SO, YOU WANT TO BE A WEDDING PLANNER. Maybe you’re graduating college looking for that next step. Maybe you’ve been working in events in a different capacity for years, or you enjoyed planning your own wedding so much you’ve decided to make it a career. Welcome to the industry! Strap in, it’s going to be a wild ride.
The ugly truth is a low barrier for entry means anyone can turn around tomorrow, make a free website, and start spewing planning advice. For the love of all that is holy, DO NOT DO THIS. It’s the equivalent of someone who learned to juggle tennis balls advertising their skill at juggling chainsaws. You need to walk before you run, and a large part of that is finding mentorship under an established planner before ever taking on a wedding of your own.
FIND A MENTORSHIP.
Don’t just email blast every planner in a 50-mile radius on Google. Do your homework. Go to networking groups. Who are the industry leaders, both nationally and locally? Who is operating a business of the caliber and ethics you aspire to? We receive emails every day from people who want to “pick our brain” or shadow us on a job; and we’ve all invested time in a prospect just for them to learn 15 hour days are a thing, and bail. This is the Thunderdome and every person we hire puts our livelihood on the line.
Send a nice email, addressed to the planner personally. Acknowledge a distinguishing characteristic of their brand/style that you admire, prove that you have realistic expectations regarding what “wedding planning” truly means and that you’re willing to humble yourself to learn. Then, and only then, do you ask for a meeting. And when you do, you make it as easy as possible on them. Meet according to their schedule, in their neighborhood.
HANDLE REJECTION. It’s tough, I know. There are very few opportunities available and almost none are full time. You’ll hear “no” a lot. Unfortunately, a big reason you’ll find resistance is because you’re paying for a lot of other people’s sins: people who showed up late, didn’t show at all, weren’t upfront at hiring about wanting to start their own company, hijacked clients, didn’t come prepared, or tanked a client / vendor relationship because they shot off at the mouth. We fought hard to be where we are; our businesses and reputations are sacred. It’s your job to convince us you’re worthy of our investment. Ask, ask again, and keep asking. Someone will say yes.
INVEST IN EDUCATION.
There are so many resources out there for aspiring wedding planners. Do research, ask around, and find out which ones are worth the investment. Stay up to date on trends and industry leaders. Always be working to broaden your knowledge.
DRESS TO IMPRESS.
I like a good top knot-yoga pant combo as much as the next person, but if we’re meeting a client you better be on point. For client and vendor meetings, elevated casual is typically fine - nice jeans, a blazer, fashionable top, and minimal jewelry. Either clean natural nails or manicured will do, but chipped polish is sloppy. Hair should be clean and brushed/styled appropriately. Clean and fresh makeup is usually best.
On wedding day, you need to be equally prepared for crawling under tables or greeting guests. Look polished. Wear well-fitted clothing that allows full range of motion. Dress modestly. If you bend over and I can see any part (top or bottom) of what the Good Lord blessed you with? Change. Choose comfortable shoes and bring a backup pair. It is impossible to quantify exactly how much pain you will be in or what elements you need to walk through. Heels are cute, but will leave you crippled. Trust me on this.
BE ON TIME. Time is our most precious resource. Do not waste my client’s, my vendor’s, or mine. Period. When we have a meeting scheduled that means your butt is in that seat, prepared to contribute at the predetermined time. If you’re in the parking lot, grabbing coffee, finishing your makeup, printing off your notes, or “sending a text really quick” then you’re not ready and I’m not here for it.
COMMON COURTESY ISN'T COMMON.
Open doors. Say “please” and “thank you.” Let the other person go first. Offer water to keep people hydrated. Make sure vendors are alerted when it’s time to eat. Kill ‘em with kindness and keep a smile on your face.
LEARN TO SPELL. Not just spell, but master the art of written communication. We interface with clients and vendors on a regular basis. If your initial communication lacks poise and self-awareness, it’s going in the trash. Emails should have an opening, body, and closing salutation. Tone should be friendly and professional. This isn’t a text message, avoid abbreviations and profanity. Be concise and respond in a timely manner (maximum two business days).
BE AWARE. It’s not enough to know what’s happening now; you need to know what’s happening next and have everything and everyone prepped for it. Your head should be on a swivel constantly looking for ways to improve the experience and prevent problems. Be prepared to contribute in any situation without explicit instructions to do so.
ANTICIPATE. There’s no certification for common sense, so if you don't naturally see opportunities for improvement? Train yourself. If you’re alerting the Best Man he’s up next for toasts, double check: Is he wearing his jacket? Does he have a glass to toast with? Does he have a copy of his speech? Does he know where to stand so the photography team can get their shot?
PERCEPTION IS REALITY. Do not consume alcohol at an event. Your judgement cannot afford to be called into question. Don’t talk negatively about other vendors, even if you’re frustrated with their performance. Don’t sit on your cell phone in view of guests or check your texts during a meeting. Don’t go to the bar in the company t-shirt. Don’t cut in the buffet line, even if you’re grabbing a plate for the couple. I cannot stress this enough: someone is always watching and walls have ears. Every word or action is a reflection of the company and couple you’re serving. Context is often irrelevant.
DON'T CREATE MORE WORK.
See the thing is, as planners, our job on event day is to ensure everyone else does theirs. Every single vendor is an extension of your client. Every. Single. One. As a vendor team we sink or swim together. Invest in learning what each vendor category is truly responsible for, the various steps of their process, and how you can lighten their burden appropriately.
Ultimately the measure of our success is in the hands of the other professional partners. In turn, it is vital that we provide the support and environment necessary for everyone to produce their best work. That includes giving accurate information in a timely manner. Think through the answers you’re giving. For example, don’t tell the caterer to drop linens before the aerial floral installation goes in because now not only do we need to move them once so we can get the ladders in, we also need to move them back.
YOU ARE NOT THE STAR. Our role is in the background. We are the stage managers. You don’t get a round of applause and curtain call at the end of the night. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a quick load out and a couple bites of leftover cake. Sometimes we do get recognition (and it feels AWESOME) but often the full impact of our role isn’t realized until later. Don't let external validation be your sole motivator.
IF YOU AREN'T SURE, ASK. Before you ask questions, think. Is this the correct person to ask? Can I find the answer myself? Is this an appropriate time to ask? In the planning stages nothing should be communicated to a client or vendor without touching base internally. You never know what insight another team member might have to the situation. Day-of it's a little harder considering the way tasks are delegated. Be discerning and learn to identify decisions that have deep, overarching affects versus superficial ones. Don’t deliver directives for things you are not qualified to.
BE A VAULT. If a planner is willing to bring you into the circle of trust, break down the barriers, reveal their process, and invest their hard-earned time and money into helping you achieve your dreams they deserve loyalty and respect. If they share concerns about a vendor’s performance it’s not your place to repeat that information, ever. Remember, everything you touch is intellectual property. Their livelihood is not a springboard for your own business. If you ever feel like your professional development has stagnated or it’s time to take the next steps you owe them an open, honest conversation. The wedding industry is small, don’t burn bridges.
If this seems like a lot, that's because it is. But truthfully, thanks to the genesis of #communityovercompetition aspiring planners in today’s world have it ten times easier than the pioneers before us. A good assistant is worth their weight in gold. Strive for excellence, always.
We have tough, stressful, draining, emotional, wonderful, extraordinary jobs and it takes a special kind of human to persevere through the crap and elevate the industry. But I promise, if you are prepared, humble, and make the best effort to contribute positively, you will be rewarded with the most beautiful friendships and successes any career has to offer.