The Top Ten
Written by: Rena Sweeney, Alchemy Events
It’s a new year and in the wedding industry, that means a new group of freshly engaged couples. Congratulations to all of you who got engaged over the holidays! You’re probably wondering what things are most important to do right away.
Where do you start? We know you’ve got a handle on things like telling everyone, having your ring insured, etc. so we’re going to dive right into the nitty gritty of what your top planning priorities should be so you can start off on the right foot.
1. SET A WEDDING BUDGET
I know this isn’t the fun part of being newly engaged BUT everything hinges on this to-do list item. You don’t want to make decisions before knowing how they will fit into the grand scheme of things. Even just locking down a venue is difficult if you don’t know how much you have to spend or if it would take up your entire budget or not.
If you don’t know where to start, I suggest one of two methods. The first is to look at what you can realistically spend. How much do you have in savings? How much can you afford to put towards your wedding during the time of your engagement without putting yourself under financial stress? Will parents be helping pay? If so, while you’re discussing budget with them, find out their expectations such as if they want to be the decision makers or if you’ll make the decisions on how to spend the money they contribute.
If you have savings already and aren’t sure how high you should expect to go with your budget, I tell couples to first think about what the “no way” number is. As in “no way would I want to spend that much on a wedding.” That’s going to be the number that you know you need to stay under. So no matter which end of the price spectrum you start from, either way you’ll be able to determine what’s right for you.
2. DETERMINE YOUR PRIORITIES
I personally feel like one of your top priorities should be photography. Choose a more basic bar package and get the extra hours of coverage on your wedding day – you’ll never regret it! People don’t walk away from a wedding complaining that it wasn’t their FAVORITE brand of vodka, but couples DO regret not going with their top pick or having enough hours of coverage for their wedding.
3. CREATE YOUR GUEST LIST(S)
Everything hinges on the number of guests you invite. You don’t know how far your budget has to go or how big your venues need to be if you don’t have a general idea of who you want to be there celebrating with you. Start with a rough list of people you HAVE to invite and then work on the “B” and “C” lists.
4. DECIDE IF YOU NEED (OR WANT) A WEDDING PLANNER
Decide whether you want or need to hire a wedding planner. Options range from event management (“day or month of coordination”) to full design and planning services.
One of the most difficult things I encounter as a wedding planner is when a client comes to me already having other contracts in place. They may not have realized what they signed, that the vendor doesn’t have a great reputation or just that it may not have been the best fit for you, your aesthetic or budget.
It makes things much easier when, as a planner, we can start from the beginning to make sure all the pieces are in place and you fully understand the contracts you’re signing. Simply put, you don’t know what you don’t know. I often have clients tell me there are so many aspects they would have never thought of and appreciated that were brought up before signing with their vendors.
For more experienced event managers, it’s not uncommon to see prices starting at $3,000 and couples looking for full design and coordination services should expect to spend roughly 10-15% of their budget on those services.
5. SELECT YOUR WEDDING VENUE(S)
Select your venue and/or ceremony site. Ok, it’s no surprise that this is also toward the top of our list! You need to first decide what your style is so you can begin to narrow down venues that will work with your vision. Your vision can be very broad at this point; you don’t need to rush to Pinterest! This could be as simple as knowing you don’t want a rustic look, that you want a very sleek and modern look or if you have to get married in the summer that a fully indoor space might be a must. This will help you start to narrow down locations that you like and then you can begin to ask for prices to see which of those will work within your budget.
Once you’ve found your dream venue, you’ll be able to start to design for the space, think about what your personal style and clothing will look like, etc. If your ceremony and reception are at different locations, you’ll just need to make sure each of them has the same date available.
6. SET YOUR WEDDING DATE!
Since you now have your venue selected, lock in a date with them and that will finally make you officially ready to start booking other vendors.
7. BOOK YOUR WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY + VIDEO
Photography and videography are next because they are some of the most important vendors you will hire. These are your memories and the artwork that will hang in your home the rest of your lives and should reflect your own personal style. Couples often make the mistake of just looking at who might be in their price range, however, I have my couples do it differently.
First we start by identifying what style of photography (or videography) they prefer. Do you want a lot of black and whites, light and airy photos, or more vibrant colors? Photographers are artists and as such, each has their own unique style. However, keep in mind that if you like the light and airy style but your wedding is at night with a dimly lit ballroom reception, you’re not going to get the same look as what you’re seeing in that photographer’s portfolio.
This is where it’s particularly important to ask to see a full gallery of a wedding they’ve done that is similar to what yours will be. Ask to see examples in your location or a similar setting at the same time of day your wedding will take place. What you’re looking for here is to ensure that the photographer you select can shoot well in the atmosphere you’re creating (whether it’s dimly lit candlelight or during the day).
Also start to consider if you like more traditional posed photos, more casually posed or a modern take (think Solange’s bridal party at Marigny Opera House in New Orleans). Once you know what style you like, then you can look for photographers who have that style and then see which ones are in your price range.
8. BOOK YOUR WEDDING ENTERTAINMENT
Entertainment is a must for any good party, whether it’s a live band or DJ. Unless they are a DJ company with multiple people available, they will typically only be able to do one gig per day so their calendar is going to book up quickly. Luckily, in New Orleans we have so many amazing bands to choose from and many of them also play around the city on weekdays which makes it easy to get to go see them playing live before your big day.
9. SECURE HOTEL ROOM BLOCKS
Although tourism continues to take a hit due to covid, if you’re planning your wedding in an area that gets a lot of conventions or seasonal traffic, hotels can still book up pretty quickly. This means that sometimes, even if your wedding is a year away, you might have difficulty finding hotel blocks available for your date. Don’t wait to secure your room blocks. I typically recommend offering two options at different price points to ensure all of your guests are considered.
10. IT’S DESIGN TIME!
Ok, go ahead and hit Pinterest! Who are we kidding? We know you’ve already done it! Now is the time to start to narrow down your vision for the wedding. Note why you like something such as if you like the colors in a bouquet but not the shape. This will help your vendors guide you into selections that fit the aesthetic you decide on.
If you’re a couple without a strong vision going in, just knowing a very general idea of what you like, you can also just collect anything that speaks to you and then go back and group things.
When it comes down to it, if you have a few things that are one style but many, many more that are another style, it will be clear which is the direction you should go for your wedding.
Now that you know what you’re looking for you’ll be able to determine what other vendors you need. If you need rentals, you now know not only that you need chairs (if the venue you booked doesn’t provide them or you don’t like the chairs they offer), but also what style of chair you’ll want to look for so you can get a rental company that has what fits both your needs and wants. You’ll also know what style of cake you want so you can find a baker who does that style well (yes, they are artists also, it’s not only just about taste).
As you’ve probably noticed, your priority is booking those vendors who can only do one event per day because you want to go ahead and get them locked in. Then once you have determined the aesthetic of your wedding you can move on to booking vendors who are able to do multiple events per day such as bakers or florists.
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