Ask Team Practical: Picking a Vendor by Alyssa Mooney Ohhhhh… Fridays. I get to read Alyssa’s Ask Team Practical posts mid-week, and when I do, it’s like a little vacation (where I high-five myself for hiring such awesome people). So I hope Fridays feel like a mini-vacation for y’all. Because seriously. Today we’re talking about a question so enormous I don’t know how we haven’t tackled it ages ago: How to Pick a Vendor. And somehow, as practical as this post is, Alyssa and question-asker Sarah made me crack up, all the way through. So here we go ladies: how to think about picking a vendor (hint: it helps to go with your gut). Today we bring you Sarah, who has a great question I’m not sure exactly what my question is, but I need some serious advice and a healthy dose of sane. Turns out this wedding planning bit can be stressful, no? Okay, first the good & important stuff: I am marrying a guy named Amos, I like him, he likes me, and we’re totally stoked on this who-we’re-getting-married-to business. The planning-to-get-married is a little more stressful than we originally anticipated. As of last night, we have a pretty-solid potential venue, and it’s even within our budget. By budget, I mean we had to SWAG a budget, so we’re kind of flying blind and making it up as we go along. (*SWAG = seriously wild a** guess. I think that what it’s called when you Google ‘how much does a DJ cost?’ ‘how much does a live band cost?’) So we have a cool venue, and I do like the people who run it. But they haven’t done many weddings before, so we’re forging a new trail. Which you think is exciting, until you get in the damn thing and can’t see the forest for the trees. We’re going to have to rely on our caterer a lot here, and that’s why I’m writing you all. How do I know what’s a reasonable fee? How do I know what questions to ask? How do I know what I need and don’t need (until a week ago, I never even thought or renting linens. Oooh, that’s how the tables have those pretty white things draped over them!) And, perhaps most importantly, how do I know when one is good? I wish the good guys – the ones who use local and sustainable ingredients, who pay their servers and staffs fair wages, who reinvest money into the community, who don’t want to rip us off, upon whom we can trust to do a great job and think of things we didn’t – had halos. Because I’m on website after website and so terrified we are going to get into a situation where we will end up with a bigger bill than we thought, or we won’t have things we need (wait, who was supposed to rent the microphone for the ceremony?) and be tots stressed… and broke… and <enter awful fantasy here.> I know, we should start talking to people, but how do you even find the ones to speak with? Wait, wait, I got my question: How do I pick a good vendor? You pick a vendor like you’d pick any other kind of vendor. Sure, you’ve never thrown a wedding before, but chances are you’ve made other big life decisions. You’ve picked a place to live, a cell phone provider, hired someone to fix your car, and you’ve probably done that with minimal levels of anxiety. To help eliminate your current feeling of helplessness and “OMG, what if they suck?!?” try approaching finding your wedding vendors with the same pragmatism that you would any other service. By figuring out what you want, doing your research and then going with the best price (with a little help from your gut), it will lower the stakes for you. So where to start? How about just asking your friends and family? The best way to find out if you can trust someone is to speak to people YOU know and trust to gauge their opinion. If someone you know has used a vendor that you might need, and you like how their end product turned out, find out who did the work for them. Notice that I’m not specifically saying ask people who’ve gotten married or engaged recently. Sure, your newlywed coworker is a great resource, but so is the uncle who just had his retirement party catered by a local restaurant or the neighbor who gets yearly family photos. The vendors that did those events might do weddings also. Remember, think in terms of “I need XYZ done” rather than, “I’m getting MARRIED.” You’ll be able to step back and widen your options just a little bit. But, be careful with engaging others’ opinions; people get a little excited to help and will all but sign the contract for you with their vendor if they liked them. (I got married over a year ago and I still have business cards of my photographer in my wallet; and when I didn’t have my purse on me during a recommendation, I grabbed my friend’s phone and put in my photographer’s website into her favorites. What? I really like her.)Just get the name and information first, and if after you’ve checked them out and think they might work, buy your friend a coffee and then pick their brain a bit. Find out what they thought of the vendor’s personality or if there wasn’t anything they didn’t like about them. People tend to forget things and it could be that while Aunt Linda loved the catering from that place down the street, she may have forgotten how she had problems setting up a tasting or that they were late to the event. After getting some rec’s from friends and family, start looking on blogs and websites that you trust. (*AHEM*) Start with APW’s blog-roll and go from there. Look on the Offbeat Bride Tribe’s forums and find the group for your area and stalk the member’s posts. Someone may have already asked for an amazing caterer who can do a vegan barbeque extravaganza. If not, post the question yourself. And don’t think that just because you’re not in a major metro area that you are out of luck. If the previous ideas don’t pan out, look at local city forums that are not specifically wedding oriented. Google your city and state plus “discussion board” or “forum” to find specific message groups. It’s at this point where you’ll start to see about how much you might have to spend. Let’s talk about that for a sec. There are so many varying opinions of reasonable fees that we’re not even going to discuss hard numbers. A cheap wedding in Chicago is going to be different than a cheap wedding in Pensacola. And there’s the factor of personality. Someone who can afford a high-dollar vendor still might scoff at the idea of paying that much, while someone with a lower budget will be willing to pay the big bucks because it’s something they desperately want for their wedding. Honestly, a reasonable fee is one that: A) fits in your budget B) is within the range of other vendors in that area with comparable services C) is a price you are comfortable with. If you have all three, even if two of them are stronger than the third, you’ve got a reasonable fee. Do not entertain ideas about venues or vendors that will not fit in your budget. My mother tells the story of how when I asked for something, she’d say, “Do you want that, or do you need it?” And I’d reply, “I NEEEEEEEEED IT….” Don’t be a dramatic baby Alyssa, however adorable and endearing I was. Repeat after me: “I do not need something that I cannot afford.”* My lovely little baby brides, you have a budget for a reason. I’m sure the wedding you might have thrown with the horse-drawn carriages in the renovated monastery would have been PERFECT. But that’s not the wedding that you’re having. You’re having a wedding that fits in your budget, so say goodbye to the pretty horsies and get over it. And I say that with love in my heart. Once you start narrowing down choices, start checking out the vendor’s specifics. How’s their Better Business Bureau rating? (Editors note from Meg: Check this. No joke. I went to a bridal shop once that had not one but FOUR complaints against them with the BBB. What? Awesome.) What about on other rating sites? Remember, people tend to rate a service when they are mad more often than when they are pleased; but if a vendor has scads of bad reviews over a significant period, proceed with caution. This is also when you need to start checking out the vendors’ own websites. Don’t get bowed over by fancy graphics, but make sure that it’s been updated recently and at least looks in this decade (Editors note from Meg: Exceptions are made for the friend of your great granny who makes amazing tamales out of her kitchen. She does not need a website at all). This is also where you need to use your own personal level of judgment. (I had a hard fast rule that if a wedding vendor had automatic music playing on their splash page, with no easy way to mute it, they went in the “Aw, HELL nah!” pile.) One of the great things about the proliferation of blogging and social media is that most vendors will have a blog or Twitter/Facebook. Look at those too, they will give you an idea of what type of person the vendor is. Read their “About” section and see what their mission and values are when it comes to their work. If they have major core values that might conflict with yours, you’re probably not going to want them to work for your for your wedding. What a vendor puts up on their site is what they are using for marketing purposes and should be their very best work. When picking our photographer, I contacted a pretty good amount of people, but the one that stuck out in my mind was the photographer who’s front page had a portrait-shot of a bride with pink hair and awesome tattoos, lying in a laundry cart in front of a dryer at a laundromat. It wasn’t perfect, but it was quirky, real and exactly the kind of person I was looking for. If a vendor’s website doesn’t make you go, “Ooo…” at least once, keep looking. If you don’t like the look of their best, you shouldn’t waste your time. I’m not going to give you a list of questions to ask a vendor because that’s a pretty personal list. There are scores of “What to Ask Your Wedding _______” out there. Check out a few of them and cobble together your own list, with questions regarding your specific needs thrown in there. When you finally decide to contact a vendor, be friendly. Yes, being professional is first and foremost, but I’m sure being friendly is something that will be appreciated. Maybe they’ll cut you a deal because you’re so danged adorable. But lastly, and probably most importantly, use your gut. If something about them rankles, it’s probably not going to get better. And if something about them is amazing, you might feel it. You’re going to want a vendor who is professional and will do a good job, but also someone you’ll want to be doing business with in a very stressful period in your life. In the case of a photographer, this person will be all up in your face on your wedding day. You’re going to want to like them, great rates or not. You might even want to really like them (that’s part of how we pick APW Vendors), but that part is really up to you. So APW ladies (and men! There’s at least four of you out there…) how did you go about picking your vendors? Wedding vendor peeps, this is your time to share! Are there any specific tips or tricks you can offer our brides? *This should apply to life and not just wedding planning, but my own credit card balances tell tales on me. Alyssa Mooney Emeritus Staff Alyssa received a BA in Theatre and a minor in Gender Studies from Stephen F. Austin State University. She lives in Dallas, Texas, with her adorably red-neck husband, Maggie the Wonder Dog, and sassy baby Tater.