Planning a small intimate wedding? Perhaps you’re wondering if you even need a wedding planner – after all, isn’t a professional wedding planner a bit of a luxury? And isn’t the whole point of having a small wedding to save money?
Well, yes and no. And it depends. Of course, a small wedding doesn’t have to mean lower-budget, though frequently it does. I wrote this article in favor of the small wedding trend a few years ago, after seeing many couples going this way. Honestly, the article is more relevant now than ever. I specialized for a time as an intimate wedding photographer (though in truth, love photographing big weddings just as much!)
In this article I’m going to dive into 11 reasons why small, intimate weddings benefit from a wedding planner. I’m going to give my unique expertise as a wedding photographer with plenty of small-wedding / elopement experience.
Maybe I’ll debunk a few myths along the way concerning what people think when they hear ‘wedding planner’, too. As Every Last Detail says, ‘having a wedding planner doesn’t need to be considered ‘optional’ or a ‘luxury’. There, I said it.
Together we will go through in depth many surprising truths about intimate weddings, as this is where our experience lies. In this article, we will look into the reasons why you should consider a wedding planner for your small wedding. But first, let’s dive into a little background on the small wedding trend.
The rise of intimate weddings
Intimate weddings have been on the rise for a while now. I put together this fun little infographic (possibly the only person ever to have uttered that line) from The Knot’s research millennial wedding preferences.
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That’s right, 79.7% of the 2,200 millennials surveyed chose to have a small wedding over a large affair. The average guest count has also decreased (from 141 guests in 2016 to 136 in 2017. For the most recent figures (2019), it was down to 131. And I imagine the figures for 2020 will constitute an insane decrease, for obvious reasons!
The average cost per guest, however, has increased. This means more focus on an intentional, specially curated experience for each guest. I often talk about how my clients live out their values in their wedding celebrations. COVID notwithstanding, I think this will continue to be the case.
Want to check out some real COVID couples I’ve photographed, with inspiration for how to handle your pandemic wedding? Check it out:
A professional wedding planner’s take
I sat down with Sarah of Kindred Weddings & Events, a wedding planner based in Southern California. As Sarah specializes in planning small, intimate weddings and events, I really wanted to get her take.
I put it to Sarah: A third of couples hired a professional wedding planner in 2019. Does that figure surprise you?
Micro-weddings have been a thing for a few years (this New York times article first caught my eye in 2017). And of course, many folks are downsizing their weddings now due to social distancing guidelines now and for the foreseeable future.
Weddings were already getting smaller year-on-year before the pandemic hit and the trend will most likely continue in dramatic fashion.
Before we dive in to the reasons to hire a wedding planner, I wanted to get a little more input from Sarah. More on that in a little bit.
Are smaller weddings really less stressful than large weddings?
Small weddings are the quick, easy and stress-free way of tying the knot. And they usually are! After all, you’ve likely fewer and less complicated logistics, less decor, and a pared-down approach. You want the heart of the celebration to be joy, love and authenticity – minus the trimmings and trappings.
However, I’ve learned a few things in my experience photographing intimate weddings. I’ve seen time and time again that the couple simply does not expect how much must be planned out. In short, they forgo some of the intricacies of careful preparation because it’s just a ‘simple, small wedding’. Having a dedicated wedding sadly planner doesn’t factor into the equation for many.
So, I asked Sarah, are smaller weddings less stressful than large weddings?
One way to mitigate this is to create a strong, professional, and joyful vendor team for your wedding day!
On top of this, intimate weddings frequently take place at non-wedding venues. Couples sometimes choose vendors or friendors not fully equipped to deal with weddings. Or they sometimes ask friends and family to pitch in and help instead. The reasons are sound – usually because professional vendors and venues have prohibitively high minimums. So, understandably, those couples have to get creative!
Such couples are surprised, however, when their guests can’t be located. When things aren’t set up the way they wanted at the venue. When something they need for the ceremony has been forgotten. Matters that would be taken care of by a professional – without the couple even being aware – are not done. Sadly, I’ve seen too often couples stepping in to take care of all the things themselves.
Many small-wedding couples simply ‘wing it’! Sure it works out… sometimes. But when the guiding force of the day is ‘let’s just wing it’, that doesn’t automatically equate to a stress-free environment – guest list aside.
Is a small wedding really a good way of saving money on your wedding?
In 2019, the average CA couple spent $39,000 on their wedding (Source: The Knot). A smaller wedding is as a way of cutting costs. That’s because the largest costs associated with a wedding are directly correlated with guest count (specifically venue and catering). Sarah told me,
A small wedding can absolutely save you money, if your expectations and reality are aligned! However, if you are planning to try to DIY a small wedding, you may end up going over budget if you think you can still have all that and a slice of cake.
Venues and catering will still have minimums no matter your guest count. That means you may have to spend more time digging through options (hello – hire a wedding planner to help with this!) to find the right option. Or you may have to compromise on 1 or 2 items.
Even a backyard wedding may require you to bring in serving staff, generators, portable restrooms, rentals, and catering – which could have been included at an all inclusive venue.
I wondered, if you hire a planner for an intimate wedding, is the price lower? What I mean is, for a planner that specializes in small weddings, does Sarah charge less because of the small guest count?
Whether planning a wedding for 30 people or planning a wedding for 200 people, a wedding planner is going to put in the same amount of time, care, and attention and should charge the same amount.
Whatever your guest count, I provide my clients with the same resources, do the same research on venues, vendors, etc.
Sometimes small weddings that don’t rely on an all-inclusive venue require more vendor management work on my end.
Frequently there are more logistics to juggle through the planning process and on the wedding day.
Why do small weddings need a wedding planner?
OK, if the costs are looking good, why would you spend all that money on a wedding planner? I asked Sarah to tackle this question. If there’s less to do, doesn’t it make sense to save the money and plan it yourself? Here’s what Sarah had to say:
Even a small wedding should allow you, the couple, to be present just like a wedding guest! You absolutely deserve to make memories with your guests!
What should you not be doing? Worrying about why the food isn’t served on time, what event is coming up next, or squeezing in the last few photos before your photographer has to leave.
Imagine hosting a party at your own home, maybe a birthday party or holiday gathering. Factor in the time spent planning prior to the celebratory day.
Think about the hours spent in the kitchen cooking and decorating your home just right. Then also the time playing host to your guests keeping them entertained.
It’s a lot to take on and that’s on a much smaller scale (expectation wise) than a wedding. Taking on all the responsibility to answer every question and put out every fire, leaves you with little to no time to be present and enjoy the event!
A professional wedding planner:
- knows what questions to ask the couple to help the event sing their own personal unique personality tune.
- knows how to delegate a planning timeline so you don’t get decision fatigue.
- can offer a logistical perspective that helps to enhance the guest experience, to avoid the ineffective and impractical
- knows how to troubleshoot and smooth over any hiccups on your wedding day so you never even know anything happened!
So, let’s dive in to exactly why every small wedding needs – and deserves – a professional wedding planner. Here we go!
1. To give you back your time
Wedding planning sure is fun for some brides. It sounds stressful to others. Even if you identify with the former, there’s going to be a point when it’s no longer fun. You’ll almost certainly find yourself spending more time than you anticipated going deeper into the ‘wedding rabbit hole’!
A full-service planner will take care of the research and communication side of things. This leaves you with only the fun decisions to make! You know how projects that seem so simple tend to take on a life of their own? Wedding planning is definitely one of those things.
2. To give you vendor recommendations
It’s so tough to make a shortlist of the vendors who might be a good fit for your wedding! In my local area there are over 4,000 working photographers, a huge proportion specializing in weddings. And what have you really got to go on?
These days, everyone’s websites look amazing, their Yelp reviews are top-notch, and their Insta feed is poppin’. Otherwise, they wouldn’t even be in business!
A great wedding planner lets you in on the inside scoop. They’ll recommend only the vendors they’ve personally had great experiences with. If a vendor has a reputation for being a bit of a diva, your planner will know and advise accordingly!
As someone in the industry, I don’t receive any kickbacks or compensation if a planner recommends me! I’m not saying that doesn’t exist, but it isn’t common practice. Vendor recommendations are impartial and take into account the needs, personality, style, and budget of the couple.
3. To help you save money
Yes, you read that right – you hire a wedding planner so you can save money! Though it seems a bit counter-intuitive, think about it for a second. Budgets are a concern for everyone. And a wedding planner, after all, is an easy-to-skip expense.
But consider the many ways a planner helps you save money. (Not even counting saving stress, which you can’t put a price on).
First of all, they only choose vendors that are within your budget. Planners are not trying to upsell you on everything – that’s not in their interests at all.
Next, they’ll work with your must-haves and offer guidance on what can be cut or sourced more cheaply.
A bride may be so deeply invested in the planning, she may not be aware of her options. She can actually ditch the favors, go cheap on flowers, skip the live band if they aren’t important.
Many wedding planners also offer savings because they can offer services typically done by other vendors. Some planners I’ve worked with offer add-ons like floral design, calligraphy/graphic design, even food service.
The cost savings can add up because you’re not hiring separate companies each with their own minimums. They might even have a bunch of signage or decor you can use!
With intimate weddings, you’re also able to save a lot by utilizing an unusual venue. You’ll only find those quirky little venues by asking your planner!
4. To bring your vision to life
I’m sure many brides are very particular about what they’re looking for. Whether you have a specific wedding vision in mind, or need help distilling it, a wedding planner can help!
If you’ve done any wedding planning, you’ll have noticed the beautifully curated Instagram feeds and pins showing off gorgeous wedding inspiration.
But what’s lacking is any clue how to take it from your Pinterest board to real life. A planner will give you an idea what’s involved, how realistic your ideas are, and how much it might cost.
With an intimate wedding, you might glean ideas from just about everywhere to give your small celebration those special touches.
Translating all those ideas into a real-life event, is no easy task. Contrary to popular opinion (thanks, Hollywood), a wedding planner will not simply foist their style on you. You won’t release 1,000 white doves on a mountain at dawn when you want a chill, boho-themed backyard barbecue. A great planner listens and offers practical ways to make your dreams a reality.
5. To review vendor contracts and negotiate pricing
A wedding planner has seen a TON of contracts and knows immediately if there is cause for concern. But before we even get to the signing contracts stage, a planner proves their worth yet again.
“[The planners] are repeat business. Couples are not. [The vendors] aim to please us so we bring them more business.”Big City Bride, The 6 Major Reasons You Should Hire a Wedding Planner
That’s right, wedding photographers, like myself, want to be recommended again by that planner. We put 100% into every wedding – make no mistake – but will go that extra mile to please a planner that might send us 10 weddings every year.
6. To create a realistic timeline and keep you on track
As a photographer, I do offer some timeline planning help. I find this can take longer with intimate weddings. Why? Because they don’t follow the conventional, typical wedding day structure. These are the celebrations when you need a planner most, especially when there isn’t so much as a venue coordinator.
However I’m not a wedding planner and I lack both the overarching view and the detail-oriented perspective. I’m simply optimizing for photography, making sure I have the correct amount of time for the photos you’ve prioritized. It’s not within my remit to know what the caterer needs, where the DJ should set up, or how long the ceremony set-up will take. Yet I am asked these things a surprising number of times.
A professional wedding planner is equipped to come up with a watertight schedule for you. They will liaise with all vendors to make sure everyone has time to perform their specific duties. They’ll give you ideas on how to maximize the available time and guidance on what works well. Planning is literally their world, so you know you’re in the best hands.
7. To be the point person on the day (set up, take deliveries, oversee all vendors, tear down)
I’ve seen weddings where the couple has had to lug boxes around, or has spent all morning on the phone! A wedding planner is the one that everyone will be addressing. Your planner will welcome in the cake maker, florist, DJ and guests without disturbing you. Yes, even those guests that randomly arrive two hours early at every wedding.
As a photographer, let me tell you. It definitely shows on the couple’s faces when they’re dealing with a missing centerpiece instead of relaxing with a mimosa. Your mood sets the vibe for the whole event.
Small weddings can be chaotic because the spaces are smaller and details haven’t been thought through as thoroughly. Whatever your style of wedding, you’ll appreciate the chance to stay in the moment.
Most of the things that go awry are easily solved when a professional is on the case. So, only allow what really matters to fill your head on your wedding day. For more day of tips that will save you stress, check out my article below.
8. To act as mediator whether between family members or your vendors
Nobody expects that difficult family situations are going to be a part of their special day. But weddings are emotional events that bring together people that may not be used to seeing each other. Sometimes things can get heated or difficult to deal with.
A planner can help as a mediator – a neutral party that goes between parties to smooth things out. Drama can develop out of nowhere if your family is anything like mine. Having a non-family member there can in a strange way prevent some of those pent-up feelings from ever erupting.
But if they do, a wedding planner has seen it all before. They will not consider it out of their realm if you would like them to step in. Your planner is truly in your corner. They are there to make your day as wonderful as it can be. That almost always means going above and beyond.
9. To offer solutions to problems (and execute on those solutions!)
Newsflash: things will not go 100% according to plan on your wedding day! Even with the best planning, there’ll be hiccups and matters that crop up and couldn’t have been accounted for. Small weddings are still weddings – emotional events full of complexity and unpredictable elements.
When you have an awesome planner on your team, it’s no big deal. I’ve worked weddings with planners and have seen first-hand how much they take care of without the couple ever knowing.
That’s right, wedding planners are ninjas. They’re not only on the frontline helping guests, they’re at your side. Somehow they’re also behind the scenes working with all the vendors and every contingency plan just in case.
10. To work with your venue coordinator
If your venue has a coordinator or events person, that’s great. But this does not necessarily replace an independent wedding planner. Sure, you may luck out with an awesome venue coordinator but ultimately they work for the venue. They’ll have the venue’s interests at heart. That doesn’t mean they don’t care about you and your wedding. But they are limited in their scope.
An independent wedding planner (usually running their own business, or working for a wedding planning firm), offers assistance with all kinds of matters. From getting your dress fitted, selecting wedding stationery, transportation, and even add-on services planning your other wedding events. An awesome planner has very wide-ranging experiences and abilities, not limited to serving a venue.
Basically, if it doesn’t directly involve the venue, an onsite coordinator may not really be able to help. The venue coordinators I have known leave either after dinner or as soon as the cake’s cut. There is SO much to do after the guests leave! You don’t want to be the one taking out the trash. Or getting charged overtime if you haven’t vacated the venue on time!
11. To help you enjoy your day and bring peace of mind!
Your planner is basically your way of splitting yourself into two. You let them do the worrying, decision-making and dealing with all the stressful and crazy stuff. (Isn’t that cool? I kinda wish I had one every day).
Even more so with a small wedding, the energy of the space is dictated by your level of stress. Once you start dealing with and directing proceedings, it’ll attract more and more ‘quick questions’. Trust me, that is not a road you want to start down.
In the absence of a planner, you’ll be the one dealing with everything. When you’re enjoying the best day of our life, don’t also be the decision-maker/ manager/ greeter/ person-in-charge. It’s a multitask that will fail! You could entrust a friend, but do you really want to saddle a loved one with 10 hours of responsibilities? After all, this is a massive undertaking, it’s work (HARD work!).
If there’s any way of leaving it to a paid professional and their team, that’s your best bet.
You’ve probably heard it said that the day will go by in a whirlwind of emotions, and it’s true! Ultimately it’s the feelings you experience that will form your abiding memories of the day.
Savoring every second is absolutely what you want to do. Forget worrying about an errant DJ, where to put the centerpieces, or how you’re going to light 50 sparklers. These trivial matters – that are draining to deal with yourself – will be taken care of without you knowing it.
Finding the right planner for your small wedding!
As if those 11 reasons you need a planner for your small wedding weren’t enough, I asked Sarah from Kindred Weddings & Events even more. There’s a lot more than meets the eye to finding the right planner for your intimate wedding.
With intimate weddings now on everyone’s radar, what do you need to know about actually hiring a planner? Here’s what Sarah had to say!
Google and Instagram are great places to find a planner that specializes in small weddings. A good intimate wedding planner will have done the hard work on the back end (SEO, copywriting, networking, etc) to be easily found in your area. Here are a couple ways to search:
- Search keywords like “intimate wedding planner + your area”: interchangeably use “small wedding planner” + “micro-wedding planner”
- Search “intimate wedding venues + your area”. Ask them for recommendations of wedding planners they have worked with, use Instagram to look for geo-tags of these venues
- Check out wedding publications like Every Last Detail, Junebug Weddings, Hey Wedding Lady, A Practical Wedding, etc for features with real small/intimate weddings in your area. The vendors will be linked at the bottom of the feature.
Truly, any wedding planner can plan a small wedding, but every wedding planner has a specific WHY as to what drew them to planning weddings. I believe it is most important for their passion to align with your vision for the day!
So there you have it! I hope this has helped you to see that hiring a wedding planner is a decision you won’t regret. You’ll want to make sure you find the right planner for your needs, naturally. Someone you vibe with on a personal level – and whose approach and values match your own.
Personally I’ve never had a wedding client say they were sorry they hired their planner. But I’ve had several that told me that their small wedding was much more stressful than they anticipated. And that they regretted not hiring a wedding planner.
Ultimately, your wedding memories are the ones that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
Keep your mind free to focus on the joy, the love, and of course the celebrating. Don’t let stress and worry be what you take away from your wedding day. Be truly present with those that are there for you – and let someone else sweat the small stuff.