Photo: Amy Sims Photography
Getting engaged is a whirlwind of emotions — from the excitement of sharing the news to the joy of planning forever with your partner, it's official! You are planning a wedding. So, now what? You know there are a lot of steps on your wedding planning journey, but figuring out who to hire and when to inquire often leaves newly engaged couples in a state of decision paralysis. And with endless resources telling you what to do and what not to do, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by information overload. Fortunately, you're not alone. And as you fill in your wedding team, you'll be adding valuable experts to support you on your way to the aisle. Are you wondering where to start? Finalize the details before you book anything! You may already have grand ideas about local venues and must-have photographers, but it's wise to get your priorities and budget in order first. Read on- for 11 wedding insider planning tips from seasoned wedding professionals. A must-read for all of out there in the wedding planning process.
"Make sure you have a wedding budget before booking all your vendors," Urges Sam Nelson of EVL Events. "Unless your budget has no cap, some of the top vendors you love could easily make you over budget. With a budget, you will estimate how much money you have to allocate to each vendor." Of course, a realistic budget requires a frank discussion with your partner about your must-haves. Then, you'll know how to prioritize your budget to factor in the essentials!
Don't cut corners on the research stage! Even if you have a few venues or vendors in mind, considering all the available options is worth doing your due diligence. That's why a luxury wedding venue in downtown St. Augustine, FL, The Treasury on the Plaza's Marissa MacLeod, suggests against picking the first vendor you find. "Talk to multiple vendors!" MacLeod encourages. "Make sure you jive with that team and that it will be a good fit! You want someone who can execute your vision and make your day the best it could be." And to know whether it's a fit, it's vital to speak to the venues and vendors you're considering. Don't take their website or social media content at face value — you must confirm that it feels right.
"Make sure you talk to all the vendors you are considering and establish rapport," stresses Cathy O'Connell of COJ Events. "The relationship you have with your vendors makes all the difference between a great wedding and an epic one! If you don't click on zoom or a call, you won't click in person!"
Of course, researching can often generate more options than you can realistically handle! So instead of considering everyone on the first three pages of Google, Megan Estrada of NSWE Events recommends creating a shortlist to start. “Don’t consider TOO many vendors and overwhelm yourself with choices,” Estrada notes. “If you get bogged down looking at every possible option on the internet, it will be hard to make a decision. Instead, narrow it down to three choices that meet your main criteria, and then spend more time evaluating individual options.” From there, it’s time to start inquiring, interviewing, and booking!
Photo: Amy Kolo
Hire a professional wedding planner first. It's a common rule of thumb to book your wedding venue first, but industry experts suggest putting a wedding planner at the top of your list. "The first vendor a couple should hire is their professional wedding planner," assures Nora Sheils of Rock Paper Coin and Bridal Bliss. "He/she/they will help guide the couple through one of the most stressful parts - finding a venue and picking the date. The planner will also ensure a budget before booking a venue or any vendors, setting the event up for success from the beginning." Betsy Scott of Hudson Valley Weddings at The Hill agrees, adding that “a professional planner will save you time, stress, and even money in the overall scheme. By understanding your wedding vision, planners can recommend where to splurge and where to economize. And they have strong relationships with other wedding vendors, translating into preferred client discounts.” Once you have a planner on board, you can start planning the big and small details of your wedding knowing you have an expert partner on your side — starting with a venue.
"Your venue is the key to everything else you book," assures Peter Mitsaelides of Brooklake Country Club and Events. "The location is integral to setting the tone of your day. It impacts your food and beverage options, decor, and even entertainment. And along with food and beverage, the venue takes a large part of your wedding budget." Plus, "many venues will have packages that include chairs, tables, and table cloths; sometimes, the venue does not require a lot of decors," says Monika Kreinberg of Furever Us - Wedding Pet Care. "This will not only help you understand what other vendors you will need, but the venue itself may give you a list of their preferred vendors." Beyond logistics, your venue choice will also influence design decisions for your big day. "The venue's style will often set the tone for the other wedding details you will be planning down the road," says Kelley Nudo of Momental Designs. "For example, if the venue is a barn, this may sway you to make more rustic style selections versus a ballroom wedding that will command a more formal approach." Most vendors won't book until there is a firm date on the calendar, so securing your venue will open the door to the rest of your wedding planning to-dos!
Laura Maddox of Magnolia Celebrates recommends booking "wedding vendors that will only book one event a day/weekend. These vendors include your photographers, videographer, band, etc. After you've secured these vendors, you can move on to florists, caterers, etc. — the vendors that can book more than one event at a time." After the venue and planner, the booking order of vendors greatly depends on a couple’s priorities. For instance, if a specific band is on the top of your priority list, you’ll want to book it as soon as possible once your date is locked in.
For many, a photographer is next on the list, so start looking for someone who will capture your wedding the way you want. "Think about the style of photos you would like and contact photographers whose style matches this," encourages Kreinberg of Furever Us - Wedding Pet Care. "I think photographers come before videographers, not because the latter isn't necessary. But because a photographer is essential while a videographer is more of an extra."
Photo: Julia Wade
If photography is a top priority, consider starting the conversation while finalizing your venue contract, as Jenna Noelle Creative's Jenna Porter explains. "Most photographers will not go under contract until the couple has secured the venue and locked down their date. Still, clients often reach out with a set of available dates from a preferred venue, and the final date will depend on when the photographer is also available."
Other vendors to book based on your must-haves include a designer, caterer, band, DJ, officiant, lighting specialist, stationer, rentals provider, transportation, hair and makeup artists, florist, and baker. As you research and book more vendors, be mindful of ways you can save time and money by checking off multiple boxes at once. Frank Guertler of Bunn DJ Company - Richmond, VA explains, “Look for vendors that can help you with more than one service, like an entertainment company with a photo booth and lighting enhancements or a photographer who also has a videographer on staff. These vendors often have packages offering substantial savings instead of going the a la carte route.”
Don't forget the little things. In addition to the usual vendors, your wedding may call for additional services that need booking before the big day. For instance, who will care for your pup after he accompanies you down the aisle as the cutest ring bearer to date? "Many couples can't imagine their wedding day without their beloved four-legged friend," explains Veronica Silghigian of Pawfect for You, Inc. "For those couples that want to include their pet in some part of the day, whether it be for pictures, the ceremony, or both, pet care planning should begin around the 6-9 month mark, and they should have their pet care vendors booked 3-4 months before their wedding day." Perhaps you want onsite nannies to care for little ones while their parents are on the dance floor. Or maybe you want a food truck to serve late-night treats at the end of the reception! Think about the elements that will enhance your guest experience and work with your planner to book them. As you look at the wedding planning process, focus on the significant picture necessities: a venue, planner, photography, catering, and music.
Photo: Amy Kolo
Together, those elements make for a memorable celebration! From there, please think of the extra details that would make your day truly special, and take it one at a time! Meghan Ely is the owner of the wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast.