We have family in town this week so we’ve asked one of our FAVORITE event planners behind such celebrations as this and this to stop by for a visit here on Backstage. And she’s chatting about the one thing we hear over and over again…how to be a wedding planner! SUCH valuable, incredible information for anyone looking to foray into the wedding planning world. So, I’ll just go ahead and pass the torch right over to Bay Area Event Planner, Amy Nichols!
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One of the questions wedding planners are often asked is how does one get started in the wedding planning industry, or what’s the best way to get experience in the wedding planning industry. Where to start! Please note, this is just my humble opinion on the topic – if you’re interested in getting a job in the wedding planning industry, reach out to planners in your area. Keep in mind that some may not be able to respond to you – many planners (myself included) receive a very high volume of inquiries which prevents us from personally responded to each inquiry.
Get Some Experience
The first thing I ALWAYS recommend (especially to recent college graduates) is to get some real-world job experience – regardless of the industry. One of my internships in college was working with a realtor. While I obviously am not a realtor, I found that experience still was a good foundation – working with clients, responding to inquiries, creating databases – all of those skills are ones that you can take with you into event planning. Learning how to behave professionally, treat your coworkers and colleagues with respect are skills that EVERYONE should have – regardless of the industry. Becoming a strong writer is absolutely essential as well; in this day and age, especially with social media and text messaging, people forget about propriety! Start your emails with a salutation. Use capital letters, spell check, and sign each email with a closing. I can’t tell you how many emails I receive that miss these basics.
Real-world job experience is helpful as it exposes you to life in an office, and working with a variety of people. Many wedding planners are sole proprietors which means they run their business and likely only have one or a few people working with them (unlike a large corporation). Many planners (such as myself) do not have full time employees but rather rely on people to work for them on an hourly basis for office work and then of course on-site at events. Not all planners can afford to have full-time staff who work for them, so these job opportunities can be few and far between. That said, when looking for a new hire, I always look for people who have some real-world experience.
Corporate event planning experience is also fantastic for training for working in the wedding planning industry. Many planners (myself included) got started by working on corporate events. Keep in mind that a job title may not necessarily say “Event Planner” but can include event planning skills. Jobs in marketing, business development, public relations are all areas where you may have a lot of exposure to event planning. I was working in marketing and business development in financial services when I first started getting my feet wet (professionally) with events. My boss realized I had a knack for details and tapped me when it became time to organize investor events and kick-offs for the private equity and hedge funds we were launching.
Meanwhile, while I really enjoyed my job, I’d always loved weddings. My earliest memory of my interest in wedding planning was February of 1997 when I picked up my first copy of Martha Stewart Weddings. My cousin was getting married and my mom and I bought the magazine on a whim to check out the creative ideas. One look and I was hooked.
Offer Your Time
During my career in financial services, I wanted learn more about wedding planning, so I started volunteering at The Wedding Library in New York City. This gave me exposure to weddings and the planning process. What is so great about getting wedding planning experience is that you can get it and STILL have another “day” job – take advantage of your evenings and weekends to volunteer for a wedding planner or to help out on charity events (while keeping the steady income of a paycheck and health insurance!). When I moved back to California and was looking for a full time job, I took on an unpaid internship with Special Occasions, Inc. in Beverly Hills. Keep in mind that many opportunities may come your way that are unpaid. Take advantage of them if you can – you will learn a lot!
So how do you find these opportunities?
Do some research and find out who the wedding planners are in your area. They don’t necessarily have to be the “top” planners in your city, but do look for planners who have been in business for several years, and ones who are affiliated with one of the bridal associations (more on that later). You can also find planners in your area by looking on the vendor lists of websites such as Style Me Pretty. I also really like mywedding.com, and of course you’ll find planners listed on websites such as theknot.com and weddingchannel.com. Resource “Libraries” with retail store fronts such as The Wedding Library in New York City and The Bridal Bar in Los Angeles, San Diego and Atlanta are good places to look for volunteer or job opportunities.
Don’t forget that other vendors are excellent sources of knowledge too – working for a floral designer (especially if you have a knack for design and color), or a caterer can also provide you with fantastic experience and exposure to this industry.
Education and Networking
The best best best way though to find job opportunities is through the many wonderful industry associations in the wedding and special event industries. Most of these organizations have educational programs and events geared towards people who want to get started in the wedding industry. I highly recommend the Association of Bridal Consultants which has presence all over the U.S and in several countries including Mexico and Japan. Other organizations you can check out are:
Do your homework – I’d suggest joining an organization that has a local group in your area – not all of these organizations have local chapters, so choose the organization that makes sense to you. For me, I got a lot out of the Association of Bridal Consultants and chose to go through their Professional Development Program.
There are also several great local networking organizations – do a little googling to figure out which ones are in your area. For example, in San Francisco we have BAWN, the Bay Area Wedding Network. Outside of networking organizations, check your local colleges (especially in their adult education or extended education departments) to see what educational opportunities they have for certificates in event and meeting planning.
Being active in networking and educational programs will make your resume stand out from others when you apply for wedding planning jobs. It shows that you’ve done your research and that you have invested your time in learning more about the industry. In addition, by attending networking events and participating in educational programs, you’ll meet people who may have job leads or volunteer opportunities for you. Collect business cards and keep in touch with these people – you never know when they (or someone they know) might have a job opportunity! What is great about these educational programs and networking events are many take place in the evening (or are at-home programs for the educational classes) which enable you explore and pursue your interest in wedding planning if you have another job or are in a career transition.
Reading is Fundamental!
If you don’t like to read and you want to be a wedding planner, you’re missing out. The good news is, most wedding planning books, websites and blogs are full of pictures! The amount of information out there is amazing – there is no excuse to not read as much as you can.
If you think at some point you might start your own business, there is no time like the present to learn as much as you can. I can’t believe the number of resources that are available to prepare for starting your own business – I wish they were around when I started my business! Before I started my business I read just about every wedding planning book out there (this was before the popularity of wedding planning websites and blogs). Now, there are blogs that are dedicated to advice on how to start or run your wedding planning business. Two that I find very helpful are Splendid Communications and Sage Wedding Pros. Another one that I just discovered (and can’t wait to read more) is Aspire to Plan.
That said, you of course still need real-world experience too.
What are some of the skills you need to be a wedding planner? What should you know? As someone once said, “wedding planning is not for the faint of heart”. It is never easy. If you don’t handle pressure well or don’t like surprises, this probably isn’t the career for you.
· If you thrive on chaos, are an adept juggler and know how to put out fires, chances are, you have some of the skills you need to succeed. First and foremost, you’re a project manager – you are managing many different people, many different details, and often different priorities. You also deal with a lot of very different personalities (both from your brides and vendors).
· You have to be good at managing time, both your own, and of course on the day of the wedding. I was paid a very nice compliment in 2009 when a venue coordinator at a resort said to me, “your timeline is the most detailed and realistic timeline I’ve ever seen”. I have everything to the minute on my timelines – including how much time it takes to “drop” a salad course to all of the wedding guests to how long it takes for those guests to actually eat the salad course.
· You have to have thick skin and learn not to take things personally. This is something I struggle with (as I think many people do). This is a business first and foremost – people are not always going to see things the same way I do.
· You need to have excellent financial planning skills and need to know how to create and stick to a budget.
· You need to have patience. A planner friend of mine passed on a quote to me that said “A wedding planner is a mother, sister, friend, drill sergeant and psychologist.” I wish I knew who to attribute this to. It is so true!
I hope this information is helpful. This is only my opinion and what I think might get your prepared for a career in wedding planning. Ask others for advice – ask them what’s made them successful. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the planners who gave me a chance and who helped me get to where I am today. GOOD LUCK!!!