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Wedding Planning Part 4: Vendors

Most people don’t have experience working with vendors (if you do, consider yourself one of the lucky ones!). Section 4 is dedicated to helping you navigate this [potentially] intimidating portion of wedding planning. Treat each interaction as a casual interview: go in prepared with questions as well as a general idea of your theme/what you’re looking for to help vendors best understand and see how they can contribute to your vision.

If you haven’t read Chapters OneTwo, or Three, I recommend starting there first because the first three sections will prepare you for this chapter. In those previous sections, I have talked [extensively] about what I used for wedding planning and I honestly believe that I was so successful at planning our wedding because I had The Joyful Wedding Planner to help guide me! I am using that as the framework for these posts, but I HIGHLY encourage you to buy the real thing for yourself to get full access to the wealth of knowledge (it’s only a $25 purchase for the full range of PDFs!). They provide 160 pages of wedding planning goodness, so this low price is SUCH a steal! And this way you can reprint any page in case you need to replace any of them.

I also want to take the time to say that finding vendors that you trust (read: are reliable!) and that you generally get along with will really make your wedding day much less stressful (and honestly, extra fun!). The vendors we ended up working with were a mix of (a) companies that we discovered through extensive online research, as well as (b) referrals from our vendors that we were already contracted with (having an industry “in” was super helpful!). I seriously feel like we hit the jackpot with our vendors. Working with each one was so comfortable, it seriously felt like planning with a friend! (If you live in the Seattle area and are interested in who we worked with, I’ve listed/linked all of our incredible and delightful vendors at the bottom of this post).

My then-fiancé and I triangulated results from a variety of vendor searches… obviously we started with a Google search (using a variation of search phrases like “Seattle Wedding Photographers”), but also looked on multiple wedding blogs (my personal favorites are: Style Me Pretty, Snippet & Ink, Martha Stewart WeddingsBrides, and The White Wren) searching for our city in their “real weddings” sections. All vendors are credited within those posts so if you see something that you like you can find out what the company’s name is! I also searched hashtags on social media (Instagram in particular); for instance, I used: #seattlewedding #seattleweddingphotographer and #seattlephotographer to locate some local photographer options. While compiling the data that we gathered through these kinds of searches, we definitely kept seeing a handful of the same names over and over, which indicated to us that those companies had a higher likelihood of being reputable and that we should reach out to them for an interview.

Things to Consider When: Negotiating

Before reaching out to any vendors, check out their websites first. Most companies will have their pricing posted somewhere, whether it’s a la carte or a pricing range. If it’s way outside of your budget, it’s best to come to terms with the fact that that person isn’t the right vendor for you and move on to the next! Don’t worry about it because there are so many options available!

Don’t be shy about sharing your budget with vendors — they’re trying to help and work with you. If you and your sweetie are still unsure about a set budget amount, providing a price range is fine too; it just gives the vendor a general idea of how they can best assist you.

Negotiate with yourself first. Vendors have carefully determined their pricing and it would be unfair to ask them to offer their full range of services for a discounted rate. Instead, determine what options you could do without (maybe repurpose bridesmaid bouquets as centerpieces post-ceremony instead of having both kinds of floral arrangements? possibly limit the number of hours that you need coverage from someone such as a photographer, or opt out of the offered album?) and see if your vendor is willing to work with you on pricing after making those concessions. As the Joyful Planner writers gently remind, always enter these conversations without expectations or an attitude, but with a grateful heart; these vendors certainly want to help to create the most beautiful experience for you as a couple as well as for your guests, but to be blunt: they don’t owe you anything. Just be kind. 🙂

Things to Consider When: Hiring

Meet with at least a few vendor options before making your decision. It’s always best to have options and maybe that’s the second or the third person that you meet with; don’t jump the gun and hire the first person that you interview!

First things first; make hiring decisions in order. It’s best to be sure that you have a venue and date locked before booking other vendors… it would be so disappointing to have a photographer that you love booked for a specific date only to find out later that your dream venue isn’t available on that same day.

Review your contracts thoroughly and ask questions if anything is unclear to you. It’s important to know what you are committing to and what the plan is if they cancel or don’t hold up their end of the bargain. It’s also okay to ask for edits to the contract, if necessary.

Be sure to look through a vendor’s portfolio before choosing someone based solely because their cost falls within your budget; it may sound obvious, but you want to make sure that their style works well with your vision. Read: don’t expect someone who makes fun, funky cakes to make a more classic, traditional cake if that’s not in their portfolio. If you love natural light photography, choosing a skilled photographer who has a decidedly more moody look to their images probably won’t capture things the same way as you are envisioning.

A few things to ask your vendor candidates:

Venues / Rentals: Are you available on our date? What is the guest capacity? Do you have standard packages and what do they include? How much are the packages? Is there a required vendor list, or a required caterer? Do you have a full kitchen available if we hire our own caterer? Can we bring our own alcohol? Are there noise restrictions?

Caterer / Bar Services / Baker: Have you done events at my venue before? What decor, if any, do you provide for appetizer stations or buffet tables? How much do you charge for children’s meals and vendor meals? Do you do wedding cakes // are there any additional charges for bringing in an outside wedding cake? Is a tasting included? Can we provide alcohol and you provide the bar labor // do you charge a corkage fee?

A few things to keep in mind when meeting with vendor candidates:

Wedding Planner: (1) Depending on your budget, just know that the amount you pay is directly correlated to their experience level. (2) You should definitely trust and get along with this person because they will be the one that you communicate with most throughout the process as well as being your intermediary with all other vendors. (3) Be sure that your planner’s style aligns with yours!

Florist: (1) Set your budget first. While you may not have an exact number set for each vendor, having a general idea of how much money you can afford to put toward florals will help your florist recommend flowers and styles in your price range. It is also advantageous to know how many (and kinds of) tables you plan to have for the reception as well as how many bridesmaids and groomsmen as bouquets/boutonnières and centerpieces are often priced by item. (2) Be detailed with your visual inspiration and realistic with your expectations. Magazine spreads and blog features will often show an over-the-top real wedding or style session to serve as inspiration for brides (think runway fashion… you wouldn’t wear most of those outfits, but they serve as creative inspo!) so recognize that while some images have boughs upon boughs of florals that your budget range may not allow for the exact same effect. Also, be detailed in what you like about those images… is it the color scheme, the way the flowers created a certain shape or is it that you prefer the arrangements to look more natural and organic? Do you like to have one or two statement flowers among other textured and complementary blooms or would you prefer a bundle of the same flower for a classic effect? Just be as specific as possible to best help your florist understand how they can provide the look you’re going for! (3) If possible, provide your own accents; often time florists will bill for their time spent sourcing decorative items such as vases or specific ribbons… to cut some cost you can provide your own (maybe finding some cool vintage vases at estate sales or thrift shops, and buying a specific ribbon or bouquet wrap on discount in bulk online?). Just have open communication with your florist to let them know that you plan to do this and they can provide pointers for you (like whether to look for tall/skinny vases or low/wide ones, or maybe how much length of ribbon you will need for a certain number of bouquets, etc.)

Photographer / Videographer: (1) Consider engagement photos; they’re a great way to capture this special time in your relationship (that honestly goes way too fast) and you can use these photos for Save-the-Dates/Invitations/Thank-You’s as well as use for reception decor! In addition, that session will help you get comfortable in front of the camera as well as with your photographers since you’ll basically be with them for your entire wedding day. (2) Plan your morning carefully if you’re interested in capturing Getting Ready photos/video. Make sure that the room you choose to get ready in has abundant natural light and that you keep everything in the room neat and tidy. If details are important to you, make sure to have those items ready for your photographer/videographer to capture (items such as a full invitation suite, special jewelry, etc). You spent so much time curating all of the wedding details (including things like heirloom decor items, specialty cake designs, wedding ceremony programs, etc), so it’s important to capture them! Make sure that you communicate these items to your photographer/videographer ahead of time so that they can be sure to capture them before guests have an opportunity to enter the space. (3) Determine a formal shot list, but don’t go overboard with these requests. The portrait shot list is the most important so that important photos don’t get overlooked, but asking for specific shots for throughout the day such as “bride dancing with flower girl” and “father in law offering last minute advice to groom” is just overkill. Let your photographer do what you hired them to do (and trust them to do it!!). Also, be sure to let everyone who is involved in family portraits know where, when and what they should be wearing ahead of time so that they can be ready to go on time! (4) Create a generous timeline, especially if portraits are important to you (trust me, you’ll want wiggle-room; it’s always better to have extra time than not enough!); the more time allotted, the better! If you need guidance on how much time to budget, ask your photographer! They will be able to help you budget an appropriate amount of time to make sure to accommodate everything on your Formal Shot List.

Stationer: Locking down a venue will help set the style/tone of your wedding, and this also rings true for your wedding paper goods; it will help you to seriously narrow down your choices (and man, are there a TON of options out there to choose from!). Use the One Year Timeline provided in The Joyful Wedding Planner to help you on schedule for when to send save-the-dates and invitations as well as to determine when to request RSVPs be returned. We did a mix of pre-styled and customized paper goods for our wedding; our save-the-dates were created on Minted.com (slightly customized by using one of our engagement photos and color choices) and our full wedding suite was a pre-created set offered by a stationery designer that we had customized with a watercolor rendering of our venue.

For more extensive question suggestions and detailed vendor advice, I highly recommend purchasing the Joyful Wedding Planner for yourself; I only listed a couple here to get you started, but TJWP really has an awesome comprehensive list of questions to ask anyone that you are considering to be one of your wedding vendors as well as a ton of items to keep in mind with each kind of vendor.

Additional pages exclusive to The Joyful Wedding Planner: Advice for Choosing Musicians; Master Vendor Contact Sheets; Brainstorming Pages (1. Venue, 2. Caterer/Bar Svcs/Baker, 3. Wedding Planner, 4. Florist, 5. Photographer/Videographer, 6. Musicians, and 7. Stationer); Pros & Cons in Comparing Venues; Wedding Day Shot List Template; Flowers by Season; Pages for Floral Inspiration; Sample Wording for Stationery; etc.

ADDITIONAL VENDOR ADVICE: Brides.com & Martha Stewart Weddings


If you’re interested in what vendors we used for our Seattle wedding:

Venue, Catering & Bar Services:
The Sorrento Hotel / Dunbar Room
(My sweet contact at The Sorrento offered to be our Day-Of Coordinator, but has since moved on to another location so her services are unfortunately no longer available)

Cake Baker:
Honey Crumb Cake Studio

Favors:
Lady Yum Macarons

Florist:
Wild Bloom Floral Studio

Photographer:
Blue Rose Photography

Hair & Makeup: (will be discussed in Chapter 5!)
Yessie Libby Makeup Artistry

Officiant: (will be discussed in Chapter 6!)
Annemarie Juhlian

Music:
DJ Justin @ OttoMatic Mobile Music

Stationery:
Empress Stationery for official wedding suite invitations
minted.com for save-the-dates & thank-you’s 

Wedding Planner:
The Joyful Wedding Planner!

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