Working with Wedding Planners

Kelly Chandler explains how independent planners work and their benefits to your venue business

It might come as no surprise that I’m keen to encourage more venues to work with independent planners. I see the success stories and I’m a proudly biased company founder and wedding planner with my other hat on at The Bespoke Wedding Company.

All of the below are reasons to let wedding planners know about what you’ve got:

  • If you’ve got a touch of luxury about your offering and are keen to target a high-end client base
  • You have just the right facilities to attract a wedding crowd looking for a ‘weekend away’ wedding
  • You have a quirky blank canvas (be it field, farm or tent) that’s available to dry hire that needs a creative to bring it to life by working their magic
Wedding day decorations
Pic: Getty Images

However I’ve seen and heard a lot over the years and it seems we can be a little bit misunderstood as wedding planners. I hope in this feature to give you more information on how independent planners tend to work and to dispel some of the myths so you can consider if it’s a marketing approach for your location:

Aren’t wedding planners only for very high budget and luxury weddings?
Historically yes, but things have changed a lot over the past five years in particular – many more planners are offering partial planning services that couples are finding incredibly helpful in giving them support throughout the parts of the wedding where they need it. For you to be able to offer the sort of support couples seek even before they know it raises your game and reduces the stress and workload on your own internal team. Example services are:

Inside barn decorations
Pic: Getty Images

> Styling and design service – where a planner/designer comes in to help with the visual look of the wedding and sources décor, props and other styling aspects for that couple to implement their look. All wedding couples are seeking a unique celebration, and styling their wedding to match the inspiration they have seen on social media and wedding blogs is not unusual. For many this is essential, hence the growth in creatives specialising in this service.

> Partial planning– final six weeks service – this is where a wedding planner will come in and review plans made thus far, review the timetable, identify any gaps/issues, help with sourcing any missing suppliers and produce a timetable for the day for distribution to all suppliers. This is a popular service and very useful at that peak time when many couples can get very stressed about the enormity of the day ahead and feel worried about what they might have forgotten.

> Venue searching – helping couples at the outset with sourcing the venue or venues which are right for their brief. This one might interest you to know, particularly as venues seeking new business. Planners are in a very strong position to bring clients to your location, clients who might otherwise not have heard of your venue or considered it. Good planners are usually very vested in the success of their clients’ weddings and will introduce a client to you because you are the best venue for their wedding, not in exchange purely for a commission (this is a very different service to a venue find/agent situation).

So as a venue here’s your repeat business – find and nurture a relationship with a good planner and you will find you get bookings year after year.

Close up event table decoration
Pic: Getty Images

But we have in-house wedding planners and like to control it ourselves?
Understandably we all want clear roles and lack of duplication, but the role of a good independent wedding planner should be not only to make their client’s job easier but the venue’s job easier too. They are the first port of call for the bride so can often answer key little details that would otherwise be directed to the venue – in-house teams regularly report to me how much less their workload is with myself as a planner on board!

It is surely good for business to be able to resource less your end without reducing service. Of course, the other side of that is being sure that the planner in question is not confusing any issues and promising the un-doable. I’ve heard the horror stories. That’s why it’s key to build genuine close relationships with wedding planners you know, trust and like, and where you’re comfortable that their approach is a good match to your venue. The more time you invest in them knowing your property the more they can effectively be an unpaid advocate of your venue. Surely worth considering and introducing a small recommended list?

Will the planner want to use their own suppliers?
Yes in most cases because planners spend many months and years building up their tried and trusted teams. Most of the time their wish to use those suppliers is for the same reasons as you. They are reliable, professional and truly excellent at what they do, and familiar with the needs of the client type.

I recognise that additional site visits might be needed to brief those suppliers on your venue specifics such as access etc. (and I know it’s a reason it might be easier for you to use your regular, already established suppliers), but trying new (and already vetted) suppliers is highly recommended. I see many venues who do not move with the times and the trends, and that’s a dangerous position that will eventually result in a decline in bookings.

Most planners will bring suppliers of a high quality and will be a welcome addition to your partners, not forgetting that most weddings organised by planners will look beautiful and be very portfolio-worthy for you in showing off your venue via excellent imagery.

I should also point out that most wedding planners worth their salt will understand when you have certain fixed and approved suppliers, usually in the areas of catering, marquees, production and fireworks, and will work with those.

How do wedding planners make their money?
You may wonder how wedding planners work financially. Every company is different not only in the style and service they offer but in how they charge and price themselves. A large proportion of modern wedding planners, and certainly wedding planner members of the leading industry body UK Alliance of Wedding Planners, operate on a fee-only basis paid by the wedding clients and agreed at the start of the project. Fees are sometimes calculated on the hours/days involved, sometimes as a fixed fee and sometimes, in the case of full planning, on a percentage of the overall budget (around 10-18%). Commissions/discounts are welcome from venues/suppliers but disclosed and passed back to the clients to ensure complete transparency, something so unique and key to the wedding sector.

I’ve seen an increase in venues offering the services of an independent wedding planning service to couples that is part of their venue fee and this can be a positive business arrangement for both planner and venue. The venue and their couples obtain a sound and knowledgeable planning resource to run their weddings, the planner, who is self-employed, gains a reliable and regular volume of work from said venue and is able to agree a specific venue-based co-ordination fee, usually less than working directly with a client on an independent planning basis.

Pic: Getty Images

How NOT to Approach Planners

Over my 14 years as a wedding planner, I’ve had many unsuccessful venue approaches that with tweaking could have been brilliant. So here is my cringe guide on how not to approach wedding planners to ensure you’re not wiped from the list before you’ve even begun (with a little bit of humour thrown in, I hope):

Dear Sir – most planners are generally female so that’s a wrong move to start with if you’re making a guess, but more importantly, make sure you really know who you’re trying to speak to when you get in touch by phone or email. Most planners run small and very personal businesses, and their story is all over their website and social media profiles. It’s an immediate negative if you haven’t taken the time to find out who the company owner is and what they are all about – when it comes to delivering bespoke events, it’s all about the people.

Copy us all in – yes, I often get emails CC’d to every other planner under the sun introducing a venue or product or service. I have no problem with venues working with plenty of planners (of course that’s how it works) but it doesn’t exactly make me feel ‘special’ from the first introduction if the world is being copied into the same email.

Overwhelm us with words – make sure that you make anything you send utterly eye-catching, whether it’s postal (highly recommended as receiving anything by post these days is special) or email. Always include images of your venue dressed for a wedding and send the really key information (capacities, location, wedding license?) not every possible detail – we need to scan read and view visuals and see if it’s the sort of place that will work for our clients before we’ll explore more.

Stalk us incessantly – bear in mind that looking at new venues is a luxury that many can’t afford the time for in the busy season – be patient and don’t over-do it on the sales pitch. Do however keep in touch more than once – over 90% of the venues and wedding suppliers who ever contact me only ever do so once – if only they kept in touch every couple of months, they would be in my mind when I had need and I know I would much more likely do business with them.

Expect us to attend bridal weekend open days – if you really want to sell to planners you need to understand that they mainly work weekends on client events so probably want to avoid weekends for the non-essential. Much as we love brides, we much prefer a mid-week event tailored to our needs. Think about this if you are serious about welcoming planners as part of your marketing strategy.

Offer financial incentives – find out how a business operates first before talking financials. Never have I had a bride choose a venue purely on price. Yes it matters, but when a planner is expanding their portfolio of venues they will be focussing on appreciating their offerings in order to find a good match for their type of clients, then building a long-term relationship rather than any quick gains. Offering the financials too soon can be very off-putting, particularly for the more luxury planner.

If you’d like to know more about independent wedding planners and look to find a small selection in your area, have a look at the website of the UK Alliance of Wedding Planners. UKAWP is a fabulous resource for the industry, runs a range of in person and online events, and offers a supplier/venue membership category which is a great opportunity if you wish to target planners more proactively.

See Kelly at the Farm Business Innovation Show
If you’re a brand new venue and would like to know more about the wedding industry and how you can find your place in it, then I will be speaking at the Farm Business Innovation Show (NEC, Birmingham, 8-9 November).Come and see me on Wednesday 8 at both 11am and 2pm. I will be chairing the Wedding Panel and speaking on ‘Making Money from Hosting Weddings’. There will be an exciting show offer on my consulting programmes especially for new locations to help them ‘Get Ready to Shine’.

Kelly Chandler is a long-term preferred service provider for exclusive venues such as Syon Park, Highclere Castle, Spencer House and Stoke Park Club. Kelly’s consulting services to wedding venues draw on prior experience in international conference and event planning, over 13 years of business management, and working directly with discerning couples planning their weddings in diverse locations and forging successful relationships with all components of the wedding industry. A former director of trade body, the UK Alliance of Wedding Planners, Kelly is a well-regarded innovator, mentor, trainer and industry spokesperson on and in the wedding business.

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