Editor's note: This article was excerpted from our Wedding Consultant start-up guide, available from Entrepreneur Bookstore.
Once upon a time on a perfect summer day, guests in colorful wedding finery filled an old cathedral. The fragrance of dew-kissed blossoms wafted through the air as soft organ music played. A radiant bride walked up the aisle at the arm of her father to meet the handsome groom waiting at the altar . . .
Fairy tales like this do come true. Now more than ever, wedding consultants are making them happen. In the last decade, the need for professional wedding consultants has grown exponentially. Today, women are often simply too busy juggling the demands of their professional and personal lives to oversee the details necessary to create the wedding of their dreams. This has created an enormous opportunity for people like you considering going into the wedding consulting business.
Although it's difficult to put an exact number on how many wedding consultant businesses there are nationwide, the best guess is approximately 10,000, according to Gerard Monaghan, president of the Association of Bridal Consultants (ABC). Monaghan says that although no one formally tracks these figures, his estimate is based on the number of people who pay for memberships to the various professional associations as well as the number of people on mailing lists available from list brokers.
According to Monaghan, one out of every eight retail dollars is spent on wedding-related products and services. That makes the wedding industry a $42 billion business, although some estimates put that figure as high as $70 billion. Part of the reason for the big bucks spent on a dream wedding is that there are often six wage earners funding the event: the bridal couple, the bride's parents and the groom's parents. This has driven the cost of the average wedding up over the years. Robbi G.W. Ernst III, president of June Wedding Inc., an association for event professionals, says the average cost of a wedding in the United States is now around $17,500 for 125 to150 guests. However, the average cost of a wedding can be $35,000 or more in larger metropolitan areas, where incomes are higher and services are more expensive.
This industry outlook sets the stage for success for both new and established wedding consultants. According to Ernst, a novice consultant who coordinates 10 weddings a year and charges the industry's standard fee of 10 to15 percent per event can expect to gross $17,500 to $26,250 in sales. A more experienced consultant who handles 40 weddings a year can earn $70,000 or more.
"The earnings potential for wedding consultants is awesome," says Richard Martel of the Association for Wedding Professionals International. "Those who are better-connected and better-educated will do the best in this business, as will those who network as a way to build their reputations."
The Personality of a Good Wedding Consultant
So what does it take to be a successful wedding consultant? Loreen C., who owns a wedding consultant business in Ypsilanti, Michigan, says emphatically, "A sense of humor." And she's not kidding.
In a business where you're depending on the professionalism and reliability of a dozen or more people to create a bride's dream wedding, there's always the possibility that something will go askew or bomb out completely. That's why having a sense of humor and the ability to think on your feet are key to keeping things on track or fixing the problems that will inevitably crop up.
In fact, being a people person is pretty much a requirement for this job. You'll be dealing constantly with weepy brides, demanding mothers, cranky suppliers and others who will vie for your attention. You'll be bargaining with vendors, overseeing the activities of hordes of hired helpers, and mingling with the guests at wedding receptions. So it helps if you really love working with people and have an upbeat, positive outlook to help you weather the inevitable problems that arise when you're coordinating countless details.
On the more practical side, it also helps to have a strong business background. While it's not impossible to make a go of a wedding consultant business if you've never balanced a checkbook, previous experience with handling finances (even household budgets) as well as managing day-to-day office details is certainly valuable. After all, you'll be coordinating budgets and overseeing finances for your clients. Plus you'll be taking care of the details of running your own business, which will include taxes, billing and other financial matters. You may even have to deal with personnel administration at some point in your career. So business experience (or barring that, at least a good head for numbers and details) is very important.
Wedding consultants need many of the same business skills that other professionals routinely acquire at universities and colleges. These are skills they use every day for project management, personnel administration, financial planning, even logistics. That's why, over the years, the wedding consultant industry has created its own professional certification and training programs.
Here are some of the programs available:
- Founded in 1981, the Association of Bridal Consultants (ABC) is an international trade association with 2,400 members worldwide. It offers members three professional designations (these are not certifications): Professional Bridal Consultant, Accredited Bridal Consultant and Master Bridal Consultant. It takes at least six years to reach the senior level.
Training begins with a five-part home study program with coursework in etiquette, sales, marketing, the wedding day, related services, planning and consulting. The cost of the five-part program is $340; it's also possible to take each course individually at a cost of $85 apiece (plus $90 for the start-up manual). Membership dues are $215 annually (with a $30 one-time application fee), although most new consultants can qualify for the $140 novice rate.
- Based in San Jose, California, the Association of Certified Professional Wedding Consultants (ACPWC) offers a personalized five-day course and a home correspondence course. The personalized course is presented by certified instructors and is held three times a year in Los Gatos and West Hollywood, California, and in Atlanta, while the home study program is self-directed. The program covers everything from setting up a wedding consulting business to specifics like selecting vendors and proper wedding protocol. The fee is $795 for the five-day program or $650 for the home study program. You become eligible for membership in the organization after successful completion of one of the programs.
ACPWC certification is awarded after completing the coursework, working for two years as a consultant, coordinating 12 weddings and obtaining 14 letters of recommendation. A certification project is also required.
- June Wedding Inc. , an association for event professionals, is a Las Vegas-based organization that awards the "JWIC" (June Wedding Inc. Certification) to consultants who complete the two-part JWI Consultant Training & Certification Home Study Course. The home study components include "Designing and Running a Successful Wedding Consultant/Event Coordination Company," and "Continuing Education for the Advanced Wedding Consultant." The tuition for each seminar is $1,000. Annual JWI dues are $150 for small businesses/sole proprietors.
"We've done surveys that show that wedding consultants who are formally trained and certified can get higher fees from the onset of their business if they're professional and know what they're doing," says Robbi Ernst, founder of JWI.
- The National Bridal Association is an organization of more than 1,200 independently owned businesses, including wedding consultants. It offers the Weddings Beautiful Worldwide home-study training program for consultants who are interested in starting a business or who wish to augment their knowledge. The program consists of 18 specialized assignments. Upon completion of the coursework, students receive a certified wedding specialist certificate. The course costs $495 and includes review and grading of assignments by a Weddings Beautiful specialist.