Planning a wedding can be extremely fun and also extremely stressful. If you're going it alone (without the help of an experienced planner or coordinator), you have the particularly tough task of wrangling a plethora vendors to make your day come together beautifully. It may be the first time you've spoken to rental companies, catering businesses, graphic designers, and florists and attempted to make each work seamlessly together. Each business you encounter will have a unique communication style and ending your planning experience with positive interactions, beautiful end products, and without surprise costs is an art.
So what are some ways you can successfully communicate with all of your wedding vendors and get exactly what you want?
1. Do your research.
This is perhaps the most important step and luckily it's entirely within your control. Similar to buying a car or a home, you can do market research on wedding vendors. If you're evaluating a rental company, take a look at three to four rental companies in the area. If they have pricing listed, compare the three. Does one look far cheaper than the others? Are two similar in price? Is one far more expensive? It's always a good idea to ignore outliers (the very cheap and the very expensive, unless budget dictates otherwise) - it usually means the cheapest company is cutting corners or using a lower quality product. It might also mean the expensive company is adding on a lot of fees or using really expensive products that you might not need for your wedding day. A middle of the road option might be your best bet to ensure fair pricing and fair quality.
If you're researching something more custom, you may want to get initial ballpark quotes from vendors. A planner, calligrapher/stationer, or a florist would all fall into this category. You can always ask for a rough estimate of what your needs would cost. Be as specific as you can so they can accurately guesstimate (e.g. I have 200 people attending, 10 tables and want large floral centerpieces or I have 100 households to invite and I want letterpress printing but I'm willing to forgo add-ons like custom postage).
2. Pay attention to your vendor's initial communication style.
Reached out to your planner and they took a week to respond without an out of office message? Called a stationer and they never called you back? Asked for a quote and didn't receive anything without a second email prompting them? These are all indicators of how that individual will communicate with you throughout your planning process. Let first impressions guide you. If you're comfortable with longer response times, this might work out just fine. If you happen to be a bit behind on deadlines yourself, you want a more deadline driven vendor that will help keep you on track.
3. Email or call. Don't DM, comment, text, or tweet.
Most vendors have preferred communication methods and some list them ("No DMs please"). Why? When a vendor is receiving 1-10 inquiries a day, they can get easily lost in the shuffle. A DM filters down quickly on your message window and there is no reminder that accompanies it. A comment is often lost or not noticed. An email is usually the preferred method for inquiries as it allows the vendor to keep track of your conversation, respond in length and from a desktop, and allows them to easily attach files, reference links, and more. A call is also most likely to be either picked up or returned and can be followed up with an email as well.
4. Read your contract thoroughly.
It seems like a no brainer: don't sign anything you haven't read. But in the world of that iTunes user agreement, we're sometimes prone to signing something without giving it a full review. If a vendor sends you a contract, no matter how long or how straight forward everything may seem - review each element of the contract and ask questions if they're unclear to you. Perhaps a photographer has a contract that stipulates they'll supply a back-up if something happens to them. You may want to ask who the back-up is and be comfortable with both individuals as your potential wedding photographer. If a stationer has a provision in their contract regarding number of revisions or edits, be sure you are aware of them and comfortable with them before proceeding. It may seem irrelevant upfront but there may come a time when you need an extra revision and will want to be prepared for the additional cost as outlined in the contract.
5. Be very clear about your budget.
I get a lot of inquiries where the client doesn't mention their budget. A quote takes a long time for me to prepare and tailor to a client. Without knowing anything about their desired spend, I have a hard time coming up with a well-matched proposal. If a budget is too low for my packages, I can also end up wasting the client's time with consultation and emails.
I know a lot of brides are wary about providing their budget. There is a misconception that providing a budget will cause the quote to change or cause the quote to always land at maximum budget. The truth is, most vendors have a price list they keep privately. Your costs come from that price list. If I get a client who has $100 to spend, their quote would look the same as someone who has $5,000 to spend. My pricing doesn't change based on your budget. What does change is what we can add on to a suite. If you have $1,000 to spend, we would need to opt for the least expensive options available and not add on extras. If you have $5,000 to spend, I can propose add-ons that might enhance your suite. In the end you have the choice to come in under budget or over, but knowing your budget is critical to providing a well-matched proposal.
6. If you do end up adding to your project as you go, be sure to ask for updated quotes.
If you get to the halfway mark of planning and realize your mom needs 10 more guests and that means 1 more table, be sure to communicate changes to your vendor and ask them to communicate cost changes back to you. Know that adding something on to your original project often adds costs. These costs don't need to be a surprise or a shock at the end of the wedding night. If adding a table adds on 10 entrees, tell your caterer and ask them for an updated quote. This will allow you to keep your budget in check, eliminate any surprise costs at the end of the night, and track your expenses.
7. Stick to your deadlines.
Ask your vendor for a timeline as related to their services as soon as you book them. Then be prepared to stick to your end of the timeline and be prepared to check in on them in regards to their end. If you're working on your wedding invitations and owe your stationer your address list by X date, but miss it by a week, know that you may incur additional delays or rush fees. Vendors allot time for your project and once you've pushed a deadline out, they may no longer have the same available time to complete your project. If you delay too long, you may need to add in rush shipping, rush printing fees, rush design fees and those can add up to unexpected costs.
In the reverse, the vendor should be committed to their end of the timeline as well. If they miss a deadline, don't be afraid to check in on them in regards to when they'll be providing your item. The only good news on that front is if the vendor misses a deadline, it is their responsibility to pick up rush fees or upgraded shipping costs.
8. Pick a vendor you trust and trust them.
If you pick a set of vendors based only on one criteria (they're local! they're cheap! they're the first one I saw!), you'll run into a host of issues when you're planning. Perhaps they were local but don't offer a lot of items you need for your wedding day and you end up making a lot of compromises and feeling dissatisfied. Maybe they were really inexpensive but with that price comes missed deadlines or poor communication. You don't want to spend a year arguing with the vendor about providing what they promised. Maybe they were the first person you saw and you were eager to book so you didn't vet them thoroughly. You may come to the realization they weren't as experienced as they appeared.
If you vet your vendors and pick vendors whose communication style, portfolio, and business practices are all a great fit with your wedding, you'll find that everything goes smoothly. You'll have a team that executes items perfectly and seamlessly and you'll have less worry as you plan. Once you have a great team, trust their vision and their execution and let them create magic!
I am the one woman of a one-woman business in a very personal and high-touch industry: weddings. It's a beautiful thing to set my own schedule, choose my own projects and client list, and be able to grow my own business from the ground up. I feel lucky every single day to have found a profession that I can truly say I love. Many other wedding professionals run similarly small operations and though some have assistants, production support, or a small team, small remains the key. There are no payroll departments or customer service numbers to call. When you need something, you're often talking to the owner, the accountant, the artist, and the marketer all in one.
One of the most wonderful things about working with a small business, like many you find in the wedding industry, is that every single interaction you have is personal. And that leads to personal final products. You often have the chance to meet in person, to speak over the phone, to build relationships with your wedding vendors that extend on into your married life (like the photographer who shoots your newborns or the stationer who creates your first baby's birth announcement).
And yet - wedding planning can be so fatiguing. You find yourself signing on many a dotted line, signing many a check or sending many a deposit, and writing countless emails. Often it can start to feel anything but personal and that wonderful thing that drew you to a small business over a big corporation might end up getting lost in the shuffle of planning.
So in the middle of all of the endless editing and drafting and negotiating and flower choice debating, here are the 5 things I want each of my clients to know:
1. Each of my clients is extremely important to me.
I know my clients names, often their profession, what kind of dog or cat they have. I chat with some of them long after their wedding - on Instagram or via email. Sometimes I work on the wedding invitation of their sibling or maid of honor a few years later. I remember names on their guest list. I remember their invitation long after it is sent. I stalk their photographer's website for photos of their wedding. I save a copy of their paper for my portfolio.
Each client that books me allows me to do my dream job for one day longer. A client is not a bottom line or a number or a percentage. They're not a transaction. They're a partner in a long process where art is created and revised and lovingly printed, addressed and delivered. I am not a big box store or a giant online stationary store. Each couple has a folder on my desk, a box in my office, a place in my portfolio of work.
2. My end goal is always the same: a very happy client.
I know that it can sometimes seem like after you've booked a vendor, paid a deposit, and started down the long road of proofs and revisions, that it can become less magical than you anticipated. If you need extra revisions or drafts or more centerpieces or more hours of photography or need to scrap everything and start over, you can find yourself subject to contract provisions or find yourself signing away more money for add-ons you didn't expect. This can make everything feel very impersonal and make you feel that your vendor doesn't have your best interest at heart.
I promise you, we do. There is absolutely nothing worse than an unhappy client. If you didn't love your final product, it means I've failed at my job. If you come to me with complaints or issues, they weigh heavily on me. They often keep me up at night. I can't count the number of tears shed by vendors that felt they let a client down.
When it starts to feel impersonal, know that contracts exist to protect both client and vendor. They're usually pretty industry standard (we do our research) and up-charges and add-on costs are calculated based on hours and materials required. They're not random figures we've come up with to deter you. They're not an attempt to price gouge. After years in our industry we've identified what works for most people and what is fair and honest in our own business. We wrack our brains for ways to make everything right.
If you're unhappy at any point, we all want to do everything possible to rectify it. But we also have to be courteous to our other clients (whose time is equally important), courteous to ourselves, to our time, and to our business viability.
3. Your final product was made with attention, love, and care.
When I am finalizing an invitation suite, I often reflect on how near and dear to me every single sheet of paper is. It all started with a phone call where I learned about a bride, connected on an aspect of their wedding or life. From there it turned into a back and forth about design and aesthetic. Sometimes a mother of the bride or fiance is looped in and I learn a bit about them as well. From there, I draw or paint or script your words and illustrations. They're done with focus and care and honed until they're perfect. Sometimes your name is written 20 or 30 times before I feel it is right.
When your invitation suite proofs are sent to you, we collaborate again. We shift and tweak and modify and change colors. We examine postage. We discuss some more. And then, I prep your files for the printer. And they, my printer for a few years, know my work and preferences. When it's shipped back to me, it has been specially packaged and quality checked by them. I then handle every single piece. Hand-addressing envelopes, tying ribbon, sealing invitations. Some suites take over 8 hours to assemble alone - collate, tie ribbon, add a seal, add postage, stack neatly in a box. And then they're packed with special packaging I've crafted to make your box feel special to you. It can feel like I'm losing a little bit of myself when I send your items off. I miss them when they go.
When your receive your box, know that so much attention and care went into every single piece. Know that we do wait to hear if you received everything. To hear if you're happy. To hear your guests reactions to their paper. Your paper is always personal to us.
4. I am in this business because I love what I do, not to get rich quick.
If I wanted to get rich quick, I would have picked a different profession. I am a calligrapher because I truly and absolutely love what I do. Nothing makes me happier than wet ink on slick writing paper. Than honing a style, than scripting someone's name 20 times to get it right. I love paper. I love envelopes. I love color. I am a calligrapher because I wouldn't like to be anything else.
When you see your quote and feel shocked at what everything costs, know that I keep my costs as reasonable as I can (so that you can afford beautiful stationary) while still earning enough to pay my rent. I'm not Uber who charges surge pricing in the snow or after a game. I'm not Amazon who can afford to take a loss on shipping because of their size. I'm not a luxury fashion brand whose name can command thousands higher than other products of comparable quality. I am one person who has spent countless hours honing my pricing and doing market research to make it fair for both of us.
In reviewing a quote know that your paper comes from one company, your seals from another, your postage from yet another. Know that we pay printers (often more than we're making) to print up your gorgeous suite. Know that we pay shipping (at normal postage rates, without the luxury of Amazon's free 2-day shipping) to get your items to us and from us and back again. Know that every hour we spend emailing you or calling you or designing for you is an hour that we love, but an hour that we can't spend with someone else.
5. There's a real person behind the screen.
When you email a large company like Comcast or Amazon, there is an employee behind the screen that is paid every day to respond to your complaints. They have a script, an outline of how to handle common issues, and they get to go home every day and not worry about how that customer service interaction affected the success of the massive company for which they work. When you email a small business owner (like me), you're emailing me. I get to read your message in full and respond to anything you need. Behind the screen is someone who has invested their whole self (and time, and money, and life) into this business. Your opinion and thoughts and words matter and very directly impact my success.
Kind emails make my day. Happy clients make me float into the next day. Wonderful clients make me feel as if I've made a new friend. In a similar vein, nasty emails are hurtful. Rude emails make me rehash endlessly where we went wrong. The things you're writing and saying are going directly to a person who truly cares. It's so powerful to be able to connect with the actual business owner rather than a customer service line - quicker resolution and personal attention - but please remember that we're reading your message and taking it all to heart.