Engaged! What to Do First?

As we prepare to celebrate the winter holidays and close the door on 2017, we know that engagement season is upon us! Each year nearly 40% of all engagements happen between Christmas Eve and Valentine's Day, which means that those of us in the wedding industry know that our phones will be ringing and inboxes will be filling up right after Christmas. It's an exciting time of year to say the least! 

So if you're a bride (or groom!) to be, and you've just accepted a marriage proposal... this post is for you! It's a long post, but read it. Read all of it (not just the headers!) Follow this advice, and you can feel confident that you'll be setting yourself up for success as you plan a beautiful, meaningful wedding. 

1.) Relax, Enjoy, Celebrate and Sloooow Down 

Congratulations on this huge, exciting new development in your life! You've said yes to the love of your life, and yes to forever. It's not only okay to take a few days/weeks to revel in that happiness, I highly encourage you to do so. I know you're anxious to start the fun planning, but couples who spend some quality time to celebrate their engagement for a bit before diving head first right into the planning process all have something in common: They prioritize their marriage and not just the wedding. Friends, that's so important. Even though we're tasked with planning, designing, and producing weddings, our work is missing the entire point if we're not actively encouraging our clients to focus on the start of their marriage. I believe in that so wholeheartedly that I'm doling this advice out for free to anyone and everyone who wants to read it. Take a hot second to just celebrate (!!), then tackle item #2...

2.) Hire a Wedding Planner Before you do Anything Else

I'm often surprised at how little this advice is shared in magazines, online articles, and the beautiful keepsake wedding planning binders you splurge on at the bookstore. On one hand I get it. Not everyone wants a wedding planner, and the reality is that not everyone can afford one. Wedding planners aren't the right fit for every couple, every budget, or every wedding. But telling people to book a venue, hire a photographer, and book a band first is doing a grave disservice to couples who really would benefit from hiring a wedding planner! I'm including this item so near the top of this list for the following reason...  If you're even considering making the decision to hire a wedding planner, then that's the very first thing you should investigate and pursue because you may inadvertently destroy your chances at finding the right one if you don't make it a priority. A few answers to some FAQs on this subject to demonstrate why this is so important: 

What if I don't know where I want to get married? Shouldn't I hire a local planner? 

Maybe, maybe not. The answer to this largely depends on your financial resources and priorities for the wedding. An experienced destination wedding planner/designer doesn't need to reside in the town/city/state/country of your wedding. If I'm ever on a phone call with you because you've reached out to us for more information about hiring our team, I'll give you this same advice whether you choose to hire us or not: find a planning/design team whose work you admire and who you feel you can truly trust, and then let them guide you and assist with destination/venue research and selection. Trust me, this isn't as uncommon as you might think. We've helped couples choose destinations, venues, and even wedding calendar dates. They hired us because they felt sure we would be a great fit to serve them well and they were right! In every single one of those cases, they may have never found the venues we found for them if they hadn't hired us first. Also - to be frank, sometimes the local options aren't great. It's heartbreaking to see couples with grand vision and impeccable taste choose incredibly beautiful destination venues, and then settle for hiring a local wedding coordinator who may be woefully unqualified to handle the job - whether due to inexperience, lack of staffing capacity, or any other reason. Not every wedding planner is the same. Not every wedding planner is the right choice for you. Never settle and don't put off the search just because you're not sure about your final destination yet. 

What if I want to book my venue (or photographer, or caterer, or band) first? Can't I hire a planner later? 

Of course you can, but you need to be prepared for a few potential complications, or lack of options in the market. There are so many reasons to hire a planner before starting to make any plans, and not one single good reason to wait to hire them later in the process.

Consider this: you don't choose to hire a general contractor two months into a construction project. That would be foolish. And if you did - most GC's wouldn't touch the project with a twenty foot pole because they're walking into a complicated scenario that may involve third-party vendors/contractors they didn't have the opportunity to vet at the onset of the project. They may also be inheriting a budget that wasn't properly/efficiently developed and won't work for the scope of the project because too much has already been spent before their involvement. Those scenarios apply here in the wedding industry as well. We've received so many inquiries over the years that we've had to turn away for reasons such as: 

  • The couple begins with a fixed budget number and has already spent 50% of the budget on venue rental, and a great band. Guess what? That means we're expected to work with 50% of the original budget projection and 9 times out of 10, that's physically impossible. 
  • The couple has hired a vendor (maybe it's a photographer, or rental company, etc.) who we know will not be (a) respectful, (b) professional, (c) responsive, (d) capable of working to a standard we expect for our clients and our brand association, and/or (e) good at their job. This can be a serious issue and though I wish it were purely hypothetical, it isn't.

Here's the bottom line. If you want to have your top choice of wedding planners, your chances are vastly improved if you reach out to them before you inadvertently make a mistake that could prevent you from working together. It's just not worth that risk! You hire them for their expertise precisely so that you don't make any mistakes in the planning process. Also, consider that most planners accept a limited number of weddings per year. The longer you wait, the more likely they are to already be booked and unable to add your wedding to their project calendar.

Planners are expensive. I don't want to commit a huge chunk of my budget to hiring a planner until I get further along in the process. 

This line of thinking is so common, and you're not the only one who has had this thought. Yes - a planner, particularly a full-service planning/design/production team like ours - is an expensive investment. And why shouldn't it be? There's a difference between just being expensive, and being expensive because of value. You're choosing the person/people in whom you will entrust nearly every single detail of one of the most important events in your lifetime.  When we work on a wedding, we know that our team is going to spend upwards of 400 hours in the planning/design phase. And probably another 150-200 hours just during the wedding week itself. There is nobody else involved in your wedding who will even come close to spending that amount of time, energy, and dedication to serving you. Nobody. 

But here's the thing. You get what you pay for. If you want to cut corners and pay less for a planner, then that planner will be less. Likely less experienced. Maybe less capable. Possibly less professional. Maybe also less talented. 

So many people are willing to spend extravagantly on a band (call it $8k, $15k, or even $30k+) who will spend one day to deliver on their responsibilities for a wedding, but can't fathom spending that much on a planning/design team who will spend  many months serving each client. My friends, that is backwards and it's high time that the broader wedding industry acknowledges that truth so that newly engaged couples can approach the planning process with more realistic expectations, and more accurate understanding of industry value. 

An experienced wedding planner will help steward your budget to peak levels of efficiency. That matters tremendously, and it's something you'll most benefit from at the start of the process before you've booked anyone or anything else. We guide our clients through extremely comprehensive budget projections based on extensive research so that we're aligning the necessities with both their preferences and their financial resources. An experienced wedding planning team is worth their weight in gold because they serve as your advisors and advocates in a way that nobody else can. Instead of simply viewing the decision to hire a planner as an investment that's expensive, you should really consider the consequence and risk of a more expensive alternative: undertaking a such an extensive and unfamiliar project without professional guidance. 

3. Determine a Budget

This is something that will need to be done before you officially sign a contract with a wedding planner, but because a planner will be able to give you guidance on this, I'm listing it as number 3 on the list. 

It doesn't matter whether you have the financial means to have a $20,000 wedding or a $2 million dollar wedding... you need to set basic parameters around what you're comfortable spending. A planner will craft an itemized budget for you, so you don't need to worry about breaking things down into lots of line items, but in order to do so, they'll need to know your bottom line. That number is crucial to help you determine how many people you can realistically include on your guest list, what style of dinner service you should plan, which creative professionals and third-part vendors to hire, and the list goes on.

Here's what I mean by this: If a client tells us that she is willing to spend up to $200,000 on her wedding, but would prefer to keep it to $150,000 - then we can strategically guide the wedding plans toward that low end of her budget and help ensure nothing is booked that will take her over that level. At the end of the day, she may very easily save $50,000. But if she starts planning or booking things without a budget in mind, she could easily (and unknowingly) commit to $125,000 before booking a caterer, buying a wedding dress, purchasing invitations, or selecting table linens. Suddenly, she's going to spend at least $200,000 because the only way to keep her budget down is to cut corners on catering and aesthetic elements that are really important to her, and that isn't a realistic option either. 

The same logic/scenario applies to much smaller budgets too. Start with a bottom line so that you and your family know your comfort level. Then the planning can begin in earnest and you can start signing contracts and paying deposits until your heart's content because you'll be planning with a budget, instead of in the dark. 

Your engagement season should be full of joy and anticipation. We all hear the stories about how stressful it is to plan a wedding... but it doesn't have to be stressful at all. The biggest sources of stress often boil down to finances, decision paralysis, anxiety about social comparison, or sensitive family dynamics. All of that really can be avoided by focusing on the three steps above and we know that to be the truth based on over 40 years of cumulative experience on our team. 

So pop some bubbly, toast each other, admire that shiny diamond on your finger today. When you're ready to start thinking seriously about your wedding plans, you know what to do next! And if you're on the hunt for a full-service wedding planning, design, and production team, we've got a couple spots left for 2018 weddings and are beginning to accept weddings for 2019, so reach out and let's chat soon!