Ask Team Practical: Hiring Vendors


by Liz Moorhead, Ask Team Practical

Ask Team Practical: Hiring Vendors | A Practical Wedding

My fiancé and I are getting married August of next year. Under normal circumstances, that would leave plenty of time for thorough research of various vendors and probably meeting with our top one or two choices for each vendor that we need to hire. We aren’t exactly planning under normal circumstances though. We are long-distance trans-Atlantic planning. We have one trip to my hometown before the wedding, and we’ll be there for less than three weeks. We won’t have time to casually talk to many vendors, so I have been trying to research like crazy, but I’ve been having trouble.

Somehow 85% of wedding vendors (a very technical statistic I just made up) have gotten it into their heads that the best pricing strategy is to never list any sort of price on their website. Sometimes they list their bottom price, which generally includes almost no service at all. We don’t have the smallest budget in the history of weddings, but we also want to spend it practically (obvs). When you finally get the magic password right you’re able to see an actual price sheet, but if none of their packages fit your needs, they SAY they are able to customize packages to individual needs. What they MEAN is different. If you want MOAR WEDDING STUFF than their packages list, they are always willing to upsell. If you want less than their packages offer, well, you still have to pay the exact same thing.

My question is, Team Practical, what is the best way to deal with not-Practical wedding vendors? What is the best way to find practical vendors who haven’t yet found us here at APW?

I hope you can help!
Elfless in Delaware

Dear EID,

Handling vendors can seem pretty tough at the outset. You’re hiring potentially several different professionals to do jobs that you’ve never needed to hire for and with large price tags attached. Scary! I hope you don’t mind, EID, but I’m gonna use your letter as an opportunity to talk about hiring vendors in general—and I’ve even roped the rest of the APW staff into helping me. So here we go! Vendors! (Or, as Meg prefers, Wedding Elves and Artisans!)

  • Right off the bat, you don’t need to meet with several vendors. Honestly. When you mentioned something about meeting with one or two of your top options for each vendor, I started to get stressed for you. Holy Moses, that’s a lot of meetings. Somehow, weddings have been built up to be so important that normal shopping isn’t enough; we need to meet with ALL the vendors! If we don’t, we might miss out on the perfect florist! I don’t pick a plumber by having coffee with every plumber in my zip code first. I find someone who’s reasonable and good at what they do, and then I hire them. It’s okay if you’re able to do the same in wedding planning, too.
  • My best advice for getting vendors to be up-front is to do the same—be up-front. You know how you complained about vendors not being straightforward about pricing? Combat this by being totally honest about budget. Rather than emailing for a price-list, consider skipping a few steps in the email-back-and-forth process and show all the cards in your hand from the beginning. “Hi! We have this much money. What do you offer for that amount?” If you have some idea, you can even use that as a segue to explaining what expectations you have for that budget. “We were hoping for six hours of photography for two grand. Can you do this? I’m not sure if this is your price range since your prices are not listed on your site,” is fine. This isn’t a used car dealership. Your vendors (hopefully) won’t be hiking their prices with greedily wringing hands before emailing you back. Most will be able to tell you point-blank what’s offered for your price-range (or if their prices start at twice what you’ve got) without the mess of haggling. Other vendors will make your life even easier by not responding to your email if you’re well below their range. (Sigh. Awfully kind of them.) Maddie, who is very no-nonsense about up-front pricing, suggests it may save you a little time and stress to cross off anyone without their prices listed. It’s okay if you miss out on an awesome vendor because you saved yourself a little time. There are other awesome vendors who do list their prices at the outset.
  • That said, there are a few key points about discussing pricing and services with vendors. Every vendor has a baseline of pricing that they’ve carefully decided upon with consideration to their time, experience, and equipment. Please do not expect anyone to give you a lower price without you also making some concessions (less time, less food, less variety). The point of compromise is a give and take. Perhaps your vendor cuts their price in half to meet your budget—amazing! But don’t anticipate that happening without your making it worth their while, and realize that some vendors just can’t go below their baseline. With 52 weekends in the year, and less than half of those in wedding season, many vendors have to make a certain amount per weekend if they want to pay their rent (and possibly feed their kids). This doesn’t mean they’re greedy jerks, just that you guys might not be a perfect match for each other. Which is fine!
  • Maddie adds that it’s okay to sell yourself a little. Really love a vendor but not sure how to meet their price point? Maybe they’ll be willing to shave a few bucks if you mention that the ceremony will be only ten minutes from their studio.
  • When hiring a person for something you don’t really understand, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that someone is trying to rip you off. I feel this way every time I’m talking to my doctor, lawyer, or mechanic. Basically, my knowledge of whatever they’re doing is so limited, I have a constant nagging fear that this guy just made up a word and is charging me a few hundred for it. I think we often approach wedding vendors with the same trepidation. Is this the actual price I’m going to pay, or will there be some surprise tack-on at the end? Simple solution? Ask. Emily suggests that if you’d like specific answers, ask specific questions.
  • Some examples of specific questions you could ask include: Will there be an additional charge for travel? Will there be an additional charge for running over time? For photographers, Who will own the rights to my photos? Will we receive digital copies or prints? How many photos should we expect? For how many hours will you shoot? How long will we wait for the finished photos? For caterers and venues: Do you charge additional for tables? Chairs? Linens? Serving staff?
  • When you’ve gathered all of your info, make sure you keep track of the details in a way that allows you to compare apples to apples. Sure, this venue may be loads cheaper, but don’t forget to write down that they don’t provide any tables or chairs because that might be a problem come dinner time.
  • Meg cautions to trust your gut. This wedding planning stuff may be all new to you, but if it feels as though something is off or a vendor is treating you badly, chances are, they probably are. Just for reference, every vendor should have a contract outlining what services they’re providing, how much you’re paying, and what happens if you cancel with them or they don’t deliver (and make sure you read that contract, and request changes as needed). If a vendor is extra pushy, rude, or unresponsive, consider finding someone else. Maddie adds that your impression of a professional during the first few interactions will probably ring true for how they treat you on your wedding day.
  • And when trusting your gut, remember to still be nice. If you choose not to go with someone or you’re having a conflict with a vendor you’ve chosen, remember that these folks are just people trying to make a living! And they’ve all probably dealt with clients trying to pull one over on them.
  • Don’t anticipate being best friends with every vendor you hire. Because we have such a terrific community of wedding artists contributing to this here blog, it’s easy to assume that you’ll *click* with every person you hire for your wedding day. When that happens, it’s terrific! But sometimes it doesn’t. It’s okay to hire someone just because they’re nice, professional and good at what they do. You don’t need to feel the urge to have them all over for a hair-braiding slumber party after the wedding.
  • If your friends are vendors, don’t hire them unless you’re willing to pay them full price. Gut instinct may say, “Ah, Sarah bakes cakes! She’ll totally cut me a deal!” But if Sarah is your friend, you’ll want to support Sarah’s business, yeah? Not to mention that you’ll be avoiding a lot of hassle later when Sarah decides, meh, your cake isn’t as important because you’re “just a friend” and not paying her the full amount. Hire your friends for their talents, not for their deals. Otherwise, you may end up disappointed. Also, paying full price will limit your embarrassment at asking for a contract (which you should definitely do, even with friends). If you and your friendor both see you as a customer and not just a “pal,” there should be no misunderstanding of obligation on either end.
  • If your vendors do a terrific job on your wedding day, be sure to write them a glowing review. Tips are never required (beyond any waitstaff who is making less than minimum wage), but are nice for service that is above and beyond. Meaning, don’t feel obligated to hand over an extra check unless your vendor has blown you away with their service. Nothing is as valuable to a wedding vendor as a shining recommendation, and when I work with professionals who are good at what they do, I’m eager to tell my friends.
  • Lastly, be sure to check out the APW Vendor Directory. These guys have all been screened before being listed and have signed a Sanity Pledge, so you already know a little something about their ethics. And if you find a vendor that totally has APW values but doesn’t know about us yet, do us all a favor and have them apply for the vendor directory! Trust me, we all want to know their details.

*****

Team Practical, how do you get straight answers from vendors? Do you have any tips for hiring great folks who do an awesome job?

Photo by APW sponsor Emily Takes Photos.

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com.  If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted.  Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!

Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her son.

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  • Moz

    As a wedding vendor, I’m here to say this is all really good advice. My business is built on word of mouth and people telling others that I am worth what I charge and do all the right stuff, so that positive review (if you have a website) is priceless.

    That gut instinct? Trust it. If it doesn’t quite feel right, don’t. And get everything in writing, always.

    • meg

      GET EVERYTHING IN WRITING Y’ALL.

      • Moz

        Personally I don’t think that just applies to weddings either. You should always get shizz in writing, I find.

      • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.com/ Jenny- Adventures Along the Way

        I also am a big fan of contracts. You just never know, and to have it in writing, agreed upon by all parties is invaluable.

  • http://penn.typepad.com Leah

    I mentioned this recently, and I can’t emphasize it enough: definitely trust your gut! We only met with one vendor for almost everything, and the gut check is what helped us out. We actually canceled meetings with other vendors because we liked the professionals we met. But I did read about a lot of vendors going into the process. Sometimes, not even to meet with them, but to get a baseline of charges and expectations.

    RE: website checks and pricing, I found that a lot of folks really did email me back the price list. I asked for it in my initial email (something like “I’d like to see more details about your services and pricing”). I also made sure to email back the ones we chose not to go with so that I was being conscientious from my end.

    Question: does anyone you know live in the area you’re having the wedding? Don’t be afraid to put them to work for you, especially through asking other locals about vendors. I first heard about our venue when talking to the school principal who raved about the place. Don’t underestimate the power of asking.

    • Cass

      I had problems when I asked for price lists from some vendors. Sometimes they required me to “sign up” for “their” e-mail newsletter, or fliers. A year after my wedding I still get so much crap, that I cannot figure out 1) how my name got on their list and 2) how to get my name OFF said list.
      Moral of the story: make sure you don’t sign up newsletters of vendors who sell your information. *cough* D****s Bridal *cough*

      • Geepuff

        I set up a “Wedding Shizz Only” email address to give to vendors and stuff like that. Definitely recommend that to those in the early planning stages. kept spam out of my regular email, and allowed me to have the choice of when to look at wedding emails in stead of seeing them hanging around in my regular email, which was a real sanity saver.

      • http://kristinyc.wordpress.com kristin

        DB is the absolute worst for that. But, you can email them and get yourself removed from their “we’re going to give your email address and phone number to EVERYONE” database.

    • Lana

      I second asking locals. My mom’s friend’s daughter lives near by and gave us some recommendations. But otherwise, the only locals we knew were at the sites we’ve already hired, but they were good small town folks and we trusted them, and they’ve been great! The sweet lady at the parish office of the church we’re getting married at recommended an awesome rehearsal dinner space and gave us party bus info. And our reception site gave us a list of other local vendors (cake, flowers, etc.), which was super helpful since apparently the internet hasn’t reached a lot of the small businesses in the middle of no-where northern Wisconsin yet…

  • jessie

    This post really says it all! Not sure what else to contribute but to echo that I had a good experience just being upfront and friendly.

    I didn’t have to hire many vendors, but it was all from a distance. In all cases, I sent an inital email just checking to see if they had my date available (which they all did, despite being only a few months – YAY for off-season weddings!), and if so, if I could see a list of their packages because I was from out of town and was hoping to maximize my upcoming trip home. EVERYONE understood and sent me detailed packages. I wrote back to everyone who was out of my price range with an email that said (which is true) that I have no doubt that they’re completely worth what they charge, but that it was out of my budget at the time, and I thanked them for their time. Very few offered to reduce their prices or created a package that worked for me (fair enough) but some did, while others gave me recommendations for other vendor-friends of theirs who might be in my price range. And as Leah said, I emailed everyone back. It was all very professional and friendly, and I think being clear while flattering them a little set the tone.

  • http://smittenimmigrant.wordpress.com Pluis

    A tip I found useful for transAtlantic wedding(reception) planning was to see who could be our eyes and ears. Our reception took place in a city I had never even been to before, but my partner has family there. We started by asking them for recommendations, then gave a list of options we considered interesting, after which they happily did some further research for us.

    It took a lot off our shoulders that people helped us and we weren’t totally flying blind. Maybe you can find someone who’ll do that for you?

  • http://elissarphotography.com Elissa

    This is a fabulous post on planning a wedding from somewhere else; a lot of the tips are golden. http://lowbrowevents.com/2012/01/tips-on-remotely-planning-a-wedding

    I send that link to people a lot! :)

    • Elfless

      Thanks! I’ll definitely check that out. I’m just so nervous with our ONLY trip back being so soon! I guess I’m letting the fear of missing out on the best (deal) get in the way of the good.

      • http://truelovenuptials.wordpress.com April

        I would also recommend buying a MagicJack. You pay $20 for a year of service and that gives you an American phone number (assuming your american?) that you can use through the internet while your abroad. It makes it very easy to call vendors and for them to call us back easily.

  • http://www.lyssabeths.com Maureen

    I’m a vendor and when I started reading this post, my first thought was, “Oh no, here we go–vendor bashing ahead.”

    I should have known better! (Sorry–momentary lapse in judgment.) This advice is spot-on. I’m going to share this post with my fellow vendors.

    One thing that I would hesitate to tell our prospective clients (because it could be construed as self-serving) is that indeed, it is NOT always necessary to meet with more than one vendor for a particular service. I’ve learned that from our clients and so am glad to see it mentioned here. When I started officiating, I was pleasantly surprised at how many couples booked us on the spot without interviewing others. But when I think about it, if it feels right, the reviews are good and it’s within budget, the why waste time pounding the wedding vendor pavement?

    Regarding pricing, many of us post “prices start at ____” on our websites because there truly is such a range of options that posting a flat rate would be misleading. But this post is correct–we do have a baseline price that we need to obtain in order to pay our bills. And most reputable vendors will do what they can to accommodate a (reasonable) budget if the couple is also willing to give and take.

    Such a sane post! Thank you.

    • Liz

      Yeah, my pricing works the same for graphic design. It’s difficult to say “a logo costs X” because it really very much depends on the logo- how complicated the design is, how many revisions you need. Often people who don’t list prices aren’t trying to be sneaky or force you to email them so they can do the hard-sell. Sometimes pricing is just complex with lots of variances and wiggle room.

      • meg

        I actually kind of disagree with Liz here! For the big things you’re hiring vendors for, for a wedding (photography, venues, etc) there is no reason people shouldn’t be listing baseline (and possibly more detailed) pricing. Shooting a wedding is NOT designing a logo… you do it a lot, and while the details may change for a given event, you’re either in the “starting at $2K range” or the “starting at $5K range” or the “starting at $20K range” or whatever… and keeping people in the dark about that is not helpful. I actually feel so strongly about it that I have had MANY talks with APW sponsors on the subject… and you’ll notice, pretty much to a one, they list their starting rates (if not all their rates) right where you can see them!

        • http://www.short-girl.com Fenn

          I’m a wedding photographer, and I think Meg is completely right here. Photographers know what they’re doing and can list not only the beginning, but also all of their rates. It is highly unlikely that a photographer would encounter something for which they couldn’t tell you the cost, excluding transportation fees. I find it frustrating when photographers force clients to fill out a form to get a response or list only a “starting at” price…what does starting at mean anyway? Some photographers think “starting at” is four hours and some think it’s the whole day.

          I don’t see why a venue can’t list it’s prices. I could see why a florist couldn’t, since flowers vary in price…but chairs, car services, officiants, etc. I don’t see why even a baseline can’t be offered, just to give the couple an idea of what the price is. I think it’s unfair to the customer, which is why all of my prices and all of my discounts are listed right under all of my full wedding galleries.

    • Irene

      I agree – this vendor post is really well done. What I especially appreciated was: “When hiring a person for something you don’t really understand, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that someone is trying to rip you off.” … BUT I really wish that this same logic was commonly applied to dresses as well, at least here on APW. I used to work in a bridal salon, and while I am happy I don’t anymore (and have no love lost for the WIC) I am SO sick of the wedding-dress-price bashing.

      I totally get that lots (most?) people don’t want to pay through the nose for a dress they’ll wear once. I certainly didn’t want to, and so didn’t. And yes, if you know what you’re about regarding making dresses, you can make one for a fraction of the price it would be retail. But that doesn’t mean that price comes from nowhere, or that anyone involved is making a killing. It’s possible they are, but most of them aren’t.

      Ugh. I hate it, and I hate that writing about it makes me sound like a WIC apologist. But really, that sentence from the post is so true.

      • ottid

        Yea, I don’t like people going “that’s awfully expensive” about my dress, theres a lot of things that have gone into making that dress that doesn’t for a normal dress. For starters there’s a butt load more fabric, and at a higher quality than most clothing. There is a lot more sewing and a bit of detailing that needs sewn on and that all takes someones time, plus the time to design it, and then because I’m in New Zealand I have to figure in shipping costs, plus costs for my dress-seller (electricity, time, advertising, website hosting…) Actually when I start looking at “gasp” expensive things for weddings I have to remember EXACTLY what I am getting from the vendor, and what it is they have to do and the amount of time it will take them to do it to figure out if it feels like a good price after all.

        So maybe keep that in mind too when looking at vendors, at the end of the day for the amount of work that needs to be done, am I really asking my vendor for a fair deal? This is also why I didn’t start a proper budget until I knew what range vendors were expecting for different things.

  • Hypothetical Sarah

    Chiming in from the long-distance trans-Atlantic (and -Pacific, sometimes) wedding planning side… prioritize! Consider which vendors/elves you really need to see in person during your visit and which can be done by email/skype. We hired most of our vendors (aside from the venue/caterer and florist) without meeting them.

    If you have family or friends in the area (or you know people who have family/friends in the area), definitely tap them for information. You might consider venturing into the… less Practical… areas of the wedding web too. There’s a forum for brides in my area and, once you filter out the WIC-heavy assumptions, you wind up with a community of girls who know a lot about vendors and pricing in the area.

  • rys

    I haven’t planned a wedding from afar, but I’ve planned other events from afar. One thing I’ve learned is to really know your communication style/preferences and use those to help guide you. For example, I love email. I much prefer email to anything else — my sister still laughs when I make her call for a dinner reservation b/c I hate talking to people I don’t know on the phone. But not everyone loves email. Which is totally fine. It just means I probably won’t use them because it’s the best, easiest, calmest way for me to make arrangements. At the same time, I have friends who much prefer the phone — often for good reason, like no crazy 50-back-and-forth-emails to set a time to meet. If you’re a phone person, call and see who calls back. That’s probably a better fit for you (and, from abroad, Skype, Google Voice, etc can all make it phone calls perfectly practical). There’s nothing wrong with letting mundane details and preferences guide decisions.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I’m the same way, and I wish I’d figured it out sooner. I finally just told vendors, “speaking by phone is difficult for me.” Then they had the choice of continuing by e-mail, or my fiance could call them.

      I’m a professional, too, and I know some things are hard to handle by e-mail because there’s kind of a tree of questions (If it’ll be a plated dinner, the caterer needs to ask ABC; if buffet ors d’ouvers, XYZ), but I also know that other vendors just have one standard set of questions I can answer better by e-mail (hello! precise budget numbers and other vendors’ contracts for reference) than phone.

  • youlovelucy

    Something that is actively saving me in this final month until my wedding was making sure the vendors that I chose could work within my schedule, because working 8am to 6pm Monday through Friday meant that there were very specific times that I could call or meet with any of them. This is where technology can totally work in your favor. Most of my vendors understand that I have very little time to talk on the phone, so we handle most things through email. My DJ and I have Spotify playlists that for the wedding that he’s going to pull songs from, rather than having me try to explain the ridiculous eclectic mix of music that I would like. Being up front about how and when you’ll be contacting your vendors can really help weed out those who may be less inclined to work with you long-distance.

    • http://www.bridesanstulle.com Sharon

      This is a great, GREAT tip! We were lucky in that my husband was in grad school during the time we planned our wedding so he could do a lot of the daytime scouting/calling, but we really ran into a roadblock with my schedule when it came to taking engagement pictures with our photographers (since, yknow, this was something Jason couldn’t just do on his own, apparently ;)). Our 6-month engagement spanned much of their wedding season so they were (understandably) reluctant to take part of a Saturday to come do an engagement session with us, but it was almost comical how many times I had to say, “No, really, I work full-time in an office. I can’t just meet you on a Thursday to faff around and take pictures!” We ended up having to drive to their city, 2 hours away, really early one Saturday in order to get the shoot in.

  • http://theatreprojects.blogspot.com Jessamarie

    I am also planning my wedding at a distance, though I have been able to make a few more trips than you, and I have to say that I think the distance has been a huge help to me. In person I have trouble negotiating and laying out details. I attempt to be a people pleaser and end up not standing my ground on things that are important to me. In emails I am allowed to think through what I am saying, edit, research and compose a well crafted point.
    For a specific example my venue has extra colored uplighting that they offer to use for the reception at $25 a light. In person I stumbled and stammered over asking them what they could do about a discount, and if, since we were signing such a large contract that maybe they could help us with the lighting in some way…kinda…I mean if that would work for you…(confused smile).
    In an email I was able to articulate that I knew the value of the lighting instruments, their ease of setup and the low amount of power that they use through my work in theatre. I am interested in using them but am having trouble validating the cost, could they please send me a breakdown so that I can understand how they came to the $25 per light charge? -They responded by throwing in the lights for free.
    Also, just a plug to the magic of the internet to send photos and videos and quick messages. My Granny was telling me recently about helping to plan my Aunt’s wedding remotely. Granny would schedule meetings with venues in St Louis, take photos, go get the photos developed, then mail them to my Aunt in New York to look over. Sort of puts things in perspective for me. I may be squinting at tiny pictures on my computer screen trying to imagine what the space feels like in person, but at least I didn’t have to wait for the photos to arrive in the mail to do it.

    • Hypothetical Sarah

      Thank goodness for the magic of the internet! Last week, the Boy (China), my siblings (NOLA and NY), and I (UK) had a google hangout with my parents (NY). We played songs off youtube and watched my parents dance to pick our father-daughter dance song. It was hilarious and adorable, and there are screen shots for posterity :)

    • Zoe

      As someone who does event lighting in NYC, this ‘per light’ change is a load of crap. There are certain folks who believe this is the best way to price, In my “expert” opinion (10+ years in the biz) I think they’re trying to rip you off. Charge for an idea or for the complexity of the execution (and I’ve done weddings where it’s taken a week and a half for the lighting setup alone – getting the venue ready took 6 weeks of 6 days a week 10 hours a day. It. Was. Massive.) but charging per piece? Utter ridiculousness – unless these lights are the fanciest of fancy lights and those, my friend, have very little to add to a wedding (who needs 6k worth of light on a dance floor anyway?) And I’m so proud when people call these jerks on this particular method. Of course they’re gonna give them to you for free, they’ve already paid for labor (their only cost) out of the rest of the fee they’re charging.

      That said, as my 2nd business is designing and printing letterpress, and there are advantages there to pricing ‘by the light’ in that realm. You want 2 color? Well, each color costs this much (time x plate production costs). In the end It depends on the service being rendered, but if it seems ridiculous, it probably is. Call them/us out on it. ‘Cause the worst they can say is ‘no,’ and now you don’t have to guess.

      As a general note, remember that you’re paying for their services, so you set the tone and tenor of the conversation. We should always respect and be willing to listen to what you have to say (as long as you talk sense ;) And if we don’t? Fire us. Nothing is worth being treated like crap.

  • http://bettencourtchase.blogspot.com Helen

    This is a great ATP post! As a married lady who went through all this recently and a wedding photographer, I have lots of thoughts on this.

    Most importantly: the fact that many wedding vendors don’t list their price sheet on their website does NOT mean that they are trying to rip you off. We used to have all our packages listed, but then we made a decision to take them off and make a pretty pdf we can send prospective clients when they inquire. We have a pricing section on our website that lists all our session prices (senior portraits, family, maternity, etc.) and a note to contact us for our complete package list for weddings. The absolute best thing about this is that if someone likes our work, they will contact us to ask about our pricing and date availability, and then we have some dialogue with them (whether or not they decide to book with us in the end.) I like that contact a lot.

    Also, it is super easy to make a form email to send to prospective vendors, like: “I really like you work and would love to have more information on your pricing at your earliest convenience. Our wedding will be September 2. Thank you so much!” Then you can just send that out to ALL the vendors you like, along with any specific budget constraints you have. If some of them don’t email you back, that’s sort of crappy and bad business. I always respond to anyone who contacts us, either to say we are available and would love to talk more with them, or that we are not available/cannot lower our prices enough to meet their budget (due to, as said above, our need to pay the rent and feed ourselves. Hah.)

    Also, I agree with several of the above posters: you don’t really need to meet with (or even inquire about) a zillion vendors if you find one you like. If you find one you like in your price range, go with that one! Less stress is great. The one vendor I would definitely suggest you meet with in person is your photographer. I may be biased, but the photographer is going to be the one who is (potentially) there all day, when you are getting ready, having emotional moments with your family, marrying your spouse-to-be, all the way through when you get in the car to leave. I think it is really important for you to get along with your photographer(s), in a way that it probably isn’t QUITE as important to be excited about spending time with your florist or your caterer, since you honestly probably won’t spend that much time with them the day of your wedding! :)

    • meg

      Ah, I’m going to disagree with you here (I am PASSONATE ABOUT THIS). I think all photographers should list their starting rates online, period. And if they don’t, I think they are wasting everyone’s time. Why email for a PDF if you have 2K to spend, and their starting rate is 5K… because then you have a vendor who wants to “dialoge” with you, when the only think you have to say is, “I can’t afford you.” (Which is embarrassing).

      So, I agree with Maddie, I didn’t email anyone who didn’t list their starting price, period. It’s like my mamma taught me, “If you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it.” And this is one of the ways I want to change the wedding industry… towards more disclosure. So! We all have pretty PDF’s to send! But still, y’all, LIST YOUR STARTING RATE.

      That said, it’s true. Photographers who don’t list their starting rate are not trying to rip you off. The choice is if you want to engage with them, and that is totally up to you!

      • Maddie

        I think there is a misconception in the industry that if we can just get people talking to us (the photographers), then they will fall madly in love with us and price won’t matter as much.

        So it’s definitely not about trying to rip people off. We just don’t want to miss out on potentially awesome clients who might see our starting price and then never contact us.

        That said, I don’t see the point in starting a dialogue with someone who will never hire me (as in, can’t, won’t, not ever gonna happen). So I just find that this process creates more work for everyone, and y’all know I’m a big proponent of less work.

        Side note: I actually get a little peeved when people ask me for my price list. It’s on my website! I don’t have a PDF. Making a pretty PDF literally took me two hours and made me want to claw my eyeballs out. And you know why I did it? Because I thought I was supposed to. GRRR caving to industry pressures.

        • Newtie

          If vendors have a price list they can easily email, I do wish they would put it on their website. As a bride, it seemed like an unnecessary extra step to have to email every vendor I was interested in, only to find some of them were way out of budget. Also, in the very beginning of my engagement when I was trying to figure out my budget, it was almost impossible because very few vendors of any kind in my region list any prices at all (even baseline). This meant I had to email a lot of vendors when I didn’t even have a date yet just so I could start to figure out what kind of wedding I’d be able to afford, and that felt awkward to me. I would have rather emailed vendors when I at least knew I wanted to hire someone for the type of service they offered!

          I completely understand wanting personal contact – but in my experience, the “personal contact” I received by having a pricing list emailed to me made no difference whatsoever in who I hired, and did add significantly to my exasperation in the beginning of planning.

          • Class of 1980

            Newtie, you said it better than I did below.

            You need to know price ranges for each component of your wedding. If you have to e-mail each potential vendor, the compiling of information becomes more time consuming and stressful.

            All businesses exist to solve a problem and make it go away. If you own a business, you should ask yourself if you are adding problems or making them go away.

            Putting up a price list online makes a problem go away. ;)

          • Edelweiss

            Agreed! Aditionally I usually have time to think about and plan my wedding in chunks – and quite often those chunks are 10pm on a Thursday night and not when vendors are checking their emails. So getting scattered information up to a week (and in some cases 2 or 3 weeks) after my planning chunk of time has caused things to become more unorganized and laborious then they need to be when I’m just trying to find out what my options are.

        • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

          “I think there is a misconception in the industry that if we can just get people talking to us (the photographers), then they will fall madly in love with us and price won’t matter as much.”

          So on key. I’ve talked to WONDERFUL, KICK ASS photographers who I’d love to hire and I think would be amazing, and in the end if I can’t afford them I can’t afford them. It’s that simple. It’s also a little more heartbreaking being in the position of adoring the photographer and not being able to afford them.

          • meg

            YES. EXACTLY. I’d rather adore you from a far, but not embarrass myself to your face when I find out you cost $20K, and I have to explain that, “Gulp, that’s my WHOLE BUDGET.” Also, hello, I just wasted your time, and you wasted mine.

      • http://bettencourtchase.blogspot.com Helen

        Oh yikes. I should have been more clear in my original comment. We DO list a starting price, just not ALL our package prices (which is what we used to have online). We are also super, super flexible about building custom packages, which is why we chose not to list every package online. Additionally, we say online the basics of what comes with every package (two photographers, print credit, online proofing galleries, a disc of high quality files and a printing release, etc.) I do agree that it is a really, really good idea to have some baseline on there so potential clients will have an inkling of whether or not they can afford your prices… but I do not think it is necessary to have ALL the prices.

        Also, Maddie- I’m a graphic design nerd, so making the pretty PDF was fun for me. ;) I do think it is weird that people would email you to ask for your price sheet when it’s on your website– that’s just not doing the research!

        • Maddie

          Do you know how many days a week I wish I was a graphic design nerd? My life would be so much prettier. :)

          • youlovelucy

            ^ common misconception ;)

            Sometimes my life is prettier. But most times I’m so busy making pretty things for others that my stuff takes a back seat. Or a trunk seat. Or a still at home on the couch waiting for me to come back seat.

      • http://www.3upadventures.com Beth

        Although, I totally did this…except with a 1K budget and got a pricelist back with a 6K minimum. And you know what? That photographer was totally helpful and pointed us towards some awesome and wayyy cheaper photographers.

        • http://elissarphotography.com Elissa

          This is a good point. A lot of us are networked with many photographers ranged in different prices, so we (well, the photographers I know and myself, anyway) refer to each other when booked or if the potential client has a different budget in mind.

          Customer service = not just for the people who book us, but for anyone who contacts us.

    • Amy March

      This attitude is why I use 1800flowers instead of local florists. I have no interest in a dialog, only to learn that bouquets start at $100. If they’d at least list some examples, with prices, and a note about their range, I’d be more inclined to call.

    • Paranoid Libra

      There were SOOOOO many photographers to comb through and so many that I did like their initial work, but if there wasn’t a starting price on their website I wasn’t wasting my time emailing 80 billion different ones out of fear of finding out I can’t afford them. First thing I looked at was their prices even before the work because I didn’t want to fall in love with a photographer’s work if I couldn’t afford them. I feel by not having even a baseline on your site you might be losing out on awesome clients.

      • http://bettencourtchase.blogspot.com Helen

        We DO have a baseline on our site. We just don’t list out every package, that’s all. I very much agree with Meg and Maddie that having a baseline is incredibly important.

    • Alexandra

      As someone who just started looking into venues, I’ve found two different types of venues so far. The first of which put no information online, nothing about the prices for the venue, nor for the menu costs, nothing. I did email them, and my only take away from this is I truly do believe they were trying to pull the wool over my eyes with their prices. (In the end, without putting a lick of food on the plates, they gave me numbers that added up to $35 per head just for service and cutlery rentals. With 5 hours of open bar, that came up to $69 per head. The price for a salad was $8 per person, but they also had on all food a 15% event coordination fee, 16% for a landmark fee, and in the end, all these prices were before the 13% tax.) If I’d been able to add up that mess before I had to email them, I probably simply wouldn’t have emailed them in the first place and would have kept looking. Instead, I feel like I wasted my time when I could have been checking out better places.

      Comparitively, another venue has every single detail on their website. I can see that they don’t like open flames or decorative glitter as decorations. I know what the average prices are for the menu. I know they suggest the groom arrives an hour before the ceremony, and the bride 15 minutes before and wait in the car because the event coordinator will come pick them up. I can see an example of an average wedding cost, including all those rental fees, and there’s an actual number attached on the overall price (Unlike the first place, where even after 30 minutes of math I still didn’t reach the final price for an average meal… Just a price I couldn’t afford anymore. And I like math). This venue even had their contract online.

      As a client, the first place made me feel like they were trying to hide their prices, so I was already started to commit to them before I even knew if I could afford them. The other place? I haven’t even talked to them and I already feel like they were upfront and honest about everything, and committed to making this whole experience stress-free. If it weren’t for them having all that information online, I wouldn’t have seriously considered them. Now, I am, because I could see in 10 minutes what they offered and at what price.

      • Diana

        I totally agree with all of this. BUT, my issue with posting every detailed cost breakdown on the website is that most guests check the website of the venue (for directions, etc., I have definitely done this before, just for a sneak peak), and I don’t want my guests to know how much everything costs.

        So, back to what most other people have said: baseline prices are always helpful (no point in even contacting the venue if it’s way out of the price range), but I’m also not sure everything needs to be laid out for all to see,

  • Sarah

    One of the things I didn’t even think about when planning our wedding (from afar) was a coordinator. It seemed like a frivolous thing when we were trying to cut every corner, however, our venue requires a coordinator. I did my research and found someone I didn’t think was ripping me off, and now I wish I had booked her earlier! Not only has she made everything much easier by laying out some ideas for us, but she also has vendors that she works with and gets discounts through, which she then splits with us. So if your struggling with vendor bs, check out some coordinators (day of) and see if they have a recommended vendor list!

    Good luck!

    • meg

      YES! If you’re planning from far away, and can find a planner you trust and can afford, booking them will likely save you a ton of stress. (If you can’t, don’t worry about it, you’ll still be fine!!)

    • Diane

      I was gonna add that suggestion if no one else did. We’re getting married in the city where I live next April but I’ve only lived here for 10 months, my fiancee lives four hours north of here, our parents live 900 (mine) and 700 (his) miles from here, and our friends have scattered themselves as far away as Albania. It’s a big city, too, that’s collectively a bit wedding crazy and has a zillion vendors for every possible option. Oh yeah, and I’m a medical resident so I work zany hours. We hired a wedding coordinator early in the process, in fact it was the second major decision we made (venue was first) and I found her by shamelessly asking whatever catering or events manager I met with at the various venues who they would recommend and then went for the name that kept coming up. She’s not cheap but she knows people who do great work at very fair prices and can recommend who will fit well with us and our personalities. She has also already saved me countless hours when it comes to vendors and really listened and continues to take into account what’s important to us (no crapkins, I’m totally using that word from now on). It has made me a happy, this-wedding-planning-thing-is-kinda-fun bride instead of the wedding becoming just another huge scut list.

  • Class of 1980

    The Internet was supposed to save us time. We can now do research on the Internet ahead of time and save ourselves some fruitless conversations. Right?

    So I don’t really understand not posting prices. Doesn’t that mean vendors will waste time e-mailing or talking to potential customers who can’t afford them? It seems like vendors could post prices and also mention that custom packages are available and to ask for details. That would cover all the bases and save both parties so much time.

    I am thinking of a resort in my area that doesn’t post prices for events. Their reputation is epic and Internet reviews say they are “pricey but worth it”. They’ve been featured in some major wedding blogs. I imagine they field a ton of inquires from brides who can’t afford them though. You’d think that would get tiresome.

    Am I wrong?

    • Liz

      For a venue, lots of things come into play for pricing- and not in a sneaky way.

      The one venue I’m thinking of had one set price for an anniversary party I threw my parents. The price was impacted by the fact that it was in January, on a Friday night, and just an anniversary party. When we planned an October wedding, the fact that it was a wedding, that it was in October (which is now considered “wedding season”) and that it was on a Sunday impacted the price. But then, as we got closer to our date (we only had a 6 month engagement) and their day was still not booked, the price was able to drop quite a bit (since it wasn’t in as high demand as anticipated).

      • meg

        Still (y’all know what I’m going to say) general rates still should be listed, with a note about what can change the price!

      • Class of 1980

        Liz, I get what you’re saying, but another resort in my area does have a price list for events. They are a large property, so they have tons of meeting and event space, indoors and outdoors. They have prices posted for each event space, and the prices are different according to the season. They also have all their menus online and prices per person or a la carte if you want to create your own menu.

        Anyone can look at their web site and do accurate calculations. You’d know before you called if you can afford them.

        I’m not in the event business, but I do own a business and believe in providing as much early information as possible. Customers need to feel some sense of control and peace of mind about the process and cost. I also educate upfront about what to expect, because you don’t want to have those conversations right in the middle of providing the service. That just agitates people. ;)

    • Hypothetical Sarah

      A bunch of the venues in my area went a step further… not only did they not list prices on their websites, but they only wanted to discuss pricing with you. In person. At their venue. After they showed you all the pretty things they had to offer. For all the time they waste on brides who can’t afford them, I know they get a bunch of people who wouldn’t have come if they knew the pricing upfront but fall for the emotional overbudget sell once they’re there. It’s slimy.

      • Liz

        We’ve had this slime work to our benefit, haha. There are venues/caterers near us that offer tastings BEFORE giving prices. So, hollerrr, six course steak dinner with wine pairings. And then, shockingly, we can’t afford them. (I guess they have to make up for those free meals somehow!) Like 1980 said, sort of a waste of time and money on their end, I’m sure. (but YUM for us.)

  • http://meaghantothemax.wordpress.com Meaghan

    This is great advice, thank you! One thing that’s been driving me crazy lately is that the rare photographers that DO list their prices seem to blatantly admit that they’re charging a wedding tax for elopement sessions – they’re always $2-300 more than a “portrait session” or “engagement session” of the exact same length. Maybe I should just politely email the ones I’m interested in and see what the big deal is…

    • Liz

      I’m not a photographer, so I’m not sure, but my first guess would be that it’s a matter of knowing what candids to snap. That’s the huge pressure to photographing a wedding- timing- and I would imagine it might be the same for an elopement. That might require a little more work, knowledge and stress than just snapping posed photos.

    • http://elissarphotography.com Elissa

      It could be the difference between giving the high-res files and not… I know that a lot of portrait photographers do not include high-res files in their portrait session fee, but include them with wedding coverage.

      Wedding pricing and portrait pricing have very different models. Portrait photographers make most of their money in products after the fact, so it makes more sense to hold onto the files. Wedding photographers build the loss of revenue from print sales into their coverage price and give the files because it seems the right thing to do. Of course, all photographers are different and some may not work this way, but a lot of the photographers I know follow this example.

    • http://technicolorvision.com Allie

      Even though elopement may be the same shooting time commitment I think Liz is right about the level of knowledge & work involved. My hourly rates for wedding/elopement coverage are different from portrait session rates in part because photojournalistic coverage of an event requires me to take a lot more photos than a portrait session when I’m controlling all the elements. This translates into a lot more time post processing. Weddings and elopements also require a lot more prep time on my end, checking gear, going over schedules, communicating with people getting married usually takes more time than communicating with portrait clients. For some people elopements may require more gear: most photographers won’t shoot a marriage celebration without having a second body and certain lenses, for some people this means having to rent equipment for wedding/elopement days.

      • http://bettencourtchase.blogspot.com Helen

        Yes. This is definitely true. We certainly do not call it a ‘wedding tax’, because that’s not what it is. However, a wedding of any kind is a very different situation than a portrait session (with a lot more stress, more equipment needed and we ALWAYS have two of us or one of us and a second shooter- who we have to pay- while often it will just be one of us to do a portrait session.) All of those reasons make it so our hourly rate for weddings is higher than for family portraits, a senior portrait session, maternity session, etc. We sat down and carefully went over every single factor related to pricing when we put together our price sheet, so we’re certainly not trying to cheat anyone, but we do want to be paid appropriately for the skills, extra equipment and work needed, and time we put into various projects.

        • http://bettencourtchase.blogspot.com Helen

          (I’m not saying there aren’t sleazy wedding vendors out there, because their certainly are– the same way there are sleazy people in any group. I know I was super frustrated when I was planning a wedding at the inflation JUST because a dress was white or the photo opportunities were at a wedding and not another event. But not all of us are sleazy, and there are reasons for some things. :) )

      • http://meaghantothemax.wordpress.com Meaghan

        And that may be the case, but it’s frustrating to see in a price list:

        2 hour portrait session with digital access rights: $200
        2 hour elopement with digital access rights: A MILLION DOLLARS

        As a customer, I don’t mind paying more if I know what I’m getting – but so many vendors seem to hide that information!

    • meg

      Yeah, that’s not a wedding tax AT ALL. Shooting an elopement is much, much harder, and much more work (emotionally, logistically, and every other way) than shooting a portrait session. If you want the portrait session rate, book a portrait session (in your wedding clothes), bam and done. But if you want someone to do the (actually pretty taxing) work of shooting your elopement, it’s only fair to pay for it!

      • http://meaghantothemax.wordpress.com Meaghan

        Right, and as I said above, if that’s the case then I’m happy to pay the extra, but it’s not clear at all (on ANY vendor’s price list I’ve ever seen, anyways) about WHAT the extra is. Obviously all of the photographers and married people here have been able to guess at what those extras might be, but since I’m neither of those things, it’s hard for me to tell what those are, and all I see is two seemingly identical things with hugely different prices.

        I didn’t comment to say “OMG PHOTOGRAPHERS ARE JERKS,”I was just trying to point out an example of opaque pricing that as a customer is really hard to figure out.

        • meg

          The extra is that it’s a MUCH harder job. You’re emotional (most of the time!) and the photographer is negotiating that (which is wonderful but tiring). It’s not a “stand here and shoot” situation, it’s an ever changing candid emotional situation where they are operating as a photojournalist of a hugely important life event (that can’t be done over), not a portrait photographer. In most cases way more pictures will be shot (a portrait session can be knocked out in an hour or two, even a short elopement will be the photographer helping you as you get ready, getting you to the courthouse, waiting with you, shooting your wedding, shooting you right after the wedding, and then probably doing a standard portrait session with you AFTER the wedding).

          So it’s way harder, way more work, way more pictures, and hence, more money. Frankly, most APW photographers charge way less than I would for something so exhausting! So like I said, if you want a portrait session in your wedding clothes, book one. But that’s not what you’re getting with an elopement.

          In short, these two things are NOT EVEN CLOSE to identical. In fact, the only relationship is that they both involve a camera.

        • Maddie

          When you’re elf shopping, I totally understand that it can be difficult to try and discern what justifies charging extra for a particular service, especially if it’s wedding related. I know that often it seems like we are ripping you off.

          The truth is, there is SO much that goes into that price, like whether or not I can do another session in a day or if I have to book the entire day for your elopement in case there is a huge line at city hall, how much equipment I need to even handle an elopement (it’s double for an elopement vs. a portrait session), whether or not I need an assistant (I can put my equipment down at your house for a portrait session, can I do that at City Hall?)

          I wish it could be as easy as saying, “It costs $500 more because of x,y,z,” but I can’t. It’s a totally complicated, multi-layered decision that most vendors spend a lot of time toiling over.

          The best thing you can do for yourself is find someone within your price range, whose work you love, and then if you feel they are providing a service that is worth the amount they charge, book them. You’ll save yourself a ton of energy that way.

          • http://meaghantothemax.wordpress.com Meaghan

            I still think it’s worth putting a note SOMEWHERE that says “weddings – even elopements – are more expensive because they’re more complicated.” Before this post, I’d honestly never considered that they’d be different – why would they, when so many blogs show elopement photos and engagement photos that look REALLY similar? And if something says 2 hours, it would never cross my mind that the photog would stay longer if the line is long at city hall – I would assume you’d pay for that extra time.

            I’m just saying that it’s off-putting (for me, at least) as a customer to see things that seem quite similar have vastly different prices. Not having had a wedding before, or ever helped plan one, I don’t know what goes into them. It would be like seeing a cake website list wedding cake as hundreds of dollars more than party cake, without knowing that they include a free test cake and a gold souvenir fork with it.

            But yay to vendors who list prices at all, because I don’t even bookmark the ones that don’t have prices on their sites.

      • Class of 1980

        “If you want the portrait session rate, book a portrait session (in your wedding clothes), bam and done. But if you want someone to do the (actually pretty taxing) work of shooting your elopement, it’s only fair to pay for it!”

        You know what? A portrait session in your wedding clothes is a GREAT idea for people who don’t have a big photography budget!!! Why not get a few fantastic portraits and skip the candid shots?

        Covering an entire wedding is HARD and should be compensated. Multiple shooters have to constantly be in the right place at the right time, to capture the action over a span of hours!

        If you can’t afford that, just do what people did way back in history. Get a portrait done!

        • http://bettencourtchase.blogspot.com Helen

          We’ve had several couples do this, and we LOVE IT. It is so much fun!

        • Liz

          That’s what my grandparents did and their pictures are awesome and full of 40s goodness! It’s a great idea, and, you know, traditional.

    • http://www.amberwilkie.com AmberWilkie

      Sooo I’m a wedding photographer and I pretty much agree with you. I structure my own portraits as a smaller percentage of wedding coverage. So say my average wedding is 10 hours and average engagement is 2 hours, my engagement pricing is going to be around 2 hours at my normal hourly rate. Sure there are different (if not more difficult) skills involved with weddings vs. portraits, but I *already* have those skills. Two hours of my time is two hours of my time, and I personally price the same across the board. It irks me when others don’t…

      Also, I once heard a story about a wedding photographer who was booked for a portrait session but showed up and it was a whole wedding and they just wanted two hours of coverage. The deception is wrong wrong wrong (for many reasons, including a lower quality of pictures because of lack of anticipation/gear) but I do believe most photographers should not be that upset about such a thing.

      • meg

        Lady, you’re right about engagement pricing… but we’re talking about ELOPEMENT pricing, which is a different thing. And Maddie’s right. For most photographers, an elopement isn’t two hours (it’s way more, even if you think it’s going to be two hours), and it’s not even the same equipment! And engagement session… yes, easy!

        That said, I think lying to your photographer is pretty horrid, and frankly, pretty upsetting. The way most people prep for different kinds of shoots is pretty different. In my job, it’s like if someone told me to meet them to do a quick interview to give them a quote for a newspaper story, and then I showed up and they ACTUALLY wanted to shoot me to be on CNN. Are they both interviews? Well, yes. Would I be pissed and in the wrong headspace with the wrong stuff and do a shitty job versus what I could have done? Also yes.

        In short, our goal is to get vendors to be more honest and direct with you, an they ONLY way to deserve that is to be honest and direct with them. Want to know why their pricing is different on different things: ASK THEM. If they are worth their salt, they’ll be able to clearly articulate why. Getting a deal is great, but fairly compensating people for their work is equally important.

        • http://www.amberwilkie.com AmberWilkie

          I guess maybe it’s also that I set clear expectation for my clients. If they book me for two hours, they get two hours. And travel, etc. is the same as portrait sessions (if you’re far away, you have to pay for my travel time – unless it’s a “full” wedding). And I bring the same gear! For me and my pricing model, there is no difference.

    • http://theambershow.net Amber, theAmber Show (Amber Marlow Photography)

      I charge more for elopements.

      My first year of business, I did not, but they’re different than a normal portrait session, and in my second year of business, I bumped up the price of an elopement for the following reasons:

      1. Elopements at City Hall can take hours because of paperwork and waiting, etc. I am committed to not having my couples worry about “clock watching” when they are supposed to be quivering in the joy of being “about to get married”. A portrait session is an hour, every time, no need to clear my schedule for hours after. I can shoot engagement photos starting at three and be in the bar for happy hour by 5:30 guaranteed.

      2. I don’t breathe when I take photos at an elopement until it’s over. Really! At City Hall, the weddings themselves are three minutes long, and I want to get all the good stuff in the teeny bit of time I have. That’s a lot of pressure, and I’m sure my blood pressure is spiked.

      3. Portrait sessions are different. If I don’t like a shot, I can have you go back and do it again and again. Not so much when I want to get a photo of you putting a ring on it.

      • meg

        This is why, right here. From one of the kindest most talented ladies around.

      • http://elissarphotography.com Elissa

        I haven’t done any elopements so I couldn’t answer sufficiently in my initial response, but now that I give it more thought… um, yeah, I would probably sweat buckets while shooting an elopement! Good points :)

      • http://theambershow.net Amber, theAmber Show (Amber Marlow Photography)

        It just occurred to me that I charge more for boudoir sessions, too.

        Same thing: they’re way more work for me emotionally – I’m helping you feel comfortable naked.

        I also take a big longer with them (maybe half an hour extra or so), and editing is more involved.

  • katieprue

    I wish I’d read this post a year and a half ago! This advice is so concise and helpful to navigating the mystery-land that is researching wedding vendors. Don’t do what I did. My challenge came from being so flexible that I really had no idea what the hell I wanted and that made it difficult to start a focused and meaningful conversation with our vendors. Luckily, we were in the right place to meet with them in person so they could make suggestions.

    Also, the caterers that I looked at ages before I was even engaged because of their amazing website? They didn’t have pricing listed, but the first email I sent (AFTER engagement, for the record) they were on the ball and gave us tons of helpful information. Hired! Maybe it would save you time to write a fairly generic email so you can copy and paste like a mad woman, if there are really that many options. Even in our limited market, I got tired of writing email.after.email.after.email.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I had one e-mail for all the caterers. It put our date, time, approximate number of guests, venue, preference for buffet, allergies (a VERY long list), and budget with and without wine. I also included a couple foods we had to have. As I got in touch with more vendors, it got longer as I learned to anticipate more questions.

      I’ll do something similar for the rest of my wedding planning, and anything I do in life that’s a similar process. AND now if they insist I call, and ask me questions already carefully laid out in my e-mail: “You know, I don’t think you’re a good fit. Thank you for your time. Good-bye.”

    • Alexis

      ME TOO! This post is so helpful and necessary! Thank you, Liz and contributing APW staff!!!

      Booking vendors has by far been the most stressful part of planning our upcoming wedding… sounds a bit silly, but we felt rather alone and bewildered by the process of hiring all these people. We’re also planning at a distance which can definitely be a bit tricky when trying to coordinate with folks, but I agree that you don’t always have to meet with potential vendors (we booked our officiant before we were able to meet with him) as long as you are able to communicate with vendors sufficiently so you can get that ‘gut feeling’. That way you can make the decision to go for it or move on.

      Maddie’s tip about being up front with your budget is spot on. We had a particularly hard time finding a caterer when we realized after corresponding with several caterers over e-mail and meeting with one, that what we wanted to serve for food and what we wanted to spend on food were NEVER going to line up and that we’d have to reassess our expectations and what options were available to us. We also realized, though a bit late, that it is way more efficient to name a price you’re comfortable with as a starting point. That being said, being up front about your budget can be scary… especially in the beginning and especially when you fear rejection! Funny enough though, the caterer we’ve booked is actually one of the first we contacted and got a discouragingly expensive response from, but we followed up with a ‘look, this is what we can actually afford, do you have any menus in that range?’ e-mail and they were totally willing to work with us! And provide a tasting :D

      Good luck, Elfless! :)

  • http://www.greenandcarefree.com huebscher

    I found a breakthrough right about the time we stopped telling vendors we were planning a wedding, and started using the phrase “casual non-traditional wedding celebration,” or “non-Wedding wedding.” Either phrase seemed to help shift the conversation from standard ALL THE THINGS packages to what we needed/wanted. And if a vendor couldn’t grasp the concept, then they weren’t the right folks to work with. good luck!

  • Amy March

    Wedding planner. You don’t need to find all of your vendors from afar, just one practical wedding planner who will work with your budget.

  • LBD

    I’d add, if you find a vendor you really click with, they can also give you great recommendations for other vendors. We found our venue, and really liked the coordinator. She organized events at the museum all the time, so she had experience working with / hiring caterers for their events, so she gave us a good recommendation for a caterer, who also turned out to be awesome and well-priced, and really willing to work with us on our budget and needs. So, sometimes finding ONE practical vendor can put you in touch with a network of them!

    I mostly only met with one person for most of my vendors, but I had the luxury of planning a wedding locally, where I knew that if I didn’t click with the vendor, I could just meet with someone else next week. So, considering the limited time, I can understand the desire to schedule more than one vendor. If there are elements that you’re not so personally invested in (say, you’ve got to rent some things, but man, tables are tables, tents are tents, or maybe you don’t care much about the flowers but your mother or mother-in-law-to-be really does), can you delegate to local friends / family to do the vetting / legwork?

    We found most of our vendors via other vendors, Offbeat Bride / Offbeat Bride Tribe, or Yelp! Having good personal recommendations really helps make it so you’re more likely to get someone good on the first try.

  • http://www.stephaniecourt.com Stephanie

    As a wedding photographer, I think this is all fantastic advice (and I just shared it on my Facebook page to spread the lovely bits of wisdom!). Definitely trust your gut and get a contract! I completely agree with Maddie’s advice about pricing, too. I don’t believe in “hiding the ball” from potential clients and feel it’s very important for vendors (aka wedding elves and artisans) to be upfront regarding pricing and services. If you feel that that’s not the case or something just seems off, TRUST THAT FEELING! You won’t regret it.

  • Cass

    “Hi! We have this much money. What do you offer for that amount?” Totally works!

    But sometimes you still get the seedy vendor who says “Yes we can do that.” Then when contract-signing-time comes, they pull the rug out from under you, or try to pretend $1000 more than what you bargained for is no big deal.
    I found this to be the case with both the dress shop(!) and musicians.

    • Newtie

      I took this tactic, too (thanks, apw!), and found that for many vendors it didn’t really work. I had many vendors tell me “yes, definitely” and then quote me something very, very different. And then explain carefully why they couldn’t actually do what I needed for the budget we’d agreed on, which was totally fine — I don’t want to underpay anyone — but it was frustrating that I’d have lots of “yes” conversations and then at the very last minute they would turn into “yes + $1,500.”

      What I realized is that vendors must have many clients who either lie about their “real” budget and give a lowball number fully intending to come up, and/or they must have many clients who take the IT’S MY SPECIAL DAAAY! approach and are willing to go over their budget because “it only happens once” or something.

      So it didn’t make me angry (well, the first time it happened it kind of made me angry, but then when it kept happening over and over again I realized the vendors must be coming from a different experience), but I do wish I had found some way to convey “This REALLY IS my budget and I really CAN’T go over, and I really DO want to know what you can do for that much.” I thought just being direct and honest would do the trick, but I wonder if vendors encounter a lot of people who are using a “direct and honest” approach when they don’t, in fact, really mean the bottom line.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        When I said above I gave the caterers our budget, I should have said I gave the budget, less 20%. Maybe that makes me less than “direct and honest” but I was also anticipating the run-around Newtie got.

        Catering was especially tricky for us because the packages were hard to compare. Some included place settings; some didn’t. Some had separate labor charges; some didn’t. One caterer said not to tip.

        So I feel that saying “My catering budget is $X” is pretty ambiguous because of the way the wedding industry makes pricing so ambiguous.

  • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

    The advice on friendors is spot on, I think.

    Most of our vendors are also friends, or former coworkers of my fiance who just happen to own places that provide what we want/need for the weeding. Hair and makeup? My mom’s best friend. Reception venue? Fiance’s friends own it. Flowers? A coworker’s wife’s shop. And so on. I’m fully going in expecting (and wanting) to pay full price because I think they are amazing at what they do and want to support their businesses.

    And generally speaking, friends are super stoked when you choose to support their businesses with your wedding. It’s good mojo all around.

  • Jess

    If you’ve already booked your venue (and especially if you’ve “clicked” with your venue people) ask them for a vendor list. Once I talked to our venue manager about the “vision” my fiance and I had for our wedding, he referred us to a reasonably priced green-organic caterer, and an inexpensive DJ who installed the sound sytem at the venue. All of the vendors for our wedding are either suggested by our venue manger, APW, or people I met at the farmers market.

    • Liz

      Then, also, these vendors have already worked with your venue and know the ropes. It makes things a lot easier!

  • http://www.amberwilkie.com AmberWilkie

    As a wedding vendor, I have to say this is 100% spot on. I wish I could broadcast that I might offer a discount if you “work for it.” Sometimes the very most coolest weddings that would be a dream to photograph are weddings with people that can’t afford me. I literally have *never* had a couple write asking if they could get a discount because of X, Y, Z factor that might entice me. I do wish couples would try every now and then, even if most of the time the answer is going to be no. Doesn’t hurt to ask!

    I also totally, completely agree about crossing off folks that don’t list prices. But of course I’m biased because I am STRONGLY for up-front, easy-to-understand pricing.

    Super-fantastic guide! I am off to tweet this to everyone I know.

    • http://theambershow.net Amber, theAmber Show (Amber Marlow Photography)

      Yes!

      I’m shooting a wedding at a discount because it is something unusual I want in my portfolio. (It’s a barn wedding in July, and the couple – two ladies – are both wearing wedding dresses. They’re also friends.)

      • http://www.short-girl.com Fenn

        Same. I have a victorian wedding, complete with bustles and parasols and a day after shoot at the Renaissance Faire…DISCOUNTED!

  • Kara

    The best advice I got regarding my decisions about vendors and negotiating costs came from (a) my father, who noted that even though some of the smaller businesses we wanted to work with might cost more than we originally wanted to spend, we were investing in our community, and (b) from my salesman husband who noted that certain costs were likely “fixed” as part of a business’ baseline cost of doing business–and that it wasn’t helpful to negotiate every niggling detail.

    So…I (as the only local member of the whole wedding party), was honest about our budget with vendors, listened to what people could and couldn’t do for us with our budget, trusted my gut by picking people/vendors who were clearly willing to help us work within our budget, and didn’t try to negotiate everything. I also assumed that if someone (even someone I wanted to work with) seemed flakey or seemed like they might be blowing me off–they probably were. In the end, we had fewer people than we expected and were able to increase our budget with certain vendors (especially with the flower person!).

    • meg

      YES. Yes, yes, yes.

    • http://blog.halfacregoods.com Erin

      We took the same approach as your father recommended when planning our wedding. Once we decided to go with a venue by our home I made a point of hiring vendors in our town so that we could contribute to the local economy with our dollars. We were married in late 2010 but were engaged in 2009 as the big economic downturn hit (as well as lay-offs for many loved ones – including my husband) so we were very focused on supporting our local businesses in fear of losing some of them! This was the most money we’d spent on anything – other than our house – and we really wanted to make sure we spent it well.

  • http://www.KatesShortandSweets.com Kate

    hi Elfless,

    quick question: are you planning *from* Delaware or planning *for* Delaware?

    That’s where I grew up, and my man and I had a reception in Newark last fall (but not the wedding. Long story :) so if you need any local insight, I’d be glad to help if I can!

  • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

    We chose all our vendors long distance.

    I was familiar with the venue so we saw pictures of the room we used online and decided that way.

    Our photographer was a friend and I emailed and said this is what we’d like and this is what we’ve got to pay for it and we worked it out that way.

    And for the cake I went with the bakery that listed all their options on their site and didn’t have automatic music I had to turn off every time I visited (when you’re not paying attention in class because you are online researching wedding vendors, the last thing you want is automatic music on their site).

    I’m still a little upset I didn’t get to taste a whole bunch of cake because cake is awesome. But perhaps I’ll have another party with cake and do a tasting for that.

    • Class of 1980

      Web sites with automatic music – I actually refuse to do business with em. ;)

  • http://www.stitch-witch.net Christina McPants

    Here is my one piece of cautionary advice. Make sure you get a physical address for all your vendors. Our original photographer stopped answering all emails, deleted her facebook page and left her voicemail too full to leave messages five months before the wedding. We literally had no way of getting in contact with her. We managed to find the mailing address we sent our deposit to so we could send certified letters of our intention to sue if she didn’t return our deposit.

    Everything worked out (though we never actually got our deposit back but decided to let that go), but things like that happen and having a physical place to send something is still important.

    • meg

      YES. This also helps if you need to take people to small claims court. (Alas).

  • http://www.jandrfoods.com Rachel

    This is a really good guide yet I must argue that we don’t post prices on our website because what we do is completely customized to each couple and we try to work within their budgets if we can. We go back and forth constantly over whether or not to post our general pricing guide but for now have chosen not to so that people aren’t immediately scared off before realizing that we try to work within your budget. I can see the argument for posting prices and when I was planning my own wedding it so much easier if they were posted but I don’t think a bride or groom should immeidately shun that vendor if they aren’t posted at all.

    • Class of 1980

      That sounds reasonable, but it may be costing you customers that you’ll never know about. Anything that creates an obstacle or adds to the complexity of doing business with you isn’t in your best interest. Just look at all the comments here.

      You could put up some prices and still have a note that you do custom packages and can work with any budget. Try it and see if you get more response.

    • meg

      Post your pricing! Everyone understands working with budgets, and you can even say that you’ll work with people with smaller budgets. But it helps NO ONE if you’re not clear if your $2K or $20K. (Also, “working with people” means totally different things in those two different price ranges). While I’d never say bride and grooms (because! gender neutral!) I absolutely know that *couples* will ignore vendors without rates… or, be annoyed before they even talk to you. There is NO REASON to make clients work hard before you say go.

      My guidelines for sites:
      - Use gender neutral language
      - Post your baseline rates
      - TELL US WHERE YOU ARE LOCATED!

  • http://nycfaces.net NYC Faces Makeup Artist Anni Bruno

    Wowzers. This post really did hit every nail on the head. Brilliantly done.

  • CBaker

    Reading the comments has been almost as helpful as the article! I love the discussion about portrait vs. elopement sessions, I never would have understood the price discrepancy!

    Now someone please explain why a bakery would charge $250 for a 10 inch round cake with a 6 inch round cake on top (if it is a wedding cake) versus $85 for a 10 inch round cake with a 6 inch round cake on top (for a grooms cake). With exactly the same icing design, filling, cake, etc.

    Then everyone go call/text/email my mother and tell her it is completely appropriate for me to make my own cake!

    • meg

      That, I don’t know. It made me crizazy, and we ended up just using a local baker who told us “cakes were cakes” and they were always the same price.

      • CBaker

        That’s how I feel about cakes! They are ALL cakes! The first bakery I went to I asked how much it was (by size) and they insisted on only telling me prices based on number of guests and price per slice. As in, they refused to talk prices until I told them how many guests I had.

        Which completely doesn’t matter, because the cake is basically a prop at this point (serving brownies, gooey butter cake, and lemon poppy seed pound cake muffins as desert).

        • MC

          That is so frustrating. If you want a cake by size as a prop, instead of by number of guests as a dessert, they should be able to give you a cake by size (even if they’d rather sell you a larger one). It’s not like they don’t know how many inches their cakes are.

          • KatieBeth

            This is why I’m going with pie instead of cake…

      • MC

        I’ve never heard of wedding cake vs. groom’s cake pricing differentials, but as someone who does cakes recreationally, there is *so much more at stake* for wedding cakes than for party cakes. If a catastrophe happens, you feel terrible, and you have a 99% chance of someone having a complete meltdown at you for “ruining the wedding”. Vs. party cakes, where it’s almost always an option to just swap in a random bakery dessert and no one may ever know that a special cake was planned. (actually, this may be at the root of the groom’s cake pricing differential; if the groom’s cake is missing, people might not notice, whereas if the wedding cake goes wrong, people sometimes sue.)

        I would say it might be a bit like the elopement photography vs. portrait session in terms of you-have-one-chance-no-backups and in terms of skill/effort (wedding cakes get photographed; party cakes get eaten; the difference in required-frosting-smoothness and it-has-to-be-a-perfect-expression-of-our-love planning time and pressure and whatnot is enormous).

        So – some price difference might be appropriate, to account for the extra planning time, for the risk and extra materials involved (especially with tiered cakes! they are so hazardous to transport, especially if you make them from tasty cake instead of structural cake), and for dealing with stressed/grumpy people (all my friends have been incredibly awesome and non-grumpy, but I gather that this is not the normal case).

        That said, the size of the general price differential is ridiculous, and the idea that in order to have a wedding, you desperately need a photo-perfect giant tiered cake that is somehow a baked-goods-interpretive-dance-version of your relationship, is also ridiculous (my favoritest cakes to make are the interesting/challenging ones, but they’d also be the most expensive if I was charging for the hours or days that went into them, and if you don’t care, don’t pay for it!).

        Note: I would generally recommend that people not make their own wedding cakes, though, unless a) that is the only right-before-the-wedding DIY/DIT thing they’re doing, b) they have a solid plan including some backups if things go sideways (an aunt to frost the cakes if the butter hasn’t softened in time and you really need to get dressed, for instance), and c) they are fairly laid-back about the results. It’s just not a very can-do-in-advance sort of thing (except for baking the layers – some cakes do freeze successfully), and it’s not fun to add stress to the day before and day of your wedding.

  • CBaker

    Also, I’ll take this post as an opportunity for a shout out for the venue I’m using. Weston Gardens in Bloom, in the DFW area.

    They give you their price list, and include EVERYTHING in their price. Tables, chairs, linens, set up, take down, clean up, day of coordinator, unlimited visits for engagement/bridals/photography. They are an outdoor venue so they have lighting in the trees (included), spread mosquito deterrent before your wedding (included) and will move your tables and chairs around between the ceremony and reception (included). AND they are super nice, communicate quickly and well, and have a STONE PIRATE SHIP on site.

    They were the second venue we visited in person, and everything was so easy it was done. It’s really set the tone for how we choose our venders. Overcomplicated or weird rules? Nope. Uncommunicative or patronizing? Not a chance.

    • http://elissarphotography.com Elissa

      You should add this to the APW venue directory after your wedding! In case you haven’t thought of that already :)

  • MDBethann

    Unfortunately I didn’t get to read all of the comments because I’m leaving shortly for my rehearsal dinner. But as someone who has been reaching out to and confirming details with her awesome vendors for the last week or so, here are some quick tips from me, most of which echo what Liz said, but with some tips for planning from a distance (we live about 3 hours from our parents, which is where we are getting married).

    Because of the distance, we had to eliminate venues that required renting tents, tables, chairs, linens, dishes, glassware, etc. It’s a lot of coordinating and we didn’t have time for that. Instead, we ended up with an AWESOME venue – it’s a microbrewery that has a ballroom on an upper floor. The food is fantastic, the beer is great (and I’m not a beer drinker), and they are doing pretty much everything for me. If you can find a restaurant that has a big enough banquet room, I HIGHLY recommend that route if you can.

    When you pick your venue, ask if they have a list of preferred vendors or vendors they have worked with in the past – it helps with your hunt and makes coordination easier at the end because they’ve worked at the venue before. My DJ came up on both my venue’s list and on my photographer’s list.

    Ask friends and family for recommendations (or have your parents ask). My Aunt recommended my DJ as well. A cousin recommended the limo company (and another cousin gave a bad review of one we were considering, so that helped a lot too). My photographer was recommended by a friend.

    With photographers, check out their work online if you can, and then e-mail them for prices if you like their work. Granted, we did meet with our DJ and photographer to see if we got along well with them, and we did and both have been very responsive to our needs and questions. I found that most of the DJs and photographers I e-mailed were willing to send price sheets via e-mail. Most will likely be understanding of your situation.

    The cake, well, we set up a bunch of tasting appointments because we LOVE cake and were picky about it. But we happened to pick the best bakery in town for our first tasting, then cancelled the rest because the cake was exactly what we wanted.

    My florist is the florist my family has used for years and she’s awesome. And the greenhouse we purchased our favors from has a great reputation too and did a great job for us.

    The best thing about planning our wedding for me has been picking fantastic small businesses in eastern PA – we’re helping the local economy, we’re having a fairly “green” wedding (our venue composts food scraps, has solar panels, & uses the grain from the beer as animal feed!) and we’re doing it on a reasonable budget for the location and the number of guests (135).

    I wish you lots of luck planning your trans-Atlantic wedding. Enjoy the ride!!!

    • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.com/ Jenny- Adventures Along the Way

      I wish you an amazing wedding weekend!

      • MDBethann

        Thank you!!

  • suzanna

    Great advice all around. I would add from my own experience: if it took more than, say, 5 emails to explain what we wanted and to hear back as to whether or not the vendor could do it, I dropped them.

    If I’m paying you to perform a task for me, you can either do it or you can’t. It’s a huge red flag when a vendor keeps a conversation going, when really they just can’t perform but are hoping to somehow figure out some way to pull it off.

    I found myself, in these situations, saying to myself, “You’re the professional! You’re supposed to tell ME what’s possible! You’re supposed to lay out your ideas and options for me, not the other way around!” Those were the only times I felt like a bridezilla. There are a lot of kooks out there, and they can make you feel kooky.

  • http://blog.halfacregoods.com Erin

    We found one strategy that made it easier to narrow our pool of vendors/venues was to present our non-negotiable items up front and see if they could accomodate. For instance, it was a non-negotiable that they be 100% wheelchair accessible, the boy’s grandmother was wheelchair bound and her attendance was not optional! Another non-negotiable for us was being able to serve our own home brew liquor. In our cursory emails for venues we would ask for more pricing as needed and whether they were wheelchair accessible. I would ask about the home brew on the phone or in person because that tended to go over better (we’d get a more favourable response!) when asked in the course of a conversation. It really helped us figure out which venues we could really work with.

    Also, as others have noted, if you book one vendor you feel really comfortable with, you should absolutely bend their ear about vendors for other tasks. Our photographer was immensely helpful in recommending other vendors to us and we ended up finding our amazing venue through him. :)

    One of my favorite things about our venue was that I was able to download their entire catering menu from their website and price out the cost of a luncheon before we even met with them. It allowed me to get a good idea of the overall cost and allowed me to be more informed and direct in my initial email. We really did tend to shy from vendors who didn’t list prices because I’d also grown up with the same adage as Meg – if you have to ask, you can’t afford it!

    As a side note to photographers, it would be awesome if music didn’t automatically play from your sites. There is nothing more horrific sounding than the sound of 7-10 open tabs with different music playing on each one – quite the cacophony.

    • meg

      YES! Our non-negotiable with photographers is that they give us high-res images (this was done less in 2008 when we were booking than it is now). I lead with that, and let people bow out. Though oddly, once I said non-negotiable (and that I’d pay more for it) some people changed their tune, because they wanted to work with us. But clear and upfront is SO IMPORTANT.

  • http://www.short-girl.com Fenn

    I wanted to add…

    I have been working with APW customers all spring for their summer weddings, and I’m so excited! And seriously? ALL of them have been from farther away. So, I’m in NEOhio, and they have been in West Virginia, Chicago, California, and even SINGAPORE!

    I agree that you don’t have to meet EVERY vendor, but I am super picky about customer service. So, I like to have some dialogue with my wedding couples…and I think, if I were planning a wedding, I’d like to have some sort of connection with my vendors. It would annoy me if I showed up from far away to a douchey vendor.

    I offer phone calls, Skype, and chat to all of my clients…and it has worked beautifully! I am photographing at least five weddings this year where I will not be able to meet my clients ’til the day of, or the week before. But I have used the internet (or my phone) to chat with my brides in real time. It’s been great, and I do feel like I’ve gotten to know them.

    I would ask your vendor if they are available for a phone call or to chat. They should be. Even if it means that I had to stay up late or get up early (like I would’ve done for my Singapore bride…but she stayed up late on her end instead), I’d rather talk to my potential clients. I mean, we have the technology, why not utilize it?

    I for one would have NO PROBLEM getting up at 5a or staying up ’til midnight, in order to chat online or on the phone with a potential client. That’s just good customer service…and it’s nice and accommodating, which I like to be.

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  • http://www.banecostume.net Crystal Cavanaugh

    Thank you ever so for you article post.Really thank you! Great.

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