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Working with clients

Lesson
Materials

Congratulations, a couple is interested in hiring you to plan their wedding… So let’s look at what happens now.

Setting your fees

Before you meet with your new clients, you will need to decide how much you are going to charge for your services. The question is likely to come up at your first meeting, so you will need to be prepared.

Fees for wedding planning are as varied as the services offered by the planners themselves. Some prefer to charge a flat rate for their services based on a percentage of the total wedding budget, while others offer individually priced packages according to the type and number of services the client desires.

To help you decide which fee arrangement/s would be best for your business, here are some typical ways wedding planners charge for their services

  • Consultation fee
  • Percentage of the wedding budget
  • No charge to client (wedding planner earns commission from vendors)
  • Hourly fee
  • Flat fee

Consultation fee

Many wedding planners give a half-hour to on-hour free initial consultation. In such cases, this first meeting is simply an opportunity to learn more about what the clients need and explain how your services can benefit them.

However, other wedding planners start charging from the first meeting. Some clients may only want to consult with you, rather than have you plan the whole wedding. You can give them advice on choosing vendors, how to set a planning calendar, etiquette issues, budgets etc.
You should charge your hourly fee (see below), based on the number of hours you provide in consultation for the couple.

It’s up to you how much you feel comfortable to charge – average rates range anywhere from $50 to $200 per hour, depending on where the planner lives (big city rates will obviously be higher than country), and their experience.

Percentage of the wedding budget

This is a common way for wedding planners to charge for their services. A fee of 10-15% is the norm, although some wedding planners charge up to 20% of the budget.

This fee arrangement works well when the guest list is fairly large. You will not want to offer this pricing if the event is small. For example, if there is a total budget of $5000, your fee will be $500 no matter how many hours you have put in.

If you decide to price your services this way, determining your budget early on is critical in order to ensure you can provide the service for that amount of money. For a typical traditional wedding costing $30,000, a 15% fee would earn you $4500.

Be aware that your clients may expect that if you are charging a percentage of the wedding budget, you will save them at least that amount on the wedding costs.

No charge to the client

Some wedding planners offer their services free of charge to clients. They earn their money from commissions paid by vendors. The percentage commission will depend on how effective a negotiator you are. If you have established a relationship with a vendor, they may offer you a higher percentage for referring business to them.

Some may view this type of ‘kick back’ or ‘finder’s fee’ as unethical, but in some industries it’s a standard practice – for example, travel agents traditionally offer their services free of charge because they are paid a commission by airlines, hotels etc.).

You should also take into consideration the possibility that some potential clients might be put off by this approach – in the belief that ‘you get what you pay for’.

One of the best reasons for a couple to hire a wedding planner is to reap the rewards and benefits of the planner’s expertise in negotiating the lowest possible prices from vendors. If you are not passing the savings onto your client you run the risk of losing them to a planner who does. If you decide not to charge a fee, be prepared to address these objections by showing that the vendors you have chosen are reputable and reasonably priced.

Hourly fee

If you are going to be providing partial wedding planning services, you might charge an hourly fee. Most wedding planners charge fees ranging from $50 to $200 an hour. You don’t have to start at the bottom end of the scale, because charging a higher fee may actually make some clients want to work with you, trusting (again) that ‘you get what you pay for’.

Flat fee

Some clients want to know upfront what the total cost for your services will be. These clients prefer to pay a ‘flat fee’ rather than an hourly rate, so they can budget for a particular amount. There is a range of options here.

Flat fee based on time worked – In this situation, you would decide what your time is worth on an hourly, daily and weekly basis and charge according to the amount of time you feel each event will require. For example, if you are planning the rehearsal dinner, one shower and coordinating the day of the wedding, and you have worked out that it will take you 40 hours to plan and coordinate these events, then simply multiply your hourly rate by 40. If it takes you longer, you will not be paid for those extra hours. However, the more experienced you become, the more accurate your flat rate quote will be.

Flat fee for wedding day coordination – In this situation, the bride, groom and their families have planned the wedding, and all they require from you is coordination on the day in order to make their day as perfect as possible. Although the number of hours you spend may vary from one wedding to another, most wedding planners would charge a standard amount for this service, such as $1500. Services provided under this fee arrangement could include coordinating either until the start of dinner or to the end of the evening.

Flat fee for specific services – You can also charge a flat fee for a particular service, such as organizing a vendor. Your clients may want you to find a reception venue for them, for example, but not be involved in organizing the catering, or music. In this case, you might charge a fee of $250. However, make sure you take all your costs into account. For example, if you have to make four trips across town to different venues (for meetings, or to drop things off), you may want to charge more than $250.

Other fee options

Once you have planned weddings for a while, you may decide to revise your fees, or charge amounts based on different methods. For example, for wedding day coordination, some wedding planners charge both a flat fee and a percentage of vendor costs. Another option is to charge a fee based on the number of guests, with a set minimum. The downside to this type of fee structure is that the number of actual guests may be lower than the initial estimate, so make sure the minimum charged is enough, and do not hope to make more money by unexpected numbers of guests.

With more experience or education you may also want to raise your fees. When deciding how much to charge, consider the services you provide, the size of your community, and what the local competition is charging.

Another factor to consider when designing your fee package is to determine what your overhead and administration costs are and ensure you are including a percentage of your costs into every event. For example, you may hire the services of an assistant for the actual wedding day and you will have to consider charging extra for the additional person or add their fee directly into the overall budget or your package.

Getting paid

Whatever type or combination of packages and service fees you decide is best for your company to offer, make sure you and your client agree to it in writing. Be as specific as possible about what you will do, and what you won’t do for the stated fee.

For example, if your clients contract you for wedding day coordination services only, you could run into unnecessary conflict if you do not tell your client that you will not be overseeing the rehearsal. If your fee covers your service up to the dinner only, make sure you clearly indicate to the client that you will not be there to coordinate and troubleshoot during dinner, the cutting of the cake, throwing the bouquet and other events that happen during or after dinner.

Alternatively, if the agreement is for you to coordinate the entire wedding day including the rehearsal, ceremony and reception, you should also include the maximum number of hours you will work on the rehearsal day and wedding day (or quit time) and list the hourly overtime charge for any hours worked over and above your quoted maximum. You should also stipulate that meal should be provided for you, and your assistant (if you have one). It is better to state the obvious than to assume the client knows what is included.

A good thing about being a wedding planner is that you don’t have to wait until the wedding is over to start getting paid. At the end of your initial consultation, if the client wants to go ahead, you can ask for a non-refundable deposit (e.g., $1000 or more if you are offering full-service wedding planning) with the balance payable on the wedding day, or even a week before the wedding.

Consulting with clients

Telephone interview

Unless you meet your prospective clients at a bridal fair or other event, your first contact with them is likely to be through a telephone call. For this reason, it’s important that your telephone is always answered with a professional friendly voice, and with your company name. Do not allow family members to answer your phone if you are not available, use your voicemail or answering machine instead.

This first telephone conversation is likely to be about the couple seeking advice on your services, and your pricing. Smart business people try to set up a face-to-face meeting at this point – after all, it’s much easier to hang up the phone than it is to walk out of a meeting!

So how can you keep the person on the phone and convince them to meet with you? By gently taking control of the conversation and keeping your answers concise and focused on what a valuable service wedding planner’s provide to the bride and groom – a stress-free wedding!

Your conversation could go something like this:

Bride: Hello, I’m looking for some information on how much you charge to do a wedding.

You: Hi. Thanks for calling. I’m Penelope Planner. And what’s your name?

Bride: Bella Bride.

You: Well Bella, our company offers a range of services, and there’s a number of different packages available, depending on services that a couple want us to take care off. We can also design a package specifically for you. What we offer is expertise in handling things negotiating with vendors – that is, venues, caterers and so forth – so that you get the absolute best price. In this way, our fee pays for itself really. Our hourly rate is around $100, but this depends on what you want done, and how many hours we actually do. We can do one-off services, like organising a vendor for you, or we can handle the entire service planning for the wedding – including wedding day coordination. Have you had a chance to check out our website, or have you seen our brochure?

Bride: No, I just got your number from the Internet. I’m not even sure I know what a wedding planner does.

You: Bella, I’m not sure what another wedding planner would tell you, but I can tell you that we aim to do is create a wedding as unique as you are, while taking the worry, stress and time commitment off you, your fiancé, and both families’ shoulders. I offer a free one-hour initial consultation, and I could explain to you exactly what a wedding planner does at that time, and show you our portfolio of services. We can also discuss your needs, and all the options available. I have Tuesday, Thursday and Friday open – which day would be good for you?

There are many ways of delivering information on your packages to clients (email, your website, brochures etc.) but the absolute best way is in a face-to-face meeting.

However, if your client decides they simply want some information posted out to them, send it immediately. Make sure you get the name and address right – repeat it back on the phone. Spelling mistakes this early in the proceedings can cast doubt on your professionalism. Also ask for her phone number. Send a cover letter thanking her for her interest and letting her know that you will follow up within a few days. Call a few days later to ensure she received the materials and ask if she has any questions.

Initial consultation

The purpose of this meeting is to learn as much as possible about the bride and groom, and what they want, so you can show them how hiring you will help them achieve the wedding of their dreams.

Where to conduct the meeting

If you have an office – at home or elsewhere – and it’s well decorated and professional, by all means conduct your meeting there. You will have all your materials at your fingertips in order to demonstrate your services. If you choose to have a meeting at home, ensure you will not be interrupted by noisy children or dogs barking.

If this is not an option, you can conduct the meeting at the bride and/or groom’s home, or their parents’ home, or at a cafe or restaurant convenient for you both.

What to bring to the meeting

If the meeting takes place outside your office, be sure to come armed with all your promotional materials. Here are some items you might want to bring to a meeting:

  • a list of questions to find out what the couple wants
  • a notepad and pen to make notes
  • your portfolio
  • references from past clients
  • business cards
  • your brochure (if you have one)
  • your portfolio
  • price list and sample packages (e.g., full service, wedding day only etc.)
  • wedding planner checklists
  • brochures from preferred vendors
  • a budget estimator (found in most wedding planner software programs) or one you’ve created yourself with spread sheet software
  • a calculator
  • a two-year calendar or date book that includes the following year
  • a blank contract

Although this is just an initial consultation, you should be prepared to sign a contract on the spot if the clients choose to go ahead, so always bring a blank contract just in case.

What to wear

An initial consultation is a business meeting, so you should always wear appropriate business attire. However, as wedding planners are creative people with a flair for fashion and decoration, expressing this aspect of yourself is OK too – finding a balance is best. You only get one chance to make an impression – so think professional, creative and forward thinking.

Steer clear of too casual – jeans, mini-skirts – and think suits (but not too boring business-y!). Perhaps a colored suit, or a dress with a smart jacket. No loud prints! Black is always good, but make it interesting with a splash of color in the form of a scarf or some funky jewelry.

For men, the best choice is casual, but no jeans or cargo pants.

Detail is always important in a wedding planner, so make sure your shoes are spotlessly clean and in good repair.

You will be expected to fit in at any events you attend, so you should be prepared for that also. Don’t go overboard – you will not be expected to compete with the bridesmaids. A simple but smart dress or suit will suffice.

Who will attend the initial consultation

Ideally, you, the bride and the groom. But you may find the parents of either the bride or groom, or both, in attendance also. You may find this more challenging, as everyone will want to put their ‘2 cents’ in. Make sure you involve the bride in every conversation, even if the groom’s mother is dominating the proceedings. It’s important that you get along with everyone, but that you build a good rapport with the bride in particular; so always ask what she thinks.

What to say

Ask questions about what the clients want, and listen twice as much as you talk! Instead of describing all your services, focus on what the clients want, and offer a few ideas for their wedding. Don’t worry about someone stealing your ideas. The fact that you are willing to offer some innovative ideas suggests that there are plenty more where those came from – a good way to promote your business.

The issue of money, and whether your fees and services are worth the cost, is bound to be raised either on the phone or at the meeting. If you followed our script for the telephone call, you have already planted the seed in the bride’s head that you will take all the stress and worrying out of the planning process and hopefully you won’t have to justify your fee during the conversation.

If you do get involved in this conversation, remember to focus on the benefits of your services, which include:

  • You can actually save them money because you can negotiate lower prices with vendors. (This will depend on both your fees and the relationships you have established with vendors. However you should definitely let them know if – even after paying your fee – the wedding will cost less than if they had organised it themselves.)
  • You can save the couple hours of time. Show them the checklists of everything to be done in the organising all the details of the wedding, and ask them if they have time to do this on top of their already busy schedules.
  • Let the couple know they can do any of the tasks they want to do, but you are available to take on any of the tasks they don’t want to do.
  • You can come up with lots of options for them, but ultimately it’s there day, and they ‘call the shots’.
  • You have back-up plans for all your vendors, should anything go wrong, so they can rest assured their wedding day will be trouble free.
  • With your help, the couple can enjoy a stress-free wedding day.

Remember to focus on the couple. Ask them why they want to hire a wedding planner – in thinking this through and explaining it to you, they may talk themselves into hiring you!

You can download a sample client invoice in the lesson materials.

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