Your Guide to Choosing a Wedding Planner in NC
If when you first got engaged you thought to yourself, “I’ll just DIY the planning,” you are not alone. But trust us, the wedding planner is actually one of the most important investments for the biggest celebration of your life! Hiring a professional planner can help you navigate the wedding industry boom and save time and money in the long run. The amount of details involved in a wedding are enough to make your head spin. The experienced wedding planners of Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte and beyond have insider knowledge of the local vendors and venues. But more importantly, your wedding planner represents you – in everything from negotiations to solidifying the details, scheduling, and event coordination. This is a combination that will help prevent wedding planning stress.
Why Should I Hire a Wedding Planner? and what makes them GOOD?
Heart of NC Weddings sometimes gets confused as wedding planners. Because we are a planning guide, it is not uncommon for us to receive DMs on our Instagram asking for vendor advice. Don’t get us wrong, we love that, so fire away! But, to be clear, we recommend Raleigh, Charlotte, Durham, Chapel Hill and NC wedding planners who are experienced, vetted professionals. (And we hope you’ll consult our list as part of your research phase – more on that below!) By being in this industry for over three decades, we do feel that we know a thing or two about what makes a wedding planner GOOD!
A good wedding planner takes your seeds of vision and nurtures the event to fully bloom! A good wedding planner knows the right questions to ask to make sure you don’t miss any crucial steps. They confirm with the vendors to make sure contracts are being followed; and they will follow your vendors’ contracts to a tee as well. They create a logical wedding timeline, and communicate it with the vendor team. Finally, they run the action on the rehearsal and the wedding day. That means everything from coordinating the wedding party entrances with the DJ, to moving your guests from dinner to dancing and out of the event space at the wrap of the event!
Not only does a good wedding planner ease stress leading up to the event, but they do not let the couple know of any problems during the wedding day itself. They excel not just in creativity, but execution.
When Should I Book My Wedding Planner?
A typical engagement lasts between eight months and two years! Many of the sought-after wedding planners in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill book out 12+ months in advance. This is more likely during popular spring and fall months. But don’t let that stop you from seeking a quality planner for a quick turnaround event. The best advice we have is simply to consider hiring a wedding planner as close to the beginning of the process as possible. This will make it more likely that you’ll pair with a perfect match. Plus, it will maximize the investment!
Most couples today find their wedding planner after they’ve booked a venue. That strategy makes sense, because some NC wedding venues have restrictions on which planners can be booked. However, it is also a huge value to have a planner on hand for the venue booking process. This is especially true when you are planning from out of town, or out of state.
To make your initial wedding planner interviews the most productive, go in with a general style and vibe you want to share. That way, you can see how the planner fits in with your vision.
It is also crucial to know the wedding date (or month, if they’re helping you with venue selection). The other things to know are your general reception budget and guest count. But remember, the planner can help you refine and develop this more fully.
How Much Does a Wedding Planner Cost in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill or Charlotte NC?
Wedding planners vary in price based on their experience. Full-service planning and design costs range from $7,500 to $12,000 as a starting point. Some planners do a base, plus percentage of the final reception budget.
Partial planning services range from $4,000 to $7,000, depending on the size and scale of your event. Month-of planning or coordination service costs range from $2,500 to $3,500. Some people offer “day-of wedding planning” for less but truly this is limited to running the ceremony and coordinating announcements during the event – a totally different scope than “month of” planning which really is the better buy.
How Can I Research the Best Wedding Planners in NC?
Yes, we’re big proponents of every couple hiring a wedding planner for their day! But this is a personal journey and in the end, an investment you will choose. In order to be happy with your decision, it is important to do your research.
Many planners offer similar services on paper, but each has a different perspective and experience level. There are a lot of wedding planners who are new, or do this job as a side hustle. Perhaps that will work for you! But if you are seeking a true professional, this research stage will be even more important to you. Here’s our best tips on what bases to cover when researching wedding planners in Raleigh-Durham NC, and beyond.
Use A Trusted Referral Network
Of course, start with people you trust! Do you have friends or family members who got married in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill or Cary? They will have great feedback on their vendor team – as well as where they regretted splurging or not splurging.
Here’s a few questions you might ask your friends:
- What package did you get from this planner, and what work did that entail?
- How well did they listen to you?
- Did they manage your budget and do a good job of sticking to it?
- How responsive were they?
- How was your wedding weekend experience?
- How was your guest’s overall experience?
- Did anything go on unplanned and how well did they handle it?
If you’ve already booked a wedding venue, they may have a list of preferred wedding planners that they work with on a regular basis.
We at Heart of NC Weddings also hope to be that personal reference for you! We have decades of experience in the Raleigh, Durham Chapel Hill wedding planning market – plus, feedback from real local couples, too!
To seal the deal, cross reference your various referrals. If you have a recommendation from a friend or your venue and they’re on the Heart of NC Weddings preferred list, you’ve got a winner!
Study Their Work
Some couples may care most about the event coordination. Others put the heaviest weight on the event design. If that is you, dig deep into the work of wedding planners you are considering. Because planners are the same way – they vary in their specialties!
This sounds easy enough, right? Well, it is and it isn’t. For example, their Pinterest page may mostly feature inspirational photos from favorite blogs, rather than their own designs. So make sure to scrutinize the platforms you are on. Or, if you’re on their Instagram or Website feed, soak in all of the pretty images- but pay close attention to how many come from real weddings. Styled shoots are not quite the same to plan as a real wedding. If their page is filled with styled shoots only, they are likely brand new.
Attend Local Wedding Events
From Wilmington to Raleigh to Asheville, NC venues host wedding open house events. In fact, this is one of the most fun “date nights” you can do while engaged. (Hello, free food and champagne!) Attending these events is a great way to see venues you wanted to tour, decked out like a real event. You’ll also meet local vendors, including NC wedding planners. Subscribe to our Weekly Wedding Planner email to be in the know on fabulous NC wedding events.
Find the Right Wedding Planner for You
Once you have a list of potential wedding planners to interview, the best way to find the right planner for you is to set some expectations. If you are looking for full fledged event design, don’t expect to be satisfied if you hire a weekend coordinator whose focus is on logistics.
Find a planner who will work with you in your most desired way. Some wedding planners will manage your budget and pay on behalf of you. With others, they’ll do the negotiating and booking, but expect your signature credit card to be the one on the contract!
Even if you’re hiring a full service planner, input from you will be necessary. Make sure you and your potential wedding planner are on the same page about what you are each responsible for.
Here are a few questions you might want to ask during your interview with your NC Wedding Planner:
- Are you more of a logistics focused planner, or a designer?
- Have you worked at my venue of choice?
- How would you describe your personal style?
- Do you manage my budget and pay my contractors or do I?
- What is included in your various packages, and what would you recommend based on my needs?
Understand the Contract
Make sure you READ your wedding planner’s contract before you sign.
Your package may be for a maximum amount of hours, or it may be based on a total cost percentage. Be sure you understand what you’re agreeing to. If you ask for something beyond the agreement, be prepared for a separate invoice to come your way!
During the pandemic, a lot of wedding planners in NC got stuck planning and re-planning events for 2-3 years straight. This hurt their businesses greatly. Because of this, many wedding planners have new clauses in their contracts to protect themselves.
Remember, contracts are a mutually beneficial relationship – they are there to protect you, too.
Types of NC Wedding Planners
Before you start calling around, here is a quick guide to the levels of wedding planning services that are available. While you might not know what type of planner you need, it’s great to understand these terms!
Full service wedding planner
A full service wedding planner will help from start to finish. That could even include recommending and touring venues and developing your budget. If you come in with a budget and venue set, they’ll still help with recommending and hiring the rest of your vendor team. They will be your partner and advisor for every decision. They’ll create your floor plan and timeline. Finally, they’ll run the event. This model is perfect for professional couples who can’t time off work for appointments.
In metropolitan areas like Raleigh and Charlotte NC, some planners charge a flat fee for wedding planning, while others charge a flat fee plus a percentage of the total reception cost.
A designer is a step up from full service planning – they create the look for your event. That means everything from floral design, floor plans, paper details and more. Often, the wedding designer will deep dive into you, the engaged couple – and take inspiration from your life and passions.
In NC, some wedding designers even do florals in-house.
Partial Planning or “Day of” Wedding Coordination
If you cannot afford a full service planner, you should still book partial service or month-of wedding planning. Please note, there is really no such thing as “day-of” wedding planning – coordinating that weekend involves a lot of vendor communication which starts about a month ahead of the date.
Many Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill wedding venues actually require that you hire a wedding planner to run the day. In this case, you would make the majority of planning decisions and then hand those details off to the coordinator to run the wedding weekend. Trust us, this is a good idea.
Many planners don’t book partial service until they’ve filled their quota for full service events. However, some planners do indeed prefer and specialize in wedding coordination – so be sure to research your potential planners’ preferences.
Many wedding venues in the Triangle area come with a coordinator who is on-site the day of the event. It is wonderful when this ends up being the same venue representative you worked with throughout your planning – but it’s not always the case. You may have a “Manager on Duty” instead, who you are only meeting the day of the event.
In either case, the venue coordinator does not replace the wedding planner. The venue coordinator only deals with the ins and outs of the venue itself – such as managing deliveries and approving of the floor plan. Whereas a wedding planner creates the floor plan, manages vendors’ supporting the day-of timeline, and sends you walking down the aisle! See the difference?
Please note, some venues do offer in-house planning as an add-on service. This is always accounted for financially – as this is a separate service from running the venue.