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Planning Made Perfect: Expert Wedding Advice

Local experts tell you how to turn your wedding-day dreams into reality.
Daniel Ramirez

For those who have set a date and started planning the perfect wedding, it’s important to remember one simple thing: The struggle is real. Differing opinions, deadlines, vendors, deposits, available dates and the surprises that inevitably arise can all wreak havoc.

That struggle, however, can quickly disappear with the help of some of the most sought-after wedding planners and coordinators in the Austin area. With polish and professionalism, they exude a Zen sort of calm fielding wedding-planning issues. Read on, as these in-demand experts share their tried-and-true wisdom.

Turn to the Pros
“When you plan properly from the start, the execution of the wedding day is easy,” says Valerie Miller, owner of Valerie Miller Events. “If a bride has a full-time event coordinator, they shouldn’t have to worry.” (They will worry, because it’s human nature to stress, she notes, but they shouldn’t have to.)

Miller knows whereof she speaks. With almost two decades in the industry, she’s worked with countless brides, refining her methods in the process.

“Realize that you’re hiring professional people to do a professional job and that they have your best interests at heart,” she continues. “If you’re hiring the right people, they know what they’re doing.”

While planning a wedding can be overwhelming, there’s a sure-fire way to reduce worry, says Jordan Adams, co-owner of Big Time Creatives. “The best way a bride or groom can make it easier is trust me. Most of the time, it will be their first time planning a wedding, so they have no idea what to expect. That’s why I always suggest hiring a planner. This is our job—to know how wedding planning works, so trust us when we tell you how to do things.”

The Pinterest Effect
As anyone who’s perused Pinterest or riffled through bridal magazines knows, you have a ton to navigate, and it all comes at you at lightning speed. Pinterest is often both blessing and bane for wedding coordinators. To combat the inevitable creep of social media into a wedding plan, Miller shares a common sentiment: “Pinterest isn’t always real.”

Let Pinterest guide you, Miller says, but don’t try to replicate it. “Sometimes when people do these photo shoots, they take hours to make that table look like it’s just set up,” she says. “It can set unrealistic expectations. Brides need to be a little more realistic. They’ll pin certain flowers that don’t necessarily come in that color—they’ve been spray-painted.”

Still, the ideas can be incorporated into your wedding plan, and the right planner and proper planning are the keys to creating a wedding that’s more than inspired, but an inspiration itself.

“Assuming the couple hires a reputable and experienced planner,” says Lindsey Farrell, owner of Highland Avenue Events, “they should rest assured we’re going to go above and beyond to ensure they have the day they’ve envisioned.”

Conversation Is Key
A wide-open channel of communication is essential between planner and bride. But planning isn’t just for the bride, of course. In Style Weddings owner Carmela Hartman wants to hear from all parties involved to make the most of the big day, especially the spouse-to-be. “Knowing their wedding style as a couple rather than as individuals, deciding on the theme—whether they are a country, rock ’n’ roll, beach, modern or traditional wedding couple—is important. Planning should be agreed upon as a couple. Make the experience include elements for both bride and groom as much as possible.”

Hartman also asks for a little more personal detail, just to smooth out any potential rough patches later down on the road. “This may not be important for a lot of couples in the beginning,” she offers, “but it is important to let each other know of family dynamics, likes and dislikes, and traditions before planning a wedding.”

The more planners know, the better equipped they are to work out a knotty problem or handle an emergency situation if it occurs. This is one of the most unsung virtues of a professional planner.

Becky Levin Navarro, founder of Pearl Events Austin, mentions another priceless benefit: Checking vendor contracts. “Hire a wedding planner from the beginning to review all your contracts before you sign them, including your venue. Many couples get into sticky situations and then hire us afterward to try to get them out of it.”

“We can negotiate and review contracts and know what to look for,” she says. “A lot of couples will come to us and already have six contracts signed and they’re competing, or they haven’t figured out parking or food costs for vendors. All of these things [can] add up to extra thousands of dollars, in the end.”

Money Talks
More dollars saved means more that can be dedicated to another part of your vision. Still, that brings up the stickiest, yet the most critical element of wedding planning: budget.

Starry-eyed couples may bring in extravagant ideas without knowing the cost of making them real, Navarro warns. “Couples will tell us that they have a budget for certain items, but they’ve never done this before. So they’ll come in here and say, ‘We have a budget for flowers’ and their budget is $10,000. And I, in my mind, know that their budget and their vision don’t add up.”

Farrell agrees, and suggests focusing on the big-ticket item first—namely, the venue. She recommends that couples select a venue that’s no more than 20 percent of their wedding budget. “We often find clients fall in love with and book venues that, while beautiful, take up too large a percentage of their overall budget and leave them in a bind when it comes to filling out their wedding day,” she says.

Secrets, Revealed
Planners also have a special, almost super-hero, power: preparing for the unexpected.

Among their secrets are glue dots, say Hartman and Navarro “I used them to prop up loose décor, tape table linen for windy moments, ensure signs and place cards don’t start flying after each wind gust, etc.,” Hartman says.

“They’re clear, and it’s just like glue putty,” says Navarro. “We can put anything on it and hopefully nothing moves.”

Miller mentions a low-tech, high-value item. “You can do anything with zip ties. We zip-tied the bow to a bride’s shoe that fell off and added white nail polish, and no one knew. To this day, her shoe still has that zip-tie on it, she told me three years ago.”

Farrell keeps a bow tie in her emergency bag, along with valuable knowledge she carries in her head—the ability to tie it. “It’s common for at least one groomsmen or family member to forget their bow tie on the wedding day,” she says, “and even more common that none know how to tie one. I’m regularly lending the bow tie in my kit for our formal weddings and lining all of the groomsmen up to tie them efficiently so they can begin photos and move along with the day.”

Adams still counts on the oldest standby in the wedding planner’s arsenal.

“The one indispensable item in my emergency kit is safety pins,” she admits. “Although a simple everyday item, it always comes in handy. I’ve probably used at least one at every event. I had a bridesmaid’s dress rip in the back right before the ceremony started. Thankfully, I had my safety pins and was able to save the day!”

Another valuable item doesn’t smooth over physical rips and tears, but it does help ensure that everything goes off without a hitch. Discreet envelopes distributed to the vendors help motivate a little above-and-beyond service. “When someone gives me gratuities on the front end,” Navarro explains, “I’m able to tell all of my vendors, the day of, ‘Hey, I have envelopes. I think we have gratuities,’ and everyone seems to have a little extra pep in their step.”

The Best Advice
If any of these helpful hints should fail, Adams sums up the most critical counsel of all.

“The easiest thing you can do is take a deep breath,” she says. “Planning a wedding is stressful, we all know that. However, it doesn’t need to be. When you get caught up in all the little details, you start to forget the big picture. You are marrying your best friend and that is all that matters. Take a deep breath and remember, the day is about you.”

No matter how complex the plan or how daunting the details, those words are held most dear by every planner we interviewed. By enlisting their services, any wedding can go off with nary a loose end. And if not, they have plenty of glue dots and safety pins and zip ties at the ready. *

What Every Bride Should Know
The top five tips from our panel of wedding pros
1) Budget is the first order of business. “Planning the wedding is always more fun when couples aren’t stressed about achieving the impossible financially.” —Lindsey Farrell, Highland Avenue Events

2) Be open and honest with your planner. “The more details, descriptions and visuals the couple provides, the better we can execute their wedding vision into reality.” —Carmela Hartman, In Style Weddings

3) Trust your planner fully. “We want to tell your story. The day is about you and not the wedding someone else planned on Pinterest. Trust us to learn about you and your fiancé, so we can make your day special.” —Jordan Adams, Big Time Creatives

4) Call them early. But not too early, which might be right after the engagement announcement. “I need the couple to think about what they want, think about guest count, think about places they might want to get married and dates. And then come to us and let’s talk about it.” —Becky Levin Navarro, Pearl Events Austin

5) Remember to prepare, with a capital P. “In our company, we follow the five Ps—Proper Planning Prevents Poor Production. When you plan properly from the start, the execution of the wedding day is easy.” —Valerie Miller, Valerie Miller Events

Good Luck Charms
Planners share their must-haves.
A weather plan
“My only superstition might be that if you have an outdoor wedding and don’t have a fully vetted rain plan, you’re begging for bad weather.” —Lindsey Farrell, Highland Avenue Events

Glue dots
“They’re clear, and it’s just like glue putty. We can put anything on it and nothing moves. Sometimes, we’ll have to glue-dot a menu to a charger plate, so it stays there.” —Becky Levin Navarro, Pearl Events Austin

A carry-all
“My little black shoulder bag is with me at every event. It’s great to carry my phone, keys, pen, and of course, safety pins. I’ve been using the same one since I started planning, so it has definitely become my lucky charm.” —Jordan Adams, Big Time Creatives

Zip ties
“We always have zip ties. We have them in all colors—black and clear and white and pink.” —Valerie Miller, Valerie Miller Events

“Most of the time if I have a really big event, I wear a bright red lip. You look dressed and ready to fight the day when your lip’s done. I feel powerful.” —Becky Levin Navarro, Pearl Events Austin

“Even if it’s a small event, I just want them. It’s just easier to communicate. You’re not on your phone, so it’s more professional.” —Becky Levin Navarro, Pearl Events Austin

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