I love Offbeat Bride….I’m wondering if you can give me any direction on how to pursue a wedding planning career?
After planning a commitment ceremony for myself and seeing how difficult it was for gay weddings in 2010, I’ve been wanting to get involved and be a gay planner for several years. I can’t quit my day job while getting there though. But with all of this quarantine free time, I thought it would be good to start looking into it. I am in Utah, where most weddings are LDS proper weddings and it’s hard out here to find things if you are an alternative bride or have an alternative lifestyle.
I appreciate any advice you can give me on how to become a wedding planner. -Robin
Hey, Robin! I’m bringing in Cindy Savage from Aisle Less Traveled to answer your question. Hope this is helpful! Take it away, Cindy… xo, Offbeat Bride
Virtually every wedding planner I know sees this question in their inbox on a regular basis. In my case, there’s often a twist: as a queer planner, many folks want to specifically ask about that aspect, too.
So here’s what I think you should know if you’re thinking about becoming a wedding planner.
Understand What a Wedding Planner Actually Does
Being a wedding planner is nowhere near as fun or glamorous as it looks in the movies. Contrary to what you might think, very little of our time is spent making mood boards and drooling over all the loveliest details. (And we almost never fall in love with the groom and break up the impending marriage before it can start. Ahem, J.Lo.)
Picking out pretty things is just one very small part of wedding planning and the rest of it – especially the actual wedding day – is a lot of hard work.
There’s an almost absurd amount of tasks that need to be checked off in order to make a wedding happen – my list currently includes 180+ items in seven stages. My day-to-day is a lot of sitting at my computer trying to get people to actually read and reply to emails, making spreadsheets, and running meetings. Communication and team leadership make up the bulk of the work. The rest is tactfully managing the Very Big Feels that engaged folks (and their parents) have as they prepare to and get married.
And sure, there are parts that are legit fun sprinkled in! Catering and dessert tastings are a damn good time and helping choose flowers and other décor can be very satisfying. But know that we are not choosing what we like; rather, our job is to make our clients’ wedding dreams a reality.
Then we’ve gotta talk about what a wedding day actually looks like for a planner. We’re the first ones there and the last to leave. Our days are rarely less than 10 hours long and are often several hours longer. It’s a physically demanding job – we’re on our feet all day and we are frequently lifting, moving, arranging, and rearranging things. Literally everything is our responsibility and our problem; the buck stops with us.
We do not get breaks.
It’s not sexy, I’m not sure I would even categorize it as fun, but there are some of us who are just wired to be super satisfied by making an event run smoothly and being the glue that holds all those happy memories together, while simultaneously keeping all the possible emergencies at bay. Event planning is routinely rated as one of the most stressful careers, right up there in the top ten with air traffic controllers and first responders. If you’re not organized, diplomatic, and at your best under pressure, this is not for you.
But if you just got a little bit excited? Then here are the steps I recommend you follow to set yourself up for success:
1. Hands-On Training and Education is a Must
If you just finished planning your wedding and you had so much fun that you’re now ready to start your new career tomorrow, STOP. You aren’t.
Virtually all wedding planners agree that newbies must get some actual event experience before heading out on their own. Research planners in your area, choose a few who fit your vibe, and reach out to see if you can shadow them on a wedding or two. Many planners also offer (paid) internships.
There are a variety of courses and certification programs out there, from so cheap they’re practically free (and highly suspect) to in-depth trainings that cost thousands of dollars. There is no agreement in the wedding industry about which is best, so you’ll have to use your own best judgement. I’m personally not convinced that a certification is necessary or that any of them will successfully train you to be LGBTQ-
inclusive and embrace the incredible, creative world of offbeat weddings!
2. Find a Mentor
When you’ve given it a try and you’re ready to dive deeper, find an experienced planner who is willing to guide you through the newbie phase. You’re going to fuck up, you’re going to face challenging situations, and you’re going to have questions. You need someone who’s been at this a while to show you the ropes because there’s no way you’ll learn it all in a few months of shadowing. Or even in a year, or five. Hell, at
nearly a decade in, I still learn new things all the time.
3. Choose a Niche Where You Can Be Yourself
The wedding industry is a strange place where a lot of people seem to think there’s only one right way to do things – and it usually involves pastels, strictly defined gender roles, and a steaming pile of patriarchy.
Since you’re reading Offbeat Bride, I’m guessing that’s not the kind of weddings you’re interested in planning and I am here to tell you that it’s ok to be different!
In fact, it’s critically needed. People like you are out there wishing and hoping for a wedding planner who understands that they don’t want their big day to look and feel like what the see in those glossy wedding magazines. You can be that planner.
4. Know That Running a Wedding Business is Not for Everyone
It’s one thing to plan and execute a beautiful wedding; it’s a whole other thing to successfully run the business behind it. From licenses to taxes to accounting and marketing plans, it takes a lot of time and effort and research and money to start and manage the business side of things. If that all sounds like waaaaaay too much bullshit for you, then you’ll probably want to look into becoming an associate planner with an established wedding planning company in your area.
5. Don’t Undervalue Yourself or Your Services
Ok, so you decided to take the plunge and start your own business! Woohoo!!
Now you have to figure out what to charge. Be real, you probably came in here all, “I’m not gonna charge those ridiculously high fees that other planners charge! It shouldn’t cost that much!!”
I hate to break it to you, but if you intend to make this your primary source of income, you’ll find out very quickly that you have to. Just because you’re fresh as the new-fallen snow does not mean you aren’t worthy of, at the very least, minimum wage.
Understand your costs of doing business, how many weddings you can reasonably plan/manage in a year, how much you need to pay yourself, and price your services accordingly.
6. How You Treat People is Everything
Don’t be an asshole! It should go without saying, but in all seriousness, wedding planners sometimes have a reputation of being bossy and not-so-nice to other vendors.
Nobody wants to work with (or spend time) with a micromanaging jerk, so don’t be one. (Even if they’re being one to you. When they go low, we go high and all.) If there’s a problem, address it kindly, but firmly. If additional feedback is needed, give it after the wedding. This goes for your clients, too.
It’s not just in your best interest as a human, but as a business whose primary source of referrals is going to be this group of people. Be a good leader for your clients and your wedding day.
If you want to be a different kind of wedding planner, you can’t get your planner education from the same old traditional places. Forget about learning the sixteen different shades of white — learn how to be a wedding planner the Aisle Less Traveled way!
I’m starting a comprehensive training program to teach folks everything they need to know about planning the weddings their future offbeat, independent, feminist, and LGBTQ+ clients deserve. Learn more now!