I’ll jump right in: if you’re planning a wedding, this is the first thing I want you to know. It should elicit a big sigh of relief, a weight lifted off of your shoulders.
Weddings are complicated, large scale events – you don’t have to do it all yourself.
I was so excited to sit down with Emily Shannon of Sweet Pea Events in Seattle for just this reason, to dive into how to plan your wedding with less stress and de-mystify the role of a wedding planner. I feel like wedding planners can still be a bit of a mystery to some couples. “Do I really need a planner?” “How much of the process will they handle?” Emily’s advice is spot on, and we cover:
- why Emily believes everyone needs a planner, and how to choose the right type of planning
- how to choose your planner and the one thing you should do before booking
- the difference between “full-service” and “day-of” planning services
- where she loves to find inspiration for her couples and a story about Dachshunds
I’m a born and raised Dallas girl. But when my husband was offered his dream job in Seattle, there was no question or doubt that we’d be packing our bags and embarking on a new life adventure. Event planning has always been in my blood, but I officially started large-scale events in 2012. In the summer of 2015, when I moved to Seattle, I became the newest member of the Sweet Pea Events team. I bring my crazed organization skills to every event I plan. My friends and family joke about my “clipboard of fun” that I take on vacations, but we always have a great time! My favorite part of the planning process is seeing everything come to life on the event day. I like to step back and take a moment to just soak up everything – and see how smoothly and how beautiful all the details came together.
Why Every Wedding Needs a Planner
“I believe every couple’s stress level can be lowered, and the planning process made more joyful, by hiring a wedding planner. Even if you’re not looking for full-service planning, I always recommend booking your planner early on, because your planner can give you expert recommendations for all the other wedding professionals you bring on board, for photographers (unless you’ve found Anna already!), florists, rentals, caterers, etc. There are so many details that couples have never encountered – say, the etiquette of how to address your invitations or how to indicate a dress code for your wedding – where having a professional in your back pocket is so valuable.
A planner’s role is to help you navigate the unfamiliar waters of planning a wedding and give you all the tools you’ll need for success. To-do lists, timeline samples, budget forms- even with my smaller bookings I am sharing my resources and expertise with my couples well before the wedding day. ”
How to Hire a Planner
“When you do decide that you want to hire a planner, whether day-of or a full-service package, my advice is to do a little research. Your venue is a wonderful place to start, they will typically have excellent recommendations of planners who have coordinated successful events at that venue. If you have a photographer, ask for their recommendations as well. These vendors love working with planners who are on top of their game and will happily steer you in the right direction. Once you have a few planners in mind, I always advise you to meet in person. For me, I think the most important trait you’re looking for in a planner is a personality fit. It goes both ways: I also am looking for the right fit, and want to connect with my couples. I want to know what’s important to them and have a genuine connection so that on their wedding day if something comes up, I know how to help them make a decision and how to best communicate.
Something most brides don’t know about in Seattle are the certifications required for wedding planners to have CWP in their title (Certified Wedding Planner). The certification process helps experienced planners fine tune their process and details. It’s always a good idea to check and make sure not only your vendors are properly set to do business, but also have the correct certifications and experience to run large scale events.”
Different Types of Planning Services
Day-of wedding planning: “As soon as the you book me, whether that’s a year out or 2 months out from you weddings date, we meet and I get a sense of how far along you are in the planning process. I take note of what still needs to be done and give you a to-do list from there, what to prioritize and any suggestions for vendors you have yet to hire. For day-of clients, you are doing most of the initial legwork yourselves, but if you have questions I’m always available.
Then with the day-of package, the bulk of our work together begins 6 weeks out. First, we meet again to touch base to get a firm grasp on exactly where you are in the process, and from that point out, I am the point of contact for everything. I handle communication with your vendors, send them details and timelines, because, at that point, your vendors begin to check back in to nail down those final details, right as you hit prime decision fatigue and exhaustion from the planning process. I introduce myself to your vendors and at this point, I have a solid understanding of your plans so I am able to field most of those types of questions.”
Full-service wedding planning: “For my full-service clients, I like to be on board as soon as possible. Most couples book their venue, planner, and photographer to begin, that order will change based on priorities. I can immediately bring my expertise into the planning process to help you set out for success from the very beginning. I can make sure your venue will truly fit your budget, or guide you towards a photographer you may not have come across but I think will be perfect for you.
I am there throughout the entire process and am able to be your liaison if you are just too busy to make every single meeting or obligation. I will attend venue walkthroughs and other meetings to guide your through each step with expert advice, making sure nothing is forgotten and answering any questions along the way.
Additionally, I help my full-service clients with style and design, making sure everything looks and feels the way that you want it to. And at that 6-week mark, all the final detail work that is included with the day of package kicks in as well. I’m there through it all – I joke that if it’s legal, moral, and ethical, I’ll do it!”
Deciding what kind of Planning Services to Book
“It’s normally pretty obvious when I meet with couples, which service they need. Most couples that book the smaller day-of service are fairly organized and already have a good foundation laid. They have time during their evenings and weekends to devote to planning and communicating with their vendors.
Full-service clients have tons of big ideas but don’t know how to execute. They’re looking for someone to step in and play a bigger role in the design + initial planning process. Often times they work long hours in careers that just don’t allow them the time and energy needed to pull together a large event.
The vast majority of couples I meet with fall into those two categories. Every once and a while, I’ll encounter a client whose needs fall somewhere in the middle, and in that case, I am able to create something custom for them. It’s all about that initial meeting and seeing if it’s a good fit!”
On where to look for Inspiration
“At the very beginning, I do recommend using Pinterest to help my couples get a feel for what kind of mood, theme, or style they’re drawn to; are they drawn to certain colors and textures, do the like big, lush bouquets or something a more understated. Most couples aren’t visual people, and looking through lots of visual inspiration can help you get a feel of what’s right for you. But once they have a good idea of their style, I actually tell couples to stop looking at Pinterest. We’re looking to create something that speaks directly to the two of you, something truly unique, as opposed to selecting elements of other weddings to recreate.
For my full-service clients, I create a design board to help guide the planning process. I focus on colors, textures, elements that help set the mood and the experience of their guests.
I believe one of the most important things about hiring an experienced planner is the referrals they can provide. Your planner has a both a bird’s eye view of your style and vision, and also a granular understanding of your budget and personalities. They are able to connect you with vendors that have the complementary skills and personalities to create something truly unique and authentic to your relationship.
What gets me ticking is when we are able to do something I’ve never done before. Finding inspiration from other creative fields – fine dining, for example, seeking out beautiful presentation and incorporating that into my design. Learning about how my couples like to spend their time, and more importantly- why. If you love spending time out hiking, what is it you love most; is it the greenery and colors of the forest? Is it actually the feeling of fresh air and sunshine on your skin? All of those little pieces are things we can find ways to incorporate if they are important to you. Small details can make a huge impact. I had a couple who loves dachshunds, and they couldn’t bring their dogs to the wedding, so we made little cut out photos of their dogs that people could use in the photo booth. And that’s not the most beautiful or elegant example, but everyone at the wedding knew how much this couple loved their dogs and had a TON of fun in the photo booth. It actually added significantly to the experience guests had at that wedding. It just felt right and was so joyful.”