How Do I Negotiate A Great Deal With a Wedding Vendor?
If you want quality and service, you have to pay for it. But it seems like the minute you say the word “wedding”, prices skyrocket. You don’t want to get ripped off, but you don’t want to compromise on quality by going on price alone. Perhaps it’s time to polish up your negotiation skills and see how you can get the most bang for your buck.
Yes, to most people, negotiating is awkward and uncomfortable. The good news is that you don’t need to be aggressive and pushy to get what you want. A little preparation, the right mindset and a few strategic tips and tricks are all you need to create positive partnerships for all involved while staying within budget.
It’s worth a shot right?
- Accept the fact that you will need to negotiate. Maybe you’re the shyest person on the planet. Maybe you shudder at the thought of confrontation. Approach it not as a “battle” where one party wins, but as a ‘guided’ conversation.
- Information will be your best weapon. Invest time in researching the market. Look at a variety of vendor options. Read the reviews. Look at their portfolios. Know their prices. Ask your friends. Post on forums. Know everything there is to know and more – because the more you know, the better equipped you will be to negotiate with your vendor of choice.
- Prioritize. Know exactly where you will be spending your money and where you can be flexible. Must your wedding happen on a Saturday night or are you open to an “off peak” wedding? Are you willing to pay upfront (as opposed to a deposit)? What are your “must haves”?
- Don’t ignore your budget. At the end of the day, these things cost money, so know your opening offer and your absolute maximum amount per vendor.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS MATTER
- Get them excited about you. If you email a vendor asking for prices, write an email that makes you stand out – something personal and complimentary but not too lengthy. Make them remember you (in a good way) and chances are, they’ll be more accommodating come negotiation time. Because people want to work with people that they like, and who appreciate and respect them. Look at the following emails and subject lines. Who would you want to work with more?
Subj: Pricing Information Hi – Can you send me a list of your prices for the basic wedding package? Thanks, Rose
Subj: February wedding inquiry. Hi Lisa – I am planning an all white winter wedding next February and absolutely love the photos that you have featured on your website and would like to set up some time to chat. Can you give me a general idea of what your services cost? Thanks, Rose
- Find common ground. This is communication 101 – people are attracted to like people. Find something that you have in common to get the conversation flowing and establish a good rapport. Your goal is to get them to want to work with you and want to negotiate with you.
- Flattery goes a long way. Who doesn’t like to be told that their work is beautiful and worthy of your dollars?If you did your research, then you’ll know exactly what you like about this particular vendor – so be complimentary and tell them!
ATTITUDE MAKES A BIG DIFFERENCE
- Pick your battles. You don’t have to negotiate with everyone for the sake of it. Some vendors will have very reasonable proposals that you can accept as is, especially if this particular vendor is a priority for you. You might want to consider focusing on the pricier negotiations such as the reception venue, food or alcohol. Saving 20% here means much more than saving 20% on your photographer.
- Be polite. This seems obvious, but more often than not, brides and grooms have this unexplainable tendency to become entitled and disrespectful. Go into each conversation as exactly that – a conversation, not an argument, and leave the temper, the pushiness, the aggressiveness and the entitlement at the door. You want a vendor who will be on your side as you plan your wedding and especially on the day itself. Bottom line – no-one wants to work with a bratty Bridezilla. Don’t be one.
- Care, but not too much. While you can and should be invested in the process, never show that you care too much. Once you do, you concede negotiating power to the vendor. So simply let them know that you need to explore different options to make sure that you find a partner that can share in your vision, at the right price. No threats, no ultimatums.
- Don’t take things personally. This is a business transaction. Vendors have bills to pay and a business to run. There is always a limit to how low they can go. If you receive a flat out “no” to your offer, accept it and move on. And if a vendor is rude, stubborn or unreasonably expensive – well do you really want to work with them anyway?
- Be honest. Don’t say that you are planning a family reunion to save a buck. That will never go over well and you will be visited by wedding karma (I made that one up, sorry). Weddings prices are higher because they require more time an effort. In a jam? Be upfront and honest about your situation – share your story and the vendor just might be willing to work with you and your budget.
A CONVERSATION IS A DIALOGUE, NOT A MONOLOGUE
- Listen. You instantly become more likeable if you listen to what your vendor has to say, intently and sincerely.
- Use “We” instead of “I”. Even the smallest of word choices make a huge difference. Saying “we” indicates that you are approaching this relationship as a partnership and that you respect and value their role in the process, whereas “I” statements appear more self serving. “How can we come to a solution?” beats “Can you make an exception for me?”
- Ask questions. They are the experts – let them inform you. The more questions you ask, the more you will learn about what is important to them, their styles, preferences, processes and their business in general. Be prepared with a few intelligent, worthwhile questions that will help arm you as you negotiate the deal.
- Ask open ended questions. Yes/no questions won’t do you any favors. Make the vendor talk (it’s part of the information gathering process). “What options do you have? How can we scale back if my budget is $X?”
- If you feel put on the spot and are not sure what to say, respond with a question. Asking questions is important – you get the point. See point #19 for an example.
- Don’t be impulsive. Vendors can and will try to offer you limited time only deals to try to get you to sign a contract on the spot. Don’t fall for it. “Thank you so much for the offer but I cannot sign something without running it by my husband which I am sure you can understand. But I love your work and am very interested. What do you suggest we do?” By putting them in your shoes, you are asking for some compassion and flexibility (using a “we” statement and without asking for an exception). Chances are, if you walk away and return a week later, they will give you the same deal.
- Be ready to talk numbers. Some people will advise you to not give away your cards too soon or to let the vendor go first. And yes, you will probably be asked what your budget is at the beginning of your conversation and if this does happen, be honest and start with your opening offer. You want to have a starting point for your conversation so that you don’t waste anyone’s time dancing around a magical number.
- Just Ask. They expect it. Sure, you can assume that their prices are higher because a wedding is involved. As long as what you are asking for is fair and reasonable, they won’t be offended. There is nothing immoral about that. “I love your work and think you would be a perfect fit for our wedding, but your prices are over our budget. We had allocated $X (insert your lowball offer here) for this particular service. How can we make this work?” Here, you are asking for a lower price by revealing your budget and asking it in an open-ended way. This forces the vendor to respond.
- Ask for extras or alternative arrangements. If vendors don’t budge on their prices, sometimes they will be willing to throw in extras for free. Other times, they will make small, less expensive substitutes to help cut costs. “Are there any extras that we can take advantage of?”
- “Help me understand…” is a great phrase to use when trying to break down costs or going through line items. You come across as more collaborative versus combative. “Help my understand what this line item means. Help me understand why this is necessary.”
- Silence. Once you have made your offer, the next person to speak should be the vendor. So stay silent until they do. Silence also works when you feel yourself becoming emotional or agitated. Just take a few deep breaths and collect your thoughts. Chances are, the vendor will speak first.
- Get things in writing. A good rapport, an exciting, natural conversation and a handshake won’t cut it. Make sure that the terms of your agreement are in writing and carefully read the fine print so that there are no surprises come the big day. This includes cancellation policies (on both ends), gratuity, taxes and any additional fees that you should be aware of.
- Control your emotions. This is a difficult one because nothing is as personal and emotional as a wedding – your wedding. But when all is said and done, this is still a business transaction. This is why preparation (research & mindset) are crucial. You have to summon up all the strength you have to maintain your sense of calm. Not confident in your abilities? Bring your fiance, a trusted friend or your mom as a layer of support.
- Be ready to walk away. This goes hand in hand with not caring too much, but it is worth repeating because it probably one of the most important elements of negotiation. This is such a personal process, and because of this, you should always have more than one option. Keep an open mind and give yourself some breathing room and remind yourself that there are ALWAYS options.
- Listen to your gut. If something doesn’t feel right and you can’t quite put your finger on it, listen to that voice inside your head. Is this a person who can bring your vision to life? Is this someone you can trust? Who you want to work with? They don’t call it a gut feeling for nothing.