For some, wedding planning can be time consuming, stressful and difficult. Hiring a wedding consultant is the best way to have your ideal event without going through the stressful motions of planning. A knowledgeable, experienced consultant can eliminate the search from hundreds of vendors down to a few that fit your exact needs, come up with cost-saving solutions to implement key elements and serve as a mediator and problem solver between you and your vendors. However, it can also add to stress if the consultant you’ve hired is inexperienced, disorganized and has a lack of knowledge about the local wedding market. When hiring a consultant, here are some things you should look for (and please note that, with everything, there are exceptions to these indications):
Did you know that consultants and planners can have certifications? Not to say that completing a training program means that a consultant is experienced, but these certifications offer valuable insight to consultants they may not have learned otherwise. This includes contract negotiations, dealing with problem situations, solving issues between vendors, etc. If a consultant indicates they have any type of certification, ask what was involved in obtaining their certification. Some require only a payment, while others require four or more months of classes, quizzes and projects.
In addition to certifications, there are awards for wedding and event companies. Some of these awards are only open to vendors within the award’s professional society, but others are open to any company. As with certifications, ask the consultant what was involved with entering and winning their award. Ask to see pictures of the event itself. Both of these will allow you to judge the caliber of work involved.
Consultants can also be recognized in magazines, newspapers and professional publications. These consultants have proven themselves to have at least some knowledge of the industry for their words to have been written within the publications, or are trusted enough for their insight to be judged valuable for a paying public. Has the consultant been on committees for community events or has he/she been a featured guest or speaker in planning-related events?
Size of Business:
Rhere are great consultants that are self-employed, however there are also those that are in business without having proper experience. Having multiple consultants on staff may indicate a long list of current clients and events, thus a successful, reputable business.
A consultant with experience will have at least one portfolio to show you, as well as samples of past event invitations, favors, décor, etc. This not only ensures that their style matches your own, but also allows you to see the scale and diversity of experience a consultant has to offer.
A successful business will have a budget to spend on advertising. Look not only at the appearance of the advertisement (Is it professional, cohesive, organized, and appealing?), but also the location (Does it exist in a place with other well-known vendors and a good target market or is it in a publication open to anyone with a bad viewing market?). There are wonderful small businesses without the budget for advertisements and large businesses without the need for advertisements, but in general, a good advertisement means a company is willing to invest profit to reach their target market.
In addition, check out the consultant’s website and business cards/pamphlets. As with advertising, are they cohesive and well organized? Do they provide you with enough information to get a good first impression? Does their style appear to be one that matches your personality or the style of the event you plan to throw? These are all good indications of whether or not the consultant will be a good match for you.
How consultants charge clients may seem like it should be all the same, but it can be very different. Some consultants charge a flat rate which requires a deposit and one or more later payments. Keep in mind that a deposit is necessary, as this ensures that the consultant will have business on a given day and can refuse future potential clients also interested in that date. Consultants also do a good amount of research during the first phases of planning and usually will not be compensated until much later in the process.
Other consultants charge a percentage of your budget. For example, if a client has a budget of $20,000 for a party, a consultant can charge up to 10%, resulting in a fee of $2,000. Some charge this way because larger, more expensive events tend to require more time, research, additional staff, and more work in general. There are trustworthy and knowledgeable vendors who charge this way but be wary that the more you spend, the more the consultant charges. If the consultant you intend to hire works on a percentage scale, try asking that a cap be put on the consultant’s fee upfront. This ensures you will not go severely over-budget and the consultant works in your interest. Again, keep in mind that more expensive events usually require more work. Be fair and honest in letting your consultant know your budget upfront.
Always meet with a consultant in person before signing a contract (and ALWAYS require a contract for you to sign – to protect yourself from anyone taking your money without clear expectations and ensure the consultant has set tasks and a date on which to work). When meeting with them, does he or she dress professionally and appropriately for the setting in which you are meeting? Does their style match your own? Were they timely, attentive and able to answer all of your questions with reasonable answers? Did they have samples and information for you to take with you? Do your research on the company prior to meeting with them so you can make the most of your time with the consultant by asking questions and listing your expectations for budget and timelines.
Keep in mind that most consultants do not have an office outside of their home, as they usually attend meetings at the venue of their vendors. Ask if the consultant has a dedicated workspace in their home away from distractions, with necessary supplies and methods of communication (phone, computer with internet access, etc.).
Finally, look for a consulting company that fits your style as well as your budget. If your budget for planning is lower than that of a consultant you would like to interview, let them know your budget and ask if a custom package can be created to suit your needs. Remember that consultants are usually able to save you time and money, so you may end up saving more by spending more initially. Saving you hours of research and negations may be worth the extra cost! If you have a very limited budget, try asking if they have a consultant that works best for your situation and/or one with more experience with smaller-budget events. After looking at these different areas, you should be able to conclude if a potential consultant is a good match for you.
Good luck and happy hiring!
Erin Hofmeister has been an Event Manager and Design Consultant with Alred Wedding Consultants since 2004. She specializes in creating award-winning, detail-rich weddings and incorporating couples' personalities into their special day.