Career as a Wedding Planner

Although consulting is only a part of my professional wedding services, each week I receive numerous questions about this newly popular career. Because it is increasingly time-consuming to reply to all of these inquiries privately, I am posting the following information for easy access to anyone interested in this career. I also recommend you refer to the Myth vs. Reality pages at on the subject
.... Sara

What does a wedding consultant/planner/coordinator do?

Job description/responsibilities?
There is no specific job description, because the service can be SO free-form and inclusive-- or it can be limited to quite narrow duties.

In the 1980's, a wedding coordinator handled mostly the "booking" of professionals-- venues, caterers, florists, musicians, etc. Over the years, it seems that many of the most successful "consultants" have included other services or duties to their repertoire. Style, coordination and etiquette advice, custom decorating, and wedding day assistance are among the most common. Combining consulting with another wedding-related business, like floral arranging, retail sales (gowns, accessories, invitations, etc.), photography or catering, makes your involvement more intense and diverse.

However, each consultant has their own strengths and specialties and preferred mode/style of business. To be successful, you will have to find your own strengths and tailor your business to make the most of them.

For myself, I help brides with a variety of subjects, decisions and concerns--
~ selecting, or designing and fitting, bridal attire and accessories
~ choosing wedding color(s) and mood
~ selecting and/or arranging flowers
~ selecting appropriate music for different parts of the wedding
~ selecting invitations/decorations/refreshments
~ deciding on the timing and schedule for the ceremony/reception
~ calming bridal stresses
~ providing help with tradition and etiquette
~ and much more.

Salary range?
Consulting fees depend a lot on both talents and services, and the local market, so it is hard to quote an average.

I would say that most people who work as consultants *only* (not with another talent/service like retail, design, catering, etc.) are making fairly little. The low end of the fee spectrum, although I have never seen a survey of this, would probably be about $15/hour, and fees would go up from there to the "Hollywood"- style wedding stylists who are getting rich. However, I would guess most wedding consultants/planners/coordinators are MUCH closer to the bottom end than the top.

There is no typical week in this profession. Hours for wedding planners/consultants vary tremendously, depending on current work load, season, day of the week, etc. At some times, you might be working 14-16 hours a day, if you have more than one client and/or are handling creative projects for clients as well as general booking, planning and organizing. At others, you may have only a few hours of work, or none at all. It can be very much a "feast or famine" career.

You should be prepared to work evenings and weekends, because often that's when clients have time to meet with you. But you will also need to have weekday, business hours available to make calls and appointments with vendors, etc. You also should expect to work a lot of Friday night rehearsals and all-day Saturday weddings. Many clients, if you create a personal bond with them, will want you with them for the actual wedding events as well as the pre-wedding planning.

Skills and Talent?
This is a career for a versatile person. Every day is different, and to be successful, you have to be adaptable, creative, responsible and self-motivated.

Important skills/traits to have include:
~ organization
~ communication (by phone, in writing, and in person)
~ professionalism
~ empathy
~ insight
~ vision
~ style
~ both logical *and* creative thought
~ good time management skills
~ enthusiasm
~ positive attitude
~ and lots of energy

How does someone become a wedding consultant?

Education/course work/degrees?
Bridal consulting is currently not a career that most current professionals studied in any college or trade school to learn. Most consultants got into the business through related fields, opportunity, etc. Also, unlike many careers, most clients do not seem to be too curious about educational specifics. In general, you will impress them or not based on your talents and knowledge about weddings, not on any diploma or degree.

Education IS always a benefit in business and life in general, however. The self-discipline of study is good for work. Good communication skills and poise help give you a more professional persona. A wide base of knowledge in general subjects can be very useful when you need ideas or perspective.

In formal schooling, a broad, balanced education with business, communication and liberal arts courses is a good place to start. Any art or fashion courses could be helpful. Cooking/home economics, consumer studies, management/hospitality, and courses are useful too. If you choose to study a more specialized trade, fashion design or merchandising, graphic design, interior design, floral arranging, business accounting or business English, music appreciation, and photography would all have possibilities for an aspiring wedding consultant.

Think about your creative and business strengths, and try to build on them. A wedding-related degree often gives you an obvious "slant" or specialty to your business---- but what really counts is what you know about the wedding business. Couples will rely on you to understand and "navigate" the intricacies of the bridal industry.

You can conceivably gain this sort of knowledge through research and other methods; I've met a few consultants who have no industry job experience. But *whatever* path you take to get there, in order to be a really competent and professional planner, you need to have a really clear and complete understanding of the wedding industry and its products, services, policies and limitations.

Job experience?
I think the best way to excel as a wedding consultant is to get as much general wedding industry work experience--and to gather as wide a variety of skills, talents, and knowledge-- as possible. Working in bridal/craft retail, catering, floral, formal wear, event planning, etc., can give a future consultant a familiarity with trends, products, services, rates and practices in the industry. The more they know about a variety of wedding subjects, the better consultant they can be.

In my own experience, I graduated with honors from The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising with a degree in Fashion Design. I have over fifteen years of experience in custom bridal gown and accessory design, and silk flower arranging. I have also previously worked in retail bridal, craft, fabric, and silk floral sales, tuxedo and bridal gown rentals, and alterations.

All the years of working with different brides and grooms and their families, other wedding professionals, and industry practices has given me a wide and varied understanding of wedding issues-- which in turn makes me more versatile and knowledgeable as a consultant.

Apprenticeship opportunities?
I am often asked if it is possible to find an apprenticeship or assistantship in wedding planning-- and the answer is "maybe". There are probably some consultants who *would* take on an assistant or apprentice for part-time or on-call work. There are times when a consultant's work load is certainly big enough for two.

However, in general, most consultants work alone, and do not have the budget to pay an apprentice. Even an unpaid assistant, in many areas, could be a liability later. In a market increasingly congested with consultants and aspiring consultants, it could be considered an unwise business move to train an assistant who might later become your competition.

What is it like to be a wedding consultant?

What gives you the most satisfaction from your job?
~ Being a part of creating that "magic" and romance weddings hold for most of us.
~ Helping brides put together all the elements that create the mood and personality of a wedding.
~ Helping a couple create the wedding they want within a budget they can afford.
~ Seeing a couple relax and enjoy their wedding day, knowing that it expresses their personalities and unique relationship.
~ Receiving the enthusiastic thank you notes from happy couples.
~ Hearing and over-hearing guests' comments like, "The whole day was so 'them'...", "What a beautiful wedding...", "We have heard what a help you've been to the bride and groom; you've certainly done a wonderful job..."

To what do you attribute your success?
~ A real love of weddings, fine fabrics, color and style-- and of the challenge of making each wedding unique and representative of that couple.
~ A true philosophy of designing/advising *for* a specific couple, rather than to suit my own personal style.
~ A good background of interest, knowledge and experience in a wide range of subjects-- costume (historical and theatrical), music, literature, traditions, crafts, sewing, art, cooking, botany/horticulture, travel, etc. *Anything* you know about can help.
~ An ability to envision items and settings that do not yet exist, and a natural eye for color, texture, harmony and style.
~ Most important-- a deep intuitive instinct for seeing and understanding the needs and desires of brides, when even *they* sometimes aren't sure what they want.
What are some obstacles in this career and how can you overcome them?
The obstacles to this sort of business are the same as for all small businesses, especially ones in creative fields. Finding clientele, creating a reputation, charging sufficient fees to make a profit, and withstanding slow business periods are a few of the most common and difficult.

I have been able to keep doing what I do best through patience, perseverance, fair dealing, conservative business practices, providing high quality and personalized services, taking on "day" jobs when necessary, and **diversifying myself and my options as much as possible**. If I had to depend on bridal consulting *only* to keep myself and my family fed and clothed all these years, it would have been a struggle. I am glad that I have a number of other talents and experiences to draw on. It not only makes my options more favorable, it makes my life more interesting and enjoyable.

What about the future if you choose this career?

What challenges should you expect?
How challenging the job is depends a lot on your personality and skills. A good "match" of your skills and temperament make the job much more enjoyable; a poorly suited personality will magnify all the potential problems and challenges. Specific opportunities, clientele and competition in your area will also affect this career quite seriously.

Some of the most common frustrations and drawbacks to wedding consulting work include:
~ Differentiating your services from other consultants in your area, if any.
~ Creating a perceived need and developing a reputation.
~ Learning to communicate and work effectively with a lot of different personalities, expectations, temperaments and stress levels.
~ Making and keeping deadlines, managing your time, and coping with the stress that sometimes accompanies deadlines and responsibilities. (Since most consultants work alone, there is no one else to blame if you do not work efficiently.)
~ Making enough money to keep going in the business.
~ Being flexible in your thinking, overcoming obstacles, and needing to be constantly "creative on call".
~ Dealing with family members who sometimes try to bully the bride and groom and get their own way. (I have come up with effective ways to reduce this, but I know other bridal professionals that struggle with it constantly.)
~ Handling the lack of cash flow during slow business periods, if consulting is your sole means of support.
~ Weathering fluctuations in the national economy.

Industry outlook?
Although I have found all my work in the bridal business to be enjoyable-- and I have found ample opportunities to suit my needs and desires-- I feel that consulting is the type of career you should embark on in conjunction with another specialty. That specialty should preferably be one which has potential in the *non-wedding* market as well. Retail sales, apparel or accessory design, floristry, catering, photography, etc., are all compatible businesses which can give wedding consultants a sense of security, as well as a wider customer base.

Many of the successful consultants I have known and heard of from brides offer a bridal specialty as well as consulting. For considered local wedding consulting as a "career end in itself", due to the irregularity of the work and the uncertainty of the truly long-term demand for such services.

As I've mentioned, competition, both from established consultants and from others like you trying to break into the business, will probably be a big issue in the next few years.

Also, there's no way to know if the media emphasis on the importance of hiring a consultant will continue-- and whether couples will "buy into" that concept. Use of consultants seems to be increasing somewhat currently, especially among "career" women and college students, but the percentage of brides using consultants still seems to be low, based on my e-mail and other contacts with brides all over the country and the world.

My advice for someone who is just starting out in this industry?
Market research in the area you wish to work is EXTREMELY important. You need to have a good idea of who else is offering similar services in your area, as well as if brides seem to be *using* this type of service. Remember, wedding consulting/coordination/planning is a **preference** service, not a necessity-- no matter what the bridal magazines are currently saying. You will have to offer something that brides in your local area really want, and are willing to pay more to get. If brides in your area don't hire consultants, it won't matter HOW great your skills, insight or services are.

This is also, often, a referral-driven business. In a medium-sized community, if the "other" consultant has been working a long time and is well-known by local families, you may have trouble breaking the local trend of using that person-- again, even if you have better skills, insight or services.

Because of the on-again-off-again nature of this sort of business, it can be tough to start consulting full-time, and still be able to pay your bills. Initial capital requirements aren't necessarily high, but it may take a while for you to establish any consistent clientele-- or income.

Because most consultants work alone, they have to be jacks-of-all-trades-- and they have to be equally efficient and responsible about mundane tasks like time-keeping and bookkeeping, as they are about making creative decisions, shopping, consulting, etc. Money and business matters seem to be a major problem for many creative small businesses. I have seen many otherwise "good" businesswomen fail because they were unable to limit overhead, keep up with "accounts payable" problems, log their work time accurately, charge enough for their services to make a profit, etc.

Equally devastating to a consulting service, though, could be a strict attention to business matters, but no intuition and flair for the creative aspects of the job. However, there *are* consultants in some areas who develop a strong clientele handling only booking and other more "secretarial" tasks for brides, rather than advising on style, decoration, coordination, etc., as well.

This is the sort of issue where careful market research in one's area would be vital. To succeed you must be able to offer the types of services that your potential clientele value.

In the continuing flood of e-mail I receive on this subject, I recently received the following message:
Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to respond to my email. I really appreciate it....Also you are the first person I talked to who actually has told me to think about the idea that the bridal consulting business is just an option....other consultants I have spoken to make it seem [like a necessary service]. I really appreciate your honesty and your letter compelled me to think about including other talents into a business....I think that was excellent advice.

K.H.--fashion student, Los Angeles, California

All careers have their risks and benefits, their pro's and con's. To be successful in any business, you have to consider ALL these factors. I don't discourage aspiring bridal consultants, but I caution them to keep their career options open and flexible, and not limit themselves.

I hope that this gives you a better idea of what wedding consultation/coordination/planning is all about. Best wishes to you in whatever career and life path you choose.

Sara L. Ambarian Author of
"A Bride's Touch: A Handbook of Wedding Personality and Inspiration"
and creative wedding consultant / custom bridal designer.


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