Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Anyone Can Be a Wedding Planner

The blessing and the curse of the event industry. If you want to be a wedding planner, or an event planner for that matter, all you really have to do is print up a few business cards, modify a canned website and find someone willing to pay you to plan their wedding. If you're an established planner with a solid history and reference profile and a few years in the business, you hate this fact about your industry. And I can't blame you.
I really can only speculate whether there's a current surge of  "new" planners emerging onto the scene. But I suspect there is for no other reason than the current job recession is pushing people to start their own planning businesses and trying to find a few clients just to survive. It's hard to be critical of anyone grabbing this lifeline because you've got to do what you've got to do. But again, the established planners no doubt hate it.
Why? Well, there's a number of reasons. One, is it tends to drive pricing down. When you have no clients you're certainly willing to take less so you have at least some clients. Professionalism is another. Inexperience tends to lower the standards across the board. There's no way around this. When a client hires a wedding planner for instance, they rarely have any idea what they're going to get. They just assume that because they call themselves a planner and they're charging a fee, they must know what they're doing. Unfortunately, this is hardly the case.
I attended an out-of-town wedding recently. I know for a fact that the family of the bride hired a "professional" independent wedding planner to coordinate this lavish wedding at a fairly exclusive resort. In addition, the resort had its own event planner. I'm no genius but I was just adding up the numbers in my head what I thought this family was spending for this wedding and I came to a number of at least around six figures, all things considered.
Knowing that, I figured this wedding planner was probably commanding a fee somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000. But that's just a guess, I really don't know. In any case, just the fact that they hired a professional wedding planner to handle the details of a wedding at a fancy resort, with 300+ guests, and a very healthy budget that the wedding would come off like clockwork. Right? Wrong.
I could have done a better job of planning that wedding. I don't want to embark on a diatribe about the flaws of this particular wedding, but suffice it to say I know enough to know when someone butchers a wedding.
The point of the story is that based on this particular event, I'm not convinced this particular planner was qualified to charge a respectable fee to plan someone's wedding. What qualifications did they have? What qualifications did they need? Was there any recourse for the client? Does the client even know they did a poor job? How did this person ever become a planner? How frustrated must good planners get when they read this? I am confident this is not just the occasional occurrence.
This is the crux of my point. There are no entry barriers to this industry whatsoever. For all we know this person was teaching 4th grade last year. But she knew someone, who knew someone, and suddenly she's a planner. I'm sure she worked hard, I'm sure she gave 110%, I'm sure she thought everything went just swimmingly. Unfortunately it didn't.
But on the other side of the coin, it's very likely that many of you "established and experienced" planners were in her shoes at one time. So how do you feel about this? Do you chalk it up to, "Everyone has to get experience somehow?" Or are you resentful when you see good-paying clients hire the wrong planner when you know you could have done so much better?
I guess it depends on your point of view. There are probably a lot of planners who got their starts working for a mentor and getting experience while having an expert watch over them to correct their mistakes in advance and guide them. Others probably joined one of the reputable wedding planner groups and at least got some minimal training and advice before embarking on their new career. These are preferred paths of entry. But I'm sure there are plenty of you who got your start by hopping on the bike and just start peddling.
It's one of the fascinating aspects of the event industry especially in the wedding and social world. Most clients have little or no experience about how to go about hiring a planner. They're typically first-time (and often last-time) buyers so they don't even know if they got their money's worth after the fact. If you're lucky they have five daughters and by the time they get to wedding number three, four and five they've figured some of it out, but that's not happening often.
So to reiterate, anyone can be a wedding planner. It's a blessing if you have a talent for it because you don't need four years of college and a graduate degree to get started. You only need some business cards and a cell phone. And to those of you who made it and are now very successful, established and reputable wedding planners, I congratulate you. Well done.
This ease of entry is also a curse. You newbies have to realize you're doing some damage to the industry and your colleagues/competitors, whether you like it or not. You're a force in keeping planning fees down as you probably accept lower fees than your established colleagues. You also lower the caliber of expectations as you're probably making more mistakes and things run a little less smoothly than they will once you get your bearings.
Is this your fault? Should you be blamed or criticized? I think not. It's the reality of the situation. Keep plugging. Do your best to keep your fees up. Learn what you can through other means than just experience. And one day you'll be the one who is frustrated at the next wave of newbies coming in and screwing it up for you.

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