Have you ever thrown a party? Do you remember all the little things that went into just making your house presentable, the food acceptable, and the liquor adequate? Well, multiply all of these things by 1,000 and you have an idea of what wedding consultants deal with: It is a high-stress profession. Wedding consultants are often specialized off-shoots of professional party planners, the folks who organize high-profile charity benefits, entertainment industry parties, debutante balls, and lower key, but just as logistically complicated events like charity dance-a-thons. Organization is a wedding consultant's primary skill, but they must also have exceptional people skills, since they will be dealing with two families who are acting crazier than usual. In addition to their interpersonal skills, the wedding consultant must possess impressive negotiating and business skills to haggle with the numerous vendors he depends on to supply flowers, music, food, and so forth. Wedding consultants must also have professional relationships with photographers, hotel and restaurant managers, calligraphers, musicians, and videographers.
A wedding consultant deals with vendors on a continuing basis and, because of this, she often receives discounts from suppliers that she can pass on to her clients. Part of the reason clients hire consultants is to save money, and most consultants are quick to point out that they should be viewed as part of the wedding budget, not an extra expense, since their connections will hopefully cut wedding costs rather than increase them. Wedding consultants are also trouble-shooters, helping their clients avoid cost overruns and planning mistakes, and providing emergency assistance in the event that there are last-minute guests or cancellations of services.
Wedding planners are only as involved as their clients want them to be. Some get hired specifically to deal with the reception, and that includes hours of work booking a space, selecting the caterer, finding the appropriate musical talent or DJs, and negotiating the bill with all parties involved. Other times, wedding consultants work with their clients for nearly a year, getting involved in all aspects of planning the big day, from assisting in the choice of the bride's gown and the design of the pew cards to selecting just who will be supplying the puffed pastries for the reception. This means that wedding consultants must offer myriad options to their clients concerning gift suggestions, floral arrangements, transportation sources, and reception locations.
Wedding consultants generally charge about 15 percent of the cost of the wedding. Some charge an hourly rate or fixed fee, or some combination of these. Still others charge nothing because they can earn a healthy income from supplier commissions. Depending on the size of the wedding, income can be quite high. The average wedding today costs $20,000- at 15 percent that's a $3,000 commission. Wedding consultants who organize just two $20,000 weddings a month, earn more than $75,000 a year.
The variety of work within this career makes for a profession that is difficult to track and assign statistics to. Most wedding consultants are self-employed, and work as many or as few hours as they choose, depending on how much income they want to earn. So, salary and hourly statistics are impossible to come by.
There are no set educational dues in this profession. However, business professionals and MBAs are at an advantage, because organizational and financial skills are a must. However, experience pays off more than anything in this profession. A solid reputation and connections to vendors and suppliers are crucial. Wedding consultants couldn't perform their jobs without these key elements.
Many wedding planners have gravitated to the profession by finding that other work experience has given them a decided advantage. "I worked as a travel agent and in the Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau," says Susan Southerland, owner and president of Just Marry!, Inc. "I turned my travel and event planning know-how into a full-time profession by starting Just Marry! in 1992." Susan put a special spin on her wedding consulting by using her travel background to plan destination weddings for clients. Her company has planned weddings ranging in budgets from $600 to $80,000 and served clients from as far away as Japan.
As mentioned above, many wedding consultants enter the profession from other related professions, and experienced wedding consultants can cross over into other careers in the same manner. Special event coordinators, who are found in industries ranging from entertainment to publishing, and even in government (who do you think organizes presidential balls?), are closely related to wedding consultants and deal with many of the same logistical and budgetary issues. Special event coordinators arrange everything from book signings for authors to fundraisers for organizations like Gay Men's Health Crisis.