wedding planning

Wedding Planning Hardly Goes As Planned

Trust me. I know this all too well, from my own experience! I had a long engagement, about 1.5 years to be more specific, so I figured “Oh, that’s plenty of time to get everything together! I’m an organized-planning-type person. I can do this on my own.” What I didn’t take into account was that I’ve never been married before, never had a wedding and overall just really had ZERO experience of what actually goes into planning a wedding. Looking back on my wedding day, the one thing I really regret was not hiring a wedding planner or at least a day of coordinator. I had a good handle on the big stuff like finding a place to have our ceremony and reception, who would be doing my florals, videography, photography, DJing, hair and makeup, etc. But once it got down to the nitty-gritty stuff? I was overwhelmed, I kept putting it off because I didn’t find it fun to plan that stuff, and on my wedding day I felt the stress of all that small stuff. And all that small stuff adds up. So I’m here to tell you, as a past bride and as a wedding photographer, that wedding planners are angels. Professionally, I SO SO SO SO SO prefer to work weddings with a planner present. Personally, having a planner at my wedding would have relieved me (and my wedding party and family) of all the decision-making/question-answering stress. I took a few weeks to interview some of the wedding planners I’ve enjoyed working with in the past and compiled this article of how these wonderful human beings can be so dang helpful on your wedding day.

Marc Jacobs Daisy perfume, bride’s getting ready detail photos at Cork Factory Hotel in Lancaster, PA.

My first question: Why should couples hire a wedding planner? Ultimately, it comes down to preventing stressful events from happening or relieving stress if it does creep up on you. It’s their job to take the weight of the day off of your shoulders - they keep your day moving so that you don’t have to.

Kirsten of Simply Elegant Affairs says: “The number one reason I believe a couple should hire a wedding planner/coordinator is so that the couple AND their family can enjoy their special day and not have to worry that all the details are coming together. The number one detail a couple should be thinking about on their wedding day is 100% the commitment they are making to the one they love…Most wedding days have some sort of hiccup big or small that happen during the day (groomsmen forgets their tie, the cake is late, the bride’s bustle rips, catering forgot glassware, you run out of alcohol, it begins to rain on your outside ceremony) these things happen, and I have seen it happen. It is a planner/coordinator’s job to be able to think on their toes, sometimes there are simple fixes, and sometimes we have to get creative but our job is to make your wedding day as seamless as possible and never let the couple know that anything happened to begin with.”

Cindy of Planned Perfection says: “It’s so helpful to have a designated person like a day of coordinator that your vendors can come to with questions and any concerns. This allows the bridal couple, family and VIP’s involved in the wedding enjoy the event and allow couples to be relaxed hosts!” And Heidi of Tucker & Co also illustrated the importance of at least having a day of coordinator present on your wedding day: “Whether you hire a planner for full planning services or "just" as a day-of-coordinator, having a point person on your wedding day is priceless. This planner will save you from a hundred questions on your special day, a day when all you want to do is celebrate with your family and friends. Your planner will manage your timeline and make sure all your vendors arrive on time and are executing particular services as they promised. Life happens and even with the best planned events, there will be issues that pop up through out your wedding day, if you have a day-of-coordinator, everyone will take those issues to them for a decision instead of you!” Yep - I could’ve definitely used a day of coordinator.

Dave of Mx2 Event Design brought up how many couples designate a particular “point person” on their wedding day but how this may not be the best idea. He said: “Time moves at a whole different pace on a wedding day! There are some many details to keep organized, including all the vendor deliveries and services, plus all the décor that any given couple bring to the wedding as well. Having a professional organize and orchestrate all the moving parts of a wedding day is key; Some couples attempt to have a member of the wedding party or the Mother of the Bride handle this, though often forget that at some point those members of the wedding party also need to set aside time for hair and makeup, getting dressed and joining in the photo session. A professional is not only seasoned in keeping the gears moving like clockwork, they can also be the go-to person when a seam rips, or a dress doesn’t fit quite right! A professional planner or coordinator also works with the different vendors in their area, which brings a level of both familiarity and ease to executing all the things that need to happen (and smoothly!) on a wedding day. Every wedding venue also operates with its own set of policies, which the coordinator will be fully familiar with. This is a big help in making sure the wedding couple’s damage and/or clean-up deposits aren’t compromised.“

Outdoor wedding in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Slate blue bridesmaid dresses, fluffy bouquets.

I followed up with at what stage in their wedding planning should couples decide to work with a wedding planner? The short answer is ideally right when you start planning your wedding. Makes sense, right? Unfortunately a lot of couples start with their venue. Some venues come with a dedicated planner, however having someone on the outside can be a huge help. If you can work with a planner from the start, they will keep your budget in mind when helping you find your wedding vendors.

Kirsten sums it up perfectly: “When couples are searching for a Full Service Wedding Planner, a planner should be the first if not one of the first vendors you book. One of the greatest benefits of having a planner is keeping your budget and vision in mind. We will help you find vendors that meet your style and most importantly who also match your budget. We will give you recommendations on vendors that we have had good experiences with and will go out of our way to find exactly what YOU are looking for, and save you time by narrowing your search field.”

Heidi and David both recommend bringing in a pro right when the planning begins. Heidi said she “would recommend that couples who are even possibly thinking of using a planner, reach out to local planners right at the beginning of planning their wedding. Even if you think you might only want a day-of-coordinator, contact planners right away for a greater chance that they will still have your wedding date available. Also you might pick up some tips on planning your wedding just by looking into planners or speaking briefly with an event planner.” David said “Mx2 Events recommends a couple consider bringing in a professional as soon as their planning begins; Whether it be in a coordinator or planner role, an experience pro can offer insight that Google simply can’t.” I’m a chronic googler if I don’t know the answer. But when it comes to weddings, leave it to the pros! Cindy has “found most couples are booking in the 12-18 month mark, typically around the same times frame they’re booking their venues.”

Wedding dinner at Historic Anthony Wayne House near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

I also asked that scary question… How much should couples budget for a wedding planner and/or day of coordinator? I learned that planners will offer packages based on several factors and that some planners may accept payment as a percentage of the total wedding budget, as an hourly rate, or as a flat package rate. As it is with any service, you get what you pay for! I can agree that it’s this way with photography as well. Here’s what the pros had to say:

From Kirsten: “Factors [for wedding planner costs] are the geographical location of the planner, experience level, what the details of their packages include/what package you are interested in, how they accept payment (percentage, hourly, flat rate), your guest count, etc. A general rule of thumb is that  couples tend to spend around 10% of their overall budget for a full service wedding planner. Although 10% can seem to be a little high, hiring a wedding planner is a huge investment that in the end will help you save money! For Day or Coordination, average packages can range anywhere from $400-$2000 again based on what each company provides and experience level.”

Cindy says to “look for a planner that has at least one assistant to help the day of [your wedding]. An extra set of hands and eyes are always beneficial.”

From Heidi: “Some planners basis their pay as a certain percentage of the overall budget, because budget is typically a good indicator on how complex a wedding is going to be. Other planners have a set fee. I'd say if you are looking for full planning services, plan on spending any where from $2,500 to $10,000 depending on the complexity of your wedding and the years of experience of the planner you are hiring. For day-of-coordination, plan on spending anywhere from $500 to $1,500.”

And David warns of “budget planners” saying: “The average for a coordinator in Central PA is between $1,000 - $1,500 based on the size of the professional team a planner works with. Wedding planning packages can range from $2,000 up to $4,000, again based on the amount of help a couple is seeking. Most planners offer different “tiers” of coordinator and planning packages to address both the couples’ planning needs and budget. Be warned of “budget” planners: A low-ball price is often a red flag that the planner is either inexperienced or, even worse, a “weekend warrior” who isn’t fully dedicated wedding professional. Remember: You get what you pay for!”

Cork Factory Hotel, Lancaster, PA Wedding - Bride and Groom walking past the peach wall on the exterior of the Cork Factory Hotel property.

I asked the pros what should a couple ask a planner prior to deciding to work with them? It’s always good to get to know the person you’re investing in. You want them to be someone you like as a person, someone who has experience, and someone that will keep your vision in mind while helping you make decisions.

David said: “Of the questions Mx2 Events fields most often are: How many weddings have you presented? What size of a team will you bring in? Will you be with us the entire wedding day, or just for certain parts? Asking the right questions is key: It will not only address your wedding day needs, it will also give a couple the insight they need to determine if the professional they’re considering is experienced, confident and capable. Be sure to cover how long your planner or coordinator will be on site to avoid any hidden “extra hours” fees. It’s also good to check that they are insured, and if you can secure a certified coordinator or planner, you’ll know you’re getting someone who is not only experienced but has also taken the time to study and develop a strong understanding of the wedding business, wedding traditions, and a certified planner will also have a network of other professionals to rely upon should it become necessary.”

Heidi said: “When contacting potential wedding planners, before telling them what kind of wedding your are trying to plan, ask them what their favorite kind of wedding is. Because everyone in the industry has a favorite style of wedding, and if your wedding style/type is the exact opposite of the stated favorite of the planner, you might not be a good match. Finally be sure to ask potential planners if they personally know many quality vendors in the area you are hoping to book your venue. Having a planner with personal connections in your area can make the vendor selection process go much faster and smoother.”

Cindy brought up a good point: “Definitely make sure if case of an emergency they have a reliable, experienced replacement. Again, assistants are super helpful. You never know when a groomsman could be missing a tie or the best man speech was left at the hotel. An assistant can help with those issues while the lead Day of Coordinator keeps things running smooth.”

And Kirsten had the following to offer: “1. Do they have positive reviews and a working website? 2. Do they have examples of their work? 3. Do they fit your budget and your style? 4. Are they insured? If everything I mentioned above lines up with what you are looking for, I would say the most important factor when hiring a planner then becomes how your personalities match up.  You will spend A LOT of time communicating with your full service planner, you want to make sure that the planner/business you hire fits your personality and that you actually like them as silly as it sounds. A few important questions to ask a planner once you have connected and felt like they could be a good fit for you are: 1. What types of packages do they offer and what do each include? 2. How involved are they in the planning process? 3. Do they work with a team or alone and Will they personally be there on your wedding day? 4. Have they done any weddings similar to your vision? And lastly, for any vendor make sure they have a contract and that you look over their contract prior to booking!”

Couple and guests enjoying cocktail hour at Historic Anthony Wayne House for a wedding near Philadlephia, Pennsylvania.

I asked each planner to share a story from their own experience fo how their services have helped couples through planning or on their wedding day.

Heidi brought up a different perspective for couples who want to have a more nontraditional wedding at a venue that isn’t typically used for weddings, like a backyard or private property: “If you are planning on having your wedding at a nontraditional or say a non full-time, event venue, it is more important to have a planner on your side. We had a client who was planning a beautiful backyard wedding at the groom's grandparents' Christmas Tree Farm. They came to us midway through their planning looking to book a day-of-coordinator. However, we have a policy that our day-of-coordination service can only be added on to one of our planning services, to be sure we don't get stuck managing a poorly planned and unmanageable event. We created a custom package for them, combining our DIY Consult package and our Day-of-Coordinator service. During our initial meeting it became clear that they would need some additional logistics, design, and setup help. We did a sight visit and recommended the necessary changes to the landscaping of the Christmas tree farm to accommodate a wedding with almost 200 guests. How much room was needed for the ceremony space, where to place the rented reception tent, clearing a path for guests to move easily from ceremony sight to reception tent, etc. I love custom events in settings personal to the bride and groom, but they do require extra planning and thinking through the logistics, of bathrooms, parking, signage, and trash disposal.”

David brought up his experience of working with out-of-state couples: “One of the most common scenarios Mx2 has encountered is receiving an email from a coupe or a family planning their wedding from out-of-town, or out-of-state. Central PA has become a very desirable location for out-of-state couples to marry for several reasons: Perhaps the one of the couple is originally from the area; A “moderate” budget from a metropolitan area like New York can really stretch a great deal further here in Central PA; There are so many gorgeous wedding venues in Central PA (from farms, to urban industrial, etc). With that has come an explosion of wedding professionals in the region. A wedding coordinator or planner has worked with these pros, and can really save a couple a great deal of time when they may only have a weekend here or there to come and “shop” their vendors. This is a major time and stress saver! A local planner or coordinator knows the type of service any given vendor offers, along with their average price points. Another dynamic we see is couples who decide to do their own planning, then as the date draws nearer, it becomes apparent to the couple just how big a job it is to pull the Big Day together. We’ve gotten calls from couples with as little as a month’s notice to the wedding date that they need help!”

Kirsten had my favorite story and just goes to show how important planners are for your wedding day. She says “the bride and groom should never have to know when something big or small happens that wasn’t supposed to on their wedding day and it is our job as planners/coordinators to do everything we can to salvage any part of the day that goes unplanned. One story I will never forget was one of my first weddings actually, it was a beautiful backyard tent ceremony and reception so there was a bit more limited resources than at a typical wedding venue. For this particular wedding, I was hired by the couple for my month of coordination package so I had not been a big part of the planning Or vendor selection process. Some wedding day trouble began when the DJ was late for setup and was getting alarmingly close to not being setup in time for their ceremony, I ensured him that guests were beginning to arrive and that he needed to make sure he was ready within the next 15 minutes and that sound checks needed to be done. Fast forward, come to find out that the DJ had accidentally brought old speakers that were no longer working and did not have the ceremony songs fully downloaded. At this point we were 5 minutes out from the ceremony beginning and the DJ had no way to play music besides off of his phone. Luckily, from previous experiences I always Make sure to bring an aux cord and download ceremony music unto my iPad in case I ever need to play music. I ended Up pulling my car around to the far side of the tent and hooking my iPad up and played the couples ceremony and cocktail music through my car speakers. This allowed time for the DJ to run back and get the proper equipment in time for the bridal party entrances and allowed the reception to continue without a hitch! As much as I hope to never have to experience a dilemma like this one again, things do happen. Having a planner/coordinator for your wedding makes a huge difference when major hiccups like this occur. The solution may not always be perfect, but we will do our best to fix it the best we can!”

First dance in an art gallery at the Reading Art Works event venue near Philadelphia. The bride is wearing a gown by designer, Miss Haley Paige.

Lastly, I asked if they had anything else that couples may find beneficial to know when it comes to working with a wedding planner:

Heidi says it’s important to ask yourself this question: “When you are considering whether or not, to hire a planner for your wedding or any event, some things to consider are how much time you have in your current schedule to plan your wedding, how interested you are in planning every little detail, how many details and guests your event is going to have. If you are interested in planning your wedding, do you feel confident in your ability to handle planning and carry out your event?”

David said: “From our many clients, we often hear “You’re the best money we spent on our wedding!” This is not only a testament to the level of professionalism a true professional wedding coordinator or planner brings to a busy wedding day, it is also an affirmation of the level of dedication and care a professional offers. Wedding planning can be very stressful, but a pro does it every day and can take a massive load of worry off a couple’s or family’s shoulders. Making sure a wedding day unfolds flawlessly, watching a couple TRULY enjoy and experience their day, and then all the “Thank you’s” and hugs at the end of the night are priceless. Weddings are a very personal and intimate affair, and having someone you truly connect with, who is fully dedicated to helping create lifetime memories is an important part of your overall wedding planning.”

And Kirsten brought up some wedding planner misconceptions: “First, one misconception I believe a lot of couples have is that hiring a full or partial wedding planner means that they don’t get to be involved in planning their wedding. Our job is not to create our dream wedding, it’s to help you navigate and plan your big day! We can be as involved or as little involved as you want!! Some couples do not have the time or interest to plan their wedding and really want someone to take over most of the planning process with very limited involvement on their part. Other couples may be super excited about the planning process but really just need someone to walk alongside them throughout the process to give advice and keep them on schedule. Each scenario is okay and it is 100% up to the couple to be however involved they want to be! Second, another misconception I have heard a lot of couples say, is that they don’t believe they need a Day of Coordinator because they are already super organized. I have worked with so many amazingly organized couples, that have truly thought of all the little details. Hiring a DOC does not at all mean that you haven’t or that you are not capable of putting together an amazing wedding on your own. As I mentioned earlier, on the day of wedding, vendors and guests most likely will have some questions. Hiring a DOC allows for those questions to be directed towards someone other than the bride/groom and the couples family and friends. It allows for everyone to enjoy your day, we will take care of the little odds and ends tasks and make sure that all of your hard work plays out exactly how you envisioned!” Yeah - I definitely fell into that second misconception!!!

A bride getting down on the dance floor at Excelsior in Lancaster.

All in all, wedding planners and day of coordinators can be a huge help on your wedding day and can relieve you of a lot of stress. If you’re someone like me who tends to stress out or worry about nearly everything in life, do yourself a favor and work with a wedding planner when it comes to one of the biggest days of your life. It’ll save your mental health and you’ll actually enjoy planning your wedding, and living out your wedding day dream. Instead of trying to be in the moment, but also concerned about all of the small stuff, and just wishing you were on the plane heading out to your honeymoon. Hiring a wedding planner will be the one decision on your wedding day that you definitely won’t regret!

Thank you so much to the following people for their contributions to this blog post:

Kirsten of Simply Elegant Affairs

David of Mx2 Event Design

Heidi of Tucker & Co

Cindy of Planned Perfection