Destination Wedding Advice / How do I pick a wedding planner?

I am so excited about our new column, Destination Wedding Advice!! The idea is to reach out to multiple event and wedding professionals to help us help couples looking for advice on important topics relevant to their wedding planning process.

Our first topic is an important one, especially for couples planning a destination wedding... How do I pick a wedding planner (please do note the topic is not "Do I need a wedding planner?" because believe me, if you are dreaming of a destination wedding, you most certainly do!). As a professional planner and designer who actually had a destination wedding of her own, I can vouch for that. While I personally did all of the design for my wedding and quite a bit of the planning, the support of a local planning team, familiar with my wedding location, was invaluable. 

So you have decided to have a destination wedding.... you go on a quick google search for "wedding planners" in your chosen location... and oh my goodness, all these options come up!!!  You browse through a few websites and Instagram profiles and start to get a bit overwhelmed at all the info, and have no clue as to who you should go with (or why).

Here are a few things that I recommend you consider before making a decision!

- You will be working closely with your planner for quite some time, in one of the most important (and emotional) days of your life, so it is important that you feel comfortable with them. More than comfortable, it is important for you to feel like your planner is someone you can really talk to and can trust. Make sure to interview all planners in person (or on the phone or Skype, if you are doing a destination wedding) and see beyond their sales pitch. Are they interested in you and your vision or are they just interested in selling their services? 

- Check out their work. Visit their websites, blogs and social media. This will give you a very good idea of their style, the type of wedding they do, the places and vendors they work with the most. If you want  ballroom wedding and one of the planners you like has only pictures of outdoor weddings, it is likely that they won't be as experienced with ballroom weddings (or like me, won't do ballroom weddings at all - I just don't like them!) and may not be the best fit. If you are looking for a more relaxed, boho style, a planner that specializes in classic, structured weddings, will probably no be right for you.

- Make sure that their process is compatible with your expectations. Do you expect to communicate with your planner on a daily basis? Do you expect to receive email responses within 48 hours? Do you prefer to have followup calls every week to keep track of progress? Do you expect your planner to take control of everything and tell you what to do? Make sure you identify YOUR communication and progress expectations before talking to a planner, in order to ask the right questions to find out if their process is compatible with your expectations. For example, I try to be very thorough with our clients from the get go, explaining our process (which is detailed and measurable) and clearing any doubts and questions they may have.

- Be clear about financials. Make sure the planners you interview are able to work with your budget. I am personally very clear when a client inquires about our services. If their budget is consistent with the weddings we take on, I will let them know. If it is not, I will refer them to someone else who can better help them achieve what they are looking for. I think it is important to honor a client's budget and make sure that, as a planner, you can deliver what the client wants in the budget they have (as long as their expectations are realistic). 

- With that said, be realistic with your overall expectations. I have encountered many couples that want a $50K wedding on a $10K budget. No one can help you achieve that, and you can interview planners forever and get nowhere.

- Ask the planners you are interviewing to be specific about their fees. Your planner should be able to explain their fee structure in detail.  Ask them how they price their services (is it a flat fee, is a percentage, is it a mix of both?). Do they receive vendor commissions and are they upfront about them? Do they work with only certain vendors? Transparency is key in a relationship with a wedding planner, remember they are helping you manage the budget of one of the most expensive parties you will ever throw, and you want to make sure your money is being put to its best use. 

- Make sure that the planner you choose can give you the level of attention you are looking for. For example, a planner that does 50 weddings a year may charge less, but has less time to dedicate to each client and each event than someone who only does 15 weddings in a year. 

- Make sure you check out references and reviews. A great planner will have happy clients that are more than willing to recommend them to other couples. Ask for direct references or check out review sites such as WeddingWire to get a sense of how a particular planner has helped their clients. 

- Ask your prospective planners details on how they manage events. Do they have a separate planning / design / event management team? Is the lead planner and designer on site on the day of the wedding? How long does the planning team stay on site? What does the event management team oversee on  the day of the wedding? If something unexpected happens, what is their protocol? If possible ask them to tell you a story of something that did not go as planned at a wedding and how they resolved it (every good planner has to have quite a few of these stories!).  While it is unlikely that something undesired will happen on your wedding day, it is important to know how your planner would react if something were to happen!

These are just some of the things I think are important for a newly engaged couple to consider when they are looking for wedding planner. Hopefully they will help make the selection process easier for you and you will end up with your ideal planner!