Wedding planning advice for finding a photographer, DJ, and more!
This post was updated as of April 6, 2021.
Wedding planning is both exciting and stressful! I may not recall every detail of my wedding day. However, I do recall all of the stress leading up to it. Why? Because I was that bride that said, “I can do the planning all by myself!” And work two jobs. And make my dress. And deal with life in general. All in all, I only had one “Bridezilla” moment. That said, I hope you find the wedding planning advice in this post useful so that you can avoid a “Bridezilla” moment of your own.
Planning an Out-of-State Wedding
The year before my wedding was busy! As a recent college graduate, I worked two jobs. I worked full-time at Bloomingdales and part-time as a seamstress/design assistant at a bridal boutique. I worked those jobs to not only pay bills but also to pay for the wedding. With my income secured, I didn’t have to stress about how the wedding was going to be paid for. However, planning a wedding in Texas from California had its own set of stress-inducing challenges. Whatever time I didn’t spend at work I dedicated to wedding planning.
One of the very first decisions made in the wedding planning process was choosing the venue. My husband and I looked at 5 different locations before finally picking Villa Antonia in Austin, TX. We loved the venue because of the view (it’s located in the hills overlooking Lake Travis). And I loved it because if I wasn’t getting married by the beach in Southern California, I wanted to be near water.
Finding Wedding Vendors
If you’re planning a wedding out of state by yourself, I would highly recommend choosing a venue that includes the services of other vendors. At Villa Antonia, rentals and catering came with the venue. That meant we were able to check off three vendors in one fell swoop! The venue, caterer, and rentals… check, check, and check! In turn, this meant less stress for me. I wouldn’t have to go on the hunt to find a caterer and rental vendor.
Our photographer was also a quick and easy decision! I’d met our photographer, William Innes, a couple of years before as a bridal stylist at a Cruz’s Bridal in Santa Clarita. I loved his photography style instantly! I knew how important good pictures were, and I was willing to dedicate a good portion of the budget to photography. All I had to do was ensure he wasn’t already booked and that he was willing to travel. I emailed him, and he was a go! Another vendor checked off.
In planning your own wedding, organization is key! At this point for my wedding, I still needed a DJ/Emcee, a florist, minister, videographer, and baker. In those searches, I became a spreadsheet master! I had to stay organized or I would have gone crazy. Each spreadsheet had vendor-specific categories to help me make my decision. For example, my “DJ/Entertainment” spreadsheet looked at play hours, kind of equipment used, variety in music, and personnel. Sometimes elimination was easy. They never called me back. BYE! After spreadsheet making, I did a lot of internet research to fill in my sheets for each vendor as much as possible. Corresponding back and forth via email helped narrow down the choices in the end.
Wedding Dress Shopping
I know it sounds like my wedding planning was a breeze so far, but it wasn’t. Remember how I said I made my own wedding dress? That’s because I made a fatal mistake when wedding dress shopping. Yes, you read that right. I had originally planned to buy a dress. However, I didn’t heed my own personal advice. I did the one thing I always told brides not to do: don’t try on a dress outside of your budget! Why? Because you’ll fall in love with it as I did! In my case, it was several thousand dollars out of my price range. For as much as I tried to cut wedding expenses from another category to offset (and try to justify) the dress purchase, I couldn’t make it work.
I knew from that point on that I was not going to find another dress to match how I felt in the over-budget one. So, I gave up the dress search and instead focused on designing my dress. When it was finally time to cut and sew it, I had to make time for that as well. Even if it meant sewing until 1 am after getting off of an 8-hour shift. My dress wasn’t the only thing I made either. I also made the invitations and anything else I could handle.
My Final Wedding Planning Advice
The most stressful time was the month before the wedding. I had to quit my jobs, finalize details, fly to Austin for final meetings with vendors, fly back to California, and then road trip with my family to the wedding. In retrospect, I should’ve asked for more help and/or hired a wedding planner. I always ask myself: would I do it over again? Absolutely! After all, why not have a chance to wear another fabulous wedding dress and make it an even bigger party than last time!!! Would I do things differently? Some things, not all. So, if you’re like me and are planning an out-of-state wedding, save yourself lots of stress by hiring a wedding planner!
And while I can only provide wedding planning advice based on my experience, I’ve asked some wedding pros to give their advice on finding photographers, DJ/entertainment, and wedding planners.
Wedding Planning Advice: Photographer Tips from William of William Innes Photography
- Do Your Homework. You’ll get much more out of a meeting or conversation with a wedding photographer if you do a little background homework first. Spend some time on the internet or talking to friends who’ve recently married. Find out the average prices in your area and what services are available. Get an idea of what you like and don’t like. This way when you meet with a wedding photographer you’ll be able to ask better questions and have an idea of what to look out for.
- Meet With Them. An in-person meeting is the best way to interview a potential wedding vendor. It lets you get the full experience of their personality, style, and professionalism. If that’s not possible, have a phone conversation.
- Ask Questions. There are no stupid questions! Make sure you get clear, specific answers to your questions. If you aren’t sure what something means, ask them to clarify. Keep asking questions until you completely understand. If a wedding photographer has a problem with you asking questions, they probably aren’t the one for you. The best wedding professionals are patient, understanding, and take the time to help you make the best choices for your wedding.
- Listen. Don’t just hear the words they say, really listen. Watch the photographer’s body language. Are they confident and comfortable with their response? Do they look and sound nervous? Do you get a “funny feeling” about them? Take all the sights, sounds, and feelings into account along with their responses. If your gut tells you something isn’t right, it probably isn’t.
- Check References. Portfolios are hand-picked to show off the best work, but they may not represent the “average” wedding performance. Videos are edited for the best presentation. But real referrals from satisfied clients are hard to fake. Call up both client and professional references. Ask questions and use those listening skills. Even if they give a rave review, you’ll often be able to “read between the lines” if there were any issues or problems. Ask around and search the internet for reviews. Check the Better Business Bureau for any outstanding complaints against the business. Weigh all this information into your choices.
Wedding Planning Advice: DJ/Entertainment Tips from Jabari of Jabari Warfield Entertainment
- A Personal Connection. A good DJ will make a personal connection with you. While in the planning stages of your event, your DJ should make the effort to stay in touch with you whether by phone or email. Since text messages can be misread or misinterpreted, phone calls are still the best method of communication.
- Meet with Them. A DJ should be open to meeting with his/her clients in person. Skype, Google Hangouts, and FaceTime are also good to use in certain situations. When meeting face to face, I suggest a comfortable place, such as a coffee shop or a mom-and-pop style restaurant with medium to large tables. Homes are good to meet, but there can be many distractions in a home, so a neutral venue is best. If possible, try to schedule your meeting BEFORE the lunch and dinner rush to avoid being in an atmosphere that is too hard to hear.
- Music Options. Your DJ should be open to playing the music that you want, as well as, music that you do NOT want to hear. This might also include your guests, but that is up to your discretion of course. Be open to sending music that you specifically want to hear.
- Observe Them. When meeting with a DJ, check their style of dress, mannerisms, demeanor, timeliness, commitment to appointments, and so on. Don’t be afraid to check their social media thumbprint (i.e. Facebook, Instagram, etc.).
- Check References. Don’t be afraid to ask for references.
- A Solid Contract. Also, make sure that your DJ sends you a contract with the following:
- Company name
- Your name as well as your bride/grooms name
- Address of the venue
- Time/date/year of the event (yes, Year. Many people book DJ’s well in advance)
- Time the DJ will arrive/set-up/tear down
- If DJ is providing extras, i.e. up-lighting, smoke, etc
- Music agreed upon
- Style of dress (if necessary)
- You Get What You Pay For. Most people who hire a DJ would jump at the chance to get a DJ for free, or for a very cheap price. Keep in mind that if you hire a DJ for free, they are not committed to showing up. Most DJs will not pass up the chance to do a wedding because of the importance of the day as well as repeat business. However, the old saying “you get what you pay for” applies here as well. Quality does come at a premium price, so while you do not have to blow your budget on a solid DJ, keep in mind that cheaper does not always mean better.
Wedding Planner Tips from Liz of Pop-Fizz-Clink Consulting & Events
Advice to the newly engaged on IF and WHO to hire as your wedding planner.
Brides Needing a Wedding Planner
The biggest question brides face is knowing if a Wedding Planner is right for them? Though most brides can benefit from the help of a planner, these situations call for one more so than others:
- Destination weddings. It’s no coincidence that 25 percent of those embarking on a destination wedding hire a planner.
- Large weddings. Ones with more than 200 hundred guests. More people, more work.
- Difficult family dynamics. The planner can serve as a neutral point person, negotiator, and mediator.
- Inflexible work schedule. If you can’t devote at least 100+ hours to the wedding, a planner will be a lifesaver.
- Organizational phobia. If organization isn’t your strong point, a planner can be a godsend.
Finding the Right Wedding Planner
- Use Resources at Hand. Using resources/websites such as TheKnot.com or WeddingWire.com can lead you to planners in your area. If you happen to have a venue ask your venue coordinator if they have a preferred vendor listing. This list will lead you to planners who work with the venue often and will give you that added confidence of knowing the ins and outs of the venue.
- Planner Style. When looking at a planner’s website look at their work and their style. You’ll notice whether they have a certain style they lean towards. This will help you decide if that planner will be the right fit for what you have envisioned. You wouldn’t want to hire a planner who predominantly works beach weddings when you’re looking for a farm-style wedding. Also, look for the services they offer. Not every planner offers the same services.
- Check References. Don’t forget the check out the testimonial or applause page on their website. A website without any testimonials could be a sign of shoddy service. Most new wives and husbands are more than happy to provide a praising testimonial shortly after the wedding and honeymoon.
- Services & Cost. Once you’ve narrowed down your favorite planners, begin emailing them if they have your wedding date available (if chosen yet) and begin comparing prices. Cheaper is not always better. Some may offer more services that could benefit you in the long run versus hiring another vendor.
- Meet Them. Once you’ve narrowed down your choices ask to meet in person. This will help you decide if you’ll actually be able to work well together. You’d want to work with a person that understands what you’re looking for and you feel comfortable around since you’ll be working with this person for several months. Basically, would you consider this person as a friend and trusted colleague?
Time to Get Started! Once you’ve realized you need a planner and have chosen the one right for you, the fun part begins. Have fun while working with your planner. You’ll be amazed at what all great ideas you’ll bounce off one another and create the wedding of your dreams! Happy planning!
All photography by William Innes
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