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  • Alexis Alvarez

Everything You Need to Know About Wedding Vendor Contracts

How to plan a wedding in chicago by chicago wedding planner
Photo By: Steve Koo Photography

I don't know that there is ever a time in your life that you read & sign more contracts than when you're planning a wedding. Most weddings have an average of about 10 different vendors involved in their day: from venue to transportation & all of these vendors require (or should) a signed agreement to book their services. Here are some of my favorite contract tips that I use everyday for each of my clients vendors.

Before signing

Check the cancellation policy. You should be looking for your liability if you cancel for whatever reason; which is usually inclusive of a non-refundable retainer that is paid at contract signing and a progressive financial loss of your total remaining balance based on how far out you cancel (which is to cover the vendors loss of income in case they are unable to book the date with another client). But something I find too many clients don't look for is the vendor's liability if they cancel. I had a client come to be a couple of months before her wedding last year after her original Coordinator had cancelled and there was no clause in the contract that gave her the right to have her retainer refunded. She was out the money for the retainer & still needed to book the services. Contracts are supposed to protect both parties so make sure that you are protected too.

Look for typos in your booking details. You'd be surprised at how easy it is for your date to get double booked. An industry friend shared a story with me of a client who's venue double booked because of a date typo in the contract. The venue put the date on their calendar after the contract was signed as the date in the contract. One problem- the date in the contract was for the following year, so on the wedding day, when 2 caterers showed up the vendors were all left scrambling trying to fix it without ruining either of the couples wedding day. Double check spellings of names, dates, & location details.

Check your package hours. The last thing you want is a few months before your wedding to realize that really great photo deal you got was only for 6 hours & you want coverage for 12.

Look for your vendors arrival time. Most vendors have a spot in their contract saying something like "we arrive for set up 1 hour before your contracted start time." The important thing her is to make sure that time is in there. You don't really need it now, but you will when it's time to start working on the timeline & getting into the wedding day details.

Check your deposit amounts & payment schedule. Make sure that the financial details are clearly spelled out.

Will your contact be the onsite on your wedding day? There's no right or wrong answer here, just make sure you know the answer. For example, our contracts state that I may not necessarily be the onsite person on the wedding day. As my business grows, I have to step back some from operation in order to run the business (and maintain the work/life balance I want), so it's important that my clients know that depending on our calendar, they may have another Coordinator work their wedding day & that they will meet that person 4 months before their wedding. One area I find couples disappointed after signing with some vendors is finding out that the person they booked with isn't going to be their onsite. Make sure this expectation is well set before signing.

If it's not in the contract, it doesn't exist. I can't tell you how many couples have gone on a venue tour & asked for something that isn't typically done & were told it wouldn't be a problem. To them it's a done deal & they don't think of it again until they need to again in planning. Well, in that gap of time the person they were working with left the venue & that thing they asked for isn't in the contract and now they're left frustrating and battling the venue over something that they had gotten approval for but there is no paper trail on. Make sure everything you request that is not usually either included or would be a special exception, that you get it in writing, preferably in your contract.

After signing

Request a copy of the countersigned contract for your records & a receipt from your retainer. You don't ever want to leave your legal, binding records in someone else's hands. Too many times contracts have gotten lost from vendors & if the couple does not have a copy, then they have no ground to stand on if there's a dispute. Always always get copies for your own records & keep track of them.

Save everything in Google drive. I use Google drive as my client management system & it was a life saver! What I recommend is making a "Wedding Planning" folder and then inside making a separate folder for each vendor. You can either call it by name "Lillian Rose Events" or "Wedding Planning", but use that to hold all of your documents for each vendor. Contracts, receipts, photo lists, song lists, floor plans, menus, etc. It's super helpful in keeping organized!

Put reminders on your calendar for payment due dates. I send payment reminders for all of my couples at 1 month, 2 weeks, and 1 day before the due date. I find this gives them on a ramp to the payment. Especially the larger ones. I recommend you give yourself the same kind of time.

Put check-in reminders & due dates on your calendar. Now, your vendors should be checking in with you periodically, but we're all small businesses and sometimes things fall through the cracks. It doesn't hurt for you to set up a few reminders just to check in with each of your vendors. If you're feeling weird about checking in with them, ask a question as a passive way of "checking in". You can also use your calendar for reminders for due dates. For example, your photographer likely has a due date for your photo list & your DJ likely has a due date for your songs list. Put reminders with the same kind of on ramp as payments that these items are coming due.

The contracting vendors part of your wedding can be overwhelming, but hopefully these tips will help make it a little less daunting. Do you have any tips for contracting vendors? Leave them in the comments below! I'd love to hear them!

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