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How to become a wedding planner or start a wedding business

Starting a wedding business whether wedding planning or wedding hire can be a lucrative enterprise: here's our step-by-step guide to help

The key steps in learning how to become a wedding planner are:

Many people come into the wedding business having planned their own wedding beforehand and caught the bug – but this is by no means a prerequisite for starting up. In fact, whilst you may have organised an unforgettable ceremony for yourself, you should be aware that planning weddings for multiple people at once, dealing with disparate demands from multiple brides, grooms and suppliers, is a whole different story.

Wedding business ideas

Decide first what type of wedding business you want to focus on: will you be starting a wedding business as a wedding planner, do you want to start a wedding hire company renting out chair covers and sashes, or do you want to focus on stationery, bands (read more on that in our guide to starting an entertainment management company) or cars (more on car rental guide)?

In general, Startups members advise starting a wedding business focusing on one aspect, and then moving onto including other things once the business starts to grow. In addition, Startups member Kristian says “My mother has been working as a self employed, wedding hire company for around 10 years now, and the main way I would advise to start is by trying to find another wedding hire company and work one day e.g. setting up the chair covers and table cloths. This would give you an insight of how things work within this sector.”

What does becoming a wedding planner involve and who is it suited to?

A mix of an organiser, troubleshooter, designer, diplomat and much more, a wedding planner’s precise role is difficult to define. Your job will be to help couples organise the wedding day of their dreams, which means calling a rich mix of skills into play.

What you can be sure of is it is a growing industry. Ubiquitous in the USA, more and more brides in the UK are also seeking the assistance of wedding planners as services become ever more complex and their free time becomes increasingly scarce. A recent poll conducted by You and Your Wedding found that 11% of brides would consider hiring a planner to help with the process; with around 240,000 marriages taking place in the UK each year, it is a large and potentially lucrative target market.

“You need to be very organised,” explains Bernadette Chapman, director of the UK Alliance of Wedding Planners and founder of her own wedding planner business, Dream Occasions. “I’ve regularly had situations where two brides with the exact same name want a very similar wedding, around the same time of year – it can be difficult to keep track!”

Indeed, whilst event planning experience is always good preparation for becoming a wedding planner, Chapman believes that experience of an office environment is even more beneficial. “I would say 80% of the job is administrative – only a very small percentage of the job is creativity,” she explains. “PAs and secretaries, in particular, make very good wedding planners.”

Key to this is the ability to think on your feet. Weddings are often huge, complex events, and whether it is a traffic jam on the M25, poor weather, or a supplier not turning up, things will inevitably go wrong. “You need to be very logical, and have a plan B at all times,” says Chapman.

And whilst administrative and organisational skills are key, just as important is the ability to connect with people on a human level. Weddings are a stressful time, and the ability to put people at their ease and allowing them to trust you will be a vital skill. “You will have to be a mix of a new best friend, councillor and PA to the brides you work with – sometimes all three at once,” explains Chapman. “You will also take on a diplomatic role at times, as there is normally some private information you need to take into account when working out arrangements for the wedding – perhaps the bride’s father is an alcoholic, or there is bad blood between certain members of a family.”

Not only will you be dealing with an exacting bride, you will have to negotiate and build relationships with a huge range of suppliers, including photographers, venue owners and florists, so it pays to have networking experience and a level of commercial acumen. “Communication is incredibly important – personally, I believe it’s the key skill,” argues Andrea Swift, regional director for the UKAWP and founder of Cheshire-based planning business Fabulous Day. “Ultimately, planning a wedding is a team effort between you, the suppliers, the venue and the bride. You need to be confident – you will often have to give people instructions who you have never met before.”

Whilst wedding planners are popularly viewed as female, Chapman says she has seen an increasing percentage of male wedding planners setting up in the last few years – so if you’re a man reading this, by no means rule it out. “The grooms are traditionally left out of the planning process, so finding a niche like that could prove to be really valuable.”

As you will see in our ‘earnings’ section, becoming a wedding planner is no route to riches; the first couple of years will be particularly difficult, and because they are traditionally one-person ventures, you are always limited in the work you can take on.

The real rewards lie elsewhere; it is an especially flexible venture which you can fit around other commitments, and you get the chance to be intimately involved in what is the high point of many peoples’ lives.

“My passion is weddings – I was excited about the industry from the offset,” explains Andrea Swift. “Weddings mean such a lot to people. You really feel privileged to facilitate what is always a special day.”

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Creating a wedding planner business plan

Proper planning is essential when starting any business, but doubly so when starting a wedding planning business, as the amount of work available will change dramatically with the time of year.

Most people in the UK tend to get married between the months of May and September, when the weather is better, so you will be doing the majority of your actual planning during that time. Between October and April, you should look at how to focus on securing new contracts and work on the logistics of your business. “It’s not actually that quiet during the winter months,” Andrea Swift explains. “You will be meeting new clients, visiting venues, and securing suppliers – it’s best to do this now, rather than in the peak season when they will all be booked up.”

Because it is a seasonal business, your earnings are likely to fluctuate. Proper financial planning is, therefore, essential. Chapman advocates working out a monthly salary for yourself, rather than just taking money from the business at will. Keep it modest initially, and give yourself a pay rise only when you can comfortably afford it. “You need to make sure you're putting away enough money for tax and when times are a bit leaner,” Chapman explains. “I know some planners who just spend the money they get from a contract without any thought of the future – it's not a smart tactic.”

One key advantage of starting a wedding planner business is the low start-up cost. You don’t need office space, specialist vehicles or employees to get started and aside from any marketing spend your initial outlay should be very low.

Your initial costs should be limited to:

  • A computer (if you don’t already have one)
  • A printer/scanner
  • A business telephone line
  • Web design costs
  • Business cards
  • Professional indemnity insurance

Overall, according to Chapman, start-up costs shouldn’t be more than around £6,000, and can even be as low as £1,000 if you already have the required IT equipment.

Pricing your wedding planning services

You also need to work out how you will charge your clients, which will depend on what kind of service you plan to offer. If your plan is to secure ‘full' planning contracts, where you oversee the entire process from start to finish, generally you would charge a percentage of the entire budget of the wedding (typically 10-15%), subject to a minimum fee. “If you have a minimum charge of, say, £3,000, this protects you from being left high and dry if a client only spends £10,000 on a wedding that takes months to plan,” advises Chapman.

The other option you have is to offer partial planning packages to clients. ‘Final eight weeks' packages are particularly popular with brides; in these the couple takes care of planning the wedding until the final run-up, when a wedding planner would come up in and finalise suppliers and logistics so the couple can concentrate on other things. ‘On the day’ planning is also common – your role would be to oversee and troubleshoot any issues on the wedding day itself. “With the time-limited planning contracts, you should tailor it to what the client needs – each contract is different,” explains Andrea Swift. “I charge upwards of £500 for on-the-day planning.”

The first couple of years as a planner are likely to be difficult. It is a congested market, and you will have to work hard to make a name for yourself. Swift recommends building up a portfolio of partial planning contracts initially, moving on to the more lucrative full planning services when you have a strong word-of-mouth reputation. “You have to motivate yourself through the days when it’s just not working,” she says. “There is obviously no real repeat business, so putting yourself out there and making a name for yourself is crucial.”

When starting a wedding planning business, you will need to build up a comprehensive list of suppliers. These might include florists, caterers, photographers, venues, marquees, bands, and other events companies, but could conceivably cover almost any service, depending on what the bride wants. You will need to cast your net wide to find suppliers initially – your search should take in web searches, social media, recommendations and wedding fairs in an attempt to build a complete picture. “Talk to wedding venues, as they will normally have a list of recommended suppliers they use,” advises Chapman.

When you have done your research, whittle your list down to just a few potential suppliers per service, taking into account price, quality, and whether they would fit your wedding planner business’ image. “You can’t put forward a choice of 10 photographers to a client,” Chapman explains. “Once you’ve chosen the people you want to work with, and vetted them, you should stop there.”

Going forward, refine your list of suppliers by listening to client feedback and monitoring their price competitiveness and level of quality closely. “I review my suppliers every year,” says Chapman. “It’s sometimes sad, because a supplier you have a close relationship with might suddenly put out below-par work, and you have to stop using them – but it all comes down to what’s best for your clients.”

The multi-faceted nature of the work means you need to keep a close eye on your work-life balance as the job can easily eat into your free time. You are likely to work long hours, meeting clients when they are free on the evenings and weekends, so set aside holiday time well in advance and make sure your schedule is free – this might mean turning down offers of work.

Wedding planning courses, qualifications and training

Wedding planners are unregulated, and you don’t need any kind of certificate or even experience to set up in business.

Whilst numerous online courses claim to make you into a ‘certified’ wedding planner, these certifications are not officially recognised in any way, so you should be wary of any providers making such promises.

If you are starting a wedding planning business with no prior experience of planning or organisation, you could consider specialist wedding planner training. “If you’ve started a business before, or have a background in events, a course might not be necessary,” says Chapman. “Normally, though, someone with no prior experience should do a course.”

Your options include:

In general, you should not run into too much bureaucracy when becoming a wedding planner, aside from the organisation of the wedding itself. Generally, how the ceremony itself is conducted is the bride and groom’s territory, not yours, especially when it comes to religious services. “A vicar or priest won’t speak to you as a wedding planner – the couple will have to go directly to them,” explains Chapman. “You might help them with the background stuff like music, readings or order of service, however.

Wedding planning insurance

Even if you're based at home, you'll need to be properly insured – explore the insurance you may need as a home-based business here.

As is the case with most self-employed service businesses, you should take out professional indemnity insurance in order to protect your business from a claim if something goes wrong. Always shop around and read the terms carefully before committing to a quote.

Wedding planner earnings

When it comes to potential earnings, the situation varies wildly – there is a disparity between different regions of the country, and your earning potential depends on the type of weddings you organise and your fee structure.

Wherever you are based, you are likely to start off with very modest earnings as you look to secure those crucial first few contracts, with your revenues steadily increasing as your reputation grows.

“Expect to earn little or nothing for the first few years,” advises Melanie Kiani, founder of Dorset-based planner Bellissimo Weddings. “After that it can really vary depending on how many weddings you take on and if you are working full-time; you could be looking at something in the region of £20,000 to £30,000 if you are lucky.”

“I would say a planner in the north of England could eventually earn £20,000 to £25,000, but not initially,” Swift chimes in. “It’s certainly not a get-rich-quick scheme. You do it because you love it.”

Unlike some other businesses, your earnings are likely to hit a ceiling. How much you can earn as a sole wedding planner is eventually capped by the amount of time you have. You will not have the capacity to take on many more than eight full planning contracts per year working on your own, so bear this in mind when making financial projections.

Building a brand

How well you market and present yourself will be the single most important factor in your success as a wedding planner.

Key to standing out from the competition is developing an identifiable brand. Setting up as a one-size-fits-all wedding planner will see you lost in the crowd; you need to pick a niche, and stick to it. “You are your brand,” explains Chapman. “Are you a quiet person? Or a vibrant partygoer? Generally speaking, who you are is the kind of person you will attract.”

Explaining further, Chapman says most of her clients using her Essex-based wedding planner business are “multiple dogs, thoroughbred horses, wellies in a field types of people”, which she says reflects her own lifestyle and values. “When you realise who you are as a person, that’s when you can develop your brand.”

Building a good website is a key part of this; it will form the basis of potential clients' first impressions.  You don't necessarily have to build an all-singing, all-dancing page with interactive HTLM5 video, but you need to ensure that it is well-designed, reflects your brand – and crucially, works like it is supposed to. “Your website should reflect your USP [unique selling point],” explains Swift. “My style is elegant and understated weddings, as opposed to ostentatious bling, so I made sure the designers reflected this in the layout of my site.”

It will normally pay to hire a web designer to build your website for you. Services will generally cost in the region of £300-£500, and whilst this is a significant upfront expense, it should pay dividends in the long run. Shop around before committing to a designer, as you will find significant disparity between quotes.

If you are a member of a professional planner organization such as the UKAWP, this can also help when looking to stand out from the crowd. “Many venues and suppliers have had poor experiences with underprepared, amateur wedding planners in the past, and they will be wary of working with you,” says Swift. “You need to prove you are serious and not like the others – UKAWP certification definitely helps put them at their ease.”

Marketing your business

Developing a strong social media voice is also important. Weddings are highly personal occasions and if prospective clients feel they know you as a person through social media, it will reinforce your brand and help to secure those crucial first few contracts.

In addition to the mainstays of Facebook and Twitter, ‘visual discovery tool’ Pinterest has seen a massive surge in interest amongst brides-to-be over the past year, and you should capitalise on this by making it a key part of your social media strategy. Pinterest allows users to create virtual ‘boards’ of images centred around a particular theme and share this with their friends, making the service perfect for comparing ideas when planning a wedding.

“Pinterest works for a number of reasons,” explains Chapman. “Firstly, all the brides seem to be using it – as a planner, that helps me, because I can keep an eye on their board and see what kind of wedding they want. Secondly, it helps when dealing with suppliers. Instead of trying to describe an item or theme, I can simply forward the Pinterest page on to them. Finally, you can use your own Pinterest page to reinforce your own brand. I specialise in marquee weddings, and most of the pictures I ‘pin’ myself reflect the kind of weddings I try to do – so lots of dogs, marquees and lighting boards.”

Wedding planner useful contacts
These links should provide you with more information on how to become a wedding planner, including where to book training courses.

The UK Alliance of Wedding Planners is a body founded to promote professionalism in wedding planning. You have to be vetted and adhere to a set of standards – including not taking commission – in order to be a member. The body also operates training courses and specialised networking events for its members.

Hitched is an online wedding publication that can help you find suppliers and venues, as well as provide wedding planners with inspiration for different types of wedding.

The National Association of Professional Wedding Services is a UK-wide directory of wedding services, and contains links to approved suppliers, venues and wedding planner training courses.

The National Careers Service page on how to start a wedding planner business contains a useful, if brief, run-down on what to expect as a planner.

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