From directing the bride to the best dress shops and cake decorators to pinning on the corsages the day of the wedding, wedding and party consultants, sometimes called event professionals, assist in the planning of weddings, receptions, and other large celebrations and events. By and large, most consultants deal in weddings. These consultants generally have home-based businesses, but spend a great deal of time visiting vendors and reception and wedding sites.
Wedding and Party Consultant Career History
Weddings have long provided good careers for musicians, photographers, florists, printers, caterers, and others. Marriage brokers—men and women who made their livings pairing up brides with grooms for nicely “arranged” marriages—were once considered prominent members of some cultures. Wedding consulting, however, has only emerged in recent years. In the years before wedding consultants, brides divided up responsibilities among cousins and aunts—a family gathered together to lick invitation envelopes assembly-line style, a favorite aunt mixed batches of butter mints, a married sister with some recent wedding experience helped the bride pick a dress and china pattern. But usually it was not until after the event that the bride really had a sense of how to plan a wedding. Enter the first serious wedding consultants in the early 1980s. Recognizing how a bride can benefit a great deal from a knowledgeable guide, men and women hired themselves out as wedding and party experts. But it has only been during the last few years that the major wedding magazines and publications have given serious consideration to wedding consultants. Now most wedding experts consider a consultant a necessity in planning a perfect and cost-efficient wedding.
Wedding and Party Consultants Job Description
Can’t decide whether to have butterflies or doves released at your wedding? Want to get married on a boat, but do not know how to arrange it? Want a chef who will prepare your reception dinner at the table? Even if your requests run a little more mainstream than these, it can be difficult choosing reliable florists and other vendors, and staying within a budget. The average wedding costs close to $20,000 (including the dress), but many brides end up frustrated and disappointed with their ceremonies. Wedding consultants help brides save money and avoid stress by offering their services at the earliest stages of planning. They provide the bride with cost estimates, arrange for ceremony and reception sites, order invitations, and help select music. They also offer advice on wedding etiquette and tradition. Consultants then stay on call for their brides right through the ceremonies and receptions, pinning on flowers, instructing ushers and other members of the wedding parties, taking gifts from guests, and organizing the cake-cutting and bouquet toss.
When brides and their families seek out the services of Packy Boukis, owner of Only You Wedding and Event Consulting, she offers them “The Love Story,” a full-service package of planning and organization. “I create a binder for the bride,” Boukis explains. “It includes a wedding schedule, the wedding party, a section for each vendor, a budget. Everything she’ll need is in that book, and it’s updated every four to six weeks.” In these cases, Boukis helps the bride with every step of the planning. She goes with the bride to visit each vendor, such as florists and photographers, to offer her advice and negotiate prices. Boukis is also present at the rehearsal and the wedding to organize and see to the last-minute details, assisting in everything from floral arrangement to sewing on popped buttons. Boukis has a full office in her home and works alone, with the exception of the wedding day when she has the assistance of a small staff and her husband. “My husband meets with the groomsmen,” Boukis says, “and makes sure the tuxes are okay.”
Despite her involvement in the many different stages of a wedding’s plan, Boukis is quick to point out that each wedding is still very much the bride’s own. “I show her three different vendors for each category,” she says. “I don’t dictate; it’s her choice.” It is Boukis’s responsibility as consultant to make sure that the bride has a stress-free event, and to help the bride save money. Boukis benefits from discounts on services, and accepts no commissions or rebates, therefore passing savings on to the brides.
In addition to full-service consulting, Boukis offers smaller, less-expensive packages. The “First Date” package is simply a single consultation, while the “I Do, I Do” package includes only wedding day assistance with plans the bride has already made herself.
Though Boukis will sell invitations from time to time, she doesn’t market products. Some consultants, however, sell a variety of services from candles and linens to hand-calligraphed invitations to party favors. A consultant may even own a complete bridal boutique. Some consultants specialize in only “destination” weddings. They set up services in exotic locales, like Hawaii, and handle all the details for an out-of-town bride who will only be arriving the week of the wedding. Consultants also arrange for special wedding sites like historic homes, public gardens, and resorts.
A consultant can also introduce a bride to a number of “extras” that she may not have been aware of before. In addition to arranging for the flowers, candles, and cakes, a consultant may arrange for horse-and-carriage rides, doves to be released after the ceremony, wine bars for the reception, goldfish in bowls at the tables, and other frills. Some brides rely on consultants to meet difficult requests, such as booking special kinds of musicians, or finding alternatives to flowers. Weddings on TV and in the movies often inspire brides. For example a candlelit wedding in a condemned, half-demolished church on the TV show Friends sent wedding consultants scurrying to re-create the site in their own cities.
Wedding and Party Consultant Career Requirements
To be a wedding consultant, you have to know about more than wedding traditions and etiquette. Above all, wedding consulting is a business, so take courses in accounting and business management. A bride will be relying on you to stay well within her budget, so you’ll need to be able to balance a checkbook and work with figures. A sense of style is also very important in advising a bride on colors, flowers, and decorations—take courses in art and design. A home economics course may offer lessons in floral arrangement, menu planning, fashion, tailoring, and other subjects of use to a wedding planner.
Practically any school organization will offer you a lot of experience in leadership and planning. Also, join your prom and homecoming committees, and various school fundraising events. You will develop budgeting skills, while also learning about booking bands, photographers, and other vendors.
A good liberal arts education can be valuable to a wedding consultant, but may not be necessary. Community college courses in small business operation can help you learn about marketing and bookkeeping. Some colleges offer courses in event planning. Courses in art and floral design are valuable, and you should take computer courses to learn how to use databases and graphics programs. Your best experience is going to be gained by actually planning weddings, which may not happen until after you’ve received some referrals from a professional organization. Various professional organizations offer home study programs, conferences, and seminars for wedding consultants. You should speak to representatives of the organizations to learn more about their programs, and to determine which one would be best for you. June Wedding Inc. offers a training course through the mail. The Association of Bridal Consultants (ABC) has an apprenticeship program that links new members with established consultants. ABC also offers their Professional Development Program, a home-study program including courses in etiquette, marketing, and planning. The Association of Certified Professional Wedding Consultants have their own training program which addresses such topics as starting a business, and dealing with contracts and fees.
Certification or Licensing
Certification isn’t required to work as a consultant, but it can help you build your business quickly. Packy Boukis received certification from June Wedding, Inc., an organization that also referred her to her first clients. Brides often contact professional associations directly, and the associations refer the brides to certified consultants in their area. Upon completing any of the training programs mentioned above, you’ll receive some form of certification. Higher levels of certification exist for those who have been certified longer.
From parties to vacations, Boukis loves to organize things. “You should be creative,” Packy advises, “and like to help people.” Good people skills are very important— much of your success will rely on your relationships with vendors, musicians, and all the others you’ll be hiring for weddings, as well as good word-of-mouth from previous clients. You should be good at helping people make decisions; moving clients in the right direction will be a very important part of your job. Patience is necessary, as you’ll need to create a stress-free environment for the bride.
Wedding and Party Consultant Career Path
Modern Bride and other bridal magazines publish many articles on wedding planning, traditions, and trends. Subscribe to a bridal magazine to get a sense of all the ins-and-outs of wedding consulting. Visit the Web sites of professional associations, as well as posting sites like Boukis’s at “Cleveland Live.” Sites featuring questions and answers from professionals can give you a lot of insight into the business. A few cable networks feature series on weddings: A Wedding Story on The Learning Channel depicts wedding planning documentary style; Weddings of a Lifetime on Lifetime Television broadcast the fantasy weddings of chosen couples.
For more hands-on experience, contact the professional organizations for the names of consultants in your area and pay them a visit. Some consultants hire assistants occasionally to help with large weddings. A part-time job with a florist, caterer, or photographer, can also give you a lot of experience in wedding planning.
Most consultants are self-employed. In addition to working for brides and other individuals planning large celebrations, consultants work with museums and other nonprofit organizations to plan fundraising events. They also work for retail stores to plan sales events, and plan grand-opening events for new businesses. Hotels, resorts, and restaurants that host a number of weddings sometimes hire consultants in full-time staff positions. Large retail stores also hire their own full-time events coordinators.
Consultants work all across the country, but are most successful in large cities. In an urban area, a consultant may be able to fill every weekend with at least one wedding. Consultants for “destination” weddings settle in popular vacation and wedding spots such as Hawaii, the Bahamas, and Las Vegas.
Packy Boukis worked for several years in other businesses before finding her way to self-employment. “But all my jobs,” she says, “led naturally to consulting.” Early on, she worked in her family’s chocolate company, Mageros Candies, which gave her a strong entrepreneurial background. She holds an associate degree in business administration and has worked as an executive secretary and as a teacher. Demonstrating magnetic windows for Sears helped her develop valuable sales, presentation, and people skills. She has also worked for a bridal registry in a department store.
Many people find their way to wedding consulting after careers as event coordinators and planners, or after working weddings as caterers, florists, and musicians. If you have already developed relationships with area vendors and others involved in the planning of weddings, you may be able to start your own business without the aid of a professional organization. But if you’re new to the business, it’s best to go through a training program for certification. Not only will you receive instruction and professional advice, but you will receive referrals from the organization.
With guidance, training, and a clear understanding of the responsibilities of the job, a wedding consultant can command a good fee from the onset of a new business. Start-up costs are relatively low, since you can easily work from your home with a computer, an extra phone line, and some advertising. You might want to invest in some basic software to maintain a database, to make attractive graphics for presentation purposes, and to access the Internet. Owning formal and semi-formal dress wear is also important, as you’ll be attending many different kinds of weddings.
As you gain experience as a consultant, you’ll be able to expand your business and clientele. You’ll develop relationships with area vendors that will result in more referrals and better discounts. With a bigger business, you can hire regular staff members to help you with planning, running errands, and administrative duties. Some consultants expand their services to include such perks as hand-calligraphed invitations and specially designed favors for receptions. Many consultants maintain Web sites to promote their businesses and provide wedding advice. Packy Boukis has already expanded her expertise to the World Wide Web and other media, providing interviews for Modern Bride Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. She would like to someday put together a packet of informative books for brides.
Due to the fairly recent development of wedding consulting as a career, there haven’t been any comprehensive salary surveys. Also, the number of uncertified consultants and consultants who only plan weddings part time make it difficult to estimate average earnings. Though consultants make between 10 to 15 percent of a wedding’s expense, consultants generally charge a flat rate. Robbi Ernst, founder of June Wedding Inc., has maintained a survey of consulting fees over the last 14 years. He places initial consultation fees at $275 to $425 per session, with a session lasting about three hours. A consultant may also be hired to oversee all the pre-wedding administrative details for between $1,000 and $2,000. A consultant who works the wedding day only, will charge between $1,200 and $1,800. For a complete package, with assistance in the months before the wedding and up through the reception, a consultant will charge $3,000 or more. “These fees are based on educated and trained wedding consultants,” Ernst says. “Our survey finds that people who have formally trained and certified can get these fees from the onset of their business if they are professional and know what they’re doing.”
These fees are based on consultants in metropolitan areas with populations of 500,000 or more. In a large city, an experienced consultant can realistically expect to have a wedding planned for every weekend. Because destination weddings are usually much smaller than traditional weddings, consulting fees are lower.
For someone who loves weddings and meeting new people, consulting can be an ideal career. Your clients may be stressed out occasionally, but most of the time they are going to be enthusiastic about planning their weddings. During the week, your hours will be spent meeting with vendors, taking phone calls, and working at the computer. Your weekends will be a bit faster paced, among larger crowds, and you will get to see the results of your hard work—you will be at the wedding sites, fussing over final details and making sure everything goes smoothly.
Your office hours won’t be effected by weather conditions, but on the actual wedding days you’ll be expected to get easily and quickly from one place to the other. Bad weather on the day of an outdoor wedding can result in more work for you as you move everything to the “rain site.” One of the perks of wedding consulting is taking an active part in someone’s celebration; part of your job is making sure everyone has a good time. But you’ll also be expected to be present for weddings, receptions, and rehearsal dinners, which means you’ll be working weekends and occasional evenings.
Wedding and Party Consultant Career Outlook
There are currently four professional organizations devoted to furthering the careers of wedding consultants. Their efforts should result in greater public awareness of the career, and consequently a more cautious clientele. Uncertified consultants will find it increasingly difficult to find work. With this increased career awareness, more community colleges will offer courses in wedding and event planning.
According to Robbi Ernst of June Wedding Inc., the people getting married for the first time are older, better educated, and have more sophisticated tastes than in years past. They’re paying for their own weddings and have more original ideas for their ceremonies. Also, more people are celebrating their anniversaries by renewing their vows with large events. Wedding consultants will want to capitalize on this trend, as well as expand into other ceremonies like bar and bat mitzvahs.
Wedding consulting is one of few career fields that will not likely be affected much by technology. Though fads and trends do change weddings slightly from season to season, wedding ceremonies are based on old traditions. Most brides like to adhere to wedding etiquette, and to have weddings similar to those they imagined as children. Desktop publishing may change the consultant’s office somewhat, resulting in some consultants designing their own invitations. Consultants may even expand their areas by assisting brides over the Internet.