According to sites like Comparably, ZipRecruiter, and Salary.com, the average wedding planner salary ranges from $14 per hour to $420,000 per year, which doesn’t really answer the question on the minds of anyone trying to get into the industry: How much do wedding planners make, exactly?
For careers like wedding planning, there’s a lot that goes into the salary conversation, and the answer isn’t as simple as a dollar amount. Questions like how many hours you work, how much you charge for your services, and what additional streams of revenue you add to your business are all key indicators of how much a wedding planner can make per year.
So … how much do wedding planners make?
How much a wedding planner makes ranges depending on a variety of factors. While couples are told to budget 15% of their overall wedding finances toward this service, that can still vary greatly. Answer the following questions to help narrow it down and get a better idea of a wedding planner’s salary.
1. Will you charge hourly, by percentage, or on a per-wedding basis?
Depending on what you offer, how you charge for your services all comes down to your comfort level and the industry standard for that particular service. If you don’t know what the industry standard is because you’re just starting out, scope out the competition in your area and see how most of them do it.
Let’s take a closer look at each payment structure individually:
How much do wedding planners make hourly?
The average starting cost for a wedding planner is approximately $75 per hour, according to Wedding Wire research. Billable hours include consultations with clients, onsite visits, actually planning the event, and so on.
According to The Balance Small Business, freelancers need to “remember to define careful parameters around expectations so that both parties are in agreement as to what services will be provided. As an event planner, you should include a reference to billing for all reasonable business expenses that may be incurred.” This means that your contract should say what clients will and will not be billed for. After, carefully document your time and receipts so your records are easy to reference if needed.
Even if your base fee is not hourly, you can quote an hourly rate for any work that goes beyond the agreed-upon package. A good small business rule of thumb is to give clients as much heads up as possible if they’ll be charged any additional fees. You should always give them the option just in case that influences their request.
How much is a wedding planner’s percentage fee?
In an interview with Brides magazine, wedding planner Kimiko Hosaki of K.H & co said that charging a percentage fee is “standard practice in the industry and is typically 20 percent (of the overall budget).”
A pro-percentage argument: Beginning wedding planners might not know how long it will actually take to execute their tasks. This knowledge is often gained over time through hands-on experience, so a percentage fee over an hourly rate makes sense in this instance.
Also, when starting out, we recommend that wedding planners document what they spend their time doing and the time it takes to do it every day with as much accuracy as possible. A simple spreadsheet and timer can do the trick, but advanced tools such as Clockify can also help freelancers keep track.
How much do wedding planners make per wedding?
The average cost of a wedding planner in the U.S. in 2020 was $1,500, according to The Knot research. But, as The Knot notes, emphasis should be placed on both “national” and “average.” Because just like calculating a wedding planner’s overall salary, there are a ton of varying factors to take into consideration when it comes to per-wedding rates, including, most importantly, the package and services offered (more on that later).
2. How much experience do you have?
Just like most careers, a wedding planner’s salary is likely to increase as time goes on and experience is gained. Not only will the opportunities increase — more reviews and more contacts equal more business — but so will the amount you can charge. Think about it: A wedding planner who got started in the industry six months ago isn’t going to be able to charge as much as a planner who has run their own agency for the past 20 years.
3. How many weddings can you realistically plan in one year?
Not everything you do as a wedding planner is billable. Beginning wedding planners spend a lot of time networking, marketing, and setting up the basics of their business. Considering the fact that it takes “anywhere from a few days to a few weeks” just to create a website, it’s clear that these tasks take up a good portion of your dedicated work time.
And because beginning wedding planners are often freelancers, that usually means that they’re also responsible for managing their own sick days, vacations, holiday time off, and big life changes such as moving or taking care of family responsibilities.
Put simply: The amount of weddings you can plan in a year varies greatly depending on a variety of factors, including the amount of help you have (is it just you or are you part of a team?) and the type of planning being done (full-service, partial, day-of). For example, San Diego-based wedding and event coordination company Bliss Events, which is a four-person team, says this on their website:
“By choice, each Coordinator plans approximately 10-to-20 weddings per year – a combination of Full Service, Month-Of, and Custom Coordination clients. We typically plan no more than three weddings per month each, with no more than one wedding per weekend each. We are firm believers in not over-committing ourselves, so we control our workloads in order to give our clients the time and attention they deserve!”
4. Where will the weddings you plan take place?
The location of your business will likely determine your profit ceiling, too. For example, the average cost of a wedding in Mississippi in 2019 was $15,475, while the average cost of a wedding in Hawaii was $29,605. This also applies to certain areas within states. It’s easy to see how this can impact planners who go the percentage route, but it can also impact planners who get paid hourly or charge flat fees.
5. Who is your target audience?
Just like the location in which you offer your planning services, the type of couples you target directly impacts how much money you can make as a wedding planner. For example, if your target audience is young couples who just graduated college, you’re likely going to make less money than a planner who specializes in luxury events for celebrities and CEOs. While the former makes up the majority of wedding business, and beginning wedding planners aren’t usually tasked with planning a movie star’s nuptials, it’s still worth considering when starting out.
6. What type of planner will you be?
A full-service wedding planner usually takes care of big picture to-do list items such as negotiating contracts and coordinating vendors. Since it’s the most comprehensive and hands-on of the different types of planners, a full-service planner is likely to cost the most, too. But not always.
Wedding coordinators, on the other hand, step in about two months before the wedding date to make sure everything runs smoothly between all vendors and service providers. Coordinators may also offer day-of services, which is mainly keeping the wedding on track and assisting the couple with running the event itself.
There are also wedding designers, whose scope of work includes coming up with (and executing) mood boards, themes, layouts, and color palettes that make the event as aesthetically-pleasing as the couple envisions. Although this is also a highly-skilled position, it often has a smaller price tag than full-service wedding planning.
For beginning wedding planners looking to increase their salary, offering all three to start is a good idea. Over time, you may find that one service is more popular than another. Then you can hone your skills in that particular area and market accordingly.
7. Will you offer services as premade packages, a la carte, or both?
One of the final major factors to help determine how much a wedding planner makes is the types of services offered. Premade packages with tiered pricing and customization options offer you more control over your planning system. Plus it helps systemize administrative work for each client, and makes it easier to scale your team later on.
A la carte services can be offered as upsells for your packages or you can let clients pick and choose exactly what they need without having to commit to something bigger. You may find that it’s easier to get hired when clients don’t feel they have to be locked into a package that doesn’t quite fit their needs. When just starting out, decide what makes the most sense for you and your team. Then rely on trial and error to adjust your services to the most lucrative offerings over time.
Set your wedding planning business up for success!
Now you know more about how much wedding planners make and whether or not this career is right for you. Want to move forward? Check out how to become a wedding planner in 8 steps.