Sign On the Dotted Line

September 28th, 2009
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 whatever they give you.  It protects both of you.

I learned some of this from my dealings with a certain florist.  What passed for a contract with the bride 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 the bride 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 the contract (such as it was) 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 bride has with her 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.

Why I Have an Integrity Pledge

September 21st, 2009
Everyone trusts the vendors when there is no funny business.  Photo by Magical Moments Photography.

Everyone trusts the vendors when there is no funny business. Photo by Magical Moments Photography.

If you have looked recently at the page on my website that deals with Money Matters, you might have noticed at the bottom that I have my integrity pledge there.  In case you’re not familiar with how this scheme I mention 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–an amount equivalent to 10% 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) has several drawbacks.  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 masters 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.  And 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.

Success Stories (2nd in the Series)

September 13th, 2009

Here’s one of my favorite event stories, ever:

There were roses everywhere.

There were roses everywhere.

On a Monday afternoon, I got a call from a business man from the East Coast. He was coming to Chicago to take a lady out on a date, and he wanted to do something amazing, something unheard-of. He suggested a yacht, private dinner in a gorgeous location, a helicopter tour, private entertainment. It all had to be first class, exceptional, and, as he put it, “over the top.” Money was no object, he said.  Oh, and this date was to be a week from that Wednesday.  I had another event to work on for a few days, so in less than a week, and with the invaluable assistance of the events staff there, I was able to put together for him a private, candlelit dinner for two in the Sky Theatre at the Adler Planetarium, with skyline views of the city projected on the dome and a private sky show after dinner. A string quartet played after a black, stretch limousine brought the guests to dinner. There were flowers everywhere, and the dining table looked like a Victorian valentine. Afterwards, he said that everything was “spectacular.”

What’s In the Emergency Bag?

September 1st, 2009

One thing comes with me to just about every event I do:  my emergency bag.  I have a very sturdy canvas gardening bag with many pockets and pouches that contains lots of things that I might need at a wedding or other event where I am working.  The contents of the bag change from time to time as I add or remove items, but the basic things it contains remain.  Because I was a good Girl Scout, I try to be prepared for every emergency, and so my bag contains these things:

* An ace bandage, alcohol swabs, antibacterial ointment, bandages, an ice pack, and other things that might be needed for first aid.  Fortunately, these things see very little use, but I always want to have them on hand.

* Bobby pins, a comb, a cuticle stick, dental floss, tissues, hand lotion, mouthwash, a nail clipper, an emery board, toothpaste, and similar personal care items.

* An eyeglass fixing kit, hot glue and a hot glue gun, a stapler, rubber bands, safety pins, a sewing kit, and velcro.  These are the things I reach for the most often.  There always seems to be one groomsman who loses a jacket button–if it isn’t the groom.

* Insect repellent, sunscreen, matches, a lint brush, pantyhose, and black socks.

The florist brought plenty of pins.  But what if he hadn't?

The florist brought plenty of pins. But what if he hadn't? Photo by Happy Buddy PhotoArt.

* Aisle runner pins, wide white ribbon, corsage pins, and white chalk.

* And twenty kinds of tape.  This is probably my favorite thing in the bag.  Someone always asks, “Lisa, do you have any tape?”  It comes in handy for so many things, and I have just about any kind you might need.

There are a few more things I would like to add to my stash to make sure I am prepared for everything.  Don’t worry, though:  If there is an emergency, I’ll come up with a solution whether I have that one item in my bag or not.