How to: Plan – Sarah Haywood’s Wedding Planning Insights

Award-winning Sarah Haywood is internationally acknowledged as one of the world’s premier wedding planners and designers. Sought by celebrities, leading public figures, and nobility, Sarah was CNN expert commentator for the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton and regularly appears in the media. She is the author of the best selling Wedding Bible books and was the first wedding planner globally to develop smartphone apps. 

We discover the secrets behind planning a successful wedding day, and the most unusual and luxurious requests Sarah has been asked to fulfill…

My mantra for organising a successful wedding is “Service, service, service!” You can only provide a world-class event if you focus on customer service: so everyone and everything you hire has to be world-class in terms of service and delivery. I’m only as good as the worse person or company I hire to work with us, so everyone and everything must be exceptional.

The first wedding I ever organised had a budget of £16,000, and that was in 1998. In terms of the organisation, I’d do pretty much everything differently! We tied ourselves up in knots not understanding the process and the order in which to do things. But I am still pretty impressed with the design given the budget. Thankfully, for the first few years I think our design is what got us noticed. So the results were good, but we could have made the process a lot easier for ourselves and for our clients in those early years! I am now good at assembling teams for each event with complementary skills to ensure that we can deliver across the board and for those things that least excite me as well as the elements I enjoy planning.

The biggest challenge involved in planning a wedding has to be managing expectations. Everyone who is closely involved in a wedding day has an expectation, and about pretty much everything: from the food and flowers to the venue and how many guests and who they should be. Problems arise when differing expectations are not addressed – and if they are not it is in the weeks just before the celebration that the tensions come to the surface and the arguments and stress levels increase. Part of my job is to assess those expectations very early on, and try to get everyone on the same page. My advice is to ensure that everyone is heard, as sometimes that is all they want – even if you eventually reject their ideas and requests. In every wedding there is compromise and so the earlier in the planning process you get everyone on-side, the easier the journey to your celebration will be.

The most unusual request I have had to fulfill when planning a wedding was to install a fun fare complete with full-sized rides!

The most luxurious item I have been asked to incorporate into a wedding has been a £50,000 cake.

One of the key things in getting the day right for a couple iscreating an event that reflects who they are, their shared values and their sense of style. It’s not really about being ‘on-trend’; in fact, I like to think that we set trends rather than follow them. Food fads come and go and wedding attire trends change year to year and so there is always an element of incorporating what’s currently in-vogue. But for me and my company, it is about working with a couple closely and learning who they are, their likes and dislikes so come their big day, the event could not be anyone’s but theirs.

The best advice I could give to a newly engaged couple on planning their wedding is toalways remember that when you are planning a wedding all you are doing is creating a backdrop to the day, and when that days comes it will be people who define the day itself. Happy guests make happy weddings, so get the guest list right, and give them a great experience. No-one wants to be eating the cheap chicken dinner and looking at extravagant flower arrangements. If you live a five-star lifestyle then of course you’ll want a five-star wedding to match. But if you do not, just create a day more magnificent and special than that which you enjoy every day, but do not make your friends and family feel uncomfortable because the day is so far removed from your comfort zone and theirs.

When you plan a wedding, remember it takes time. Ideally allow yourselves more than six months and less than twelve.

When you are trying to find a wedding planner look online to see who is planning weddings that you like the look of. If they are open and transparent online that’s a great start, as is lots of imagery that demonstrates their experience in working at different sized events. Perhaps see what other people say about them.

When you meet they should explain their fees structure so you understand what it will cost you to hire them, how they work as well as the different services they might offer. But never hire a wedding planner to save you money; hire one to offer you value for money and to assist you effectively manage your budget, introduce you to great suppliers and take some of the strain. When you are confident with the service it is then all about how well you think you will work together so that they can help you find and turn your wedding day dream to reality.

Be careful about the advice you seek – there is a plethora of advice out there and most of it badly curated by people who have never planned a wedding. So start by concentrating on where and when you’ll be married and who will be attending. Then hire your key suppliers (photographer/videographer, florist, caterer) and take their advice where relevant – that’s partly what you are paying for. Next fill in the details. And also look at what free advice is available from professional wedding planners – most have blogs and some, like us, have books and smartphone apps.

About Sarah Haywood Wedding Design

Sarah Haywood Wedding Design is a luxury wedding and event planning consultancy based in the UK working with couples throughout the world on their celebrations in the UK and abroad. Offering a range of services from full wedding planning and management, event design and last minute event management. The company prices itself on offering stylish, glamorous and fun celebrations for couples demanding first class service and world-class events.

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Image Credits © Reportage, Edoardo Agresti for Sarah Haywood Wedding Design