Today Claire Ady of Wed in Central Park is sharing her knowledge on how to be a successful wedding planner. She is also a dedicated blogger and wedding planner who shares valuable insight to readers and couples wanting to learn more about getting married in Central Park.
I have been planning weddings for over six years now. In that time I’ve planned over 250 very different weddings for couples from all over the world. I have met lots of people who tell me that I have their dream job. I do love my job, it’s a joy and a privilege to help couples make the first day of their married lives go just how they want it to. But I don’t think many people have a clear idea of what my job really involves, and what the main skills I have that make me good at it.
How to Be a Successful Wedding Planner
There’s a misconception that wedding planners spend a great deal of time looking at beautiful sparkly things, but in my case especially, there’s very little of that sort of thing. I should point out that I’m not you’re classic wedding planner. I offer a very niche service and I rarely stray from my very specific offering. I plan weddings for couples who want to get married in New York’s Central Park. I’ve also organized a couple of wedding fairs here in the UK, specifically targeting couples who want a small wedding. I’ve had dealings with lots of people in the wedding industry in the US and in my home of the UK over the years and these are the major skills I think a wedding planner needs to be successful.
Find Your Niche
There will be something in your background or experience that sets you apart from everyone else. Think about what that might be. There’s a lot of competition out there in the wedding industry. What special thing do you have that is unique to you? It might be that your unique skills don’t appeal to the majority of people. I’m here to tell you that is OK. A wedding in New York certainly isn’t for everyone. But that’s OK, because I get enough clients for whom it’s an absolute dream come true. So, I get to help the people who want what I offer have their perfect day.
Get the Word Out
This is the one that so many people in the wedding industry find tricky. If you’re running your own small business, you have to wear many hats. A huge part of your job will be finding clients. Be clear on what your brand is. Rather than just throwing something out there and hoping it sticks, you should give good consideration to who your ideal clients are and that will help you to find them. Target your efforts towards the right people. Think about the clients you’ve had in the past, or if you’re just starting out; think about who your ideal client is. Think about how they choose their wedding vendors and make a plan to reach them through those channels.
Social Media and Other Demons
Social media is a necessary evil to reach clients for most small businesses. Choose wisely and direct your time and efforts towards finding the clients who will be interested in your offering. How old is your ideal client? What platform to they use? Don’t waste your efforts on platforms that your client isn’t browsing. Will they read a blog? If not, don’t waste your time on one. Will they buy a certain magazine? If so, advertise with them. Are they in a certain area with particular attributes? Then direct some paid-for online advertising at that area. The same goes for wedding fairs and other real-life selling. If you want more alternative couples, then don’t go to the mainstream wedding fair in a local hotel, seek out the fairs that are targeting the couples that you want.
Search Engine Optimization
Most of your clients will be searching online for vendors to help with their wedding. Nobody will argue that you shouldn’t have a presence online. You will need to understand how to make sure that your clients will find your website. A beautiful website is a great asset, but think of it as your shop window. There’s no point in having a fantastic display if it’s at the end of a cul-de-sac and nobody knows it’s there. It is so important to read up on SEO. You don’t have to buy an expensive course. When I started, I got some recent books out of the library and read up on what I needed to do to get my website found. Of course things have changed a bit since then, so I make sure to regularly read up on how things are changing.
So, once you’ve found your clients, or rather they’ve found you through your SEO skills, then you need to get going on the wedding planning. After all the weddings I’ve been involved with, I have a straightforward process that I go through with most couples. Basically, I start with the big stuff, and work through to the details, and I have a timetable of reminding them of the very important bits several times throughout the process. I keep notes on all of the couples, I use my diary to plan things out and I make sure that I’m communicating everything to the couples clearly.
I love my process, my notes and my lists, and I’m an organised person. My clients range from the super-organised who might have their wedding booked years beforehand and have a detailed plan of the entire trip a well in advance to the last-minute decision-makers who might not even contact me until a short while before their wedding and we organize it all in a matter of weeks!
I have to go with their flow. If a couple take a while making important decisions then it’s my job to nudge them along, but everyone is different and I have to appreciate this. Often I’ll have to tell couples the same thing several times and I may have to keep bringing them back to something they need to make a decision on. But that’s where my notes and lists come in. A couple planning their wedding have a lot on their mind, in many cases this is the first time they’ve done this, and it’s my job to offer them clarity and guidance.
I try to do most of my communicating with clients by email. This is partly due to differences in availability and of course time differences around the world. It’s mostly so that we both have a record of what has been discussed. A client can go through a list of questions in an email and answer each one in turn. And then I can always go back and ask again if they’ve missed one. It also helps me to go back and check what I’ve told a client, and there are a few things that I revisit with clients as we go through the process to be absolutely certain that they understand. Be upfront about what you do and what you don’t do.
Don’t be afraid of saying no if a client asks for something that you don’t want to do. Experience has taught me that sometimes people planning weddings can miss things, so I need to be absolutely clear what I will do and what the couple will do.
Know Great People
If you’re running your own business you’re probably going it alone most of the time, and your name and reputation are incredibly important. A wedding takes lots of people to make it happen, though, so you’ll need to know good people. All of the service providers I work with in New York are very reliable, talented at what they do, great communicators, and passionate about the great city they work in and about providing an excellent service for our client’s wedding day.
It has taken some years to build a pool of great people to draw from, and who charge the prices that allow me to charge the prices that I want to. Sometimes I have more than one wedding in a day, and of course people’s availability varies, so I have to know several people who can all be relied upon. Depending on what service you will offer you will need an address book full of wonderful people on whom you can rely on to uphold your reputation.
Efficiency and Time Management
This is a tricky one. When you’re using social media to reach your clients then it’s so easy to lose time to scrolling and looking at beautiful weddings. Find a way to get your message out and then step away from the time-consuming parts. Work out what works and what doesn’t, and stick to the stuff that works. When it comes to clients, this is where clarity of communication and saying no comes in. Be clear and upfront about what you offer, put it in the contract, and I recommend a penalty if they don’t comply (eg for late payments).
Many clients contact me and ask if I can offer the service of a more expensive competitor but for the prices I offer. I politely decline, explain why I do things the way I do and point out that I couldn’t offer the prices I do if I did all the frilly extra bits that I consider unnecessary. I have answers prepared to frequently asked questions, a list of trusted contacts for various services, and various other checklists that allow me to be as efficient as possible.
Time truly is money – the client is paying you for a service and you should estimate the time it takes you to provide the service and then make sure that you stick to that time. Again, if that means saying no to things you have not contracted to do then that’s your right.
Be aware of all of your costs and then decide what profit you want to make. Your costs will be any vendors that you need to pay, all of your marketing and the costs of you doing whatever it is that you are offering clients. Are you going to be a budget supplier or a premium supplier or somewhere in the middle? Come back to my earlier suggestion of finding your niche to answer this one. Consider your competition and decide where you want to place yourself in relation to them.
Pro Tip: You don’t always have to compete on price, but clients will always judge you on it. Even if you’re offering something incredibly unique there will always be a client who tries to get it for cheaper. Be sure of your value and decide whether you will be prepared to haggle. Be protective of your time. If you’ve made assumptions of how long a job will take them stick to them – this is where good time management comes in.
So, that’s all you need to know how to do; sales, marketing, pricing, communication, organizing, networking, and excellent time management! Actually very little time thinking about lovely bouquets and beautiful venues! I kind of fell in to being a wedding planner. I’m not particularly a creative or visual person. I don’t love to gaze at beautiful gowns or lovely flower arrangements for hours on end (although who doesn’t love a nice dress or bouquet?). I found my niche. I used to live in Manhattan and I got married in Central Park. I was looking for a career change and I wanted to start my own business.
It occurred to me that other couples from abroad might want to get married in this beautiful and world-famous location so I decided to give it a go. My background is in finance, and for ten years I worked with spreadsheets, data and decision-making related to the energy industry. I have a business degree and this grounding in the basics of how marketing and pricing work gave me a base on which to add to my knowledge for my own business.
My years working in an office taught me communication and negotiation skills, and possibly the most useful understanding of the importance of a clear and documented process. These are some of the things that make me a good wedding planner.
Claire Ady is the owner and founder of Wed in Central Park New York. She has been proudly planning Central Park weddings since 2012. Claire is a British native with strong roots to Manhattan where she has planned over 250 weddings. Her personal experience and extensive knowledge makes her an expert on Central Park nuptials.