You might think hiring a wedding planner is out of your league, but you’d be wrong. Here’s how to make it work, regardless of budget
When it comes to organising your big day, we always encourage couples to invest in the things that are important to them. For example, we often talk to brides and grooms whose decision to book a videographer was spurred more by want than need, but who nevertheless say that it was the best money they spent. It’s what we’d call a non-essential essential.
In that same category, you’ll find wedding planners – professionals whose services are often regarded as an optional extra reserved for the rich and famous. But we’re here to tell you that this narrow view could not be further from the truth.
“Why is it,” wonders Alison O’Neill, founder of Lanarkshire-based wedding and events planning service Pebblefish, “that the first call newly engaged couples make is not to their local, friendly, cost-effective, knowledgeable, always-has-cake wedding planner?” Hmm, when you put it like that, it does seem odd.
“Okay, so Hollywood hasn’t done our industry any favours and J-Lo has a lot to answer for, but free consultations exist for a reason,” she goes on. “Before parting with a single penny, you can meet up for a face-to-face chat and find out first-hand just how flexible, affordable and invaluable our services can be. You wouldn’t hesitate to contact a solicitor, plumber or electrician if you needed their help, so why do people not seek advice from wedding experts?”
She’s got a point – the majority of couples won’t have had anything to do with organising a wedding before, personally or professionally, so it’s safe to assume they’ll be more than a little in the dark. Expanding your resource pool can only be a good idea.
“Most brides and grooms are stepping into the unknown, which can be a daunting experience,” says Anna Healy of Beautiful, Magical and Elegant Weddings. “With a planner, you’re making a great investment in someone who knows the business and has the expertise and contacts to guarantee you’ll have the best day of your life. As a professional with 16 years’ experience, I have worked on hundreds and hundreds of weddings – you’re in safe hands with me.”
Now, we all know what you’re thinking: we appreciate the sentiment, but this is still an unrealistic expense for us. One response to this is that a planner can help streamline your spending and iron out any kinks in your finances in the process.
“The most common misconception is that the cheapest way to plan a wedding is to go it alone,” agrees Alison. “But I keep meeting couples whose spending has grown arms and legs all because they started booking before picking up a calculator – it’s probably the saddest and most frustrating thing I see in my job.
As with most things in life, it really is all in the preparation: a good planner will not only assist you in visualising the kind of event you want and identifying the elements most important to you, but they will also work with you to establish a realistic budget fully customised to reflect your needs.”
Indeed, opting for a helping hand could even end up saving you money in the long run. Yup, you read that right. “Seasoned planners will be able to shop around to get the most competitive quotes from their suppliers,” Anna explains.
“I am also a professional member of the UK Alliance of Wedding Planners – we follow a code of practice whereby we have to pass on any personal discounts we are offered, and we never charge commission. Clients can potentially save thousands via a planner.”
The road to ‘I do’
If you’re reading this magazine, chances are you’re freshly engaged: maybe Santa left a rock under your tree, or bae popped the question with fireworks at Hogmanay. Either way, however excited you are to be engaged, there’s still a long way to go and a lot to do before the magical day arrives.
As tempting as it can be to race through bookings in the initial stages, a professional will urge you to think long-term and will help structure your planning effectively.
“When I put a plan together, it’s about balance, making life easier for the couple and allowing them breathing space to enjoy the journey without getting stressed or panicked or overwhelmed,” Alison says.
“I often find that their vision will evolve during the process, so this is one of the many reasons why we don’t rush and book everything in the first month. Having the opportunity to work with a planner from the start can prevent clients making the common spending mistakes we so often see when people go it alone.”
“You wouldn’t hesitate to contact a solicitor, plumber or electrician if you needed their help, so why do people not seek advice from wedding experts?” –Alison O’Neill, Pebblefish
In such cases, it can be best to seek the expert guidance of a planner from the get-go, a relatively frequent request – Anna calls this Full Wedding Management. “Starting with a couple’s ideas, I’ll collaborate with them every step of the way to create a truly memorable day,” she explains.
If you’re already somewhat further down the line, you can still enlist her help should you find yourself encountering any difficulties; or, failing that, she is always available for on-the-day co-ordination: “This is a fantastic offer for clients. It’s a great way to pull together all their efforts to ensure they have the best day ever. I’ll come on board about six weeks prior to finalise all the little details.”
The wedding industry is as susceptible to trends as any other, and right now it’s all about going bespoke. So, just as you can get your custom-made cake, dress and catering menu, so too you can create a tailored agreement with a number of w-day planners. “I can create a made-to-measure package, which would only focus on the areas the couple require the most help with,” is how Anna describes it.
And the good news is that such adaptable arrangements are one of the primary reasons why wedding planners are becoming more attainable for all. “Being able to provide flexible, affordable, essentially ‘build-your-own’ plans is really key for today’s couples and a big part of what I do,” agrees Alison.
“I am 100% passionate about pledging that my services are accessible to everyone, regardless of their budget or timeline. For example, lots of clients want to experience the adventure of planning their own wedding and so might just need a nudge to get them started in the right direction. I am completely on board with that.”
It goes without saying that every couple and every wedding is unique, but are there any common snags that planners are regularly asked to resolve? “The sourcing of suppliers is a big one – seeking out people and businesses who are tried and tested,” says Anna.
“I’ll usually help with setting the budget too, and will provide assistance in the final weeks.” Alison also mentions that she is often called upon for help with venue searches, themes and styling.
Weddings are, naturally, all about chemistry: with your partner, your celebrant, your suppliers; and you should also listen to your gut feelings should you choose to hire a wedding planner. The relationship you share will be surprisingly personal and intimate, so give the decision due diligence.
“It’s important that couples do their research on potential candidates to check that they can offer the right support,” Anna warns. “A good rapport in the first consultation is crucial as this will help set the tone and define the relationship moving forward.”
Your approach to the initial meeting should be similar to what you’d do with any other venue co-ordinator or supplier: namely, speak up. “Don’t be shy about asking questions and raise any concerns when you reach out to a planner: trust me, we love it when you talk to us!” Alison laughs.
She also recommends looking beyond cost when it comes to making your final decision – confirm the person in mind understands your vision and reasons for seeking outside help above all else. Do this, and you’re far more likely to find your best match.
I’m sure we don’t need to tell you that the period from ‘Yes!’ to ‘I do’ is a special one indeed: when else can you spend your weekends skipping around wedding fairs, gorging on canapés and prosecco? Still, the privilege of being permitted a window into this magical time in someone’s life isn’t lost on wedding planners.
“Though some couples prefer to operate on a ‘strictly business’ basis, most really welcome you into the wider framework of their family dynamic,” says Alison. “Being invited to go dress shopping with a bride and her loved ones is an extraordinary experience, and one I will never take for granted. Not only do you learn so much about your client, but the level of job satisfaction you get goes through the roof!”
“A good rapport in the first consultation is crucial as this will help set the tone and define the relationship moving forward” – Anna Healy, Beautiful, Magical and Elegant Weddings
Come the wedding itself, amid all the stress and chaos, your planner will be an invaluable resource – so don’t be afraid to use them. “I provide the most support on the day itself, meeting and greeting suppliers and guests, assisting with the set-up of the ceremony and reception rooms, and co-ordinating with everyone to ensure we run to time and everyone is on the same page,” says Anna.
“Generally, planners look after everyone – I have been told many times over the years that all couples should have an Anna at their nuptials!”
With all the many weddings she’s worked on, do any stick out in her mind as particularly memorable? “They all mean a great deal to me, but it would have to be when my two best friends got married after 19 years together,” she considers.
“I’d been friends with them all that time and it was such a wonderful day. I was delighted to be involved in the planning process, having been given the role of chief bridesmaid and asked to make a speech!”
Whatever opinions you might have previously held about wedding planners and their worth, we hope we’ve made you see the light: like with me and my Diet Coke habit, some things are worth scraping together your pennies for.
“At the end of the day, flexible planning exists to ensure that there is a service available for every budget and timeframe,” Alison stresses. “A reputable professional will advise you of the best choices based on your requirements, timeline and financial situation. My aim is always for couples to spend as much of their allocated budget as possible on the actual event, so they only pay for the planning help they need, when they need it.”
See? It’s not all J-Lo and June weddings at the Plaza – but it’s every bit as fabulous, dahling.