How does one become a freelance wedding planner?
June 8, 2008 7:54 AM   Subscribe

How does one become a freelance wedding planner? Other related questions inside.

I'm a corporate event planner with lots of experience. I would be a great wedding planner. My main motivation for the change would be to work for myself.

My questions:

- How do I get my first customers?

- How do I make the transition from working full time to working for myself? How do I decide when to make the transition? In other words, how much business do I need before I quit my steady job and do this full time?

- How much do wedding planners make? Do they typically charge a percentage or an hourly rate?

Thanks... any other feedback welcome.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
- How much do wedding planners make? Do they typically charge a percentage or an hourly rate?

My fiancée and I are planning our wedding right now. While we probably won't need a planner, I've seen lots about them by proxy and it seems the most common rate is a flat fee (~2000 CAD).
posted by Nelsormensch at 8:19 AM on June 8, 2008

A friend of mine is becoming a wedding planner right now -- she's had her first few clients and it seems to be going well. She started out with her own wedding, and helped a couple of friends with theirs, which got her some testimonials for her Web site. She charges a flat fee, which varies depending on how much work she's asked to do: one fee for the entire thing, a smaller fee for just 'day of the wedding' co-ordination. (I know, that doesn't sound like a flat fee. But what I mean is that she doesn't charge an hourly rate.)
posted by littleme at 8:37 AM on June 8, 2008

If you search for wedding planners on craigslist and send responses to them asking for their rates, you should be able to get a good idea of the going rate in your area. Then, if you don't have any friends getting married soon, you could place an ad on craigslist yourself offering free or v. cheap wedding planning, explaining that you're new to the business and trying to build your experience.

This presupposes that you live in a place where people use craigslist. If you don't, substitute newspaper classifieds, idiosyncratic local websites, or whatever.
posted by crinklebat at 11:05 AM on June 8, 2008

In college, I was very interested in pursuing social event planning (ie. weddings and parties, no corporate/convention) as a full-time career, so I did a lot of research. This would be in the mid 90's, so take this with a grain of buttercream -- but I've since been in several weddings with planners, so I think it's all still fairly accurate. I'll assume you're in the US, barring other info:

There's a lot of regional flux on pricing and practice. What brides in the South do is different from the West is different from the Northeast, and so on. Still, the pricing commonly goes like this:

- You can charge a percentage (10-20%) of the bride's entire budget. The value proposition you make is that if she's got $20K to spend, and pays you $2K of it, she still will likely only spend $18K in total on the remainder, because of the discounts, deals, and cost savings you can bring to the table as an experienced professional, and which she wouldn't be able to score on her own. To sell this kind of package, you have to aim at the bride with more money than time. You also have to have a bride with a firm budget, and many simply don't spend that way, deciding instead to use a ballpark estimate, and making big calls as they go along.

- You can offer a la carte packages. Example: $500 gets a bride an initial consultation, from which you'll produce a customized game plan (recommending vendors, timelines, venues, books, etc., and then the legwork stays with the bride). Then, say, $750 gets the game plan, plus a second meeting the week of the wedding, to review all checklists and schedules. Say $1000 gets the game plan, the second meeting, plus four hours of coordinating on site for day-of. As littleme pointed out -- that's still a flat fee, not an hourly rate. Hourly rate would be a nightmare anyway: brides want to know the numbers up front, and you don't want to be tracking them down for money after the wedding, because the carrot on the stick for a bride is the wedding itself.

Wedding planners offer different things to different brides. Some are selling style: "If I plan your wedding, it will be the elegant princess party you always dreamed of, and your friends will be in awe of your taste." Some are selling peace of mind: "With me at the helm, you can relax, enjoy your big day, and not become a Bridezilla in the process." Some are selling mediation: "Yes, you've got to deal with your mother, his mother, your stepmother, his stepmother, his aunties, your cousins, and also we've got to blend Mexican Catholic with Conservative Jewish. Leave it to me, I'll be the referee." Some are selling indie bride: "So, you refuse to have the puffy dress and the bouquet toss, but you still need your event to be hip, elegant, and not offensive to your grandma. Done."

And since ultimately, what you're really selling is yourself, eventually you have to decide what you personally are best at, so you can focus your efforts. Are you a tastemaker? A peacemaker? An organizational wizard? You can try to be all things to all brides at first, but eventually you have to settle into your niche, and promote that as your strength. If you want to do this as your entire livelihood one day, you have to think of this as a small business you are building, not just services that people can hire from you.

In other words, how much business do I need before I quit my steady job and do this full time?

I think only you can decide this. How much money do you need to make in a year? For example, let's say you get to a point where you've got four weddings booked per month, for six straight months, and you're averaging $1000 a gig, that's reasonably looking like a solid $45-48K a year. Is that a salary range that works for you? If not, where can you adjust up? Charge more? Bring in more events than four a month? And how many hours during the week do you have to work to get to a level that pays the bills? How much money do you want to spend marketing yourself, or would you plan to use word-of-mouth referrals? Are you going to get a booth at the big bridal conventions, in order to sign up clients or promote yourself? What are your self-employment taxes going to look like?

I worked for wedding photographers for many years, and they have the same problem that wedding planners do. There's an economics term for it that I can't remember, but essentially: you are always going to be limited by how many weddings you can serve in one year. People mostly get married on weekends, and there are only 52 weeks in the year. Figure that another five of those weekends are off the table due to holidays, and you're looking at eventually hitting a ceiling on how much business you can book before you have to start hiring people -- only, you're not always bringing in enough money to hire people, before you need to hire them. It's why so many vendors in this industry try to reach other vertical markets (charity galas, deb balls, anniversary parties, proms, and so on).

How do I get my first customers?

This is the easiest part: offer your services for free or at a critical discount. Put the word out to your network of friends and acquaintances that you are going to put your event experience to work for brides, and that for a limited time, you are willing to offer free services in order to build up your portfolio. Do everything for those brides that you would if they were paying full price: contracts, timely follow-ups, and so on. Ask them if you can use photos, samples of the wedding plans you designed for them, and testimonials.

Make sure you have a great website, and then start to look for publicity and promotional opportunities. Can you offer a free package of your services for a drawing at the local bridal convention? Can you get interviewed in the local bridal magazine? Can you sign up at the bridal internet forums, and provide helpful answers when brides ask questions? Can you go around and meet all the best florists, photographers, etc. -- to introduce yourself and explain that you are getting into wedding planning, and want to become familiar with their services so that you can decide who best to recommend to your clients? You can both learn from those vendors and endear yourself to them -- the referrals can go both ways. Some of them will want to set up deals with you: they'll offer you either a discount that you can pass onto your brides, or a referral bonus, for any work you send them.

Best of luck! I've always felt that this is a great job in a recession-proof industry, as long as you don't mind working weekends.
posted by pineapple at 11:40 AM on June 8, 2008 [4 favorites]

You should probably contact a successful wedding planner in your area and ask if you can be their apprentice/intern for a period. This kind of experience will answer all your questions, and set you up with the contacts you need to move forward.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 1:07 PM on June 8, 2008

Pineapple gave a fantastic response.

I was looking at doing this for a while - I still sort of am - and I came across lots and lots of books, including one in the "For Dummies" series. You might want to just do a quick search on Amazon, or at your local bookstore.

I would just love to hear how it goes, wish I was taking this jump with you!
posted by GardenGal at 8:02 PM on June 8, 2008

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