Once engaged and planning a wedding, couples find themselves looking through hundreds of wedding vendors and venues to find the best team for their big day. Most have never done this before and may not know how to find quality wedding vendors. They may be surprised by the amount of interviews to schedule and contracts to review! There’s a lot to finding the right wedding vendor team, and you want to be confident in your choices. Today, we’re here to help with that. This article will go over the basic things you need to know about how to find quality wedding vendors.
As a wedding photographer for nine years now, I’ve worked with dozens and dozens of wedding vendors–good, bad, and indifferent. I’ve learned to spot red flags, as well as green flags for reliability, trustworthiness, and quality work. I’ve also seen some of the rare horror stories that go down when vendors who appear fine to work with are less than professional behind-the-scenes. I’m also joined by Johanna of JLM Design and Events, a wedding planner in the Richmond area with over ten years of experience. Together, we’re going to guide you through how to find quality wedding vendors and offer some suggestions on what questions to ask, what top factors to consider, and more.
What’s in this article?
Introducing Guest Expert, Johanna, owner of JLM Weddings and Events
Johanna is a mom, wife, and fur mama. All boys! She has been in the wedding industry for ten years! She started JLM in 2020, after working as a senior event coordinator for a well known local venue in the Richmond, Virginia area. Learn more about JLM Design and Events here.
What are the top qualities to look for in wedding vendors?
Clear communication is essential for the wedding planning process, no matter what role the vendor plays. While planners help to orchestrate the overall game plan, each vendor has to understand the couple’s vision for their wedding and how they support it. You should be able to tell whether someone is a clear communicator from the inquiry and interview process. Do they respond in a reasonable time? Are their emails clear and easy to read? Do they catch the details of what you’re asking? Pay attention to how you feel while talking to them. Their customer service will likely mirror what the initial inquiry and interview process was like. You may want to meet in person or on zoom to have a live conversation. Email and written communication can lack context and tone.
In an industry where creatives, artists, and self-taught individuals can enter the wedding space at any time, the word professional can be dicey. Anyone can set up an LLC and get some business insurance. You want to look for professional behaviors. Have they been on time for your calls and meetings? Do they have clear answers to your questions? Can they explain the terms and conditions of their service and how to work together? (Better yet, a contract!) Is their pricing clear? Do they communicate with respect and seem willing to coordinate with other vendors? These things will separate the average vendors from the great ones. Definitely look through reviews to see other couples’ experiences!
A wedding is a huge collaborative event. You don’t want to hire a vendor who doesn’t work well with others or isn’t willing to accommodate and discuss your ideas. The best wedding vendors are eager to collaborate with other vendors to make your day as seamless as possible. This might look like being willing to put all communication through the wedding planner so the whole team stays up to date, instead of working with the couple in a silo. These little acts of collaboration lead to a stress-free wedding day.
An easy example of this is wedding photographers and videographers. They often have to share space, work shoulder-to-shoulder, and need to be aligned on how to both get the shots that the couple will love, without wasting time or stepping in each other’s way. Negative comments about working with the other party are a huge red flag. You want a team that is up for the challenge of working together to serve you in the best way possible.
What are some questions to ask your vendors before you hire them?
These will vary based on the type of vendor you are interviewing. Here are some basic considerations that apply across the board.
- What’s your day of back up plan in case of emergencies? Sickness, accidents, emergencies of all kinds happen. Each vendor should have an idea of what they would do in the case that they can’t personally come to your wedding. A contract should outline what this looks like and whether you’re owed a refund or not.
- How many people are part of your team on our wedding day? For some vendors, this helps us know if they are staffing appropriately for the event. This matters for vendors like caterers and bar services. For others, it’s helpful to know how many vendor meals to prepare and whether the vendor will have support on-site if something happens to them once the wedding begins.
- Are there any additional fees outside of the package information sent? i.e. travel, lodging, tax, etc. Surprise fees can add up! For venues, you want to check to see if there are any vendor restrictions that may impact your budget, like an in-house caterer with a minimum spend for food and beverage.
- What is the payment schedule? You want to understand the deposit and/or retainer fee, alongside the cancellation policy and remainder of the fee schedule.
- How many weddings do you take on each year, or per weekend? If your vendors are pulling double headers or even multiple events in a day, that will impact the individualized service you receive. There’s no right or wrong thing to look for here–but it’s something you’ll want to take into consideration.
- Request a detailed list of what is included in the package and or charges–clarity in this information is essential!
- ARE YOU LICENSED AND INSURED? This looks different for different vendors. Catering and bar service have more strict licensing requirements than someone like a musician or decorator. Each industry has nuances to it. Hair and makeup artists don’t have to be licensed cosmetologists, but many are. Your planner can help you sort out what you should be looking for with each vendor. At a minimum, a business license with their locality and general liability insurance is essential.
- Photographers and videographers – what is your turn around time, and how can I use the files after I receive them? Editing takes time, and each vendor’s process is different. You want to know when to expect final deliverables, what format, as well as whether you can share, print, post your images and video files. Copyright infringement is no joke, so make sure you understand what kind of use license you’ll be receiving!
What kind of things should couples look for in wedding vendor contracts?
Every vendor is different, however the bare minimum for everyone should include information about these:
- The details of the service you’re getting and final deliverables
- Hours of service, both on-site for the wedding day and planning calls beforehand, if applicable
- Payment agreement and schedule, including total cost
- Cancelation policy, including nuances like which party is canceling, acceptable reasons, cancelation timeline, emergencies and same-day changes
- Final deliverable dates, and major milestones for said service (aka catering, when is your final guest count due; DJ’s, when is the playlist input due, etc)
- Your responsibilities towards the vendor–whether you owe them a questionnaire, list of contacts, RSVP list, etc
- Legal next steps if issues arrive
What are some common red flags you see with subpar wedding vendors?
- Communication and punctuality. If you are waiting weeks at a time for a response, late to appointments, they don’t have detailed answers, etc that’s a red flag.
- Vendors that do not do contracts. There’s no reason for this–contracts protect and inform you both.
- Not licensed and insured. It’s essential and not that expensive. You just never know what could happen. There was recently a viral incident with a non-licensed planner who accidentally caused a lot of water damage at a hotel, which was booked under the bride’s name. That’s a lot of liability to not be insured!
- They don’t limit the number of events they do, either in a weekend or a year. No vendor can serve an infinite amount of couples without the quality of service going down.
- Their online presence is inconsistent. Can’t find much information about them online, no social media presence, no reviews- ALSO be careful of botted social media accounts… more followers don’t always mean the best service.
- Pricing seems too good to be true, only accepts cash or venmo, pricing isn’t super clear, etc.
- Trust your instincts! If you feel red flag feelings, just interview someone else instead. Half of vendor selection is finding the right personal fit to make you feel supported. It’s okay to explore a few options before signing a contract.
- Vendors who do too many things. You probably don’t want a canned DJ, Photography, Videography, lighting and decorating package. Experience has shown that those vendors aren’t going to be the best at what they do. You might not know which individuals are filling which roles until the day of your wedding, and their portfolio is viewed collectively instead of individually. The talents of the individuals will vary and can’t be confirmed ahead of time.
What would you say to someone considering new or lower priced Wedding vendors?
In general, you get what you pay for. While there are rare exceptions of a diamond in the rough, most low priced vendors come with low experience, quality, or knowledge. When talented individuals are just getting started in the industry, there’s still going to be some knowledge gaps and you can’t predict what expertise will be needed on the wedding day. There are just some things that you can only learn through working in weddings for a while. Experience in this industry is worth its weight in gold. Even just the social skills of being part of high stress situations, tight timelines, and family conflict are extremely valuable.
That said, everyone has budgets to consider. Weigh your priorities with your partner. If you’re looking at lower priority vendors and need to decrease your budget a bit, do the best with what you have. Just don’t risk elements of the wedding day that are truly important to you with vendors that don’t have the depth of experience.
Where should couples look for wedding vendors?
Referrals from vendors and friends are typically the most reliable sources for finding quality wedding vendors. There are tons of ways to find great vendors! There’s Instagram, there’s Wedding vendor websites such as The Knot, or there’s just good ol’ Google. However, you’ll spend a lot of time searching and vetting vendors, when your planner may already know the people you need. Referrals can be the most reliable source for building up a great wedding day team. Taking recommendations from a planner or a venue or a dress shop or a florist is more likely to lead to a professional who will not only deliver amazing service, but someone whose personality will be a positive presence during those 7 – 12-hour days.
Final words of wisdom for hiring Quality wedding vendors
Trust your gut! When you’re talking with a vendor, trust your gut! If you have to be convinced to hire a vendor, they’re probably not the right fit for you.
Hire a planner before anything else. They will advocate for you and help you navigate a fun, stress free wedding planning process. A skilled and professional planner will help you navigate all the contracts, terms, spot issues early, etc. We’ve talked about a lot of things to consider here, some of which can be challenging for a couple going through this process alone. A planner already has vetted vendors in mind to make this process easier for you.
DO NOT HIRE UNINSURED AND LICENSED VENDORS, or vendors who don’t do contracts! There’s just no excuse these days for not having these things in line. Contracts and insurance protect everyone, not just the couple.
Have more questions about finding quality wedding vendors?
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Jo Mahaney is a professional photographer of PhotographyByJo.net based in Staunton, Virginia, specializing in wedding photography. With over eight years of experience, Jo is dedicated to creating effortless, joyful imagery that authentically captures the essence of each couple’s unique love story. She is known for her ability to create meaningful galleries filled with emotion and personal narratives. Jo is not just a photographer; she is an active supporter of her clients, providing resources and guidance to ensure a stress-free experience. From the initial inquiry call to the wedding day, Jo is transparent, open, and ready to get to know her clients to provide the best service possible. Her commitment to her craft and her clients is evident in the glowing testimonials she has received. Jo’s work extends beyond Staunton, covering areas such as Harrisonburg, Charlottesville, Lexington, Roanoke, and Richmond. She has also had the privilege of photographing weddings in various locations, including the Outerbanks, DC, Maryland, Pennsylvania, North and South Carolina, and even Spain.