You’re engaged! You’ve set a date, or maybe you haven’t even done that much as yet. Well, weddings don’t plan themselves. In front of you are hours, days, weeks, and months of researching, planning, and work in order to arrange the wedding and celebration of your marriage. Do you work full-time? Are you trying to finish grad school?

Planning a wedding from out of state? Or maybe you just don’t have the wherewithal of how to start the planning process. In any of these cases, or any other possible scenario, then you are in need of a trained consultant to help you through the maze and craze called planning a wedding.

What is a Consultant, Anyway?

A professional independent wedding consultant is an individual who is experienced with planning and coordinating many types of weddings and receptions. They may work on their own or have other consultants that work with them. For purposes of this article, we are referring to independent consultants that are not associated with any one vendor company, property, or the like. There are consultants that will work within a hotel property, for example, and they have a very important function. However, this refers to consultants that work on their own and can research many types of facilities and vendors for you, not just the one they work for or have been instructed to refer to.

Consultants wear many hats and can be of great assistance to engaged couples and their families. A consultant can be called on simply as an advisor, informing couples on etiquette issues, a sounding board for ideas, or for information on where to find the most haute couture catering company. In most cases, a consultant is needed to arrange all of the intricate details of wedding planning. This can include finding the “perfect” reception site according to the couple’s criteria (not always an easy task!), helping couples select their vendors, setting timetables, reviewing contracts, negotiating discounts, assisting in menu selections, and endless hours of phone calling, e-mailing, faxing, and follow ups! Many consultants also are hired to work on the wedding day in order to ensure that all of the couple’s arrangements are carried out as planned. The consultant will make every effort to see to it that they are carried out properly–and on time. The on-site coordination services of a consultant are one of the crucial points of the consultant’s position, and often the most visible. Their presence and their carry-all of ’emergency’ supplies have been utilized more times than not at a wedding, not just for the bride, but for the bridal party, family, or guests as well! Have a headache? Ask the consultant for her supply of pain reliever. Break your shoe heel or rip a hem? Before you know it, the consultant is there with their Super Glue or safety pins. These are just a couple minor examples of what a consultant will do to help you and your guests during your wedding and reception, but they can really make a difference when you are in a pinch.

A Neccessity, Not a Luxury

Consultants were once regarded as a service only hired by the rich and famous, or at least by just the rich. Not so anymore. Primarily used by those in the well-heeled members of high society in years past, consultants have become more widespread and more available to society at large. The services of a trained consultant are invaluable, and even if you are not working with a triple-digit wedding budget, a consultant can still help you. Some consultants even specialize in helping couples of minimal budgets achieve the wedding of their dreams-you have to ask the consultant, and you have to be upfront about what you have (or don’t have!) to spend overall.

But I Want My Wedding, My Way

A common fear of using a consultant is that the consultant will direct you by the book on how to have your wedding. It is sometimes thought that a consultant won’t let you break the “rules”, and they will tell you how your wedding will be, not ask you how you want it. A consultant is there to help you, not boss you around. Of course, if a situation arises to which a better solution exists, certainly you can appreciate that your consultant will let you know about it. Offering suggestions and planning ahead to avoid possible disappointments or logistical nightmares are part of what a consultant is for. After all, they’ve done this many times before, so they are sharing their wealth of experience with you!

Along with experience, personality does play a large part when choosing your consultant. You may want to meet with, or at least talk to over the phone, more than one consultant. Considering that you will be in very close contact with each other about a very personal issue, you want to make sure that you work well with each other! You want to make sure that you feel comfortable with their disposition, their amount of experience, and most importantly, their ability to listen to you. They should listen to what you do want, as well as what you don’t want. Although it is important to focus on the positive side of what you do want, if substitutions or alternate arrangements are ever needed, the consultant should know of certain ideas or situations which you are strongly opposed to. After all, they are doing this for you!

The Right Experience

You will always hear about asking a vendor how much experience they have. Although experience is important, it’s the right kind that can really make a difference. This refers not just to consultants, but to any vendor. Yes, maybe one consultant or vendor has more experience than another, but having more doesn’t always make them better, and having less years doesn’t make them bad. Different ages of different vendors of course will of course lend one more experience than the other. Types of employment backgrounds can make a large impact as well. Some consultants may come from a hospitality (hotel, tourism) type of training, which lends the consultant some insightful knowledge that will assist them in their career. Others may come from administrative jobs, some as meeting planners, some not. However, the attention to detail, organizational skills, negotiation manners, managerial skills, and ability to properly follow-up will be an advantage for these consultants. Others yet may have worked in food services, such as restaurants, catering companies, or hotels. If weddings were part of their undertakings while in these positions, certainly the experience and inside knowledge gained there will definitely be a benefit to these consultants. So, while you still ask your consultant what other experiences they have had that they believe help them in this career path.

An Extra Expense or an Investment in Peace of Mind?

So, this all sounds well and good, but what is the price tag that goes along with it? As with anything, a consultant’s cost of service will vary on many factors. Each region of the country has their own “average” rates. An experienced New York consultant may have a significantly different charge from a relatively new consultant in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Experience and regional areas aside, the amount and types of services needed will be a primary component of their price.

If you just need some help getting started or need some advice, a consultant can be hired by the hour. Hourly prices can range anywhere from $25 – $100 per hour, so ask ahead. Looking for the consultant to help plan your wedding from soup-to-nuts? Your consultant may charge you a flat fee, a percentage, or nothing at all. There are pros and cons to each method of payment, so be sure that the consultant you choose has a pricing structure that you are comfortable with. Prices vary considerably, so in order to get a good estimate from your consultant, think ahead of your meeting what it is exactly that you need help with, what things you can do on your own, and what your overall budget really is.

Flat fees are commonly used within the industry. Based on the information you provide the consultant with, they will work up a fee that compensates them for the time they are spending with you while keeping it within your budget. Some consultants use a percentage formula for pricing. They may charge anywhere from 10-15% (industry standard) of your total wedding expenses. Others may charge an hourly fee to meet with you, and then not charge anything to you for the referrals for vendors that they provide you with. These consultants are sponsored by (commissioned) the vendors that they refer you to. However, they may charge you for other services such as being present on the wedding day. You just have to ask. There is no one right or better way to pay a consultant; it just depends on you, your budget, and what you are most comfortable with. As long as you know ahead of time what to expect for a bill, you can feel prepared to begin work with your consultant.

Is someone else paying for the wedding? Be sure you are clear about what you have to spend so that you don’t over- or underestimate the amount of money you have available. Better to know ahead of time, rather than be disappointed down the road when you realize that something you “always wanted” is just not in the budget.

When a consultant asks you for your budgetary limits, they are not being nosy- they need to know. One reason they need know is so they can properly bill you and keep their fee within your budget. However, aside from their own fees, a consultant needs to know your budget or at least a good approximate, so that they can arrange vendors for you that meet your price range. That photographer who has their work downtown on the busy city shopping area may look great, but can you afford it? Maybe you can, but your consultant needs to know that before they call and see if the photographer is available for your day!

Is This a Duplication of Efforts?

If you are having your wedding at your house of worship, your officiant and staff will help you with many of the details concerning your ceremony and the use of the building. Your consultant can still help you even though it may be covered. They can encourage you to ask certain questions, see to it that all of your paperwork has been processed, and on the wedding day, and help with organizing you and your bridal party. Again, this is sometimes easier said than done! After all, your officiant will eventually be busy with you and your new spouse, so they will not be able to attend to other issues that may need to be tended to.

Once you are at your reception, you may also have a banquet or sales manager at your service. This is beneficial for both the manager and the consultant, as they can help each other out with different tasks. There is nothing wrong with having an independent consultant and a function manager both helping you with your wedding. Often times, they may already even know each other and work well together. Where the function manager may run to adjust the room temperature for you, the consultant can begin arranging for the bridal party and special guests for introductions. These people are professionals, and the consultant and the managers will expect to work together, not step on each other’s toes. This is your wedding, not a power play for two vendors. Be happy that you will be able to enjoy your wedding and not worry about the myriad of details that inevitably need to be addressed during the day!

Okay, Now Where Do I Find a Consultant?

The first place to look is in WedNet’s directory for planners and consultants..

Consultants can be found in a number of ways. Many will advertise in local bridal magazines or the yellow pages. Other wedding vendors may be able to refer you to a well-known and well-regarded consultant in your area as well. There are several associations which consultants belong to, and these associations will have referrals to consultants in your area. These associations will also provide on-going training and continuing education for consultants through their organization. If you find a consultant through a different means, you may want to ask if they are a member of any of these organizations. Membership is a benefit, but a consultant that does not belong to an organized group is still just as competent as those who are, so do not leave that as a final deciding factor.

Once you find a consultant you are comfortable with, sit back, relax, and keep them up to date of changes or new ideas. Enjoy your engagement!