy for long term success.

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