Should wedding planners take commissions from suppliers?
As a destination wedding planner I am a member of The UK Alliance of Wedding Planners Ltd. The Alliance’s stance on commissions has always been clear – until not to long ago all planner members, UK and destination, were to abide to a code of contact that required them not to accept, or to pass commissions from suppliers onto the clients.
As the UKAWP’s Destination Member Ambassador, I raised several times how difficult working in the destination market was becoming without accepting commissions. Let me be clear, I have been an advocate for working on a no-commission basis for a long time, but the destination market is a different ball game. You are dealing with suppliers and competitors that operate that way and I was finding the following:
- planners charging a set fee (and not a small one!) confident that they would make a heap of money from commissions unbeknown to couples;
- planners charging ridiculously low fees (the kind that makes you wonder how you could even be making any money at all) knowing that they will make up for it through commissions;
- suppliers who assume that because you don’t operate on a commission basis, you’re not serious about bringing them repeat business (yep, I was faced with that argument a couple of times!);
- suppliers who have factored in a commission for the planner, but because you haven’t asked for it, they keep it and make no mention;
- suppliers who felt asking them to discount the commission from the price to the client was undervaluing their services (I’m still trying to get my head around that argument…).
This was getting tiring, and in the meantime, I was using the no commission line to show to clients why they were in safer hands with me, while realising that I was coming across as if I were trying to convince them to hire me. To cut a long story short, I was booking a fraction of the weddings I was supposed to be booking, and not just me… A lot of planners were experiencing the same.
We talked at great length about this with Bernadette, the UKAWP’s director. And so years after the UKAWP was born, we finally agreed that, provided there would be COMPLETE transparency in handling commissions, destination members should adapt to the market and be free to accept commissions if they wanted to, but only if:
- it doesn’t affect the final price for vendor services the couple is paying;
- the client have been made aware of our stance.
What does this mean in practical terms?
These are the adjustments I’ve had to make:
- I talk about commissions to my couples right from the start. In the part of my consultation when I discuss the way we work with them, I explain that if a supplier is offering me a referral fee, I will accept it for as long as it doesn’t mean they’re paying more for that supplier
- I also explain that we recommend suppliers we might have never worked with if we feel they are the right fit for them, and we often don’t discuss commissions with them until the client has booked them
- I’ve included a new paragraph in my proposal clearly repeating everything I discussed with them during the consultation
- I have dedicated a page on my proposal to my affiliation with the UKAWP reiterating the code of conduct I adhere to, including our position on commissions.
It is our duty to ensure our destination couples feel in safe hands, always. Allowing us to plan their destination wedding from a distance, sometimes without having even met us in person, requires an immense amount of trust in us. It’s crucial, therefore, that they know we are always on their side. There is no other way to do this, than to be transparent and honest about of position on the topic of commissions.
And while as Elisabetta White, international wedding planner, I do accept commissions from suppliers for destination weddings, as Elisabetta White Consulting and as business consultant for destination wedding planners, I do not force my opinion on anyone. Ultimately it is your business and your reputation. You need to operate in a way that makes business sense and allows you to run a profitable business.
However, I will always stress how crucial it is that you remain 100% transparent on the matter with your clients.
If you are a wedding planner and you have questions on the whole commission conversation (or controversy, you pick!), feel free to join my Facebook group, Launch and Grow your Destination Wedding Business, where I am available to answer questions and provide insights and knowledge based on my experience.