Remember those jars my mom and I spent weeks creating? They're no longer mine.
I remember walking into our venue on the morning of Sept. 1 and feeling stunned by how well everything was coming together, thanks to the early-morning efforts of our wedding planners, Kim and Meredith. The burlap runners, the jars wrapped in burlap, twine and lace, the simple and pretty daisies from Robyn's Nest, a Vermilion, Ohio florist, complemented each other and our log cabin venue, Vermilion on the Lake Historic Community Center, so well. (If you decide to book the same venue we did, Aunt Ruth's Family Store is right across the street and will deliver all of your bar needs.)
I recently sold the jars my mom and I made, along with the burlap runners, the burlap signs I created and more to a bride I know. It was a little bittersweet: A part of me was sad to let go of things that were crafted over so many weeks with my one and only parent during such a special time in my life. But the other part of me is happy to imagine those beautiful things bringing to life another couple's special day.The Bartering Bride now has a page, where those of you who *like* and follow it can be among the first to know when I post new blogs and perhaps divulge bigger plans for the brand I've built. I'm hopeful, too, that having a Facebook page will encourage more people to ask the wedding planning, bridal blogging and bartering questions on their mind. I've learned far too much NOT to share it.
With engagement season upon us (I don't know about you, but sparkly rings were cropping up on my Facebook feed for a while), I figure it's time for me to come out of blogging hibernation and share some of the best vendor decisions I made for my new husband and me. I know many of you newly engaged get right at it, after all.One thing I urge you not to do as those first price quotes roll in: expect the world for nothing. I said this during my recent chat with a magazine writer (who interviewed me about bridal bargaining and negotiating): Wedding vendors are small businesses, not nonprofits. They are here to share their talents and to make your wedding tasty, memorable and successful, but they also are here to feed their children, pay their mortgages and achieve financial success using the skills they've spent time and money to build.
I hear too often brides complain that wedding vendors take advantage of people getting married, that they charge WAY too much for photos and that they charge more for wedding cupcakes than they would for corporate events. Well, of course they might! Don't you want them to take extra care to ensure your once-in-a-lifetime event's treats are fresh, stunningly piped and delivered without a hitch? Shouldn't a cupcake baker, or a florist, or a photographer be prepared to meet your expectations, which likely are higher for your wedding day than they would be for a family reunion? Remember: You get what you pay for -- or barter for, of course!These were the cupcakes delivered by SweetPea Sinsations. We received so many compliments about these, even weeks after our Sept. 1 wedding. (All photographs in this blog are by our easy-to-work-with, talented and kind photographer, Ken, of Cavanaugh Photography. I could tell you all about his work, but I think I'll let it speak for itself.)
I also accidentally fed my new husband a cupcake liner. (There were two on each one -- who knew?!)
Jenn from SweetPea Sinsations was professional, had exquisite pride in her product and delivered to our venue. I never even saw her on our wedding day; she was in and out, took care of business and provided exactly what she promised she would in our barter agreement. You know who else I never saw the day of, but would hire again without hesitation? Elegant Assets Events. The linens were delivered early in the morning to our wedding planners, just as we asked and for every size table we needed, the linens were steamed on site as the company's owner promised they would be, and they were picked up at the end of the night. We asked their company to do very simple ivory tablecloths, but they do a heck of a lot more. See it all on the company's Facebook page.There are so many perks to hiring professionals to handle your wedding, not the least of which is having them take your event very seriously and deliver as they promised. And then, you may find as we did that some vendors OVER-deliver. Something New Entertainment was incredible. They impressed for all of the reasons we expected -- playing our party's music, manning our party's karaoke, which was sung on the best equipment we've ever used to sing, and really transforming our venue with amber uplighting. They played every song we selected for special moments, including for our outdoor ceremony, and they were right -- the wireless microphone they provided did ensure our vows were heard, loud and clear.Yes. We do take our karaoke seriously.
Something New Entertainment also designed and executed this lighted monogram on our dance floor, using the same fonts we used in our invites and printed materials. It may just be the journalist in me, but I think consistency, even in fonts, elevates an event.
Look at the uplighting they did, but better yet, look at the party Something New fostered. Photos like these are my absolute favorites because I wanted our family and friends to let loose and have fun, and it sure looks like they did.
Something New's Anna-Jeannine and Justin did more than handle the entertainment, though. They brought us water. They asked more times than I can count if they could do anything for us. They were there not just to do the job we hired them to do; they were there to ensure our wedding was a success in all ways they could.
I wouldn't hesitate to hire Tom's Country Place again, too. They catered our event, and the food was tasty, the mashed potato toppings bar was executed just like I requested, and importantly, their service was top-notch. Their staff was incredibly attentive. I kind of felt like a movie star. Empty plate on our table? Gone quickly. All night long.We struck gold with the vast majority of the people we paid or bartered with, and I think we did it in a few ways:
- One, we tried to be kind and transparent with our vendors. Isn't it easier to strive to do a great job for someone when you actually like them? So I tried to be the kind of bride people liked working for, albeit a bit Type A. That said, I made it abundantly clear what we wanted. No one can meet (or exceed) your expectations if they don't know what they are.
- Two, I did my research. I Googled these businesses. I read their blogs. I scanned reviews on various websites. I interviewed them myself. Though I didn't do this, one also could look up potential wedding vendors on the Better Business Bureau site in their region. I personally checked with the local health department to see which catering companies had clean records, and I also asked other brides what they wish they'd known when planning their own weddings in my 30 Days of Wedding Questions. You could do the same exact thing in your own geographic market. Harness the power of social media to your benefit.
- Finally, I didn't simply go cheap because we didn't have the money to hire high-caliber vendors. You get what you pay for in this world. The reason some photographers charge $2,000 for wedding coverage is because they've done enough of them, captured some pretty terrific images and generated enough buzz that the market will pay that price. Period. Of course, as you likely know, I bartered for vendors' work. I exchanged publicity on this blog for discounts. I did what I could to WORK for what we couldn't afford.
I'll leave you with a little more vendor love and some other vendor-selecting advice.Before Harleigh M. Hodge stood before our guests and married us, she met us to get to know us better, provided us with documents that helped us know how ceremonies are structured typically and also gave us page after page of readings we could select. Later, she recorded herself reading through the ceremony we wrote so we could hear her delivery before the big day. It felt like she really revels in the joy of weddings.
I loved that I wasn't yanking my heavy dress up all night long, and Miranda, my alterations expert, was easy to work with and suggested something I hadn't considered could be done: She transformed my gown into a sweetheart neckline, which I adored. That dress fit like a glove, thanks to her. And I found my bracelet and earrings in her adorable shop. Shoes? Payless. I never bought things for my wedding based on brand. I bought based on what I liked.
I love our wedding invite designer. Literally -- she's my sister. If you haven't seen the incredible invitations Stephanie designed, read this past post and see below. Of course, brides and grooms can order wedding invitations off any number of websites. But you also can hire a custom invitation designer (like my sister), who will listen to the type of event you are planning and create invites that reflect it. Ours were rustic (with a wood grain touch) and tied together with the same materials my mom and I tied around some centerpiece jars. Email my sister for more information.
This was a little detail, but such an affordable, nice added touch: my personalized hanger from Whiskey & Wedding Bells. Our wedding planners were clutch. Of course, they decorated the venue in the morning and distributed vendor checks and tips (yes, we still tipped most vendors with whom we bartered). But bottom line was this: It was nice to have Kim be there to handle the timing of everything, to direct people and answer questions, to help tear down at night. It was nice not to be the one people were turning to for instructions, and it was nice to let my mom be a guest at her daughter's wedding.When it comes to finding a wedding planner, you'll want to go with someone who fits your style of planning and orchestrating. Kim is caring, but serious as a heart attack, and, after all of the research and planning I did, I wanted someone to handle the day as if it were her own. She was on top of things all day and all night long.To say I am glad we had a florist for our event is an understatement. (And frankly, flowers were the wedding touch I might have cared about least.) For whatever reason (I'm no expert in floral matters, but I'm told it was all of the rain), this year's baby's breath did not smell nice. One of my co-workers told me he attended a wedding where the baby's breath smelled like body odor. If I had not hired Holly of Robyn's Nest, if I had just decided to buy and arrange wholesale flowers, I might not have known until our arrangements were cut and the whole venue smelled.But we did hire a professional, and she learned in a seminar mere weeks before our wedding that she'd need to swap all of our baby's breath for white daisies. And she did it for the same price she'd quoted us all along. This, folks, is why you hire professionals when you can. Yes, they can be more expensive than doing it yourself, but as you can see here, there are tangible and intangible reasons for their prices. Well before the baby's breath discovery, I'd been convinced to hire Holly because she has this nurturing sense about her (very calming for a Type A bride), and because she said she only works one wedding a day. Our event would be her focus. I think it showed. I'd never seen or heard the word delphinium until our wedding. I told Holly our groomsmen were wearing blue ties and Steven, a yellow one, and she knew just which flowers to match AND fit to our price range.Makeup and hair is one wedding service you can try on before the big day, and I did -- twice. In the end, the ladies of Fringe and Foundation Studio delivered on their promises: They arrived on time to the bed and breakfast where the girls and I met to get dressed, they finished every woman's look and even the looks for some who asked for one service or another last-minute, and when Allison said the product she used would keep the frizz at bay, she didn't exaggerate.
Despite it being 80 degrees and it misting rain throughout our day, see how tame my curls stayed?
Finally, one of my favorite vendors we hired is our videographer, the trained journalist, Ryan Loew. We just received our video and watched it last night, and I cried. A lot. It was incredible to be able to not just see images of our day, but to hear our loved ones' voices and watch them and us live our wedding. Ryan's camera work was superb and surprising -- in no way, shape or form was it run-of-the-mill or predictable. The way he weaved together moments of our day with an interview he videotaped that morning made our wedding videography fun and so sweet to watch.So there you have it: the men and women who made our wedding a professionally executed, memorable and happy event. To them, I say: Thank you very much, and I wish you many continued successes into the future. You deserve them. To those of you planning a wedding, I say: Hire them.
It's official! The Bartering Bride (yes, I'm speaking about myself in third person) officially signed her fourth bartering contract this weekend. This one is in addition to the contract I've signed with our DJ, our photographer and our officiant, and it buys us the talent and time of a culinary school-trained baker. She will be crafting six varieties of gourmet cupcakes for our big day, and I'll be introducing her (and the delectable flavors) to all of you very soon.
People tend to ask me two questions when I reveal that I'm doing this: 1) How do I work full time while planning a wedding, blogging about planning a wedding and bartering for the wedding while co-owning a business with my sister, and 2) How do I find vendors who will barter?The answer to the first is useful advice for any bride, I have to imagine: I take each day as it comes. Really. I have colossal to-do lists, and I take them on as I can. In recent weeks, I've spent more time on the phone with more caterers than I care to admit, met with a chair cover company that says it's willing to order burlap chair sashes to complement the table runners that my mountain of burlap someday will become, met with a florist to conceptualize our plans and talked bartering over coffee with a videographer.Keeping an organized day planner doesn't hurt. This doesn't either: Recently, as the stress of not having a caterer closed in (we only have about a half year to go, after all), I've reminded myself to ENJOY this -- yes, the planning -- too. It's a privilege to get to plan a wedding. It means I've found someone I'm in love with who loves me back.As for how I find vendors with whom to barter, it's very similar to how any bride finds her vendors (I presume). Email. Phone calls. Bridal shows. But, unlike most brides, I throw in an additional question: Do you have a need for a writer or editor? Lucky for me, some vendors even want a Story of Your Life.It's extremely important to make sure that a vendor who says s/he wants to barter REALLY wants the barter. If you've been following this blog since the beginning, you might remember that I talked with a photographer for more than a month and drafted a contract, only to find out that she really wasn't interested. So now, when I meet with a vendor, I'm very up-front. I make sure the project I would tackle for them is truly something they want. You can tell.Speaking of bartering projects, my sister (and maid of honor) and I recently completed one of the three digital magazines we're creating for Cavanaugh Photography. This one is targeted to prospective high school senior portrait clients. Here's the cover:
And these are the inside spreads, written by me based on my interviews with Ken and Natalie Cavanaugh, plus some of their former clients:
And last but not least, the page that describes the people and family behind Cavanaugh Photography:
Our work is nowhere near done! We now are designing the wedding photography magazine for them, and by we, I mean my incredible sister, Stephanie, who's agreed to help me barter so I can secure one of the best photographers in Northeast Ohio. I'm a lucky woman in more ways than one.
If I haven't answered your question about bartering, feel free to email me -- email@example.com -- or comment below. Bartering is hard work (way harder than writing a check), so if you do barter, make 110% sure that what you receive in the end will be a quality, worthwhile addition to your big day.
It doesn't take a reporter to know when someone's come prepared to an interview.
Harleigh M. Hodge contacted me in late August after I posted to wedding.com and caught my attention immediately when she wrote, "I would trade you comments in blogging and future opportunities instead of pay."
And, in a first for The Bartering Bride, I'm not the only person who stands to benefit here: Harleigh is offering any bride and groom who mentions this blog her ceremony services for free (!) during the summer of 2013. Email her here.
Sound too good to be true? I feared the same. But, if you know me or if you've been reading how exhaustive I've made my search for the right dress or the right vendor, you know I do my research. Because, let's be honest: Paying for something quality is always better than receiving something that doesn't impress for free.
But, I'd been here myself as a businesswoman. When my sister and I launched our company back in August 2011, I asked a friend of mine if we could create a Story of Your Life for her for free. We did, and now our business is all paid work (thankfully). All businesses must start somewhere, and sometimes the only way to start creating a track record is to go gratis. I get it.
Harleigh ultimately convinced my future husband and me to hire her over Chinese food. We'd agreed to meet for lunch to discuss, among other things, why she'd just become a certified wedding officiant in the summer of 2012. I liked her answer: She'd seen the joy in weddings (including her own) and wanted to be a part of creating that joy for others.
Harleigh (see picture below) struck me as soft spoken, but confident, and my interest in becoming her first bridal client grew when I learned she's a teacher. Clearly, one must be able to speak before an audience to command a classroom.
But what really cinched our interest was how prepared she was. She brought outlines and worksheets to help us decide which elements we want to include in our ceremony. Maybe every officiant does this, but it impressed us still.
Here's the outline we're using to delineate what we want:
And here's an example of a worksheet Harleigh, who is certified through a non-denomination church and prefers to perform small weddings, provided. It offers several options for each step in our ceremony, so we may choose the one best suited for us. And no worries, Harleigh told us. If there's nothing on the page we like, we're welcome to share one from another source.
My love has circled the options he likes, and I put hearts around them. Now, we're working gradually to decide what we want our ceremony to convey, which parts of the outline we feel are essential and which we'd rather not have. What we know definitively is this: We want to write our own vows.
It won't be easy. When, as a newspaper reporter, I sit down to write a story I know is incredible, it's always hard because I feel the pressure of doing it justice. So the question of the next several months is: How will I ever write vows to a man who's been so incredible to me, who is my everything?
For starters, I took notes at a wedding we recently attended. This couple also wrote their vows, and I teared up at much of what they said. Some excerpts:
"Every day that we're together is the best day of my life."
"I will love you as you are, not how I want you to be."
Of course, one shouldn't steal vows from another couple. The point of writing your own vows is for them to be precisely you two. That's what makes this whole intimidating process worth it in the end, right? So, one thing Steven and I have decided to do is collect and read every card we've ever exchanged in what we've dubbed our "card party." Here's the rainbow of cards we've amassed:
See any common denominator in many of the cards I've received? Hint: There's a live clue present (as she is whenever I'm doing something that involves paper on the floor).
And a couple months ago, my husband-to-be gave me this pretty little number and wrote his own description on it. He's a.d.o.r.a.b.l.e.
Being a writer and writing my own vows is akin, I'm sure, to being a composer and writing one's own first dance song. Inspiration is going to be key.
So, my love and I are having our card party. From what did you draw inspiration to write your vows?