By Danielle Rothweiler, celebrity wedding and event planner
Posted: 10/26/2015 6:12 pm EDT on huffingtonpost.com
Shopping is something many people enjoy, but when it comes to selecting your wedding venue and vendors, it’s not always a pleasant experience. In fact, wading through piles of photographers, planners, DJs and more, can be a lot like trying to find the perfect wedding dress on a day where you hate how you look. Many couples get overwhelmed and confused about where to even start looking, so if you’re newly engaged, here are a few suggestions:
1. Word of Mouth
This is the most powerful recommendation a vendor can receive because it’s the most direct. Odds are, you know someone that got married recently, and maybe you even attended their wedding. Even if you didn’t agree with their style and colors, if they were happy with their vendors, consider them a valuable source. Remember, they paid for everyone that brought together their wedding day, so there is no more honest opinion that you could ask for. That said, make sure that when they rave (or rant) about something, that it’s something that actually matters to you. For instance, if they complain that their venue didn’t provide uplighting, but you aren’t interested in that anyway, then let that go in one ear and out the other. If you do reach out to anyone they recommend, make sure you mention the name of that person to the vendor. It’s always nice to hear when a former client is recommending you. Lastly, if you do ask your friend what they paid, understand that you may not get that same quote from their vendor due to your wedding details being different. If you have a number in mind, tell the vendor first that you are looking to stay within the same budget as your friend, that way they know one of the reasons you wanted to meet.
2. Venue Referrals
At the top of the list of things to do is securing the venue where your celebration will take place. Dates go quickly and obviously you can’t book anyone without knowing if they are available for your wedding date (PS- don’t be tempted to research vendors without a venue and date selected, because you don’t want to find the perfect vendor only to find out they are already booked once you have the date). When the venue is selected and the date is set, feel free to ask the venue or sales coordinator directly whom they recommend. It’s always great to work with vendors that have worked in the space before and that have a solid working relationship with the venue. One thing worth mentioning though is that many vendors that are on these “recommended lists” are actually paying to be there. Of course, if the venue didn’t endorse them or believe in their worth, there’s no way they would ever mention their names to begin with. It’s just a good idea to know this since the vendors might have to kickback some of their income to the venue if it was a direct referral, and that could affect the price you are quoted.
3. Magazines- Real Weddings
There are dozens of wedding magazines out there and many of them are dedicated to a certain “type” of wedding, so you don’t have to buy every last one. Many of the popular ones are national magazines, while others are specific to certain areas including destination locations. Make sure to pick up at least one magazine that is based in the state or general area where you want to get married. This will give you local vendor information, which is really helpful if you are traveling outside the area that you reside. The “niche” wedding magazines are great too, but if you don’t know what style you are leaning towards, wait until you figure that out before buying these types of magazines. The most valuable portion of these magazines is the “real weddings” section and they all include those. Here’s the thing, anyone can take out a page advertisement, but not everyone can get their work published. Look at this section first and pay attention to what you like. If you love the photos, look up the photographer, and if you love the venue, scout the location! Some of the best vendors out there don’t use their advertising dollars in print magazines….which means (possibly) they have a lower overhead cost, and that could mean more affordable packages.
4. Other Vendors
The wedding industry is a small world and the longer someone has been in it, the more people they know. A vendor is a great person to ask for recommendations because they are motivated to create a team for you that is solid and easy to work with. A photographer is not going to recommend a videographer that they don’t respect and get along with, and same goes for every other category. Obviously the more seasoned the professional, the better their list of recommended vendors will be, so give preference to your vendors that have been in the game for awhile.
5. A Wedding Planner
Of course, how could this not make the list? One of the benefits of hiring a wedding planner, is their Rolodex. A seasoned planner will have a strong list of vendors that they recommend, and the planner most likely has their updated pricing and portfolio work. In this way, the planner can be your matchmaker and put together a team of people that will be the best for your wedding. For this reason and others, consider reaching out to planners before anyone else, so that they can get the vendors for you that are in your budget and have a style that works with you both. It is important to note that some planners do take commission for recommending vendors, much like some venues receive a “kickback”. When you are interviewing planners, be sure to find out how their recommendations work.
6. Social Media
Between Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, everyone in the wedding industry has a presence. Brides don’t have to go to Bridal Fashion Week to see the latest Vera Wang, because every magazine has a front row seat and will post videos to see. This is also a great way to see and hear what goes on behind the scenes, as many vendors will take photos and video to show a different perspective of their work. Personalities shine through also on social media, so remember if a vendor says something that you can relate to, that makes you laugh, or even just makes you smile, that’s a good indication that you will click during the planning process and especially on the wedding day. A great way not to be overwhelmed in social media land, is to search by hashtags. For instance, the state your wedding will be in, followed by the vendor you are looking for, could turn up a list of great DJs, make up artists, and so forth. You should also consider searching for groups on Facebook that are wedding related and local to you.
There are countless websites that cater to the wedding world. Just like magazines, some are local ones, some are national and some are “niche”. If you already have a clear vision as to what your wedding day will be like, then you can jump straight to the niche ones, and still have plenty to choose from. However, don’t start this search without having a location in mind, because you want to use local vendors as much as possible. The exception to that rule is for destination weddings when it’s a good idea to hire a photographer and videographer that is local to you, so that you can easily communicate after the wedding. The great thing about these websites is that their format is similar to magazines in that there are paid advertisers as well as real weddings being featured. This is the “go-to” place to check out reviews of vendors as well and see what past brides and grooms thought of working with them. It is important to note that it’s the quality of reviews that matters and not the quantity. Many vendors will tell you (me too) that it can be challenging to get newly wed clients to write a review, and sometimes someone could have an amazing experience with a vendor, and just never write anything to let others know. That said, when people have a negative experience, they always find the time to write. Read the reviews and remember it’s quality and not quantity.
Almost every bride and some grooms have a Pinterest account, and when wedding planning starts, they are on it every day. If you’re that type, then go straight to the wedding category and search for what you want using keywords. Much like a social media search with hashtags, keywords will turn up vendors that are local to the area that you are getting married in. You will be able to see real work and be connected to vendors as most profiles will include websites which have contact information. So, instead of just pinning pages of inspiration from designers and florists that are nowhere near you, get specific in your search once you settle on a style for the wedding day. If you are planning a destination wedding, type in that location for your search to see what comes up. Of course, if you do prefer to just check out the “wedding” page for updates, pay attention to any vendor information on pictures that you like, and write down their website and contact information.
9. Bridal Shows
Any given time of the year there are bridal shows in abundance, both on the weekdays and weekends. If you have already selected your venue, check to see if they are holding any shows in the near future. A show at your venue will introduce you to vendors that most likely have worked in that space, or have a solid relationship with the venue in general. If you have a venue in mind, but haven’t booked, a bridal show will give you a chance to see the space and typically try their catering. Otherwise, without a venue booked or one that you have your eye on, you really have your two types of shows: small and “thousands of people” big. The smaller shows of course have less vendors, and mostly likely only 1 or 2 per category. This means that you will be able to have conversations with the vendors and gather a lot of information, but there might not be a lot to choose from. The larger shows can have hundreds of vendors, but they are frequently crowded and loud. These shows don’t really give the couple a chance to speak with a vendor much, but you will be able to be exposed to a lot more. Both types of shows will give “lead lists” to the vendors because they are paying anywhere from $300 to over $1,500 for their table to advertise. Your contact information is put on these lists, so you will be contacted by every vendor there. If you’re not looking for hundreds of emails, try a few small shows instead.
10. Message Boards
If you don’t have a bestie that just got married but you want to talk to recent brides, the message boards on the wedding websites are a great place to start. The bonus of these boards is that there will also be current brides in there that are going through what you are. Check out the boards that are specific to your wedding area, and go through the current ones as well as the archived ones. Try doing a search based on the vendor you are looking for and change the date to something recent but in the past. That way, you can see whom others were recommending and hopefully, whom they eventually booked with. Typically, brides will give the contact information of the vendor, or at least their website. If you have questions, make sure to join the conversation and post them. This will not only bump the thread which can help others, but the original poster might be alerted through email and could come back to the thread to answer your questions. If the OP is already married (most profiles list their wedding date), you might have the option to message them directly with any questions that you have.
If you are newly engaged or expect to be soon, these are some great ways to start your search for the perfect team. The longer your engagement, the more choices you will have, so if you are getting married in under a year, you should start your search the day after that ring goes on. The day of your engagement is for champagne and celebrating, so enjoy it before the crazy planning process begins!