How to Spot a Legitimate Wedding Planner-a short guide for engaged couples

This is a post that is going to get me a lot of enemies.

As much as I hate when anyone doesn't like me, it's something that needs to be said. I kind of feel like Ned Stark in that way, sacrificing myself for what I think is the greater good, Little Finger be damned! (RIP both of them as well as the GOT franchise)

What I want to preface this with before anyone goes all Joffrey and off with my head is this:

There is a difference between a newer planner who is transparent about their skill level and experience and one who is new and has no idea what they are doing yet claims to have years of experience.

The former is common, we were all that person at one point! Most newer planners start with friends & family and build up from there. But there is still a natural progression that must be made! The most detrimental thing to this industry is people who come into the industry thinking it will be so much fun, have a photographer friend take some cute photos and immediately start destroying peoples special day with their lack of experience and know-how and non-existent work ethic just to hit on hot groomsmen.

This is a handy guide to help some people out there that might not have the largest budgets for their wedding but also understand the necessity of having a professional do their bidding on their behalf and manage all the insanity that comes with coordinating a large scale event. Navigating the waters where the boundaries of professional planner and “oh no baby what is you doin’” is tough.  

Here are a few things to help you distinguish a real wedding planner from someone who really has no business in this industry at all! This is not an exhaustive list by any means but it should lead you in the right direction.

1. Reviews

Looks like a legit reviewer, but Ashley is only writing a 5 star review so the laundromat will give her kidnapped family back.   photo credit

Looks like a legit reviewer, but Ashley is only writing a 5 star review so the laundromat will give her kidnapped family back.

photo credit

You have to be smart when reading reviews. Did you know that anyone can go on the internet and say literally anything??? It's crazy, right! Did you also know that Ryan Reynolds is in love with me and I had to set him up in a goofy rom-com type switcheroo ploy to force him to stop obsessing over me thus leading to his sham marriage/rebound to Blake Lively? It's true. Because I just wrote it and put it on the internet.

Please remember that any person, no matter how slimy, awful at their job or just plain awful still has a few friends they can turn to for small favors (See: Washington D.C.) What I mean to say is reviews are the currency of internet marketing. The more reviews you have = the more business you will likely get. People don't trust advertising as much as they used to, but they do trust their neighbors, friends, co-workers and even complete strangers on the internet who tell them something is very good even if it may in fact be very bad. Any smart person who is starting a business knows that they should garner as many good reviews as possible as quickly as possible to make themselves look like a legitimate business and thusly obtain legitimate clients. This however means that a lot of people can have their moms, sisters, aunts, or any other matriarchal figure in their family write amazing things about them in hopes that it will lead them to success and hopefully sometime soon also moving out of the basement.

So, crap, how do you spot a fake review then? The truth is, sometimes people are really good at lying and it's tough to tell. For example, I bet you totally believed that Ryan Reynolds was in love with me, didn't you? What if I told you I've never even met Ryan Reynolds and the closest I've gotten to him was gently grasping at my computer screen at shirtless images of him in some workout article? Ha! That's actually a lie...we are totally in love. 

Unfortunately there is no real way of telling if someone has a bunch of fake reviews or not. BUT here are a few things to look out for:

  • if reviews are all clumped together around one date and there are no reviews before or for a very long time after this could indicate the person asked friends to review them all at once. This isn't always fail-proof though as some businesses ask all of their clients for reviews at one time and it could just so happen that they all respond on one date. However more than likely (especially in this industry) you should look for reviews that are spread out over the several years they’ve been in business.

  • If the review is vague and doesn't mention an actual event but more-so details why the person is just "so great" this could indicate a fake review. Some people are actually awful at lying and instead of trying they just tell the world they really like that person (which is totally okay! You should like people! really!I like some people even!)

  • The reviewer has no other reviews or just created their account before reviewing. Websites like Weddingwire will require that you create an account to leave a review which you can track easily by clicking on their profile. If there is no indication that there was any wedding planning, you can most likely guess it's someone who created an account for that person. Alternately, if the review is on google or Facebook and you feel that you are not above a little bit of facebook stalking (don't lie, no one is above this) then you can click on their image to see their relationship with said business owner. If you see that every single review is a bunch of people who aren't married, have been married for 30+ years or is a middle-aged woman with the same last name, widows peak and butt chin as said planner-it's probably dear old mom.

2. Styled Shoots Are Not Work Experience 

style shootin’ it up. Why anyone trusts me with fire is just as much a mystery to me as it is to you.   photo credit

style shootin’ it up. Why anyone trusts me with fire is just as much a mystery to me as it is to you.

photo credit

Here's where the death threats start. Styled shoots DO NOT equate business experience. For those non-industry folks, a styled shoot is essentially a mock wedding. You have all your basic vendors there who contribute aesthetically to a typical wedding-planner, photographer, makeup artist, stationer, baker, dress boutique, bride & groom models, venue, decor, cake etc. The purpose of this mock wedding is to create a beautiful experience that the participating vendors want to utilize in their portfolios to show off their work and to attract potential clients.

There is nothing wrong with styled shoots, there are a couple styled shoots on my website and many professionals I know use styled shoots to curate the vision for their brand so they attract the right type of clients. For example, a wedding planner who is great at south asian weddings but keeps getting referrals for country-rustic weddings might do a styled shoot to enhance his or her portfolio to show off more of his or her south asian wedding capabilities. However, some planners "start" in this industry by either planning their own wedding or just thinking it's fun and jumping in head first and go straight to planning a styled shoot. Which then becomes another styled shoot and another and another until after a while the planners entire portfolio a year into the industry is comprised of entirely styled shoots. 

Here's the thing-if you have the energy, time, desire and vendor team to execute 6 styled shoots a year? Good for you boo boo. Your website is probably GORGEOUS. But here's the thing. Planning a wedding and putting together a styled shoot are two completely different animals. I've likened this in the past to taking a Tylenol for a headache and putting Neosporin and a band-aid on a cut and then calling yourself a doctor.  Sure you may know how to properly dose yourself or how to treat a scrape but that does NOT make you a licensed professional. A styled shoot is the "pretty" part of wedding planning. It's the design, the collaborative effort and the pretty pictures you get at the end of the day but a wedding planner it does not make. 

Again, it's often difficult to distinguish between styled shoots and real weddings and thus difficult to know just how much experience a planner really has but again, there are a few things to look out for:

  • No bride & groom names. If in the caption, blog post, details etc. there is no reference to the models being a couple, this could also be an indicator

  • no caterer credited-in these styled shoots, part of the gig is each person is expected to credit all vendors involved. Since people aren't in love with food as much as I am they don't see the aesthetic value and a caterer is not needed for a styled shoot. If a series of photos labeled something frilly and fun doesn't have a caterer listed this might be why.

  • If the person only has 3 different "event" photo sets on their wedding and they all look perfectly polished, the couple is drop-dead gorgeous and knows exactly how to look into the camera and blue steel their way into a GQ catalog, you're most likely looking at models and not a real couple.

In the end, when that persons beautiful website captures your eye and you set up a meeting or a phone call with them it's now your time to vet them thoroughly to make sure they are what they say they are and capable of executing the event that you desire. There is no set list of questions on the internet that will do this for you. This is where your intuition, openness about your vision, dreams and budget will need to come into play. Which leads me to the next thing

3. Be Wary If It Sounds Too Good to be True

Looks like everyone is having a great time, right? This group of people are actually making fun of a crippled child just out of frame. probably.   photo credit

Looks like everyone is having a great time, right? This group of people are actually making fun of a crippled child just out of frame. probably.

photo credit

While there is some misinformation out there on the internet (clearly not about me and Ryan Reynolds) there are also resources that will help you establish your budget and wedding concept based on your region. If you can't figure out what to budget, ask your wedding planner or poll a few friends who have been married recently, they might under or overshoot things but you'll manage to get some sort of average! 

However, if in the DC market you come to a wedding planner with $5000 and a 100 person headcount and ask the planner if she can make your dreams come true and said planner says yes-run far away. 

I get it, we all want people to be happy and like us (for real please don't cut my head off) but sometimes in this industry we have to say "no" we have to say "that's not possible" and we unfortunately have to crush dreams of people who have been led astray by the toxic dredges of the internet like Pinterest. 

If you have reached out to vendors or friends and know general costs and a planner says they can make it happen for way less than normal it probably is not possible and they are deceiving you. Make sure you do your research and when someone promises something that they have the proven know-how to make it come to fruition. 


4. Ask their drinking policy 

…Unless you’re working in which case you should be executing your responsibilities with copious amounts of espresso only.   Photo credit

…Unless you’re working in which case you should be executing your responsibilities with copious amounts of espresso only.

Photo credit

Listen, as someone who loves to drink this might come as a surprise to you but my policy is ABSOLUTELY UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES DOES MY TEAM DRINK during the wedding day. I mean, I literally am consuming a glass of bourbon as I write this and it's almost a pre-requisite for being able to sleep at night after long days of stressful emails, meetings and phone calls. But I have never and will never drink at a wedding I am planning.

This might seem like common sense to you but I have heard HORROR stories from friends and industry contacts alike who have told me how the wedding planner showed up, got drunk and failed to perform his or her duties whether because they were too inebriated to focus or literally had to be shuffled back to their hotel via the bride & Grooms limo during the ceremony (true story). 

Any professional planner will most likely agree with me. I don't care how long you've been in business or how prestigious your brand is drinking on the job is always a no no. It seems very simple to me; you wouldn't drink at your 9-5 unless you are a sommelier or professional bourbon taste-tester (is that a job? can I have that job?). So why would you drink at a wedding you are in charge of planning? 

If you ask if they will have a drink with you at their wedding and they casually say "of course!" the liability portion of my brain will start sounding the alarm. To all my sweet, wonderful wedding party members that have tried repeatedly to get me to take a shot with them, I PROMISE it’s not because I don’t adore you, it’s truly because it’s one of the only steadfast, unchanging rules I have in my business and will stick with until the end of time. If I catch you at a bar outside of the wedding day though, drinks on me!

Rachel RiceComment