CANOE Network

The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Wedding planners wear many hats

By Linda White
Special to the Toronto Sun

Wanted: Person with strong business, financial and counselling skills. Must have exceptional communication, listening and mediation skills. Must pay attention to detail, and be able to organize and lead a large team and work gracefully under pressure. Knowledge of world religions and cultures, a flair for romance and appreciation of etiquette are definite assets. Must be available to work weekends and evenings.

If posted, that's how a want ad for a wedding co-ordinator might read. It's an up-and-coming career but one that demands a variety of skills.

"You need to be a people person, to know how to communicate and how to listen, so you truly understand what a bride and groom want on their special day," says Patti Wallington, Canadian co-ordinator of the Association of Bridal Consultants and owner of Occasions in Niagara in Niagara Falls.

As a wedding co-ordinator you wear many hats, including financial advisor. "You must know how much people are charging for various services, work with a couple's budget and help them decide how to spend it," Wallington says.

'Delegate without being nasty'

Wedding co-ordinators organize a large team that can include wedding dress designers, printers, wedding cake designers, caterers, florists, musicians, deejays and officiants. "You need to be the leader of the team and be able to delegate without being nasty," Wallington says.

You must be open and willing to learn new things, including cultural traditions and customs. "Marriages have never been more inter-faith or inter-racial," Wallington says. "Most clients want a unique wedding. I travel the world looking at what's different and unique, such as food stations at weddings in Italy, and bring those trends back to Canada."

Though wedding day disasters are more Hollywood than reality, wedding co-ordinators must be prepared for the unexpected. "You can't control things like rain, but you can be proactive by making sure you have tents and umbrellas just in case," Wallington says.

The wedding co-ordinator is a relatively new career to Canada, reports Danielle Andrews Sunkel, owner of The Wedding Planners and The Wedding Planners Institute of Canada, the country's only wedding co-ordinator certification institute.
Patti Wallington is the Canadian co-ordinator for the Association of Bridal Consultants and owner of Occasions in Niagara in Niagara Falls.

Growing demand

"One in two couples in the U.S. use a wedding planner, but only one in 20 in Canada," she says. "The demand is growing. Ten years ago, only one in 100 couples in Canada used a wedding planner."

Wedding co-ordinators sell their ability to reduce the time and stress it takes to plan a wedding.

They also sell their ability to get you the best services for the best prices because they generate repeat business from photographers to wedding cake designers eager to please.

Many wedding co-ordinators have a background in event and meeting management.

But more and more, a certificate or diploma from a regulated institute is recognized as the steppingstone to a successful career. Not only does it give you the skills needed to launch a career, it gives you credibility in the eyes of potential clients.

Some courses are offered by correspondence and can be completed in a matter of days or weeks. Others are a combination of home study and in-class seminars typically offered over one or several weekends. Topics may include bride and groom psychology, phases of wedding co-ordination, wedding etiquette and advertising.

"It's one of the most inexpensive businesses to set up," says Andrews Sunkel. The Wedding Planners Institute of Canada charges $750 for its certified wedding coordinator course, which consists of home study and classes offered over two weekends at major Canadian universities.
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  • She encourages those just starting out to launch an informative website and to gain experience by volunteering to co-ordinate community fundraisers or a wedding.

    The amount you earn will depend on factors like your ability to generate business and how much you want to work. "Wedding co-ordinators usually take 10 to 15% of a wedding budget, but some take flat rates," says Andrews Sunkel.

    The career offered Jodi Gagne, owner of Simply Perfect in Richmond Hill, a chance to work from home and raise her young family. She had worked eight years in special event management and design, primarily in the theatre.

    Co-ordinating a wedding is much like co-ordinating a live theatre production, she believes. The biggest difference is that you're dealing with raw emotions and there's only one chance for success.

    "As a wedding co-ordinator, you need to be able to see the big picture, to see how the day will flow and be able to troubleshoot as necessary," Gagne says.

    Wondering if you've got what it takes to work as a wedding co-ordinator? "Try to shadow a wedding," she says. "It's a competitive field and not everyone is willing to share their knowledge, but others will be happy to help. You'll either love it or you'll hate it."

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