Wednesday, April 30, 2014

One of the most difficult aspects of wedding planning is deciding which vendors to work with to ensure your bridal visions become reality. For those of you struggling with the planning process, our Marketing Coordinator, Sam, is here to help! If you've seen our past two Wedding Advice posts, Registry Recommendations and Your Wedding Website, or have been following along with Sam & Sarah's Wedding Series, you'll know that Sam is currently planning her wedding and has a lot of firsthand experience to share. Read on for her incredible advice on how to choose and work with your vendors.

When it comes to wedding planning, the vendors you choose is an extremely important decision; they are the team that will make your wedding day dreams come true. When picking these members of your team, you want to make sure that they are reliable, experienced (or, if they're new, that they at least know what they're doing), responsive, in your budget, and pleasant to work with. Here are some of my tips and tricks for finding and working with your wedding team!

1. Do The Research: Do a lot of research! See what what the pricing is like out there -- what seems, low, high, and standard? Compare packages between vendors to help you see what is available and to determine how much certain services cost. For example, some photographers offer packages based on hours only, whereas some base their packages on hours, number of photos you get, and print credit. Determine which type of package is best for you and then you can compare that to other vendors. Most vendors can supply a PDF or list of packages for you to choose from, so make sure to look over each option per vendor! 

2. Reach Out: Don't be shy; email any and all vendors that you're interested in! I must have emailed about 10 photographers before I found my photographer, Lindsey of Eyelet Images! I found it helpful to save an "inquiry template" and kind of reuse that when reaching out, since I was pretty much repeating the same information. You don't want to write all your points over and over again from scratch! Here's an example of my template for emailing venues:

Hi there,
I just wanted to get more information about your gorgeous venue!
- Fall 2014 availability (August - October, Saturdays are preferred)
- Pricing
- Do you allow other vendors / caterers to be brought in?
- Max capacity
- Do you require vendors to have liability insurance?
- Where are the bathrooms and how many?
- Do you allow more than one wedding at your site per day?
- Table/chair rental pricing
- Are there rooms for the bridal parties to get ready in?
- Do you have a required end time for the wedding reception?
Thanks so much and I look forward to hearing back from you!

I felt it was easiest to ask all the questions that could make or break a venue upfront so that I didn't have to go through an email thread of eight messages before you finding out it wouldn't work with my max capacity!

Here's my template for photographers too! All of these questions might be helpful to you:

Hi there,
I found you via _______ and I love your photography style! I'd love to get more information from you to see if you could potentially shoot my wedding! I have a couple of questions:
- What is your availability this Fall (2014) (or if you already have your date - put your actual date)
- What are your prices/packages?
- What's your engagement shoot cost?
- Do you shoot in digital or film or both?
- Do you have a second shooter option?
- Do you supply a disk with all the high-res JPEG files?
- What’s your approach to shooting a wedding? (are you into more natural shots or do you like posing?)
- Do you have liability insurance?
- How many weddings have you shot?
- How would you describe your post-processing style? How much do you edit the photos?
Thanks so much and I look forward to hearing back from you!

3. Make Sure You Mesh: This one was super important to me! I wanted to make sure that my "dream team" (that's how I refer to my wedding vendors) was comprised of people that I liked and got along with. When my fiance and I first met and interviewed our photographer, I felt like there was an instant connection! It wasn't awkward at all, even though we'd only talked via email until that point. She was so friendly and warm, and we both felt like we'd be extremely happy with her following us around for 10 hours on our wedding day. I've been told the photographer is the most important vendor to get along with, because they are the only ones who will be "in your face" all day long. We had a similar situation with our florist! We found out that she had graduated from the same college as my fiance and me, and she was born and raised in the same city as me! There were so many similarities between us and she was extremely laid back and easy to talk to.

4. Be Realistic With Your Budget: Be honest and up front about what your budget is for each vendor! If you can only spend $1,000 on flowers, than don't bother continuing to talk to a florist whose minimums are $3,000. If there is a vendor who is a bit over your budget, see if you can negotiate over a few details. When determining you budget, don't forget to take all the fine print costs into consideration. Take note of sales tax, gratuity, service, set up, travel, and don't forget to factor in the tip! Trying to think of every little charge is the best way to stay on top of your costs and avoid going over.

5. Voice Your Expectations:  Let each of your vendors be aware of what you are expecting from them. My DJ was wonderful in making me think about what I wanted his role to be in the wedding day. Do you want your DJ to just setup the speakers and play music, or do you want him to be the MC and entertainer of the night? I told mine that I essentially want him to run the show based off of our day-of schedule. I want him to set up two sound systems (ceremony and reception), keep the music flowing, and announce when the dancing, cake cutting, and bridal party entrance is happening. Let them know as early as you can, so they can do their best to fulfill your needs, otherwise it's not fair to have expectations for them that they are unaware of.

I was upfront with my florist and told her what my vision and color scheme are, and then let her know she can pretty much do what she wants. I am not knowledgeable with flowers, so I'd rather let her, the expert, have the creative freedom to do her best work. I essentially told her that I trust her and that I wouldn't be dictating a lot with her. If flowers are something you personally want to have a lot of say in, make that known! And if you're expecting a lot from your florist, don't tell her the day of your ceremony that you expect her to style the venue when she was only planning on setting up the floral arrangements.

6. Finalize The Contract: Make sure you've looked over the contract multiple times and that you have the final price inclusive of any tax, shipping, travel, service, and gratuity. Be certain of when your deposit and payments are due and how your vendors want their payments, be it via credit card, check, cash, or wire transfer. Also, make sure that if you've made any special negotiations, they are listed on the contract. For example, we got permission from our caterer to bring in our own craft beer (which is typically not allowed) so I had the vendor add that to the special notes section.

Once we decided on a vendor and signed the contract, we made a copy for ourselves along with a copy of the deposit check. Then I added all the payment dates into my wedding calendar with a week-ahead notice so I wouldn't miss a payment or worry about remembering all those dates.

7. Be Nice: Just because your vendors will be working for/with you on your wedding day doesn't give you the right to be mean, rude, or overbearing. Your vendors are people too, who might miss an email or text and possibly make a little mistake. Just think, they are in the wedding business and they are dealing with not just your wedding, but possibly 20 others. Be nice to them and if you see a mistake in the contract, kindly point it out and don't assume they're trying to pull one over on you. The kinder you are, the more helpful and receptive they will be to you. Basically, don't be a bridezilla -- there's a reason that brides get a bad reputation!

8. Keep Them Updated: Any time you have a major change or new decision for your wedding, be sure to alert all the vendors that will be affected by that. When my fiance and I finalized our timeline, I emailed all the vendors so they could plan accordingly for set up and take down times. When I finalize the bridesmaid dress colors, I'll certainly send a photo over to my florist so she can see what the bouquets will be held up against and pick the best color scheme.

9. Give Them A Timeline: I think this is an extremely important aspect of communicating with your vendors. Your vendors will need to know the flow of the day that you and your fiance have decided upon, along with what time they can arrive at the venue to set up. Don't assume how much time they'll need -- make sure you have it cleared with them that they all have enough time to set up too!

Keep in mind that your photographer and videographer will need the timeline of the day so that they know when each aspect of the big day will occur. The DJ will need to know this information as well so he can conduct and maintain the timeline you have set. If you designate the first dance to be at 7pm, he needs to know so he can prepare the music and make that announcement. Your florist also needs to know the timeline so she can swap around the flowers if necessary; we are reusing ceremony flowers at the reception and moving the cocktail hour flowers to the reception as well, so she needs to know the timeline to figure out when to begin shifting arrangements around. Lastly, the vendors need to know what time the event should or has to end (also known as the "strike"). Similar to the set up, they need to know how much time they have to take down everything and when the venue wants all the vendors off the property. Again, clear it with them so they have enough time.

My suggestion for managing this timeline is to create a Google document with the finalized timeline and to share it with all of your vendors. They can access the timeline at any point through the Google Drive, and if you update it, they will see those changes. I'd also print out a few copies for everyone on the wedding day itself.

10. Tip Well: It may feel like you've already spent a lot of money on your wedding, but tipping is pretty much an expected part of the budget. Prepare your tips a week before the wedding, put them in envelopes with each person's name on the front, and assign handing them out to someone you can trust. If you really had a great experience with one of your vendors, I'd even go as far as writing a nice thank you card. After all, what's a few more thank you cards on top of the hundred that you'll already be writing for the gifts!

Happy planning,
~ Sam, Marketing Coordinator

Images via Ruffled Blog & Lisa Poggi

We hope this post will help you find and work with your dream vendors! For more wedding advice (and more from Sam!), take a look at our Registry Recommendations and Wedding Website posts.


  • Though the questions for photographers are good, you can answer most of them yourself by looking at a photographer's website, browsing their FAQ section and reading their blog. Spend some time on there, look at a lot of their work. Do you like it? Then, e-mail them. You can see what their post-processing style is like--you don't need to ask that. A better question to ask is: can I see a few full weddings that you've shot? Aside from asking questions, share your story with the photographer, tell him/her what you're excited about for your wedding. Your photographer should be excited about photographing you, and that's not going to happen when they get an e-mail full of questions and no personal sharing going on. As a photographer, I like to hear what couples like about my work so I know if I'm a good fit for them, and I want to hear what's important to them and what they love to do together because it helps me completely personalize their experience with me.

    Posted on April 30, 2014