Photo credit: Vivek Bhattacharyya
Over the last year or two, I’ve gotten a handful of inquiries about getting started in the wedding and events industry. I hardly count myself as an expert, but I’ll take it as a compliment that I’m worth asking advice from!
Whether it is through reality TV (rich bride, poor bride perhaps?) or just by word of mouth, people are starting to see that being a wedding or event coordinator is a real job (afterall I am working 1.5 jobs doing it!). Everyone seems to think that running events is this glamorous job where you meet celebrities and get paid to boss people around. Well, this can be partially true, but for others it isn’t as fancypants as it seems. The reality is that events/weddings is a small industry, it is hard work with long hours and it doesn’t always pay well. But hey, if you love it… there’s no better place to be.
So if you are crazy enough to want to be an event or wedding coordinator, you may have a few questions. How does one get started in it? Can you make a living from it? Is it really for me? For any aspiring planners, or just for curious onlookers, here are some of my honest and candid thoughts in this 3 part series.
If you want to get into wedding planning, this one is a no-brainer.
The first thing you need is to get certified. The Wedding Planners Institute of Canada is the only place to go for this in Canada. It is an intensive weekend course with a test, with no yearly fee. They teach you the how-to’s to get started, give you an overview of wedding and vendor basics and inform you of the business basics. A couple vendor guest speakers come in to speak about their specific industry as well (when I took it, we had a photographer and a DJ). After you get certified you get connected with all the coordinators in the country, with great online resources for certified planners only.
Some people take the wedding course to learn what the industry is all about (I don’t think this is a smart use of money.. can’t you just read about it online?). Others take it knowing full well they want to do this as a job in some way. Some come with experience and others with none. It is like getting an undergrad in something like business… you must get your feet wet before you know if you really like it, and getting the undergrad does not guarantee you work (but hey, it is a good start!). Please note that this course is not something to take if you want to learn to plan your own wedding; it really is about the business of wedding planning. What you do with what you learn is up to you (you will hear this again!)
If you are interested in just event planning, the rest of this post is for you.
There are a number of colleges offering programs. I don’t think it matters a whole lot which one you take, but what matters is that they provide you with practical experience built into the program. Event planning is an experience-oriented job, and without real-life events experience, your education isn’t all that useful.
I must stress that getting an education is only the first step, a means to an end.
Just like buying a camera does not make you a photographer and having a license of Photoshop does not make you a designer, getting a paper does not necessarily make you an event coordinator. What you do with the paperwork is up to you!
Come to think of it, in my events post-grad program there were about 14 people altogether. It was such a wide range of people taking that program. There were introverts who had never even volunteered in an event before and then there were people who had been managers at big companies who were looking for a career change. Everyone came out with the same qualification and you were off to fend for yourself. A quick facebook/linkedin search tells me that maybe half of our graduating class are working in events right now. Not the best statistics, but those I expected to do events after the program are still doing it. That tells me that it is more about who you are than what education you get.
All in all, it is an experience-oriented line of work. If you are really starting from scratch and don’t even know if it is for you, than education is a pretty vital stepping stone. If you’ve never done events before, you will likely learn a lot.
In my opinion, at the end of the day you can only learn so much about event coordinating from a book. Don’t get me wrong, there is value in learning in a classroom setting about balancing a budget, giving a client presentation and learning about insurance. But the most learning you will do is from getting your hands and feet wet, volunteering or helping with an event. Your experience will speak much more than what any program will teach you.
When I decided to apply for the event management program at Seneca, I already had a few years of event planning experience under my belt. In university I held a job with my college as the events and projects coordinator, and I volunteered at a lot of special events throughout the year. I also had experience with promotional jobs that were event-oriented. For me, I didn’t learn a lot in terms of the how-to but what this program did was expose me to the higher-end special events industry of galas and soirees and making centerpieces and working with crazy decor budgets, something I would have never seen without it. I came out of it with having done a 6-month decor project working with the Design Exchange for their annual gala (named one of the top charity events in Toronto by BizBash), an in-depth understanding of decor and hands-on experience helping at a ton of high-end events in the city. At the wedding planning course I met some people who did distance learning for event coordination… Honestly, what’s the point? I came out of my event program, probably paying the same and using the same amount of time, but with a TON more experience than they probably ever will have gotten from a distance course.
For me, the value of the education was getting experience. What you get out of an event education is really up to you!
Ok that’s it for this one. Check back here for more thoughts on getting started. My next couple posts will cover some of the soft skills required and about making money.
Also in this series:
Rebecca Chan is a Toronto wedding planner and day of wedding coordinator providing sophisticated planning for the modern bride. Whether you need planning assistance or wedding day coordination, Rebecca can help you create your dream wedding day. Contact her today, she'd love to hear from you.