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The Best Time to Hire a Wedding Planner Is Before You Need Her to Fix Your Mess

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I spend about two-thirds of my time planning weddings, and the last third of my time unf*cking weddings my clients have tried to plan on their own before they hired me. Seriously! There should be a special fee for people who have made a mess of things and need help cleaning up the disaster before we can start really planning the whole event properly. This brings to the forefront the question: When should you hire a wedding planner?

Obviously, I'm an advocate of using a wedding planner. Heck, I tried to use one myself but there wasn't one based here on Vieques 10 years ago so I ended up with a disaster from the main island that I had to fire. Wedding planners aren't just for people who aren't organized enough to do the planning themselves; a wedding planner is a professional consultant who is there to help you make the process go more smoothly. If you're getting married at home and use a planner, she may be less involved in some things you can do for yourself. If you're having a destination wedding, you're going to rely far more heavily on the planner to take care of things someplace where you are not. Using a wedding planner doesn't mean you couldn't plan your own wedding, it just means that you recognize the value of professional assistance. I wouldn't plan my own wedding again. A good lawyer hires an even better one when he needs an attorney, right?

So first off, let me tell you in total certainly that the vast majority of my clients are super organized, highly motivated professionals who would and could plan their own weddings if they had the time and inclination to travel to and from Vieques five times to make sure all the details were locked down to their satisfaction. But because they are busy professionals who don't have time to do that kind of travel and still have a wedding and honeymoon, they hire Weddings in Vieques to do the planning and the dirty work for them. One of my clients once said "I didn't want to be Bridezilla on my wedding day, so I hired Sandy to do it for me." Okay, I'll take that. But I'm going to do it before you get here and never in front of you or your guests.

There are three different kinds of clients who hire us:
  1. Couples who knew they needed a planner before they started planning.
  2. Couples who made a few phone calls, got frustrated, and decided to hire a wedding planner.
  3. Couples who tried to plan the wedding themselves and finally hired a wedding planner under duress when they realized it was going to be too much for them.

Brides and grooms who recognize the need for a planner and hire somebody like me right off the bat are obviously the best case scenario for me, but that isn't always how it works. Because we are a DIY society, and because everybody has a budget to keep, lots of couples start the planning research on their own feeling relatively certain they can handle planning their own wedding. Even if the destination is an island seven miles off the coast of another Caribbean island. No problem mon.

But it is a problem for most couples after the first few people don't return their calls and emails in a timely fashion, and when they do get a real person on the phone, the answers are often vague and unhelpful. A lot of brides call me already in a huff and I have to explain the island to them. It's not that they don't want your business, it may well be that you just got the wrong person on the phone. Whatever the case, we get a lot of clients who hire us so that we can be the ones not getting the return phone calls. Fortunately, we have better relationships than that with our vendors and they do call us back. That's why it all works.

The most difficult weddings to plan are the ones where the brides and grooms have already gotten neck deep in the planning. So much so, in some cases, that they've wasted money they can't get back, or chosen venues that are the wrong size for their group. We've seen it all and fixed most of it (not everything is fixable if you wait too late). The most famous case of this in my company's history was a couple who called me a few years ago in January to plan their July wedding. They did a consultation with me but ultimately decided to plan their own wedding. No problem.

Flash forward six months. I got a terse email from the groom informing me that now my services were required, but as they had already done most of their planning, they wanted a bid for a reduced fee. Curious, I asked him to send me a breakdown of where everything stood in their planning process. What a mess! And five weeks out from their 4th of July wedding weekend date. No way I was touching that with a 10-foot pole. Besides, his email wasn't even nice. I would have much preferred an email saying something like "I realize that we passed on the opportunity to use your services initially, but now we've found ourselves in a jam and could really use your help." So I emailed him and wished him luck -- I had another wedding that week anyway.

I didn't think about it again... until the bride called me in tears a few days later and told me her fiancé was a butthead and she desperately needed my help. And that she realized there would probably be a fee for the short notice. There was.

Our team worked night and day to straighten things out, order things in, smooth out details with vendors, and receive shipments of bizarre and wondrous décor that this DIY bride had been collecting at home for months (quick note to destination brides -- there's nothing cost-effective about shipping $8 vases from TJ Maxx to the Caribbean -- find out what's available where you're getting married first). And the wedding itself was a smashing success and everybody was very, very happy when it was all over and done. But it wasn't a fun planning process. They'd gone through hell before I stepped in, and even after we got involved and sorted out their wedding, the groom was bitter about how much money he'd had to spend overall. I kept my focus on the fact that the bride was delighted with the way it all turned out.

The moral of the story: Hire a wedding planner as early in your planning process as possible. Hire one at your destination if you're not getting married at home, and trust their judgment on which vendors to choose and lose. They know the score because they do it every weekend. And remember, taking a random recommendation for a particular vendor from somebody you don't know can be dangerous in the islands. Businesses come and go quickly and you don't want to be making large deposits to vendors who might not still be in business in six months.

Just for the record, it's okay to yell "uncle" and call in a professional for help six weeks before your wedding if you're in a mess, or if something has come up at home or work that is really fouling up your schedule. Just realize that if you're going to a reputable planner for assistance at that point, you will pay a premium for the kind of last-minute time and attention that you're asking for - if they're even available to help you. If they can't do it, please accept that you waited too late and do not attack with flaming emails and vicious online reviews. Instead, recognize it's your fault and be sweet and you might just find yourself getting the help you needed after all.

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

Sandy