Can You Send Me a Price List? Why I don’t like standard pricing

As you probably know, I completely redid my website in early April.  I had been meaning to do so for a very long time.  I realized that so much of it was out of date, and so much had changed within my business, that it really needed a facelift.  One of the many, many changes I made was to move to simpler packaging for weddings.

Just design, planning, or coordination.  Well, and Design with Coordination, or Design+.  I decided that having Day-of and Month-of services was just too confusing.  That, and I kept finding that my Day-of Coordination package was actually equivalent to most other Month-of Packages.

For the last few months before the big change, I had been explaining this change in e-mails to prospective clients.  I wished so badly that I could snap my fingers and make it all happen on my website too, but these things take time to get right, and this change actually took longer than I had originally intended because my first design simply wasn’t very functional.  So I had to keep explaining that what I do hasn’t changed – just how I talk about it.

With that move toward simplification, I also decided to publish my adjusted pricing for the first time.  I talked about this briefly in my announcement of the new site, but I wanted to get into it a little more here.  There are several schools of thought for wedding professionals as to whether prices should be published online, and originally (before my first site went live to the world, when I was asking for feedback from friends and mentors) I’d published mine.  I wanted transparency.  I remembered planning my own wedding, and how helpful it was to have prices published.  I was counseled to have them by request only, at first, and I’m glad I was, because the more weddings and events I did, the more I learned about how long each process takes and what is involved.

But now I am pretty confident in my pricing structure.  And I still think it’s important (in fact I heard feedback once from a friend who had referred someone to me; that someone had taken one look at my services page and said “She doesn’t publish her prices, so she has to be too expensive for me!”).  So I’m feeling pretty good about service structure and price publishing.  But it also is tough.

I often get e-mails that say simply, “My fiancé and I are getting married [on a certain date, in a certain month, or sometimes even in a certain year].  Can you send me your pricing sheet?”  It’s hard, really.  Because I don’t like standard pricing, and I have never had a pricing sheet.  Even now, my website reads “starting at…” for a reason.  Because each wedding is different.

Wedding Design, Planning, and Coordination are all best when they’re personal to you.  Just like your house, your phone, your wardrobe…  You are an individual.  Your wedding is not the same as anyone else’s.  In fact, I relish weddings that are personalized, handmade, and quirky.  It’s my favorite thing to do, planning a wedding with a couple who wants their personalities to shine.

Married by a Robot. Oh yes.

Standard pricing assumes that you have a “standard” wedding.  And what does that mean?  That you’re just the same as the next couple?  That you have the same needs? That your planner or coordinator just charges everyone the same price without putting any thought into it?  That you’re getting charged for services you might not need, or maybe that you’re not getting enough service for your wedding because it’s not in the package?

For a while I was actually putting together a full quote for every couple who contacted me, adding up all my costs each time (which is why I was glad that I was counseled to not post standard pricing, because it did fluctuate).  As I said before, I have decided to streamline my packages, based on what normally happens at a wedding and what I’ve learned is necessary (all my weddings now happen with at least one assistant, for example).  This will help give my potential clients a ballpark figure for the service they want before they ever contact me, and I think that’s important.

But I’m leery of standard pricing.  It’s like going to buy your first house without any inkling of the market around you.  You know you want three bedrooms and two baths, but you’ve never bought a house before and have no clue if you’ll need to plan on $20,000 or $200,000 or $2,000,000 to purchase it (and have apparently been living under a rock, but bear with me on the analogy).  You contact a real estate agent who says to you that all of their three-bedroom, two-bath homes cost $400,000, regardless of neighborhood, lot size, or condition of the home.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense in real estate, and I don’t think it makes a lot of sense in wedding planning either.

Every wedding has it’s own personality – the unique number of guests and attendants, location, and setup details.  An outdoor wedding under the stars will require far more complicated a setup (tables, chairs, dance floor, lighting, heaters, restrooms, cooking equipment, etc.) than a ballroom wedding.  Especially an outdoor wedding with tons of DIY details (or one without professional vendors for things like floral design and music).  Hanging hundreds of ribbons in a tree for your ceremony or a backdrop to your sweets table looks amazing (and I love, love, love doing it – I’m so looking forward to sharing my next post with you where I can show you what it looks like!), but it can take hours.  Hours of painstaking detail work.   On a ladder.  So can arranging the perfect combination of wildflowers in jars.  Or creating that tower of favors, or that escort card puzzle.  The Chinese lantern sculpture I created last year for Emily + Jeremy  was insanely gorgeous and a breathtaking piece to decorate the entry to their wedding reception.  But it took three people four hours to complete.  No joke.

One of the biggest factors in my pricing is making sure that I have enough hands to complete heavy setup jobs like these.  But the number of guests is also a factor, since setting up place settings and favors for 300 guests is a far different story than setting up for 50 (to say nothing of guest management during the wedding or cleanup afterwards, or all the other things we do and decor we set up).  Based on the whole picture of the wedding day, I’ll hire either my regular assistant or a combination of full- and half-day assistants to help make it all happen.  And of course, I have to charge for travel outside of San Diego County, in order to make sure I don’t lose money on events in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, or Santa Barbara Counties.

The thing is, I suppose that if I charged an extreme amount for my services, I could absorb things like extra assistants and mileage into my bottom line.  But I don’t – I try to provide the best value cost possible for my services while still offering excellent service and quality.  And I hate charging people for things they don’t need.  So I always will need more specifics before confirming a price for a potential client.  Which is part of the reason I’m excited that I built my new website with an inquiry page that asks for more information than would be included in the e-mail I mentioned above.

And I’m happy about that.  I’d much rather review all the details of a wedding day before giving my potential couples a final price.  It takes a little longer, and is more work intensive.  And there’s the dreaded “starting at…” listed on my site.  But I’m truly happy.  Because I don’t want to do cookie cutter weddings, and I don’t want to overcharge any of my clients.  I’m proud to say that my weddings are anything but “standard,” and that’s just the way I want them to be!

Photo from the McAwesome Wedding, by Events by Elisa

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What Sets You Apart From Other Planners?

Two weeks ago I had a phone consultation with a potential (now, a new) client.  They live 2,000 miles away, so meeting in person was out of the question.  It’s always nerve-wracking trying to figure out how to ask the right questions of one another so that you feel comfortable with each other (both as potential planner and as potential client).  I asked the couple a bunch of questions (why they were having their wedding here, for example, and what they wanted the day to look like…  My favorite answer was to my question of what they wanted their guests to walk away thinking: “That was the best wedding ever!”  But I digress…).  Then it was their turn to ask me.

The groom had obviously prepared, because his first question was a doozy.  “What sets you apart from other planners?”

I have to admit, I said out loud that he was asking the hard questions!  It’s so difficult to compare one planner to another.  But I really liked my response, and I wanted to share.

There are three things that make me unique among planners in San Diego.  Some planners share one or two of these with me.  But I think the combination of all three is what makes me special.

  1. I believe in exceptional service.  I take on a maximum of two weddings per month, and never schedule two on the same weekend.  This is by design, for a number of different reasons, including that I want to have enough energy to really make your wedding day amazing.  But it also means that you will be my only client for the week of your wedding.  That entire week leading up to your wedding day I’ll be able to focus on your wedding (I may still be talking and meeting with other brides and grooms, but as yours is the only wedding I’ll have for that whole week, you’ll be able to get almost all of my attention!).
  2. I am realistic about costs.  I’d never, never tell a couple that they couldn’t have a wedding for their budget.  It’s all about prioritizing and making alternate arrangements, but I’ve seen beautiful weddings at every price point.  I’d also never tell a couple that they could have a wedding for X amount, while knowing that it will cost them X+.  If I’m given a budget, I’ll do everything in my power to stick to it.  You’ll also be heavily involved in any budget changes, if they do arise.  I will work every bit of magic to get you the best wedding day possible within your means, and I am realistic with my pricing.  I may not be the cheapest wedding planner out there, but I work hard to give all of my brides and grooms the best value, and the benefit of my years as a nonprofit gala planner.
  3. I’m not just a coordinator.  I’m an Event Designer.  This means that I do more than just tell people what to do on your wedding day (seriously!).  I can help you conceptualize your wedding style, find pieces that will fit within your overall look, feel, and budget, and tie it all together.  I also own boxes and boxes of unique and vintage decor (as well as some standard pieces) to help my couples make their vision come to life without breaking the bank.  And don’t forget that I design event-related paper goods, too!
In addition to these traits, I really do care about my brides and grooms, and work as hard as I can to make sure that they have the best wedding day they possibly can.  That is the number one reason why I do this job.  And I love my job!