Re-Run: Sign on the Dotted Line

November 27th, 2017

I’m re-running some old posts since I think they have some useful information.  Here’s one from a few years ago that never goes out of style:

This bakery had a good contract--and good chocolate!  Photo by Carasco Photography.

This bakery had a good contract–and good chocolate! Photo by Carasco Photography.

I want to share with you some information I give to many of my clients.  It’s on a subject that is hardly glamorous, but is very, very important:  Contracts.  I’m not a contract lawyer, but this is what I have learned by experience.

When you are planning a big celebration, you will have to deal with a number of vendors, and each one of them should give you a contract.  And each one will require a certain amount of your attention.  You should read carefully each contract you are given.  Make sure you agree with every point in it before you sign it.  Because once you sign it, it becomes a legally binding document that might be very hard to get out of.  It’s much better to negotiate it before you sign it.

And all contracts are negotiable, no matter what your vendor says.  The point of a contract is to come to an agreement between parties, so don’t be afraid to negotiate your part of the agreement.  I’m not saying that you can get everything you want into (or out of) every contract, but you don’t have to take whatever they give you without a murmur if you don’t like it.

Every contract should contain a certain minimum of information.  It should have the vendor’s name, address, and phone number on it.  If the vendor wants you to contact them some other way than by phone, that information should also be on the contract so it is easily available.  The contract should also state clearly exactly what the vendor is going to do for you and when they are going to do it.  Likewise, it should say how much you are expected to pay and when.

It is a good idea to include details in the contract:  When and where will deliveries be made?  Will the vendor only bring their goods to the venue or will they also set things up?  If you change your mind and want something extra, what happens?  And what will it cost?  What happens if one party or the other fails to live up to the agreement?  Finally, the contract should be signed and dated by both parties.

Florists and bakeries (in my experience) are notorious for offering incomplete contracts.  Often, small shops don’t have the resources to put together complete contracts.  In this case, you should not hesitate to hand write the missing information onto the contract before it is signed, and make sure the vendor initials the changes.  This will protect both of you.

I learned some of this from my dealings with a certain florist.  What passed for a contract from this florist was just a list of floral options and prices, with one of them circled.  There was no information on delivery or set-up.  I understood from my client that the florist was going to bring all the floral arrangements into the venue and I would set them up.  I even discussed delivery with the shop in the week before the wedding.  Oddly, no one mentioned that the centerpieces weighed between 50 and 100 pounds, somewhat more than I can carry on my own.  The owner of the shop showed up with the centerpieces, carried them down a flight of steps, and placed them where they belonged.  I thought all was well.  Five days after the wedding, I got an e-mail from the floral shop asking for additional payment because the owner had had to do extra work on the delivery.  Fortunately, I had a copy of their contract and was able to explain that they should not expect to recoup their losses from me.  It also might have been better if a complaint had been made on the spot so I could have solved the problem before it happened.

That experience is also one of the reasons I always insist on having copies of every contract that a client has with their vendors.  I can head off a lot of trouble if I know exactly what is expected of each vendor.  So, read your contracts, make sure you agree with their contents, and send a copy on to your planner.  You’ll be happy you did.

Re-Run: A Little Advice To Start Planning

November 13th, 2017
One step in the process of wedding planning:  decor.  Photo courtesy of Agnes Malorney.

One step in the process of wedding planning: decor. Photo courtesy of Agnes Malorney.

When a cousin of mine announced his engagement a few years ago, I wrote a little something to help them get started planning:

Dear Cousins,
Thanks for asking about how to get started with your wedding planning and where to find a planning checklist.  There are probably 100 to be found on the internet and in wedding magazines.  They are all a lot alike.  I think the best thing to do is to take any random one you find and tailor it to your own use.  For myself, I would put it into an Excel spreadsheet, but there are lots of ways to make it useful.  Delete all the things that don’t apply to you.  If you don’t know yet if something is relevant, hang onto it for now and see if it is needed.  And take with a pinch of salt the exact timing recommended by any checklist.  You can adjust it to suit you.
At this point, the three or four things you probably need to be working on are all interconnected:  date of the wedding; location of the ceremony; officiant, if that doesn’t come with the location; location of the reception (assuming you are having a reception–I make no assumptions); and finding a caterer for the reception (assuming ditto).  Of course, there are a lot of other decisions you will need to make in order to make those few decisions, so you may end up working backwards a little and then going forwards.  (For example, you probably have to have some idea of how many people are on your guest list before you start looking for a venue.)  After you have that framework in place, then you can look for other vendors to help you:  florist; photographer; wedding coordinator; clothing; rings; jewelry, etc..  Then it will be time to work on decorative stuff (assuming you aren’t planning to do it all yourself–because if you are, you needed to start on that yesterday):  invitations (functional as well as decorative, of course!), any other paper goods, reception decor, if any, etc.  After that, there will be a lot of little details.
I will caution you about two things:  There is the thing that NPR’s Car Guys call the Wedding-Industrial Complex (or the “Marital-Industrial Complex”).  It is real and it can be dangerous.  It is the bridal industry’s marketing machine that wants you to believe that you can’t have a wedding without having all the stuff provided by all the various vendors.  Don’t buy into it.  It’s not true.  All you really need in order to have a wedding is the two of you and someone who can sign the paperwork–and in some states you need witnesses.  Everything else is optional.  I like to advise my clients to do the things that have some meaning for them and to skip anything else (unless it makes their parents happy, for instance).  So, don’t believe the hype.  Just do the things that will make you happy.
And here’s the other thing:  There are a lot of scams in the wedding industry.  There are unscrupulous vendors who know that you’ve never done this before, and they will not hesitate to jack up prices or insist that you do things their way.  But there are also lots of vendors who will help you to do what you really want to do.  Make sure you find those and steer clear of the others.  Trust your instincts.  If it doesn’t smell right, it probably isn’t right.
Take a look at this previous post of mine, this one and also this one for some tips on how to protect yourself against some of the most common scams and pitfalls of the wedding industry.  And feel free to keep asking.  It’s my pleasure to help you two have a wonderful wedding!

When Should You Hire Your Planner?

November 6th, 2017
Was it planned 2 years in advance?  Or two days?  Photo by T & S Hughes Photography.

Was it planned 2 years in advance? Or two days? Photo by T & S Hughes Photography.

Here’s a question that does not get asked nearly often enough:  When should you hire a coordinator or planner for your wedding or other large event?

The short answer is:  As soon as possible.

If you’re hiring a full-service planner or even someone who is only doing partial planning plus coordinating, you obviously want to hire that person well in advance of the date of the event.  You need to give them time to do their job, which is to plan your event.  No one wants to do a rush job or do the job badly, so ample time is necessary.

But even if you are hiring someone who is only coordinating the day of your event, it is still a good idea to book early.  For one thing, you want to find someone who is available on the date of your event, and Saturday nights start booking up as you approach the date.  But beyond the practicalities of who is available, booking early gives you access to your coordinator’s advice and expertise for a longer period of time, saving you money and headaches.  And it allows for enough time for your coordinator to get to know you and understand what you want.

I don’t know how most planners charge, but if you hire me early, it doesn’t cost you a penny more than if you hire me later.  (In fact, it can save you money.)  My fee is based on the average amount of time I expect to put in on your event, and always includes unlimited phone calls, texts, and emails from the time you hire me until the day of your event.

And what if you’ve waited until the last minute to hire someone to coordinate your event?  Do not despair!  I actually specialize in last-minute jobs (if I am available).  While it’s nice to have months to sort out the details and make sure everything is in place, I’ve coordinated weddings with less than 48 hours notice!

One final word of advice:  Most planners won’t book more than 12 to 18 months out.  That’s my general window, as well.  So, if you are more than a-year-and-a-half from the date of your wedding or event, that is the one time I recommend waiting to hire.  But within a year or so of the date, don’t delay.  Start making calls or sending emails to find the planner who is the right fit for your event.  We all appreciate your booking early.

Shakespeare Gets Married

July 3rd, 2017
The Shakespeare Garden in Evanston, IL.  If you like the Bard, it's a great place to get married.

The Shakespeare Garden in Evanston, IL. If you like the Bard, it’s a great place to get married.

Remember the film Shakespeare in Love?  It appeared in a stage version in Chicago recently and I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes from it:  “Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.”  While this quotation definitely rings true regarding the business of theatre, it also has faint echoes when it comes to weddings.

Now, producing live theatre is actually a lot harder than wedding planning.  (Trust me:  I’ve done both.)  It has some of the same elements, but there’s one big difference:  A stage production has to maintain its illusion of reality at all times and at any cost, no matter what goes wrong or how badly.

The nice thing about weddings is that they are actually real and don’t have to maintain any kind of illusion.  Sometimes people planning weddings are under the mistaken impression that they have to present an illusion of perfection (whatever that means to them), but I’m here to tell you that it isn’t true.  Weddings and theatre both share an element of ritual, but that is about where the similarity ends.

So, if you’re busy planning your wedding and feeling as if you’re running into too many insurmountable obstacles or that you’re on the road to imminent disaster, try taking a step back and looking at the big picture.  Will you end up married to the right person at the end of the day?  Yes?  Well, then you will have had a successful wedding.  It’s nice if your guests are also fed and have someplace to sit and maybe a little entertainment, but as long as the main event comes off, you did it right.  So, don’t sweat the small stuff.