Saying yes to your partner is one of the most exciting moments of your life and a romantic whirlwind. But when wedding planning begins, those warm and fuzzies suddenly turn cold because you’re now about to enter a working relationship with a lot of people. A wedding venue, photographer, videographer, florist—it’s all business now. You’re hosting the event of your life, and while it’s a special, emotional day, the planning of a wedding requires a practical perspective. This can be a major change in tenor to the process; wedding couples can become very anxious about planning their big day. Many find that one of the most stressful aspects of doing business with wedding vendors is negotiating.
In our culture, it’s sometimes considered embarrassing to ask for discounts. We worry about appearing cheap or tacky. But in many cultures and industries, it’s totally normal and considered a standard part of doing business. And negotiation isn’t as hard or stressful as you think. Here are a few tips to make the process much more comfortable for you and your partner.
Create a Realistic Budget Before Negotiating With Vendors
This is so important! You want to be a credible negotiator. Wedding vendors shoulder certain costs of doing business, and if you know how all those costs add up, they’ll see you as respectful and knowledgeable. And if you don’t know how much the entire wedding costs, how are you going to know what the market rate is for every service?
A successful negotiator always vets the typical pricing of services or goods offered before beginning a dialogue with prospective suppliers. Make a list of all elements of your wedding, from venue to flowers to makeup to dress, and start researching. Join local social media groups or discussion boards and ask what other brides and grooms paid for similar services. Make sure the people you are asking are local; prices fluctuate significantly from region to region. Research vendor websites, too. Many post their ballpark pricing.
As you fact-find, add the rough pricing of every vendor to your list so that you have a solid idea of the costs at hand. Add those costs together, and you now have a rough budget for your wedding. Note that some services vary depending on a host of factors. A caterer may charge more for plated meals than a buffet, and some flowers will cost more to source than others.
Negotiate Value Adds
To every vendor, time is money. Each minute they spend answering an email or talking on the phone costs them the value of their time. Yet, there may be something they can add to your agreed-upon services from materials or resources they already have. For example, a wedding coordinator may be able to share their proprietary budget spreadsheets for your use, as long as you agree in writing not to share with others. A florist might add a bucket of flowers that were left over from your centerpieces to the decorations for your buffet table. A videographer could agree to provide all raw footage of the ceremony instead of just the final edit. Think of what higher value you can respectfully ask for that will be easier for the vendor to give away without hurting their profit margin.
State Your Number
Lots of negotiation experts will advise, “Don’t tell the other side the amount you are willing to pay.” Usually, this is great advice, but this adage rarely holds true in the event industry. I worked in sales for hotels and venues for a few years. When potential clients refused to tell me what they planned to spend, I told them that if they claimed a budget much higher than what I would price, I wouldn’t arbitrarily increase the price to meet this amount—I’d be fair. I also didn’t want to waste anyone’s time if their budget was too low; it’s unproductive for both parties.
So, let’s say you’re negotiating with a hotel for your ceremony and reception. Don’t tell the salesperson, “We’re not sure of our budget. Just put together a sample proposal.” You may get back an estimate that’s much higher than you anticipated, and now you just wasted your time. Instead, give them the amount you’re willing to spend based on that carefully crafted budget you created (with perhaps 10 to 20 percent knocked off). If they can work with it, they will; if they can’t, they’ll politely decline the business, and you can now spend your time working with another more appropriate option.
Be Kind and Fair
The industry isn’t out to get you! It’s full of hardworking, caring people who adore weddings and love the couples they serve. Always be respectful when negotiating, and always be honest. This gets you much further than aggressive, harsh haggling. In fact, some vendors won’t even play ball if your attitude is gruff and rude. And working in the event industry is hard! Missing weekends with loved ones, crazy-long hours, and demanding clients are all part of the game, and paying your vendors a reasonable rate is all-important. Broker a fair deal with your wedding vendors, and you’ll achieve the most value out of your big day. Plus, you’ll create amazing relationships with your entire wedding team. That’s what we call a win-win situation!