THE BLOG

How to Become a Professional Wedding Planner

03/04/2014 11:11 am 11:11:25 | Updated May 04, 2014

Everybody wants to be a wedding planner. Okay, maybe not EVERYBODY, but a ridiculously large number of young women (and some young men) want to learn how to be professional event planners when they grow up. You can even major in Event Planning at some real universities now! Not to mention the hundreds of useless Wedding Planner certification courses offered by for-profit trade groups all over the United States.

First off, let me tell you that a degree in Communications or Public Relations or Business will serve you far, far better in the event planning field than any bullshit certification that says you know how to plan weddings without any practical experience.

There are more reasons NOT to major in event planning than in support of it. If you suck as an event planner, you have that better degree to use in another way. If you're good at it, you're going to need STRONG communications skills -- both written and verbal -- to be good at your job. Every wedding is like another small business to play with -- budgets, invoices, vendors, contracts and subcontracts -- a Business degree would come in handy. But spending actual dollars to get a piece of paper that says you know how to plan weddings is A HUGE WASTE OF MONEY and shame on my industry colleagues who even suggest that such a certification is a ticket to a successful career in this business.

My former interns who have come to Vieques with such certifications told me how useless they were in the real wedding planning experience. I was really curious and I've grilled them about it, and I can tell you unquestionably that none of them would go through a certification course again in lieu of actually putting in time interning for a real wedding planning company. Unpaid, if necessary. Because the practical knowledge you gain when you're working on real weddings, dealing with real brides, coordinating real vendors, and executing flawless events week after week while keeping the paperwork straight on the back end and maintaining all your other planning clients, cannot be taught in the classroom or on the Internet. You have to learn it the hard way.

So how do you break into this business then? Hard work. If you're an undergrad or a recent grad, go for internships. Apply everywhere. Send well-written cover letters and resumes that are relevant (the artsy stuff so popular now is cute but when I can't figure out where you graduated from or where you live, what's the point?), and look outside the box as well.

By "outside the box," I mean you can also go to major hotels known for fabulous weddings and look for an internship in their banquet/event planning divisions. Don't just apply to wedding planning companies -- there aren't THAT many and there are a LOT of you applying. Don't be afraid to approach a business to ask if they offer internships -- BUT, do your homework first and make sure you're not calling and bugging them about info they've already got posted on their websites.

So the first thing you need is experience -- and if you can't get an internship or you're an older person looking for a career switch, the question becomes how do you get that experience? The answer is that you can start planning, gratis, events for your friends and family. Take pictures, build your website, and make sure they understand that you're treating them as "clients" and may need them for genuine referrals if you do a good job.

If you have to maintain a full-time job while you're gaining experience, try volunteering your time as an intern at a reputable company. Talk to whomever handles their HR and explain your situation. Worst they can do is say no, right? You need to get your foot in the door and learn how actual weddings and other special events are planned. It's not something you can study in a book. It's not enough to have some stupid schedule of what should be planned how many months out because, let's face it, it's different everywhere you plan a wedding. With the popularity of destination wedding planning, those generic planning schedules have become even more irrelevant.

Apply for entry-level positions at event planning firms and big public relations firms also known for their events. Learning how to run a press conference requires some of the same skills as running a wedding rehearsal -- no lie! I'm telling you I've done both and I'd rather yell at reporters. Anything that gives you experience building events from scratch and learning client management will give you a leg up, whether you decide to go out on your own or join a wedding planning company.

A few things that I'm completely serious about because I see a lot of young women who truly want to be wedding planners come down here and really struggle with this next one. You MUST be an EXTROVERT to become a successful wedding planner. You have to be able to chat with anyone about anything, and initiate conversations with strangers. You should be the one leading the conversation, not following it. If you can't do that... If the thought of hugging drunk relatives effusively thanking you at the end of a successful event makes you cringe, you probably should go the direction of corporate event planning rather than weddings. I can't promise you no drunks, but you won't have to chit chat, socialize, and entertain people like we do in the destination wedding planning business.

While experience is key, remember to be gracious about it -- both with your current employer and future employers. I read a horrific Facebook post last night by a young woman bragging that she had gotten a job at her current employer's biggest competitor and how she was going to take everything she learned from them and use it at the other firm. I believe the phrase "Take THAT Bitches!" was actually used. Yay, she got a job. I hope she holds onto it for a long time because I would never hire her, recommend her or help her in any way after seeing that. And neither should anybody else who reads it.

Loyalty is key in a small business sector like wedding planning where you will learn the "tricks of the trade" so to speak, from an internship or entry-level position. If you decide that particular company is not your long-term home, or they don't offer you a long-term position, be gracious. They have taught you a lot. They took a chance on you. If you leave on good terms, you'll end up with excellent references. Believe me, you're taking away far more from them than they ever got out of you.

This young lady who posted on FB is going to be screwed if she doesn't wow them at the new firm because she has burned bridges at her old company unnecessarily. Not liking some of the people you work with is part of life and growing up. Handling the situation professionally demonstrates that you "get it." Posting about it like she did makes me wonder if she posts about her clients that way too. I don't know her -- she's just a fan of my show who has friended me, along with a lot of other wedding professionals world-wide. Who else can see her Facebook page? And dear God, please tell me she doesn't have a Twitter account.

If you really want to be a wedding planner, there are six million opportunities out there for you. You have to show the initiative to go out and get them. I'm dead serious about starting with your friends' weddings to get experience -- that's how I did it before I launched my actual business. If you are lucky enough to get a solid internship with a reputable company, don't blow it.

Learn everything you can, say thank you a lot, and then move on when your commitment is up if that's not someplace you want to work. But hear me on this -- your BEST chance at successfully breaking into the wedding planning business is to totally and completely wow your supervisors at your first wedding planning internship or job. Just ask my account executive Kelsi Welch, who started out as a member of our internship program (featured center in picture, with interns Hannah Kaufman and Carolyn Likas, left to right).

2014-03-04-Carolyn.JPG

Until next time, happy wedding planning from Weddings in Vieques and Weddings in Culebra!

Sandy