If you have looked at the page on my website that deals with Money Matters, you might have noticed my integrity pledge there. It says, “I will never take kickbacks from vendors, because I work for you, not for them. When I recommend vendors, you can be certain that I believe they deliver quality services at reasonable prices. I always pass along vendor discounts to my clients.” In case you’re not familiar with how this scheme works, let me lay it out for you here.
When I first hung out my (virtual) shingle as an event planner, vendors started getting in touch with me. They wanted me to refer my clients to them, and, for the privilege, they were willing to pay me–in hard, cold cash–a percentage of what my clients paid them for their work. I understand that this can be quite a good revenue stream for an event planner, but I am not willing to sell out for the cash. I always insist that the vendor give my client the equivalent discount, instead. It costs the vendor the same amount and it allows me to offer my clients a little bonus.
Taking the “commission” (as they call it) is a problem because I work for the person who is paying me. If I were to take both a fee from a client and a payment from a vendor, then I would have two bosses with conflicting interests. I would lose the ability to help my client stay within their budget, since my own personal interest would be for them to spend more. I also might be tempted to refer clients to the vendor who offers me the largest percentage, rather than the vendor who does the best work or gives the best value for money.
I heard a very telling story from a woman I know who makes and sells eco-friendly event invitations. She told me that she had been taking her wares around to various event planners. She was discussing the commission amount with one planner. The planner pointed to a wall of invitation sample books and told her that those vendors all offered her a much higher commission. She clearly expected that this woman would offer her more. That is a situation that can lead to bidding wars, which can not be good for the planner’s clients.
When I first started out as a planner, I was pretty sure I would never take these kickbacks from vendors. But the thing that really gave me the resolve came from a very unexpected place. I took a taxi home from the very first wedding I ever planned and coordinated. The cab driver was an older gentleman, and we chatted on the way home. Of course he asked me what I do and where I was coming from. When I told him that I am a wedding planner, the first thing he said was, “You don’t take those payments from the vendors, do you?” I assured him that I do not take them. And I have never been tempted to go back on my word.