Minneapolis wedding officiant Rev Coleman, for a chapel with a Minnesota wedding

How to Be a Wedding Planner

College students often ask me about internships, and if I have any advice on how to be a wedding planner. It's definitely one of those jobs where experience and reputation count for more than schooling, but schooling can help, of course.

Have you heard of the 10,000-hour rule? Basically, it says that in order for any professional to be the very best, like Michael Jordan great, that professional needs 10,000 hours of experience. Georgia Meyers (Event Planner at The Depot in Saint Paul, MN) told me that someone in her capacity might be working 60 hours a week, and at that rate, you'll get 10K hours in a little of 3 years. If you are a full-time, 40-hour-per-week wedding planner working for yourself, that's about 5 years, but it's incredibly hard to get that much work on your own. A little more realistically, say half-time, 20 hours a week, would take you about 10 years. And it's this kind of 10 years of experience that brides want, the kind of wedding planner who has the resources and experience to care of emergencies, handle conflict well, and keep cool under pressure. But how to start?

Award-winning wedding planners How to get all that experience?

  • Some wedding planners get into the business by starting in the food industry. In this case, I would recommend getting your feet wet at a hotel, country club, or event site, working on the banquet staff at about $12/hour. One of two things will quickly happen - either you'll be noticed because you're a hard worker who is really good at thinking ahead without being told what to do, or, in the other case, you'll realize how difficult the job is and quit (yipe!). If this first-case event happens, you will eventually be promoted to catering manager, and you're on your way. The more you work as a catering manager, the more wedding receptions you worked with, and thus either you'll become a de facto wedding planner, or perhaps start your own business.
  • I've also seen a wonderful wedding planner who started out by owning a rental business, soon specializing in weddings (renting chairs, glasses, etc.), and then branched out into wedding planning.
  • Other wedding planners started by working as an assistant, and that's the route I would recommend, offering your services for free at first, then accepting a wage once you've got some experience. Once you've coordinated a hundred weddings, you'll be ready to start your own business!
  • Degrees:
    • If you want to start out in the hotel business, you can get an actual 4-year college degree, majoring in event planning (thank you, Katherine Hendrickson, Executive Director of Semple Mansion in Minneapolis, MN).
    • Sarah Trotter from Lasting Impressions Weddings, winner of the Twin City Bridal Icon Award, The Knot "Best of Weddings" Award, Bride's Choice Award, and several Wedding Wire "Best Of" awards, earned her marketing degree and then started working as a Marketing Director for a company that ran 15 restaurants. Sarah was a real go-getter, and soon was planning more and more events at the restaurants, including corporate events, weddings, rehearsal dinners, and receptions. Eventually she was planning weddings full-time (and finally she started her own company). If you do earn a degree, can intern and work at hotels over your summer vacations, and perhaps even during the school year, so by the time you graduate,  you'll have some experience already. Sarah says, "Experience is key. Lots of people ask how to be a wedding planner, and I'll only consider their resume if they are a Banquet Manager already, or at least have worked in the event industry or restaurant field for years."
Rev. Tomkin planning weddng with bride and musiciansSo much of being a wedding planner is who you know, too, so you can recommend good vendors (and steer your couples away at the right time, too). The more wedding ceremonies and receptions you work at, the more you know, and of course, the more people who will be recommended to you. The business is definitely local - getting years of experience in Minnesota won't help you if you move to New York! Once you've spent a few years in the field and you know most everyone in town, you can get your couples the best deals, as well as give the best advice.

What does the job entail, besides physically being there on the wedding day, taking care of business? Sarah has a great quote: "95% of my day is on the phone or computer, working out budgets, emailing, and getting quotes."

Some downsides to look at, if you want to be a wedding planner:
  • Giving up every Saturday - spring, summer, and fall. This aspect can be quite wearing, as all your friends and relatives will be working 9-5, and the only time they can get together is when you're working.
  • Spending every Saturday night, until 2:00 am, at someone else's party. Everyone else is having fun and drinking, and you're working.
  • Dealing with conflict. To be a wedding planner, you must be willing to deal with the photographer that doesn't show up, the child who's disconsolate because her mother is intoxicated, the DJ who is saying inappropriate things. You're the one they come to, and you have to be okay with that.
The burnout rate is high, but if you are extroverted, love making phone calls, are organized and good at multitasking with a million things going on at once, good at math and accounting i.e. budgeting, are good and conflict and have a high attention to detail, you, too, can be a wedding planner!