How To Find Wedding Vendors… And not Get Ripped Off
Finding vendors (and a venue) is a beast of a task. There are so many choices. So many people to meet. So many questions to ask. And then you have to sign contracts, organize logistics and hope that everyone can work well together come showtime.
This post is about smart vendor shopping. It will take some time. If you’re looking to cut corners, sure, I’ve got a few tips for you – read on. But please, do your homework on each business before signing anything (and sign something you must!).
The best way to start is to get a clear idea of what you want for your wedding and from your vendors.
Before you send out that first email asking about prices, before you start combing Yelp for reviews, take a few minutes to look at the blogs, Pinterest and wedding magazines to get a sense of what you like. What look are you going for? Whose work resonates with you? Come up with a few adjectives that captures your style, save your favorite images and let that be a starting point for your vendor search. Download our Best of the Web guide for a list of our favorite inspiration websites and blogs.
Start the Search
Now you can begin making a list of vendors in your area that you would consider working with. Here are some places to look:
- Recommendations from family and friends, or vendors who you have already booked. It’s always good to start with people you know and trust. Some venues will provide a vendor list of businesses who are familiar with their space and layout.
- The wedding forums
- TheKnot: There are message boards for just about every aspect of wedding planning
- WeddingWire: The planning forums cover a lot of different topics, but brides love to give recommendations!
- Reddit/Wedding Planning: I love this subreddit – if you’re looking for advice, tips, suggestions or just to rant, someone is always there to answer your question and quickly.
- Blog vendor pages
- StyleMePretty: If you live in a larger metropolitan area, the SMP local blogs (at the bottom of the homepage) will have dozens of real weddings all with credits to their local vendors.Additionally, their Little Black Book has an edited selection of wedding service providers all around the world. I’ve heard of brides finding featured weddings in their area that they loved and hiring all of the listed vendors on the spot.
- ApracticalWedding: Vendors also pay to be featured, but they are all are prescreened and required to sign a “sanity pledge” that promises to treat their clients with respect and honesty. You can search not only by region and category, but also by price.
- RuffledBlog: This has another easy to navigate vendor guide, but here, vendors pay to be featured in their vendor section.
- Other sites worth noting:
- Carats & Cake: Access to local vendors from recently married couples
- WedOverHeels: This is a relatively new site that connects engaged couples with wedding vendors all over the country.
- Wedding shows & expos: Go attend a show and speak with multiple vendors in one go (and get some free samples and other goodies while you’re at it).
- Wedding portal vendor pages: I’m always a little more skeptical about searching for wedding vendors on the portals because there are SO MANY options, and you have to do a lot more digging to see their work, look at the reviews etc. Regardless, if you are still searching, you’ll find no shortage of vendors here.
Narrow Down Your List
Don’t send one mass email out to every vendor in the area. You’ll only give yourself more work, and a bigger headache.
- Get a baseline: To get a general sense of what a wedding vendor in your area will cost, visit CostofWedding.com. You will be prompted to enter a few details about your wedding, and from there you can get a breakdown of what things in your area cost, by category.
- Read the reviews, but don’t let one negative review amidst a dozen glowing ones eliminate that vendor as an option. Make a note of it and be sure to include it in your questions.
- Visit their websites: Our first instinct is to look at their price list and more often than not, you won’t find one. Vendors intentionally don’t list their prices for a few reasons – maybe to encourage you to write in and have the conversation, thus giving them the opportunity to ‘sell’ you on their services. In other cases, there are too many variables such as number of guests, location, time of year etc.
Send a short but polite inquiry email, or phone call, with your wedding date, location (if you have it) and approximate number of guests. It never hurts to add a sentence or two on how you found the vendor, what you like about their work and why you are interested in talking to them. Start the relationship off on the right foot and make yourself stand out.
Meet in Person
At the very least talk, on the phone. Don’t rely on an email back and forth and a few Yelp reviews to inform your decision. This is a chance for you to assess whether or not there is a fit between you and this vendors’ style, personality, services and cost. There are a number of questions you’ll want to have prepared and each vendor category has questions that are unique to them. In general, however, there are a few things to have prepared before you meet with your first vendor. [For more on this, be sure to read our article on how to negotiate with your wedding vendors]
- Location & Date
- Approximate number of guests
- Your budget: Go into the meeting knowing exactly what your budget range is, and start off the conversation with your lower-end number. Be honest about your budget constraintsYou want to have a starting point for your conversation so that you don’t waste anyone’s time dancing around a magical number.
- General style: What do you like or dislike? Have some pictures ready, your dress etc.
- Time commitment: How willing and/or able are you to get involved?
During the meeting, try to assess them based on a number of criteria. Just because you get along swimmingly or your friend Stephanie recommended her cousin who is a florist doesn’t mean she’s the right person for the job. You need to do your due diligence and think through a few things – and if there is something that doesn’t come up in conversation, be sure to address it.
- Responsiveness: How quickly does the vendor respond to emails and phone calls? What is an appropriate time frame for you?
- Reliability: Does he/she follow through on things that she committed to providing and in the time frame given?
- Attitude: Is the vendor open to ideas, enthusiastic or is he/she condescending and short? Does the vendor put you at ease?
- Is the vendor really able to listen to you and articulate your vision, while being able to offer ideas and suggestions at the same time?
This is your time to ask questions and see if this is a relationship worth pursuing, so use it wisely. Download and print out the free wedding planning cheat sheet for a complete list of questions to ask your vendors.
Contracts & Negotiation
Insist on a contract. And read it. No, verbal agreements are not good enough and yes, vendor contracts are usually drawn up by lawyers and have their obscure legalese. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read through them in detail. You’ll probably understand them perfectly well. It’s surprising how many brides fail to read their contracts (otherwise known as BINDING LEGAL DOCUMENTS!). If there are items you don’t understand, ask your vendor to walk you through the contract in detail.
- The basics
- The date, time (including preparation, setup and take down)
- Fees: This should include total cost for services provided, retainers/deposits, schedule of payment, who you are paying, method of payment, and any penalties for late payment. It’s not enough for the contract to say “Gold Package” – you always need to have a price locked in.
- Scope of work: Be as detailed as possible on what the services include, from setup time, arrival location, number of assistants and everything in between.
- Payment: A breakdown of deposits, billing dates, installment plans etc. timeline etc.
- Contact information: Make sure you have a name and phone number for each vendor/point of contact that you will be working with on the day of your wedding. From the limo driver to the name of your DJ to your photographer’s assistant – have this information readily available.
- Making changes and other special requests: Chances are, things will change as the date of your wedding nears, whether it is adding a bridesmaid, moving the time, or a new aesthetic direction. This will certainly affect cost, so make sure you discuss how changes, add ons and removals are handled. Sign follow up contracts.
- Additional costs: They will sneak up on you. Things that you didn’t expect. Fake eyelashes cost extra. Your bridesmaid was being difficult and wanted her hair done over (Bam! Extra $40). Your caterer needed to add an extra bartender. You forgot to factor in gratuity. A simple question to ask is “Are there any factors that could result in additional costs in my final bill?”. You need to know the “what ifs”
- Cancellation: This portion of the contract should outline the circumstances under which you are able to receive a refund should the vendor relationship be terminated including the vendor not fulfilling their end of the bargain, going out of business or a cancelled or postponed wedding. For this reason, it is typically recommended to use a credit card for deposits and fees – you can always dispute a charge with the credit card company, but when you pay cash, that cash is gone.
Sign and request a copy for yourself, assuming you have full understanding of the contract terms.
A note on destination wedding vendors.
There is always that extra layer of uncertainty when planning a destination wedding – and if you’re location is on the more exotic side, your choices become even more limited. Your only option might be the ultra unresponsive hotel event coordinator who has ties with all of the local wedding vendors. You won’t always have the luxury of meeting your potential team members in person. It will be a bit harder to ensure that they are reliable and reputable, but with some preparation and patience, you can find a team of people to help you plan a seamless destination wedding.
- Speak to them on the phone and be prepared with your list of questions.
- Ask to see examples of their work
- Look for credentials, industry affiliations and other affiliations that indicate their history and level of involvement with the wedding industry.
- Get references from other couples and ask them about their satisfaction level, what they liked, disliked and whether or not they would hire them again if they were to do it over.
- Search the online forums for referrals and recommendations.
- Be wary of
- Vendors with multiple responsibilities (my photographer is also a florist!)
- Lowball offers: If it seems to good to be true, it probably is, so make sure you know exactly what is included in that offer.
- Brand new vendors with no references or body of work to show you