How To Negotiate Your Wedding Package
Planning anything of significant importance, be it a wedding, family vacation, or other life milestone, is no small undertaking. There are lots of decisions to be made, and every activity, detail, and service desired comes with it an additional investment.
When you really want to work with a wedding vendor, but their packages will stretch the budget too far, you have three options:
1) Don’t say anything and go elsewhere
Subsequently leaving your vendors scratching their head why you fell off the face of the earth with nary a word…leaving them wondering ”Was it something I said?”.
2) Ask for a discount
Certainly an available tactic, but assuming you’re talking to seasoned professionals who run a successful business and therefore know their costs and their value, it’s unlikely to be successful as a standalone strategy.
or 3) Negotiate
Not the icky used-car salesmen type: Quite the contrary. When broken down to its basic principles, “negotiation” simply means to have a discussion about what each person wants, and toss ideas around until something sticks.
Sadly, negotiation is not a skill that many of us are taught, so when it comes to your wedding, most people are not well-equipped to do it effectively.
But, you will find that most wedding professionals welcome your input and request for alternative options!
Why Would I Share This?
You’re probably wondering “But wait, you’re a wedding vendor, why would you share tips with potential clients on how to negotiate against you?”
And that is where we often miss the true meaning of “negotiate”. It is not a “for or against” struggle. If you look at the definition -
1. discussion aimed at reaching an agreement.
- you see that it is actually nothing more than a conversation. So, I share this information because I would much rather see couples engaging in conversation with vendors they really love, than to settle for something that won’t really make them happy.
Let me use the example of my Lexus RX400h Hybrid SUV.
I’m not really your typical Lexus demographic, but I love these cars. I had been driving a used RX300 for 12 years, putting over 200,000 miles on it, and it never gave me any grief.
When I lost it in Hurricane Irma, I found myself car shopping unexpectedly. I briefly considered switching brands to get something newer for the same money, but I knew it would not have the longevity of a Lexus.
Instead of settling for something I didn’t want, or pulling up to the dealership and haggling with some puffed up salesman, I found a small luxury car wholesaler with great reviews, and called and spoke to the woman in charge, politely telling her what I was looking for.
The one option she had even close to my budget was a few years older than I’d hoped for, had about 30,000 more miles than I was aiming for, but it had every feature (back up camera, sunroof, Bluetooth) I wanted, and of course it was a Lexus that I knew I could drive easily for 10 years+ with no issues.
By having some flexibility on my side, she could be flexible on her side, and I drove away with my beautiful car, one that I’m still driving today as of this blog post!
And so, because I know the feeling of having to decide between features and price, and because
I consider it a “win win” for my clients to get what they want, I wanted to share these tips.
What You Need to Know BEFORE You Negotiate With Your Wedding Vendors
Sure, I could dive right into the words and methods of the negotiation process, but first you have a little bit of homework to do.
Your wedding will be one of the largest investments you and your family undertake, and because the value of this information is so high, it is not recommended that you skip this part.
A Few Key Things to Remember
Before we get started, I want to touch on a few concepts that I think are important to remember, for I think many people wrongly assume that negotiating means demanding what you want and not taking “no” for an answer.
First - Vendors Want Your Wedding
It might sound silly to state this, but you have to remember that wedding vendors WANT weddings.
Don’t assume that just because you’re going to ask for a modification or have a special circumstance, that they will automatically not be interested in working with you. Give them the opportunity to serve you.
Second - Wedding Professionals are People
As service-based businesses, most wedding vendors are their business, and their business is them. A hard nosed approach might work when negotiating with a mega corporation, but when the person on the other side of the table is the one who will be the one providing the service, a bit of acknowledgement for their time and talents goes a long way!
The Tools in Your Toolbelt
You can’t go into any negotiation without a few important resources in your pocket. Knowledge of these three things will ensure that you have laid the groundwork for the conversation before you get started.
1 - Know What You’re Negotiating For
While price is an obvious point of discussion, it is not the only thing there is to negotiate. So, what exactly is your sticking point?
“I am not comfortable with this policy”
“I would like it done faster”
“I want to start earlier; I want to start later”
“I’d rather have this than that”
“I want you on a specific date”
Shipping / Delivery
“I want it included; I want a specific delivery method; I need it overnighted”
“I can only spend X”
Allocation of Budget
“I’d rather put money toward X”
Quantity or Size
“It’s too big or not big enough; it’s too many or too few”
“I wish it did X”
“That’s not enough to handle our needs; that’s too many to manage”
Access / Special Treatment
“I want pictures/my ceremony/to get ready in this VIP spot”
2 - Your “Wish List” (What Would the Perfect Service Look Like?)
If you don’t know what you want, how can a wedding vendor give it to you?
As a wedding photographer, the most challenging negotiations are when the couple don’t articulate what is most important to them. It leaves me shooting into the dark with options that may or may not be what fits their day.
Instead, write down a list of all the “must haves”. If you are not familiar with specific products or what the options even are, you can simply envision:
How do you picture the service coming together?
For example, you might not immediately know how many hours of wedding photographer coverage you would wish for, but you do know that you want every last detail from the getting ready photos to the last dance at the end of the night captured.
How you want to feel when you see the finished product?
Just because you’re not familiar with the lingo that photographers use to describe their style, doesn’t mean you can’t close your eyes and see all your family laughing, the sun setting behind the ocean, the flowers popping with color and the love you have for your partner emanating from the pages of your album. Just because you aren’t well versed in cake terminology, doesn’t mean you can’t imagine feeling wonder as you gaze up at your multi-tiered confectioner’s masterpiece.
What features might be of most value to you?
Maybe you don’t have an exact menu planned for your caterer yet, but you know you want it to be a buffet style service so that everyone can pick and choose what they want. Maybe you don’t have an exact flower arrangement in mind, but you know that the bridesmaid bouquet you held in your best friend’s wedding last year weighed a ton, so ideally you’d have something that was lighter and easier to carry.
What benefits you might gain from it?
Unlike a feature, which simply describes what something does, a benefit is the way it affects your life or your experience. It’s entirely possible that you didn’t originally consider hiring a wedding planner, but when you think of the benefit of having more time to focus on finishing grad school before you get married, or having the peace of mind that a local professional is overseeing all the details of your destination wedding, the feature of choosing a full-service planning package becomes very high on the priority list.
3 - What is your “MVA” (Minimally Viable Alternative)?
The “wish list” is a good start, but unless you have an unlimited budget, the reality is that somewhere you will have to give up a few of those items.
This is where it’s smart to consider - before going into the negotiation phase - what your “MVA” - Minimally Viable Alternative - will be. This is the more functional set of options already listed above that you know you would be happy with, even if it did not include everything on the wish list.
For example with photography, maybe your wish list included photos until the final stroke of midnight, but after realizing that the final hour would just be redundant dance floor photos, your MVA would be to have the photographer stay just through the cake cutting.
4 - A Full Price List (Not Just the Range Listed on the Website)
The rough range of pricing listed on a website is not enough information to negotiate with. While the packages or custom quote you get after inquiring is definitely better, that too does not give you the full picture.
When possible, request an additional A La Carte price list, or if such is not practical (for example, caterers or rental houses with endless options and choices), request a breakdown of just those items that could - if you so chose - be exchanged within the quote provided.
This gives you a much more comprehensive picture of how each item in the quote affects your total.
5 - An Understanding of What Goes Into Pricing a Wedding Service
Stepping into someone else’s shoes is the best way to come to an agreement with them. This is true whether you’re having a heated discussion about politics, or you’re trying to figure out how to negotiate for your wedding.
A negotiation without an understanding of the other person’s position is a bit like tossing a ball back and forth blindfolded.
You’re either going to throw too far and require them to run after it (something they may do, but often begrudgingly), they’re going to be closer pelt them with it too forcefully, or just generally have no idea where they are or where the return throw is coming from….none of which make for a very productive game.
And so, to understand how a wedding professional prices their services, you have to look at several factors:
Intangible “It” Factor
You can’t measure it objectively, but it plays a huge part in pricing. Things like Experience, Style, Speciality in a certain genre, Notoriety and awards, Ethics and their client Reviews, and their Professionalism and ability to handle anything thrown at them, are all qualities that make one vendor cost more than the next guy.
Seasonality and Availability
Because there are only so many weekends in a year, and only so much energy one person can give, wedding vendors must discern how much work they can and should take. Seasonality may affect pricing differently during certain times of the year. The level of service they offer dictates whether they’re a High-Volume or Boutique-style business. And a vendor whose Demand is high but her Availability is low is going to have a higher price as well.
Cost of Doing Business
These are all the behind-the-scenes costs which make it possible for them to do their job for you: things like office Lease, Utilities, Internet, Phone, taxes, and similar operating costs.
What they pay their staff, what it costs them to Advertise, the supplies they need to run their office, and the type of Equipment they use, all go into pricing.
This is the part you see as the consumer. This is the thing you hold or keep forever. As a wedding photographer, it’s the images captured, the album, and the wall portraits that get hung up in your home.
The quantity, quality, features (size, finish, etc), and the time it takes to produce these tangible products are all going to affect the cost.
Opportunity Costs - Both Personal and Professional
Due to limited availability, every booking must cover the potential risk associated with taking that job over another.
Sometimes that cost is Financial (“Would I have booked a bigger event later?”).
Sometimes the cost is Personal (“What family milestone might pop up later - kid’s dance recital, grandparent’s funeral, family reunion - that I will have to give up”). Because weddings book so far in advance, pricing must be such that committing to a booking justifies missing whatever personal events may present themselves later.
And in this same vein comes the inevitable liability associated with every booking, whereby a business owner must ask themselves “If something goes wrong - it rains and ruins my gear, a guest trips over my light stand, etc - am I covering those potential risks adequately?”.
Cost of Living
To service the area where you are getting married, the vendor must - of course - live in that area (No, they don’t fly us in from the mainland to shoot your Key West wedding….Yes, I’ve really been asked that question before). If that region is more expensive than other parts of the country, then that is - for better or worse - going to play a role in how the vendor prices their work.
Most vendors went into weddings because they love them. It’s hard work, but it’s generally a very fun job. But like any job, there can be things that make it…..well….not so fun. A business owner learns pretty quick what type of events or services she enjoys most and may adjust pricing accordingly.
I will use myself as an example…
For me, rushing to cram all a huge list of photo requests into a grossly unrealistic timeline is not fun for me. Can I do it? Of course. Will I be gracious and give my all? Absolutely. But if given the choice between having more time to get creative, versus stressing and sticking to just the basic shots, it’s pretty obvious which one I would choose. This is why I give a per-hour price break the more hours a client books.
I also have certain services that I include in some packages at a reduced rate, because - among other reasons - I simply enjoy them and want to do more of them.
How NOT to Negotiate
Before we discuss how to negotiate your wedding package, let’s look at the ways that MAYYYYYBE don’t work so well. Yes, these are actual scenarios either I or my colleagues have experienced, and I can vouch for the fact that negotiations don’t generally go well when using one of these tactics:
“I thought every photographer included an album!”
“Maybe you don’t know who I am, but….”
“Do this or else….”
“ANYTHING IN ALL CAPS WITH MANY EXCLAMATIONS!!!”
“Ha! Your prices are laughable!”
“I know it’s usually $3,000 but I want it for 500 bucks”
Ask to Price Match
“The guy down the road is offering this…”
Take Without Giving
“I want this, this, and this, for less money, and I want it now”
If your impression of being a good negotiator is using any of above methods, then I hope to show you a better way.
How To Negotiate Your Wedding Package -
The Right Way
Now that you’ve figured out what you’re negotiating, you’ve written your wish list, you have your MVA, you have the vendor’s full pricing, AND an understanding of where that pricing comes from, you’re ready to have this conversation.
There are three ways to go about it:
Seek an Alternative, Add Value, and Restructure the Terms
Option 1 - Seek the Alternative Using the “U.S.A.” Method
Initially taught to me as a Conflict Resolution tactic by speaker Elisa Levy, I found later that it actually works great for negotiations as well. (For, what is a negotiation again? Nothing more than a discussion aimed at reaching….what was that?….YES! An agreement!).
So, with your “Wish List” and your “MVA” in hand from the homework you did earlier, the “U.S.A.” method goes like this:
U = Understand
The fastest way to get someone to do what you want, is to acknowledge that their point is valid. Your homework into pricing now means you actually DO have some understanding. So, start there. This is where you note the things the person got right, share the things you loved about the quote, and recognize the position they are in themselves.
S = Situation
Acknowledging their position does not mean you have to negate your own, however. The “S” stage is where you state your own reality, and outline how the vendor’s position is affecting you in its current form. This is where you indicate the “why” of what you’re about to say next.
A = Alternative
Once you’ve gone through the first two steps, you’re now - and only now - ready to put forth your counter offer and state your request. This is where you say “instead of that, I would like this”.
To put it into practice, here are a few examples where you might say to a wedding vendor you still want to work with them, but their services are out of your price range or their terms would not work with you the way they’re currently written:
Hey Jim, thanks so much for sending over that reception design quote. I understand you have put a lot of thought into this and the design would be absolutely stunning. [The situation is that] with the current quote, we would end up $1500 over budget. As an alternative, could we instead swap the custom linens with the standard to shave off that extra cost?
“Hey there Karrie, it was great chatting with you on the phone about our small wedding. I understand the package we discussed would include the album I wanted, but there is a possible situation in which my great Aunt will be covering the photography. Alternatively, could we just book the wedding coverage now and then add the album on ourselves after the wedding?”
Option 2 - Request a Price Break Using the “Ask And Add” Method
We are all motivated by different things, but you never know what will be someone’s trigger point until you ask.
So, if you love a vendor’s work, their rates are above your budget, and there are no alternatives you can use to reduce your total objectively, it doesn’t mean you can’t still negotiate, but…
Similar to the “USA” method above, this method is still about exchanging one thing for another, but instead of swapping products or services or features within the package, you’re going to
Trade Value for Value
But you may wonder, “What do I have to offer?”
Think back to those factors that go into vendor pricing: Intangible, Cost of Doing Business, Circumstantial, Tangible, Opportunity Costs, and the Enthusiasm Factor. Which of these can you appeal to?
Have you booked a rare exclusive venue that can appeal to their Opportunity Cost?
Vendor may consider: “Even if I were to risk taking a smaller wedding and losing a larger one, I’m going to get to the chance to show this venue what I can do and hope to get on their vendors’ list”.
Do you have a large bridal party all planning to get married in that location next year that you can use to appeal to their Cost of Doing Business?
Vendor might think: “I may be giving a free hour of coverage, but if I book 4 referrals from this bridal party, it reduces my customer acquisition cost significantly”.
Will you be incorporating some insanely unique element to your wedding day that will make it really fun and exciting to be a part of and appeal to that Enthusiasm Factor?
Vendor might think: “Okay I may have to adjust my Saturday minimum… but they’re getting married on a mountain top and floating away in a hot air balloon!”
Whatever it is, you probably have more to offer than you might initially think. Here are a few other ideas:
“A pair of trained flamingoes will be walking me down the aisle”
“We absolutely love your work and can’t wait to see what you can do for us”
“It’s all at one location, max 10 guests, in the shade, and we have already figured out our plan in case it rains”
“We’re getting married in a historic building that isn’t normally rented out for weddings, so you’ll have something unique to show”
“I have all the details figured out so will not be emailing you daily with questions”
“I’m working with X Planner (that the vendor has never worked with) and I think you would work great together”
“We have hit it off as if we’ve known each other for years”.
“I’m a professional writer and would be happy to write our blog post for you to save you some work.
“I am a social butterfly, both online and off, and will tag, share, and comment the heck out of your brand when we are done”
“I have three bridesmaids who are all engaged and are getting married here next year”
“My mom books all the photographers for her bridal publishing business and would love to meet you”
“Instead of trashing the dress in the ocean, I want to lay in a tub full of milk”
“Since it’s just the two of us, we can move the ceremony to work around your other bookings”
“I don’t need my photos back in a hurry”
“I’m actually a professional graphic designer and would be happy to trade services”
“My husband’s dad is the CEO of Canon and can offer you free equipment rentals for a year.”
Here is how you might use the “Ask and Add” method:
“I understand the policy about everyone booking their hair and makeup services on the same contract is to make things more streamlined and efficient, but if I book all 15 people, I am not able to front the full payment for all the girls at once. However, I’m actually a certified bookkeeper, and if it would make it easier for you, I’d be happy to ply those skills in ensuring all the girls call in their payment by next week. Would this a good workaround?”
“I fell in love with your work and really enjoyed meeting you, but I’m still coming up short covering the package total. Would you consider a possible partial trade? We have some like-new dive gear that we bought recently but never go diving. Could you get some use out of it if we applied the value of it toward our wedding package?”
While there is no guarantee that such a trade will get a “yes” from the vendor, the point is there are so many ways to go about making it a win-win scenario. While asking flat out for a discount is certainly a strategy that some use, showing at least some attempt to balance out your request with something you can do in return, says “I value your time and your expertise.”
I know for myself, because a wedding is so physically and mentally demanding, anything that streamlines the day, makes it more fun, or adds something to my portfolio that I’ve never done, is worth considering.
Option 3 - Restructure the Terms
If there are no alternative options within the package or quote, you don’t have or have exhausted your available Value-adding solutions, or the negotiation is not so much about price as about policies, then it’s time to go for the third option in the negotiation: restructuring the terms of the deal.
While all vendors have set down processes and procedures that they outline for their clients, that doesn’t mean that they won’t use them as bargaining chips if they want the wedding and you want them as your vendor. So, what are some of the terms you can tweak?
Payment Schedule / Payment Method
This is probably the most common request, and the easiest to overcome, yet so many couples I find will avoid the conversation completely. Essentially, you’re saying “We like the package, but…”
Can we just need to spread out the payments?
Can we pay half the deposit by credit card
Can we pay the final balance on a different date?
You may be asked to pay an additional fee for the risk they inherit by modifying their payment terms, but you may find it worth it.
On the flip side, you can use payment methods as a bargaining tool.
Maybe there’s a discount if you prepay the entire service up front.
Maybe you can ask for a slight discount if you pay cash.
Maybe you have some unique currency that makes for a favorable trade….I once got offered $300 in Bitcoin as a partial trade for a wedding. I had no idea what it was at the time, so I declined, but I darn sure wish I had taken it (considering in today’s value it’s worth nearly $270K! #kickingmyself).
Timing / Timeframe / Turnaround
Perhaps it’s not the pricing that concerns you, but you have a situation that requires a faster turnaround.
You’re having a reception back home the following week so you need your photos back faster
You’re hosting a brunch the morning of the ceremony such that you can’t start hair and makeup when your stylist would normally require it.
Your desire to have a grand getaway at the end of the night means you need the trolley to stay 15 minutes longer.
All of these are points of negotiation that involve timing. Luckily, just like negotiating about fees, you can use the “USA” method and the “Add Value” method to ask for what you want.
Features / Sizes / Quantities / Inclusions
Maybe it’s not so much the cost of the service overall, but what you get for that price.
Your photographer includes an album, but you know your family will really want parent books.
Your floral package would only cover personal flowers for the groomsmen, but you were hoping the ring bearer would have one too.
Your DJ doesn’t typically include a wireless microphone with the ceremony speaker, but you’re not keen on seeing the ugly mic’ stand in your photos.
Your venue rental would only take you through 11pm, but you were kinda hoping to party until midnight. All of these things are points you can negotiate.
It doesn’t mean you’ll get them for free, and it doesn’t mean their inclusion won’t require some sort of value added on your end, but don’t forego one vendor for another simply because you were too nervous to ask.
A Few Precautions
Remember that a Negotiation is simply a discussion aimed at reaching an agreement. There should be no “winner" and no “loser”. Each should have terms that are fair. In most negotiations, both parties gain something they wanted, and both parties have given up something. (also known as compromise) .
With that in mind, if you start negotiating with a wedding vendor, and they immediately cave to everything you ask for, without asking for anything in return, that should be an immediate red flag. Why? Because it may indicate one of the following underlying causes:
You might not necessarily be well served by hiring the vendor who can’t make rent if she doesn’t book this wedding. Bending over backwards to give great service is one thing, but agreeing to every request without thinking MAY signal some underlying stressor that could affect you later.
Vendors who are newer in business have not had their metals tested enough that they are steadfast in their policies, so you might hear them shrug off terms without thinking… “Oh don’t worry about that, for you we can make an exception.” Vendors who have a few notches on their belt are generally more protective of their terms because they’ve seen some stuff. If you are negotiating with someone who seems indifferent to keeping his own policies, it could be a sign of inexperience.
Poor Business Management
You want to work with vendors who are well-established, credible, have a solid business and are going to be around for a while. It is not uncommon for couples to reserve services for their wedding a year or more in advance. A lot can happen in that time. You want to make sure that your deposits are in good hands, and that the vendor has set money set aside to provide you with the products included in your package. A vendor who simply agrees without considering how it will affect his business could be a reason to pause.
Lack of Fortitude
Choosing your vendors for your wedding is like putting together an all-star team. f a vendor caves at everything you ask, it could be a sign of how they’ll represent you in turn. If a planner, for example, sets no boundaries when negotiating with you, will they be much good negotiating on your behalf to other vendors? If your photographer won’t stick up for her own established turnaround policy, will she stick up for you when the DJ insists he announce your dad’s toast 2 minutes before those sunset photos you wanted? It might not be a make or break situation, but just something to think about.
There is no reason you should not have the vendors who will make your wedding day a huge success.
While negotiating your wedding package might not seem like the obvious first option, if you have found a vendor you love, whose work you admire, and with whom you hit it off on the phone or in person…
Don’t be afraid to speak up and communicate with them what it would take to earn your business.
Most wedding vendors are excited and honored to be part of your big day, and if your requests are fair and you go about asking for them in a way that respects the business owner’s own position as well, the likelihood that you will come to an agreement that works for both of you is very high.