A Guide To Help You Start Planning Your Wedding 

Indianapolis Canal at Twilight

Indianapolis Canal at Twilight

A Guide To Help You Start Planning Your Wedding 

You’ve just got engaged and now reality has begun to sink in. What in the world do you do next? This guide will take you through a step-by-step process of helping you know what to do when as well as offer resources on how to select qualified wedding vendors.

Make a budget

Unless you’re royalty you probably don’t have unlimited resources so having a budget is going to help keep you realistic on what you can and can’t do.

Prioritize what you want to spend money on will also keep you on track. For example, if you’re struggling with having money for a DJ or photographer you may not want to have a champagne toast, use sparkling grape juice. No one will remember what they were drinking during the toast but a good DJ will keep the party going and a good photographer will give you amazing images that everyone will remember for years. The budget may flex as you begin to spend money and determine if you need to take from one category into another.

Also build in around 20% for all those things you don’t think of, like sales tax! Once you have your budget it will help you be decisive when booking things for your wedding because you know exactly how much you have to spend. 

Set a date

This may sound like a no brainer but selecting your date can be a challenge. Depending on how far in advance you’re booking your wedding your venue of choice may not be available for your set date. I would have a date range that allows you to be flexible so you have options when visiting venues. When you do find a venue you fall in love with, don’t wait, put the deposit down ASAP because dates fill up super fast!

As a general rule when booking any wedding related vendor, the sooner the better so you get what you want. Now that you have your venue and a date its time to book some vendors!

Bridal Shows

Bridal shows are a separate animal so I won’t go to far down the rabbit trail but they can be a good way to meet vendors and set up appointments. Vendors will usually be running specials as well so be ready to take advantage of those. As a given rule, don’t feel bad about saying no when talking to a vendor, they’ll appreciate the candor.

Booking Vendors

Before you go out and start booking your favorite vendors there a few things you should look at first.

Avon Gardens by candlelight 

Avon Gardens by candlelight 

Reviews, what are people saying about them. Not only their personality and how well they jived but also in the quality of work they performed. There should be a good amount of reviews as well, if they don’t have at least 10 reviews than keep looking.

A good place to find quality vendors is from other vendors, but don’t skip the reviews however just because of a referral. Ask them why they like working with the vendors they do. Sometimes vendors will give kickbacks for referrals so don’t be afraid to ask if they receive anything for referring couples their way. The vendors I refer have done an amazing job for my past couples and are easy to work with.

Booking a Venue

This has already been covered in setting your wedding date but its worth saying again, to get the date you want be sure you’re ready to write the check for the deposit ASAP so you get the venue and date you want.

The caterer is often the biggest investment you make for your wedding so choosing your venue often means choosing your caterer. 

Look for a photographer who has shot your venue before and see how the ceremony pictures look. I’ve shot outdoor venues where the background is in full sun and the bride and groom when in and out of the shade. It created a very over exposed background. Doing a little research on pictures of ceremony spaces can make all the difference. Pintrest is a great place to find images of specific venues or spaces. Check out my Pintrest to see a variety of different wedding day images.

Life goes by quick so don’t wait to book the venue because all the other vendors are put on hold until you have a venue and date. If your wedding planning gets pushed back too far its going to create a lot of planning stress.

Some venues allow you to bring in your own caterer but ask because thats the exception and not the rule. The caterer is often the biggest investment you make for your wedding so choosing your venue means also choosing your caterer. 

Booking a Wedding Planner

These guys are the wedding experts. Planning a wedding can a lot of times be a part time job and will often make sense to let someone else do all the leg work. They have a lot of connections in the wedding industry from doing dozens of weddings a year. They know the good the bad and the ugly. They see the side of vendors that a lot of people will never see so trust their experience. They also have great advise on their blog so be sure and check that out. Like this one from Boldy Chic Events on the red flags when looking at vendors.

1. Nothing in Writing and Nothing to Sign
This is a HUGE red flag for us. A verbal agreement is just not acceptable. This company and/or vendor may be great, or you know someone who has used them and everything turned out wonderfully - but without a written agreement, nothing is set in stone and they ultimately owe you nothing. This could result in a no show, a change in terms or pricing, etc., and you would have nothing to fall back on to insure you received the services you originally discussed. It is simply best to walk away if they are unable to offer a written agreement.  

From Boldly Chic Events Blog

Booking a Photographer

The number one regret for a bride is not spending the money on a qualified photographer. Booking a qualified photographer can make or break your wedding. Long after the food is eaten and the party has died done the photos will continue to tell a story, either a good or a bad one. A good photographer can make an average venue look great and a bad photographer can make a beautiful venue look average.

Union Station at Twilight

Union Station at Twilight

Ask to see several complete weddings so you can get a good idea of how they cover a wedding day. Look for weddings in the middle of the day in harsh light to see how they handle that as well as low light receptions and weddings to get a good idea of their capabilities. Ask if they’ve ever shot your venue before and if they have if you could see a wedding from that venue.

They should also be able to help you with a timeline and shot list. If you don’t have a wedding planner the photographer should be able to keep you on track and run your timeline. Disorganization is not a good quality in a photographer because the ability to stick to a timeline and get everything on your shot list is essential to helping you relax on your wedding day.

Be sure your thinking of your photographer when its time to eat. You don’t want them running on empty. They’re on their feet moving and directing people all day and their going to need a fill up at some point. If you’re planning food for people in the bridal party be sure to include your photographer(s). Some caterers will have vendor plates (usually a boxed dinner of some sort) specifically for other vendors at a reduced rate so check into that as well when speaking with your caterer.

Booking a DJ

Some things to look for when booking a DJ are online music selection. All the DJs worth their salt will have the capability for you to select your music and do not play songs online. This is a huge times saver so be sure your DJ has it.

DJs should be able to help you with the timeline for your reception. In the same way the photographer runs the wedding day timeline your DJ will arrange and run your reception timeline. Let them know when your photography coverage ends so they can get all the spot light events in before your coverage runs out. You don’t want your photographer to miss a major event at your reception.

Be sure they communicate with the photographer before anything major happens like the cake cutting or first dance. You don’t want to throw your bouquet while your photographer is out trying to find a bathroom!

Most DJs also have up lights that make a venue look absolutely amazing and can make your photos really pop during the reception.

Mark Beecher all set up for the ceremony. 

Mark Beecher all set up for the ceremony. 

If you need a ceremony set up be sure they have the capability to do that before you get too far into negotiations as well.

Your DJ is also going to need to eat so be sure to feed them as well.

We've worked with some amazing DJs so be sure to check them out on our preferred vendor page.

Finding a Dress

This is probably my least qualified area to be talking about but here’s what I do know. Its magical and you’ll know it when you see it. But don’t wait, even if you can’t find the dress, keep looking because they usually don’t carry your size or model in stock. It’s a special order that can takes months to get to their store and when it does it’s most likely going to need some alterations and you don’t want to be 2 months away from your wedding date with no dress. A good place to start looking for a dress is Marie Gabriel Couture Bridal, they have gorgeous dresses.


Flower are a huge part of the wedding. You carry them all day, you see them on tables, chairs, hanging from the ceiling and at the end of the day you throw them. A good florist will talk to you and walk you through your colors and what you want to get an idea of what kind of bouquet you’re looking for. If they can’t show you flowers, keep looking. We love what George Thomas Florist can do with flower. 

Bridesmaids Dresses

The reason I’ve separated the wedding dress from the bridesmaids dresses is because unlike a wedding dress a bridesmaids dress is usually very colorful. A good florist is going to be able to talk to you about colors in a way that a normal person won’t. Some clarification can happen when talking to a florist about colors that can lead to a most cohesive color palette for your wedding day that can affect your bridesmaids dress selection. For this reason I suggest having your consultation with your florist before you select your bridesmaids dresses.

Hair and Makeup

Before you book your hair and makeup keep in mind that this is the part of the day that will make or break the rest of the day. Look for reviews on timeliness so you don’t end up starting your wedding day late because it took an hour over the estimated time to do your hair and make up. A good hair dresser will do a complete walk through at a much earlier date to help you determine exactly what you want on your wedding day as well as be able to give you a good estimate on how long that should take. This is not a place to skimp, you want to look your best for your wedding and wedding day photographer so get a qualified hair dresser and make up artist, you’ll be glad you did. Kelly Oswalt does an amazing job and will make sure you're on time. 

My friends at Boldly Chic (wedding planners) have put together a list of vendor red flags that you shouldn’t ignore. Jump over there and give it a read, it could save you a lot of hassle in the long run. Read 5 Vendor Red Flags.

On the wedding day

Have an emergency kit handy

Something will always go wrong on the wedding day so being able to be ready for every contingency is going to be a must. Double sided tape for the dress that won’t stay up or safety pins for the clasp on the dress that is broken, you need to have a plan in place. Amazon sells a variety of emergency kits for brides that are ready to go. 

Wedding Date Schedules

Does everyone know where they have to be and when? Not just the vendors but do the groomsmen know where and when to get ready? Does mom and dad know when and where pictures take place? Makes sure everyone involved in the wedding day has a schedule that tells them where and when to be at a certain place. Even if you tell them a million times don’t expect them to remember. Give them a schedule AND tell them a million times!

Keep things tidy

It can be hard to keep things clean but having a clean area will allow your wedding photos to be the best they can be without a lot of clutter in the background. You can have a designated stash zone for stuff out of the way of pictures and people.

Check the dress

Take your dress out of the bag the week before the wedding and make sure everything is as expected. If its prone to wrinkle bring a steamer and designate someone to steam it the day of after its taken out of the bag. Don’t wait to take it out the day of the wedding only to realize your wedding dress is wrinkled.

Bring a decorate hanger for your dress so when the photographer takes pictures of your dress you don’t have a ten cent plastic hanger holding up your wedding dress. Lots of places online will make a custom monogrammed wire hanger for you. Alternatively Walmart sells wooden hangers 4 for $3 and they make all the difference in the world.


Who’s taking the stuff that’s your back? Who’s taking the presents and where are they taking them? Do they have a key to your house? Who has the bags for the honeymoon? Who’s taking the tuxes back?


This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive list of things that need to happen for a successful wedding. Its more a or less a resource to help you think about the things that need to be thought about as well as guide you in selecting qualified vendors for your wedding. I want you to have the most amazing day possible and I hope you find this guide to help you have an amazing wedding experience.

Additional Resources

Wedding Planning

Build a web site, budget tools, seating guides, guest lists and more.


vendors I've worked with who do an amazing job