WHERE TO START
PLANNING YOUR WEDDING
Where do you start planning your wedding? Seems pretty intuitive doesn’t it?
Well, it’s not quite…
Based on my experience, everyone starts with something different – usually with the one thing they imagine is their number one priority. And about 90% of people fail – me included, back when I got engaged – to take a very important step that would give them the perfect foundation to start planning their wedding.
Obviously, all couples have different priorities and expectations from their wedding. So, it makes sense that they immediately jump on the one or two things that excite them the most about the day. For example, I started looking at venues – because the setting of our wedding was more important than anything else, and at dresses – because I’ve always dreamt of wearing a couture dress and this was my chance to do it . One of my couples, on the other hand, booked their photographer first, because they had been following his work and were keen to get him on board while he had availability.
However, the more I’ve worked with couples, the more I realised that there’s an ideal place to start planning a wedding, that will make the process much easier. Something you can do to help you plan without much stress and drama, and actually enjoy your engagement.
Confusion about the planning process is natural, because it’s new. But being indecisive about your priorities and not really knowing how to communicate to your suppliers your vision and what you expect from the day, can make things very difficult for you. And worse, you can also end up with a few things that are not really what you imagined.
So, before you allocate any budget, make a guest list, buy a dress or book anything, you’ll need to first gain clarity on who you are, what you want from your wedding and how to communicate that efficiently to everyone.
DEFINE YOUR STYLE AND STORY
There is no better time than on your wedding day to let your personalities shine through and share your love story. Easier said than done right? You’re complex people and between the two of you, you probably have a lot of likes and interests. So, how do you take the things that make you who you are, and that define your story as a couple, and translate them into your wedding day?
Well, here’s a method that I use with my clients, that will help you. This is the step-by-step process that I take my clients through, before we actually start planning their wedding (you can read more about my services here). It helps me understand who they are, what everyday choices they make and why, and it guides me to select the details that will make their wedding a stunning and utterly personal celebration. And if this works for me, a complete stranger, you know it’s going to be much easier for you to do it yourselves.
Follow these steps and I promise you, you’ll be in a much, much better place to start planning your wedding. It will make your decision process very straightforward. You’ll save time by focusing your search for inspiration, venue(s) and suppliers in the right direction. And you’ll be able to communicate that vision clearly and consistently across the board.
I start by looking at different aspects of a couple’s lifestyle. And then I look at how all these elements could play out into their wedding day.
Here’s how you can go about doing that yourself. Grab a nice notebook and start describing these 7 aspects of your lifestyle (focus on descriptive words and phrases):
1. Environment & Locale
Look at where you live and where you spend most of your (free) time. If you have aspirations to move someday somewhere entirely different, how would that be? Where do you spend your holidays? Do you travel far or do you love to relax at home? Look at the places where you feel the best in. And describe them in any way that comes to mind, from “green” and “open” to “urban” and “modern”.
2. Interiors & Ambience
First look at how you’ve decorated your house? Or how you’d like to decorate your house (idealy)? How would you describe your style and the atmosphere you’ve created, or dreaming to create? What types of furniture and decor do you use? How about other spaces where you love spending time, outside of home, like your favourite pub, park, holiday villa or museum? What attracts you most to those places?
3. Fashion & Personal Style
Think of what you like to wear. What are your main fashion choices, for everyday and those occasions where you can wear things you love? Have you ever dreamt of wearing something, but never got the chance to? How do you wear your hair and do you wear make-up? What do these things say about your style?
4. Your Social Life
This is all about human interaction. How are you around people in general, and your friends in particular? What kind of social interactions do you prefer? Do you like intimate one-to-ones or do you love mingling in big crowds? How and where do you spend time with the people in your life?
5. Your Passions & Interests
What are you most passionate about in life and what do you enjoy doing in your spare time? Do you have any hobbies or interests? And do you share any of them with your partner?
6. Entertaining & Celebrations
This is probably the one element that is going to make sense the most in the context of your wedding. Think how you like to celebrate special occasions, like birthdays, anniversaries and festive holidays. Where do you celebrate them? Who is there with you? What do you do? Do you go to any parties or social events? Describe the atmospheres that you love most and think of what makes you love them.
7. Couple Life & Personality
And by personality I mean your couple personality. Just like individuals, couples end up having a way of being around each other. Think about that. How are you when it’s just the two of you? What defines you as a couple? What brought you together in the first place and how do you spend your time together?
put that in the context of your wedding
Once you’re done describing all of that – and I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to write everything down, be thorough and use as many descriptive words as possible – it’s time for you to see how the words you wrote, can begin to define the different elements of your wedding.
This can actually be a fun exercise, so feel free to play with it. Pool all of the descriptive words you used in the previous step, and looking at the major components of your wedding, try to figure out if anything sounds right to you. For example if you live in the city but you love to escape to the seaside on your holidays, will that translate into a seaside wedding or a sea inspired decor for a city wedding?
Or, if you’ve described your preferred social gatherings and entertainment as intimate, then you might want to consider having a smaller wedding. This way you can truly love your wedding and make sure it doesn’t make you unnecessarily uncomfortable. Believe me, there are other things that are worth you getting out of your comfort zone.
A few things to keep in mind
Some descriptions that you’ve used for one part of your lifestyle, could also translate to multiple wedding elements. For example, if you love to travel to exotic places, this could describe the location, the style of your venue and/or the style of decor you could use.
When you’re doing this exercise, try to imagine yourselves on your wedding day, and how you’d like to feel. Focusing on feelings, rather than what your mind is telling you things should be like, will help you pinpoint what is truly important and what will make you feel that way on your special day.
Take into account what you both like. And if you have too many different styles and vibes when you’re done, go back and refine them. When you review everything you’ve written down, try to look at it as the description of your wedding day, and how it might all feel on the day. Does it seem to come together seamlessly, or is it more of a mash-up of things?
You don’t need to know how things will actually look or make any decisions at this point. But if you feel something might be too much, put it on the side and revisit later. Once you start planning your wedding, you’ll get a better feel if something will fit in or not. And you can always mention some things you put on the maybe list to your suppliers and ask for their input.
To complete this step look at the following wedding categories:
1. Location | Venue
Focus on where your wedding would be and the environment you’d get married in. Don’t think about what’s possible and what’s not. Think just about what you like. You’ll start to look at logistics after you set your priorities in the next step.
2. Ceremony & Reception Spaces
Think of the interiors (or exteriors) that will convey the style and vibe you’d love to be immersed in on the day.
3. Wedding Attire | Dress Code for Guests
This one’s pretty straight forward – what style of wedding attire will you wear on the day? And for your guests, think in terms of formal/informal, depending on the style of celebration you’ll have and the ambience you’ll create.
4. Decor, Flowers & Details
This is a very broad area and you can think of anything from flowers, to props, furniture and lighting. The decor in your home and in your other favourite places are a good place to start describing this element. Any decorations and designs that you’ve seen at some point, that have made an impression on you. And consider your interests, likes and hobbies as well here. If you love flowers for example, then you’ll probably want to put an emphasis on that. If your favourite place is your neighbourhood park, than you might want to have lush installations of foliage. And again, use only words to describe the style and vibe of the decor, not the actual elements you want to have (i.e. modern, lush/rich, luxury, understated, exotic, etc.)
5. Catering Style
What you add in this category will describe the style of food/drinks, the format (i.e. 1 long family style table, round tables, standing buffet) and the service that is right up your alley.
6. Entertainment & Activities
This can be anything, from ceremony music, to dancing at the reception, outdoor games during drinks, a live band with performers or a magician wowing your guests. But don’t pick which. Just think of the vibe you’re after and the style of music or entertainment you’d like.
7. Wedding Day Structure & Ambience
Finally, this category will determine how you want to structure your day -whether you want to have an evening reception or just a lunch after the ceremony, for example – and the atmosphere you’re trying to create.
For this step you’ll need to start imagining your wedding, and talk through the entire day, touching on all the important elements. A truly personal wedding is an enriching and memorable experience, both for you and your guests. It requires the most careful consideration of all the details that will make up the bigger picture. So, instead of trying to tick the box for the elements that are typically associated with a wedding, focus on the experience. How do you want to feel on the day and what will it take to feel that way?
Try to treat this like a sketch before a painting. Focus on emotions and senses, rather than trying to get a very clear picture and decide on actual details. And take it step by step, from the place in which you’ll wake up in the morning, where you’ll get ready and how you’ll spend the morning, to the ceremony and who you’d love to be there with you. Follow with what you’d like to happen right after the ceremony and what will turn it into the best celebration for the rest of the day (or however long you want it to be). Write things down as you go.
How to Prioritise Before you Even Start Planning Your Wedding
Once you’re done daydreaming about your wedding it’s time to prioritise. This means you’ll have to decide what are the most important aspects of your wedding. What you care most about having on the day, just as you imagined. And what you’re willing to consider alternatives for or give up altogether.
This will reduce the choices you have to consider throughout planning your wedding and will make the decision process so much easier. So, when time comes to cut or increase the budget for a certain element, eliminate some things, or not invite certain people for example, there will be no debate. It will also help mitigate differences between you and your partner, and stand your ground if other people (i.e. family or friends) are trying to push their own ideas.
The easiest way to go about prioritising, is to list all the wedding elements below and give them a grade. For example, you can grade everything with numbers from 0 to 10, 0 being something you don’t need/want, 1 being lowest importance and 10 being highest importance. Thinking back at what you imagined before about your day and discussing each element with your partner, try to allocate a grade to each component. Together decide on what you think is most important, what is relevant to both of you and what you are willing to give up or compromise on if necessary.
Here’s what to consider when prioritising:
1. Timing (When?)
- of year, of month, of week, of day
- for the ceremony & reception
- types, duration, elements
- think all garments, as well as accessories
- make-up, hair, nails, beauty treatments
- numbers & types of guests (think your relationship to them) – consider this carefully; higher numbers will up costs in many categories & will mean you’ll have to cut back on other choices, like food, drinks & aesthetic
7. Bridesmaids & groomsmen, ushers, flower girls, etc.
- will you have any, how many, how much do you care about what they wear?
8. Stationery & Signage
- before the wedding and on the day
9. Food, drinks & cake(s)
- the more hours in your wedding, the more food & drinks you’ll have to serve
- for the ceremony & reception; also consider the time in between the two if relevant, and don’t think just music
11. Photography / Videography
12. Planning / Design / Styling help
15. Furniture & tableware
16. Guest favours & gifts
17. Travel & accommodation
- you two and guests if applicable
18. Transportation on the day
19. Associated celebrations
- hen/stag do, bachelor/ette party, engagement party etc.
now you are ready to start planning your wedding
Look back at everything you wrote down in the previous steps. You should have a pretty great description of your wedding style and vibe that reflects your personalities and story, and a clear image of what you’ll need to prioritise in the planning process.
The priority scores should also help you plan your budget and decide what you’re happy to spend on each element. If you don’t know where to start or just don’t have the time to create something from scratch, to plan & manage your wedding finances efficiently, you can get the wedding budget tool I created here. This is the budget I use for all of my couples, and it’s designed to estimate your expenses based on your priority scoring.
The next step now, is to start researching inspiration, venues and suppliers, and communicate your vision to them. And you’ll be able to do all of that by using the resources you’ve just created for yourself.
The following steps are also part of this process, and extremely important. But I feel like I’ve given you enough to digest and go through in one post. So, I’ve written a second post on how to find the right inspiration, venue and vendors, and how to communicate your vision to them. You can read it here now (the link opens in a separate tab), or open it and bookmark it, to come back to it later after you’re done with the steps in this post.
I realise that the process sounds a bit convoluted. Perhaps you’re thinking it’s too much fuss for you, or you don’t have the time for this. But I promise you that once you start, following these steps, communicating openly, being honest with yourselves about what truly matters and writing everything down will make the biggest difference for your wedding.
I cannot begin to tell you how important it is to have a perfect grasp of who you are, how you want to feel on your wedding day and what you need to prioritise. Once you start planning your wedding, it’s all too easy to start feeling overwhelmed, misunderstood, or like you are compromising way too much. Or even worse, how easy you can end up with things that you don’t want or like, and with an experience that you are not happy with. Wondering on your wedding day why in the world you spent so much money and so many hours planning it.
I absolutely adored my wedding – it was the most amazing day of my life. But there were many things I could have done to make the planning process easier on myself. I really wish I would have had the time and energy to focus more on my engagement, because it felt so amazing being in that period of my life.
So please take the time to sit down with your partner and do this. Even if you’re already in the middle of things, already started, I still think you could gain clarity following these steps, prioritise and get organised to start cruising through the planning process.
Now go on and have a great time being engaged!
Have a wonderful day,
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