Managing your vendor relationships

They are your lifeline when planning the biggest event of your life.  They can make or break it.   They are the most important relationship you will need to maintain throughout the wedding planning process (aside from your fiancé of course!).  They are your vendors.  And though you are paying them for their services - there are some simple things you can do to ensure a smooth and amicable process.  The WORST thing that can happen (and it has) is that you're on horrible terms with your photographer or DJ on the day of your event.  Nobody wants that drama - save it for your Mama.  No, really, your mom will probably be a nervous wreck on the day of your event- save your energy!

Anywho. Let's talk about how to manage and maintain a great working relationship with your vendors that works best for you, your budget and the kick-ass wedding that's gonna put your cousin Rhonda's (who announced her wedding a week after yours) to shame.

Set yourself up for success from the start

The start of your relationship with your vendor is at the initial inquiry. Not only are you vetting the vendor for cost, style, ability, capacity, etc - BUT they are also vetting YOU in your ability to be a human being and not a nightmare.  Basically making sure you’re somebody they can spend the next year working with quite closely, even hopefully developing somewhat of a camaraderie. For example, you may find an amazing venue that you must absolutely book but if you rub whomever is reading that initial email the wrong way - you just bumped yourself way down on their response list.

A few tips for the initial inquiry...

As much as you might be on a tight budget (and rightly so) - don't mention that in your first attempt at communication!  Imagine reading this sentence:  "We're on an incredibly tight budget and looking to keep costs down as much as possible".  If I'm a vendor, that's not gonna make me jump up and say " Oh yes! Let me get back to you right away before all the other 100 inquiries I got today".  Keep that info in your back pocket and save it for negotiations after you've already won them over with your sparkling personality.

Know what you want.  Be prepared, clear and concise.  For instance, if you're contacting a florist, know what blooms you're looking for or at least color palette.  Know how many boutonnières, bouquets, centerpieces you need and have a BUDGET (a wha?!?!??).  Otherwise, your response will be very surface, estimated, and probably inaccurate - taking up much of your time emailing unnecessarily - time you could have spent getting to know the guy/gal that you just got engaged to.  You do have to be married to them for the rest of your life after all.  Better be sure to be sure.

So you've narrowed down to the top 3 possibilities.  Congrats!

Here kicks in The Negotiation Process

Compromise is the core of negotiation.  There will undoubtedly be compromise on both sides of the contract.  Be sure you know going in what your absolute "must haves" are and the items that you can do without or which can wait to see what the final guest count is and how it will affect your budget.  We all have million dollar dreams on a dollar menu budget - we just need to be realistic and make the most of what we can spend.  i.e. You want the filet mignon but you can only afford the minute steak so let's try to settle on the NY strip.

Kill 'em with kindness.  These vendors more than likely pour their heart and soul into their profession and view their work as art.  Try not to put them on the defense by dismissing the value of their work during negotiations.  Perhaps, start your initial attempt with detailing why you've contacted them and what you like about what you've seen/heard about their product.  "Butter 'em up"!  So when you ask them to lower their quote, they feel like you value their work regardless of what you’re asking and ultimately this approach will help you to get to where you need to be.  Remember, they're artists.  They're sensitive.  When making the ask for a discount, try using something to the effect of..." My budget is really ‘xyz’ but I'd really love to work with someone of your caliber and talent - is there anything that can be done to get to my budget?"... as opposed to..."I think 'xyz' is ridiculous for that amount of flowers when I can go to whole foods for a 3rd of the price".

Ok you've booked them.  Now what.  

Now you're in a relationship with your vendor

Communication, as with any relationship is key - but do it on paper. Whether you wanna believe it or not, you've got Wedding Brain.  You're going to make stuff up in your head.  You might not think you're crazy...but you are.  I promise you are.  How can you not be?!?!  Planning a wedding is ALOT.  So...get everything in writing so you can reference back once you've come to your senses.  Email is your best friend BUT be careful not to get yourself into an email Ping-Pong match that's just going to leave everyone confused.  Use ONE email chain for the duration of the relationship and consider leaving an email window open for a week, adding your questions as they come and then sending one lump email instead of 80.

Be a united front at meetings.  It’s the WORST when there are too many cooks in the kitchen and your planning meetings with your vendors are wasted with conversations that sound like “I dunno know, what do you want to do?” or “I was thinking it would be better that we do…”  Yes, I’m talking about parents and friends and PARENTS (I mention them twice especially if they are paying for your event because if they are doing so, you must consider their opinion). Whomever you’ve identified as your planning team, have a pre-game powwow as to where you stand on the issues you’re about to address with your vendor.  Many vendors charge by time or by meeting.  Make the most of that time and come with decisions already made between the planning team.  Otherwise, you could risk suggestions and opinions from the vendor that will cost you more moolah and more anxiety.

Remember, you hired them for a reason.  You did hire your vendor because they are a professional in the field.  If you’re unsure about how to approach a situation, ask their advice and then trust it.  More than likely this is not their first event and they’ve seen whatever scenario you're worrying about several times before; you are paying them to foresee obstacles and circumvent them.  Get your monies worth and trust your vendor.

In the’s YOUR wedding:

So, in complete opposition of my above point, it is YOUR wedding after all.  Be firm in voicing your wants and opinions.  When you feel strongly about something - don't be wishy-washy about it.  Sometimes, vendors can hijack a wedding if allowed (and I’m talking about live bands here among others).  I mean it with all the kindness in my heart towards these incredibly hard working people, but if you don't want dance sets in between meals then don't have them! If you want 3 readings in your ceremony instead of the recommended 2 - do it!  If your vendor doesn't agree then they can give you your money back and move along.

When you hire a professional they should not only live up to their website and fact sheets but take the reins and guide you through the process.  When you can find that right groove between professional respect and "let's be friends after this" with your team it will push your event off the kick-ass ledge.  Your cousin Rhonda will be shaking in her something borrowed and something blue!